Swords and Their Use in Magic and Rituals
The Sword of Attila was a large sword that was wielded by Attila the Hun. The Roman historian Priscus identified the sword as the Sword of Mars, a legendary sword that was important to the earlier Scythian culture. The sword was of great spiritual importance for the Scythians and was supposed to give its owner the ability to be the ruler of the world, according to Priscus’s later account of the Huns belief. The Sword of Mars had great value as it was linked to one of the chief deities of the Scythians. The Scythian war god was identified with Aries or Mars by the Greeks and Romans, as neither was the god’s genuine name. Herodotus claimed that more horses and sheep were sacrificed to the sword than at any other occasion or to any other Scythian deity. It also gave its owner near invincibility in warfare. The Sword of Mars, in addition to being a scepter that lent its possessor legitimacy, was divine and supernatural. It is not known if the sword gave its possessor the ability as merely a scepter that inferred the right to rulership or as a supernatural weapon as well. Numerous cultures used iron swords in the past, and most of them had stories of swords that had divine connections and supernatural abilities. Likewise, in ancient magical traditions, divinely linked iron swords with potential supernatural capabilities existed as well. While legendary magical swords were usually wielded by warriors and mythic beings, in magical traditions they were used mostly as instruments and tools by magicians. There are generally four major types of uses for magical swords. These are as a form of natural magic against other things due to the nature of iron swords, protection against spirits and souls, use as ritual tools, and talismans. I will look into the history of magical swords, potential uses for them, potential gods and daemons to connect to magical swords, and how to choose which divine beings it is best to link to a magical sword.
Magical swords appear at various points in history. They are attested in Germanic and Celtic culture and mythology. Swords were very important in Scythian and Sarmatian culture as well, and sometimes had mythological and spiritual elements attached to them. In the Ancient Near East, the use of swords in a magical and divine context likely originated in Babylonian culture.1 There is an ancient Babylonian tablet that mentions how a sword can be used against evil spirits, demons, and ghosts. Stephen Skinner describes what Babylonians and successive Near Eastern cultures believed in his work on ritual magic. “The theory behind this is that spirits do not like iron, and an iron sword brandished in their direction is something to be feared, as it can reputedly damage them.”2 The transmission of swords in magical texts seems to have been mostly two traditions, one of real iron swords and one of magical names, though in some cases the latter had the names written on a sword. A 4th century BCE text written by Theophrastus mentioned a practice of using an iron sword to draw three circles around a mandrake root before an evocation. The PGM had a sword of magical words, while many later grimoires had either iron swords or black knives made from iron swords. Swords were used in the Solomonic ritual magic tradition that spanned from The Key of Solomon onwards.3 In their earlier appearances in Celtic and Germanic culture, magical swords were largely mythological and had great supernatural powers that transcended their powers in magical traditions. These supernatural swords are the first thing that comes to mind for many modern people with the term magical sword. For those familiar with the astral or ritual magic traditions, these kinds of supernatural swords are not authentic magical swords. If they are connected to the types of magical items, they most closely correspond to talismans. So, in European and Middle Eastern history, magical swords were either highly supernatural as in Germanic and Celtic culture, moderately supernatural with specific powers as reflecting Babylonian and Greek culture and early ritual magic, or connected to kingship and divinity with possible supernatural powers, as in the case of the Sword of Mars and steppe culture. In the ritual magic tradition, especially, magical swords continued to have importance. John Michael Greer mentions iron swords in his work on ritual magic, Circles of Power. This work draws on earlier source materials but largely focuses on a more recent form of ritual magic, the Golden Dawn. He writes how it’s “commonplace in folklore that sharp iron will dispel hostile magic and drive off or destroy certain kinds of spirits, and this is quite accurate: a knife, a nail, a sword, or anything similar, thrust into a concentration of etheric energy will cause something like an etheric short-circuit….”4 As we can see, Greer highlights the historical tradition and adds to it a perspective on why swords work, related to etheric energy. In ritual magic, iron swords were mostly used for two reasons, natural protection and drawing circles to show boundaries of protection or to banish unwanted spirits. Magical swords were a part of the ritual magic tradition and had a variety of uses that largely stemmed from their protective ability. Historically, magical swords could be associated with vast supernatural phenomena while others used them for protection against human or spiritual enemies.
The first major use of an iron sword in magic is as a natural defensive and protective object. In the ancient Near East and Mediterranean regions, it was believed that an iron sword had a natural power to repel harmful and malicious daemons, people, or animals. Like other protective objects, iron had this special power that was independent of actually wielding it to harm or attack opponents and enemies. Other natural things that had a similar protective characteristic included stones such as coral, diamond, and jasper and plants like buckthorn, squill, and laurel.5 An iron sword, based solely on its own natural properties, had a nature that would repel harmful enemies and personal attacks. From a cosmological and religious perspective, iron was identified with Mars, the planet and god of war, respectively. It was connected to the planet of violence, cutting, protection, attacks, and many other martial-type activities in the astrological tradition. Mars was also the god of war, and wars were conducted with weapons, chief of which were iron swords. While they were associated with the planet Mars and the similarly named god of war for their natural ability to attack, harm, or protect, iron swords had additional natural properties that especially harmed daemons or spiritual creatures as well, possibly as a result of iron’s universality as a natural repelling force. So, the natural properties of an iron sword can protect the owner of the sword, be used against spirits and magical attacks, and can naturally repel enemies and malicious beings and situations.
The next use of a magical sword is as a weapon for controlling, threatening, banishing, and protecting oneself from spirits. This usage somewhat overlaps with both the natural protective qualities of an iron sword and its use as a ritual tool. Magical swords and iron knives are mentioned in various contexts in Solomonic grimoires for controlling and threatening evil and malicious spirits. In many cases, the spirits have been evoked and the iron sword or knife is used to control and threaten the spirit. The evil spirits are usually being used to do the magician’s bidding. These uses parallel later forms of ritual magic such as that of the Golden Dawn. Greer mentions in his work how iron swords can be used to deal with possession, vampiric spirits, and malicious spirits that are causing harm. He suggests using an iron sword to banish larvae. a type of foul spirit that feeds on certain people’s energy fields. Therefore, traditions of ritual magic held that iron swords can be used specifically to deal with foul spirits and malefic magical attacks.
Magical swords are also used as talismans and ritual tools, respectively. First, we will examine swords as talismans. A talisman is a physical object that has magical powers that can benefit, protect, or harm others. Usually, they are made of clothes, jewelry, parchment, and are portable objects that can be carried. Talismans are often made with very specific purposes. There are a variety of techniques for making talismans. There is an issue with the creation of a talisman using a sword, in ritual magic or astral magic. In our current age, using a magical sword as a talisman might be too unfeasible. Because swords are outdated weapons and society has shifted from a feudal world to a modern one, a talisman of paper, stone, or metal of a manageable size is far more practical than any kind of talismanic short sword or long sword. The typical small to medium size talisman that is common nowadays is much easier to carry on a person’s body than a large iron sword. Swords also have a lot of barriers to be carried around by an individual. For example, there are many public places that would forbid one bringing along a sword. Although many talismans don’t have to be carried and can be kept at home on an altar, near a bed, or on a desk, a talismanic sword just wouldn’t fit modern-day life. Though for a very special purpose, a talismanic sword kept at home might be worth all the trouble to create it. Except for a few lone cases, a talismanic sword is neither practical nor viable in today’s world. Next, we will look at an iron sword used as a tool for rituals. When an iron sword is used as a ritual tool, it would have to go through a consecration ritual. Though there are a number of ways to consecrate a ritual tool, a common idea is that the ritual tool is purified, blessed, and connected to a divinity. Talismans could also be used as ritual tools if they are made for a solely ritual purpose. As a ritual tool, a magical sword can provide numerous uses. Magical swords that are used as ritual tools can provide protection, defense, and be used to work with spirits, as already mentioned. Greer highlights their various ritual uses. “In ritual practice, the magical sword is used to trace all banishing pentagrams, hexagrams, and other symbols, and to command hostile spirits in ceremonies of evocation and exorcism.”6 Iron swords can be used as talismans or ritual tools, though it is more practical to use them for the latter.
In most cases, the magical sword will be consecrated and linked to a particular deity. There are a number of ways to consecrate an iron sword or any other ritual tool. One can look to religious or magical traditions for specific consecration techniques. Though the process of consecration is a task unto itself, a bigger issue is the choice of the divine being to connect the sword to. Unless someone is following a specific tradition, figuring out which deity or spirit to link a magical sword to can be a truly daunting task. The typical magician or ritualist deals with an array of gods and spiritual creatures. All of these divine beings have a connection to the magician that invokes them. As a result, there are many great candidates but just one iron sword to consecrate. How can a person settle on one god or spirit with so many to choose from? As anyone who has a magical sword will tell you, an iron sword can be a monumental addition to a magician’s altar. Swords make for beautiful and unique ritual tools. They are shiny and have a pleasant aesthetic. At the same time, it is entertaining, fun, and addicting to work with iron swords. As a result, it becomes natural to add to one’s sword collection. A magician may start out with a medieval long sword as their first magical sword. Soon enough, the magician will have a katana on their wishlist. In this way, some magicians bypass the problem of consecrating their ritual tool to a sole deity by adding a number of iron swords to their collection. A magician who wants to have a sword associated with the deities Hekate, Zeus, and Athena might eventually buy three swords so that each of the gods has their own sword. However, most magicians probably need just one iron sword. There are plenty of reasons why a person shouldn’t have a vast collection of iron swords. One obvious factor is that owning less is better for the environment. Other issues around acquiring more iron swords are cost, space, and safety. Many magicians and aspiring magicians simply don’t have the means or environment for more than one iron sword. So, the issue of choosing which deity or spirit to link to a magical sword through either talisman creation or consecration is a big one. There are many possible gods or spirits that can be chosen to link to a sword, some of which are personally linked to us, and some of which are related to a vast array of external factors.
A magical sword can be consecrated with deities that are connected personally to you. Personally linked deities include a tutelary deity and the almuten. A tutelary deity is a deity who plays the role of guide, patron, guard, or protector. They can represent places, types of geography, people, nations, and occupations. In many cases, the tutelary deity can be a particular deity with a special relationship with the individual. In all of these situations, one of these gods or goddesses can be chosen. The other major divine power that is personally connected is the almuten. The almuten is the victor of a person’s natal chart. The almuten has been considered the same as the guardian daemon or guardian angel by some authorities. There are a number of ways to determine the almuten. It is usually one planet that has a very special connection to a person. Otherwise, a planet that is the most important to the person based on their natal chart, such as the lord of the ascendant, the lord of the sun sign, or a dynamic angular planet are all good choices. Another choice that would be quite natural and is somewhat connected to the almuten would be the guardian daemon. The guardian daemon is a being who is personally responsible for guiding a soul along during their life. As mentioned, the almuten was one way to find out the planet that the guardian daemon originated from. It is not the only means of discovering information on the guardian daemon. Some people have gone so far as to contact and get the names of their guardian daemons. Though it is not a god, the guardian daemon is an obvious choice for consecrating to a sword due to its connection to a person. A tutelary deity, the almuten or another prominent planet in one’s natal chart, and the guardian daemon are all examples of gods or spirits that can be linked to a magical sword solely on a personal basis.
A magical sword can also be linked to deities that are connected to rituals and other aspects of life. Two great choices are the Sun and the Moon, or any sun gods or moon gods. The Sun and the Moon are associated with light and thus would be a good choice for their leadership over the other planets. The Sun, in particular, is an excellent candidate as the Moon’s light is reflective and artificial. Beyond leadership and authority, light is also connected to spiritual light and understanding. The luminaries would also be good choices for people who do many kinds of rituals, as the Sun or Moon would always have some relevance in any ritual. Moving from the luminaries, another choice is the celestial god and planet Mars or an equatable god of war and combat. The red planet is a natural choice because of its planetary correspondence to iron. Further, the celestial deity fits because an iron sword has natural magical properties, and the main use for a magical sword reverts to its protective function. In the ancient Mediterranean regions, the iron sword was associated with Mars, as either a planet or god or both. But it was not the only place that connected iron swords to warrior gods. The Scythians, Huns, and Sarmatians of the Eurasian steppes also seemed to associate their swords with Mars-like deities as well. For the Sarmatians, a sword thrusted into the soil could act as an altar. Swords functioned as weapons of war and as makeshift altars. The Scythian’s legendary Sword of Mars and the later Hun adoption of the myth illustrates that it was natural to infer an association between an iron sword and Mars or any corresponding god of war. Amongst Mars’s significations, it symbolizes war, violence, discord, combat, and valor. To any ancient steppe warrior or Near East inhabitant, it was common sense to connect a primary, ubiquitous, and universal weapon with local gods of war, the Roman Mars, or the celestial deity. It follows that either the celestial deity Mars or a corresponding god of war are a few of the best candidates for which a magical sword is to be consecrated. Third, there are some good choices from ancient religious traditions. For many who do devotional, astral, or ritual magic, Hellenistic and Gnostic deities might be a choice. Some top choices are Agathos Daemon and Abraxas. Both of these deities have connections to other divinities. Agathos Daemon is associated with solar deities and Abraxas to the First Principle or Thoth. As a result, both could be excellent divinities for magical sword consecration. Next, we will look at heroes. Heracles is a famous hero and demi-god who could be linked to a magical sword. Other famed heroes such as Theseus, Jason, Achilles, or Odysseus could be considered. There is one issue to keep in mind. In the case of heroes, some are not of a divine nature like a deity. Heroes, according to Platonist cosmology, are relatively lower level beings in the cosmic hierarchy when compared to gods. In a way, the consecration and linking of a sword to a hero might match evocation more than invocation. Generally, higher level beings like gods are usually invoked and the lower cosmic beings such as spirits are evoked. The process of consecrating a ritual tool to a god, including a sword, should be relatively straight forward. The same might not be true for heroes. Unlike gods, the magician might be required to research and experiment with the process of connecting a sword to a legendary hero. The act of consecrating with mythological heroes, like spirits, will require extra attention. Before moving on to other divine beings, there is another type of hero to discuss. The heroes of popular mythology are not the only heroes that have been passed down from antiquity. Another type of hero is the Porphyry-type hero, which can be defined as a divine being that is helpful to humans and tries to raise them up to higher levels of behavior and consciousness. Porphyry’s heroes are mentioned in Platonist texts and they are defined at length. They are beings at a level just removed from humans on a scale of cosmic hierarchy and encourage humans to live with virtue. The act of humans living with virtue leads humans to care for the functioning of the material world. However, these heroic beings are a bit of departure from the historical views of Greek heroes. Further, while one could try to link a Porpyhry hero to a sword, there is a small dilemma. The problem is that short of skrying or obtaining the name of heroes through some other magical means, there would be no way to know anything about them. Porpyhry never mentioned the names and characteristics of specific heroes, nor are there traditions regarding them as spiritual beings that was handed down after the cults of Greek hero worship disappeared. Still there are ways one could proceed. A person could call upon legendary heroes and interpret their place in the cosmic hierarchy as similar to Porpyhry-inspired heroes, or one could do research and find historical people who have been treated as heroes or who have done heroic things. A magician could also use magical techniques to make contact with a specific hero to get further information. Anyhow, the magician would have to do all the work to connect to a Porpyhry-type hero to get their name, characteristics, and any other relevant information. Unless a hero suddenly revealed itself to a person, it would take a good deal of research and ritual work to find a suitable hero in the Porphyry mold. Next, another choice is an individual god from an ancient polytheistic religion. Looking at the Hellenic pantheon, for example, one could choose Dionysus, Demeter, or Persephone, amongst many other deities. A celestial god could also be picked, such as Venus, the Moon, or Saturn. Primeval gods, such as the Indo-European deities Zeus, Indra, Agni, or the Divine Twins could be used. The appeal of Indo-European deities would be their somewhat ancestral provenance, at least for people who are arguably descended from them. There is also a further benefit of dealing with these archaic deities. Choosing the Indo-European gods would be consciously linking the sword and its use in many rituals to one’s origins, ancestors, and foundations. Additionally, the act of consecration doesn’t have to be done with only one deity. One could also consecrate a sword using a triad of these ancient gods, such as using a fire god like Agni, a fire goddess like Hestia, and a Mars equated god like Aries. Such a triad would link to remote times when fire, a central hearth, and martial hardiness were primal concerns. Beyond triads of gods, group-style consecrations can also be done. There could consecrations to the seven planets as a whole, the Olympians, or the Titans, to name a few possibilities. A magician or ritualist could do a group consecration to the Platonic creator gods discussed by Sallutius in Gods and the Cosmos like Zeus, Hestia, and Dionysus. One final approach toward gods is to choose a conceptual deity like justice, or Nike, and truth, or Eleutheria. Going in a similar direction, a sword could be linked to divine numbers in the Pythagorean tradition, such as the Triad, Heptad, Ennead, or Decad. There are a plethora of deities and spirits to which an iron sword can be consecrated with.
If all of the ideas mentioned in the last few paragraphs still don’t give a person a clue as to which deity or spiritual creature to consecrate and link a magical sword to, there are some other suggested methods that can help. These include feeling, contemplation, lot divination, engaging in other forms of divination, dreams, and looking for other signs. First, going by feeling is incredibly important. Acting on intuition will help one to figure out the best deity or spirit to use to consecrate their sword. Contemplation is also another path. One should set aside time to think about the issue. Think about it a few times a day. Allot time to thinking about it. Go for a walk or do some other activity with the goal of pondering the issue at the same time. The act of contemplation is sure to give some hints as to the right deity or spirit for the sword. Lot divination is another tool that can be used. Use dice, coins, or any other lot tools. Then, assign values for a number of deities or the top choices. Once a god or spirit is chosen by lot, check it by performing lot divination and seeing whether the victor is correct for you. Other means of divination can be used to determine whether or not the god or spirit chose is correct, to narrow down choices, or get advice on what to do to get a clearer idea. Dreams can be another way to receive divine guidance. People can try dream divination or just have dreams that give messages. Other signs are synchronicities or messages people get in their daily lives. This type of message can be the most obvious. Sometimes, before receiving these messages and signs, people first have to be clear on the question or their own uncertainty. All of these methods can help one to determine the deity or spirit to link to their magical sword.
Some additional issues surrounding magical swords is how they will actually be used and whether steel is a suitable material. Within a ritual, one should be aware of the ability of the iron sword to repel or damage other beings, especially spirits or demons. This also is related to the type of ritual magic or devotional magic one practices. Some people do invocations, or the bringing of the deity inside oneself. Others do evocations, or the making visible of a being outside oneself.7 As a rule of thumb, gods are invoked and spirits are evoked, but this is not absolute. Given that some cosmologies believe spirits or angels are the messengers and intermediaries between humans and gods, it might not be a good thing to casually wield or swing a sword during a ritual. One can experiment and use the aforementioned methods of contemplation and divination to decide upon whether its appropriate to wield a sword during daily rituals. In one grimoire account, the spirit seems to fear the intention of the magician and not the swinging of the sword in time and space.8 Also, the use of an iron sword or knife to cut a circle shows that time and position are not exactly how we perceive it when it comes to creating boundaries with iron. This may be due to etheric fields, as Greer suggests. Or it may be for other reasons. Either way, a magical sword can be used as a protective tool first and foremost. It can be used for evocations and magical operations. For magicians or spiritual practitioners who engage in solely devotional practices and only do invocations, in addition to its natural protective function, the sword might be able to be used in dances, swung, or carried in various ways, alongside prayers to the deity or spirit to which it is linked. But I would suggest to experiment and play it by ear, in case a sword display or sword dance becomes too much for the spirits that are sent by the deity to the ritual, at least if you understand it within a Platonic cosmology. On the sword’s use in other circumstances, Greer advises how to use an iron sword beyond a ritual ceremony, using his etheric model:
“Outside of ritual, it may also be used to dispel unwanted energies, particularly those with a strong etheric component. The most effective way to do this is to find the location of the energy by feel or astral vision, and then make a series of short thrusts with the point(or points) of the sword through the area, as though you were poking something soft. Depending on your sensitivity, you may see or feel the discharge as the sharp iron comes into contact with the etheric patterns you are dispelling.”9
Given that iron swords are protective and can harm other beings or keep them at a distance, it is best to use caution when including them in non-protective functions in a ritual, such as in a dance or in any type of swinging of a sword. This especially goes for invocations and devotional work, because one might overlook the potential harm to spirits that can result. Evocatory rituals might not have these issues as they will normally have the parameters for protection against the spirit set at the start. Last of all, we will discuss steel. Nowadays, getting an actual iron sword like those made in remote antiquity is near impossible, and the majority of swords that are on the market are made of steel. On the issue of steel, steel is a type of iron and is perfectly competent as a protective entity. So, steel is functional as a magical sword and consecration of a magical sword in regards to spirits should be done with care.
Magical swords have a long history in the Western magical tradition. The transmission of iron swords stretches from Babylonian times to Ancient Greece, Byzantine-era Solomonic texts, and later forms of ritual magic. Principally, there are four uses of iron swords in magic. These uses include as a naturally repelling and protective force against all forms of malicious things, a special tool to be used to protect against spirits and magic, a talisman, and a ritual tool. The use of an iron sword mostly corresponds to three of these uses, and most magicians use it to deal with spirits and as a ritual tool of protection. An iron sword can be consecrated as a ritual tool. To consecrate an iron sword, there should be a divinity linked to the consecration ritual and object. Since its practical to have a single iron sword in most cases, choosing the right divinity to link to the magical sword can be important. The choice can range from personally linked deities and spirits to ones that correspond to other spheres of life and the cosmos. Beyond all of the choices, and some ideas for a handful of possibilities, there are some methods that can be utilized that will help in choosing a deity to link to a sword in an act of consecration. Finally, because of the ability of iron swords to act upon spirits, one should be careful and experiment with a sword before and after the act of consecration to make sure that the iron sword is utilized in a righteous and harmonious way. In conclusion, we have a working definition of a magical sword. A magical sword is usually made of iron and has either special powers or a connection to higher beings. The powers can be highly supernatural, as they are in mythology, or they provide special powers in one area of life, such as protection, success, or clarity of vision. Iron swords on their own have universal repelling qualities and are harmful to living and spiritual beings. For the latter case, a magical sword can be created through the creation of a talisman or an act of consecration. The consecration of an iron sword is the most common type of magical sword, and given the swords natural magical properties and ability to banish, threaten, and protect against spirits, the greatest act of the consecration is the choice of the divinity to connect to the sword.
- Stephen Skinner, Techniques of Graeco-Egpytian Magic, (Llewellyn, January 1, 2014). 300.
- Skinner, Techniques of Graeco-Egpytian Magic, 300.
- Skinner, Techniques of Graeco-Egpytian Magic, 300–307.
- John Michael Greer, Circles of Power, (Llewellyn, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1997). 41.
- Trans. Martiana, Michael Psellus, Proclus, On the Priestly Art According to the Pagans, (Sartrix).
- Greer, Circles of Power, 208.
- Greer, Circles of Power, 239-251.
- Skinner, Techniques of Graeco-Egpytian Magic, 300–307.
- Greer, Circles of Power, 209.
- Skinner, Stephen, Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic, Llewellyn, January 1, 2014.
- Greer, John Michael, Circles of Power, Llewellyn, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1997.
- Trans. Martiana, Michael Psellus, Proclus, On the Priestly Art According to the Pagans, Sartrix, Last accessed December 22, 2022. <https://sartrix.wordpress.com/proclus-on-the-hieratic-art-according-to-the-greeks/>
- A magical sword with a long hilt in a room. Photo by Midjourney. Prompt: longsword, realistic. Username: @david.k9
- A magical sword with a short hilt. Photo by Midjourney. Prompt: longsword, realistic. Username: @david.k9
David has studied traditional astrology since 2014. The Bay Area native completed Chris Brennan’s Introduction to Hellenistic Astrology course, and attended courses taught by Austin Coppock, Nina Gryphon, and Ryhan Butler. He is interested in exploring the less well known aspects of astrology, divination, and spirituality.