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The Sword: Engrave or Write?

It was brought to my attention from Alexander Eth regarding a significant detail about the names upon the sword of the art. As we dive deeper and deeper into the work of the Elucidariums, it occurred to him that the instruction about the celestial pentacles state, “sculptum in competenti metallo” or to engrave in the proper metal. Yet when it comes to the sword it instructs, “et in medio eius sit scriptum hoc nomen” or in the middle should be written. So is there any signifigance that we are to engrave into one metal but to write upon another? While the Elucidarium did draw minimally from the Key, the detail of the sword happens to be one of those instances. Let’s consider what is said in various works specifically under the section of the swords, knives, lance, etc.

  • Mathers (18th c) “upon the blade thou shalt write with the pen of art, commencing from the point and going towards the hilt, these names AGLA, ON…”
  • AUB 24 (1674) “et procedendo versus manubrium scribas cum penna, et Atramento artis hæc verba Agla, On” (proceeding towards the handle write the names AGLA, ON with the pen and ink.)
  • Clavis Ital (1446) “super quello scriverai con cinaprio* exorcizato, overo con acugia, o con stillo di ferro” (write with exorcised cinaprio or with the iron stylus)
  • Ghent (16 th c) “scribe cum inca[u]sto exorcisato” (write with consecrated pen and ink)
  • Sloane 3847 (1572) “and let these wordes be written upon his syde, [various names] with cinobrio* coniured,”
  • VSG (early 16th c) “scribatur cum stilo or cum stylo exorcizato incidas” (with a pen or stylus)
  • Heptameron (1559) “Magister ferat gladium, super quo dicta sit vna Missa de Spiritu sancto, & in medio cuius, sit scriptum hoc nomen…” (master carry the Sword; over which there must be said one mass of the Holy Ghost; and on the middle of the Sword, let there be written this name…)

Furthermore there are other things to consider such as where “engraving” (incidas) is called for. Surprisingly wherever I see the instruction to engrave, it is always the hilt. What is interesting about this is that the instructions are clear enough to specify to engrave the hilt but to write upon the blade often times in very close proximity to each other, at times right before each other. For example consider Mathers edition, “fasten thereunto the white hilt having engraved thereon the aforesaid characters, and upon the blade thou shalt write with the pen of art”. The fact that it’s mentioned in the same sentence tells us the two words were fully intended. To reinforce this, there are several occurrences where we are told to engrave in some circumstances and write in others and even the option to engrave or write on the staff or wand. This sets a precedence that the two methods are distinct and well intended. In fact in this observation it becomes more common that we are to write upon metal and engrave wood as seen with the solomonic bell as well. You can read more on that subject in this article here.

Despite the presented choice to write or engrave in two early grimoires (VSG & Clavis Ital), I think the evidence is overwhelming that the eventual established baseline in the Clavis is indeed writing the names on the sword with the pen and ink as they are continually mentioned together.

This does bring forward some considerations of the practical nature. For example any ink (or even dragons blood) written on iron or steel is going to come off. It would seem that the names would likely be written on the blade with consecrated ink at each use, much like the circle is drawn at each use. As for how one can write names on metal with ink? Well, if we consider the specific references of dragons blood, you would gently heat it and use it to write on the blade. The thickness of it (as it’s a resin) makes it very suitable for this job. As for consecration, do we need to consecrate the sword each time? Regardless if the ink comes off or not, I don’t think there are any grounds for needing to re-consecrate any instrument unless it has been defiled some how (per examples of the Roman Rites). So long as the sword remains in its virtuous stature, I see no reason why one would need to consecrate it again, even if you write names with consecrated ink upon each use.

*cinaprio defined by Pliny is the resin of the dragon blood tree, not to be mistaken for cinnabar. However it appears the emphasis of cinaprio was the color and not the mineral.

As a personal note, I’m not a stickler for critiquing how people practice. Do I personally think you’re doing it wrong by engraving a sword? No. It should be known my very specific interest is in the late Medieval period and specifically understanding and establishing the intended baseline. Practicing magicians ideally evolve beyond the baseline and that is where my critique ends.