On the Path of the Ritual Lone Practitioner
A personal account of walking the Hermetic Path
Here is a rough outline of the path I have been walking on for the last fifteen years. It is by far not the only possible way to walk the Hermetic Path; others have found their ways in lodges, occult study groups or simply through living in remote places for long stretches of time. However, the below might help to describe the outline of a path that is open to anyone at any point in time - without having access to any secret knowledge or secret masters. All it takes is yourself, a lot of curiosity, a little humbleness and plenty of perseverance. To keep things simple, I’ll focus on five main aspects only that differentiate this way of walking the Hermetic Path from many others:
always work on your own.
begin with waking up.
challenge your fears.
Then walk towards the stars.
Lineage & ancestors.
You always work on your own.
You will walk this path well, if you don’t feel alone when you are on your own. When approaching a magical path this is one of the most fundamental questions anyone encounters: By working within a group, perhaps even leveraging inner group contacts you will be able to tap into the existing pool of the group’s energy.
In such scenarios working ritually alongside an experienced adept will not only significantly accelerate the type of experiences you are able to make early on, but it will also accelerate your own magical development. It’s like learning to run with constantly strong tailwinds coming from behind. In fact the nature of these magical types of tailwinds will not only accelerate your learning curve, they will also begin to determine how you run and - even more importantly - what you are running towards.
By accepting the advantages that come with an existing magical group pattern, you also accept the disadvantages that come with it. The main one being, that such energy pattern will strongly influence the type of magician you are about to become. Therefore the price you pay for the speed you gain, is the freedom you lose. It is not only the freedom of how you want to approach magic, but also when and where you want to perform it and most importantly why and what for.
If you choose to learn magic within a group setting, you accept becoming a link in a chain of humans. If you decide to learn magic as a lone practitioner you decide to become a link in a chain between yourself and the world.
Don’t misunderstand me: there truly is no right or wrong here. That’s why choosing your path matters so much. However, do not underestimate how much you will be shaped by the experiences you make during your first five years of magical practice.
While you might think of yourself as a fully grown adult, you are wax in the hands of the magical forces you will come in touch with. Therefore it is a significant decision whether you want to deal with these forces 1:1 as a lone practitioner, or accept mediation of them through other people and adepts in a working group.
In the path I am describing here, people walk the long route, the slow route. People value freedom of choice as well as the authenticity of their own experience above all. It might take them years to experience the amount of magical energy a Neophyte in a group setting can experience on their first rite. But when they finally get there, all of the energy has been generated, mediated and directed by themselves. Call them purists or control-freaks, think of them as one-woman- powerhouses or just unable to blend into a group. Finding your path is not about judgement; it is about being true to who you are, rather than who you want to be.
Example: During the ten years of training I spent with my first teacher whenever I had finished working with a lesson, I would come to his house to perform a written as well as practical test. The written tests lasted between two to six hours nonstop and quickly became more demanding than my studies at university. The practical assessment was exactly that: me performing whatever techniques the lesson had come with and my teacher rigorously assessing how I did.
They easily lasted another two to four hours. Thus completing a lesson and moving on to the next, would always be marked by one or two days of examination at his house. Early on I asked him how was able to tell whether or not my magic ‘worked’ as he simply sat next to me and silently watched. His answer was: ‘I cannot judge whether your magic works, nor can I see your intent. All I am doing is to examine and build up your technique; what you do with it later on is completely up to you.’
This quickly brought me to my second question, which I kept repeating for probably the first three years like someone banging his head against a brick-wall. I asked him why he would never show me how to perform certain techniques? Despite all the years we spent together he wouldn't even show me how to vibrate barbaric names or hold a wand; nothing.
His only answer was: ‘There is a magician inside of you that we are trying to pull to the surface. By me giving you ideas of how things should be done, we dilute your growing sense of the magician you ought to become.’ And that’s what I mean when I say we walk along on this path. It certainly doesn’t mean we need to isolate ourselves from others. But it means that only in silence will we find the voices that want to speak through us.
You begin with waking up.
Once you have chosen this path as your magical path, you might not be doing any rituals for several years. That doesn’t mean, however, that you are slow or lazy, it simply means this path takes a different route than many others.
This path begins and ends with knowing how to use yourself as a tool. This path perceives you as medium that will make any magic possible - or inhibit it. You truly are the raw stone that needs a lot of processing, chopping and polishing before it can take its space in the temple.
Here is what the work of the first years normally consists of: In this type of magic we assume that most people spent almost their entire lives asleep. Only on very rare occasions do people tend to wake up for short periods of time: Maybe it happens during a car accident, in the moment when we hear about the death of a loved person or when we sit on the porch on the first warm morning of a new year.
Most of us are so estranged to the state of being awake that we don’t even remember it. And when we encounter it, it often is through highly negatively connoted circumstances. Such state of being awake should not be confused with any Buddhist terminology of the different states of awakening. While there are some parallels in the process of achieving a state of awakening, such comparison normally clouds more of the actual issue than it helps to uncover it.
The hardest work on the raw stone that we are, is to peel away its initial layer of extremely hard surface: It is to become aware of and then break through the unconscious patterns, habits and reflexes that we have come to assume as our personality. Just as a process of achieving such state shouldn’t be confused with the Buddhist’s path, so the actual work necessary at this stage cannot be confused with the aim and tools of Modern Psychology. Language is of utmost importance here - as we as humans beings love to box things up. It gives us a feeling of safety and security to know things are safely in their boxes; what we aim to achieve at this stage is exactly the opposite. We strive to throw out the boxes.
Of course this is work that we do will never be completed; but we constantly maintain it and return to it on our path of practice. However, after some time some of us will achieve a state of sufficient clarity that we can progress to the next stage of the work. Such a state is normally characterised by a healthy balance of equally identifying with oneself and dis-identifying, by holding on to who we are in this moment and equally being open to change and letting go. It is a field of options and possibilities that opens up to us - without neglecting who we truly are at this moment in time. Once we manage to find and enter this field of possibilities, we become fluid enough to handle powers and experiences that would easily damage any rigid (personality) structures.
Example: One of the very first lessons during my training was to learn how to sit in silence. The goal of this exercise was not only to sit in physical silence and shut up, but to sit amongst a silent body, a silent heart and a silent mind. The way I was introduced to this work was as straight forward as most of my teacher’s advise was: He asked me to sit down for 5min on the first day - and then to add +5min every day until I would sit still for two hours straight. Once this threshold was reached, the goal was to sit for two hours on seven consecutive days. ‘Sitting still’ meant the only movement that was allowed was breathing - no scratching, swallowing or blinking for two hours. Of course I asked: ‘But what if I need to go to the toilet?’ He looked at me and said: ‘I am sitting eight hours straight a couple of times a year; every time I enter this practice I sit in a plastic tub. If you need to piss, just piss - but you won’t get up or else you have to start all over again.’
So I began with my practice. And boy, did I learn about the difference of being asleep and awake. In fact it was during these weeks when I learned most about how our consciousness interacts with our body and how it can shift and shake within seconds that might seem like hours. I learned about phantom pains, physical and psychological ones, I learned about the power of my mind and its weakness. And without knowing it at that time I slowly began to wake up.
See, all the talk about trance states and drugs in magic is irrelevant once you have learned to simply sit. In these two hours of silence I explored worlds of agony, joy and deep magical insights. When the day of the exam came, I sat in a room in my teacher’s house. He came in with a long wooden ruler and asked me to settle into my asana (i.e. sitting pose). Once I had done that, he took measure of my position against features of the walls from all sides. He said: ‘If any part of your body moves more than 2cm when I come back every 30min to check in, you’ll need to start over again.’ I replied: ‘You are just insane.’, closed my eyes, slowed down my breath and began to sit.
You challenge your fears.
See, an element of true beauty in this path is that there is nobody there telling you what good or bad looks like. All there should be, is a teacher who helps you orchestrate a specific sequence of experiences which aims to be in harmony with your inner readiness to change. Should you choose this path, then be prepared to spend a lot of time with your personal fears. Not because your teacher or yourself is supposed to be a sadist, but because on this path we perceive fears to be doors. Behind each of these doors lies a power. Some of these powers are too strong to be handled by you at this stage in your life, others are perfectly adequate.
Figuring out when to search for which door, knock on it and enter - that is the role of your teacher. Of course he or she is bound to make costly mistakes. Learning that nobody but yourself can protect you or expose you is a lesson anybody on this path learns very early on.
Before any magician on this path enters into a magical circle, they will work with their fears. In the ancient mystery cults neophytes often needed to pass four tests, one for each element. What you experience on this path at this stage is pretty comparable. What you gain from it is three things: scars, strength and humbleness. A scar is just an experience that was rough but you survived it in one piece. Learning about the resilience and self-healing powers we all contain within us is a significant milestone on this path.
Strength on this path isn’t measured in muscle. Strength is measured in degrees of freedom, in the degree to which you are able to stand on your own. Not with tailwinds but in headwinds. Strength on this path is measured by how much you begin to learn what you stand for, how much you live up to your own values in times of adversity. Strength is measured by the things you do when nobody is watching.
Humbleness on the other hand is measured by how much you can laugh when you fuck up in front of everybody else. At this phase of the path you begin to understand what it means to be a container, a vessel, a qlippoth of power. Humbleness is the quality that will help you not to die as a practicing magician within your first two decades. It's the quality that will teach you which doors not to knock on. Very important.
Example: After the first couple of years my teacher told me I would need to spend a night out alone in the woods. I said that’s no problem, as the city I lived in had plenty of large parks and I could simply sit on a bench for a whole night. He shook his head and said I don’t understand. I should simply come to his house when I was ready.
A couple of weeks later I arrived at his house on a Saturday. He then told me that we would travel out into the woods close to where he lived and we would need to hike into a remote area of the mountains for a couple of hours. That’s where I would spend a night, watching and listening and not sleeping.
I said, but what if I get scared and need to leave the wood? He answered: ‘That’s the whole point of the exercise. You can’t leave the woods - it will be the middle of the night, you are too far away from the next road and you just can’t get out on your own.’ It was about lunch time when he told me, and suddenly the nature of this exercise had changed quite drastically. I began to doubt whether this was the right day, whether the weather would be stable enough, and whether my equipment would be good enough to go so deep into the woods.
He listened, smiled and said: ‘All you need is someone who kicks your ass and that will be me today.’ Then we drove out in the woods, parked the car and walked for what seemed a very long time. At some point he mentioned, now I should choose a place. I was so nervous at this point I just couldn’t make up my mind and kept on walking through the brush-wood from one place to another... Finally, I settled in what seemed a completely random place; probably I was just exhausted.
My teacher said goodbye quickly and walked off. As I hadn’t been allowed to take anything with me that would make light, I rolled out my sleeping bag on the ground and settled down. Looking back today, the details of this night completely blur: I recall the dusk and how quickly it fell, I remember how cold and damp it got underneath the huge trees and I remember the waves of fear washing over me like an
invisible sea. Besides fighting these waves of fear, nothing meaningful happened that night.
I sat for hours, fell asleep for short periods and listened to the many unfamiliar sounds in the darkness, all while trying to stay calm. Of course factually, there was absolutely no reason to be afraid. The Bavarian woods don’t come with wolves or bears. Yet, still waves of seemingly irrational fears attacked me one after the other.
It’s funny - out there in the woods in pitch black darkness, surrounded by the strangest noises that never seem to stop, without a single match or knife, the line between reality and fantasy just disappears in the blink of an eye? A wood at night changes its nature; and it brings out a different nature from within us. That’s what I learned that night when my teacher kicked my ass. Yet the moment that blew my mind, was the moment late during the next morning when I reached the car park. I unlocked my car - and just couldn’t believe how bright the day was, how calm the woods were and how strong I felt from inside.
Whatever had happened that night, the world was still here and so was I. What I really learned on that morning was this: Fighting your fears doesn’t mean to conquer, kill or overcome them. Someone who tries that would be like a man throwing chalk against his own shadow on a wall. Fighting your fears means to actively invite them into your life and then to endure them. It means we allow them to take a place in our life for a certain, limited amount of time - and to know that their presence will neither kills us, nor harm us. It is our fantasies that do.
Then you walk towards the stars.
Different from many others paths of magic, on a lone path you do not work with any explicit shape or form of divinity on this path for a very long time. Just as much as this path wants to avoid that, you are unconsciously shaped by group-patterns, so being alone will also shield you from deity-patterns that would have a similar, if not stronger effect on you.
Once you are ready to work in ritual on this path, you will do so from the ground up. The first rites you will do on your own, at night out in the woods, will be elementary rites. Getting to know Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and many of the spiritual composite-beings will keep you busy for several months if not years. As this path focuses a lot on yourself as a mediator of power (or blockage to it) you will not only learn about the nature of these spirits, but also how you are assembled by them.
Yes: in the paradigm of this path your body, your heart, even your mind are nothing but assemblies of spirit cells. Each of these cells is ruled by another being and these beings thus exist both inside as well as outside of yourself. This might sound highly paradox and each practitioner at this stage is at constant risk of deciding for an ‘either-or’ of a spirit vs. psychological model of magic. What this path, however, truly holds in store is how to learn to accept or dismiss both - and just continue to walk.
Only once you have encountered these essential building blocks of creation will you press on. You will get to know spirits of the land that live alongside you. You will encounter spirits of the chthonic depth and spirits of the planetary realm. In fact, you will spend a lot of time with the spirits of the planets. Only then can you walk on to begin to work with divine powers. Many of us never do, because work might be calling somewhere else.
Example: Remember, where I come from, the type of visionary magic as Josephine McCarthy teaches it, has never been heard of. All your magic is focussed outwardly, into the astral and physical realms. And the means to interact with spirits is much less your inner vision than your physical hands, your body, your voice and mind.
I began to pick up my first ritual lectures probably two to three years into my training. They were relatively simple yet highly repetitious - almost like a song on heavy rotation. The first time I performed a middle-pillar exercise in front of my teacher, followed by a LBPR he just frowned and said it was okay.
Okay? I had practiced on my style for weeks and all he said, was that it was ‘okay’? When I inquired he answered: ‘See, you did everything the lesson required. It is true, this is what I wrote down in the lecture. But your concentration and energy were just really average. Had you done it right - as small as the ritual act might seem - there wouldn’t a grain of energy left in your body and mind, and most likely you would have a terrible headache now. Don’t be so soft on yourself or on your magic.’
So I went away and trained some more. I now understood I needed a dedicated room to practice - for no other reason as I would need to be able to shout and call at the top of my voice without disturbing or drowning the attention of my neighbours.
I needed to be free from observation; free to experiment. After a few weekends I had built out the cellar of our apartment into a tiny temple room; it was just large enough for me to stand in the middle and turn 360° without touching the walls. I had covered the small window with cardboard and insulation. And here I practiced.
What I quickly learned was that the high expenditure of energy had a double effect: it changed the energy I released into the room, yet it also changed my inner state of being. The more intense my concentration, the more powerful my moves and intonations, the more absorbed my mind became by the ritual act.
It took me a few years of further practice to understand that this was the key to ritual trance without the use drugs: To achieve a state of powerful, automated, flow- like action took huge amounts of concentration, physical focus as well as knowing every movement completely by heart. If performed in such intensity a single LBPR can easily take thirty minutes. And if done only to open a ritual structure, I found myself working through rites that would last for two or more hours of constant movement and action - counter-balanced with moments of complete silence and listening.
Over time I learned to perfect this approach according to the needs of my own body and mind; other people would have developed completely different styles of practice - to bring to life the same ritual pattern. Now, it’s only looking backward from today that I understand what a blessing it was to never have seen anybody else performing these rites. Neither my teacher, nor fellow students, nor any other magician.
After my teacher had opened the doors for me, I became the only attendant and judge, the only student and master of my own work. Besides, that is of course, the spirits who began to visit my temple — and laughed at how much it took this human to make such little steps forward and into their world.
Lineage & Ancestors.
Naturally this path does not come with any lineage as in an inner line of power that practitioners would be initiated into, passed on from generation to generation. For centuries every one of us has walked this path on their own - supported by no power but their own.
What keeps us connected, however, is a lineage of student and teachers. And it is a line of practice. A few of the more well known ancestors on this path - randomly chosen - are Johann Trithemius, Agrippa of Nettesheim, Paracelsus, Eliphas Levi, Franz Bardon, Rah Omir Quintscher, Gustav Meyrink, Julius Evola, Karl Spießberger, Maria Szepes or Emil Stejnar.
Finally, I should mention because each one of us walks this path on their own, most practitioners hold a high esteem for learning from books. In fact, many of the great teachers of this path have written books about magical training and practice. (Many of them were originally written in continental Europe and the respective languages.) I guess every teacher knew how much each student would depend on comfort in spirit and sound advise.
Unfortunately good teachers just as much as good students are extremely rare in magic, and this path is no different. If it still worth your time, heart and hand - I hope this brief overview is helpful so you can decide for yourself.