Question: I’ve heard that sigils must always be written in the present tense, can’t contain negative statements, and must follow a bunch of other rules to work. Is that true?
There’s no easy way to say this: Occultists in the turn of the 20th century had some pretty strange ideas. If you read their thoughts on sigil magick (and ritual magick in general), it’s clear that a lot of what they were saying didn’t come from arcane tomes or thousand-year traditions, but rather from the “theories of the mind” that were popular in the mid-to-late 1800s. By using the language of people like Freud and Jung, they were able to cloak their speculation in something that almost sounded scientific. We see the exact same thing today when people talk about “quantum healing” and “holographic patterning therapy.” It sounds like it might be based on something real, but if you dig beneath the surface, the evidence behind it is pretty flimsy.
You also have to remember that those “rules” were an attempt to bring together a bunch of completely unrelated occult ideas — neopaganism, educated guesses about ancient Egyptian rites, total misreadings of traditional Taoist and Buddhist practices, speculation from the Catholic Church about what Satanism probably would be like if there were any actual Satanists at the time, Greek theories about math and astrology, poorly understood ethnic traditions and folk magick — into something like a formal dogma. In the process, they stumbled across some powerful tools, but they also bent those practices to suit their biases, needs, and existing beliefs. At the time, the early versions of psychiatry claimed that negative thoughts were a root cause of mental illness — right up there with the Oedipus Complex and bad potty training — rather than the far more complex reality we see it as today. That thinking filtered into occult theorycraft, but it doesn’t make it true.
Today, a lot of the assertions from the Victorian era of occult practice can seem pretty silly, and that’s equally true when it comes to things like sigil magic. If sigil magick is about focusing intent, investing an idea with belief, and trying to use art to bring about change in our lives and the world around us, why would that powerful tool crumble under what amounts to a quirk of the English language?
It’s perfectly valid to desire that a given outcome doesn’t happen, for example. Yes, you should always focus your intent and create the clearest possible statement of that intent in creating a sigil. Often, that means focusing on the result you do want, rather than the one you don’t. At the same time, our language is pretty heavily reliant on using “negative” words to communicate basic concepts. There’s only so many ways to say “I will not harm myself today,” for instance. Sure, you can play some word games to make that into a “positive” statement, but it also changes the fundamental intent of the statement. If you’re going to claim that those “negative” words and prefixes — un-, non-, not, never, don’t, can’t, won’t — have an inherently diminishing effect, you’d better have more than the guesswork of some Victorian weirdo to back it up.
This is completely testable. Try it for yourself. Create two sigils, each expressing a unique desire. Make them equally inconsequential things, unlikely but certainly possible. Write one in a “positive” way, and the other in a “negative” way. Activate both. Track your results. Report back with your findings.
That said, if you want to follow those “rules” just to be on the safe side, go for it. Follow your practice. But do try to understand where those “rules” come from, and treat them with the same skepticism you would have for anything an old, rich white guy playing the Master of the Occult said today.