This article provides a formula for making essential salts for use in magical arts. I originally developed (a more peculiar version of) the formula for an ancestral rite inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward wherein Lovecraft describes an operation for raising the dead from their ‘essential Saltes’, i.e., ashen remains. It seems Lovecraft got the idea from Puritan minister and witch hunter, Cotton Mather (paraphrasing Borellus a.k.a. Pierre Borel):
The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.1
Lovecraft’s story would have been less entertaining sans ‘criminal Necromancy’, so he restored a ritual element to the use of the ‘Saltes’, based on Eliphas Levi’s writings on black magic.2 In any case, the formula may be more generally applied as I will show.
Salt is one of the Three Essentials in Western alchemy; the other two being Sulfur and Mercury. It is the Body of a living thing, where indwell that thing’s Soul (consciousness) and Spirit (vital force, animating principle). The spagyric process consists of separating out the Three Essentials of a plant, purifying them, and then cohobating them. The essential oil (Sulfur) and alcohol (Mercury) are purified via recurrent distillations; the essential salt is purified via calcination, i.e., incinerating the dead plant matter that remains following distillation, until it becomes a fine, white ash, which is then recombined with the purified oil and alcohol—solve et coagula.
Although my formula is based on attributing spiritual meanings to chemical changes à la alchemy, it differs from alchemy in an important way. The aim of the art spagyrical is to release and rarify the already indwelling spirit or essence of a medium, whereas my technique involves projecting an essence into a medium, viz., a matrix of salt and water, and afterward evaporating the water to concentrate the essence within the salt. Thus, the sorcerer may produce essential salts for anything she can evoke within the medium, and she is not limited to the inherent essences of minerals, plants, and animals (which I concede may be more potent in certain applications). Such salts so made may be diversely employed in various acts of ritual magic, including electronic thaumaturgy.
Making the Essential Salts
The formula outlined is as follows:
- Obtain an appropriate quantity of salt water.
- Transfer the desired essence to the salt water.
- Evaporate the water and calcine the salt.
- Pulverize and store the salt.
Obtain the Salt Water
There are various reasons for using saline water as a medium for the essence transfer that follows, rather than evoking directly into the salt itself. The operation that transforms the salt’s essence is a kind of magical contagion,3 and while water is often known as a purifier, it is so because of its ability to dissolve and wash away soil and the contaminants associated with “dirt.” “[It] is irresistibly the element of memory […] water takes on and retains all that is washed within it.”4 “As a solvent, water makes solid and tangible substances like earth and salt lose their coherence and transform into something else, and this becomes a model for the way that water can carry other kinds of powers and essences that are more arcane, but equally invisible.”5 Elemental water is commonly understood as being “the most passive, receptive element, and the greatest receiver and absorber of energy.”6 It also signifies the liquid state between earth (solid) and air (gaseous), and so makes a fine quick-body into which to combine the subtle with the gross. The analogy between deep waters and the deep mind makes evoking into water analogous to implanting an idea in the deep or unconscious mind. The journey of collecting and then evaporating the water and separating the salt is, like the spagyric art, a process through (not just by) which the sorcerer produces a rarer and more potent product.
The best brine is procured from the ocean at an auspicious time such as during a ritual at midnight when the moon is new or full (i.e., during spring tides; water, especially sea water, has a strong connection with the moon). If you are unable to travel to the shore, you can buy sea salt from a grocer and dissolve it in collected rainwater. Salinating tap water with table salt would work also, I suppose, but I discourage you from using iodized salt.7
The quantity of salt water required for the operation depends on how much salt you wish to produce and how large a volume of liquid you would transfer the essence to. Contingent on the actual measure of its salinity (normally between 3.5% and 5%), one gallon of seawater will usually yield 4 to 4.5 oz. of salt crystals (by weight; 1 oz. of ground salt equals nearly 5 tsp. by volume). If making your own salt water, you should receive nearly the same quantity of salt as you submitted.
If using seawater, strain it through a sieve or other filter to remove any debris before pouring it into a vessel for the essence transfer. If making your own salt water, you can heat it just to a boil to help dissolve the salt, then immediately remove it from the heat source and allow it to cool to ambient temperature before proceeding.
Transfer the Essence
There are many ways to go about transferring the desired essence into the salt water, and I encourage you to use those that are familiar. One simple way employs a combination of sigilization and visualization. Firstly, having contained the salt water in a suitable vessel (I use a clear, glass bottle that has been consecrated) and identified the thing you will call the essence of, construct its sigil by one of the usual means, and draw that either on the vessel itself or on a flat surface beneath the vessel. You may situate said sigil in the center of a device incorporating additional sigilla or other signs supporting agents, as illustrated below.
Having prepared and arranged all materials for the rite, contemplate the essence until you determine a suitable color and temperature or feeling for it,8 and then visualize that color either rising from the sigil beneath the vessel or projecting from your hands if you are invoked of an agent to assist the transfer. Direct the color to suffuse the entire quantity of liquid, amplifying it as needed, until you are satisfied of the essence transfer to the water.
The basic formula may be made more elaborate as needed.
Evaporate the Water
You can find instructions in books or online for various means of separating salt from salt water. Here is the method I use: Boil the solution in a clean pot until about 90% of it has evaporated (you may collect the distilled water as it evaporates). The remaining water will be thicker than when you began, and salt crystals will already have begun forming on the sides of the pot. Pour this condensed liquid into a glass baking dish and place that outside in the sun to finish evaporating. Do not leave it out overnight if you are in a climate that accumulates moisture at that time, as the salt will absorb water from the surrounding air (hygroscopy), and may deliquesce in sufficiently humid environments. If you are working in high humidity, or if the weather is averse, place the pan in an oven set to its lowest temperature (mine is 170° F), until the salt has dried.
While the water is boiling and evaporating is a good time to meditate on how the “ghost” of whatever you evoked vaporizes into the æther, leaving the corpus behind for you to work with. It is also appropriate to incant prayers or spells or perform ritual acts at this time, which reinforce the network between the spiritual essence, the material salt, and the magical work you intend to do with them.
When the salt is dry, you can either grind it immediately or calcine it over a flame or on a stove thus cremating the body. The latter will make the salt drier still, and more ashy, but could color it—which might be an intentional effect if you desire grayer ash. Calcining in a clean and proper crucible is the surest way to avoid introducing impurities to the salt. Heat the crucible in a bed of sand to help evenly distribute the heat around it and prevent hot spots.
Once solvent and solute have been separated, the salt remains an indexical link to the essence that was transferred to the original solution.
Pulverize and Store the Salt
Scrape the salt out of the pan or crucible and grind it with a mortar and pestle until it becomes like fine ash, which is how you should treat it from here on: as being no different than the cremated body of that which you earlier evoked. This is another opportunity to further enchant the materia magica.
Move the salt to a dry, glass bottle or other container that you seal and label. Be mindful of how you dispose of any salt residue on your utensils. I rinse mine in consecrated water at a crossroads (living in the city, I find that planted traffic circles suffice).
Using the Essential Salts
The enchanted salt may be used as a magical link in any appropriate ritual or magical activity. Sprinkle some on hallowed ground or on a sigil. Dissolve some in ink or paint, or a sacramental libation. Keep the salt in an urn on your altar and give it devotions. &c. &c. In my work with technomancy, robomancy, &c., I use such salts in my electronic circuits either my mixing them into conductive paints or inks, or by dissolving them in a small vial of water—thus increasing the electrical conductivity of the water—which I connect to the circuit. So connected, the salt helps inform the subtle or occult temperament of the circuit or the magician-computer interaction the circuit is part of.
Most of my circuits are powered by direct current (DC), which has some effects when passed through water via a pair of electrodes:
- Polarization occurs when positively charged ions accumulate at the cathode and negatively charged ions gather at the anode, appearing to reduce the aqueous solution’s conductivity.
- Electrolysis occurs when the electric current causes the water molecules (H2O) to split, and hydrogen gas appears at the cathode while oxygen gas appears at the anode.
- The metal of which the electrodes are composed, or any chemicals coating the electrodes or the vessel containing the water, or present in the water itself, may react to the electric current.
I use electrodes made of stainless steel (usually 22 gauge, type 316, although 304 may work as well for this), which is inexpensive and an inert metal so it does not produce unwanted effects. When employing the aqueous solution in a circuit involving a microcontroller, I usually connect it to an input pin and program the microcontroller to respond to the connection; thus the solution becomes effectively a switch. At 3.3 or 5 V, neither polarization nor electrolysis is usually a significant problem, but where it may constitute difficulty there are ways to attenuate or prevent such effects, including adding an oscillator to the circuit to alternate the direction of current flow.
- “Sources of Necromancy in Charles Dexter Ward,” CthulhuFiles.com, http://www.cthulhufiles.com/necro/necromancy.htm.
- For more about this, see “Transformative Magical Action: The Essence Blend” in Jesper Sørensen, A Cognitive Theory of Magic (AltaMira Press, 2007), 97–111, which includes e.g. the transformation of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
- Gemma Gary, Wisht Waters: Aqueous Magica and the Cult of Holy Wells (Three Hands Press, 2014), 129.
- Richard Wilk, “Water Magic,” Academia.edu, https://www.academia.edu/1526872/Water_Magic.
- “The Four Elements,” GreekMedicine.net, http://www.greekmedicine.net/b_p/Four_elements.html.
- Table salt often has chemicals added to it, but sea salt also contains trace minerals, and sea salt and table salt contain commensurate quantities of sodium chloride.
- Philip H. Farber’s Meta-Magick evocations are well suited to this purpose. See Meta-Magick: The Book of ATEM and Brain Magick: Exercises in Meta-Magick and Invocation.