Commanding and Compelling - Magical Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Commanding and Compelling
Magical Arts

Commanding and Compelling is a style of High Ritual or Ceremonial Magic that involves summoning spirits, commanding and compelling them to do your bidding regardless of their own desires, and then sending them off.

This is the type of magic most frequently found in medieval grimoires. Anyone wishing to engage in this practice can obtain a grimoire and merely follow the specific directions. Because the spirits are not necessarily cooperative, nor are they necessarily pleased to work with you, it is crucial to follow all steps of spells and rituals exactly. The term “Commanding and Compelling” derives from the opening words incorporated in many chants, “I command you, I compel you,” and has become synonymous with this type of magic. Commanding and Compelling is the name given to condition oils that promise their users that others will do their bidding.

Commanding and Compelling derives from two related roots: magical systems popular in Alexandria during the first centuries of the Common Era, and Jewish systems of magic that evolved following the establishment of the Jewish monarchy.

The tradition of Commanding and Compelling derives largely from the legend of King Solomon who allegedly commanded a host of spirits. (See HORNED ONE: Asmodeus). Would-be commanders and compellers desire to emulate Solomon’s power and magical feats.

Jewish tradition is ambivalent towards magic. The Bible forbids various types of magic, and coincident with the establishment of the Jewish monarchy, native shamanism and women’s magical traditions were suppressed. (See HALL OF FAME: Witch of Endor.) Magic became a forbidden art, however, whenever magic is forbidden, would-be practitioners who don’t wish to be completely defiant and disobedient try to find loopholes to the ban.

Rabbis discussed the situation and decided that although it was forbidden to practice magic, if an angel, demon or other spirit cast the spell or did the magical work for you, then technically you weren’t engaged in magic. Commanding or interacting with spirits became the acceptable face of Jewish magic. It is also possible that a sophisticated system of demonology was also learned from Zoroastrians during the Babylonian Exile. (See HORNED ONE: The Devil.) This magical art eventually entered the Christian community where it continued to evolve and serve the different needs of new practitioners.

Commanding and Compelling has always been controversial because the system is easily used to disguise veneration of forbidden spirits. Christian Commanding and Compelling had more complex undercurrents than the traditional Jewish variant. Jewish magicians might summon potentially dangerous spirits who might cause harm, but the magician wasn’t in any danger of eternal damnation.

In the Christian perspective, all spirits—with the exception of angels—were evil demons: Satan’s host. Summoning spirits thus involved contact with demonic forces. The emphasis in Commanding and Compelling on abusive, disrespectful behavior toward spirits was intended to emphasize that no worship was going on, that one was neither engaged in Satanism nor in Pagan revivalism.

There is a significant difference between Commanding and Compelling and Spirit Working (see page 620). Spirit Working is ultimately a form of spiritual petition; one requests the spirit’s cooperation, assistance, and blessings. Spirits cooperate or not as they choose. Although it is ideally a mutually beneficial relationship, spirits are perceived as sacred and are the dominant presence. Commanding and Compelling posits an inherently hostile relationship. If the spirits were so eager to do your bidding, then they wouldn’t have to be commanded, would they?

Commanding and Compelling was particularly popular with Christian theologians. Like alchemy, it demands a certain educational background and orientation. One must be literate to read the grimoires, have access to ritual materials, and be familiar with names of angels and demons. Like rabbis centuries before, these theologians discussed and analyzed whether Commanding and Compelling was really forbidden or whether there were loopholes that permitted the practice. It was decided that if the human was clearly in the dominant position and if there wasn’t an ounce of spiritual veneration involved, then Commanding and Compelling might be acceptable.

During the later Middle Ages, further various rationales and justifications of the practice emerged. For instance, the powers of evil must be harnessed in the service of good. Thus it’s necessary to command them: demons won’t voluntarily do any good. Another argument suggested that since the magician was ordering demons to do his bidding, demons were prevented from doing the devil’s work instead.

Based on New Testament legends of the control Jesus exerted over demons, some magicians believed incorporating phrases from the Mass could imbue the magician with some of Christ’s authority. Also, if the Roman Catholic exorcism ceremony forced demons out, perhaps the ritual could be adapted to obtain other results. (This belief is among the roots of the Black Mass.)

The Inquisition didn’t particularly buy any of these rationales, particularly since popular purposes of Commanding magic included murdering enemies and procuring women, rather than forcing demons to deliver food to the poor.

Because demons are perceived as harmful, dangerous, and hostile, various precautions must be taken. Commanding rituals often include elaborate protective measures. Magic circles must be carefully and correctly drawn, in which the magician must stay until the whole ritual is complete. Various Hebrew or Latin chants are incorporated. As crucial as summoning and commanding is banishing: because the spirits are dangerous and unpredictable, they must be sent packing as soon as their task is complete. Until they are gone, the magician cannot safely leave the circle. A famous story involves a demon playing a trick on a magician; it appeared to leave but really didn’t, invisibly hiding in a corner. (And of course, demons can materialize and disappear at will.) When the magician cautiously stepped from the circle, the demon swooped down and killed him.