Shawabtis, Servitors, and Artificial Elementals: On The Creation of Magical Beings

by Philosophadam or Frater S.C.F.V.


In the history of esoteric thought, a powerful idea has cropped up repeatedly across cultures and societies.  This idea is so universally present in human culture that it might be considered part of what Aldous Huxley called the philosophia perennis or perennial philosophy.  In the occult or secret traditions of humankind, this recurring idea is the idea of creating magical beings.  To get a sense of the variety of ways that human beings have conceived of the process and purpose of creating magical beings, let us briefly consider three examples from different moments in human history: the shawabtis of Ancient Egypt, the Artificial Elementals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Servitors of chaos magic.

Defining Magical Beings

Before we can begin to look into these particular examples of created magical beings, however, we must first begin by defining what we mean by “magical beings.” The term magical beings refers to artificial entities created by magicians–that is, practitioners of the magical arts, not stage illusionists–to carry out specific tasks.  A familiar example of such an entity from pop culture is the broom that Sorcerer Mickey brings to life  in theSorcerer’s Apprentice to carry out his Will (though how well that particular magical being succeeds in this task is another story!).

In those cultures that believed themselves to have developed methods for creating such entities, magicians have often given magical beings physical representations of some kind, such as a carved shape, a sculpted figure, or a sign or representative symbol.  Moreover, the created beings are assigned names by the magician so that they can be called upon at will.

Magicians throughout history have, however, seen these magical beings as more than mere physical representations; instead, they believed these beings to have astral or spiritual forms in addition to their material ones.  These magicians believed the physical form or ‘base’  to function as a kind of ‘anchor’ or ‘calling card’ for accessing the created entity’s more subtle spiritual, ‘astral’ or ‘aethyric’ form.

For example, a modern day magician might create an entity to bring opportunities for making money into her life; she might use a coin built into a clay figure as the physical representation.  She would, however, access a deeper version of the being – its spiritual or astral form – through the physical figure and send it to carry out her Will.  Just as we might access the virtual website of a pizzeria to send a delivery person to bring a pizza to our door, so do magicians use the physical bases of their created beings to call upon them and send them to complete tasks in their subtler spiritual or astral form.

Where does the spiritual form of a magical being exist? Theories put forth to answer this question have varied: some have said that the subtle forms of these beings exist in “the spirit realm,” others “in the collective unconscious,” others in “the astral plane – the invisible world that contains prototypes for everything that comes to be in the physical world.” Sometimes the spiritual form is conceived of as a being of pure energy, pure spirit, or a constellation of archetypes in the collective unconscious of humankind.

The creation of magical beings in a sense involved working on the physical plane and on the astral or spirit plane simultaneously.  The magician shaped a physical representation of the being, but did not see the material base as sufficient by itself to carry out his or her intended purpose.  Therefore, it was also necessary to create a spiritual or astral form of the being on this subtler level or plane of existence, an invisible entity that could shape the astral plane to cause changes to manifest in the physical world.

The methods that magicians used to create the astral forms of these beings varied across cultures.  In Ancient Egypt and in Ancient China, they did so through the power of the gods, which were invoked to animate the figurine.  In the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, names of God and Archangels would be called upon to help draw a current of the force of one of the alchemical elements (fire, water, air, or earth) to create the entity for the intended purpose.  In modern chaos magic, magicians would draw on their own personal energy to create the astral form of the being while in an altered state of consciousness.

In short, in the occult traditions of the world, ‘magical beings’ were believed to be artificial beings, usually with both a physical form and an astral/spiritual form, which were created by ritual magicians to serve their Will.


The concept of created magical beings is far from a modern one.  Some of the oldest examples of magical beings were the shawabatis or ushabtis of Ancient Egypt.   Shawabtis were funerary figurines that were placed within the tombs of Pharaohs from the Middle Kingdom (around 1900 BC) until the end of the Ptolemaic Period nearly 2000 years later.  They were carved out of various types of stone and often inscribed with passages from Chapter Six of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which can be translated as:

“Illumine the Osiris NN, whose word is truth. Hail, Shabti Figure! If the Osiris Ani be decreed to do any of the work which is to be done in Khert-Neter, let everything which standeth in the way be removed from him- whether it be to plough the fields, or to fill the channels with water, or to carry sand from the East to the West. The Shawabti Figure replieth: “I will do it, verily I am here when thou callest” (Papyrus of Ani, Egyptian Book of the Dead).

Shawabtis were magical beings because they were not believed to be mere decorative miniatures or figurines.  The Ancient Egyptians believed that once the Soul of the Pharaoh reached the underworld, the gods would magically transform the physical shawabtis into living beings that would serve him in the nether realms.  They would be required to carry out whatever tasks the Pharaoh needed to be completed, much like the servants who served the Pharaohs during their lifetimes.

About such magical beings, the scribe Nebseni, the draughtsman in the Temple of Ptah, writes: “Oh you shawabti figure of the scribe Nebseni, son of the scribe Thena, and of the lady of the house Muthrestha, if I be called, or if I be judged to do any work whatever of the labours which are to be done in the underworld – behold, for your opposition will there be set aside – by a man in his turn, let the judgment fall upon you instead of upon me always, in the matter of sowing the fields, of filling the water-courses with water, and of bringing the sands of the east to the west.”

Shawabtis provide some of the earliest examples of magical beings created as servants in the afterlife, but the idea of posthumous servant beings was not limited to Egypt; the idea recurs in the tomb of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi. For his necropolis, the Emperor commissioned the building of hundreds of figures, a Terracotta Army composed of carved counterparts of the soldiers, generals, and horsemen in his living army on Earth.  Like the shawabtis of Ancient Egypt, which were created to serve the Pharaoh in the afterlife, the Terracotta Army was created to help Qin Shi Huangdi rule a second empire in the afterworld.

Both the shawabtis and the figures of the Terracotta Army represent, therefore, striking Ancient examples of magical beings created to serve the Will of their creators, nor during their lifetimes, but in the afterlife.

The Artificial Elementals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

The male and female magicians of the 19th century secret society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn also sometimes created and deployed magical beings  to serve their theurgic and thaumaturgic purposes.  Indeed, the magicians of the Inner Order readily employed a method of creating what they called “Artificial Elementals” — beings which were animated with the power of a particular classical Element (earth, air, water, or fire) to carry out the Will of the magicians who created them.

The Order’s Guidelines for an Artificial Elemental enjoins those who would create such magical beings to

Remember that you are a Microcosm of the Universe, thus you have the ability to
direct your will to a specific task or mission. The will is then filtered through the element
and evoked and contained in a specific container. Through Will, you name the
elemental, send it forth to complete a task or mission, and give it a time to disperse.

An artificial elemental is not a talisman or a natural elemental as found in nature.
It is an aspect of your will transformed to a limited, specific and controlled aura, and
filtered through an element.”

The magicians who created such Artificial Elementals chose the Elements through which they would “filter their will” according to the qualities that corresponded to them, or the qualities that the Elements “manifest in the sphere of sensation”:

Fire: Sex, lower emotions, energy, success, war, fighting, building backbone, competition, athletic endeavors, vitality, terrorism, anger, violence, protection, consecration, and law.

Water: Deep emotions, tranquillity, compassion, faith, higher forms of love, devotion, friendship, healing wounds, restoring growth, childbirth, family, calmness, medicine, comfort, clairvoyance, marriage, partnerships, negotiations, beauty, rest, meditation, fishing, and loyalty.
Air: Thoughts, memory, learning, teaching, tests, divination, writing, organizing, theorizing, addictions, intellectualism, travel, and creation of thoughts.
Earth:Jobs, money, farming, fertility, stability, health, foods, ecology, conservation, old age, construction, physical work, daily necessities such as food, shelter, etc., and grounding.”After specifying the Element with which they would be working, the Magicians proceeded to perform the Banishing rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram to purify their ritual environment, and then, as the Guidelines for an Artificial Elemental specify, would proceed to”become the element you wish to use. Hold your hands nine to twelve inches
apart, palms facing each other. Now imagine a bottle or a box between your hands, in
the proper shape of the element. Exhale, visualizing all of the element you are working
with going out with your breath and being trapped in the container between your hands.
Do this until the container is full of the elemental energy.”

After creating this “container” of elemental energy, they would “take [their] hands away and let the container float in front of [them]” and “Vibrate the Divine name and the Archangel that pertain to the element you wish to create. Then say:

I hereby name thee_________.Go now and do (such and such). When
you have completed this task, disperse and reunite with (element) everywhere
and harm none on the way. If thou hast not completed thy task by (date and
time), then disperse nonetheless and reunite with (name element) everywhere
and harm none on the way. As it is desired, so shall it be. Be on thy way.”

In this way, the magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn used a method which was intended to create magical beings designed to serve them, not in the afterlife as in the case of shawabtis and the Terracotta Army, but during their lives on Earth.  The Artificial Elementals, therefore, represent a different kind of magical being than the funerary figures of the Ancient World, namely, a type of beings linked to the magician, which were brought into being for a time to serve a purpose, and then dissolved back into the primordial energy out of which they were formed.

The Servitors of Chaos Magic

In the late 20th century,  a number of iconoclastic magicians including such influential figures as Peter J. Carroll, Ray Sherwin, Austin Osman Spare , and later, Phil Hine, moved away from the strict traditionalism and formalism of ceremonial magic in order to found a movement which would come to be known as “chaos magic.”  The fundamental thesis of chaos magic was that the magician should be free to use belief systems pragmatically, that is, as tools, in order to bring about change in conformity with Will.  They embraced altered states of consciousness (or states of ‘gnosis’) and ‘paradigm shifting’ (shifting from one belief system to another at will, e.g. from Ancient Greek pagan to Orthodox Christian) in order to achieve their magical goals.

One of the techniques that the radical chaos magicians developed in this period was the creation of what they called ‘Servitors.’  In his essay, “Evocation without Sniffles,” Phil Hine explains that “A Servitor is an entity consciously created or generated, using evocatory techniques, to perform a task or service. In the Western Esoteric Tradition, such entities are sometimes referred to as ‘Thought-Forms’, whilst in Tibetan magic, for example, they are known as ‘Tulpas’.  Servitors can be usefully deployed to perform a wide range of tasks or functions on your behalf.

Servitors are often compared to computer software precisely because they are ‘programmed’ according to the intent of their creators.  Just as a program can be created for generalized or specific purposes, so did chaos magicians believe that a servitor can be generated to perform tasks relating to a general area of expertise (e.g. healing) or more specific ones (e.g. procuring a specific amount of money by a specific date).

How do chaos magicians create servitors? Phil Hine explains that to create a servitor, one must begin by defining the servitor’s general sphere of expertise or domain and then its specific function as summarized in a succinct Statement of Intent.  For instance, if a servitor’s general sphere of expertise is “healing,” its Statement of Intent can be “To promote rapid recovery and health in …(name)…”

“Once you have determined the appropriate Intent to form the basis of your Servitor,” Hine states, “then the Statement can be rendered into a sigil, or glyph. There is a wealth of magical & mythic symbols which you can draw upon when creating a servitor, which can be used to represent different qualities, abilities and attributes. There is also the symbolism of colour, smell, sound & other sensory media to draw upon. In order to refine the ‘program’ which forms the basis for your servitor further, you could embellish the sigil by adding other symbols.”

After the general and specific intent of the servitor and its associated symbols have been specified, the magician can proceed to give it a Name and to designate a “physical base” for, or physical representation of, it.  On the subject of Names and physical bases, Hine writes that:

The Material base is some physical focus for the Servitor’s existence. This can help to define the Servitor as an individual entity, and can be used if you need to recall the Servitor for any reason. Examples of a material base include bottles, rings, crystals, small figurines as used in fantasy role-playing or figures crafted from modelling compounds. Bodily fluids can be applied to the material base to increase the perceived link between creator and entity. This is very much a matter of personal taste. Alternatively, the Servitor can remain freely mobile as an aetheric entity.”

Having defined all of the properties of the Servitor and the information relevant to the tasks it is to complete, the magician proceeds to enter an altered state of consciousness through meditation, ritual, extreme stress, or psychotropic drugs, and then to “empower” the servitor and bring it to life through the combined force of his or her Will, Imagination, and personal energy.  The magician continues to habitually “feed” the Servitor through regular attention, mentions in conversation, attributions of events to its activity, remembrance, or other means specified by the magician. In so doing, he or she creates an artificial entity to serve an intended purpose during his or her lifetime, quite like the Artificial Elementals of the Golden Dawn.

Unlike the Artificial Elementals of the Golden Dawn, however, servitors do not require a concentration of specifically ‘elemental’ energy. They are conceived in a far more versatile way and can take various forms from fully designed fantasy characters to very basic entities whose appearance resembles a floating letter “X.” Of all of the magical beings that human beings have created throughout the history of occultism, servitors are perhaps the most diverse.

An example of a sigil for a Servitor created by Phil Hine


In conclusion, the creation of magical beings is an ancient and perennial aspect of the human esoteric tradition.  Originally practiced in Ancient societies, the technique of creating such beings continues to be practiced today by Golden Dawn and chaos magicians and even Tibetan monks in the form of their specifically designed ‘tulpas.’  Perhaps all human beings are born with an instinct towards the creation of magical beings; we have all played ‘make-believe’ and conceived of all sorts of beings in our childhoods.  What is distinctive of the world’s magicians is that they bring to this universal childhood tendency the sophistication and focus of adulthood and claim that the magical beings they produce are not mere figments of the imagination, but real, existing beings with the power to bring about change in the physical world.  What are they really? This is a question that everyone who studies this fantastical topic must be willing to ask and answer for him- or herself, a question with no easy answers.