I know this will be controversial to many, but I think this subject deserves some attention. And I expect everyone to like or agree with these definitions, but I do think everyone can agree these words do not mean the same thing.
These words get used interchangeably by many, but, depending on who you ask, have vastly different meanings, and, therefore, potentially very different results when working with spirits, deities, or entities.
Aleister Crowley has differentiated the two terms by saying that invocation is calling on a spirit to manifest inwardly vs evocation is calling forth a spirit to manifest outwardly. He gives no distinction of implied control or supplication on either part of the evoker/invoker and evokee/invokee in this definition.
In Crowley’s version, which has widely become parroted throughout most of the magickal world, invoking is a way of aspecting, or allowing an aspect of a deity to manifest within themselves or even take temporary possession in order to communicate.
I don’t think this is inherently wrong, but its also clear that both words still mean very different things, and come with different implications.
As an alternative to that definition, I really like the way that Connolly breaks down this topic easily and succinctly in several of her books (The Complete Book to Demonolatry, The Demonolater’s Guide to Demonic Magick are two I recommend if you’re into a more ceremonial approach to demonic magick).
It is her definition that I think delineates the nuances of these terms.
Think of invocation as a request. It is asking respectfully and reverently. ‘[insert name], I invoke thee to attend my workings tonight.’
Invocations to deities go back as far as human history and spirituality. You can find written invocations in religious texts thousands of years old, giving direction to petitioners on how to respectfully ask a deity for assistance.
And, at least historically speaking, there is not really any basis for the claim that invocations were requests for the deity to possess the person invoking. That definition appears to be a modern interpretation.
Invoking simply involves asking nicely for whatever spirit or being you are seeking to be present, lend assistance, or communicate with you. It’s my opinion that most of the time, people using the terms invoke, evoke, or summon actually mean invoke.
Invoking is akin to praying in a way. It can also just mean leaving an offering without any manifestation. It is welcoming.
Most of us aren’t running around demanding anyone make themselves known or show up for our rituals or spells. The demand comes with an air of mistrust or even superiority.
If you want to work respectfully with a spirit or being, regardless of who/what it is, invoking is the way to go. You would not want your autonomy taken from you, so why treat another being that way? How readily would you want to help someone that demanded you help them?
Evocation means more of a demand that a being or spirit show up. It usually involves protective circles, maybe even binding the spirit, and almost always because there is an element of fear of them, or at least some mistrust or discomfort.
Evocation, going with Connolly’s definition, is a method of conjuring an entity to appear or manifest physically in some way, usually within that protective circle and usually also involves no implied supplication from the conjurer.
I will never understand why someone would evoke a spirit or being of any kind they are afraid of or are uncomfortable in the presence of. You get out of magick what you send into it, and entities are no different. If you approach them with fear and ego, you put yourself in danger.
Its incredibly arrogant of us humans to think that we can keep an incredibly powerful other dimensional being from harming us just by erecting special shapes for our working space and binding them with phrases. I’ll leave it at that.
Making demands and starting off in a confrontational manner are not respectful ways to work with entities you want help from, so consider your use of terminology if you’ve been using these interchangeably.
Summoning is essentially the same in terms of implied demand as evoking. Summoning is a demand to a spirit or being to appear, usually against their will.
Again, usually this involves protective circles, banishing, and signals that the summoner fears and lacks trust in or comfort with the entity being summoned. If you’re using this method, you’re implying you seek to control that spirit or being and impair its free will.
Do Evoking and Summoning Have a Place?
I won’t be naive enough to say that you should never need these methods. I can’t speak to every possible situation or reason why someone would consider these options.
Only you can make that decision based on what your goals are and who/what you’re working with. And if it sounds like there’s judgment here, there’s not. Magick is a highly personal journey we must all walk in our own way.
Personally, I approach this from the perspective that there are literally thousands of potential spirits or beings whom you could ask for assistance with a request or need.
Why summon one and engender potentially negative will toward yourself when you can simply invoke another that will be equally effective, and who will more than likely be willing to help you out in exchange for your respect, reverence, and offerings.
The approach taken by demonolatry practitioners is, when working with entities of that type of power, respect for them is appreciated and yields much better results and working relationships than ego, control, and force.
However, again, your path is your own and you may find your results using evocation and summoning are equally fruitful.