Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mysteries of the Magick Circle

The latest question and answer article produced some really outstanding comments, showing me just how diverse the practice of ritual and ceremonial magick is out there in the world. There are many ways of doing magick just within the Western Mystery Tradition, so it would seem that the number of personal paths in the world is legion.

I also wanted to thank everyone who participated in the comments and who helped to make that question almost classical in how it was responded to and ultimately, answered.

However, I noticed that my own methodology for working magick is less well understood and known amongst fellow practicing magicians, particularly in the area of establishing sacred space and building a foundation for performing a magickal working. I am referring to my use of a magick circle instead of using the various GD based rituals of the LBRP, LIRP, LIRH, Middle Pillar or Rose Cross. As a practicing witch and neopagan, I have always started out every working erecting and establishing a magick circle, which has certain properties that I generally take for granted.

One of the comments made me realize that if someone were to examine the basic ritual practices used to set a magick circle (which is used by many witches, wiccan and neopagans), they might not understand that a ritual circle begins the process of magick with a completely neutral foundation, warded and defined by the circle and the watchtowers. The invoking pentagrams that are used to set the four wards do not actually generate elemental powers that would interfere in other workings. How is that so? What are the qualities of a magick circle that keeps it completely intact and integral? I had to step back and think about this magickal ritual structure and attempt to explain something that I have practiced for nearly four decades. So now I am writing this short article to explain what is a magick circle, how it’s formed, and why it abrogates other rituals that apparently do the same thing.

First of all, the completed ritual structure of a magick circle should be imagined as ring of power that establishes a boundary point and delimits a focus between the outer world (which is considered profane) and the inner world within the circle that represents the purified place where the magick is to be performed. The invoking pentagrams set to the four wards are used to charge the circle and establish the magickal ring, so they are fully incorporated into that ritual structure and do not bleed their effects into the domain of the magick circle. Why is this so? It’s something that I have been doing for a very long time and I have never experienced any problems with the wards colliding with the magick performed and generated inside the circle. The key to understanding this is to realize that the ring of the magick circle represents the outer periphery of the magick circle. The invoking pentagrams are set to the four directions at the outer edge of the magick circle, and as part of the empowering of the ring, they remain within that area and do not emanate into the center of the circle.

Lets quickly go over how a magick circle is set and sacred space is generated, so we can see the stages where the circle is defined and check my theories. While this rite will vary a bit from the various traditions of witchcraft who use them, the basic structure always has the following components.

1. Self preparation and purification - bath, vesting, magickal persona assumption and meditation session. Then the temple is prepared - generally by some light organizing, cleaning and then lighting the candles or lamps of the art and the charcoal. The four cardinal directions are marked with candles of their own, and in my case, the four cross-quarters are also marked with candles. I prefer to use oil lamps, and the various eight points of the circle have their own small mini alters or tables to hold the lamps and any other identifying images (banners, trigon talismans, etc.).

2. Circle and temple purification by the sacraments of the four elements. The first step is to generate the lustral water, which is salt and water combined. The salt is charged and the water is blessed and they are combined in a special chalice. This is done using the consecrated dagger and the chalice as representations of the sacral joining of the archetypal male and female - the dagger is drawn down point first into the chalice of water or the patten of salt so that it touches them. The combining of water and salt is called the comixio, which combines the elements of earth and water. The lustral water is then sprinkled around the temple area, proceeding in a deosil arc, starting and ending in the East. Because the lustral water is considered a sacrament, then the area where it is aspurged is thought of as being made sacred.

Then the next elements are used to continue the blessing of the sacred space. The incense is put on the burning coals in the thurible or censer and it is taken around the circle deosil, from East to East, to dispense the incense smoke fully within the temple area. I also use a small lamp to focus the element of Fire to the four quarters in the same manner, but some might consider the lit charcoal and incense to be the combination of fire and air. Once this is done, then the celebrant has purified and blessed the temple area with the four elements.

3. Once the temple area is so blessed and purified (made into sacred space), the celebrant then draws the magick circle, using the sword, projecting a powerful line of force from the sword to the outer periphery of the magick circle - making a ring of power. The celebrant starts in the East and proceeds deosil around the circle until he or she returns to the East.

4. Finally, the celebrant takes the magick dagger and proceeds to the East, and therein draws the invoking pentagram of Air and invokes the spirit of the Eastern Watchtower, which could be one of the four winds, elemental creatures, archangels, Enochian Kings, totem animals, or whatever is prime in the working tradition of the witch or pagan. This act is repeated at each point of the circle, East (Air), South (Fire), West (Water) and North (Air), until the Watchtowers are fully deployed and charged with the invoking pentagrams of the four Elements. There are many variations to the attribution of element to cardinal direction, but as long as they represent a consistent structure, they successfully empower the magickal ring and keep it intact and fully active. I actually use several variations, depending on whether the circle is to have an overall theme of natural elements, alchemical polarization or astrological configuration.

In addition to the above four steps, the celebrant can also draw the four Watchtowers together to form a square within the circle, thus adding to its empowerment. The three center points can be addressed and qualified as well as the four cross-cardinal points. A gateway can be established within the circle, representing additional components that the celebrant may add to make the magick circle more versatile and refined in its use. All of these additional components do not in any way change the basic qualities of the magick circle. It’s still a ring of power acting as a boundary between sacred and profane space. 

The boundary of the magick circle is actually porous, which means that individuals and even spirits can pass through it, either entering or exiting, while the four wards protect the area within from any unwanted or uncalled individuals or spirits, barring them from entering the circle. The purpose of the magick circle is keep the powers and forces that are generated or summoned within the circle, thus helping to focus and intensify them. When individuals need to leave the magick circle, they may do so by making a gesture of opening and closing the boundary to allow themselves to pass through, thereby keeping the ritual structure intact.

Another strange quality of the magick circle that I have discovered is that once it is set, both time and space are perceptually altered to a profound degree. I believe and act as if the time within the magick circle is frozen at the moment that it is successfully cast. This means that planetary hours and astrological aspects are locked at the moment of the genesis of the circle. If I wish to perform a given rite during a specific planetary hour or when a specific astrological aspect is active, all I need to do is the set the magick circle, and then have unlimited time to work within that hour or aspect. I believe that this phenomenon is valid because of all of the time displacement and dilation phenomena that I have experienced when working magick in a magick circle. Without the circle, such phenomena does not seem to occur as powerfully or as often. A magick circle seems to give a ritual working a kind of potent isolation from the temporal world, opening it instead to the whole of the domain of the world of Spirit.

Anyway, these are my perceptions and ideas about the ritual structure of the magick circle and its localized ring of power. In sharing this lore with you, I am hoping to relate not only how I work magick, but also the mechanics of using this methodology, and how it affects everything else I do when performing ritual magick.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Importance of the LBRP to Ritual Magicians?

“One more...Its been suggested by Nick Farrel that the LBRP is overused and the LIRP is preferred. he says, essentially that the LBRP cleans too well and defeats the purpose of any personal work you do. I feel the LBRP seals in the work. Thoughts?” asked by DeusLux

I got this question just today. The questioner had sent an earlier question that was frankly out of my league, since it was a very technical question about Enochian Magick, which is not a subject that I consider myself an expert. I have sent off that first question to a couple of experts, so we’ll see if they respond, otherwise I will have to demure on that question.

Anyway, the question is about the use of the LBRP, or the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. First off, I don’t even use this ritual, or its companion, the LIRP (Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram), and haven’t for a few decades. Why is that? Because as a witch, I incorporate a magick circle into every magickal working that I do within a temple. If I consecrate, set and charge a magick circle with the four wards covering the four cardinal directions, that would seem to do pretty much the same thing that the combination of the LBRP and LIRP would do. Not only that, but in some of the circle consecration rites that I use, the circle also gets squared, and the wards are always set with invoking pentagrams of the four elements. Typically, when a ritual working is completed, then the results of the working are banished by doing what is basically a reverse circle setting, particularly drawing banishing element pentagrams to the four wards. So that pretty much covers why I don’t use the LBRP or LIRP. They are redundant and it might also undo what the circle consecration rite is supposed to do.

Then there is the matter of managing a vortex energy structure, which is used extensively and often in nearly all of my workings. A vortex can’t be banished, only overlaid, so the LBRP is essentially completely useless when a vortex is deployed. A vortex is erected or unsealed when it needs to be used, and then sealed when it is no longer needed - no banishing is ever performed.

Remember that a ritual magician performs magick using the methodology of immersion. A magick circle is integral to establishing an enclosed focus where the power is raised and spirits are invoked. There is no barrier between the ritual magician and whatever is generated or invoked in a ritual working. How the ritual magician insulates herself from any backlash, contagion or a bleeding link is that she has assumed her personal godhead as part of the preparation of the working. As a representative of the Godhead, she is completely protected, since the powers or linkages would have to travel far up the levels of conscious being to affect her. It is more likely that such energies or occurrences will just find a common ground and harmlessly dissipate rather than harm the magician. The godhead assumption also insulates the ritual magician from all spiritual invocations, whether theurgic or evocative. 

A Golden Dawn magician does not work within a magick circle unless a goetic evocation is going to be performed, otherwise, either a temple space or even one’s living space will suffice for the kind of work that such a magician would wrought. So the LBRP and the LIRP become quite important in such a working where there is no magick circle or any kind of circle consecration rite is performed. The LBRP is performed to clear the area of any unwanted energies or spirits, and the LIRP establishes a connection to the spiritual domain, allowing other magickal rites to be performed. You can find my articles on both the Golden Dawn and the techniques that I use in earlier articles on this blog. Just look at the index keywords to the left of the blog entry text.

David Griffin, in his wonderful book “The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic,” (1999 Golden Dawn Publishing) does indeed assume that the LBRP will erase everything, so he assiduously wraps up all his tools, sigils and talismans before performing it. He also does use the LIRP pretty much as I have described it. I would recommend his perspective if you choose to use the Golden Dawn system instead of a more Wiccan or Neopagan based system, such as what I use. David has shown himself to be a rigorous and consummate magickal practitioner.

Hope that answers your question?

Frater Barrabbas

Ask me about ritual magick


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ask Me A Question About Ritual Magick

OK, looks like this feature is making the rounds of the blogosphere, so I thought that I would check it out and see if it’s something that might make my blog more personable. So far I have chosen the topics and have written extensively on them. However, if you have any topics that you would like to read about that is within my subject purview, I will attempt to write something intelligent and novel about it. Also, if you have any questions that you would like me to respond to on the blog, feel free to send me that question through formspring dot me.

Now remember, I don’t know everything there is to know about magick, nor have I experienced everything there is to experience in magick, either. I know some things and I have had a long lifetime of experiences, but certainly there is a limit to knowing and experiencing if one has only one life to live. I will attempt to answer your questions or opine on a topic of your choice, but if I don’t know anything about a topic or a question, I will let you know that, too.

Anyway, you can activate the link at the bottom of this article or you can ask a question on the appropriate sidebar widget. I look forward to hearing from you.

Frater Barrabbas

Ask me about ritual magick

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Epilogue - Analysis of Lisiewski’s Book

Now that we have examined the main premises in Joseph Lisiewski’s book, Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation, I can conclude with a final overall analysis of his system of theurgy and evocation. I have found incredible flaws in all of the basic premises and theories of this system, as well as what appears to be a deliberate trap for the earnest student who would attempt to use Joseph’s methodologies. Thus, I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to anyone who aspires to perform evocation. Seldom have I ever been so harsh in a book review to say that a book is not worth purchasing or being read by anyone, but that is pretty much how I judge this work. The only positive thing that I can say is caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

The rest of the book consists of a commentary on the grimoire called the Heptameron  supposedly written by Peter de Abano (early 14th century?), which Joseph declares is the oldest grimoire that we possess, and of course, recent scholarship has proven this to be correct. However, there are probably many versions of this grimoire found in library collections, and it would appear that the version that Joseph is using was probably taken from Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. We are given this English translation with no recourse to the original text, no documentation indicting where it came from, and we are forced to take it as representing an original version of an uncorrupted source of lore. We have already gone over the problems with this theory, but we are expected to take on faith that this is a “pure” source.  There are, in fact, earlier sources of magickal lore, but the Heptameron was the first European grimoire, to be followed by the infamous Greater Key, Lemegeton, and others. I would not rate the Heptameron as one of my favorites, but it has its own unique charms and features and is certainly not to be discarded. In my opinion, the classical grimoires are the obvious Solomonic grimoires, such as the Greater and Lesser Keys. Why Joseph chose this grimoire over the Greater and Lesser Key of Solomon is a mystery. It may be that he thinks that the Solomonic Keys have succumbed to the rot and corruption that he accuses other later grimoires and books of possessing.

As a final note and to summarize my commentary on Joseph’s book, I find his evocation methodology implausible and quite improbable. This judgement is not only mine, but also comes from several individuals with as much background and experience as Joseph himself, although none of us were personal friends of Israel Regardie. Not only does Joseph declare that his method is the only one that works, it is the only one that produces full materializations as well. However, since his requirements for success are so steep, it is doubtful that anyone will ever be able to prove his methods as being either true or false, since failure requires a period of at least a month for the practitioner to regroup and start over again.

There is an inherent trap for those foolish enough to perform his method with anything but perfection, whether it be the tools of the art, the regalia, the lamen, magickal wards, ritual performance, personal beliefs, or the vague notion of the subjective synthesis. If the rite fails, it is the fault of the operator, not the system itself. If the rite succeeds, then a small miracle or a profound hallucination has occurred, either way, it proves nothing other than the fact that magick conforms to our expectations. Yet even magick has its limits.

It’s quite obvious to me that Joseph Lisiewski represents the worst of existential magicians, a closet atheist pretending to be a pious monotheist. He appears to be only interested in material gain and self aggrandizement, which is hardly the great man or magus that he believes himself to be. Joseph is hardly a news worthy individual (I had not heard of him until this book was published) and he has not changed the world with his magickal ability. For instance, he doesn’t get invited to the White House for dinner and consultations nor appear on cable news stations. He has not become famous in all the forty years of an astonishingly miraculous magickal practice, so we must assume that he is just another small time magician scraping a living from the world just like the rest of us. His only claim to fame is in the pages of his book, where his ideas may be examined and either lauded or rejected by magicians who represent his true peer group. This book is hardly a breakthrough in the practice of magick, so one is duly warned to objectively and critically examine its methods and ideology thoroughly before seeking to emulate it. There are, of course, better methods and systems available to the general public, especially ones that do not contain hidden traps.

In Zen Buddhism, the student is taught that there are many mental traps and illusions that can cause him to lose his true objective, which is satori. These illusions and mental traps represent the various phenomena associated with the experience of higher forms of consciousness. Such illusions are psychic in nature, so the student may see lights, hear sounds, even perceive complete visions and illusions that seem to be solid and real, but in reality, they are the extraneous phenomena that a student will experience when progressing on the path to the elevated and exalted states of being. These mental traps are all of the nature of an inflation of the petty ego, thus whenever any thoughts arise about one’s self importance or how great are one’s achievements, the student is told to ignore these thoughts and urges and continue with the work. Likewise, a student is taught to ignore the illusions and visions that appear as well. All of these phenomena are natural occurrences, but they signify nothing in the long term, and if pursued, they will lead the student astray and keep one from realizing the true goal.

I believe that the student of magick faces the same type of mental traps and illusions. Certainly, focusing on producing physical phenomena would be one trap as well as believing that one is exclusively God, or any variation of that delusion that enormously inflates the petty ego. If the objective of magick is to obtain divine union and then to act as a conduit of the Deity and its divine plan for this world, one must not allow petty biases, prejudices or ego infatuation to interfere with one’s objective. Divergent paths lead one astray. Being led astray means that you are no longer a member of those seekers who are achieving a true spiritual and magickal mastery.

Therefore, it’s obvious to me that Joseph has diverged from his true magickal path, since he has succumbed to the plight of spiritual materialism and has lost any perspective on his true spiritual and magickal path. He has become what we magicians call, a “phenomena junky” and it is a type of divergent pursuit that is as addictive as any opiate. I, however, will not follow his example, but will examine his declarations and realize his mistake, and then, by avoiding that error, profit from it. Such is the value of Joseph’s book to the community of practicing magicians.

Frater Barrabbas

Lisiewski’s Ten Axioms of Evocation

Now that we have looked at the basic premises that Joseph Lisiewski has made in his book, Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation, we come to the actual meat of his methodology, placed in ten axioms of magickal evocation. These are the tenets that Joseph has laid down in his book that represent how a magician should go about using the one of the old grimoires, since what he is proposing is that the old grimoire is the final authority in all things, and that the magician should follow what it says in the most literal manner. I believe that these ten axioms contain some really erroneous ideas, that if practiced, will certainly lead the magician to a kind of cycle of failure that will take months if not years to uncover. I have also found the silver bullet hidden in the book that demonstrates how Joseph might be able to get the degree of success that he declares, and why many other magicians would fail to replicate that success. Of course this is assuming that Joseph has been truthful about his own magickal abilities and experiences.

After a rather tiresome and opinionated magickal history lesson, Joseph gets to the real issues of the book, which are his ten axioms for the successful practice of evocation. By successful, he states that only a full materialization of the spirit is acceptable, anything else must be rejected, and in fact, is indicative of failure. I have examined these axioms and have found that several of them are so objectionable, biased and even ludicrous, that I must present them below with my comments. If his axioms are highly questionable, then the manner in which he works magick must also be questionable. The complete set of axioms, taken together, would seem to sink the aspirations of even the most patient and zealous practitioner of theurgy or evocation, and what we are left with is to ponder whether Joseph has proposed a system that works only for him, if it works at all.

Maybe he is able to produce physical materialization of spirits using the old grimoires, but with his scientific credentials, one wonders why he has not produced evidence of his claims. We would expect, perhaps, something like tangible evidence being produced, such as verifiable photographic or video images, energy measurements, infrared images, etc. Instead, he just gives us his word that his methods work while all others, especially those not based on the old grimoires, are fatally flawed and don’t work. After reading through all ten of these rules, pronounced in such a pretentious manner that they may as well be carved in granite, one either feels greatly insulted or incredibly stupid. I have to admit that I felt mostly insulted, somewhat appalled, and also in awe that someone could be so opinionated and narrow minded in regards to the modern practice of magick. Well, we shall now proceed on to the Ten Axioms, or should I say, the Ten Commandments of Evocation.

Before getting into his diatribe of the ten axioms, Joseph lays down the foundation for how he feels the magician should proceed with his magickal work. First off, he says that the magician should perform the evocation as it was designed to be performed by the ancient magicians, expecting success while thriving on the mentally and emotionally harrowing experience. This presupposes that the magician is able to get into the mental space of a late medieval cleric or early renaissance savant, and I have already discussed previously how absurd that is. Joseph goes on to say that the magician should design, perfect and polish the only type of magickal system that will work consistently - the one the magician creates himself. I would agree with this statement, but add that first the magician must master a tradition and gain through initiation an elevated spiritual perspective. Any type of magickal order will suffice, since it is important to be challenged and measured by other initiates. Joseph does not seem to value any kind of initiation or transformation, and yet transformation is at least one of the reasons for working magick in the first place.

He declares that there are no recipes, no simple magickal book that will enable the magician to achieve all that he seeks to achieve. This, of course, is not really true. There are a few magickal systems in print that deal with the mechanisms of magickal evocation and these techniques do work and can be studied in great detail. The best one that I have found so far, a system that is at least similar to my own, was developed by “Poke” Runion, and I invite you to examine it in greater detail. This statement is quite false, showing that Joseph is quite biased in his pronouncements - he obviously has not really researched these various claims, and instead seems satisfied to air his opinions, even if they are dead wrong.

Golden Dawn system, in Joseph’s opinion, is inadequate for performing an evocation because of the flawed and incomplete nature of its lore. I find this statement rather odd, considering that anyone who knows about the Golden Dawn ritual lore would be able to tell you that the highest level of magick that one is able to traditionally perform within this system is talismanic magick. A magician would have to derive something new or expand that lore in order to perform an evocation, and to my mind only Aleister Crowely or David Griffin have actually published rituals to do that. As I have stated previously, the Golden Dawn would have employed some of their own lore along with using one of the old grimoires. This seems to be the case for most practitioners, except a few, such as myself or Poke Runion.

Joseph also compares the old grimoires to “laboratory workbooks” and that the actual “text books” containing the theories and underpinning interpretations are missing and haven’t turned up yet. My theory is that the old grimoires were repositories of various occult lore, including instructions for performing the magick, but did not represent a living system, since they didn’t contain the most essential parts of a magickal practice, which is the spiritual and magickal discipline and their associated exercises. Certainly, if any of this information was committed to writing, it would have survived and be available for historical examination today. One can also assume that much of this information would have been part of the religious culture of the renaissance, and would not have required any documentation, because it would have been common to everyone.

Oddly, Agrippa’s three volumes on Occult Philosophy comes pretty close to representing such a text book, but it omits any instructions for actually practicing magick (this was taken up in the fourth book, which included the Heptameron), but Joseph seems to have omitted mentioning this fact. However, if one considers Agrippa’s book and the old grimoires as text book and lab workbook respectively, then there is still a lot of missing material, such as the periodic practices and exercises that would have developed the magician’s spirit, mind and body, and kept him in top form. There might have also been an initiation into the “sorcerer’s guild”, and other mysteries, but I am speculating here. Being a magician or sorcerer in the early renaissance would have involved a lot more than just the practice of magick, there would have been the practice and honing of divination skills, secret ciphers, symbology, herbal lore, celestial lore, folk remedies and practices, and a host of other rites, spells and secret workings involving the mysteries of the magician’s world. On these matters there is only some historical record, and rightly so, since it was probably a secret oral tradition.

Joseph seems to believe that all we have to do is perform the magickal rites exactly as they are written from a chosen grimoire in order to realize a successful working; but even if this were possible (barring any substitutions), it would require that the magician adopt the world view and internal sentiments of that time in order for the magick to be successful. Joseph also seems to say that we must practice the magick of the grimoires faithfully, but then also says, “develop your own system.” He does not indicate anywhere in the book what that personal system would be like and what practices it would contain, other than those found in the old grimoires. He does say that a faithful practice of evocation as written in the old grimoires is enough to develop a spiritual life style, or perhaps he means a spiritual discipline, and that this life style will suffice to drive the magician’s whole magickal enterprise.

I believe he is referring to the long period of religious purification and atonement that the magician must undergo before actually beginning his work in earnest. If so, then this is a case of the “tail wagging the dog.” The magician must first develop a spiritual and magickal discipline as the basis for all magickal and spiritual operations. It is one of the first things that a magician does, well before he would attempt to work any of the higher forms of magick, such as an evocation. When one examines the ordeal in the Book of Abramelin, the methods that are strongly promoted are pious and devotional, based on prayer, atonement, purification and personal abasement. There are no occult practices nor any magickal rituals performed during the entire period of personal consecration and preparation.

What he seems to be advocating is that a magician begins her practice with a grimoire-based magickal working in a state where her spiritual and magickal perspectives and abilities are essentially undeveloped, hoping that the preparation stage of the working will suffice to make her develop a spiritual discipline. This might be a recipe for personal misfortune, since the magician’s intent would not be grounded within her own personal spiritual perspective, i.e., her own godhead, which is a requirement for many magickal systems. Joseph indicates that he has developed a mechanism for connecting to the godhead in his own works, but does not give the reader the means of developing it for herself over time. This is a weak proposition and it is likely that the preparation stage that an old grimoire lays down for the student will not be enough to develop this kind of internal realization, thus setting up the student for failure.

Joseph’s first two axioms are acceptable, but are probably not as important as he makes them out to be. We have already covered the issue regarding mixing occult systems, since it does create inelegant and awkward ritual workings and may cause conflicting symbolism to coexist in the same framework. It is not enough to abort a ritual or make it completely ineffective, but it does make it inefficient. I have found that as a magician gains more expertise, he seems to produce better rituals. However, if his intent is muddled, the ritual will fail regardless of how beautiful it is or how complete. It is also very important for a magician to understand the ritual that he is to perform thoroughly and completely. A magician who performs a ritual without understanding what it does or how it works is asking for unwanted or unpredictable results, or even no results at all.

The third axiom defines Joseph’s essential mechanism for the successful practice of evocative magick, where one can expect a full materialization to occur. He calls this mechanism a “state of Subjective Synthesis,” which is developed by a thorough understanding and acceptance of all of the elements that compose the magickal working. This synthesis descends into the magician’s unconscious mind, along with her integrated belief system, where they fuse together to produce the physical phenomena that form when the product of that magick is projected out into the magician’s mudane world. It is the combination of the will and beliefs of the magician, as they are digested in the unconscious mind, that produces the subjective synthesis, which causes the physical phenomena to occur. Yet any invalid or erroneous element within that synthesis can cause the evocation process to unravel, producing a failure instead of a successful outcome. Joseph says that this mechanism produces a fully formed spiritual manifestation and associated psychic phenomena through a means “as yet unknown by science.”

It would seem that Joseph has created a very vague and nebulous definition for his system of evocation, more or less saying that it is a combination of beliefs and understandings, allied with the magician’s will that will cause all of the magickal phenomena to occur. I find this theory to be rather incomplete, since a human being is not merely the sum of his various parts, and no less is his magick the sum of his beliefs, practices and understanding. Magick works through synergy! There is no synergy, mystery nor even paradox (other than how manifestation actually occurs) operating in Joseph’s system of evocation. Additionally, there is no developed aspect of Self as Deity and there is no domain of Spirit. This leads us to ask; “Where do the spirits come from, and what relationship is played by the interaction of the magician’s essential spirit to his magick?” These questions are strangely unanswered.

In Joseph’s theory there is only the conscious mind of the magician and her profoundly powerful unconscious mind and these two drive the whole magickal process, which, if formulated correctly, will produce a material manifestation. In my opinion, there are more crucial elements involved in magick than just the conscious and unconscious mind. A magician does not work magick in a spiritual vacuum. Even the medieval magician would have understood that all too well, since he sought the assistance of the Almighty and his angels to make his magick work.

I also have a problem with any system of magick that proposes that theurgy or evocation produces a full physical manifestation. Where is the material substance that is suddenly used to generate the body of the spirit? Some have said that the substance comes from the incense smoke, but that is patently absurd. There isn’t enough matter found in incense smoke to produce a tiny pebble, let alone a human sized entity. It would seem that actual physical manifestation may be scientifically impossible, but a magician could perceive spirits as being physical, even if video cameras or energy detectors fail to corroborate them as a definitive physical phenomenon. A magician could sense and perceive things that others who lack the training or methodology would not sense, and this is because the phenomena is too subtle for most to perceive. However, this would violate what Joseph is proposing, since he judges that if the phenomena is subtle and requires special trance states and meditation to perceive it, then the magician is producing nothing, and the results of such an effort are to be considered delusional. So the gauntlet is thrown down, either Joseph’s methods produce a full blown physical manifestation or they are false.

What we can deduce by all of this is that Joseph’s perspective on magickal evocation is very existential and one that I find not only disturbing, but I doubt that it would work for anyone except Joseph. It would require someone who has his materialistic predispositions, that is, if it even works at all. I am also curious that a scientific mind like Joseph’s would not have set about to prove that his evocations produce physical phenomena. If his magickal techniques produces verifiable physical results, shouldn’t he meticulously document that fact and present it to his scientific peers? It would be a world class revelation, finally making magick into a verifiable and repeatable natural phenomenon. They might also be able to discover the nature of that mysterious mechanism which causes these manifestations to occur, but that’s only if the process is as objective and verifiable as Joseph appears to declare it to be. I think otherwise and place a great deal of doubt on the entire premise that Joseph makes for the third axiom.

Axiom four and five are corollaries to axiom three, and we can deal with them together. The fourth axiom declares that spiritual entities are either objective or subjective based upon the subconscious belief system resulting from the magician’s subjective synthesis. We have already examined this issue above, but we can also declare that all magickal experiences are subjective, whether the magician believes that they are or not. Joseph seems to indicate that by subjective, he means that spirits are merely psychological constructs, but I think that his definitions are in error when considering what is meant by the terms subjective and objective.

As psychological experiments have proven, and common sense dictates, all experiences not grounded on objective and verifiably agreed upon facts are, by definition, subjective. These objective facts are fairly simple and straightforward, and they serve as our shared definition of the physical world that we live in. So there is a quite a large domain of human experiences that occupy the area of what would defined as being subjective. What we have to do is make certain that we don’t adopt the belief that anything that is subjective is somehow not valid or unreal.

Magick concerns itself with the internal world of the psyche and the sphere of consciousness that goes beyond human perception and human containment, i.e., the domain of Spirit. To propose that spirits are objective is to propose that they are a verifiable and agreed upon physical reality, discernable to our senses or instruments as a natural phenomenon. The fact that this is not the case destroys Joseph’s logic, since only when he works an evocation are spirits able to be fully materialized, and thereby gain a degree of objectivity, but only through the artifice of his magick. However, by saying that spirits and their associated phenomena are subject does not in any way declare them to be unreal or just mental processes. Spirits appear to operate as a paradox, they are both internal and external to the psyche that perceives them, but they can’t be proven to have an objective physical existence outside of the psychic experience in which they are perceived. 

Axiom five declares that the basis of all magick is a complex energy field. It is an essential element that drives all of the physical effects of a magickal evocation or any kind of magick. Once again, if magick were a quantifiable energy, it would be able to be measured on the EMS scale and could be proven and verified in an empirical manner. The fact that this is not the case shows that this theory is more about subjective metaphors than objective reality. However, magickal energy is discernable in the context of magickal workings, so even though it is subjective, it is still quite real and it’s effects are observable. It just can’t be measured or quantified in a laboratory.

An interesting point is that science can’t even prove that such a phenomena as psychic energy exists when examining psychometry, let alone that magickal power is objective and able to be measured. Joseph seems to easily confuse objectivity with subjectivity, and this is usually the case when someone falls prey to spiritual materialism. Also, there are many theories about the nature of magick. The energy theory is only one of them and taken in isolation, it is incomplete and somewhat misleading, especially if one adopts this theory literally. Joseph then goes on to criticize forced visualizations and artificially strained emotional states of exaltation as practiced by so called New Age magicians. He also says that daily exercises in visualization, meditation and concentration are unnecessary and even useless for the practicing magician.

First off, I would like to know who he is referring to by the term “New Age Magicians,” since it would seem to be an oxymoron. No one in the New Age community would ever perform any kind of hard occult practice such as a magickal evocation, and in fact they seem too timid to even consider practicing any kind of deliberative magick. So I suspect that he is referring to all of the individuals who practice magick without strictly adhering to the old grimoires. While I agree with this statement in principle (fake practices don’t really help or hinder anyone, they just waste time), I do believe that the magician must have an extensive set of practices that refine her ability to meditate, contemplate, concentrate, and nominally, control her mind and its functions.

 In addition to that, there are a regimen of practices that develop her spiritual perspectives, such as meditation sessions on various spiritual concepts, devotions, communion celebrations, spiritual alignments, and godhead assumptions that are centered around her personal religious cult, with herself as both the priest and avatar of that personal Deity. These practices are worked through the diurnal cycle of day and night, the monthly and annual Lunar and Solar cycles, as well as the magician’s own cycle of initiation, which represents her spiritual and magickal mile stones as well as her progression up the Tree of Life. Joseph does not talk about any of these subjects, so we must assume that they do not exist in his magickal practice, making his magickal allegations of primacy suspect, or worse, fraudulent. He does admit to attending services in his Catholic church, so one might assume that he also prays and celebrates the Catholic liturgical calendar. However, despite this supposed piety, the existential serpent of spiritual materialism keeps on rearing its ugly head whenever we examine any of Joseph’s supposed magickal practices or beliefs.

Axiom six deals with the issues of control and command in regards to the evoked spirit, of course, that assumes that the spirit actually physically manifests. Any departure from the strict rules set down about control, command and manifestation will either cause what Joseph labels “the slingshot effect,” or it will produce no result at all.

The interesting thing about this axiom is that here Joseph reveals a subtle point about how he perceives the action of the Deity in an evocation. At the point of the spirit’s materialization the magician forges a connection between his finite conscious being and the infinite deity that resides within himself. Therein he reveals the key link that establishes the authority assisting one in commanding the spirit. Although this aspect of control really involves one’s own self-control while gripped with the resultant ecstasy and bliss produced through the merging of godhead and magician. The essence of this state is referred to as “Divine Love”, which emanates from that awesome source of godhead within and is the fulcrum of the whole working. A magician must activate that link under a state of complete self-control, and from it he or she may command the spirit and force it to obey. So the basic premise is that without self control one can’t command the spirit. Losing the ability to command a spirit that has fully or partially manifested will also cause the magician to fail to coerce it through a binding process (the charge).This is quite hazardous, producing what Joseph calls the slingshot effect instead of the desired result. A failure at any of these three points requires the magician to immediately abort the rite, extinguish the candles and incense, and seal up the temple for a month before starting the whole process all over again. Although it may be too late for the magician to mitigate a kind of fateful negative blowback.

What surprises me at this point is the fact that only here, the author states what is the real mechanism for evocative materialization, which is the merging, almost sexual, of one’s finite self with the infinite glory of the deity. This is a key magickal component used in this methodology.  It’s a technique of exalted empowerment, but nowhere is it explained or developed in the entire book - so it remains highly obscure to the reader, functioning as a part of Joseph’s personal magick. Since this is such an important key and it is omitted, then it would seem that Joseph is deliberately refusing to share an important spiritual discipline. However, such a mechanism is not unknown to other competent magicians, since it is part of the repertoire of an immanent aspect of deity. The symbolic analogue of this state is the classically defined hierogamos, where the magician undergoes a symbolic wedding between his higher self and lower being. This union generates feelings of ecstasy, since it is a union that merges the magician’s higher subtle and lower causal levels of being.

Joseph briefly discusses  this process as if it were automatic and it can only become that way after many years of practicing it as a spiritual discipline. It is a core rite of spiritual union and there are a number of ways of experiencing it. One method that captures it is the Bornless One invocation rite as shown in Crowley’s Liber Samekh. Other mechanisms involve variations of sex magick or applied Tantra. So if one were to practice one of these methodologies consistently for a few years, it would become internalized and occur automatically whenever one needed to summon it. However, by being obscure with this technique, Joseph is being disingenuous and setting up his erstwhile followers to fail to materialize a spirit. One could almost consider this omission a kind of neglectful cruelty, since it sets a trap for the unwary and unenlightened. However, for those who have practiced this rite and know its power and majesty, they realize that it does not necessarily produce ectoplasmic results, but the resultant ecstatic experience of union could cause one to see or perceive nearly anything.

The magician would then command the spirit to appear in an appealing manner, showing the entity the terrible warding pentacles and hexagrams perfectly copied from the grimoire, and trembling in terror, the entity would comply. It would shed its horrible aspect and assume a beautiful one, all in the twinkle of an eye.

Then the charge, which is used to bind the spirit, would be delivered to ensure that the spirit does exactly what the magician intends. The charge must be perfectly worded, memorized and not contain any loop holes for it to either negate or reverse the objective. One would assume that a lawyer should be hired to examine the charge and ensure that its wording produces a contract that is inescapable and unambiguous. Of course, that would assume that the spirit reads English and has a flair for legal interpretation.

In classical evocation, these operations would fit neatly into the stages of constrictio and ligatio, which are performed after the trials of invocatio. Joseph is not introducing any new material in what he is proposing, except the little bit about operating through the applied union of the Godhead and the magician. 

However, since it is unlikely that the magician will ever be able to perform a full materialization, it is also doubtful that there will be a need to master the art of command and control, or for that matter, even deliver the memorized charge. All of this is just a tease, really, since the omission of critical material ensures that the reader will not get past the initial stages of the rite, unless by either luck or intuition, the magician obtains the required unified state of consciousness. Because the magician is forced to abort the rite if it fails to produce a full manifestation, and then to wait a month or more before starting completely over, this will keep the erstwhile student busy for many months or even a couple of years before finally discovering what was missing from the rite to cause it to fail.

Axiom seven deals with the controversial slingshot effect in its entirety. I found this axiom to be rather strange and even unbelievable. It appears that even a failed evocation working will produce results. However, my experience is that a failed magickal working produces the obvious and shameful lack of any results. However, Joseph goes on to define this phenomena in five parts, and it always happens in this manner, regardless of circumstances.

First, one gains a minor windfall of money, then soon afterwards, one loses at least a third to half of it by some misfortune (easy come, easy go). Thirdly, the magician experiences the breaking up of a long term relationship in a painful and unexpected betrayal, and after that horrific event, one experiences the renewal of an old relationship, which doesn’t last long. Finally, one receives a small amount of cash as a token that the spirit is done torturing the magician. The pattern of the slingshot effect always produces these five sequential phenomena.

In a nutshell, that is the slingshot effect, thus it would seem that a magician who fails in his quest to evoke a spirit is in for some tough times. A successful outcome produces just the expected results and nothing else, undoubtedly due to the tightly written charge. However, in all of the years that I have worked magick, and indeed, anyone who I have ever discussed this issue with, nothing even remotely like this has ever happened. A magician who performed an evocation producing a full materialization of the spirit, heralded with all sorts of poltergeist activity and then made a tactical blunder that caused him to endure five events of outrageous misfortune lasting for weeks should probably leave the practice of magick to others more qualified and less liable or prone to personal stupidity. I would judge such a magician to be quite incompetent. I would also have a hard time believing such a tale in the first place, since it would seem very odd for someone to successfully invoke a spirit, only to have it catastrophically fail in such a precisely dramatic manner. Failures produce no results, successes produce some or full results - it’s as simple as that. Why is this so? Because the intent in a ritual working is so all-powerful!

If a magician told me that this had happened, I would believe him to be quite a story teller or an outright liar. Even my first attempt at Goetic evocation produced results, even though much of the other aspects of the rite were accidently and ignorantly omitted by me. The net overall results of the rite produced nothing tangible, but then again, I was only 17 years old at the time and knew so very little about ritual or ceremonial magick.

What are we to make of this axiom? It seems as if the erstwhile magician who practices Joseph’s system of magick has a loaded gun held against his head, and any error in the execution, understanding or in the charge itself, will cause the magick to go terribly awry. I suppose that I would think twice about performing that kind of magick and would warn others, too. It’s a no win situation and reminds me of the sorcerer’s apprentice, who was doomed to failure before he even stole his master’s hat and started to work his own magick. Why would any one want to contemplate working with such a system of magick if the risks were so dire?

Axioms eight, nine and ten are rather minor considerations, and it is debatable if they would have any bearing on the successful outcome of a magickal working. Axiom eight declares that regular practices and exercises are unnecessary, since they confuse issues of spirituality with psychism. Here Joseph is referring to exercises that develop one’s connection or alignment to the deity and other associated practices, although if written in a New Age perspective, these kinds of exercises would be fairly useless and easily replaced with the more potent practices of assuming one’s godhead, practicing communion, and other liturgy associated with one’s personal religious cult. These are an important feature of modern magick, since they assist the magician in developing the divinity within, the very thing that Joseph talks about connecting to at the climax of his evocation rite. Without a periodic practice and developed capability, the practicing magician would not able to forge such a connection, and the rite would fail.

Joseph also talks about his studies in Freudian psychology. I found this rather interesting, since Freud devalued religious experiences, saying that they were nothing more than an amplification of the id. Also, Freud was an avowed atheist and he was quite cynical about his own Jewish religious heritage. He is hardly the consultative expert for the modern practicing magician, unless that magician is also an avowed atheist. I would have thought that Carl Jung would have been more sympathetic to the practice of ritual or ceremonial magick, but then, what do I know?

However, in the next axiom, Joseph informs us that we should not reject the religious tradition that we were raised in. We should obey the ten commandments of God and follow the faith of our fore-fathers to help forge an effective subjective synthesis with a coherent, integrated subconscious belief system. Of course, if the belief system that we are raised in is completely incompatible with our inner spiritual self then that could pose some problems for the practitioner of evocative magick. Even so, Joseph favors going back to it anyway, since the old time religion is more powerful and complete than some new and fancy theology, like Theosophy, Neopaganism or Wicca. Although orthodox proponents for either Christianity or Judaism would take a very dim view of anyone practicing magickal evocation, following the author’s advice, one would be OK if he or she never publically admits to such a practice. Supposedly, the orthodox rendition of the Godhead doesn’t really have a problem with it either, so it’s all OK. Right!

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense to the individual spiritual seeker, which is an important aspect of a modern occultist, but it does allow one to become immersed to some extent in the religious practices associated with the old grimoires. However, few if any modern magickal practitioners can emulate the mind set of the pious medieval or renaissance magician, so the resultant spiritual fervor will be considerably less than what ought to be generated through the long period of purification and atonement. This lack of fervor would adversely affect the magickal operation, likely causing it to fail at its most fundamental level, i.e., the subconscious interpretation of the subjective synthesis.

In contrast, the modern magician is an avowed heterodox who celebrates her own personal expression of godhead, and she performs her magick with this gnosis strongly pervading her entire being. What could be more compelling than that? The great mysterious source of all magick is gnosis, and as a form of knowledge, it is completely paradoxical and inexplicable. However, it is foolish to think that one can find true gnosis in an orthodox creed; for that, one hs to seek a more esoteric perspective.

The final axiom declares that all magickal workings, particularly magickal evocation, should be performed in a temple with either a dirt floor or concrete covering a dirt floor instead of an elevated structure. An outdoor sequestered grove, a cellar or a ground floor room will provide the kind of earth connection needed for this work. This means that an apartment in a high-rise building would not fulfill the requirement for working magick, nor would a first floor room in a house with a basement.

I find this final requirement distinctly odd. A magician performs his magick through the domain of Spirit, which does not exist anywhere in physical space or time, so it can be accessed from any location, provided the operator is in the correct mind state and has an area that is free of distraction, clean and dedicated to the work. I have seen individuals who practiced magick in their living rooms or bedrooms without too much trouble. I myself have worked magick for many years in high-rise apartment complexes without any problems. One magician that I knew had a temple high up in a penthouse in uptown Chicago with a majestic view of the lake, and his magick was extremely powerful. This requirement is peculiar to say the least and seems to summarize the ultimate improbability of Joseph’s obvious personal magickal idiosyncracies and biased opinions.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation - A Critique

This is a three part critique and analysis of the book Ceremonial Magic and the Power of Evocation: A System of Personal Power, written by Joseph Lisiewski.

Recently, I made a comment that criticized the writings of Joseph Lisiewski and referred to anyone who proposed that ceremonial magick must produce verifiable material results in order to be considered successful. I decided to dust off and edit the critique of the book that started this whole movement. It is a rather long article, but I think that it’s important and represents my opinion in regards to the camp of materialistic forms of evocative magick. The problem that I have with Lisiewski’s book is that he states that a successful evocation must produce outstanding psychic phenomena, such as poltergeist activity, howlings, fire and brimstone, full physical manifestations or else the working has failed. Unfortunately, he has spawned quite a following, so now there are some other practitioners who taken up this argument. I believe that it is my duty as a magician to dispute this movement and point out its obvious flaws.

A while ago, when I read over Joseph Lisiewski’s book, Ceremonial Magic & The Power of Evocation: A System of Personal Power, the first thing that came to my mind is that he has decided to focus entirely and completely on the physical manifestation of evocative magick. He has stated that such physical manifestations are guaranteed if the magician chooses a suitably older grimoire (like the Heptameron) and faithfully performs all of preparations, practices and rites exactly as they are written, without substitutions or omissions. The determinant for success is that the old grimoires will operate as they did hundreds of years ago, and the magician need only look to them as the final authority in all of his operations. He has also proposed that evocative magick must produce verifiable and physically quantifiable results, such as a fully manifested physical entity and its associated psychic perturbations. He makes the distinction that his book and methodology alone fulfills the promise of gathering treasures in this world for the practitioner instead of in the spirit world. However, his methodology is simple and compelling - just use the grimoire as it was intended to be used and all will be well.

 I don’t really understand what Joseph is referring to when he seems to imply that other systems of evocation only gather together “spiritual” treasures for the practitioner. Certainly, goetic magick, like elemental and talismanic magick, are effective forms to obtain and acquire material results. Any experienced magician worth his salt would be able to affect the material plane in some degree, otherwise, what would be the point in working magick? However, in my estimation, the ultimate goal of working magick is enlightenment and at-one-ment with the Godhead, and through that exalted state, to aid in the manifestation of the world’s destiny. Throughout this process, whether working high or low magick, a magician engages the material plane. As a practicing magician, I find the accusation that I am somehow just interested in “spiritual” treasures to be absurd. I may have mystical pretensions, but I am not a mystic. 

During the renaissance, a classical magician would spent a great deal of time and effort engaged in the first stage of magickal evocation, which was “consecratio.” The magician would gather together all of the tools, materials and regalia that were to be used in the working and assemble them at the chosen place where the rites were to be performed. He would then spend time sequestered from the mundane world, obtaining through prayer, fasting, self-denial, abasement, atonement, purification ablutions and other pious activities, the correct degree of spiritual refinement necessary to perform the work. He would thus gain great spiritual treasures in order to have the power, authority and legitimacy to invoke and summon spirits, whose aid he would seek to enrich and empower himself in the material world. Perhaps that is what is meant by spiritual treasures. Since the world that the renaissance magician lived in was economically and socially restrictive, only magick or miracles could dramatically change someone’s lot in life, otherwise he was doomed to remain in his station of life and so were his children. The magician dared being discovered and persecuted as a heretic in order to gain advantage in the material world through supernatural means.

However, in today’s world, life in one of the developed societies is not ruled by a rigid class system or a tyrannical nobility interested in maintaining its status quo at all costs. The possibility of upward mobility is far greater today than it was during the renaissance or earlier. While material based magick is important, it no longer has to have miraculous capabilities in which to reward the magickal practitioner with tangible results (unless the magician is seeking a windfall). What is needed is persistence, intelligence, flexibility and a good work ethic. The old magick was used to make changes in the old world order, which by its nature was very difficult to change. A magician in that previous time would have sought to discover buried treasures or gained some kind of royal patronage as a sooth sayer. Goetic demons also performed many tasks that we take for granted today, such as fast and efficient transport, flying to and from a destination, sending picture, images, thoughts and ideas instantaneously over long distances. Much of that no longer seems relevant today. Would I like to be rich and famous? Of course, who wouldn’t want to be? Yet there are many mundane ways to achieve this goal, all of which don’t require a knowledge of theurgy. What it does require is a kind of singular ambition, a mono-mania, if you will. I have other interests and commitments besides money, so I opt instead to be comfortably well off in my career and station in life.

In his book, Joseph decries all of the current magickal methodologies in print, condemning them as inaccurate and unworkable as they are currently written. Although he does not name any names, we can be sure that he is taking aim at anyone who has written about magickal evocation and who offered their own methodology instead of deferring to the old grimoires. He has stated in his book that the current works on evocation propose systems that consist of someone else’s personal system of magick, which only works for them. He goes on to say that because of today’s inherent confusion between the physical and spiritual worlds and their rewards, these personalized systems are hopelessly muddled and incapable of producing any tangible results. What Joseph means by tangible results is a fully manifested physical entity and the product of that amazing appearance, which is the seemingly miraculous occurrence of material wealth.

I can deduce from this statement that what Joseph is saying is basically all of the existing and modern systems of evocation and theurgy fail to produce any tangible results. Practitioners may see things and sense things, but the working produces either very subtle manifestations or nothing at all. One gets the impression that the subtle phenomena is actually the delusions of the magician unable or unwilling to admit that what he or she is doing is fatally flawed. 

Joseph does seem to miss the irony of his statement accusing magicians of cobbling together their own personal idiosyncratic system of evocation, since what he is proposing is a personalized methodology that would accompany and aid in the use of one of the old grimoires. This is not so much different than what almost everyone else has determined in their own magickal research and practice. The only difference is that Joseph believes that exclusively employing one of the old grimoires (and ignoring all of the other more recent lore) is the only avenue available to the magician who is seeking a successful result to an evocation process.

Prior to this book being published, there were only a few books in print that proposed to reveal how to perform magickal evocation. What we have are basically two approaches; to base one’s magick on the Golden Dawn and its various ritual techniques, or to use the old grimoires as they exist in print. However, the Golden Dawn had rituals to perform most of the workings required for practical magick, but evocation appeared to defer to the old grimoires as well. Mathers passed around manuscripts and published a few of the old grimoires in English for the members of his order. Since that time, many have used both approaches, but anyone who has sought to master the art of magickal evocation has managed to put together a system of magick based on experimentation, research on the old grimoires and other published materials, and the ritual structures of the Golden Dawn. Whether a magician is a Thelemite, pagan, witch, member of the OTA (“Poke” Runyon’s organization), or some other occult persuasion, he or she will use these sources, since there are few if any other sources to examine.  What seems to happen is that anyone who masters evocation has to have first developed their own personal system. I honestly can’t figure out why this is such a bad thing. I, myself, have gone this route, and I produced a system that not only worked for me, but also worked for others as well.

Joseph also makes a great deal of noise about the inaccuracies that appear to plague the writings of the Golden Dawn, and that those errors came about from the misspellings and omissions found in the book, The Magus, by Francis Barett, which was the supposed source of occult lore for that organization. Of course, The Magus was a poor plagiarism of Henry Agrippa’s four books on Occult Philosophy, but for many individuals in the 19th century, it was their only source book for that material.  Joseph goes on to say that because of those errors, the entire body of lore belonging to the Golden Dawn is spurious and suspect, and so is all the other lore based on the Golden Dawn, including all of the writings of Aleister Crowley and his spiritual descendants. That would implicate Lon Milo DuQuette as well as yours truly. Joseph has determined that the reason why modern systems of evocation or theurgy don’t work is because of these errors.

To impugn all of the writings on practical and evocative magick, from the Golden Dawn to the present, because they contain the errors and omissions first presented in the Magus would assume that no one ever went back to Agrippa’s work to find a better source for their material. It would also assume that such errors, if they occur, are either relevant or even important. Occult publications and manuscripts are notorious for containing errors. I had to fix some of the squares that I wanted to use in the latest version of the Book of Abramelin because they had errors in them, and this book was produced from a supposedly purer source, a German version of the same genre that was superior to the original produced by Mathers.

While it is true that there are errors and omissions in a lot of the occult material in print, does it follow that whatever is based upon these writings, errors and all, are themselves egregiously in error? Joseph uses this logic to propose that we should all use the original occult sources, particularly the old grimoires, since they were used by generations of practicing magicians and were therefore, tried and true. Yet anyone who knows anything about the old grimoires will quickly realize how facetious and misleading this statement really is. First off, every manuscript of a given grimoire genre had differences, some had more and some had less - the variances could be quite startling. Secondly, most of the published works are from manuscripts that were much later than the originally proposed dates of origin. What has gotten into print is often from a poor surviving manuscript or redacted from multiple copies. Often, published grimoires are edited and produced by individuals who are historians and not practicing magicians, so errors and lacunae are reproduced so they can be examined from a historical perspective, not a magickal one.

So is Joseph saying that we should go back to the actual manuscript in its native tongue? How many occultists can speak archaic written forms of French, German or Italian, and then, have access to rare books that would be kept in special collections under strict environmental controls. Only certified academics would have access to such works, since few of these books have been electronically reproduced and disseminated. Most occultists and magicians are reliant on those works that are published and made available to the general public, so getting back to the source has its limitations. 

Another example of how erroneous this claim is can be found in the example of the grimoire Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, which was translated and published by Mathers in the late 19th century. This book has been revered by occultists and practicing magicians. The book even has urban myths associated with it, that the magical squares contained in it are so potent, just having the book in one’s possessions can cause all sorts of phenomena to occur. However, recent scholarship has revealed that the original manuscript used by Mathers was incomplete and full of errors. A new version of this book, which was derived from an earlier and more complete German manuscript, shows, when compared to the older version, just how incomplete and flawed it was. There are more magick squares in the German version than the French version, all of the magick squares are complete (although some have errors) in the German version, and an entire chapter was omitted in the French version that is faithfully reproduced in the German. The ordeal in the German version is 18 months, while it is only 6 months in the French version - the list goes on and on.

Despite all of those numerous errors or differences in the French/Mathers version, many magickal practitioners have attested to the potency and efficacy of this grimoire, even though the version that they have used was published from a flawed and incomplete source manuscript. Were the magicians who used it delusional? Can we trust a published book version of one of the original grimoires without recourse to the spectrum of different original manuscripts used to produce it, ensuring that what we have is correct and authentic? Obviously, the answer to both questions above is “no”, so it can’t really make much difference. This example alone shows the fatal error in Joseph’s declaration, and we must acknowledge that all occult lore has errors, typos and omissions, but that doesn’t negate the potency of the magic produced.

Perhaps it might be just as easy to just fix the errors wherever they are discovered. Maybe that would alleviate the problem, although from the perspective of the purest it would make the magickal workings that relied on them doubtful, whether the errors were fixed or not. However, that being said, errors and omissions can’t seem to completely negate the efficacy of the grimoire. It comes down to the fact that nothing is perfect, not even the old grimoires had that distinction. Yet Joseph seems to believe that if a page is missing, a letter transposed or a name misspelled, then somehow the whole operation will produce nothing. 

I find his logic to be quite challenging even though I strongly disagree, and with, I might add, extreme prejudice. It would seem his opinion is well founded in the older practices of ceremonial magick, where even a minor mistake could nullify the whole operation. However, my experience with magick has shown that such attention to detail is superfluous and even irrelevant. There is an important reason why this is so, and it is simply stated that the domain of Spirit is neither described nor defined by occult symbols even in their most abstract or absolute form, so a variance in them will not alter the outcome. So it would seem that the intent has a greater relevance to the practice of magick than the perfection of ritual execution or the purity of the source of ritual lore.

If someone invokes a spirit named “Duke Imos”, and instead calls him “Duke Inos”, will that cause the rite to fail? One might expect that something as important as a spirit’s name would have to be correct in order for the invocation to succeed, but actually, it does succeed anyway. I have witnessed individuals invoking Welsh pagan deities, massacring their names in a manner that would set a Welshman’s teeth on edge, but it doesn’t seem to mar the ritual or keep those deities from appearing in some manner. Are such productive outcomes delusions? Are the individuals who made such glaring errors and the people who were also in attendance, mass hallucinating? Of course not! The question that this issue begs is this: Is it the form or the intent of the rite that is important? A medieval magician would say it was the form, but then if he made a mistake and didn’t know about it, the magickal operation would probably have worked anyway. I would say that the intent is far more important than the form and experience has shown this, time after time, to be true. Joseph decries minor discrepancies between variations in the lists of spirits and correspondences and deduces that only the use of correct versions will guarantee a successful outcome. This rule has been proven to be wrong, so either Joseph is being highly disingenuous or he is showing a decided ignorance about how magick really works. 

Joseph decries the “march to your own drumbeat” mentality of the New Age that has allowed some gross and vulgar practices when it comes to ritual writing and performance, and these include sloppy research, poor substitutions, a lack of practice and shoddy execution. I find that I must agree with his opinion to a certain point, since I often find poor ritual practices exacerbated by the mixing of different spiritual or occult systems with no regard to esthetics, simplicity, continuity or elegance of form. These rituals sometimes even work, although not as effectively as they would if they were written in a consistent manner. Yet this often occurs from a lack of expertise and practice, which can only be gained by experimentation and the evolving of one’s work over time.

There are a lot of people working at a beginner’s level of expertise in magick and when one examines their rituals, their lack of sophistication is glaringly obvious. However, for some reason their rituals can still work as long as the intent is clear and simply expressed. This is a paradox, but as I have stated, magick is not based on the existence of absolutely and verifiable truths, even in symbolic form. One can actually make a lot of erroneous substitutions and the magick will still work, if the intent is clear. So magick relies first and foremost on the intent of the magician, secondly on her will, thirdly on her imagination and passion, fourthly on her personal practices and mental disciplines, etc. Somewhere down the list of important criteria, one might find that the symbology should be consistent and that the magician should not mix systems, but that is not particularly important. I have seen individuals perform powerful rites using nothing more exotic in terms of magickal regalia than their own index finger and their mundane clothes, and the magick worked. Where Joseph lays down absolute rules about the practice of theurgy, I would make suggestions and establish guidelines for esthetically superior rituals. Unlike Joseph, I am not a snob nor am I a purist - and still, the magick works anyway!

Joseph then gives a rather gloomy analysis of the history of magick, which is interesting but proposes questionable ideas, such as that each age of magick laid the ground work for the next age, and that there is a continuous tradition practiced down through the ages, from the Hermetic Era in antiquity through the Gothic Revival of the 19th century. I don’t believe that at all, and there is little to verify any kind of actual unbroken historical lineage from antiquity to today. In my opinion, each age reinvents magick, certainly using ideas and material from previous ages, but in a way that makes it completely new.

For instance, anyone who has examined the Greek Magical Papyri of the Hermetic Era currently in vogue amongst modern practitioners of magick will find that the rites and spells are quite different than anything practiced today, since they represent a very different, if not, lost way of perceiving the world. Whatever is used from these archaic documents must be intensely reworked and rewritten in order to make them useful. Joseph seems to think that the process of rewriting such a ritual is an egregious sin, since the original ritual is lost amidst the rewriting. He gives as an example, the Bornless One rite, which was remade by the Golden Dawn members into one of the most beautiful and powerful rituals in our current arsenal of modern lore. The original ritual is inelegant, crude and was used as a means to perform a powerful exorcism. Yet the new version corrupted some of the words of power or omitted some of them altogether. A modern magician could extract a version of the “Headless One” rite from the original text and make it work, and the Golden Dawn version can be performed, and it works as well. Of course, the magician who uses the original rite isn’t actually reading and performing the rite in Koine Greek, but that doesn’t seem to matter at all.

This example supports my argument above, that the old rites are given new life by being rewritten and reformed into something new. It is a process that has been used for untold centuries and represents how new ritual lore is developed from the old lore of a previous age. But according to Joseph, we lost our way in the last two centuries, and the magick used today is groundless and ineffective. Of course, I don’t agree with him, and I find his statements rather strange. Has he ever tried to use any of the modern rites that he so caustically condemns? The fact that they work is proof enough for the modern practitioner, and if they didn’t work, they would have been discarded and replaced with something that did work many years ago.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Occult Teachers, Masters and Instructing Students in Ritual Magick

Since I have written an article about groups and their importance, I guess that I should also put in my two cents about teachers, masters and instructing students in the art of ritual magick. This is a pretty sensitive topic, since some have vested interests in their teachers and spiritual leaders, while others are interested in maintaining and actively pursuing their roles in the community. I must admit that ever since I left the Coven From Hell, I have not put myself in a position to call anyone my teacher. Instead, I have been inspired by some individuals, and I would assume that I have inspired others as well. I also consider myself a student, no matter how many years I have been researching, writing and practicing magick. I might have more experience and knowledge than some, but I am always encountering some new concept or topic in my interactions with other occultists, even if that other occultist is just a beginner.

So because I got really burned by being, for a while, the “chela” of Christopher Syn, also known as Bill Schnoebelen, I guess you could say that I have soured on the whole matter of assuming the role of master, chela, student or teacher. Because of my previous experiences, I have avoided looking for teachers, gurus or individuals to whom I might bond with so as to quicken my mastery of myself and my occult practices. I just don’t believe that anyone has any real answers to the questions I pose to myself in regards to my own internal spiritual truths and my quest for enlightenment. That also doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to what others are saying, read books written by other authors or attend their classes or workshops. I am as open to new ideas from many sources, and I have been highly inspired by the words and ideas of other people. I hope that I remain in such an open and accessible way for the duration of my life, so I won’t ever be closed off to new sources of ideas and information, no matter their source.

However, over the years I have steadfastly avoided the role of teacher, seeking to share what I know with like minded and open individuals. Why is this so? What have I got against being a teacher and the role of teachers, masters, chelas, students and the whole formal operation of occult pedagogy? Why do I resist taking on any kind of occult assistant or allowing individuals to satisfy themselves while basking in my aura? I have to admit that the whole idea of anyone engaging in a kind of hero worship of me is disturbing, mainly because I know all too well that I am unworthy of any adulation. I am just an occult student who is attempting to practice the art of ritual magick while also simultaneously trying to make a living and live my life in some degree of peace and harmony. I do admire some individuals that I have met, and I am certain that I have some admirers as well. As long as it doesn’t go too far, I am OK with all of that. So, the rest of the topic of teachers, masters, chelas and students has to do with what I would consider going too far with roles, expectations and all of the associated baggage.

I have already discussed what I think of the whole subject of ascended masters in a previous article that you can find here. While I realize that some occultists put a great deal of faith and belief in this topic, for myself, I have a much more down to earth sentiment. I respect that others do believe in ascended masters, yet in all of the years that I have practiced ritual magick, I have never once either met any masters or even found evidence that they exist. It might be that I am psychically tone deaf to the occurrence of ascended masters, yet I believe that there have been many human beings who have excelled in their spiritual search and quest for enlightenment throughout the ages. They lived their lives like anyone else, and they died after leading a consummately productive life. Rama Krishna is a good example of this kind of spiritual master, and there are many others. However, Rama Krishna died of throat cancer, and his passage was well documented by his followers. He was, more than anything else, a human being just like you and me, afflicted by frailties and gifted by exceptional virtues. However, my spiritual path has been pretty mundane in regards to meeting remarkable individuals, because there was not one who was a supernatural being as far as I could tell, yet all of them were remarkable in a very human sort of way. I think that I have made my point on this topic, so I can continue with the rest of the story, as it were. 

If we conclude that the world is not populated with ascended masters who are immortal, often invisible and beyond human frailties and flaws, what then of the many declared teachers and leaders who are in the world today. In order for me to make an informed judgment of any of these teachers, I would need to know them and be able to examine the contents of their teachings. However, based on what I have said above, which is that none of these teachers or spiritual leaders are likely to be immortal ascended masters, they are instead human beings, no different in that regard than you or I. They have virtues and failings, great gifts and personal flaws, so there isn’t really anything supernatural or godlike operating in any of them.

Putting a teacher or spiritual leader on a pedestal while they are still alive has inherent risks both for the teacher or leader and the ardent follower. That risk is powerfully defined by one word - “expectations.” If we revere a teacher or a spiritual leader, then we have put them in a place above the rest of humanity. All of their actions and words are judged in this context, giving them far more weight and importance than they would normally acquire. The teacher or leader is required to behave and speak as a conduit of the divine at all times, and when he or she shows any of the vices or weaknesses of mortality, then their fall from grace is just as precipitous as their rise. I have seen this rise and fall happen repeatedly in various groups and organizations that I have personally experienced or read about. To knowingly don the apparel and persona of the great teacher or leader is to engage not only in self deception, but to deceive and impugn the spiritual beliefs and integrity of others - this is an egregious sin in my estimation.

Pretending to be an emissary of the Godhead deliberately empowers the expectations of others, thus creating a false aura of glamor and fascination. Such a pretense will always lead to a terrible fall, since the teacher or leader ends up being seduced into believing their own PR, making the outer deception into one that is potentially pathological. There is such a thing as a Messiah complex, where both the leader and devotees engage in a complete disassociation with reality. It often leads to terrible abuses, personal tragedy and even a kind of social-spiritual collapse. The rest of the world looks upon the fall of a spiritual leader as yet another scandal that proves the folly of discipleship and the gullibility of trust vested in any spiritual leader. Such events makes the world a little bit more cynical and incapable of believing in anyone or anything.

For the reasons that I have stated above, I have carefully avoided developing my role as a spiritual or occult leader and teacher. I have also avoided becoming anyone’s devoted follower, thereby refusing to join any organization that is not democratic or ruled by consensus. I am not afflicted with cynicism, but I am affected greatly by prudence and an awareness of my own personal failings. Life has made me humble, whether or not I wanted it. The great equalizer and the reducer of time and circumstance has ensured that I have never been allowed to get too infatuated with my own supposed brilliance or ingenuity. Yet if I am so loath to adopt any kind of spiritual leader or teacher persona, then how do manage to teach anyone anything? I also appear to be writing books and articles, conducting workshops and discussions groups and communicating with various individuals who want to learn what I seem to know. Is this a kind of disingenuous hyperbole on my part? Well, not really, because I have decided on a much better role that eliminates all of the above pitfalls.

I seek to share my knowledge and experiences with others instead of force feeding them my methodologies and beliefs. Sharing means that I will also gain useful information and insights from those whom I am engaged in sharing. It also immediately establishes a relationship of mutual respect and equality, something that I idealize and is part of the governance of the Order to which I am a member. Another important concept is mentoring. If I become engaged in sharing my ideas and practices with another person, then I have become a mentor to that person. Being a mentor is a very temporary situation, it is also quite personal and intimate. A mentor guides, suggests, shares and demonstrates, but he or she doesn’t dictate, coerce or exploit the one who is being mentored. Also, a mentor relationship has a limited scope associated with it, which means that the student is taking on a specific task or tasks, and when they are completed, then the relationship is dissolved amicably. While a teacher takes on a role that often erects a barrier between themselves and the student, a mentor has no such barriers. A teacher often has a group of individuals to impart a set curriculum, so there is often little time for answering extensive questions by a single student. There is also little time for remedial assistance or one on one tutoring, since a teacher must assume a certain amount of required background knowledge. A mentor instructs at whatever level the student has previously achieved, and helps one master the curriculum at their own pace.

The whole object of training someone in the art of ritual magick is to allow them to perform all of the rituals and magickal workings for themselves. At some point, their own creative genius has to be triggered so that all of the practicing and study comes alive for them. The sole purpose of any spiritual or magickal teacher is to inspire and guide a student so they can become autonomous and self-directing. Any other kind of assistance is either unwanted or unneeded. When a teacher seeks to use a student to build themselves up or to create a permanent and co-dependent relationship, then that teacher is violating the whole spirit and purpose of teaching. The focus should be completely on students and their trials at learning and mastering the discipline and practice of ritual magick. It should not be on the teacher, who doesn’t need any attention and shouldn’t disrupt the student’s learning process. If a student ever finds himself being put into a situation where the teacher’s issues or needs are eclipsing the topics that were supposed to be taught, then my advice is to either respectfully remind the teacher of the objectives or quickly end that teacher student relationship. This can happen to any teacher who is overwhelmed by personal issues, but a teacher who is so afflicted can no longer teach. Often it is up to the student to judge these situations and to take corrective action, since the student is personally responsible for their own learning process.

It is has long been my opinion that the best magickal instruction is acquired by individual and personal instruction through mentorship. Ritual magick often has a very high bar in regards to getting started and learning to become an effective ritual magician. Books and workshops can help, so can video demonstrations and examples. However, mastery of ritual magick requires the student to assume all of the work, and most of that work is the practice of meditation, rituals and the performing of magickal workings. Ideally, a mentor can not only demonstrate how a working should be performed by sharing a magickal working with the student, he or she can also guide and observe the student taking the first step in operating independently. This is my preferred way to teach others how to work magick, through sharing and acting as a temporary mentor. It keeps the focus on the student and removes the glamor from the experienced teacher, which is how magick and occultism should be taught in the first place. I have never had anyone get any romantic notions about me and my magickal abilities when I have adopted this role, so it would seem that it’s a good object lesson used to maintain a balanced and humble outlook on one’s life and spirituality.

When people write emails and ask for me to become their teacher, I have often demurred. I am not being antisocial or dismissive of their interests or needs. I just believe that a true and faithful teaching of the actual practice of ritual magick should be done through a mentor type relationship. That would require a person to live in some proximity to where I live, or for them to be able to afford to personally visit me on a regular basis. Otherwise, there are my books, workshops, and the books, lectures and workshops of other teachers. I believe that there is no shortage of materials for students to acquire and master their pursuit of the art of ritual magick. However, I reserve my personal guidance and technical ritual methodologies to an intimate one on one kind of experience, even if that means that I will personally train and empower very few ritual magicians in my lifetime. That is the limitation and the virtues of such a regimen. So, if you don’t call me master, I won’t call you a chela or treat you like servant. That’s a promise!

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick - Greater Key - Volume III

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick - Greater Key - Volume 3

by Frater Barrabbas

Immanion Press / Megalithica Books, June 2010

It is finally in print, the long awaited third book in the trilogy, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick. While only a few know that this work was originally written in 1996 and called “Pyramid of Powers,” a name that was changed along with a massive rewriting and editing project, it was a persistent and laborious act of will that finally saw this work fully printed. Although many hands had a role in helping to make this dream realized, it was also the ambitions of the author (myself) who continued to push for that realization.

There is some very important information found in this third volume of the MARM series, especially since it is the final part of a work that seeks to give the power of building a personal and unique ritual magickal system into the hands of the intermediate student. This work, in three parts, teaches the art of magickal system building, which is a very complex and difficult methodology to learn. It’s easy and simple to just use the rituals that are found in books or grimoires, but this work shows how more rewarding and empowering it is to write your own personal magickal system. There will be other books produced using this perspective, but this, as far as I know, is the first of such. Let’s take a brief look at what the third volume contains in regards to content, so you will know why I believe it to be the most important of the MARM trilogy.

Completing the work begun in Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick: Foundation and Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick: Grimoire, this book contains the detailed instructions on how to build a key of correspondences and apply it to the nine rituals of this series. There is also information that will aid the seeker in forming a sustainable magickal working group as well as an in-depth analysis of the ritual structures of the nine rituals used in this system.

Written for the intermediate student and practitioner, this Greater Key is the third volume in the Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick trilogy. This book is the final step in commanding the occult arts of ritual magick, and is recommended to anyone seeking to master the art of building a complete magickal system.

In this book you will learn:

  • Components of a key of correspondences
  • How to configure your own key of correspondences
  • Neopagan, Qabbalistic and Gnostic example keys included
  • How to customize the nine rituals of the MARM series
  • Methods of forming a Star group and building a group key
  • Determining and avoiding group pitfalls and crisis’s
  • Instructions for joining the Order of the Gnostic Star
  • Example of an actual New Moon working with journal entries
  • Glossary of all terms used in the MARM series

About the Author

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius is a practicing ritual magician who has studied magick and the occult for over thirty-five years. He has emphasized pragmatism and structuralism in a discipline that he believes has lost its direction and become diluted by mediocrity and misunderstanding. He believes that ritual magick is a discipline whose mystery is unlocked by continual practice and by occult experiences and revelations.

The book Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick represents an entry level work written for the beginning student of ritual magick, but it’s one work existing within an orbit of many completed and planned literary projects; each of which shall attempt to modernize the practice of ritual magick, making it relevant in the new millennium.

The three volume set, Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick was written for the intermediate student of ritual magick, assisting that seeker in crafting his/her own system of magick. The first volume contains all of the documentation that an intermediate practitioner should know, the second contains the grimoire of ritual templates, which the student must modify to build a personal magickal system, and the final book contains the key and methodologies used to modify and personalize the rituals contained in the grimoire.