On the Touch in Imaginal Work

I was listening to Reverend Erik’s latest episode about Agrippa, as one does, and I found myself having a series of thoughts – which, of course, is what one wants out of an informative podcast. You should listen to the episode. It’s not going to be necessary for understanding this post; it’s just a good episode. But because of Erik’s thoughts on Agrippa and how he modeled sight as an active sense, I got to thinking about touch and the imaginal, which I feel I see very little about. So this post is on a few ways one can incorporate the “least pure” sense into imaginal work like magic.

“Pure” senses?

Agrippa posits that the more pure a sense is, the greater distance it can cover, and so sight, which can see way out away from the body, is the most pure. Now, this runs counter to the particularly postmodern understanding I have of the senses, in which sight is the most prone to failure and fallibility. How many times have you thought you saw a cat and it was a bag, or just a shadow? Descartes even called attention to that, describing an experience where he rushed out of his apartment to catch a friend on the sidewalk before they left, as he hadn’t seen them in a long while, only to learn it was a coat hanging off the door of a coach. I don’t like describing things as “pure” or “not pure,” but this dichotomy is what got me to thinking. The most reliable sense, from the background I have, is touch, not sight. It can be fooled, but you will at least be touching something, even if it’s not what you think.

And if you are on the other end, wondering how touch of all senses could possibly be fooled, have you ever touched something extremely cold and the skin of your hand felt hot? It’s a very common experience, so you probably have. That’s touch being fooled.

Why touch in imaginal work?

OK, so it’s not really more “accurate” than sight, so why bother? First, many people struggle to imagine things visually at all. On the Hermetic House of Life server, a perennial topic of conversation is whether spirits will manifest visually, whether someone is “failing” to do magic if they can’t imagine a god form or angel, and so on, so forth. And anyone will tell you that it doesn’t have to be visual. You might hear a voice, or simply, suddenly think of an idea that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. There are all sorts of ways spirit contact can happen.

And anyway, all imaginal work is good imaginal work. It’s like building any other muscle or skill: you have to practice it. So even if touch is always a kind of adjunct, and your “weakest” imaginal skill, it’s worth practicing a little.

But I’ll bet your imaginal touch is stronger than you think it is. Take a few slow breaths and calm yourself a little, and then think of any and all of these things that you’ve experienced in the past:

  • A cat’s tongue licking your hand
  • Grease coating your fingers
  • Shower soap slipping under your foot
  • A toothache

Our sense of touch is strong, and it’s not too hard to begin incorporating it. If your visual work is fine, this is a great way to add more sensation to the working. If it’s a little rough around the edges, this can give you something more to hang on to.

What do I imagine touching?

Let’s take the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. If you need a primer, or a reminder, on how it works, Nick Chapel made the best one you’ll find. They quite carefully excise most of the visualization, to focus on getting someone to hit the ground running, and rightly so. But let’s say you’re doing the LBRP every day and you want to start beefing it up. Most of the visualizations people like Israel Regardie and the Ciceros have incorporated into the ritual are visual: flaming pentagrams, the forms of angels and their particular emblems. But if you add a touch memory to each one, they’ll really start to open up for you.

Let’s keep it simple and stick to the angels. Each angel corresponds to a part of the four winds attribution. Raphael is air, Gabriel is water, Michael is fire, and Uriel is earth. The typical visualizations that go with them are

  • Raphael: yellow color, caduceus wand
  • Gabriel: blue and brownish color, goblet or cup
  • Michael: red color, sword
  • Uriel: black, olive, russet, and citrine colors, stalk of wheat

Now, maybe you have trouble visualizing these things, either because you’re not used to the associations or your brain isn’t naturally good at visualization itself. It happens! Some people just genuinely don’t think in pictures at all, and that’s just fine! If you can kind of visualize them, but they’re not really strong visuals yet, add these touch “images” in alongside them. If you can’t really visualize them at all, try focusing on the touch “images” instead for a few tries and see if you get more comfortable.

Here are some simple touch “images” for each angel:

  • Raphael: a refreshing breeze blowing into your face
  • Gabriel: cool waves lapping over your feet like on a beach or a tub
  • Michael: summer warmth through a window facing the Sun
  • Uriel: the cool, dense feeling of potting soil

I said they’d be simple, didn’t I? If you try these out and feel like they’re a move in the right direction, but still not quite doing it for you, feel free to experiment with obviously related touch sensations, like  when you get to Michael you could imagine a campfire, or a grow lamp, or just a bright light bulb. And feel free to take a moment to say to yourself “a warm lamp.” Reinforcing imaginal work verbally is not a bad thing. That’s what the ritual is doing to begin with! “On my right hand, Michael.”

This  essay is really just a simple invitation to add a new method to your imaginal work to either supplement what you’re already doing or shore up areas where you may be having issues. If you’re not using touch imagery in your work, no matter how well or poorly you feel it’s going, you can only benefit by adding some in! Give it a try!  

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