Once upon a time, I was speaking with a friend online about some aspects of shamanic work, and the old axiom of “keeping silent” came up as a topic relevant for both us. Sometimes the things we see or experience in our Work can contradict what is generally accepted or acceptable among modern magical practitioners, and we keep quiet lest someone declare that what we are doing is wrong. I realized that I have internalized this attitude to a certain level. It keeps me from actually doing or trying different things, not just in trance work but in any sort of esoteric practice I might undertake.
Letting yourself be limited isn’t a healthy approach to spiritual work. When worry about things you cannot control, like potential failure or community censure, comes into the picture, it can quickly overshadow anything else happening in your practice. Fear can keep me from undertaking any sort of new or unfamiliar practice, which is probably the worst possible response.
First, on the matter of failure itself. It’s easy for me to sit here and type that if you tried and failed, at least you tried, which is better than not trying at all. I can also tell you that people doing their work for years or even decades, whether mundane or magical, will still fail sometimes. The key is how you handle that failure. Do you get up, dust yourself off and try again, or do you wallow in the feeling of failure? I know how hard it is to pick yourself back up when you’re in that moment — wondering if it’s even worthwhile to make the effort to continue or to simply keep replaying that failed moment in your head.
The only thing that seems to help is to learn from it. Don’t give up, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Take an inventory: Is your failed magic based upon a technique you have previously used successfully, or is it something new? Is there some bigger reason for your magic not succeeding? Maybe you have doubts as to the wisdom of the work, or maybe you feel you don’t deserve success. Is it perhaps time to try a new technique, or a different practice entirely? Maybe you need to shift your perspective from, say, a particular concrete result to the efficacy of the process itself.
If you are in suffering a failed working, I would suggest not making any rash decision in the heat of the moment. Take some time to distance yourself from the event to gain impartiality, and work from there. If you let missteps keep you from walking, your only option is to stay in the exact same place, never progressing further. Rather than giving up, step back and look at things more objectively.
When the fear comes from a worry of being shunned, that is more difficult. I am well aware of the drive in most people to seek both approval and success. Positive reinforcement from others is a powerful motivator, and success means you live to see another day. But what do you do when you fall on your face? Or do not receive reinforcement? Or when people tell you exactly how you messed up? Are these people, the ones who’ll be judging, of any real consequence? Do their personal opinions really matter to you? Do you even need to share what you’re doing? Community is a wonderful resource for support, and it helps knowing that at least one other person has possibly tread this path before you. There is no substitute for learning from others, even if we are a community made up of people who most often learn from books. But when we worry for our reputation, often it’s a misguided need for validation that will enhance (or at least not undermine) our self-esteem.
Are their reactions knee-jerk? Are they responding from a place of concern for your well-being? This is one that is not as easily answered. I would hate to sound like a relativist and somehow allow my words to imply that if you’re doing something, it’s automatically okay. On the other hand, in my own Work I often find myself at the boundaries, which is not a regular space for most people, nor a comfortable one. Some of what I learn, I share — and some of it is meant to be shared. A great deal of my work is private and, at this point, meant for me first and foremost. I find that it’s a balancing act.
My best advise it to take a good look at why other people might not agree with the directions your magical work takes you. Are you ready to be taking this step? Could what you’re doing cause a great deal of hurt or harm? These are necessary questions to ask
yourself in this situation. Don’t shy away from the answers if they are not to your liking.
Hopefully, you are not in a position in which your choices are potentially harmful, and the fallout from whatever you’re doing will be minimal. If this is so, and you’re still feeling fear, and you’re not doing as a result, what can you do?
Perhaps a divination is in order, either cast by yourself or someone you trust. Or you could set this particular Working aside for the time being and focus on another project, or even on another aspect of your life, whether it be magical or mundane. You could throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, and see what happens. If you fail, so what? You’re not the first person to do so, and certainly not the last. That’s when you pick yourself up and learn from the experience.
And, perhaps, you’ll succeed.
©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Ever since the advent of Masonry, individual occultists have sought to unify and organize themselves into a collective to facilitate group ceremony, study and collaboration, often using the Masonic lodge as a model. A Masonic lodge has temporary leadership roles, and Masonic brothers are considered to be equal no matter what their social status, degree or role. Perhaps this is why many founding fathers of western democracies were members of Masonic groups. Masonic lore seems to perpetuate the ideal that all men are created equal, despite the fact that initiates and cowans (outsiders) are treated differently. Yet a spirit of egalitarianism pervades Masonic organizations even to this day. This is especially true in the more basic Blue Lodge, which promotes only three initiatory degrees and a rotating hierarchy.
Grand lodges and larger aggregated organizations forewent this spirit of equality and produced a hierarchy of individuals vested with various degrees of authority and power. The Societas Rosecruciana In Anglia and the Golden Dawn were based on this later kind of organization, and other groups, such as the O.T.O., invested certain individuals with authority to ensure that the local bodies as well as the grand lodge had trusted individuals to maintain continuity and stability. Many of today’s occult groups modeled their organizational structure loosely on the model of the Masonic blue lodge or grand lodge. Others have deviated quite remarkably from the Masonic belief in the equality of all members. However, Masonic lodges have shown themselves to be capable of extreme longevity, withstanding change and still operating long after the deaths of the original founders. Fraternity and equality arguably play an important part in the endurance of these groups.
In the various religious groups of Wicca and Neopaganism, there is a trend in which a grove or coven is headed by an autocratic leader or small group of elites ruling a larger group of novices, often with no checks on their authority and little accountability. I have personally experienced the abuses that can occur within Wiccan covens, but the fault is to be found wherever groups invest their leaders with near dictatorial powers. This is true whether or not these individuals have the qualities and experience to be good leaders. If leaders are gifted and skilled at leading, then a benign aristocracy is formed; otherwise, the worst kind of cult of personality and autocracy can develop. The fact that ritual magick and godhead assumptions can be practiced in such groups makes the effects of bad leadership even more damaging.
This is probably why many ritual magicians prefer to work alone and retain their autonomy despite the benefits of belonging to a group. Many magicians started out belonging to a group or organization, but seldom do they stay for more than a few years. Being alone and completely isolated is not a good idea, either. Regardless of the religious or spiritual background of magicians, they tend to branch out, discovering that performing magick for its own sake is more rewarding than belonging to a cult or creed.
The choice to work magick within a group is often made because all magicians need peer review, objective viewpoints, and solidarity, which are critically important to one’s spiritual growth. There is nothing more stultifying and potentially dangerous than the practice of complex and intense ritual magick in complete isolation. While working magick alone is at times necessary, a magical practitioner should have recourse to a peer group of other magicians to balance the intensely subjective nature of ritual work. Having a group of experienced and knowledgeable friends to judge one’s work is very important. In fact, it’s probably the only way that a ritual magician can maintain balance and objectivity. A peer group keeps individuals honest with themselves and helps them to understand their spiritual and magical processes in an objective manner.
Since ritual magicians are not common, such a peer group will be small and intimate. It may not even be centrally located in one’s own community. Because of Facebook, MySpace, blogs, email and Yahoo! groups and chat rooms, the social network of a ritual magician may be entirely virtual. Yet it’s important for a practicing ritual magician to have friends and fellow magicians his or her physical neighborhood so that he or she may periodically meet them and have intimate conversations about personal, spiritual and magical topics. I maintain that a virtual community, although helpful, can never replace real social contact between individuals. Much more is communicated through phone conversations and face to face to meetings than could be written in blogs, chat rooms or email. These same close friends will share common ideas, swap books, look over rituals together, examine excerpts of each others’ magical journals, and perhaps even perform rituals and ceremonies together. When a loose confederation of ritual magicians starts working magick together, then group organization will naturally develop.
Rituals magicians, like many occultists, aren’t known for their social skills, diplomacy or empathetic abilities. They are usually absorbed in their own practices and perspectives, and they generally despise authority figures within their own discipline. They don’t like being ordered around or told what to do. They are independently minded and probably even a bit anarchistic, eschewing any kind of formal group dynamic. This is my question and the central theme of this article: How do you get a group of ritual magicians to function as a creative, sharing, objective and harmonious organization? The answer to this question is to use what is known as a “Star Group” model.
What is a Star Group, one might ponder, and how does it differ from other kinds of groups? First, a Star Group is an autonomous, egalitarian collective where each member is an equal and respected partner, functioning as an integral facet of the whole group. A Star Group is particularly sensitive to the phenomenon of the egregore, also known as the group mind. The leadership roles in a Star Group are temporary and carry little or no real power or authority. The true authority is vested in the group itself and all decisions are determined by a process of consensus.
I define consensus as a mutual agreement in which, for any given decision, a majority of the members of the group are for it and no one is against it. Abstention does not count as a negative vote unless there is not a majority who are for it. An objection from any one of the members of the group will force that decision to be either shelved or altogether abandoned. This kind of rule-by-consensus ensures that a majority will not override the objections of even the humblest member. All individuals are heard and decisions have the backing of nearly everyone. The person who presents the idea or direction to the group has the responsibility to sell it to everyone so that no one finds fault or objects to it. Getting a small group of ritual magicians to agree nearly unanimously to a given plan of action is no small matter, but it can be done. In fact, it must be done so that everyone feels that they have been intimately involved in the decision making process. When the group makes such a decision by consensus, the outcome is guaranteed to be satisfactory to all of the members. Leaders are essentially facilitators with all of the responsibility and none of the authority. Thus no one person can abrogate the power of the group and the equality of everyone is fully protected.
I can almost sense the eye-rolling from my readers after proposing this kind of group. The first objection is that such an organization will not be able to accomplish anything substantive if there isn’t someone who makes the final decision and acts as an overseer. Hierarchical groups seem to be more efficient, goal directed and practical. Anything done by committee is guaranteed to be mediocre at best, and terribly disjointed and chaotic at the worst. It often ends up representing the untutored whims and creative hubris of the least capable in the group. I have seen rituals constructed by committees and I would agree that they are usually ineffective. Yet a Star Group is deliberately small. The execution of consensus agreements incorporates the best abilities of the most able members.
What does that mean? It means that a Star Group is not driven by ego gratification, since everyone is a respected and valued member. Each has a role and a part to play. In such a situation, the group will vest an individual with certain tasks that they are best equipped to accomplish, incorporating other members to aid and assist them as required. People work together and cooperate jointly to produce the best product that they can. A Star Group is an egalitarian team with objectives and goals, and they work together with the powerful commitment of having unanimously agreed to do a given task.
Suppose a Star Group decides to perform elaborate theatrical rituals that require props and even sets. One person who is a gifted artist may produce the sets; another who is a writer would write the script; another who is a musician would assemble the music; an electrician would provide the lighting; yet another might be a costume maker and would design and sew the costumes. One individual might be chosen to act as the director, to direct the others to take on various parts in the ceremonial play. None of these individuals would act alone, since all of their contributions would be screened and examined by the whole group. Everyone would contribute materials, time, labor and money. The net result would be the combined efforts of gifted individuals working together as a group. The quality of such an effort would be far greater than what one of the members could do alone.
Would there be disagreements and sometimes heated discussions? Certainly, since disagreements and occasional arguments would be part of the dynamic. However, the overall objectives and goals of the group would have been set up early in its formation, and the members would be motivated to work out their differences in a peaceful and cooperative manner to get the work done. It might take longer to complete a project, but the level of group satisfaction and the quality of the work would be pleasing to everyone.
Contrast this same effort as applied to a hierarchical group. If the leader is smart and knows how to motivate people, sensing their needs, strengths and weaknesses, then the assignment of roles may show a high degree of wisdom. It may also show a high degree of favoritism and cronyism, since those who are favored by the leader would get the best roles. It would be guaranteed to be done in less time, but it probably would not be satisfying to the whole group unless the leader used good judgment to correctly and accurately call the shots.
If the leader is an autocrat, then the outcome of any project may be just as disorganized, poorly contrived and executed as it would have been done by a committee. In such a situation, the hard labor would be delegated to the least favorable members and the best jobs reserved for the favorite members. A skilled seamstress may be completely overlooked because the leader’s girlfriend wants the job. Similarly, a gifted writer may be forced to do carpentry work because the leader either doesn’t know about her skill or purposefully ignores it to favor someone else. Often the leaders reserve the best parts for themselves. When the overall project fails to be fully satisfying, he blames the least favored members for failing to do their jobs. Other members who know what is really going on will resent the leader’s biased authority and either leave the group or eventually force a confrontation. A hierarchical group may have to contend with a leader’s ego inflation, unethical conduct, exploitation of other members, favoritism, despotism, incompetence and outrageous behavior.
Of course, not all hierarchical groups are dysfunctional and certainly large groups can’t function without a hierarchy. Large groups use bylaws and formal procedures to ensure that leaders are accountable, so despots or incompetents can be removed from their positions of authority. However, we are talking about small groups with less than twelve members. In such a group the temptation to acquire and hold power over others is just too great. Magicians don’t have much stomach or tolerance for such blatant examples of hubris and ego inflation, but with a Star Group, there is an alternative capable of accomplishing goals and tasks with everyone fully engaged. This is much more satisfying than what might occur with permanent authority figures.
The qualities of a Star Group can be summarized by the following points:
- Egalitarianism — each member is treated equally, valued and respected.
- Consensus — each decision is made through the process of consensus.
- Leadership roles are temporary and frequently rotated.
- Groups are fully autonomous (they answer only to themselves).
- Sensitive to the formation of egregores.
- Authority and power is vested in the group, not any individual.
An example of the bylaws used to organize and run Star Groups in the magical Order of the Gnostic Star can be found at this web address. (PDF; right-click and “Save target as”)
©2010 by Frater Barrabbas.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Frater Barrabbas is a writer and practitioner of Witchcraft and Ritual Magick. He has published two books — Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick, and the two volumes of a trilogy, entitled Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Volume 1: Foundation — Volume 2: Grimoire. The third volume in this series, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Greater Key will be published soon. You can contact him at this email address and visit his website.
Yule — the wheel of the year turns; yet everything appears to stand still in the frozen, icy world. Thoughts during this season turn to the past as we examine and reflect on everything that has happened — from joys to disappointments.
We make promises to ourselves, New Years’ resolutions aimed to fix the flaws and invigorate the positive within ourselves.
Timing is everything. That is probably the greatest lesson to be learned from the year’s successes and failures.
In the realm of magick there are many considerations to make, such as when to work magick, when to pause and when to plan. We can examine our natal charts to determine trends, consult calendars that tell us the cycle of the moon and what sign the sun is in. We can divide the day and night into planetary hours, seeking some kind of insight as to when a given event is auspicious. Timing is everything, but in the practice of magick there is little said about when we should or shouldn’t work magick. Are there auspicious times? Does it even make a difference?
With all of these factors to ponder, we ignore one important consideration and that is the personal cycle or wheel of fortune of the magician performing the magick. Even the most optimal and auspicious signs and portends will avail magicians nothing if they ignore important factors about their own waxing and waning material fortunes. Magick done during a weak trough in the personal fortune of the magician may produce nothing or it might even cause losses and misfortune. Perhaps the most important knowledge that magicians can possess is that which will enable them to work magick on their own material circumstances, and knowing their own timing is critical to that kind of working.
In the many years that I have worked magick, I have discovered purely by accident that certain times of the year are better for materially based magick than others, and that there is a pattern to this cyclic process.
What I discovered is that there is a personal wheel of fortune that systematically turns so that half of the year has the potential for material gain and the other half is better used to plan and position oneself for more optimal times, when action can be met with success. The year is cut in half, and one half fosters increase and the other, decrease. It may not be that the poorer half of the year actually experiences losses or setbacks, although this certainly can occur, rather the richer half of the year seems to effortlessly assist one in the pursuit of material gain and personal advancement.
It’s analogous to breathing — inhalation represents internalization and re-grouping, and exhaling represents external activity and successful outcomes. Both are required for the cycle of breathing to be complete. This is also true of the wheel of fortune.
The simplest way to determine this wheel of fortune is take one’s birthday and add exactly six months to it. So if you were born on January 5 as I was, then your halfway date is July 5. So the two most important dates are the natal return and six months later, which would be a point where the sun would be 180 degrees from its natal position. I am a Capricorn according to my natal sun sign, so my annual halfway point is under the sign of Cancer.
I have found that my time of increase begins after the halfway point in the year. From there it proceeds to climax at my birthday and then declines until the halfway point is again achieved. For me, the best time to plan and reorganize is during the winter, after the holidays and before the summer. After the summer vacation period, I am ready to start putting into action everything that I have learned and determined in the previous six months. This is how my wheel of fortune works.
A few years ago I experienced a terrible economic downturn and the resultant massive debt almost forced me into bankruptcy. However, with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it took to legally regain my fortune, I performed a large series of Elemental magical workings, starting in June and proceeding for three months. At the climax of these workings, I also invoked and charged several items with the talismanic elemental, Jupiter of Earth, during the lunar mansion called the Star of Fortune1. In addition, I put together a list of specific material objectives that I wanted to accomplish and crafted them into magical sigils, which I charged. In the intervening months, I was able to accomplish all of my objectives.
All of these events helped me to completely transform my financial situation. In fact, the magical workings still continue to aid me, often from unexpected sources. Because I worked this magick at the most important pivotal point in my wheel of fortune, it had a profound and incredible effect on my material situation. Once I discovered this pattern and realized it, I decided that it was the most important piece of self-knowledge that one could possess.
How do you determine the greater wheel of fortune for yourself and learn about your own important personal timing? The first thing that you do is to find that halfway point in your yearly cycle and note it down.
Then look at the past several years and see if you can see a pattern as to when important material advancements occurred for you. It won’t be perfect, but I think that you will find that one of those half year cycles is more auspicious than the other, which is better for planning and regrouping.
The period from the halfway point to my birthday is the most important time for material advancement. However, for others it may just the opposite, from their birthday to the halfway point might be auspicious. I don’t believe that one pattern should fit everyone, but you should at least examine all of the things that have happened to you in the past and make some kind of judgment as to what part of the year is better for advancement, and that will reveal the time that you can work magick to aid that advancement.
An astrological examination of the transits of the Sun to the natal chart Sun show that a conjunction aspect for the birthday and an opposition aspect for the halfway point are clearly delineated as auspicious points in one’s astrology. The Natal Sun is compared against transiting positions of the Sun in the paragraphs below.
Transit Sun conjunct Natal Sun
This is the Solar Return, when the Sun returns to the position that it had when one was born. This aspect represents new beginnings, the ability to perceive the whole year ahead as if one were standing upon some metaphorical ascent and looking across time at the events for the coming year. It is a time of receiving new impulses and perspectives as the old year gives way to the new2.
In some ways a birthday is a lot like a personal New Year’s day, symbolizing the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year.
Transit Sun opposition Natal Sun
This aspect represents energies in life reaching a culmination, events causing realizations, revealing a critical point of success or failure. Situations judged to fail now appear to fail. The way to success opens up and is revealed. It is necessary for one to change course or redirect oneself3.
The halfway point is a place of judgment and evaluation, where one thoroughly examines all of life’s activities, especially those that bear upon one’s fortune. Those efforts that are failing should be either drastically adjusted or ended. Those that appear to be gathering momentum for success should be steadfastly continued. New opportunities may also arise that will need to be judged as to their worth and a change in course may be called for to take advantage of them.
If one reads these two aspects correctly, then my cycle of the wheel of fortune would seem to fit them. However, it would also fit if one experienced the greater fortune on the first half of the year instead of the second half. It really depends on the individual to determine his or her own personal cycle, and once realized, it should be used to one’s greatest advantage. What is clearly indicated is that these two points in the calendar are very important to working material based magick.
- Al Sad Al Su’ud (#24 The Star of Fortune) Capricorn 25E 51N — see Celestial Magic by Nigel Jackson, pp. 82 – 96
- See Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living by Robert Hand, p. 55
- See Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living by Robert Hand, p. 58
- Hand, Robert (1976) Planets in Transit: Life Cycles for Living Para Research Inc., Gloucester, MA
- Jackson, Nigel (2003) Celestial Magic: Principles And Practices of the Talismanic Art Capall Bahn Publishing Sommerset, UK
©2009 by Frater Barrabbas.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Frater Barrabbas is a writer and practitioner of Witchcraft and Ritual Magick. He has published two books — Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick, and the two volumes of a trilogy, entitled Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Volume 1: Foundation — Volume 2: Grimoire. The third volume in this series, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick — Greater Key will be published soon. You can contact him at this email address and visit his website.
Energy. It powers our bodies, forms thoughts in our heads, helps our vehicles move, and affects every aspect of our lives in some way. Most forms we use come from the resulting reactions between two or more things, such as between sparks and gasoline in a car, though this is overly simplistic. In much the same way, the Shiva and Shakti energies of Kundalini operate in Kundalini exercises: the Shakti-energy that travels up the energy centers unites with the Shiva-energy, producing an altered state of consciousness.
What happens when this process of energy is stalled or blocked? A car eventually burns its engine out when you don’t change the oil, and similarly, people get “burnt out.” Energy work, or at least the healthy communication of energy within, is like an oil change. I recommend you maintain an energy flow and perform unblocking exercises every so often, or you could burn out. But does energy work have to be Reiki, a Kundalini awakening, or another esoteric practice? No, not necessarily. It can be something as simple as talking to someone and sharing an aspect of yourself with them, even your latest obsession or general interest.
Energy communication happens with and within all things, but it is the active engagement of the world around us, as I see it, that makes the difference in how our energies balance. It is one thing to give your car minimum maintenance; it is a whole other thing to take your car in for engine work. For us, having to be rung up at your corner store is like the minimum maintenance, whereas allowing ourselves to become more in tune with or closer to others is the engine work. Communicating with other people allows transference between our energy systems, just as does sharing a meal, having sex, or giving a hug.
There’s always the possibility that your problems are superficial, maybe the result of too much stress or old conditioning needing correction. In my view, humans are a continuous work in progress. That progress can’t be made if we ignore the whole self, and only concentrate on the subtle energies, or on the physical world. Many of us simply ignore our “lower needs” in lieu of “higher things,” whether its denial of sex for purity, denial of food for an impossible body image, while overindulging in another area to fill a hole inside.
I ignored my lower needs for a while, and in the process of doing that, found myself enjoying life less when I thought I should have been enjoying it more. Denying yourself is still denying your Self. I denied myself food and so, had less energy for the things I wanted to do. I tried to fill this hole by drinking energy drinks. I denied myself connection with others, and felt isolated from the world. I tried to fill this hole with work. For every energy I denied myself, I looked for a way to replace it. I found my problems solved when I learned to moderate how much food I ate, by giving myself private time, and time with people I cared for much more equally. By letting others share their energy with me and vice versa, I found a better balance in my life.
Let me blunt and upfront: energy work, energy healing, Kundalini release, and so on will not fix your issues overnight, and will not pay your bills for you. There is, as with any mystical or magical undertaking, a practical aspect that you must initiate. However, I do not feel this means that our subtle energies do not affect us; on the contrary, I think they can be of great effect.
I have had my own experience with energy healings done for me. In general, what I see they do is work within the natural order of how your body is supposed to function. If I am sick and someone does an energy healing for me, it is to help power up my body, mind and/or spirit, as much as it is to help wipe out the virus, sickness, bad habit, etc. Sometimes the greatest thing a healing can do is give you the kick in the ass you need to get over something on your own.
You might ask, “Wait, what about attaining enlightenment or talking to your Holy Guardian Angel or whatever?” Sure, energy work can help you get there, but if you can’t even let go of the world around you, or work within it, what enlightenment would you receive, and what good would come of it? Energy work can help us align with the ideas of enlightenment, whatever yours happen to be. I stress the practicality of energy work not because enlightenment is not important, but because I feel that people should align their lives to better allow that communication. I also stress it because far too many people I know go in search of enlightenment through asceticism and energy work without taking care of the physically real work that needs to be done to allow such a thing into their lives.
In order to host a party for new guests, one needs a clean home, stocked with food and drinks, and have enough space for the guests. Allowing Deity, enlightenment, or what have you into our lives is no different; we should have prepared for it in some fashion, even if every time we go for it we are not at our peak. Not every party goes as planned, or is planned for that matter. Life would be pretty bland without the spark of chaos in it.
For instance, this writing has not gone how I had planned it. I had planned to extol the virtues of working deep within yourself, on how meditation could unwind your mind and let your energies flow more freely. I had planned on writing about how good it can feel to do energy work and healing. It would be partial bullshit, because there’s a balance.
Energy work and healing isn’t always a good thing. Too much and a person runs to it to solve all his problems. Sometimes energy healings touch places with deep, harsh wounds that take a while to resolve, or bring out memories, feelings, anxieties, pains, and traumas that seemed better left alone. And sometimes, healing simply doesn’t work, disheartening the practitioner and recipient alike. Energy healings can take so much out of those involved that they may cause issues to develop, or a co-dependency to form between them. There are just as many pitfalls as there are benefits, more if you go in with rosy-colored glasses about the whole affair.
Despite all the potential problems, work can change perspective, heal us from within, help us move beyond our issues, maybe even enlighten. Just recently, I had an energy healing done. I had been keeping back a lot of anxiety from my loved ones, holding back the stress of losing a job and of not being able to find another. I held to my old conditioning, and didn’t talk about or let it out. On top of this, I had trust issues rearing their heads in my relationships, especially with my girlfriend. My sex drive was all but dead, and much of my enthusiasm for life was gone. My root and sacral chakra were spinning, but the energy wasn’t going anywhere. I had blocks.
I wasn’t thinking about that when my girlfriend asked me to let her do a healing ritual for me. I thought it was the standard “recharge the batteries” work that would get my juices flowing a little. It was a simple ritual, with bells rung about each of my chakra centers to help clear the energetic space there. The effect was dramatic and immediate. I could feel arousal, I could feel that indescribable zest for life, that feeling of “life is good and going to be okay” that I had not felt in months. Was it just a psychosomatic reaction? Was it because of the healing? I’m not a doctor, a researcher or scientist, but whatever it was, it worked. It had a practical end result that pushed me to open up, not just sexually but as a person, and to listen to my intuition. Things have been improving in our relationship and in my relationships with friends and family. I’ve reconnected with people who I otherwise would not have, and have found my “ground” again in life.
This brings with it many challenges that I have and will continue to face: past conditioning, self-image issues, the lack of listening to my instincts, helping old relationships get back on their feet, and maintaining current ones instead of shutting down when things get rough. For you, the work you do with subtle energies may be more or less significantly less challenging, or more, or less utilitarian. It may challenge your views, your long-held habits, maybe even beliefs about yours or the world. I think that is one of the real joys of working with subtle energy: like everyday life, it is unique to us and our experiences.
©2009 by Sarenth
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Paganism is rife with those who deem themselves helpers of departed souls “trapped” in some earthly desire or other and reluctant to move on. I cringe every time I hear or read the words “into the light,” unless I am watching Poltergeist. These eager ghost hunters frequent cemeteries and old buildings, seeking spirits to usher into the great beyond, as if any human being alive can possibly know more of the spirit world and spirit daily affairs than the spirits do. This time of year, the month of October in particular, is the worst of all.
We’ve all heard at least one person remark on the thinning of the veil around Halloween, how spirits otherwise (reputedly) unreachable become much more chatty and expect to be served dinner on All Hallow’s Eve. While some have ancestral relationships that incorporate this tradition, the bulk of those yammering on about the veil thinning have no idea what they’re on about. And yet there is evidence that spirit communication is at an all time high, at least in the modern era. Certainly my work has in the last decade steadily uncovered more and more people who are either very convincing to my skeptical viewpoint or else are having genuine experiences with those who’ve “passed on.”
The 1990s saw the peak of the phenomenon of trance channeling, during which the medium or psychic (such words leave a bad taste in my mouth) gives up control of the body to his or her spirit guide so that the spirit can speak directly to the audience (perhaps of one, or perhaps of a thousand, depending upon the intensity of — spirit or human — desire for attention and revenue). While this sort of relationship is still easy enough to find, it’s being overshadowed by the much more commonplace and much more blasé method of conscious channeling, wherein the medium or human partner simply allows the spirit to speak without giving up control of his or her faculties. I’ve done both, and while it can be cool to gather the evidence that a trance channeling session can provide, there’s a lot to be said for being a conscious partner. You remember a lot more, for one thing.
A little .pdf book called Thinning of the Veil: A Record of Experience by Mary Bruce Wallace has a few points to make on this regard. While I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book, I can appreciate what she has to say on channeling:
“I felt from the very first perfectly normal, not losing consciousness in any way, but I could not guess what the next word would be until I had heard it. ‘We just give you one word at a time, and then wait to see if you have grasped it,’ said my friend.
“The voice seemed to speak not to my outer ear but to my soul-ear, and I heard every intonation of it, suiting the nature of the thought, tender, grave, encouraging, hopeful, joyous; every human emotion that is true and beautiful seemed expressed in tones more musical than any outward voice can reach.”
This book was published in 1919. Ms. Wallace writes at length on the relationship between herself and her spirit teacher. A single, unexpected encounter with a departed friend led to meeting this teacher, and then a floodgate opened and she began to see angels as well as other departed souls. Exhibiting a much more grounded approach to these experiences and recording them without coloring her encounters with more modern garbage such as, “We’ve lived 10,000 lifetimes together and he loves me more than anyone has ever been loved before [a sentiment I’ve actually heard before],” her prose is a breath of fresh air from a time we can no longer relate to. As children of the Information Age, our attention spans are minuscule, and our capacity for reason not much bigger. Mediums, shamans and psychics, or just sensitive people as I prefer to be called, would do well to emulate our cultural ancestors, such as Ms. Wallace and Ida Craddock.
It’s the opinion of Ms. Wallace, and I fully agree, that the veil is thinning — oh yes, but it’s not restricted to the seasons of Samhain and Beltane. The thinning of the veil is a progression, a gradual change year after year that allows normal, ordinary people to encounter spirits of various ilk on a daily basis. I’m constantly receiving emails and requests for help from people who’ve had their first encounters with spirits and don’t know what to do. But the one thing the bulk of them have in common is that they’re enraptured and want to learn to strengthen and continue this contact. Only paranoid religious fanatics tend to see these spirits as dangerous or demonic.
The veil is thinning. It’ll still be thinning in November, in February, in August, in 2012 (and 2012 — that’s a bitch-fest for another day). If you haven’t had an unexpected encounter with a spirit yet, odds are you will. Just do us all a favor, and don’t lose your rational mind in the experience.
©2009 by Sheta Kaey
Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts
Donald Michael Kraig
Llewellyn Publications (1988)
Reviewer: Sheta Kaey
As this book is typically the first book recommended to anyone interested in learning ceremonial or ritual magick, I thought a review here was appropriate, if only for the purpose of having it in our archives. As a primer in high magick, Modern Magick is not bad. It has its faults, however.
Mr. Kraig sets up the book as a series of lessons (hence the subtitle) meant to take the budding ritualist from complete novice to someone with a clue within twelve months. It can do it if one is prepared to stay focused, but not many people do. The book is designed to teach largely via negative consequences, and since so many novices are already uncertain, this can drive them to abandoning their studies almost as soon as they’ve begun. However, the student won’t discover the negative consequences unless he or she is smart enough to uncover his or her mistakes via crosschecking with other sources. Most, therefore, may continue along blithely unaware of how foolish they are to place their trust in Mr. Kraig or to assume his honesty.
Mr. Kraig takes the student (you, for the course of this review) through basic lessons in learning to control the four elements, not in the ways you might think (i.e., you don’t learn to summon storms), but in terms of energy and its effects on you. He also teaches the methods for creating the ritual tools for each element, as well as additional tools that comprise the standard ritual altar. The early sections of the book also teach the basic rituals that not only are the standard beginnings in any course of ceremonial magick, but which also serve you as needed for the rest of your life. The most important of these is typically agreed to be the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
A word of caution, however, and here’s where we look at that presumed honesty: Take nothing for granted in Mr. Kraig’s book. Nothing. Or, so help me, you’ll be heartbroken when you discover that all the energy, work, and pure heart you applied to his instructions has been wasted due to the blinds he quite deliberately puts in his instructions. Double check everything against other sources before you spend time, energy, or money for things he instructs you to do. Blinds, or deliberately placed errors and code words designed to trip you up and make you learn the hard way, are everywhere in ceremonial magick works, and Mr. Kraig’s use of them could therefore be viewed as a blessing — learn early, so that it’s ingrained in you to check your sources, check your definitions, read between the lines, assume nothing. It’s good advice, and it’s a hard lesson to learn that a tool you’ve made with your whole heart is useless because it’s been inscribed with the wrong symbols, and so on. But in spite of its pragmatism, it sticks in my craw that a modern writer — in an age when oaths are rarely taken and even more rarely kept — would take advantage of the trust of someone who gave him money to learn from him. I’m in the minority, though, I think. Various ceremonial friends of mine hate it when I give away the blinds, so I’m not going to tell you where they are, but there are several and they start early on.
Aside from that most irritating and admittedly effective technique, which is used early and often in this book, Mr. Kraig provides a solid foundation in the basics of ritual arts. The book is recommended to novices, with the single caveat that they take care in validating the information at hand, especially when they might find more convenient to just take Kraig’s word for it. He makes clever use of his misinformation, adding it where it might seem unlikely and keeping it real where he might be assumed to set traps. Keep a sharp eye, and learn the lesson well — but hopefully without too much pain in the end.
Four stars out of five.
Review ©2009 Sheta Kaey
Purpose of Circles In Magic
There are two opinions about the purpose for the circle in ritual magic — the first view is that it is to keep something out, and the second view is that it is to keep something in. Both are correct, and although they may seem contradictory, both views are based on the same principle — the circle is a barrier that divides inside from outside.
Take a pencil and a sheet of paper. Draw a line segment on the paper. The line seems to divide one side of the paper from the other, but it has end points, and it is possible to go around those ends — the line segment is not a true divider. However long you imagine the line to be, it is possible to imagine the paper it is on to be larger, so that the line never truly divides the plane.
Draw a circle on the sheet of paper. You will see that the division made by the circle between inside and outside is absolute. Enlarge the circle, shrink it, distort it, and it makes no difference — as long as the circle is unbroken, it creates a perfect barrier. There is no way around it.
You might argue that in our first example, we could limit the size of the imagined sheet of paper, and then it would be possible to draw a line completely across it, and divide it in an absolute sense. Yes, but to limit the size of the paper we must first draw a mental circle around it, that defines its edge. The actual physical sheet of paper is limited in just this way — its edge is its boundary circle.
What can we say about the nature of a circle, based on this little thought experiment? We can say that a circle surrounds, encloses, contains, and excludes. It defines the edge of something, and by doing so, it gives what it defines a shape. Everything we see has a circle around it. If this were not so, we would not be able to distinguish one thing from another — they would all run together and merge in our minds.
That brings up another aspect of the circle — it exists in the mind. We draw a mental circle around any thing we chose to separate from all other things. When we look at an apple tree and consider the tree as a whole, we draw a circle around the tree that divides that tree from all other trees, from the sky, the earth, from all other things that are not the tree itself; but if we choose to narrow our attention and focus it on a single apple hanging on a branch of that tree, we mentally draw a circle around that single apple.
All circles are by their inherent nature magical. They define order from chaos. There is no separation in the natural world, there are only the separations we choose to impose upon our perception of the natural world. We construct our reality piece by piece when we draw circles of identity around objects and concepts.
If you have followed this line of reasoning, you will understand that names are magic circles. This is the fabled occult power of names. When we name a thing, we separate it from everything else. It comes into discrete existence in our mind at that moment. Everything we perceive has been divided in our mind from chaos by an enclosing circle, and that circle defines the name of the thing enclosed. The subsequent process of assigning an arbitrary word sound to the thing is secondary. We have already named it the instant we recognize its existence. That recognition makes the thing real for us — brings the thing forth into our personal reality. This is a magical act, even though it is seldom recognized as such, because it is so basic to the way our minds work.
The magic circle is usually understood in a narrower sense, as a circle drawn for the purpose of working ceremonial magic. It defines a space within which magic is facilitated. Exactly how the circle aids the working of magic has been a matter for debate.
In traditional Western spirit evocation, the circle was used to guard the magician from the malicious actions of evil spirits, who were excluded from the circle while the magician remained safe within its boundary. In modern Wicca the belief is that the circle retains and concentrates magical energy raised by ritual work, making it easier for the leader of the ritual to direct and release that energy for a specific desired use.
If you consider what was written above about the nature of circles in general, you can see that these two views are not incompatible. A barrier can simultaneously hold one thing out while holding another thing in. A fence around your back yard will keep your dog inside the yard, but at the same time it keeps other dogs out of the yard. The key point is that it cannot be crossed so long as it remains undivided.
The magicians of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were mostly concerned with calling up demons and spirits of a mixed type, for the performance of tasks that would have been beneath the dignity of angels, and unsuited to their natures. These tasks included such work as the finding of treasure, the harming of enemies, inducing love or lust in other persons, gaining social position or power, inducing a glamour of false appearance, and so on.
By their very nature these kinds of low spirits are not inclined to help or obey human beings. Yet they are more suited for selfish tasks than the benevolent angels. The magician got around this awkwardness by calling demons and spirits of a mixed type up outside the bounds of the magic circle, while he commanded them from the safety of the space inside the circle. This protective use of the circle is unnecessary when dealing with angels of a more spiritual nature, since they never seek to do harm.
Even so, the circle was drawn for other purposes than the evocation of low spirits. Wiccans employ it to contain and concentrate the power they raise by their changing and dancing. When the occult energy within the circle has filled the circle to such a degree that it can be felt on the surface of the skin as a kind of heat or electricity, the leader of the ritual releases it like an arrow from a bow toward its intended function.
You may ask how energy can be released from the circle, when the circle by its very nature is an unbroken barrier. This is an occult secret that until fairly recently was never explicitly revealed. I wrote about it in my first book The New Magus, which was published by Llewellyn Publications in 1987, and that may have been the first time this secret was clearly explained to a large number of magicians.
The circle by its nature cannot be broken and remain a circle. No point on the circumference of a circle can be singled out as an aperture without destroying the integrity of the circle, since all points must remain undifferentiated and undivided if the circle is to stay whole. The only way in or out of a circle is through the point at its center, which by the nature of a circle is defined. Yet all points within the area of a circle are the same – one mathematical point does not differ from another mathematical point by its nature, but only by its position.
The center is relative. Any point in space that the human mind chooses to make its viewpoint becomes the center of the universe for that consciousness. We think of ourselves as looking outward through our eyes from some point within our skulls, but this is arbitrary. We can just as easily regard the world from the tip of our right index finger, or from the cat lying on the fireplace hearth across the room.
The practical consequence from a magical standpoint, with regard to the circle, is that any point within the circumference (but not on the circumference) of a circle can be regarded by the magician as its center point, and used as an aperture in or out of that circle.
When the high priestess of a Wiccan coven releases from the circle the accumulated occult energy of a ritual to the fulfillment, she does so by opening the point doorway at the center of the circle. This happens even if she is unaware of what she is doing. There is only one way in or out of the circle, so to release the pent-up energy, the high priestess must open the center — that point within the circle that she chooses, by the focus of her will, to represent the center-point of the circle.
Points are opened by expanding them. The expansion of a point is accomplished by means of a spiral. Only spiral energy can move through a point. Wiccans raise what is known as a cone of power within the circle. The cone has a spiral energy and it focuses upon a point, which is the center point of the circle. It is through this expanded point that the concentrated energy of the ritual is released, to fly like an arrow to its target, where it accomplishes its purpose.
Necromancers working with demons from within a protective magic circle sometimes pierce the circle with a sword to manipulate objects, or to compel obedience from the demons they have evoked outside the circle. They seem to pierce the side of the circle with the blade of the sword. Probably they themselves believed that they were piercing the side of the circle when they extended the steel blade beyond its boundary.
This is not the case. As pointed out, a circle only remains a circle for so long as it is unbroken, and were it broken even for an instant, its protective power would cease. No, the blade of the sword actually extends through the point chosen by the necromancer as the center of the circle. This occurs on the subconscious level. By choosing a place from which to project the sword blade, the necromancer defines the center point, distinguishing it from all other points within the circle, and by projecting the blade he opens that point with spiral energy.
Circles of Stone and Dancing Rings
Mention magic circles to the average person and the first thing he will think of is Stonehenge. The sheer beauty and mystery of that ancient ring of standing stones on the Salisbury Plain has so captured the modern mind that it has become iconic. Yet it is far from unique. Similar stone rings of widely varying sizes and degrees of sophistication are to be found not only across England, or even across Europe, but throughout the entire world. The most ancient that has been discovered to date are probably the rings of curious T-shaped standing stones that have recently been unearthed in Turkey.
The place is called Gobekli Tepe. It is near the city of Sanliurfa, which lies around ten miles to the southwest. The unique T-stones were discovered in 1994 by a Kurdish shepherd, who happened to notice some curiously regular stone blocks poking up from the ground while tending his flock. What he discovered has been called the greatest archaeology find in history.
The stone circles excavated from under their covering of earth turned out to be over 12,000 years old — 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. There are an estimated twenty rings of stones, although only four have been completely excavated to date. Most of the stones are about eight feet tall, but one has been found in a nearby quarry that was 28 feet long, so much larger stones may wait to be uncovered.
The discovery at Gobekli Tepe shows that human beings were building elaborate complexes of stone circles even before they began to settle in villages and farm the land. That is how important the making of circles was to these early cultures. Undoubtedly they were used for religious rituals, but for ancient man there was no clear separation between religion and magic. Shamanism is an almost perfect blending of the two. The shaman is both priest and magician.
Some researches have contended that these stone circles were built to mark the windings of the stars and planets in the heavens — as a sort of elaborate form of sundial. But if this were their only function, or even their primary function, it could have been accomplished just as well with much less massive or elaborate constructions. Imagine how much labor went into the construction of Stonehenge, or Gobekli Tepe.
No, the circles of stones served a magical purpose that was of the highest possible significance. They defined a sacred space, concentrated ritual energies within that space, and protected it from defilement by disharmonious forces. The maintenance of these sacred spaces must have been more important to the peoples who built these great stone rings than any other purpose in their lives. They devoted generations of their lives to building them. The only comparable act of devotion in historical times is the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe.
A ring of standing stones defines a permanent circle to sanctify and empower a specific spot on the surface of the earth, but magic rings of an impermanent kind were also constructed for ritual purposes. The most ephemeral form of magic circle was that formed by the bodies of dancing witches, or the seated ring of chanting shamans. This sort of magic circle could be formed anywhere a nomadic tribe stopped for the night, and although its locality was always different, its manner of formation was always the same, and leant the ritual practice a continuity that persisted in spite of the ceaselessly changing landscape.
We can catch a faint echo of this kind of nomadic ritual practice in the books of the Old Testament that describe the early Hebrews wandering in the desert. Each night they erected a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant. The walls of the tent became the magic circle that contained the occult power of the Ark, and also excluded those who were considered unfit to approach the Ark.
Still more primitive nomadic peoples could accomplish the same ends without a tent, by defining the magic circle with their own tribesmen gathered into a ring. At its center a fire was probably maintained, and around this fire a shaman danced and sang to raise occult power. By dancing around the fire, the center point of the circle was opened, and the energy released to fulfill its function.
European witchcraft descended from shamanism. This is self-evident — there are too many parallels between shamanism and witchcraft to reach any other conclusion. Although we can only conjecture as to how primitive nomadic tribes must have formed their magic circles, we have a much clearer idea how the witches of the Middle Ages went about it. The practices of witches are described in the transcripts of the European witch trials.
These court records are to be viewed with the utmost skepticism. The confessions of witches were extracted under torture, or the threat of torture, and accused individuals tried to tell their captors exactly what they wanted to hear. Even so, the general consistency in the descriptions suggests that they are based upon some collective cultic activity — that there were indeed witches, and that they did indeed gather for the practice of magic and for worship.
This was the conclusion of Margaret A. Murray in her highly controversial yet influential book The Witch-Cult In Western Europe. Murray’s findings have been dismissed by most mainstream anthropologists yet her central contention, that the mythology of witchcraft represents an echo of a surviving pagan religion, or at least a kind of cultic set of magical practices with religious elements, cannot easily be dismissed.
We read in the testimony of accused witches that they gathered at their sabbats to perform works of magic and worship. Those recording these matters were Christian priests, so naturally in the transcripts of the witch trials, the works of magic are invariably supposed to have been evil, and the worship always to have been devil worship. Yet we have only the assertions of the Christian priests that this was the case. It seems more likely that the magic worked by witches at their gatherings was of a mixed nature.
Witches danced in a circle at their gatherings. This was known as the round dance or ring dance. Margaret A. Murray wrote in her 1931 book The God of the Witches:1
The ring dance was specially connected with the fairies, who were reported to move in a ring holding hands. It is the earliest known dance, for there is a representation of one at Cogul in north-eastern Spain (Catalonia), which dates to the Late Palaeolithic or Capsian period. The dancers are all women, and their peaked hoods, long breasts, and elf-locks should be noted and compared with the pictures and descriptions of elves and fairies. They are apparently dancing round a small male figure who stands in the middle. A similar dance was performed and represented several thousand years later, with Robin Goodfellow in the centre of the ring and his worshippers forming a moving circle round him.
(Murray, God of the Witches, pp. 109-10)
Concerning the ring dance of witches, J. M. McPherson wrote in his 1929 book Primitive Beliefs In the North-east of Scotland:2
The ring dance usually took place round some object. Thomas Leyis with a great number of other witches “came to the Market and Fish Cross of Aberdeen, under the conduct and guidance of the devil present with you, all in company, playing before you on his kind of instruments, ye all danced about the said Cross, the said Thomas was foremost and led the ring.” These danced round the Cross. Margaret Og was charged with going to Craigleauch “on Halloween last, and there accompanied by thy own two daughters and certain others, ye all danced together about a great stone under the conduct of Satan, your master, a long space.” Here the stone was the centre round which they danced.
(McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs, p. 169)
Discounting the slanders of the Church Inquisitors concerning the presence of Satan in the gatherings of witches, we can see in these ring dances the formation of a kind of dynamic, movable magic circle. As is the case with modern witchcraft covens when they form a circle for ritual purposes, the center of the ring had a focus for its concentrated energies. Usually this was the leader of the ritual, but the dances might also take place around a standing stone, altar or other object of power. The rotation of the dancers provided the spiral energy needed to focus upon the center of the circle.
The close correspondence between the ring dance of witches and the ring dance of fairies is part of the whole complex of strong ties that exist between the lore of witches and the lore of fairies. Fairy rings, naturally occurring circles that appeared in the grass of meadows and in woods, are the result of the growth of fungus under the surface of the ground, but they were thought to be made by fairies dancing with their hands joined. Other names for these circular phenomena were sorcerers’ rings (French: ronds de sorciers) or witches’ rings (German: hexenringe). By some rural folk they were thought to be formed when witches gathered at their sabbats to dance.
European witches met out of doors, under the moon and stars, and gathered in grassy meadows on in clearings in the forest. They danced on the ground, which was unmarked with symbolic patterns, forming the patterns of their rituals with their own bodies and with their movements. It shows how important the circle is for magical practice, that even under these conditions witches felt a need to define a circle with their dance.
Magic Circles in the Grimoires
The round dance of witches is perhaps the purest form of magic circle. European magicians did not have the option of using a dozen human beings with linked hands to form a circle. They worked alone, or with one or two assistants, and usually performed their rituals beneath a roof on a floor of stone or wood. It was the usual practice to draw or inscribe a magic circle on the floor of the chamber of practice prior to beginning the ritual, using charcoal or chalk. There were other methods for defining the circle – it could be laid down in the form of joined strips of fur or skin, or defined by a rope laid out on the floor, or even painted upon a canvas or rug that was unfolded across the floor – but the usual way was to draw or inscribe the circle.
The term “circle” is used here in its occult, not its mathematical sense. Ritual circles were seldom perfectly circular, or simple in nature. They consisted of concentric circles within a square, or multiple circles, or more involved geometric patterns such as pentagrams, hexagrams or octagrams. These complex patterns on the floor of the ritual chamber are still magic circles, in that they were used to divide inside from outside with a continuous and unbroken line, or set of lines.
One of the oldest of the grimoires, and the most authoritative, The Key of Solomon the King, describes the making of a complex circle. It is evident from its size and manner of formation that this circle is to be made out of doors on the ground.
The magician takes a cord nine feet in length and uses a sword to fix one end to the center of the working space. With the cord pulled taunt, he uses the other end to inscribe with a knife the line of a circle on the ground that is eighteen feet in diameter. A cross is drawn through the center of the circle to divide it into four quadrants – east, west, south and north. Into each quadrant is placed the symbol of that direction of space.
This is the actual magic circle — the magical barrier that protects the magician. Beyond this initial circle, which is called the Circle of Art, other elaborations are to be inscribed which are part of the compound magic circle but not its essential core. Three more concentric circles are to be drawn, each one foot larger in radius than the initial circle, so that three bands are formed by the four circles. Within the outermost of these circular bands, pentagrams are to be inscribed, along with the names and symbols of God.
A square is drawn outside these three bands, or four circles, and outside the square a larger square, so that the corners of the smaller square touch the midpoints of the sides of the larger square. The squares are to be oriented so that the corners of the larger square point in the four directions – east and west, north and south.
It should be noted that the illustration in S. L. MacGregor Mathers’ edition of the Key of Solomon (figure 81) does not match the description of how to make the circle (bk. 2, ch. 9). The confusion arises with regard to the concentric circles — how many there are to be, and what is to be put in them, and where it is to be put. The illustration in Mathers’ book shows only three circles, not the four described. I will quote the relevant passage of text from Mathers’ edition, then explain where the confusion arises. The numbering within the square brackets is mine, and has been used for the sake of clarity.3
Then within the Circle mark our four regions, namely, towards the East, West, South, and North, wherein place Symbols; and beyond the limits of this Circle  describe with the Consecrated Knife or Sword another Circle , but leaving an open space therein towards the North whereby thou mayest enter and depart beyond the Circle of Art. Beyond this again thou shalt describe another Circle  at a foot distance with the aforesaid Instrument, yet ever leaving therein an open space for entrance and egress corresponding to the open space already left in the other. Beyond this again make another Circle  at another foot distance, and beyond these two Circles [2 and 3], which are beyond the Circle of Art  yet upon the same Centre, thou shalt describe Pentagrams with the Symbols and Names of the Creator therein so that they may surround the Circle already described.
(Mathers. Key of Solomon, p. 99)
The first circle with a radius of nine feet is the Circle of Art. The second concentric circle has a radius of ten feet, the third concentric circle a radius of eleven feet, and the fourth concentric circle a radius of twelve feet. A gap is left in the north of each circle for the entrance of the magician after he has finished completing the drawing of the pattern. The magician closes the gap once he stands inside. This gap is not mentioned explicitly for the innermost and outermost circles, but it is implied. In some of the older illustrations of magic circles this gap in the north appears to be a permanent part of the circle — a kind of corridor for entry and exist (see Skinner & Rankine, The Veritable Key of Solomon, p. 70).4
The text seems to indicate that the pentagrams are to be drawn within the outermost of the three bands, between circles 3 and 4. It is not specified how many pentagrams are to be used, but Mathers’ diagram shows four. However, in the diagram they are located upon the square that surround the four circles, not within the outermost band of those circles. Based on the text, these pentagrams should be placed between circles 3 and 4, along with divine names, so that the band of pentagrams and divine names surrounds the inner circles. The text seems to imply that the divine names should be written within the pentagrams, but I believe this is misleading – the names should probably be written within the outermost band of the circles, between circles 3 and 4, beside the pentagrams. A pentagram should be located between each divine name. The symbols of the Creator may be the four Hebrew letters of Tetragrammaton, IHVH.
There is no indication in the text what names are to be written within the bands of the circles, apart from the outermost which does not even appear on Mathers’ diagram. The diagram shows in the innermost band the Hebrew divine names (which I have transcribed into Latin characters) AVIAL, ADNI, IHVH and TzBAVTh. The second band contains the words MI KMKH BALIM IHVH. These are the only Hebrew words shown on Mathers’ diagram.
The vast size alone of this complex magic circle would make it all but unusable. The smallest part of it, the Circle of Art, is a full 18 feet in diameter. The size of the larger square outside the concentric circles is around twice that width. To draw this circle indoors would require a room some 32 feet across, at least, in its smallest dimension. Many modern houses are not this wide.
Fortunately for magicians, the circle in the Key of Solomon is only one such design that may be used. At the opposite size extreme, some older woodcuts show the magician working within a circle so tiny, it is barely large enough to contain him. A few of these older illustrations even show the demons evoked into the circle while the magician stands outside it unprotected, but this is contrary to the usual use of the circle and should probably be considered an error. Malicious spirits are evoked outside the Circle of Art, usually into a triangle, but sometimes within a smaller circle with the magician safely within the larger circle. As is stated in the Key of Solomon, those who work within the Circle of Art “shall be at safety as within a fortified Castle, and nothing shall be able to harm him” (Mathers, p. 100).
Drawing the Physical Circle
Do not be alarmed if you cannot make out the letters of all the obscure names in the magic circles of the grimoires. Some illustrations of these circles are so corrupt, it would take a Solomon risen from the grave to decipher them. The Hebrew and Greek characters have devolved into nothing more than meaningless squiggles. Happily for the modern magician, there are an infinite number of possible patterns for the magic circle, and all of them will work effectively provided the magician who creates them follows a few basic principles, which I propose to give you. A circle you design yourself, if it is rightly designed, will always be more effective than a circle you copy out of an old book.
The first consideration of a magic circle is that it must be an unbroken line the end of which joins up with its beginning. It does not necessarily need to be perfectly circular in shape, although rightly made circles will usually contain at their root a single unbroken circle, beneath whatever elaborations have been added. Bear this in mind — base your magic circle on a simple, unbroken ring, and it will serve you well. It should be made as large as necessary so that you can work comfortably within it. A traditional size is nine feet in diameter, but for a single person working without an altar, a circle as small as six feet across will be fine. If you can make the circle nine feet across, you will be able to set an altar at its center, and you will have enough room to move around it.
The world is usually divided into four directions or quarters. The magic circle is similarly divided into four quadrants — north, east, south and west. It is not essential to physically mark these quarters of the circle, but you should be aware of this division, which is the most fundamental division of the magic circle. The magic altar is often placed at the center of the circle, and the altar has a square top with four sides. Each of its four sides should face one of the four directions. The room in which the magic circle will usually be constructed will likely have four walls. Again, these walls may be referred to the four directions and four quarters of the world. The wall that is closest to the east can be used for the direction of east, the wall closest to the south can be used for the direction of south, and so on. Align the sides of your altar with the walls of the room.
The divine names that are generally used to act as guardians of the circle are four in number, one name for each quarter of space. It does not matter which specific divine names you choose. The grimoires generally use Hebrew names of God culled from the Bible, either written out in Hebrew characters, or in Greek or Latin characters. IHVH, Adonai, Eheieh and Elohim are serviceable. You do not need to use divine names from the Bible if you have an aversion to conventional religions. Pagan divine names will serve equally well, provided that they are names or titles of the supreme god of the pagan pantheon with which you are working. If you were to use classical Greek mythology for your pantheon, you would choose four names for Zeus. If you were to use the Nordic pantheon, you would choose four names for Odin, or Woden. You will find that supreme gods always have a multitude of names and titles from which to choose.
These four divine names are applied to your inner circle, the root of your magic circle, which is called in the Key of Solomon the Circle of Art. Draw a second circle outside the first, so that there is from six inches to a foot of distance between them, and mark the names in this ring. They are your strongest final line of defense, your ultimate authority by which you command spirits of a malicious or mixed nature. Like the greatest artillery, they are powerful but not versatile.
Outside this first ring you should construct a second ring by drawing a third, larger circle, in which you should place the names of four lesser gods, or if you are working with the Jewish or Christian systems, the names of the four archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel. Each lesser god, or archangel, should be chosen to serve as the active arm of the divine name to which it corresponds. The archangel executes the will of God that is defined by the divine name of that quarter. It is the extension or projection of that power.
All the names should be written to be read from outside the circle, not from inside. This important detail is usually overlooked in the grimoires. It is the spirits beyond the boundary of the circle who will be barred from entry by the power of the names, so the names are written for their benefit.
A third line of defense should consist of a third ring, defined by a fourth larger circle, in which are inscribed four names of lesser or earthly spirits that are under the authority of the archangels or lesser gods of the second circle. These earthly spirits will execute minor and mundane tasks assigned to them by the archangels of the four quarters. In traditional Western Judeo-Christian magic, there are four elemental kings that may be used for this purpose, Djin, Nichsa, Paralda and Ghob. Sometimes the nature of the archangels is too elevated to effectively deal with material concerns, and when this is the case these earthly spirits act as their arms, just as the archangels act as the arms of the divine names.
If you have followed this division, you will now have three rings defined by four circles, each ring with four names written in it, one name for each quarter of the world. You may place whatever elaborations you will outside these circles, but the basic circle has already been made, and will serve any purpose to which it is put.
I’ll give the Golden Dawn arrangement for the four sets of divine, archangelic, and kingly names on the quarters, just as a reference. Other names may be used with equally good results.
- East: IHVH — Raphael — Paralda
- South: Adonai — Michael — Djin
- West: Eheieh — Gabriel — Nichsa
- North: AGLA — Uriel — Ghob
An attractive elaboration you can use, if you have sufficient space, is to draw a heptagram outside the outermost circle so that the circles fit within its open center. The form of the heptagram that has a line which reflects from every second point has a large space at its center. The names of the seven planetary angels can them be written at the bases of each of the seven triangles that form the points of this heptagram. This circle is excellent for planetary magic.
The question of what to use to mark the magic circle on the floor always arises. In past centuries a piece of charcoal from the fire was used, or sometimes a piece of chalk. Floors were usually rough boards in those times, or flagstones. Charcoal or chalk do not work well on a modern carpet, or even on polished hardwood.
A popular method is to lay out the circle with colored tape. This can be bought at any craft store. You can be conservative and use white tape for the entire circle, or if you wish, you can differentiate the fourfold division of the circle by using tapes that are colored the four elemental colors. The Golden Dawn correspondence of colors for the four directions would be: east — yellow, south — red, west — blue, north — black (or green).
Projecting the Astral Circle
Now I must tell you the most important part of casting a magic circle. What you have just made on the floor of your ritual chamber, this elaborate construction of three rings with its divine, angelic, and elemental kingly names, is not a magic circle. It is only the physical husk or shell of a magic circle. It has no life, no reality on the astral level, until you infuse life into it, and make it real.
It is for this reason — because the circle you have drawn or laid out on your floor is a dead thing — that I have not written about making a gap in the north to enter the circle. The circle does not exist until you empower it, so making a gap in the north is not necessary. You may just step across the edge of the physical circle to enter it.
To empower and bring the circle to life, it must be projected or cast on the astral level. This is done in the imagination, by a process of successive visualization, at the start of your rituals. The circle you envision on the astral plane will not correspond in every respect to the circle you have drawn on the floor, any more than the astral temple you have erected in your mind will match exactly your physical workspace.
To cast the circle on the astral level, you stand within the physical circle, visualizing yourself standing in the astral temple you have built up in your imagination, and then mentally walk around the inner edge of the physical circle, projecting the astral circle above it with astral fire so that it floats in the air at the level of your heart. If your physical circle is small, it is sufficient to turn on your own axis while projecting the astral circle in the air at heart level.
After you have projected the astral circle, you must sustain it in your imagination for the remainder of the ritual. It is not an empty exercise — when you make the astral circle, it remains in existence in your mind. The more clearly you can visualize it, the more potent its working. Never step through the astral circle once it has been projected.
The astral circle is projected from the right hand, the side of the body that projects. The right side is projective, the left side receptive. You can use an instrument such as a wand to project the circle, or your right index finger. If you use your finger, it is good to have a magic ring on that finger, the better to channel your energies. The astral fire of the circle is drawn out of your heart center and ejected from your wand, or index finger, in a continuous stream, as though it were a stream of burning liquid.
You can visualize this fire to be of any color, but a glowing yellow-white flame is neutral in a magical sense, and will serve for most ritual purposes.
I have developed a very specific way of projecting occult energies. I lay my left palm flat over my heart center at a comfortable angle, as though taking a pledge, and extend my right index finger. I then visualize astral fire shining from my heart-center the way light shines from a flame. I draw this fire out of my heart-center through the palm of my left hand, up my left arm, across my shoulders, and then project it strongly down my right arm and out through my right index finger. The astral fire traces an expanding spiral course through my body.
After projecting the magic circle on the astral level, you should invoke the names of the gods, archangels and kings by turning to face their directions successively, or by walking around the circle to stand in their quarters successively. Start in the east and turn sunwise. Call forth the power of IHVH in the east, then Adonai in the south, Eheieh in the west, and AGLA in the north. Return to the east and invoke the archangel of the east, Raphael, then go to the south and invoke Michael, then Gabriel in the west, and Uriel in the north. Return east and invoke the king Paralda, then the king Djin in the south, the king Nichsa in the west, and the king Ghob in the north. Return to your starting place in the east, or face east if you are turning on your own axis within a small circle.
In this way you will have gone around the circle three times, once for the names of God, once for the names of the archangels, and once for the names of the kings. This turning creates a whirl or tourbillion — a kind of occult vortex — that draws down magical power into the circle and fills it with astral light. If you have done the invocation rightly you will see this light strongly glowing in your visualized astral circle, and you may even see it in the physical circle, glowing on the air with a soft radiance.
You have in this way cast the circle and energized it. You are ready for whatever ritual work you intend to perform.
Breaking the Circle
When that work is finished, you must deliberately break the ring of the astral circle before you leave the physical circle. I say again, do not walk through the astral circle. Nothing so terrible will happen if you do, but by walking through it you demonstrate that it lacks substance. This is not a good practice. You want to make the astral circle so real, to tangible that it would be physically impossible for you to walk through it without breaking it.
Before breaking the astral circle, banish the four regions of space that lie beyond its barrier. By the authority of the God names of those quarters, command any spirits who may be lingering there to depart in peace. Do this in a quiet but resolute voice, or if you are performing a silent mental ritual, with firmly focused thoughts that are sub-vocalized in your throat. Pay attention to how the air of the ritual chamber feels after you banish the quarters. Does it feel calm and empty? Or does it have a waiting, watchful feeling? If it does not feel empty, perform the banishing a second time, or even a third time, with greater emphasis.
After the four quarters have been banished, it is safe to break the astral circle. When you have divided the circle you may draw it back into your heart center by reversing the steps with which you projected it. Break it in the east (that is the usual starting point used by most magicians, although I start my rituals in the south). Draw it into yourself by walking around it widdershins if it is a large circle, or by turning widdershins if it is a small circle. Draw it back into your heart through your extended left index finger, the side of reception.
Ring, Sash and Circlet
Various articles are worn by the ceremonial magician that are in themselves magic circles that enclose and protect the body, by which different forms of occult force may be concentrated or projected.
The magic ring is a standard article for traditional Western magicians. It is customary for a familiar spirit to be bound to the ring, so that the spirit lends its power to the ring, and may be called forth from the ring at need to perform services for the magician. A magic ring is described in the Key of Solomon, showing how ancient this instrument must have been. The Greek writer Philostratus described magic rings worn by the sage and magician Apollonius of Tyana, who lived around the time of Jesus, and the use of magic rings must have been old even in the time of Apollonius. Cornelius Agrippa was supposed to have worn such a ring.
In addition to serving as the receptacle for a familiar spirit, the ring is used to project power through the finger on which it is worn. Usually this is the right index finger, the most willful and potent finger for projection. As energy runs around the circle of the ring, forming a vortex of power, it is directed out through the point gateway at the center of the magic circle defined by the ring, and channeled along the axis defined by the extended finger.
Another magic circle worn on the body is the sash. This is usually wrapped three times around the waist of the magician and tied, although sometimes the sash is closed by a fastener in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail, so that the sash forms a symbolic ouroboros. The sash is sometimes made from seven bands of colored fabric or ribbon that are the seven colors of the rainbow and correspond with the seven planets of traditional magic. The sash I use is made of seven braided cords, each cord died one of the rainbow colors.
The function of the sash is manifold, but one purpose is to contain and concentrate vitality within the center of the magician’s body. It also offers protection against possession attempts, or other intrusions into the body by spirits. Different sashes sometimes form marks of rank within occult orders, just as different colored belts are ranks in the martial arts.
The third magic circle often worn on the body by Western magicians is the circlet, a band of metal worn around the head. Mine is in the shape of a serpent swallowing its tail, and is fashioned from copper. Silver and gold will also serve for making the circlet.
The circlet concentrates occult energy in the head, the seat of the will and the reason. It has the function of strengthening and focusing the mind. Its physical pressure on the forehead helps to awaken and open the ajna chakra, the third eye which is located between the eyebrows. The circlet is helpful during scrying for this reason.
There is no aspect of ritual occultism more ancient or more essential than the magic circle. Indeed, it is difficult to find systems of magic that do not use the circle in some form, and when they are found, they seem incomplete and naked. The magic circle is older than Solomon, older than Moses, and occurs throughout the world in all religions and systems of witchcraft and thaumaturgy. It divides, excludes, protects, attracts, focuses, and concentrates, as these functions are needed by the magician. It is used not merely for evocations, but for invocations, for charging of talismans, for scrying, for projecting accumulated occult energy, and even for meditation. A correct understanding of the circle, not only how to project it, but what it signifies symbolically, is the most basic knowledge any magician can possess, and no magician can be said to know anything of importance about magic who has not mastered the use of the circle.
- Murray, Margaret A. The God Of The Witches . London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
- McPherson, J. M. Primitive Beliefs in the North East of Scotland (International Folklore) . London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929.
- Mathers, S. Liddell MacGregor. The Key of Solomon The King: (Clavicula Salomonis) . York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc., 1989.
- Skinner, Stephen & David Rankine. Veritable Key of Solomon (Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic Series). Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2008.
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.
©2009 Donald Tyson
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.
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
June 21, 2007 by Gerald del Campo
Filed under alchemy, christianity, columns, deity work, general practice, gnosticism, hermeticism, magick, philosophy, qabalah, religion and spirituality, the dictionary of traditional magick and etherical science, thelema
A column by Gerald del Campo, The Dictionary of Traditional Magic and Etherical Science features ten author-selected definitions per issue. The definitions included in Mr. del Campo’s Dictionary do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators or other contributors of this magazine.
(Logic) A Priori knowledge is comprehension which can be established independently of experience or reasoning from experience. Examples of A Priori truths include: Boys are male, 1+1=2, etc. Analytic truths
are A Priori. See Rationalism.
(Alchemy) Hard clumps of undigested food or solid balls of hair sometimes found in the intestines. During the preparation of mummies Egyptian priests discovered bezoars and believed the hard balls to be magical pills formed by the large intestines. In alchemy, any compounds that clump together into a ball as soon as they are mixed (like sulfur
aureum and red mercuric oxide) are called Bezoars.
(Alchemy) The first operation in alchemical transformation, calcination is a process in which a substance is subjected to high temperature, causing a loss of moisture, reduction or oxidation, and the decomposition of carbonates and other compounds. It is denoted by the symbol for the first sign of the zodiac, Aries.
(Logic) The basis of duty as morality. Deontology is the doctrine that there are acts for which rightness or wrongness is not wholly dependent on the goodness or badness of the resulting consequences. The phrases “No matter what the consequences,” and “My country, right or wrong,” are signs of a deontological view. The opposite of Deontology is Consequentialism.
(Qabalah) Hebrew Secularly, the profoundly evil adversary of God and humanity who is identified with the leader of the fallen angels; the Devil. In mysticism, Satan is the steadfast servant of God who enables human free will to exist by offering the option of evil.
©2007 by Gerald del Campo.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Gerald del Campo has authored three books on the subject of Thelema: A Heretic’s Guide to Thelema, New Aeon Magick: Thelema Without Tears, and New Aeon English Qabalah Revealed. He is a photographer, musician and CEO for the Order of Thelemic Knights, the first Thelemic charitable organization. You can visit his blog at http://solis93.livejournal.com and his websites at http://thelemicknights.org and http://egoandtheids.com. Gerald formerly served as Senior Managing Editor of Rending the Veil.
Based on personal experience and observation, and anecdotal evidence from various other magical practitioners, the stages of development for magicians, mystics, and spiritual practitioners follow a fairly predictable route, at least with regard to common denominators of experience. While I address the “Dark Night of the Soul” at length in my article of the same name in this month’s issue, I’m devoting this column to lesser known stages that ceremonial magicians call, after the Kemetic gods, the “Isis,” “Apophis,” and “Osiris” stages of growth.
The Isis stage of development is familiar to everyone. It includes the initial attraction, enthusiasm, and often rapid momentum that introduce you to the new idea or philosophy. During this stage, you, the practitioner, are gung-ho and excitable and find it easy to keep your focus as the inertia of “ooh shiny” carries you effortlessly along. Ideas are popping into mind at an astounding rate, and the process of discovery is self-perpetuating. There is no boredom, no difficulty, and you’re certain you’ve found the Holy Grail of your spiritual life — many say, “I’ve come home,” or “I’ve finally found that there was a name for what I’ve always believed,” or similar description for a concept that revolutionizes their paradigms and infuses new life into their personal raisons d´etre.
No one ever quits his new religion, philosophy, discipline, or study during the Isis stage. The new adherent can be obsessively focused and talk about little else. He feels alive like never before. Clearly, this is what he’s been looking for, and he’s certain it will always be perfect. In romantic circles this is known as “New Relationship Energy,” or “N.R.E.” It’s the honeymoon phase in which the focus of your amore can do no wrong.
As we all know, inevitably that wears off and we start to gain a more realistic perspective of our new toy. Sometimes disillusionment is abrupt and cruel, while other times it is gradual and easier to accept. With regard to magical disciplines in particular, it slows down through friction against the overwhelming amount of new information and in time, comes to rest. Now begins Apophis.
Ecauldron.com has this to say: “Isfet is a form of destructive chaos, uncreation, un-naming. It is personified in Apep (Apophis), the great serpent that tries to devour the sunboat while it is travelling in the underworld at night. It is imbalance or impurity. How isfet manifests in each person’s life will be different, but many people can identify the sort of turmoil that leaves them feeling undone, as if their selfness is being stripped away and destroyed, their sense of identity: that is isfet. . .”1 [Emphasis mine.]
The stage of Apophis is, as implied above, the darkness following those initial rays of hope and discovery that we found in Isis. When Apophis arrives, the river of momentum that carried you through the landscape of discovery dries up, leaving you parched and without an easy way of travel. In a sense, it is related to the path of Gimel — the path of the Abyss on the Tree of Life in Qabalah. While not the “big Kahuna” of abysses, Gimel (and Apophis) nevertheless constitutes a sort of trial by fire, a traversing of the spiritual desert in which you thirst for knowledge (or even a sign of encouragement) — but like all deserts, it’s full of mirages, false starts, and shining promises of nourishment that never manifest. It tests your resolve, dedication, and endurance, pushing you cruelly, beating you down, and worst of all, abandoning you completely to your own devices.
If you’ve never experienced this before, reading about it isn’t going to give you any idea of the reality. All of your inspiration is gone, and your feeling of brethren toward your fellow magicians is replaced by a feeling of alienation and confusion. You’re convinced of your own ineptitude, because nothing you do furthers your progress (or even makes any difference), and you feel as though you are conspicuously failing where others appear to be doing just fine. The alienation combines with the despondency, driving you away to lick your wounds in private, and you are left feeling completely isolated. It stays that way for a long time.
This is the stage wherein the wheat is separated from the chaff. Those who did not enter their new discipline or study with a true desire to grow (rather than with a passive sense of curiosity or by simply being swept along by a friend’s interest in the subject) will fall away due to boredom and the sudden lack of automatically supplied reinforcement. These individuals are unwilling to work past the challenges or push beyond the veil to see what comes next. They accept that what they see, and have seen, is all there is, so they move along to the next thing or drop out and return to their usual (pre-attraction) daily lives.
The stage of Apophis is often likened to a “spiritual winter,” due to the barren landscape of the psyche at this time. The thing to remember is that in winter there is growth — it’s just under the surface, invisible. The roots of plants and trees grow in winter, providing a solid foundation for spring blossoms and the expansion of the visible greenery above the earth. Without this foundation, the body of the plant would be unsustainable. There must be a balance. If you apply this knowledge to the stage of Apophis, you begin to understand that without the assimilation of our previous surge of learning, we cannot hope to retain it, nor can we hope to expound upon it and gain another “summer” of visible growth.
So what happens to the ones who stick it out? That’s the real question, isn’t it? How many people make that effort? One in ten? One in a hundred? I don’t know the statistics (or any way to determine them) but I can say that the vast majority of people I’ve personally worked with eventually fall away or give it up. It’s disheartening, and it leaves the field of serious practitioners rather thin.
As you may have guessed, the stage following the darkness of Apophis is Osiris. Osiris is Kemetic god of the underworld, and of resurrection.2 In this stage, he brings new life where Apophis has taken it, and rends the veil, showing what lies beyond. Osiris is the payoff.
Many devotees of spiritual or magical pursuits find that after suffering an interminable period of frustrating inability to affect change, they will begin to feel, on some deeper level, that something is coming. Though not the only time this feeling ever occurs, as the end of Apophis nears it takes on the distinct flavor of a light at the end of the tunnel. It teases and shimmers indefinably, and after a time, draws close enough that we gradually gain insight into the nature of the upcoming dawn. Then the sun rises, and all systems are go.
Suddenly, efforts to move that previously had no effect now begin to work, sometimes with surprising efficacy. Locked doors fly open in welcome. Enthusiasm takes a tentative step forward, and finding conditions favorable, surges anew. We are once again able to learn, grow, relate, and celebrate our successes. And not only do we gain access to further study, we find that our understanding of knowledge learned in the stage of Isis has deepened and we are now able to articulate concepts that we previously found difficult to communicate. This is due to the assimilation of the winter darkness of Apophis.
Without limits, expansion gets out of control and we cannot comprehend the tangle of ideas erupting from our inspired minds. We must step back, and as we humanly may find that difficult to do in the rush of enthusiasm provided by Isis, Apophis steps in as a matter of natural progression, allowing us the “dead time” necessary to solidify our spiritual foundation and prepare for the next stage of growth.
And do you know what that means? Isis, Apophis, and Osiris cycle through regularly. Don’t let the darkness get you down . . . the dawn is just over the horizon.
©2007 Sheta Kaey. Edited by Trinity.
Sheta Kaey is a lifelong occultist and longtime spirit worker, as well as Editor in Chief of Rending the Veil. She counsels others with regard to spirit contact and astral work. You can read her blog here.