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According to author Laura Tempest Zakroff the magick of sigil witchcraft has more to do with the creation than the application of a sigil; this episode takes a deep dive into the art of crafting sigils, and posits that the basic shapes of sigil craft evolved from universal signs, which themselves may have evolved from psychotropic drug use. Wait, what?

AI-generated transcript of this episode available upon request.

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About the Guest, Laura Tempest Zakroff

Laura Tempest Zakroff
Laura Tempest Zakroff, Author of Sigil Witchery and Visual Alchemy

Tempest is an award-winning author, an artist, and a witch, among other things. She teaches workshops and classes on the art of sigil craft and more.

You can access her live workshops, social media, and store through her website. Keep up with her books and workshops on her social: IG: @owlkeyme.arts, Twitter: @LTempestZ, FB: facebook.com/lauratempestzakroff or YouTube. Becky avidly devours the exclusive content Tempest posts on Patreon.

Show Notes: The Art of Crafting Sigils

What is a sigil, vs crest, logo, or pictograph?

Tempest’s definition of a sigil is a mark created by humans believed to have magical powers. This conveniently also implies that the purpose of a sigil is to manifest some sort of magick. Similar to a logo, a sigil is an abstract design that represents a complex concept. A sigil is different from a crest or logo in that it mystically contains inherent magical power, rather than just serving as a representation of an entity or concept.

Are sigils universal?

The physical form of a sigil is just a complex symbol made up of other less complex symbols. There’s no universal language or alphabet of symbols in general. As Becky teaches, every symbol we believe to be universal is actually subject to alternate interpretation between different cultures.

There may however be some mystical universal form that human-derived sigils are attempting to replicate. In other words, the human who creates the symbol is both the agent of its creation, and downloading the form of the symbol from a different level of consciousness.

And yet, beyond meaning and abstract representation of concepts, there does exist some interesting universality to the basic physical shapes and signs used in sigil crafting. Tempest’s books correlate the basic symbols of ancient cave art—universal sign shapes that humans have imbued with meaning—with the concept of entoptic phenomena.

What are Entoptic Phenomena?

The calls are coming from inside the house

The original concept comes from medicine. In medical context, an entoptic phenomenon is seeing images that are coming from inside one’s own eyeball. The easiest way to understand this objective occurrence is to experience it. The most easily replicated entoptic phenomenon is “blue-sky sprites.” According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, in a completely normal eye, the white blood cells moving through the blood vessels overlaying the retina are visible. These tiny cells would be invisible to the naked eye in the context of a drop of blood outside the body. We can see our own white blood cells inside the eye vasculature only because they’re so close to our retina that they appear magnified, but they are way too close to focus on.

The vast majority of the time, we don’t notice these cells. They are only noticeable against a consistent uniform background. Throughout history, the most accessible uniform background has been the sky. Happenstantially, the blueness of the sky on clear days makes these cells even more noticeable; since the predominant red blood cells absorb blue light, they appear darker against the blue backdrop than white blood cells. This creates the effect of witnessing continually moving light spots, which synch with the viewer’s heartbeat and occur even when the eye is at rest (unlike floaters which tend to settle down without eye movement, but also qualify as entoptic phenomena).

blue field entoptic phenomena
Entoptic Phenomena are particularly noticeable against a blue sky

What are Entoptic Phenomena in the Context of Cognitive Archaeology?

In the social sciences however, the theory of entoptic phenomena expands to include visual experiences derived from within the brain, as opposed to seen externally in the physical world. These phenomena are subjective. They may occur during altered states, such as while using hallucinogens or while dreaming. It is possible that they are the foundation of symbols that have become so iconic that we assume them to be universal.

For example, when you encounter an elevator in a foreign country, there’s a good chance you instantly know which button to press to go up a floor upon seeing the symbols on the buttons. Yet all you’ve actually seen are 3 straight lines which meet at acute angles at the top, an abstract shape which physically looks nothing like an actual second floor. If you pressed that button and ended up going down, you’d be shocked. You might even believe that you’d misread the sign, rather than accept that what you believe to be the universal “up arrow” could actually mean down in this instance. Why does that shape signal “up” so thoroughly that we can’t conceptualize the difference between the shape and the concept?

What are the 32 universal first signs?

Most cave art research focuses around images of identifiable objects, like animal and human forms. But what about the abstract shapes? Abstract geometric signs are much more common than images of humans or animals in cave petroglyphs. Paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger was the first to document and catalogue these geometric shapes. What she found was that, barring a handful of outliers, there were really only 32 basic geometric signs, repeated throughout Europe over a 30,000 year period! This is a shocking similarity in the basic signs and symbols used by ancient humans, even outside of Ice Age Europe. These same 32 signs and similar patterns are found repeating in ancient cave art across the world, from Europe, to Africa, to Asia, to Australia.

Are these universal symbols inherent to human neurology?

The archaeological theory of entoptic phenomena suggests that the origins of a sign like this could be shapes that are universal to human neurology, visualized and assigned meaning during an altered state. The signs referred to in this speculative theory are usually non-pictorial ancient cave paintings. During the altered state, hallucinations might cause visions of a specific set of geometric shapes, similar to the shapes one would see during a migraine aura. The altered state would allow the hallucinator to assign cultural or personal meaning to these hallucinated shapes, who would then go on to teach this meaning to others.

Over time, the abstract allegorical meaning of the symbol becomes indistinguishable from the shape of the symbol itself. Whether the hallucinations in question were due to intentional psychotropic substance consumption or some other situation, like dreaming, psychosis, or seizures, is still debatable. This whole theory might be debatable, to be honest, but it’s certainly interesting to ponder!

How to craft a sigil

The unique insight that Tempest brings to this conversation is that a sigil’s primary magick does not exist in the physical mark itself, or even the use thereof, but in its creation process. What is involved in crafting a sigil? Tempest walked us through the overarching steps of sigil witchery.

  1. Define the why, or the problem. When making a key, it really helps to know what the lock looks like.
  2. Brainstorm the precise desired outcome. Tempest says that magick takes the path of least resistance. If a crafter is unclear about the specifics, the outcome may be technically correct, but incredibly different from the intended result.
  3. Design the sigil. Start with some recognizable symbols that correlate with the intention. Tempest suggests an arrow for transition, etc.
  4. (Optional step.) Acknowledge or apply the sigil. Carve it into a bar of soap to clean with; print it on paper to burn; tattoo it on your lower back for whatever reason people get lower back tattoos.

Would you craft your own sigil?

While Tempest helped us understand the art, craft, and metaphysics of sigil witchery, she also cautioned that there are many different forms of sigils, sigil creation, and sigil usage. The wisdom and insight contained within this episode doesn’t invalidate or disprove any other divergent type of sigil-related practice. As you absorb and apply the concepts Tempest teaches, you may find that the magick was always primarily within you. The sigil is just an outward amplifier of that power. Or is it? What are your beliefs around sigils, universal symbols, and entoptic phenomena? Have any experiences you’d like to share with us? Submit your story, and you could be the next guest on our show! Guaranteed way to have a spooky day.

Cover photo by John Fowler on Unsplash