Some thoughts on Ritual Magic - or Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
Recently I shared the account of the sixth ritual in the Arbatel cycle, the rite of the Olympic Spirit of Bethor. Performing this ritual was an eye opening experience on many levels. Not at least because it was the first Grimoire-related ritual I performed simultaneously in vision and in ritual. Being able to witness the magical tides and dynamics from both sides was a completely different experience to any of the previous Arbatel rites.
Truth be told, above all this ritual gave me a much deeper understanding of why true ritual magic is so difficult to achieve. Why it actually is so flawed in its reputation, and why it is abused so often by middle-aged men as a playing field for their anal desires of categorising spirit names, functions or paraphernalia instead of stamps. I guess, I learned the three reasons behind these ‘Whys’ are deeply embedded into ceremonial magic itself: Because the beast we came to call ritual magic is
- tricky to tame,
- dangerous to probe and
- deceptively easy to fall for.
Forgive me as this might sound horrible. Yet, Bethor taught me that true ritual magic is too complex for most people to actually work it in any pragmatic, positively validated and ultimately successful way. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem. Many sciences and arts share this particular trait and people couldn't care less: Few people actually make it to become quantum-physicist, practical alchemists, royal gardeners, master stonemasons, etc. The difference to ritual magic, however, is that its stereotypical promise is so alluring to mass appeal that it simply attracts too many people to maintain any level of quality. Its virtual as well as physical study halls constantly are crowded with people who shouldn’t be there. In fact, most people don’t even bother to visit the study halls any longer, but aim to jump right into action immediately - wondering later on why they never achieved anything meaningful besides blowing themselves up?
The problem with ritual magic is that it ceased to be a field of sincere collaborative exploration, research and exchange long ago. Instead it turned into a niche market of egotistic self-interest - and thus limited its ability to grow, mature and diversify as a field of study and practice. Not even speaking about moving the ball forward, but simply finding the ball again on the playing field became so incredibly hard, it took true genii like Karl von Eckartshausen, Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Franz Bardon or others to bring the Western tradition back to life. For normal mortals like ourselves just becoming practically Okay at the limited ritual techniques we will ever apply, became the journey of a life-time…
In science people often say they are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. Well, how does a dwarf get onto the shoulders of giants? Let’s make it even simpler: How does anybody get up anywhere? I guess by two means only and these are dedication and hard work.
See, when I said earlier that the study halls of magic are filled with people who shouldn’t be there, I didn’t mean this in an elitist way. Quite the opposite. If someone is wasting other people’s times in these halls these days it rarely is a matter of talent or intellectual horsepower. Much more often it is a matter of willingness to study and to do the actual work. Nothing is more brutally annoying to a teacher - may that be a human or an inner contact - than a lazy student. In fact, nothing in the Inner Realm lasts shorter than the life-span of a lazy student. If you look at why people fail in magic and you broadly assign them to two buckets labeled with ‘Doesn’t Want To’ and ‘Isn’t Able To’, you’ll actually find very few people in the latter, yet you’ll need to empty the former every couple of minutes…
Bethor showed me how I am just barely scratching the surface myself - irrespective how hard I work and prepare for each rite. The depth of magic, the depth of the forces we can gain access to is so completely beyond our human mindset and boundaries. Yes, we might carry the privilege of calling ourself microcosms, i.e. mirrors of creation and of all living forces within it. But you know what - it makes the whole thing just even more scary. If all these forces, beings, spheres, the vastness of space, the fragility of life itself - if all of this is what we are made up of as humans, we better be damned scared of ourselves. Because how little of us do we really know?
Just for a moment consider this: Think of your mind as a prisoner. A prisoner in a huge old mansion which is located in a huge old garden which again is located in a huge old country which is part of a huge old world… Now, think of this prisoner as a man who decided to lock himself up voluntarily. His prison inside the huge old mansion is made of some loose bedsheets. The bedsheets are useless as a jail of course, except for suggesting the man - whenever he sits silently amongst them - that he was locked up in a square white room. It’s only there that he feels this comfort; the comfort of being locked up, of being in a small space he knows and possibly controls.
Well, I guess you can say ‘Just be careful what you ask for!’, right? Don’t go out doing a ritual for the Olympic spirit of Jupiter to then come back and complain about being scared shitless by the vastness of space and power and consciousness you encountered…? Point taken. And yet this is exactly what happened - I suddenly, without any warning saw the fragility of things - both, the fragility of our human lives as well as the fragility of the magical craft we have created.
I said ritual magic was tricky to tame, dangerously to probe and easy to fall for. Maybe I am saying this first and foremost to myself? It just scares me to see for how long I’d been oblivious to this? Despite all the foundations I laid, all the material I worked through, all the years of repetitive practice and study - I had no idea how fragile, how carefully balanced our bodies and minds were. Just think of the forces that maintain our endocrine system, the blood pressure in our eyes or skull, the secretions of our livers or the living bacteria in our bowels. All of them are intrinsically connected with the spirit beings we evoke in rituals. All that separates the latter from the cells we are made up of, the elements we live and breathe in are white bedsheets in a huge old mansion… If our magical craft has any reason to exist in the future, than it will be because of the people who introduce us to it. The future of magic lies in its magical teachers. These few people, scarred like old trees yet empathetic and patient enough, to know how to best pull down the bedsheets from around the prisoners without sending them into madness.