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The Rational of Ritual

[Another excerpt from the upcoming book. I promise, there will be original content again soon!]

There is a purpose for structured ritual, and it is not just for the sake of pomp and circumstance. There is a pervasive misunderstanding that ritual has no place in “real magic” or “real religion”, both of which ought to “just come naturally”. It is said that we should just be able to do what “feels right” and let the details attend to themselves. While there is a place for spontaneity in magic, it is rarely appropriate or useful in the core of any given operation.

Magic is based upon certain specific laws, principles by which the universe works from the mental plane on down to the physical, and just as in engineering on the physical plane, we must follow certain formulae in order to take full advantage of those laws. Ignorance of those laws does not abrogate them; if we do not know of gravity, we will still find that we fall down when we trip. Likewise, arrogance will not circumvent the laws; if we defy gravity by throwing ourselves over a cliff, we will suffer the consequences. Granted, most impacts with the laws of magic will not result in such dramatic bone-shattering, but the illustration can be taken further in demonstration of the point. We may play one law against another, such as the laws of aerodynamics or the laws of tensile strength, to find ways around our predicament. Airplanes and suspension bridges are solid examples.

Likewise in magic, failure to observe the laws equals failure to produce results. If we do whatever we feel like in an attempt at producing magical effects, we may occasionally blunder into appropriate uses of law, but we will lose much in the way of efficiency. I, as a layman, may be able to construct a simple bridge out of available materials in order to cross a creek by foot; I may even, with a bit of planning, be able to produce a bridge strong enough to support a heavy car or truck. I will not, however, be able to produce a truss bridge by which a whole line of heavily-laden trucks and 18-wheelers may cross a river or ravine until I spend time studying the appropriate type of engineering, including the materials used and the mathematics involved. In addition, I will have to experiment many times in order to learn precisely how those various elements may be applied, and how to configure them to best effect under different circumstances. Magic is the same way. If we do not study the laws, and the various ways in which we may apply them, we can only get so far.

This is ultimately the difference between a sorcerer and a magician. Sorcery is the blind blundering about. A sorcerer may learn a few formulae for specific circumstances, but until he understands the laws behind those formulae, they will be only situationally useful; a true magician learns first rudimentary formulae, and studies the ways in which those formulae interact with the applicable laws, and builds upon this foundation through further study and practice. This is the way in which all true magic must be learned, whether natural magic or ritual magic. A natural magician begins by learning some basic spells, how to compile the appropriate materials, and perhaps some safe substitutions if all of the materials are not available. Those spells are studied inside and out, picked apart and put back together again, until the trainee understands what each ingredient does alone, and how they interact with one another. This process will eventually open the trainee up to the possibilities inherent in the law of correspondence, which makes further experimentation possible. Similarly, a ritual magician will begin by learning the foundational ritual of her teacher’s system. This ritual will usually begin, or intensify, a long process of inner transmutation and unfoldment which will compound and increase with practice. Just as with natural magic, there are steps involved in the learning process.

The first step is that of studying the ritual thoroughly. This involves first analyzing all of the elements of the ritual, including motions, drawing of lines of force, symbolism, sigils and figures, Names of God, words of power, invocations and incantations, and so on. The student will certainly not be able to understand every layer of the ritual from the first, but if this preliminary study is not conducted, usually lasting a week to a month, including research and contemplation, there will be little hope of a full success and advancement. Without this phase, the ritual will remain only so many words.

The next step involves rehearsal. The ritual need not be memorized start to finish, at first, but it is important to run through the physical aspect of it a few times, at least three, before the first true performance, so that the movements may perform their necessary function rather than merely serve as distractions from the inner side of the effort. This is the part which, if skipped, has the effect of leaving the ritual a halting mess of physical motions.

Finally comes the actual performance, putting the pieces together into an operative ritual. The first performance will usually not be the most powerful one, but it will be far and away more intense than if the first two steps had been skipped. If those phases are skipped, it is possible that, over many months or even years of consistent practice, the performance of the ritual will eventually develop the effects of the first two phases, but it is not likely, and that method lacks efficiency. In fact, failure to follow this scheme, or failure of the teacher to present it in full, has resulted in more aborted or significantly retarded magical training than perhaps any other single factor. It is also important, following this scheme, that only once the core ritual formulae have become well integrated into the trainee’s life, through consistent and disciplined study and practice, the student will be permitted to move on to further ritual work within the system. At this time, the individual will be able to see how the formulae of this first ritual expand outward into other rituals of limitless applications.

When we first begin to study a ritual, and when we finally perform it, we must look deeply into the many elements of it. These elements are manifold. A partial list of the more common and vital such components includes: projection of force, lines of force, sigils & figures, conscious movement, incantations, words of power & Names of God (two distinct components which we can, nevertheless, count as one for the sake of this basic discussion), and ritual tools. We will examine each one, in basic terms, in turn.

Projection of force and lines of force are closely related, the second depending upon the first. The projection of force is simply the capacity for directing the invoked energy wherever it is required within the ritual. This is often an entire area of training within a complete system, though only a rudimentary familiarity with its methods are required for beginning ritual work. The common methods are through visualization, and through kinesthetic imagination, or “imaginary feeling”. I find that combining the two is ideal, so that the student can learn to simultaneously feel the energy as it moves, and create channels into and through which it may move by way of strong visual concentration. Elemental fire alone may create effects if directed properly, but when directed into the lines of a crimson red upward-pointed equilateral triangle, the fire is stabilized and will even attract more elemental fire to itself, building and intensifying over the course of the ritual. The tracing out of such energy circuits in forms appropriate to the energy being worked and the purpose to which it will be put is known as the tracing or drawing of the lines of force. These visualized and physically traced lines actually behave like wires to electricity, providing a path of least resistance for the energy in question to take on the form required of it.

This takes us to the drawing of figures. These are very specialized lines of force which serve specifically to invoke more specific forces, or more specific forms of a given type of force. Some figures, which are often called sigils or seals, perform the function of gateways or conductors for conscious forces which we often term spirits. This can include archangels, angels, nature spirits, demons, and even the shades of the dead, depending upon the sigil, the force with which the sigil is traced, and the intent of the ritual. The red triangle mentioned above is an example of a figure, specific to elemental fire, while an angelic signature extracted from the appropriate planetary kamea would exemplify the sigils and seals. Before moving on, I must mention that archangels and angels cannot be summoned or have their energy drawn from without their consent, but the sigils and seals can serve as requests for their aid in the form of very particularized force.

Though not explicitly mentioned in a lot of training systems, conscious movement is essential to the full effect of ritual magic. Conscious movement, simply, is the process of conducting each movement in the ritual, including the drawing of lines of force, circumambulation, symbolic salutes, and such, not only physically, but also astrally and mentally. That is to say, the magician must be able to concentrate upon the action of all three of his bodies during each and every phase of the ritual. For example, while drawing the triangle above, the magician must be aware first of the physical tracing, the astral action of projecting force and the attendant emotion, and the mental motion of concentration upon the purpose of the particular force and the shape in which it is being formed. These are all movements upon their own proper plane, and are all important to the effective completion of the ritual.

Incantations must also be done consciously, in the same manner. Their effect is layered. First of all, the sonorous chanting, melodic singing, or dramatic recitation of the words will, on its own, produce very real changes in the atmosphere of the ritual area. The sound of an impassioned human voice sets off physiological changes in a person’s nervous system, including the individual making the incantation as well as any participants and assistants. Similarly, the emotion put into the words creates perturbations within the astral matter in the vicinity, making the flow of certain forces easier, and the flow of others more difficult, depending upon the emotional content of the words. Lastly, on the mental plane, the meaning of the words themselves is translated into a corresponding shift in the atmosphere in the uppermost reaches of creation. Of course, the process actually works in reverse order, beginning with the mental interpretation of the words and moving down to the psychic component, finally manifesting as the physical sound vibration and physiological shift, but we tend to be so materially focused that we become aware of things from the ground up, as it were; as such, the conscious use of incantations will tend to exalt the magician’s awareness from the physical to the mental.

Words of power are closely related to incantations, and are often included in them. Their action is even similar. Words of power, however, have much more specialized and precise functions. Very often, they seem like gibberish upon first glance, but are in fact constructed out of letters or syllables (depending usually upon the structure of the foundational language) according to specific rules. Even the ones that do not seem like gibberish, for instance the titles of the Angelic Hosts, are constructed according to formulaic rules. Let us take as an example the Angelic Host of the third sephirah, Binah, who are known as the Aralim. In Hebrew, this would be spelled אראלים (ARALIM). The first syllable, composed as it is of Aleph-Resh-Aleph, represents the solar power in its gentlest aspect, its energy carried in elemental air. This syllable may be seen as shorthand for the phrase from the Emerald Tablet, “The father thereof is the sun […] the wind carried it in its womb[.]” In short, it refers to the whirling of creative force. The second syllable is composed of Lamed-Yod-Mem, which points to a balanced descent into materiality. “Lamed” translates to “ox-goad”, and represents the putting into effect of authority, while it corresponds to the sign of Libra, representing the balancing authority of karmic law on the psychic plane. “Yod” is a hand, and corresponds to Virgo, the mutable earth sign, while “Mem” means water and points to the lower astral, etheric, and physical levels of creation. Now, the word “Aralim” itself translates as “Thrones”. All of the above symbolism combines to form a picture of Divine Authority manifesting creatively. So, when we intone “Aralim” within a ritual, we are calling that very influence, in the form of the Angelic Choir so named, into effect by allowing it to channel down through our mental, psychic, and finally physical bodies. The names of archangels, and of most spirits, are of similar composition and purpose. This is not to say that those angelic choirs or individual spirits do not exist, but because they are not as constrained by space as we ourselves are, they tend to manifest as pure forces unless we provide them with telesmatic (visualized) bodies.

Divine Names, or Names of God, work in a similar fashion, although they of course deal with forces flowing directly from Heaven. These Names are more properly titles, each of which points toward a certain type of Divine Force, Energy, or Influence upon creation. We will take as our example the simplest, yet most profound: Eheieh (אהיה). This Name means, simply, “I Become”. It is the very kernel of creation and of God’s relationship with creation, which makes it the perfect Divine Name to relate to the first sephirah, Kether. We can also analyze its letters in the same way we did with the Aralim. Aleph is again elemental air, and also the whirling rush of creative power. “Hé” means “a window”, while “Yod” is once again both Virgo (mutable earth) and the initial point of creation. All of these symbols point to creative power flowing forth from Heaven, through the cracks in our reality, and into creation. And, in fact, that is the very energy of this Name.

Finally, there are magical tools. These are perhaps the most maligned aspect of ritual magic, and yet one of the most genuinely and immediately useful. Each system of ritual magic has its own set, though some are common among multiple systems. For example, we may examine the four elemental tools found in most systems which have grown out of Hermetism. These are the fire wand, the air dagger, the water cup, and the earth disk. The usual criticism is that we can channel these forces without the use of physical tools, so why bother with them? That is technically true, however when a ritual tool used to channel one specific type of energy is properly constructed and prepared by a ritual of consecration for that one task, the efficiency of the task goes up enormously. A well-made fire wand, having been imbued with its task by the appropriate formulae, will accomplish the task of directing a line of elemental fire with much greater intensity than the ritualist’s own index finger. It is true that we must learn how to move these forces with only our own bodies, but if we can do so with greater efficiency and power with a tool, why would we not take advantage of the opportunity outside of an emergency? It has wisely been observed that it is only with long years of practice that the formulae of the ritual tools become internalized thoroughly enough for us to accomplish the same tasks as easily without them, and this only as we approach true adeptship.

A big part of the problem encountered with ritual tools stems from the fact that most people equate efficiency with multitasking. In magic, however, efficiency is better defined by the ratio of expended or directed energy to the result achieved. From that perspective, it is better to have a large variety of very specialized tools, whereas most would-be magicians think that they can cut down on a lot of “clutter” by using only a few generalized ones. Thus, many use their dagger to both direct air (or fire, in some traditions), and to direct any other forces required. This was done in an attempt at simplifying the older Hermetic tradition of using the four elemental tools derived from the Tarot suits, as listed above, as well as a separate dagger for the directing of the simpler vital energy used for many more general ritual tasks. It is also common in many schools of the Hermetic tradition to construct and consecrate multiple wands of different materials and forms for the directing of specific forces, one for fire, one for the electric fluid, one for pure Will, and so on. Likewise, a dagger for air would be used alongside a sword for the projection of the magician’s own divinely-granted authority. Even the clothing worn during rituals count as tools, from the white robe of purity to the hat or headband of correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, from the girdle of strength to the pentacle of balance and power, each has a purpose to fulfill and an energetic function which can only be dispensed with gradually, over years or decades. Some magicians never dispense with them, if they have the space and time to use them, simply because properly prepared ritual tools always take some of the burden off of the shoulders of a very busy ritualist. Even adepti will usually have a store of tools at their disposal in order to make their jobs easier.

This has just been a brief survey of the many facets of a ritual system, and why they exist as they do. It is important that we remember that magic is not simply ritualized psychology, but is instead the technology of the superphysical planes. We may perform some tasks with nothing but our bare hands, so to speak, but the appropriate tools, used wisely, can help us in producing effects far beyond our naked capabilities with much less time and effort.

Or foundational rituals, though the better systems are built out of just one efficient rite.

Telematic, or telesmic, images are another important element of many rituals, but their study and use is an entire field of exploration unto itself. See William G. Gray’s Inner Traditions of Magic and Magical Ritual Methods for information on them.

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