Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Immersion and Ritual Magic

The classical image of the Renaissance magus invoking angels or demons is a cultural icon in the mind of the general public. We can easily imagine the magus standing in his magic circle, robed in beautifully adorned consecrated vestments - a figure of commanding authority. The magic circle is decorated with strange sigils, characters and words of power. There are many lamps and candles of the art producing a brilliant light to dispel tenebrous shadows lurking at the fringes, and many braziers producing a prodigious volume of incense smoke to ensure sanctity and purity. The magus is armed with talismans and magical weapons, and he is reciting powerful incantations in a barbarous tongue, urging some hapless spirit to manifest with exhortations and even threats. The place where this spirit is to materialize is outside of the magus’ protective circle, typically in a triangle of evocation. The magus performs all of his magic inside the magic circle and never ventures from it during the entire period of invocation, constriction, binding and finally, the license to depart.

The magus is warded from the contagion of spiritual influences and imposes his will through the power and authority of his Deity. He will either command the spirit to appear in the triangle to do his bidding in the material world, or he will use a shew stone or crystal ball to scry into the world of that spirit, interrogating it for information and insights. Nowhere does the magician even contemplate stepping outside of his protective circle, for such an act would be disastrous to him. The magician performs his magic in a kind of sanitary “clean room” and never really has any actual contact with the spirits that he evokes, whether physically or psychically. The only exception would be the summoning and materialization of his Holy Guardian Angel, which becomes his advanced familiar spirit, guiding, teaching and aiding the magus in all his endeavors.

The modern practice of ceremonial magic uses this same kind of approach for the invocation of spirits, whether the magician in question is Jewish, Christian or even Neopagan. (There are, of course, exceptions to this observation. Some practitioners of reconstructed magic, pagan diabolism and Thelemic magic do not even use a magic circle. However, much of the literature would appear to advocate this approach.) Many of the books currently in print continue to promote the exclusive isolation of the ceremonial magician with those entities that he summons and constrains. It would seem that the kind of magic that this tradition advocates is one where the spirit world is perceived as negative and inimical to the sanity and rarified spiritual foundation of the magician. One could argue that this isolation is for the magician’s protection from the deceit, delusion and even madness caused by the wiles of the demonic spirits that he commands. Yet it appears to pervade the entire tradition whether invoking demons or even angels. Ceremonial magicians seem to be afraid of the spirit world and they don’t like to traffic with the spirits that they would command or extort favors from. I guess you could say that some things haven’t changed much in the last five centuries.

So from this perspective, the spirit world is considered malefic, dangerous and even perilous to the soul of the practicing magician. This is despite the fact that it is filled with angels and aspects of the Godhead, as well as demons and other spirits. This is the only reason that explains why the ceremonial magician engages in such a volume of praxis that is meant to protectively isolate him. He is given the power to command and constrain spirits, but not to open himself to those same spirits.

As a witch and a pagan, I have found this whole approach to magic to be strange and alien. Like everyone else, I know the popular myth of the ceremonial magician, and I find it fascinating. Yet in all the years that I have worked magic, I have strived not only to engage the spirit world, but to enter into it and have direct experiences with many of the entities that populate it. I have not been possessed by demons and I have not been haunted by terrible visions or spirit induced nightmares. I have, instead, found that the spirit world contains a great deal of intuitive wisdom, power and mystery. I have learned that it is the source of all inspiration, the place where the Gods and ancestors dwell, and a container for all that is essential in life. It is a world that exists in the same place as our material world, but it’s separated from our world through our perceptions and our mind-state. Anyone can learn to enter this world, and for those practicing an earth-based religion whose philosophical base is an intimate spirituality, it’s a requirement.

We who are witches and pagans in the post modern age have no problem working magic and directly engaging with our Gods, Goddesses and spirits of all persuasions and origins. We enter the spirit world and contact these entities directly. They influence our lives in a powerful and positive manner, and they inspire and teach us the greater mysteries. When we set our magic circle and perform our rites, whether liturgical or magical, we open ourselves to all of our chosen pantheon of entities and invite them to work at our side, helping and guiding us, or celebrating our monthly or seasonal festivals. We make offerings to these entities and we revere them - sharing with them our bounty and our joy. And I might add, that chosen pantheon of Gods and Goddesses revers and protects us in return.

The magic circle used by witches and pagans is meant to represent a boundary between this world and the spirit world, but witches and pagans are on the inside, and their wards are set to keep out the profane and the inimical forces which reside in the material world. Even if the magic circle is dispensed with altogether and a grove is used instead, there is still the sense and expectation of directly engaging with the other world, whose barrier is passed when certain rites are performed and a certain mind-state is achieved. To a witch or pagan, the sacred place of worship and magic needs only an altar and a boundary of some kind, whether actual or imagined.

So how can this approach to magic and the spirit world be reconciled with the approach taken by the ceremonial magician? The answer is simple and also astonishing. They are two very different manners of working magic and they are completely incompatible. What this means is that witches and pagans would find it difficult if not impossible to work ceremonial magic as ceremonial magicians do, and ceremonial magicians would find it incomprehensible to work magic like witches and pagans do. Their perspectives about the spirit world are so different as to make them completely irreconcilable.

Now I know that some folks reading this article will object to the implacable boundary that I have placed between the practice of witchcraft and ceremonial magic. Certainly, there are witches who practice ceremonial magical rites and there are some witches who consider themselves ceremonial magicians. However, I have not met anyone who considers himself an exclusive practitioner of ceremonial magic and who also practices witchcraft magic. It would seem that to them, practicing witchcraft would be something of a denigration of their art - a kind of slumming or “dumbing down”, as it were.

If there are witches who practice ceremonial magic, then what exactly are they practicing? How can these two irreconcilable practices be merged into a single discipline, when the whole basis of witchcraft magic has such a different perspective. Another question would be “Why bother with ceremonial magic altogether - what could it possible gain one?” Perhaps the answer to this conundrum is found in how I evolved as both witch and magician.

I am a fully practicing witch who glorifies in the mysteries of the earth - these are my food, drink and my inspiration! Yet I also practice forms of what could be called high magic as well. How do I do this? Do I work two completely different systems of magic and ignore one while I work the other? Absolutely not! Since I did not have the benefit of learning to work magic in one of the popular ceremonial magical lodges, I had to cherry pick the ceremonial magical lore and integrate it into the witchcraft magic that I practiced. I did belong to the OTO for several years, but since they don’t actually teach or promote ceremonial magic as a spiritual discipline, it probably doesn’t count. Also, I had already established my magical system long before becoming a member of that body, so they wouldn’t have been able to influence me much anyway.

I did this since it was the only way that I could produce a system that worked for me. I wouldn’t abandon the magic that I worked as a witch and I couldn’t see the importance of working exclusively as a ceremonial magician. So I produced a hybrid of ceremonial magic performed within a witchcraft magical base. I have also met and talked with other witches and pagans who have taken a similar approach to practicing high or ceremonial magic, so I know that I am not alone in taking such a path.

This hybrid creature, combining witchcraft and ceremonial magic not only worked, but caused me to forge a whole new paradigm in the practice of magic. Like a witch, I entered into the spirit world and experienced it without any barriers or limitations - without any fear. However, I engaged fully in crafting rituals to perform elemental, talismanic magic and even theurgy. I adapted the rituals as I found them in source works about the Golden Dawn and authored by such writers as Israel Regardie, Aleister Crowley, William Grey and numerous others. Once I had this new system developed, there was nothing that I could not magically do that ceremonial magicians could do. But the base of my workings was still solidly in the witchcraft arena. When I set the magic circle, it was to fully engage in all of the spirits and powers that I generated in my magical rituals.

Now you might ask yourself, what is the difference between what I am doing and what a ceremonial magician is doing? The answer is found in the simple term - “immersion.” Instead of warding myself from the spirit world and its denizens, I am engaging directly with them, and in fact, I am even entering their world to accomplish this task.

You might also ask how I was able to do this feat without getting possessed or terribly affected by the spirits that I invoked or evoked? Well, that is one aspect of the magic which is a feature in both the witchcraft that I learned and also the manner of working magic taught by Aleister Crowley. I assumed the godhead before doing anything magical, and that protected and gave me the power to deal with the effects of the spirit world without being endangered or spiritually damaged.

A witch would call assuming the godhead, performing a “drawing down”, and in this particular case, I performed the draw myself to assume my personal aspect of the godhead. I didn’t do it just for the sake of communing with the traditional godhead, as practiced in a witches’ coven. I did it to empower my magical rituals. And in fact, it is a feature of the kind of magic that I perform as a regular part of my magical discipline.

The magic that I work uses the techniques of immersion, that is, I use ritual mechanisms to enter into the spirit world. I also assume the godhead of my personal pagan Deity, and this helps to keep me protected from any unwanted influences or harm as I enter the spirit world. However, I am still able to have direct encounters with all of the spirits and entities that I would invoke or summon, and they do have a powerful, transformative and constructive effect on me. Where the ceremonial magician is isolated from the spirit world, and therefore, kept from being truly challenged or powerfully affected, I have no such barriers - and I believe that my magic is superior to that of the ceremonial magician because of this difference.

Of course, this is just my humble opinion, but it has been developed over time through my experiences in meeting, talking and even working magic with many ceremonial magicians. In fact, I don’t even call the magic I work high magic or ceremonial magic. Instead I call it “ritual magic”, and it is as different from what passes for ceremonial magic as one could find. It’s also a perfect system of magic for witches and pagans who would like to work a form of magic that takes them beyond what is basically practiced as candle magic, herbal cache or poppet magic, or simple energy raising. So there is a whole system of magical practice that you can perform and not get caught in the trap of the conceit of ceremonial magic.

My friends who are ceremonial magicians have said to me when examining my rituals that they “stink of witchcraft.” I know that they are actually remarking on my peculiar practice of ritual instead of ceremonial magick. I have also found that comment to be a badge of honor!

I will be writing more articles in the future where I will get into the specific practices and techniques of ritual magic. I will show you how it works and why I find it so useful and powerful. There is definitely a future for this type of magick, since I have found that it has no limits and can be used to create rituals to do nearly anything magickal.

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

1 comment:

  1. While I agree that in the context of theurgy and spirit communication the immersion method you discuss here is quite effective, I also think it should be pointed out that there is an advantage to working with the circle/triangle model for practical magical ends.

    The containment produced by the triangle allows the full force of any magical operation to be directed along a magical link to a remote target so long as the link is placed within the triangle into which the spirit is evoked. A similar effect can be obtained using the Enochian Holy Table and Sigillum Dei Aemeth, which contains the magical force in the same manner as the triangle even though it is normally placed at the center of the circle rather than outside its boundary.

    Rather than providing protection from malefic entities for the caster, when used in this manner the containment boundary acts more like the insulation around an electrical wire. It prevents any sort of magical "backlash" in which the caster is affected by the energies of the spell and it results in the maximum probability shift around the target of the spell.