Functions of Ritual
Folks frequently wonder what the real utility of convoluted rituals and ceremonies in esoteric workings. Most people find such methods overly elaborate and even stifling to their spontaneity.
For myself, I simply don’t have the natural sensitivity of many practitioners. As a result, I need the ritual to act as a check list. By following the ritual script, I ensure that I actually call upon precisely those entities which I wish and that I properly send them to their part of the plan. Ritual also provides checkpoints which ensure that energies have been raised and that some of the many opportunities for the work to go awry are covered.
Over the years, however, I have learned much more of course, and now I see that ritual, even the most minimal aspirations, have very distinct functions for anybody involved in esoteric experience. While I also cringe from slavishly following somebody else’s script, reworking the elements of other systems enhances those practices which I created for myself. In the process, I’ve uncovered a plethora of reasons for engaging in regular ritual activity. Rituals properly practiced provide effective exercises that develop the scope and the quality of the practitioner’s skills while also enhancing the spiritual development which so many desire.
Right now, however, be warned that this essay represents a distinctly minority report among modern esotericists. While these ideas are not unique to myself alone, they are not the viewpoints usually taken in the literature and correspondence which I have perused. Hopefully, the distinctions between the theoretical analysis presented here and what might be called the current majority opinion will be clearly indicated as the essay proceeds.
Exercise, Discipline, Transformation
No skill can be fully developed without practice. The frequency of that practice must be adjusted to each person’s needs, but the most effective practice occurs when the person uses some outside source, such as a coach or a guide book, to critique the work and its results. Even the simplest of rituals, once a person understands the principles of the working, provide such an outside guide. Certain things are supposed to happen at certain points. The ritual enables the practitioner to test whether or not they have occurred. Furthermore, most ritual traditions provide suggestions as to what may cause the rite to be less or more effective at these points.
The degree and intensity of such practice depends upon the commitment of the practitioner. Consider athletes. Folks whose primary athletic activity consist of ball games at company picnics and family reunions obviously will not invest the same time or intensity of a person who is preparing for the Olympics. On the other hand, every person needs to create some sort of regular physical activity in order to sustain his or her normal health.
The same is true in esoteric life. It seems that folks who are not truly called to adepthood, yet who drive themselves in these practices due to other psychological needs, find very different results from their working. Unfortunately, this often derives from the person’s need for empowerment, and he winds up seemingly looking for fights. Personally, I label these folks “power trippers.” Even when their intentions are extremely good, they tend to create messes. On the other hand, there are folks of high sensitivity and talent who suppress this side of their life. Frankly, the result here is all too often emotional instability and neurotic behaviors. Another problem in esoteric practice derives from folks who either do not study their craft or who do not practice what they study. Such neglect inevitably carries its own burden of problems.
Psychological, Unconscious, Paranormal Development
These problems created by the neglect or misuse of ritual in practice clearly derive from the psychology of the practitioner. These problems are linked directly to the primary effects and functions of almost all magical practice. No matter what theory of magic is applied, ultimately, the actual working patterns of every event derive directly from the mental and emotional structures of the particular person involved. In fact, it seems that the fundamental energies driving many paranormal and magical processes are directly linked to the emotional state of the people involved. Whatever else a magical ritual does, it evokes from our unconscious patterns and associations over which we have little conscious control.
Ritual provides the psyche with tools which can be used to deal directly with these unconscious experiences. While these may be “monsters of the id” or “higher selves,” they must be integrated into our personality to be productive. In fact, this alone is one of the major goals of many initiates. Integrating these forces into the psyche not only causes the psyche to become stronger, it also enhances its capacity to be sensitive and to be effective on other levels as well.
This increased capacity usually results in the practitioner discovering and developing several kinds of paranormal abilities. From the clairvoyant and clairaudient perceptions to psychokinetic phenomena and astral projection, these skills always expand the experience and effectiveness of the practitioner.
In fact, without the discipline of regular practice and evaluation, the truly talented individual will project his energies inchoately. This creates problems. Not only will the practitioner find himself suffering from vague illnesses and infestations of paranormal irritants, people around him will suffer irritation. This can lead to results as extreme as destabilizing relationships and actual psychosomatic illnesses similar to those suffered by the practitioner.
At the other extreme, folks who immerse themselves too much in the mystical mists tend to lose control of their lives. Not only do they begin to ascribe almost every event to some magical cause, they tend to neglect the natural mundane considerations vital to their well being.
In the balance between these extremes, a practitioner finds that they become increasingly aware of their own psychology and become more effective at engendering solid results from the steps they take to accomplish any task. The ancient principle of proper dosage applies: Too little, and the work is ineffective; too much, and the work is even toxic.
Man as Pattern Maker
One of the major functions of a ritual is to tap into the power humans have to provide patterns for things. The very shape of a body is largely determined by the psychosomatic effects of a person’s self image, for instance. Indeed, humans are such compulsive pattern makers that a debate rages over whether many patterns that we perceive are real or are imposed by our perceptions and creativity.
By using a ritual structure, the practitioner creates a pattern for the reality to be accessed and to be created in the working. In this way, the ritual acts both as a blueprint and a special tool to get the shape of the working and its effect more precisely crafted.
The difference can be compared to a cabinet maker who uses jigs and plans and measures carefully and someone who just cuts wood to a loose measure and slaps it together to make a bookshelf. A talented craftsman can create a lovely set of shelves from experience and eyeball. A klutz like myself desperately needs those jigs to create anything of durable beauty!
At the same time, even I can look at the pattern I’m given and decide to make changes in it to fit my own needs before I set up the jigs.
The symbols employed in a ritual have usually been developed over centuries to access the numinous energies in quite particular ways. This is a concept to which I will return, but here it means that by using proper symbolic materials and actions, the practitioner can access appropriate energies in a much more precise manner and deliver them within a more refined impact.
Evocation and Balancing and Integration of the Unconscious
Even if the effects of magic were purely psychological (and I’m going to argue that they are much more than that), calling on powers of any kind causes the inchoate turbulence of the unconscious to present many different things to our conscious awareness. All too often, a practitioner can be startled or even adversely affected by encountering these phenomena at an unprepared moment. The consequences of that can be psychologically disruptive, to say the least.
In the ritual, a practitioner not only can bring to bear spiritual power against these disruptive energies, but also s/he could symbolically direct these influences into a transformed pattern which would make them more productive. Very often, destructive patterns arise from a poor response to a real trauma or to a deep but unarticulated need.
Going further by deliberately seeking out those energies in a ritual, the practitioner gets the chance to deal with these problems with a calmer, more confident mindset. The psychological props of the ritual enable both the conscious and the unconscious to approach the problem and to find resolutions in the symbolic atmosphere. Many times, such symbolic understanding and reinforcement enable the practitioner to constructively alter his behavior and expectations. This can have a powerful an effect on his personality and environment.
Auric Fields, Orgone, and Other Energies — The Circuits of the Body
As a mage adjusts his/her mental and spiritual stance in a ritual, s/he materially affects the behavior and composition of those subtle energy fields which in aggregate comprise the aura. Among many other things, these fields are bio-electric, geo-magnetic, and heat. Infrared photography reveals much about the function of the auric envelope. Kirlian photography demonstrates its persistence. Even the simple tendency of stuff to stick together causes the area around the body to be flooded with chemicals and materials shed by the body.
These auric fields interact with the environment, much like a paddle in water. Most rituals advise you to make certain specific movements and to charge these movements with particular associations. As a consequence, these movements stir the environmental forces into particular patterns.
There is a simple set of exercises which can demonstrate this phenomenon. While doing relaxation and breathing exercises, these energies are concentrated to the point where many people can feel them. This accumulated energy field has many names, such as Chi, prana, and kundalini, and they may indeed be many different energies. In any case, while you’re conducting these exercises, if you have a partner, each should take turns feeling the energy field of the other. One simple way to do this is for one person to close his/her eyes while the other simply pushes a palm down over the bare skin of the arm. After some practice, many folks can tell when the other person’s hand is close, and if you rotate it, they can tell in which direction you’re circling.
Once these vortexes are established, they can be used as engines to empower the patterns crafted by the ritual into tangible as well as spiritual reality.
The Vital Importance of Tools
It is this very manipulation of such energetic fields that causes me to differ from the majority on the need for consecrated magical tools. Many modern writers discount the need or real efficacy of tools. They consider them entirely as psychological props with which an advanced practitioner can safely dispense. Even if they were just tools for accessing the unconscious patterns, as discussed above, their symbolic associations alone will cause real energies to be manipulated.
These energies, however, flow through the mage’s body and most especially through his nerves! If one believes him/herself to be “advanced” and tries a particularly intense working, then that energy blasts along some very delicate circuitry.
A tool which has been designed to wield those energies, such as an Orgone device, for instance, enables much greater energies to be manipulated while buffering the mage from the full measure of the current.
It is possible for a person to transmit lots of energy by grabbing up a live high tension power line — but unfortunately this seems to cause significant damage and the circuit soon fails. The same person, using the proper tools, can handle energies sufficient to power vast cities safely.
A further function of ritual involves even more subtle energies. Since sensing them seems to depend upon physical symptoms of events which actually occur in material reality, the practitioner needs ways to instruct the unconscious to act on non-material planes as well.
Debating the reality of astral, mental, spiritual, and other “non-material” planes of existence is beyond the scope of this essay. Every magical discipline, however, affirms the reality of these other modalities of existence. The simplest way I’ve found to explain them is that on those planes, things happen in ways different from the ways they happen in material reality. Time, space, and even cause and effect actually mean different things or work in very different ways.
Ritual, then, provides a sort of bio-feedback mechanism in which the practitioner trains his/her subtle selves to act on those planes. Further, such ritual often has the effect of enabling a person to enter altered states of consciousness in which she/he can become much more sensitive to and aware of these other planes.
Furthermore, in ritual, you will create a zone in space and time in which your magical constructs are real and dominant. This aspect is vital to the success of many magical workings. The process is quite similar to the psychological technique of “fake it till you make it.” By creating a reality in which the magic is real, that reality can grow to affect other “realities” as well.
This is, in fact, a basic principle underlying many magical processes. Erecting magical and psychic defenses involves creating shells of altered reality around you. Consecrating and charging talismans and amulets involves placing those material items into a very non-material matrix where entities and energies of the other planes can access them and use them as foci for manifestation.
It is this aspect that leads many traditions to create very specific and often elaborate rituals for people to pass through the perimeters of the sacred space created in a ritual. I’ve seen Wiccans “cutting and closing” doors in their circles and ceremonial magicians having conniptions if a bug disrupts the lines they’ve drawn on their magical floors.
Internal Illusions and External Beings
Another major contribution of ritual is that it provides a inherent system of verification. This alone is a vital contribution, as it seems no other legal hobby can produce such profound delusions in practitioners.
The sources of these illusions are manifold. Not only is the practitioner routinely entering altered states, in which normal mental processes and the senses can be distorted, but also s/he is rousing his/her unconscious associations, experiences and reactions into excited activity. Further, as magic involves concentration of will and desire, his/her emotional state can be very intense and thus inherently unstable.
One consequence of these considerations is that far too many practitioners seem to think that all magic is just these psychological processes given direction and focus so that the energies involved can create material transformations and manifestations. While this is clearly an aspect of magic, I strongly feel that limiting magic to such events is foolhardy. This is similar to saying that since the home court advantage derives from the emotional energy of the fans, that the team the fans cheer is not really necessary to the game! Saying that your magic only really affects your own psyche is similar to saying that the obnoxious car whose sound system blasts into the buildings a block away is only affecting itself.
When you do magic, you make noise and send out signals that other beings are going to notice and to which they will react. How can you tell if the sparkling or frightening being you suddenly sense is rising from your own unconscious or actually another being coming into your sphere?
This question is very complex, but ritual systems can provide the mage with a series of tests and touchstone considerations with which to evaluate these manifestations. Furthermore, a ritual system derived from an established tradition will even have established techniques which enhance the manifestation of those entities you want and impede the influence of entities and energies which would not be in harmony with your purpose.
This is especially important, as magic is will, imagination, and desire given sufficient force to affect the probabilities of what folks call “reality.” Obviously, such a process can be created by any strong emotion, disciplined mind, or shared experiences and feelings. These processes can be deliberately started by a mage or generated by the simple fact of human activity. Whatever their origin, these processes often assume a self-perpetuating reality such that they become essentially new creatures in their own right. Sorting through these beings is one of the functions of ritual.
Thought Forms and Larvae
The most common forms of these magical psychological constructs are called thought forms and larvae.
Thought forms vary from the very simple kind of association that advertisers like, such as “Pepsi Generation” or “I’d walk a mile for a Camel,” to the extremely complex patterns which give identity to a sports team or a company.
All of these patterns, however, require some emotional linkage to people to be effective and to survive. This creates the problem of “larvae.” Larvae are such patterns which are no longer being actively directed. If they survive, they exist by exciting emotional patterns in people. Since they no longer have their original source of energy, they will attach themselves to people who have an emotional need or vulnerability similar to the larvae’s pattern. Then they excite this emotional link to sustain themselves. The consequence is very unintegrated behavior and even self-destructive attitudes.
As a teacher, I’ve noticed these destructive attitudes all too often seem linked to negative self images. Math anxiety, fear of rejection, inferiority and bullying are actually fairly straightforward infections. Patterns which lead to substance abuse, co-dependency, and other problems are more complex and much more difficult to root out.In every case where a person has become victimized by such things, it is not enough to treat the superficial problems. Healing requires identifying that emotional point which acts as a receptor for such an infection and healing it.
Magical rituals help here on two levels. First of all, they enable a practitioner to identify and to disrupt the alien thought forms or even to shield himself from them. Secondarily, they provide a powerfully evocative symbolic structure to enable the unconscious to understand the basic problem and to find ways in which to heal it.
Very complex and more powerful thought forms clearly become their own persons over time. These are called by various names in different magical traditions. Elementals, elementaries, and similar terms are often not talking about the classic sylph, gnome, etc. but refer more towards these complex forms. Astral servitors are created by advanced mages to accomplish some relative routine task just as industrial robots enable craftsmen to be more productive.
An egregore, however, is a much more complex and even powerful entity. Egregores can even be created into physical manifestation (as in the Tibetan tulpa) by deliberate magical activity. Much more frequent, however, is the creation of “group spirit.” School spirit, corporate culture, and so forth are such beings. One class which gives people much more trouble than they realize are the egregores of spiritual congregations. Magical orders are very careful about this; since they know they are creating them, they strive to be sure that their egregores have the qualities they want.
Unfortunately, the average church congregation creates these in abundance and hardly ever are at all aware of what they are doing. I firmly believe that many of the disruptive behaviors of religious congregations, from the tragedies of the Inquisition to the self-immolation of Jones or Koresh arose when the egregore of the congregation usurped the position of the true tutelary of the group.
The persistence of these psychic, magical beings is most often experienced by people in the “haunt” phenomenon. Here an experience, usually traumatic, has created an echo or copy of a personality undergoing that experience that persists for ages in a sensible form.
I tend to doubt that these beings are usually truly souls of departed people, though such a thing can happen. This doubt is based on the fact that these phenomena rarely evince any depth to their personalities. In fact, most would fail the most rudimentary tests devised by computer programmers for artificial intelligence!
Yet, under the stimuli of sensitives who have procedures for working with these entities, they can be seen often to evolve and to grow to more complex beings. Even so, in many cases, these haunts turn out to be, like poltergeists, generated by the psychological storms of the very people they haunt!
These generated pseudo-spooks, if you will, are a classic example of another reason to use rituals. No matter what level catches your attention when you act, all acts and all choices affect your reality on all levels. As a result, a subconscious effort can create these kind of phenomena to attract the conscious and spiritual awareness. Western esotericism is permeated with the principle “As above, so below.” In other words, what we do physically has a spiritual effect and our spiritual and imaginary constructions will have tangible effects.
Consider the principle elucidated by the Master, “As one speaks, so believing in his/her heart, so it shall be done unto him/her.” What you speak so often tends to become real. Folks who say of children, “They’re little devils,” are setting their expectations and thereby their reality to really regret their words. This is the principle behind the idea of positive thinking and positive affirmations, and is also a major principle empowering magic.
There’s a story of a salesman who suddenly leaped from the bottom performer to the top performer by changing one word. Every time somebody would rhapsodize on their child’s genius, the achievements of their favorite politician, the expectations of their favorite sports team, he began to say, “Fantastic!” He used to say, “Balderdash!”
Again and again, reinforce the principle of the old song, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess around with Mr. In-Between.”
To return to the focus of our magical activities, be careful to say what you want to happen, because magic will cause material things to manifest in response to our mental statements. Further, magic will cause spiritual reality to manifest as a consequence of our physical actions. A mage has the responsibility of consciously directing this power to emphasize the materialization of the things he designs and to decrease the manifestation of the things which destroy.
Furthermore, ritual measures to bring about magical manifestation also provide patterns and energies for the nature of that manifestation. This is one reason why sympathetic magical rites always include some ritual or material which mimics the physical reality the mage desires. Perhaps this is one reason why ancient entities were so enamored of having biological sacrifices. The life forces and the material substance of the poor creatures sacrificed provided them materials with which to establish a manifestation on our plane without so great a strain on their native resources.
In ritual, we set careful boundaries to what we will direct to happen, and hopefully also boundaries and limits to what we don’t want to happen. This is one reason for the triangle and circle elements of ritual. The circle defines the magical cosmos of the working and the triangle defines the limits and pattern of the manifestation. Believe it or not, this combination also aids the manifestation of forces friendly to the mage. Crossing from one plane to another is difficult — like flying at night without moonlight, they need those landing lights to find the designated field.
Ophiel wrote that if we don’t limit the desired effect of our spell, we may cause a disruptive influence to occur. An image for this might be a person who opens a faucet to get a glass of water, only to find that the spigot was meant for a high pressure fire hose!
Furthermore, every action creates a reaction. Now Newton was fond of “equal and opposite,” but magic doesn’t seem to work that way. Perhaps, “opposed on the same continuum” would define the operation better. So just as we need to be careful to set boundaries on what we want to happen, we need to set boundaries on how it may happen. Even more, we have to set boundaries to close off the enormous forces of opposition.
All too often, a person will work some ritual to gain wealth, for instance, to have a beloved relative die and leave them a bequest in their will. Another cycle involves the ritual obviously having good effect at first, and then the person suddenly finds everything flows back to a condition worse than when they started. Therefore, boundaries are needed. The Wiccan line, “an’ it harm none,” is a useful model. The more elaborate phrasing and details you can generate, the safer and the more effective your ritual will be towards achieving your goals.
This is even true in purely spiritual work. Consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” It glorifies God and places all under Her will at the very front of the incantation. Then it asks for “our daily bread” — the original language clearly carries the connotation of our proper quota. Then the hardest prayer of all — forgive us as we forgive others. This alone removes one of the major psychological and spiritual hurdles to benign manifestations. Then it moves on to the protective boundaries, “Do not put us to test, but deliver us from evil.” These boundaries are followed with a reaffirmation of the controlling principles and invocation of the operative powers.
One boundary which the apprentice mage often forgets is the boundary to the working itself. Each ritual, even the tiniest charm verse, needs a definite close and a dismissal to the work.
The first reason for this is that any working attracts and disturbs the energies and beings on several levels. Unless they are helped to clear away, they continue to influence the mage’s mind through images, feelings, and thought patterns. Contrary to the opinions of many, these include many beings and thought forms which are definitely not truly part of the mage’s own personality. Furthermore, the more developed of these entities will have their own agendas which may or may not truly advance the mage’s own spirit.
Not dismissing these energies, then, not only runs the risk of leaving your unconscious immersed in turbulent and disordered vibrations at a potentially unhealthy intensity, but also it causes many thoughts, images, and feelings to arise in you which are actually alien to you. Either condition can result in quite specific spiritual and psychological problems. The first may lead to manic behaviors and the second even to dissociative personality disorder.
The second reason is even more important to the practice of effective magic. If you do not release the energies, they cannot effectively do the task you have assigned to them. A jockey who constantly reins in his horse will not win the race. A lion on a leash is a guardian all too easy to evade. A vehicle can be driven with the brakes still set, but this definitely damages both the brakes and vehicle as well as making the journey last much longer.
In the dismissal, you send these powers out to do the job. If you do not trust either the powers you’ve raised or the directions and controls you have provided for them, you can not freely permit them to work. If you do not expect them to accomplish the task, then your own will and imagination admit and create the failure. Indeed, this is one reason for thanking them for accomplishing the task even before you send them to do it!
The dismissal can be anything from a simple gesture such as putting the charm in a bottle and capping the bottle or an elaborate rite such as closing by the Watchtowers. Either way, the dismissal restores the privacy of your own psyche and sets the magic into full operation.
Good and bad vibes
Of the many consistent themes in my writing, the term “verify” occurs frequently. You need to be sure that you are doing what you want to do and having the effect that you want to have. So I suggest that you consider ways to test your working before hand. What sort of things would indicate that it was starting to work?
Secondarily, since magic, by definition, works with realities that humans find difficult to observe directly, we need to verify that the forces and entities we think are participating are the true ones. As above, so below also works in reverse. Just as we have to be on guard against parasites and predators who pretend to be our friends in the material plane, we have to verify the nature of the beings we encounter on the astral and spiritual planes too. St. John wrote that we should test the spirits.
St. Paul points out that the Spirit of the Lord will edify and create order — by which he meant that the loving harmony will increase and we will find ourselves better people. On the other side, spirits that tend to disrupt the process in which we grow to be more like our Master and more in union with the Deity are probably not good for us!
In addition to the elaborate rituals every religious tradition may provide for this purpose, we are provided with an innate capacity to discern these spirits. How do they feel to you? Do they help you feel better about others and yourself? Do they help you be a better person? Do they help you accomplish your tasks and goals in both the spiritual and the mundane social setting? Do they comfort you?
If not, then I’d be much more cautious in dealing with them. This system is not fully reliable by itself, of course. If it were, then con artists would find it hard to make a living! On the other hand, it can be a definite alert signal to conduct other tests.
This sensation of feeling the “vibes” off another being, even a human, is based on an unconscious gestalt of several features. We may perceive their aura, we may pick up on the electro-magnetic fields their body generates. We may be sensing the particles, hormones, enzymes, and excretions that every body drags around with it (a very good reason for frequent showers, by the way). We also may be actually sensing subsonic vibrations being generated by the other person. It turns out that our hair follicles can work very much like the sensing hairs in our inner ear to pick up on these signals. Moreover, our skin does have light sensitive components and a few adepts are able to see with their skin.
This is one reason why the insecure, shy, and socially unskilled person who is desperate to be accepted feels “creepy” while the real predators and creeps can seem so trustworthy, caring, and good. The person expecting rejection will be unconsciously providing your unconscious with a flood of signals to avoid them.
Yet this flood of signals and their attendant response are a communication. If we are going to evoke powers and beings in our magic, we need to be able to communicate with them. We need not only to be able to tell them what we want done and how, but also to hear from them the things they have to tell us. It does no good to be able to tell the car to accelerate forward, if we ignore the stopped truck in the lane in front of us!
For this reason, every ritual tradition will provide a number of disciplines to provide us with tools for such two way communication. At their base, all imply awareness of signs and a basic ability to meditate and to listen to the unconscious. In ritual, the mage drills and practices these techniques so that they become more effective and reliable.
Establishing such good communication with our spiritual and our unconscious realities is vital for the full accomplishment of the “Great Work.” The imagery to describe this great work varies. Every tradition has it own language. The Buddhist seeks Nirvana. The Jewish Kabbalist seeks to free the Divine Sparks and to repair the Face of God. The Christian Mystic seeks union with the Divine. They speak of building up the City of God or finding the Kingdom of Heaven.
All of these terms speak of achieving fundamental changes in the mage. Initiations all have the purpose of bringing about a new kind of reality for the initiate. Christians say that their Baptism, for instance, radically changes the kind of creature you are. No longer descended from Adam but from Christ. While this obviously would give the Christian much better tools or cosmic posture, this by itself will do little to complete the transformation. For that, St. Paul says we must all strive and run and hope. A lion is much stronger than a cat, but it may be still ineffective as a hunter!
Anyway, this transformation means that you must move from one state of being into another. Magical ritual enacts this transformation every time you conduct it consciously. Such transformations can cause schizophrenia! You are consciously and unconsciously aware of yourself as one kind of being, and this awareness is reinforced by your society whether or not it is true. Now you are introducing changes which are sometimes impossible to be obviously observed but which are sensed and effective on the unconscious and spiritual planes. This destroys your identity with who you are and whom your society thinks you are.
This change is not only unsettling to you unconsciously, it can be lethal socially. Scientists once performed an experiment in which they removed a monkey from its family, died it pink, and put it back in the family cage. None survived two hours. Their own families tore them apart.
Not only do mages experience this “pink monkey” syndrome, the more effective their magic; they also experience “culture shock.” The easiest way to explain this is the feeling of dislocation that you feel when you return home on vacation after you’ve first been gone from home for quite a while. You know you don’t fit in anymore. You’re different. So you think that you must stand out in some way. You think everybody is talking about you, making fun of you, etc. In short, you go paranoid, and that’s just the start of the problem.
All these symptoms combine within another feature of the magical life: threshold sickness. The most common feature of threshold sickness is nausea. This can be very like motion sickness, and is probably a psychosomatic manifestation of the spiritual reality. Unfortunately, the stronger the occult threshold you are crossing, the stronger and weirder the symptoms. Poltergeist activity can manifest. Even more dangerous, you can project your symptoms onto others.
All of these problems can be healed effectively by having established strong and reliable mechanisms of communication beforehand. Sometimes people have to relearn their people skills, but being aware of the problems and reaching for these solutions will usually get folks through the crises.
The most important communications, however, are those which must be conducted between our conscious minds and our unconscious and our spiritual minds. If we have developed tools, such as art or poetry, we can observe and direct our process of change. Furthermore, if we maintain some sort of journal, we can see where we started and where we may go.
Obviously, as we change, the nature of our communication with the spirits will also change. The same sort of rules apply. Ritual again should provide the tools to enable this continuing communication and a means of testing and developing our transformation.
Ultimately, all magic tends to develop a sense in the mage that reality is not so solidly established as most folks assume. One extreme denies objective reality, claiming all that exists is what we generate ourselves by our beliefs. The philosophy which expresses this is solipsism. Another school claims that all that is real is the realm of absolutes, ideas, and archetypes. The philosophy which expresses this is Classical Idealism. Another philosophy expresses that all that is real is energy or vibrations, and that the classic realm of the Ideal, etc., is an illusion. This is the principle underlying modern phenomenology and also is actually hidden within many of the bromides of the “New Age.”
To all of these, I’d say that reality is not what we think it is, nor even what we directly experience; but the fact that we do experience and communicate means something is out there besides ourselves and is “real.” One of the effects of the Great Work should be a growing ability to sense and to deal with this ultimate reality.
Perhaps, at one point, we mages may even become transformed to the place where we ourselves live in that realm with full awareness and become truly part of the very forces with which we desire such intensely loving harmony.
When we follow through on all levels with the implications of our ritual traditions, I suspect that flashes of such experience happen. These are the moment of ecstatic union or enlightenment of which the greater mystics teach. In such moments, we transcend “reality” to another level of the Divine Dance. In such we experience something which transcends any conceivable capacity of language or art to fully communicate.
Such transcended is “trans-rational.” It goes beyond logic or reason or coherent language, and can only be dimly described by very weak analogies and metaphors. Hence the language of all art is “evocative” as it tries to magically evoke some tiny piece of that transcendence for the person sensing the art to experience.
Just as great art transcends genius to Divine Inspiration, may you find rituals to transcend the limits and trials of this plane to the vivid joys and visions and accomplishments which transcend all planes.
Ambrose Hawk is the author of Exploring Scrying (Exploring Series).
©2009 Ambrose Hawk
Edited by Sheta Kaey