Monday, June 11, 2012

Temple Architecture - Why and Wherefore - Part 1

Recently, a friend of mine complained to me that almost all of my writings assume that a person who is going to practice ritual magick must have at their disposal a rather large separate room for that activity. In order to work the kind of ritual magick that I am proposing in my various articles and books, one would have to devote a whole room to nothing but ritual magick, and this could be difficult or even impossible for some students. If a student is living with his or her parents (and they are not either encouraging or accommodating), then the opportunity of having a separate temple is virtually nonexistent. Anyone who might actually like my books and would want to actually perform the rituals contained in them could find themselves at a loss if they don’t also have a separate room to function as their temple.

Why would I make such a demand on my potential students or place such an obstacle in the way of someone who wants to work the kind of ritual magick that I espouse? Couldn’t I at least make the magick that I work be more accommodating to the kind of living space resources that anyone might be able to use? These are some really good questions, and as you might suppose, I have some answers for you to consider (particularly those who are challenged by the thought of having a separate temple room). I haven’t deliberately tried to create obstacles to prevent anyone from actually using the rituals in my books. What I have done is to write my books with an ideal arrangement in mind, and that I have assumed that individuals will make the choices and accommodations needed to be able to perform these rituals in a secure environment. That kind of accommodation is simpler for just one individual, but it becomes more difficult if students desire to work magick in a group. When you have more than one person, then being able to devote a permanent space that is of an adequate size for the work becomes much more important. (We will talk a bit about having temple space for a group as opposed to just an individual.)

If I look over the many years that I have worked ritual magick, I didn’t always have a room in my living quarters devoted entirely to magick. However, I saw that as an important material goal and have always guided my choices so that I might be able to afford this luxury, since I felt that it was more important than other necessities. Being single for much of my adult life has helped me to achieve this goal, and I would assume that if had been married and had children that my priority would not have been so easily enforced. Even so, I have had a separate room for a temple for almost 28 years, although the quality of that space has varied from time to time, depending on opportunities and my financial fortunes. I have also had to share my bedroom for temple space, and at one time, I slept on a cot that could be folded up and put away to allow the maximum use of space. One thing that I have learned over the years is that the kind of magick that I work is much more suited to having a separate room, however large or small, and this has to do with the nature of the Spiral Vortex, which is an essential foundation for all of my magical workings.

During the time that I lived with my brother many years ago while I attended the local city college in Milwaukee (UWM), I first used the living room as a temporary magical working space, and then I got rid of my bed and installed a portable cot so I could work magick in my apartment bedroom. This seemed to work out quite well for a time, until I discovered that the magick I had been working was bleeding into my mundane life in a way that was both troubling and disturbing. I found my dreams were so powerful that I wasn’t getting the kind of sleep that I needed in order to perform at my best. I also found that there were times when I needed to either ground or gain some quiet space where there wasn’t any magick happening so I could focus on other things, like my school work or aspects of my personal mundane life. The reason why this situation became so difficult if not untenable is because of the fact that I was working with multiple layers of the spiral vortex.

A vortex, as you might remember, can’t be banished or extinguished. It can only be sealed or overlaid, and when it is sealed, it is still more or less active. After a while, all of the different magical workings that I had performed became overlaid because they were never banished. This had the effect of saturating the temple environment with magical energies and a myriad of spirits that I had either invoked or evoked. The room became almost like an egregore, a distinct spiritual entity that never seemed to rest or sleep (unlike me). My bedroom became so psychically “hot” that I had to occasionally drag my cot into the living room and sleep there if I wanted to have a good period of uninterrupted rest. When I had been previously working magick in the living room (and putting all of the tools and other materials away when I was done), I didn’t notice that there were often after-effects permeating that living space, but it did make for some weird occurrences and bizarre party activity. I also liked to be able to keep certain temple structures up for weeks or more, and that couldn’t be done in a temporary environment.

If I worked rituals more like the Golden Dawn, or even like the basic magick employed by most Witches, I wouldn’t have so contaminated my living space and made it unlivable. However, I couldn’t perform any banishing rites whatsoever, so what I generated in my magical workings had an enormous staying power, and it could and did pervade my living space for months after all such work had been stopped. This is a good thing if you have a separate room for a temple, but it is a problem if you have to share temple space with mundane space.

One other concept that I would like to discuss is in regards to using a so-called astral temple. This is a wonderful idea on paper, but in practical terms, it’s really all about working magick in your mind and employing your imagination to perform rituals. I have nothing against this methodology, and for an advanced magician, it can be done quite efficiently. In fact, I often use this technique when writing or editing a ritual. I can perform it in my imagination and pretty much determine its effectiveness. However, I have nearly four decades of experience performing rituals, so I don’t really need to experience a ritual in the material world (or actually performing it in the sacred space of a temple) in order for me to fully experience it. Even so, it’s always much more powerful and exciting to perform the rite in a real temple using material tools instead of imagining the space and the tools.

Still, for the beginner or even the intermediate student, having material based tools and manipulating them in the sacred space of a real temple is not only important, but it’s likely the only way that the magick generated can be fully experienced and realized in the material world. So there are limitations to consider if you are contemplating doing the magick completely in your mind. I won’t even discuss what might happen if one were to erect a spiral vortex ritual structure solely within his or her mind.

As you can see, this issue becomes a bit of a conundrum for anyone who would use a spiral vortex as their magical foundation, and I am sorry to say that the advantages of my magical system also have certain accompanying disadvantages; especially if the practitioner can’t devote a separate room for working magick. So this is why I assume that anyone who wishes to perform the type of ritual magick that I wield must have a separate room or temple to work magick. This separate room doesn’t have to be large or elegant, it can actually be quite small. The less furniture that one has in it, the more room one can use for ritual movement, so there is obviously some give and take when working out an allocation of temple space. Additionally, having a separate room for a temple will, over time, generate a kind of temple egregore, which can be quite useful and helpful, especially if it doesn’t coexist in your mundane living space. There is also the need for seclusion and privacy, and at times, even a kind of isolation in order to achieve the optimal results for much more advanced workings (such as the Lunar Abramelin ordeal).

Therefore, if you want to work ritual using my techniques, you are also well advised to acquire a separate room for the exclusive use of magical workings. You will need, in a word, a temple. That being said, we should now consider some basic guidelines to developing a temple space.

Basic Temple

As I have said, if you don’t have to incorporate a lot of furniture for your temple, then the amount of floor space can be minimal. How minimal, you might ask? In fact, your temple can be as small as seven to eight feet square (or around 2.5 meters), and that’s the size of a large walk-in closet. I have known a couple of people who used a walk-in closet to create a temple, although it does have some issues regarding ventilation, heating and cooling that would have to be resolved. Any space where there are going to be lit flames and incense burning will need to be ventilated to keep the heat from getting too high, or the smoke from getting too obnoxious.

(I recall a time when I lived in Kansas City and got to rent a brand new two story town house, but I had to have a room-mate in order to afford living there. The second story master bedroom had vaulted ceilings, a large attached bathroom and was truly magnificent. However, in order to have space for a bedroom (since the downstairs bedroom was occupied by my room-mate), I put a futon bed in the large walk-in closet and made that space into my bedroom. I slept in that closet for a few months until my room-mate moved out and I was then able to afford the whole apartment.)

Concerning the selection of temple furniture, a simple temple only needs a small table for an altar, and that’s the minimal requirement. Other elements that would be employed for a simple temple are some kind of obvious markers for the four cardinal directions and the four in-between or cross-cardinal directions (the four angles). These marked circle points can be illuminated so that they are easy to see in dim lighting. You could use small LED lights, small oil lamps or vigil candles. However, I am strictly against having any open flames on the temple floor. My reason for this is that I once experienced having my robe almost catch on fire when I had an array of candles on the floor. (The thought of my near immolation is still sobering to this day.)

Ever since that incident, I have avoided placing any open flames within reach of my robes, which has made me more secure and worry free. I would advise anyone who is thinking of placing candles on the floor to also think about their own safety. The only way to avoid igniting something by contact with low lying flames is either placing the candles higher up, or working with them without any robes (sky clad). Even so, one item that is very important for any temple is to have a class A fire extinguisher within easy reach at all times.

Another consideration is where to place the altar in the temple. I would recommend that a small altar could be placed at any one of the four watchtowers or in the center of the circle, depending on the tastes of the practitioner or the esthetics of the ritual space. There is no right or wrong place to put the altar, and sometimes an irregular room shape will dictate where it should be placed. Having an altar placed at one of the watchtowers will qualify that space in some manner, since it represents that one of the elements is elevated above the others, having to share the same space as the altar functioning as the ritual focal point. Of course, placing the altar in the center of the circle would completely eliminate this consideration.

Once the altar is placed, and the four Watchtowers and Angles are marked in some manner, then the only additional items that would be needed are two oil lamps (or candles) placed on either end of the altar, then a ceramic cup or chalice for the salt water, a paten or dish, a dagger, wand, an incense braiser (thurible or metallic container), and a second cup or chalice for sacramental wine (or beer). Other items would include wine or beer, bread, spring water, sea salt, incense, self-igniting charcoal, perfumed oils, a pen and a long-stem lighter. Pillows or meditation cushions are very helpful for sitting on the floor for long periods of time. A book holder, placed on the alter to hold the ritual documents or magic grimoire (or even the magic journal) would also be appropriate. I would also recommend keeping divination tools, such as a Tarot deck, I-Ching coins, rune stones, pendulum, Geomancy sticks and even a skrying stone or mirror.

So, that is everything that you might need for a simple temple. This is certainly all you need to practice the rituals found in the “Disciple’s Guide” or even “MARM.” As for your own ritual garb, you can wear a simple mono-colored robe and a few pieces of jewelry, or you can get as elaborate as you can either afford or withstand. I leave that up to the personal choices of the magician, but otherwise, a simple temple isn’t really beyond the financial reach of most practitioners. All it requires is for you to use a bit of creativity and some insightful management of your living space.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas


  1. One of the best "portable temple" setups that I've seen was put together by a friend of mine many years back. It was based on the Enochian altar design that Aleister Crowley recommends, which is a double-cube about navel-height with the Tablet of Union drawn on the top and the four Watchtower tablets on the sides. The neat thing about was that it was designed to roll on wheels and also opened like a cabinet. Inside were several shelves that were sufficient to hold a basic set of magical tools and even a few choice reference books.

    What this allowed him to do was keep the altar in a closet when he wasn't doing any magical work, and roll it out into whatever room he happened to be working in along with all the necessary tools conveniently stored inside. Then when he was done, he could just roll it back to the closet and put it away. It was a really simple design, but it worked quite well for doing magick without a dedicated temple space.

    Here's a question I don't think it's ever occurred to me to ask you. Could you set up a vortex bound not to the room in which you happen to be working but rather to the top of the altar itself? If so, I would imagine you could seal it when you finish your ritual and then throw a black silk cloth over it before rolling it back into the closet. Do you think that might prevent the energy of sustained rituals from "bleeding" into your living space?

  2. Hi Scott -

    A portable altar that you could store in a closet or roll into any room to work magick would a good idea, except that your friend was performing Enochian magick, which doesn't use a spiral vortex as its base.

    The Spiral Vortex affixes itself to a specific space and it continues to occupy that space for quite a long time - until it naturally decays. So, you couldn't collapse it or hide it by obscuring the temple's central altar or focus.

    The points of a vortex take up the space of an entire room, even when sealed with a sealing spiral. So I don't think that using a black silk cloth would either shut down or completely block the effects of a quiescent vortex. Also, if you had a portable altar, the vortex wouldn't travel into the closet with it, instead it would remain in the room, even with the altar being removed.

    What I have learned over the years is that you can transport the energy layers of a fully active temple by contracting them into a large natural crystal, but then you would have to be fairly adept at crystal magick to do this operation. I have used this technique to transport the egregore and energy signature of a temple to a new temple location whenever I have had to move.

    However, there are residual elements that are still left behind, and I wouldn't want to do this as a part of a normal ritual closing because it would probably distort the arrayed fields after a period of time. I might be able to get away with a one way transportation of the temple vortex array, but I doubt that it could be done on a regular basis.

    The whole purpose of using the spiral vortex in ritual magick is so that there is a continuity of energy in the temple, even though the temple is sealed when not in use. I have found that the temple can and does act on its own, and there are times when all I have to do is to sit in a sealed temple and magical phenomenon can and does occur. That benefit also has some costs, like having to have a separate temple to work magick.


  3. Actually, the question about the vortex was completely separate from the fact that the particular portable altar I was thinking of happened to be an Enochian one.

    This does answer my question, though - the vortex is bound to the space, not to any particular object or piece of furniture. That's what I was wondering about.