A Neophyte’s Commentary on the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram
Those who regard this ritual as a mere device to invoke or banish spirits, are unfit to possess it. Properly understood, it is the Medicine of Metals and the Stone of the Wise. — Aleister Crowley, Notes on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram1
Just as Crowley said, the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram (LRP) is not as one-sided as many people believe. If it were a “mere device” for banishing and invoking, as a majority of modern magicians so erroneously believe, it could be easily supplanted by any number of invoking and banishing rituals developed in other systems (most notably the current known as Chaos Magic). The problem with trying to replace the LRP with other rituals is simply one of function: no other ritual that I have encountered so succinctly, efficiently and beautifully performs all of the quite necessary magical functions of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. Whatever inspiration led to the creation of this ritual deserves the thanks of all modern magicians.
Even those who do not make use of Kabbalah in their magical systems would do well to give an ample study to the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram in light of Kabbalah, as it provides a template of successful ritual design for a wide variety of purposes.
I shall attempt a step-by-step analysis of the ritual, running on the assumption that the magician has a copy of it available for comparison. The version which I use, and to which my commentary will correspond most closely, will be found in David Griffin’s The Ritual Magic Manual, and can be found for free at http://www.golden-dawn.com/ in the “Rituals” section.
The Kabbalistic Cross
The Kabbalistic Cross, the opening sub-ritual of the Lesser Pentagram Ritual, receives relatively little attention by magical commentators and practitioners. It is often viewed merely as “what you do before the LRP.” There are several functions even to this basic introductory sub-ritual, however. Consider the formulation of the magician’s Kether, Malkuth, Gevurah and Chesed (Gedulah). This is a poetic statement of intent, in one sense, and a powerful magical action in another, at the same time. What you have done when you have performed the Kabbalistic Cross is activate the Light in your Kether, your God-Self, and made it manifest in your earthly vessel, causing both to be lit up in your Sphere of Sensation (Aura). You have followed this by activating the spheres of Severity (Gevurah) and Mercy (Chesed) and, thus, the side Pillars: the Pillar of Severity and the Pillar of Mercy. In this way have you made of your Sphere of Sensation a magical Temple of the Mysteries. Regular performance of this simple rite will serve to draw the Light into your Sphere of Sensation and balance it within your own private Temple.
Simultaneously, the Kabbalistic Cross serves as a succinct prayer to the Divine. “Ateh Malkuth ve-Gevurah ve-Gedulah le-Olam Amen” translates roughly to the final line of the Protestant form of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thine art the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, forever. Amen.” Of course, the tone is not one of mainstream Christian piety, but rather of one’s aspirations toward the True Divine, however one may conceptualize It. Some people have taken to inserting the name of their particular deity at the heart center (Tiphareth) between “Ateh” and “Malkuth,” as in “Thine art, O Jesus, the Kingdom. . .” or “Thine art, O Allah, the Kingdom. . .” While this may personalize the rite somewhat, I believe it also taints the purity of one’s aspirations toward the Divine by transforming one’s own personal beliefs into an assumption of Truth. This is a dangerous assumption for any magician to make, especially a magician who already holds very strong religious beliefs. Religious beliefs themselves are not harmful and can be quite helpful, but when held with such zeal that they are never modified, augmented or reinterpreted based on new information (and a magician is almost always receiving new information!), they become counter-productive at best. In other words, it is best to leave this rite in its simplest form to allow the prayer to balance the Light and bring contact with the Divine in any way necessary rather than forcing it into a preconceived mold.
It’s interesting to note that during the Kabbalistic Cross, the magician expands his Astral form to a great height; entire galaxies revolve around it as a central pole. This exaltation of the mind is for two main purposes. The first is that of aspiration; the magician is identifying his aspirations yet again with the Highest, and thus expanding upward and outward to seek connection with that Highest. Aspiration toward the Light of Kether is a constant theme in Golden Dawn magic. The idea is common, though, to all systems of magic, even those with few or no Kabbalistic influences at all. Magic always seeks personal betterment. The differences often lie not in this goal, but in how they go about it. Even the basest forms of sorcery such as Hoodoo call upon Divine forces for aid, and their goal, ultimately, is betterment, though usually in a purely material sense. More exalted forms of magic such as Hermetic Theurgy and many forms of shamanism (especially shamanism as reinterpreted through the modern Western mind) reach much higher, while still acknowledging the importance of life right here on Earth (hence the use of talismans, spirit evocation, healing techniques, etc.). The other purpose to the expansion is that of authority through the aforementioned aspiration. That is, the magician is alerting all entities that his aspirations are holy, his intentions pure, and thus that he is deserving of their attention and aid. The whole exercise, then, is one of expansion and aggrandizement, but with an attitude of humility, placing the entire operation under the auspices of the Divine and making the statement that, “If I be not worthy, let it be! If I reach too far, redirect my attention to a better goal!”
It should go without saying that at the end of the ritual (I personally save this step for the end of all ritual activity for that session), one should return to one’s normal size and re-enter one’s physical vessel. This serves to ground the entire operation back in Malkuth and restore the magician’s attention to life here on Earth.
The Kabbalistic Cross is used at the end of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram for all of the same reasons, but especially for the purpose of balancing the activity of the entire operation.
One can find many mystical uses for the Kabbalistic Cross all on its own. I have personally used it as a brief invocation of aid by immediately preceding it with an appropriate Divine Name. While this may seem to break with the guideline I set above concerning adding the name of one’s own religious god to the structure of the Kabbalistic Cross, let me explain how it is different. The Divine Names, in the view of the Kabbalah of the Western Esoteric Tradition, are titles of the Divine, each one embodying an overarching manifestation of the Divine within Creation. Hence, Eheieh, the name associated with Kether, represents the essential indivisible unity of the Divine, its incomprehensibility from the perspective of human consciousness, and its constant motion throughout Creation (the word “Eheieh” can be translated as “I am” and “I become”; see Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegranates). Thus, Eheieh does not represent a different being from the Divine, but does represent a unique point of view on the Divine. Donald Michael Kraig made the comparison of a man being called many names by those who know him. He is Mr. Smith to his son’s friends, but Dad to his son; Smitty to his co-workers, but Honey to his wife; etc. (Modern Magick second edition by Donald Michael Kraig, 1999 Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota.) These are all referring to the same man, but from different perspectives. This, of course, is going far afield and well into the realm of Kabbalistic theory, so I’ll wrap it up by saying this: the Divine Names can be thought of as formulas invoking specific Forces. One of these Forces, if invoked just prior to the prayer of the Kabbalistic Cross, can be activated in a relatively weak, but also well-balanced manner so that it is drawn into the normal flow of the magician-s own energy. This is no substitute for such methods as the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar (see Regardie’s The Golden Dawn), but can serve one well when only a small bit of force is wanted.
Formulation of the Pentagrams
The formulation of the Pentagrams is equally complex. In the Lesser Pentagram Ritual, whether Banishing or Invoking, only the Earth Pentagrams are used. The purpose of this is obvious to anybody who has studied Kabbalah extensively: Earth is the culmination of the three other Elements and is thus, in this case, acts as a representative of all four Elements under the presidency of Spirit.
The usage of the Neophyte Signs (the Sign of the Enterer and the Sign of Silence) to charge the Pentagrams is important. Crowley notes the assumption of the Godform of Harpocrates as one of the two most important methods of purifying and fortifying the Aura (along with the performance of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram itself). The use of the Sign of the Enterer is to charge the Pentagram. The use of the Sign of Silence, in this case, is twofold. First, it stops the force projected with the Sign of the Enterer. If you do not stop the force from flowing, it will continue pouring from you. Second, it fortifies the Sphere of Sensation and thus cements the Pentagram and the Force of the Name of Power within it. There is a lot more symbolism and practical application within each of these signs. For the purposes here, allow me to quote from The Golden Dawn: “It is the affirmation of the station of Harpocrates, wherein the Higher Soul of the Candidate is formulated in part of the admission Ceremony. It is the symbol of the Centre and of the ‘Voice of the Silence’ which answers in secret the thought of the heart.”
The Names of Power invoked during the tracing of the Pentagrams are important in two ways. First of all, each one has an independent meaning and symbolic association of its own. In the East, we invoke YHVH. This is done in the East, the quarter of the Rising Sun, because YHVH is the Beginning of All Things. It is in the quarter of Air (going by the Elemental Winds as opposed to the zodiacal quarters) because YHVH is the whirling, swirling force of Nature. This is vastly clarified if one studies the correspondences of Aleph.
In the South, we invoke Adonai. Adonai (which translates to “Lord”) is the Divine manifest through the personal Holy Guardian Angel. The South is the quarter of Fire and the noonday Sun. Thus, it is also the quarter of our aspirations toward Divinity. Adonai is the title we give to the Being to which we aspire.
Moving West, we invoke Eheieh. Eheieh is often translated as “I am.” This is appropriate, for the West is the quarter of Water, and Water is the Sea of Being. Further, Eheieh is translated also as “I become” or “I am becoming” according to some (including Israel Regardie in A Garden of Pomegranates). Water is a perfect symbol of constant Becoming due to its flowing, and its tendency to conform to any container into which it is poured.
Facing North, we invoke AGLA. This is notariqon for the phrase “Ateh gibor le-Olam Adonai,” which we can translate as, “Thine is the strength forever, O Lord.” “Strength” in this case may be thought of as “fortitude.” The North is the quarter of Earth, and Earth is the magician’s fortitude and ability to withstand all pain and inconvenience in the name of his Divine aspirations.
The second importance of the Names chosen is the fact that all four names are four-letter names (Tetragrammaton). To transliterate the Hebrew letters they are:
- YHVH (Yod Heh Vav Heh)
- ADNY (Aleph Daleth Nun Yod) — Adonai
- AHYH (Aleph Heh Yod Heh) — Eheieh
- AGLA (Aleph Gimel Lamed Aleph)
The importance of this should be apparent to those who have followed the Elemental attributions thus far; the four names of four letters each signify that this ritual is concerned with the balancing of all four Elements within the sphere of the magician.
A note should be made concerning the colors involved. There are many variations on this ritual extant. Regardie’s TThe Golden Dawn, in the First Knowledge Lecture, suggests that the Pentagrams and Circle of Light should be visualized as being fiery. For somebody not well-versed in Kabbalah, who is using the LRP “as a mere device to invoke or banish spirits (Crowley),” this would work just fine.
For those looking deeper, hoping to get all of the functionality available from the LRP, a set of kabbalistic associations would far better serve. The Circle should be White, representing the Unity of Kether and the purity of the Divine LVX. The Pentagrams should be formulated in electric blue flames with golden-white sparks (“like the flame of a gas stove,” Griffin).2 The Pentagram, having five points, is a symbol of Gevurah (Strength, Severity). The LRP is intended to be a fully balanced invocation and, thus, the coloration of the Pentagrams must serve this purpose. They are colored blue, the color of Chesed (in Briah, the Queen Scale, the Creative World, or the Plane of Archangels) to directly balance the force of Gevurah with Mercy. This blue flame is flecked with golden-white sparks to represent the balanced action of Tiphareth and to reinforce the purity of Kether as the ultimate focus of one’s magical work.
The Invocation of the Archangels
The forms of the Archangels in this ritual are as Elemental Rulers, more powerful even than the Elemental Kings, for they possess a Divine Intelligence superior to that of the Elemental Kings.
Crowley remarked that if the ritual is performed properly, the Archangels should appear when invoked automatically; the magician will be so lit up and exalted that the Archangels will come to his aid of their own accord and will present themselves as his Guardians. (See Notes on the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.) I have found this to be true in my own sessions, though it may take a bit of practice with the proper visualizations and intonations before this level is reached. In the meantime, it is advisable to provide the Archangels with your own visualized image to inhabit.
Immediately following the call to the Archangels is a re-formulation of the Pentagrams. As the magician says, “For about me flame the Pentagrams,” the magician should re-visualize the Pentagrams and the Circle of Light in order to reinforce their reality in his mind. The Microcosm of the Pentagram is balanced in the Aura by the formulation of a Golden Hexagram: “. . . and in the Column shines the Six-Rayed Star.” The “column” referred to is the Middle Pillar. The Hexagram should be formulated in the Tiphareth center of the chest. This makes it a representative of the Planets revolving around the Sun and the linking of the Macrocosm with the personal Microcosm of the magician.
The LRP as a Ritual Template
The LRP can also be seen as a formula for the construction of more complex and specific magical ceremonies. I’ll take this step by step as well.
Kabbalistic Cross — Aspiration: The first step in a well-constructed ceremony is aspiration to the Divine. The Kabbalistic Cross serves this function nicely, though there are many other ways a clever magician could fulfill a similar purpose. Essentially, this is a brief prayer to the Divine and invocation of your own Higher Self to aid you in your work and to guide you in ensuring that you’ve made the right decision in this work. Also in this step, you would Banish any unwanted forces from your Temple. The LBRP itself, as well as the LBRH (Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram) are quite suitable for this purpose, and serve both to Banish unwanted forces and to aspire to the Divine.
Formulation of the Pentagrams — Invoking the Forces: In Kabbalistic magic, an appropriate Divine Name is always invoked, and usually this step is used to invoke a specific Force appropriate to the work at hand. If you were to design a ceremony for gaining fiery inspiration, you would want to invoke YHVH Tzabaoth and draw an Invoking Fire Pentagram to draw in the Force of Fire. In the Golden Dawn system and most variants, this would be done by performing the Greater Fire Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram which combines Kabbalistic and Enochian Divine Names and other methods.
Invocation of the Archangels — Invocation/Evocation: This is the part of the ceremony where the magician projects the invoked Force in an appropriate direction for the purpose of creating the intended change. In many cases, this will involve invoking appropriate Archangels or other Angelic forces, such as the Choirs or an Olympic Spirit of an associated planet. If your goals are more material, you may also at this point perform an Evocation, calling upon the aid of a Spirit, Intelligence, Elemental or Demon appropriate to your goal. With the invoked Force and the Divine Name of the previous step flowing through you, you’re well prepared for this step already. It is also at this time that you might project the invoked Force into a Talisman or use it to consecrate a magical artifact. This is the most flexible step of the formula because it’s the step in which you actually perform the intended magical act.
Kabbalistic Cross — Conclusion: At this time, the magician may conclude by thanking the Force invoked, releasing any beings evoked, and Banishing to return to regular consciousness, but with a balanced and spiritually aspiring attitude. Most systems of evocation contain a License to Depart for any spirits. The LBRP (and LBRH, if any Planetary Forces were invoked) is appropriate for Banishing and the final aspiration via the Kabbalistic Cross (and Analysis of the Keyword, if the LBRH is used).
It should go without saying that the above is incomplete. It is merely an analysis based on what I know and what I have experienced. I can only hope that it will serve as a jumping off point for the further investigations of any magician interested in exploring the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, or interested in making use of its design characteristics for the creation of their own, non-Kabbalistic rituals for similar purposes. Being merely a Neophyte in the Work myself, I must in good conscience provide a disclaimer: “The final speech of the Hierophant is further intended besides its apparent meaning, to affirm that a person only partially initiated is neither fitted to teach nor to instruct even the outer and more ignorant in Sublime Knowledge. He is certain, through misunderstanding the principles, to formulate error instead of truth (Regardie, The Golden Dawn.)3.”
- Crowley’s essay may be found on page 690 of Magick: Book 4, Liber ABA (revised and expanded edition), published in the form of the “Big Blue Brick” by Weiser Books, Inc. (York Beach, Maine) in 1997. Crowley makes some interesting points, but I must take issue with his statement that the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is designed so that the magician stands in Tiphareth. It is clear from the Golden Dawn material that the magician stands in Malkuth for the performance of this ritual.
- Page 46 of The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic by David Griffin (1999 Golden Dawn Publishing, Beverly Hills, CA). I suggest the acquisition of this book to anybody interested in Golden Dawn and/or Kabbalistic ceremonial magic.
- For this quotation, see pg. 370 of Regardie’s The Golden Dawn sixth edition, 1997 Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota.
©2007 Nicholas Graham. Edited by Sheta Kaey.