Statue ensoulment is the process whereby you turn a statue into a living vessel for a divinity. This allows you to experience the intense presence of the divinity and communicate with them. It also provides you with a physical focus for your worship.. The belief in statues as receptacles of divinity dates back to the very beginning of human religion and is found throughout Classical Greece and Ancient Egypt. For example, the olive wood statue of Athena in the Erechtheion in Athens, was presented with a new dress by the Athenians every year, in order to physically cloth the goddess. Later on we start to see formal rituals and magical procedures for creating ensouled statues. It formed a key part of Neoplatonic Theurgy, the system of philosophical and religious magic developed by Iamblichus and his followers in Late Antiquity. The invocation of deities into both statues and people was one of the central techniques of this tradition, and whilst invocation into people remains a central part of many traditions today, invocation into statues seems far less common. Therefore, I would like to help restore this technique to its rightful place in modern magic.
For the magician looking to do this work today, the best place to start is the Greek Magical Papyri, as these contain several spells for creating magical statues. (For a full list, please see Stephen Skinner’s ‘Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic’ p. 152.) When I wished to ensoul a statue, I read each of these spells and I identified the key techniques that were shared between them all. These were as follows:
- Making the statue from materials sacred to the deity
- Writing names of power on papyrus and putting it in/on/under the statue
- Inscribing a petition on the statue
- Making sacrifices to the statue
- Giving the statues breath through sacrifices
This presented me with a few problems. Firstly, I had not made the statue I was using, so I could not ensure it had been made out of materials sacred to the deity. However, the solution also lay within the papyri: PGM VII.862-918 involves the creation of a statue of the moon goddess Selene, which is anointed with a lunar ointment. Therefore, I blended an oil from ingredients sacred to my deity and consecrated it in a prior rite. I used this to anoint the statue during the ensouling ritual, thus creating a material link to the deity.
Another problem was that of animal sacrifice. I do not use animal sacrifice in my practice as I do not have the requisite skills to do so humanely and, as some of the spells involve strangling the sacrifices, I ruled that out on animal cruelty grounds. However, I still needed to give the statue breath. For this I looked beyond the papyri to other sources. Inspiration came from that most famous of ancient magical texts, the Bible, and the story of God breathing life into Adam (of course this happens in many non-Biblical myths too). I settled on breathing life into the statue myself, rather than strangling some poor bird. I used a witchcraft-based breath-work technique that I adapted from Martin Duffy’s ‘Effigy.’ It may not be to everyone’s liking (it’s not particularly Graeco-Egyptian in feel) but it worked very well for me. Breath work is one the main techniques I use for inducing trance. If you are going to replace it, then make sure to use something that generates inner heat and a state of trance, in order to get the full effect.
Here is an outline that I have used for all my ensouling rituals thus far, from which you can create your own rites. The invocations, actions, and ingredients chosen to fill this out should of course all be suited to the deity you are invoking.
You will need:
- A candle or other source of fire
- Consecrated censer with incense
- Bowl of consecrated water
- Consecrated blade and/or wand
- Oil, mixed and consecrated to the deity
- A burin, pencil, or other tool for writing on/inscribing the statue
- Libation e.g. wine, whisky etc
- Food offerings, or anything else that might make an appropriate ‘sacrifice’
- Ensure you are in a state of purity.
- This will mean different things depending on the tradition you are working in.
- As a general rule, avoid animal products, sexual activity, and intoxicants for at least 24 hrs prior to the rite.
- Have a bath and wear a clean garment (or go skyclad, which is my preferred option).
- Prepare and consecrate your temple space with your preferred opening rite.
- Consecrate the water and incense.
- Make a preliminary invocation to the deity, asking them to look favourably upon the working.
- Asperge and cense the statue.
- Place your hands upon it and say a consecration, for example:
- “(Name of deity), I consecrate this vessel in your honour, that it might serve as your body on your Altar, receiving my worship and devotion, and that you might speak through it unto me.”
- Asperge and cense the statue again.
- Inscribe the name of the deity on the statue.
- I simply traced the name onto the statue with a consecrated pencil. You could also mark it with ink that will wash off. I have not found it essential that the name remains on the statue after the rite.
- Anoint the statue with the oil.
- Feel free to add any words you feel are suitable for this stage.
- Anoint yourself with the oil, and ask the deity to suffuse you with their power.
- This step helps strengthen your connection to the deity and also grants the divine authority to breath life into the statue.
- Open the mouth and eyes of the statue by touch each orifice with your blade or wand, saying something like:
- “In the name of (deity), I open your (mouth/eyes) that you might (speak/see).”
- Breath life into the statue. Here is the technique I used:
- Contemplate the candle flame upon the altar
- Know that this is the fire of life that burns within you, envision it as a flame in your heart
- Using your breath, fan the flame until it suffuses your being, bringing it up to your head so your head is exploding with fire
- Kiss the idol, breathing the fire into its mouth.
- Imagine the flame growing in the idol’s heart until it suffuses its being
- Breath the flame into the idol 9 times
- On the 9th, know that the idol is a living being and declare with absolute certainty “live, do live, be alive!”
- Invoke the deity into the statue.
- Using whatever gestures, tools, and invocation you feel are appropriate.
- I would go for a short invocation that packs a punch, in order to carry the momentum of the fire breath technique.
- Place your hands/blade/wand on the statue and say:
- “Creature of Earth, I name thee (deity), thou art (deity).”
- Replace ‘earth’ with whatever material the statue is made from.
- The idol is now ensouled.
- Kneel before the idol and adore the divinity within it.
- Make offerings to the deity.
- The sharing of a sacrament with the divinity would be particularly appropriate.
- Spend as long as you need communing with the divinity and basking in their presence.
- When you are ready to finish the ritual, explain that the rite is at an end but ask the divinity to remain within the statue for as long as it will, and that it should return there whenever it would receive your worship.
- Close the ritual as you would normally.
- Honour the idol as part of your daily practice going forward.
This ritual is not a reconstruction of Greco-Egyptian magic, but rather my own ritual that I have created with some techniques from the papyri. I have also drawn on other techniques where necessary to create a complete ritual. You may adapt it as you see fit. For example, were I to do this ritual again, I would likely commence with the Headless Rite, in order to align myself with divinity and empower myself for the rite.
I do not think the deity you invoke needs to be Greek or Egyptian. However, make sure that you have a good relationship with the deity in question and are sensitive to whatever traditions may surround them. I would not recommend doing this working for a deity unless you have a very close relationship with them, for example if you serve in their priesthood. It is a great responsibility to have an ensouled idol: the altar must be kept clean and regular prayers and offerings will be expected. Communicate with the deity and find out exactly what sort of care and attention they will require.
The results of the ritual, for me, were an incredibly intense experience of the deity’s presence. I have performed this ritual for two different gods and each one left me with powerful new realisations of their mysteries. The gods do not dwell in the statues permanently, or at least not with that intensity, but the statues allow me to form an easy connection to them in my daily practice. When I do ritual with these gods, I invoke them into the statues (as in step 13) allowing me to more physically and intensely experience their presence.
To conclude, statue ensoulment is a powerful technique that has been very beneficial to my relationship with my patron deities, and my magical practice as a whole. It was once an essential magical skill, and I think it deserves to be again. If you use the techniques given here, please feel free to get in touch and let me know how it worked for you.
Published by: Tom McArthur
Tom McArthur is a Classicist, witch and theatre kid. He belongs to a Gardnerian coven, as well as having a highly syncretic (read: eclectic) personal practice. The ancient world has a huge influence on his magical work as he works extensively with the Greek Magical Papyri and has a magical relationship with a number of Greco-Egyptian deities. Otherwise his interests include Wicca and other forms of witchcraft, folk magic, Goetia, entheogens, and mysticism.