Part of the equipment of the conjurer is his robe or ceremonial vestment. The robe, along with the ring and wand are often viewed as symbols of the magician. The robe being a symbol that he is sacred or consecrated, set apart from others for his work. The ring symbolizes his attainment and authority, and the wand his power to apply that authority. Sometimes we may assume the robe is an element of our perception of what a magician should be. As children wee see Yensid in the Sorcerer's Apprentice with his robe and hat, similarly Merlin appears the same way. Druids and wizards of myth and legend wear robes. So perhaps we wear a robe as a sort of dress up to feel more like the icons we associate with magic. Maybe tuxedos and top hats would be a more appropriate modern uniform modeled after the stage magicians a few generations back who amazed us with the idea that there might still be magic in the world. Perhaps that would have a more culturally significant way of connecting our psyche to the idea of being a magician.
Maybe, if that's all there is to the robe then that would be the answer, but is that all there is? In some contexts, yeah. In a lot of neo-Pagan magic that's really all there is to the robe, dressing in something we feel is suited to the archaic cultural norms these systems claim to mimic. A lot of reconstructionist Pagans actually worship in normal clothes. For the magician working with the medieval and renaissance systems of conjuration is our robe just about connecting with what we think magicians of the time wore? I would say no, and even if it were, we would need to ask the question of why would they wear robes? This wasn't the standard dress at the time, so even then there must have been some meaning for it.
Early in the development of the grimoires we find the Heptameron describing the robe in very simple and short terms. It says: “Let it be a Priests Garment, if it can be had, let it be of linen, and clean. ” And that's pretty much it. A clean linen robe, preferably one belonging to a Priest. The robe is sacerdotal. Again, it is a mark that the magician is sacred, set apart, just as the robe is such a symbol for the Priest.
A few hundred years later we find the The Key of Solomon. In the version put together by Mathers we find this description of the robe: “The exterior habiliments which the master of the art should wear ought to be of linen, as well as those which he weareth beneath them; and if he hath the means they should be of silk. If they be of linen the thread of which they are made should have been spun by a young maiden. The characters shown in Figure 55 should be embroidered on the breast with the needle of art in red silk.” The robe is now no longer that of a priest but it is still a special robe with special instructions. The robe is still linen, unless the magician can afford silk, but if it's linen it needs to be made with specially spun thread. The robe is talismanic adorned with seals.
In both the Key of Solomon and in the Heptameron there is also an incantation to be said as the robe is put on. “ANCOR, AMATOR, AMIDES, THEODONIAS, PANCOR, PLAGOR, ANITOR; through the merits of these holy angels will I robe and indue myself with the vestments of power, through which may I conduct unto the desired end those things which I ardently wish, through thee, O most holy ADONAI, whose kingdom and empire endureth for ever. Amen. ” This is the version presented by Mathers in the Greater Key. The version in the Heptameron is similar.
Joseph Peterson points out that the oration related to putting on the robe seems to be based on an incantation in the Ars Notoria. In the Ars Notoria the oration is used to determine the condition of a sick person. Peterson notes in his introduction to The Five Books of Mystery that Dee's first session with Kelly involved the conjuration of angels called Anchor Anachor and Anilos. He points to the fact that while Dee had the Heptameron, the names differ a bit and likely he had another unknown source. Peterson links the incantation back to Liber Juratus which gives it as “hancor hanacor hamylos iehorna theodonos heliothos phagor corphandonos norizane corithico hanosae helsezope phagora.” Claude Lecouteux in his Dictionary of Ancient Magic Words suggests that hancor may come from achor in some unspecified Greek spell and notes that Heliothos references the sun god. Ancor amator could perhaps mean “still lover” but with the earlier version being “hancor hanacor” that may be irrelevant. Essentially, the voces magicae involved are not going to give us a clearer view of the meaning of the vestment.
The Lemegeton gives a version which is a little clearer: “By the figurative mystery of these holy vestures I will clothe me with the armour of salvation in the strength of the Most High, Anchor Amacor Amides Theodonias Anitor that my desired end may be effected through thy Strength Adonai unto whom the praise and glory will for ever and ever belong, Amen.” The robe is the magician's armor, it is the sign that he has been sanctified by the spirit of the most high with the merits of the angels he puts on the armor of salvation. This armor is worn through the strength of the most high and is his vestment of power. Specifically the armor is put on as part of the course of taking the magician to the achievement of his desired end. So it also reminds us that the work is not idle work, it is set aside, just as is the magician, to accomplish something.
So our simple linen robe, maybe silk, maybe made with thread spun by a virgin maybe including red seals connecting it to the angels, maybe previously worn by a priest. Why would we possibly use a priest's robe, and what alternatives do we have today, since most priests probably aren't willing to give their robes to magicians calling upon angels and demons.
The use of a
priest's robe suggests that the robe is a sacramental instrument. In
Catholicism a Sacrament is an outer sign of an inner state of grace.
Sacramentals are words, actions, and tools which are minor Mysteries
through which we engage that grace. In the grimoires following a
Solomonic model we are shown heroes who possessed divine grace,
people like Moses, Solomon. Because of their state of grace they were
able to perform miracles and command spirits. The magician prays for
the divine presence in order to achieve a similar state so that he
can do the same.
When the magician uses sacramental instruments or tools modeled on them he does so because they reflect achieving this state. This reflection of a state of grace through sacramental action helps build the actual state because all sacramental action is circular. The reflection of the sacramental state reveals the reality of the possession of grace in a way which actualizes and galvanizes the experience, so the sacramental is both causal towards and caused by the state of grace. Therefore when the magician puts on the robe he is both putting on a sign of the presence of the grace of God, as well as instigating that presence.
In Christianity there is also the concept of the armor of the spirit. This is sort of a visual metaphor for strength and perseverance and resilience drawn from piety. This is the same visual called to mind by the incantations which go along with putting on the robe. The strength of the Lord is the state of the divine presence, and vestment of power and armor of salvation describe the robe as the armor of the spirit.
When we put on a priest's robes as described in the grimoires we are engaging in a sacramental moment in which we armor ourselves in an expression of interaction with the divine presence to contribute to our authority to call spirits while at the same time strengthening our protection based on the power of the garment. Using a priest's robes means using a robe which has been consecrated to that purpose and therefore has that sacramental power. It is a robe which has been set apart for the purpose of marking a person as acting as the Alter Christos, who in Christianity is the ultimate hero of divine grace and power. The robe also has the power of being repeatedly exposed to the divine powers and authorities by which spirits are conjured and commanded.
We can operate without a priest's robe but there is a reasonable cause for desiring one. Recently in a discussion on this topic Br. Moloch related that he obtained his first robe from a second hand shop which happened to have a clerical vestment for sale. These apparently pop up frequently as churches replace vestments. Any resale outlet such as ebay may be an option for something like this. Failing that having a friend who is a priest may be a way to get such a robe. In my own practice, being ordained as a priest in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica I use my own ecclesiastical robe. Many magicians today have access to Gnostic traditions which operate under the same apostolic power as the Catholic Church. Obtaining a robe from a priest in such a tradition, or wearing a robe while receiving sacraments in such a tradition would be options for those not involved in the priesthood themselves.
The Key of Solomon however does not specify the robe of a priest but it gives additional components in the preparation of the robe and other vestments. The thread spun by a virgin could mean the thread from which the robe is woven or by which the linen is sewn, it does not specify. It would seem though that the purpose of this is to say that the robe should be specially dedicated from its creation and be made not simply from pure materials but by someone who is also in a state of purity and of being set apart. The red seals on the breast of the robe add a talismanic quality that tie the robe back to the power of the angels and may serve to add the same sacramental power that the robe of a priest would have provided.
Regardless of the
method chosen for obtaining or making the robe it should be
remembered that it is not simply a piece of clothing worn during the
working, it is a significant tool of magic. Care should be taken to
determine how best to proceed in assuring that your robe is properly
consecrated to the work.