The Role of Myth in Ritual Magic - Part 2
In the previous chapter we explored the meaning and function of myth in ritual magic. We used the example of ancient Egyptian magic to look at the use of the myth from an outer - i.e. religious or sociological - as well as on an inner level - i.e. visionary or ritual. Just in case you haven’t read the first part, let me repeat the main conclusion here. Mainly because anything that follows doesn’t make sense unless we can agree on the following:
“True myths are living patterns that explain the very mode of existence and operation of specific spiritual beings. The myths are the stories the spirits are telling us so we can understand who they are, how they affect our lives, the life of the land and our society as a whole... The myth is the pattern through which spiritual forces start flowing once triggered on the inner realm and on their way to outer expression.”
Certainly not all mythic tales that have come upon us can fulfill these high standards. Today the boundaries between myth, legend and folktale often are blurred. Often what we are left with is a palimpsest touched by many voices and pens, overwritten, cut short and expanded again in multiple layers and times. That is why going into the mythical structures ourselves in vision and ritual and bringing them back to life again is essential. Only by embarking on the mythical journeys ourselves can we explore and ultimately judge if they are true patterns of spirit power - and what type of beings lie waiting at their sources.
2) The Absence of Myth in Monotheism
In ancient times the Myth was the starting point of most ritual adventures into the spirit realm. Personal experience of the myth was pivotal to pierce through the veil of the mysteries. It was actually the main reason to engage in a mystery cult in the first place.
Why then, if its role once has been so crucial in mystery cults and magic alike, has our Western tradition of magic so little to say about the myth? It seems over the last two hundred years we have recovered the grammar of a language almost forgotten. But we are still missing the stories that were once told through it? While we continue to perfect bringing the the grammar of the Grimoires too life again - few of us pay attention to the actual plot they are trying to recreate? What led to this? What was it that created rituals so complex and elaborate that the ritual techniques, the functional details and instructions turned into solid bolt and locks behind which the myth had been covered up and stored away. Until it was forgotten almost entirely and people started to mistake the activity of unlocking complex ritual padlocks for bringing the myth to life?
Well, maybe a look back into history can help. Let’s look back at all the cultures before Judaism that we still consider part of our Western occult lore - rightly or wrongly so. The Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Zoroastrians, the Greek, the Nordic Pagans and Germans, all of them brought their cosmologies to life by use of the myth. It seems as soon as any pantheon has more than a single divine instance the myth awakens: relationships are formed between gods and goddesses, offsprings are born, guile and deceit take place, crisis is brought down among them and overcome by strength or courage or cunning or all of them. It’s through myth that real life finds its subtle mirror in celestial heights and chthonic depths.
Take away the diversity of spirit relationships and the mirror goes blank. No reflections of human lives in the spirit realm remain and equally no reflections of the spirits on the material realm. If the myth dies the mirror between the realm breaks and magic quickly becomes an ‘arcane discipline’ - guarded by scholars and monks, by scribes and scientists. By all professions who by nature aren’t connected to nature. If we want to avoid this abyss between us and the inner realms we have to bridge it with stories - not with science or technical ritual instructions.
It’s the polarity of all being that keeps myth alive. The moment you artificially resolve these innate dynamics of life - which are deeply embedded into anything below the level of Kether - the myth dies. And that is why the bridges of the myth have fallen apart since we started to blend all gods into one. Wether this one remaining god is the one with a capital ‘G’ or disguised under the banner of psychology as our ‘Self’ doesn’t matter. The mirror of the myth needs diversity to shine. It is polished by the breath of each gnome, sylph, salamander, chthonic and celestial daimon. And when we look into it they see us as much as we see them.
3) Myth as a Ritual Language
Still, the myth has much more functions than bridging the abyss between the human and the spirit realm. As mentioned in the first chapter on Egyptian Magic, the myth also protects us. I learned this the hard way when first working in the Egyptian paradigm and then switching back to a cycle of rites that lack any mythical context, the Arbatel Grimoire.
In a mythical paradigm when you engage with a spiritual being in ritual the central aspect of the rite is to reenact elements or whole sections of a certain myth attributed to the being in question. A relation is formed between the specific source of daimonic power and the human vessel that is trying to interact with it.
For beings and spirits below a certain power threshold that relationship to a human can work well without a myth as the interface. However, once you approach beings of divine or higher angelic or demonic level - according to the paradigm you work in - things can turn quite easily and the risk of getting blown up increases significantly. Of course ‘blown up’ in this context doesn’t mean that a thunderbolt of lightning strikes down on the practitioner during the rite. It also doesn’t mean that the demon leaps out of the triangle of Arte or crosses the boundaries of the circle - even though that comes much closer to the point. What it actually refers to is the effect the spirit contact will have on the ecosystem of the practitioner over time. I.e. the health of his bodily, mental and emotional system. This is the place where the real ‘lightning’ strikes and things can move from bad to worse quite easily.
So the use of myth in ritual establishes a pattern that contains and directs the power of the spirit in question. This pattern is as much an expression of the nature of the being as it is an expression of his/her relationship to the human and material realm. It is through this pattern that the force of the demonic being can be absorbed and internalized by the devotee without (much) physical or mental harm. In addition other ritual patterns or filters can support this process: the structure of the temple, the physical stamina of the group or practitioner performing the rite, the physical paraphernalia prepared to absorb some of the shockwave rushing into the material realm...
Yet the myth is the only pattern that works on both sides - both on the human and spirit level. The myth is the story that unites spirits and humans by providing a common purpose. It gives reason for interaction and establishes a shared goal in reactivating a divine power pattern on the material level. In other words the myth is the software of the rite: It informs the power source where to send its energy and what to do with it. The myth is the code that enables mutual conversation between gods and humans. It is a language of ancient experiences, repeated over time which formed deep patterns on the land and the tribes living in it.
Thus success in magic flows from both yourself and the being you work with knowing exactly why you have come here and what to achieve together. Take the myth out of the equation of ritual magic and all you are left with is the grammar of an ancient spirit language - without a story to be told. No wonder when we come across the spirits of the Goetia brute force and coercion often is put into practice? We are lacking the script of why we have actually come together.
It is our choice wether we want to ‘battle the demons’ or reinvent the wheel of myth by building each spirit alliance from scratch again. An alternative could be to look for the old patterns embedded in the conscious of the land. Maybe then we will be able to rediscover our myth for what it really is: a story written from both sides of the mirror.
"Mythical consciousness resembles a writing in code which is only readable to who holds the keys to it. If you look at the myth itself instead, what it is and as what it knows itself, one has to arrive at the conclusion that it is exactly the distinction between the ideal and the real, (...) between 'image' and 'object' which is foreign to it. It is only us, the spectators - who don't get to live the myth anymore but who reflect upon it only - who embed this differentiation into it." (Ernst Cassirer, translation Frater Acher)