(Dedicated to you, but you weren’t listening.)
There are basically two dimensions that rule how a ritual magician will collect and/or develop his or her ritual lore. Wide ranging or narrow and deep. Combinations of these two dimensions often represent whether one is attempting to integrate too many dispirit elements without a sufficient depth or whether one is two narrow and too deep, being therefore unable to see the forest for the trees. Of course, the best approach is the middle ground, which is carefully gathering together various related ritual lore, creatively inventing what is missing or omitted while keeping the new elements relative to the acquired elements, and basically using an overall theme to keep things tightly integrated together.
What anyone wants to avoid is attempting to reinvent the wheel, or to create something in an intellectual vacuum. One of the points that John Michael Greer made in his class on pagan magick was that too often magicians attempt to develop something that already exists in some tradition or another, and that they tend to use popularly defined beliefs and tastes to achieve this task. They don’t (for whatever reason) perform an extensive research to see what is already out there and what other experts have to say before attempting to build something. We are all guilty of doing this, and in my early years, I was particularly guilty of attempting to reinvent the wheel.
The first question that confronts anyone who is beginning on the path of becoming a ritual magician is where to start? Do we just jump in and start working magick as soon as we have a few tools and a few books? Do we look for a tradition and seek admittance to the nearest group, or do we just go it alone and damn the consequences?
Experimentation is the key to mastering the art of ritual magick, but at some point, the magickal devotee needs to be trained in an authentic tradition. This will help him or her to build a foundation for all future work, and having some kind of foundation and access to a teacher is very important. I have covered this ground previously, so I don’t need to go over it again.
Acquiring a tradition will also determine the frame through which all future acquisitions will be measured, valued and adopting. If some new technique, methodology or philosophy doesn’t fit in with one’s current tradition, then it will likely function poorly with the other elements of that tradition. In time, due to additions and revisions, the adopted tradition will end up becoming uniquely one’s own, and this is the overall objective of this kind of work. This is called revisionism, and it is a natural part of any competent and advanced magician learning to master his or her trade.
What traditions would I recommend to the erstwhile student magician? There are quite a number of specific spiritual traditions that are very friendly to the practice of ritual magick. Some are actually magickal traditions more than spiritual or religious traditions. The Golden Dawn comes first to mind, and then, the O.T.O. and the A.A., Druidism, Wicca or Witchcraft, any form of Western Paganism (Greek, Roman or Egyptian reconstructions), to be followed by forms of Western Theosophy, and finally, by any esoteric version of a mainstream faith.
However, the first seven in my list are, in my opinion, the better candidates to help the aspiring student develop their own tradition of ritual or ceremonial magick. Some of these traditions have a complete system for working many varieties of magick, and others are more or less incomplete, requiring the adherent to invent and develop various systems of magick to fill in the holes.
So what are the essential categories of magick that will need to be developed if they don’t exist already? Here is a list, but it is not comprehensive and doesn’t include other and corollary disciplines (such as esoteric astrology or alchemy).
1. Low magick or earth-based magick
2. Elemental magick
4. Planetary magick
5. Astrological magick (Lunar Mansions & Decans)
6. Qabbalistic Magick (Sephiroth & Pathways)
7. Invocation and Evocation (Godhead, angelic, demonic, neutral spirits)
8. Godhead Assumption and magickal religious practices (magickal liturgies)
9. Ascension and Theurgy
10. Myth building, liturgy creation and the channeling of Godhead
11. Magnum Opus (Great Work)
You should consider this a generalized list of the eleven categories of a magickal regimen, and of course, the devil is in the details, as they say. Also, it is quite possible to have various substitutions to this list, so it is by no means exclusive or somehow carved in stone. However, it does give a specific enough of a list to compare to what is in your own magickal regimen.
Eclecticism is a useful tool, but it’s one that can be over-used. A disciplined practitioner must be insightful enough to be able to discard old techniques and methodologies for new ones that are better and more efficient. Often, redundancy haunts the typical student, making them unwilling to put aside old tried and true lore for the sake of efficiency and to eliminate duplication. Collecting must always be balanced with organizing, and then if necessary, purging and discarding. The real curse of eclecticism is being a pack rat and keeping everything no matter how outdated or inefficient. The most ordered personal grimoire has maybe one or just two different methodologies for doing an operation, and each of these “tools” should be kept in optimal condition and readiness. As the saying goes, the better the tools, the better the results of the work. Also, a poor workman blames his tools (instead of his lack of ability).
Then another issue is to determine how deep one should go with developing and working with a particular methodology. Based on the list above, the numerically higher elements in the list would require a greater degree of development and research to formulate the most optimal and structurally elegant solution. Certainly, the last four can take a lifetime to master and complete, while the other seven can be brought to a certain level of competency and expertise without having to be over-developed.
An important key is to keep one’s personal grimoire very ordered and moderately structured, since these will be the rites and practices that one will work with on a regular basis. Disorder makes such work difficult, if not even impossible. It’s also important to allow for a level of simplicity to rule over one’s collection of lore. Rituals should be readily easy to perform and have a certain natural flow to them. There is nothing worse than piling too much into a ritual so that it becomes so dense that it collapses of its own weight and becomes unworkable. Culling and making things more efficient should operate on each individual rite, and on the personal grimoire as a whole. This is not to say that some ritual workings won't be elaborate or quite complex, since some operations may require a large number of steps. It’s just that the magician should be aware and practice efficiency where-ever possible.
As I stated in the beginning of this article, the worst-case for eclecticism is to produce a disordered system that contains a great deal of redundancy and whose lore contains so much extraneous stuff that the rituals are difficult to perform and even less effective. An unbridled eclecticism will easily fill a whole house with a lot of unnecessary and unneeded junk, all of which will interfere with the ability to perform even the simplest working.
Someone who focuses too intently on depth will ultimately be unable to perform the simplest working because he or she is living under the requirement that everything must be perfect and thoroughly researched in order to be effective. It’s easy to spend eternity in the developing of lore, but none of us have an eternity that we can waste in this exercise. At some point the magician must experiment and work with what he or she has in their repertoire and move forward. Mistakes made in a ritual working seldom doom an operation, and in fact, they often appear as markers that real magick is alive and functioning well.
Perfection is, therefore, an esthetic virtue but not a requirement for effective magick. This is a painful lesson that competent magicians need to learn. It can have the effect of making magicians less productive and capable as they become more advanced and knowledgeable of their art. If you ever find yourself musing about how simple magick was when you were just starting out, and how it also seemed more effective in the past than today, then you are likely afflicted by the disease of perfection, and it’s time to break out and be more spontaneous. Getting in too deep interferes with one’s ability to see other possibilities or to explore another variation. It can also interfere with the ability of just doing magick for its own sake.
So these are some of my rules of thumb when developing rituals and expanding magickal lore. The best advice is to find a middle ground between being too eclectic, derivative and redundant on one hand, and being too much of a perfectionist, or going too deep in any one direction. Be balanced, open to new possibilities and seek to be organized, efficient and engaged. Taking on such an approach will make the path of acquiring a magickal expertise one that is filled with joy, mystery and the manifestation of the unexpected wild magick that often seems to flourish all around us, but we’re too damn busy to notice.