2. Magical Consciousness
4. Essential Steps
5. Maps & Correspondences
2. Magical Consciousness
To summarise the last two sections, I would say the characteristics of a "good" ritual are:
1. Entry into magical consciousness and the release of "magical energy".
2. A limitation of consciousness to channel that energy in the correct direction, with minimal "splatter".
Without the energy there is nothing to channel.
Without the limitation, energy splatters in all directions and takes the
of minimal psychic resistance to earth. A magical ritual is the calculated shifting and limitation of consciousness.
4. Essential Steps
1. Open the Circle
2. Open the Gates
3. Invocation to the Powers
4. Statement of Intention and Sacrifice
5. Main Ritual
6. Dismissal of Powers
7. Close the Gates
8. Close the Circle
4.1 Open the Circle
The Circle is the place where magical work is carried out. It might literally be circle on the ground, or it could be a
church, or a stone ring, or a temple, or it might be an imagined circle inscribed in the aethyr, or it could be any spot hallowed
by tradition. In some cases the Circle is created specifically for one piece of work and then closed, while in other cases (e.g. a
church) the building is consecrated and all the space within the building is treated as if it is an open circle for long periods of
time. I don't want to deal too much in generalities, so I will deal with the common case where a circle is created specifically
for one piece of work, for a period of time typically less than one day.
The Circle is the first important magical limit: it creates an area within which the magical work takes place. The magician
tries to control everything which takes place within the Circle (limitation), and so a circle half-a-mile across is impractical.
The Circle marks the boundary between the rest of the world (going on its way as normal), and a magical space where things are most definitely not going on as normal (otherwise there wouldn't be any point in carrying out a ritual in the first place). There is a dislocation: the region inside the circle is separated from the rest of space and is free to go its own way. There are some types of magical work where it may not be sensible to have a circle (e.g. working with the natural elements in the world at large) but unless you are working with a Power already present in the environment in its normal state, it is useful to work within a circle.
The Circle may be a mark on the ground, or something more intangible still; my own preference is an imagined line of blue
fire drawn in the air. It is in the nature of consciousness that anything taken as real and treated as real will eventually be
accepted as Real - and if you want to start a good argument, state that money doesn't exist and isn't Real. From a ritual point of view the Circle is a real boundary, and if its usefulness is to be maintained it should be treated with the same respect as an
electrified fence. Pets, children and casual onlookers should be kept out of it. Whatever procedures take place within the Circle should only take place within the Circle and in no other place, and conversely, your normal life should not intrude on the Circle unless it is part of your intention that it should. Basically, if you don't want a circle, don't have one, but if you do have one, decide what it means and stick to it. There is a school of thought which believes a circle is a "container for power", and
another which believes a circle "keeps out the nasties". I subscribe to both and neither of these points of view. From a
symbolic point of view, the Circle marks a new "circle of normality", a circle different from my usual "circle of
normality", making it possible to keep the two "regions of consciousness" distinct and separate. The magician leaves
everyday life behind when the Circle is opened, and returns to it when the Circle is closed, and for the duration adopts a
discipline of thought and deed which is specific to the type of magical work being undertaken; this procedure is not so different
from that in many kinds of laboratory where people work with hazardous materials. The circle is both a barrier and a
container. This is a kind of psychic sanitation, and in magic "sanity" and "sanitary" have more in common than spelling.
Opening a Circle usually involves drawing a circle in the air or on the ground, accompanied by an invocation to guardian
spirits, or the elemental powers of the four quarters, or the four watchtowers, or the archangels, or whatever. The details aren't
so important as practicing it until you can do it in your sleep, and you should carry it out with the same attitude as a soldier on
formal guard duty outside a public building. You are establishing a perimeter under the watchful "eyes" of whatever guardians you have requested to keep an eye on things, and a martial attitude and sense of discipline creates the right psychological mood.
4.2 Opening the Gates
The Gates in question are the boundary between normal and magical consciousness. Just as opening the Circle limits the
ritual in space, so opening the Gates limits the ritual in time. Not everyone opens the Gates as a separate activity; opening a
Circle can be considered a de-facto opening of Gates, but there are good reasons for keeping the two activities separate.
Firstly, it is convenient to be able to open a Circle without going into magical consciousness; despite what I said about not
bringing normal consciousness into the Circle, rules are made to be broken, and there are times when something unpleasant and
unwanted intrudes on normal consciousness, and a Circle can be used to keep it out - like pulling blankets over your head at
night. Secondly, opening the Gates as a separate activity means they can be tailored to the specific type of magical consciousness you are trying to enter. Thirdly, just as bank vaults and ICBMs have two keys, so it is prudent to make the entry into magical consciousness something you are not likely to do on a whim, and the more distinct steps there are, the more conscious effort is required. Lastly - and it is an important point - I open the circle with a martial attitude, and it is useful to have a breathing space to switch out of that mood and into the mood needed for the invocation. Opening the Gates provides an opportunity to make that switch.
4.3 Invocation to the Powers
The invocation to the Powers is often an occasion for some of the most laboured, leaden, pompous, grandiose and turgid prose ever written or recited. Tutorial books on magic are full of this stuff. "Oh glorious moon, wreathed in aetherial light...". You know the stuff. If you are invoking Saturn during a waxing moon you might be justified in going on like Brezhnev addressing the Praesidium of the Soviet Communist Party, but as in every other aspect of magic, the trick isn't what you do, but how you do it, and interminable invocations aren't the answer. On a practical level, reading a lengthy invocation from a sheet of paper in dim candlelight requires so much conscious effort that it is hard to "let go", so I like keep things simple and to the point, and practice until I can do an invocation without having to think about it too much, and that leaves room for the more important "consciousness changing" aspect of the invocation.
An invocation is like a ticket for a train, and if you can't find the train there isn't much point in having the ticket. Opening the Gates gets you to the doorstep of magical consciousness, but it is the invocation which gets you onto the train and propels you to the right place, and that isn't something which "just happens" unless you have a natural aptitude for the aspect of consciousness you are invoking. However, it does happen; people tend to begin their magical work with those areas of
consciousness where they feel most at home, so they may well have some initial success. Violent, evil people do violent and
evil conjurations; loving people invoke love - most people begin their magical work with "a free ticket" to some altered state of
consciousness, but in general, invoking a specific aspect of consciousness takes practice and I don't expect immediate results
when I invoke something new. If interminable tracts of deathless prose work for you, then fine, but I find it hard to keep a
straight face when piety and pomposity combine to produce the sort of invocations to be found in print. I name no names.
I can't give a prescription for entering magical consciousness. Well devised rituals, practised often, have a way
of shifting consciousness which is surprising and unexpected. I don't know why this happens; it just does. I suspect the peculiar
character of ritual, the way it involves the senses and occupies mind and body simultaneously, its numinous and exotic symbolism, the intensity of preparation and execution, involve dormant parts of the mind, or at least engage the normal parts in an unusual way. Using ritual to cause shifts in consciousness is not exceptionally difficult; getting the results you want, and
avoiding unexpected and undesired side-effects is harder. Ritual is not a rational procedure. The symbolism of magic is intuitive and bubbles out of a very deep well; the whole process of ritual effectively bypasses the rational mind, so expecting the outcome of a ritual to obey the dictates of reason is completely irrational. The image of a horse is appropriate: anyone can get
on the back of a wild mustang, but reaching the point where horse and rider go in the same direction at the same time takes
practice. The process of limitation described in these notes can't influence the natural waywardness of the animal, but at
least it is a method for ensuring that the horse gets a clear message.
4.4 Statement of Intention and Sacrifice
If magical ritual is not to be regarded as a form of bizarre entertainment carried out for its own sake, then there has to be a
reason for doing it - healing, divination, personal development, initiation, and the like. If it is healing, then it is usually
healing for one specific person, and then again, it is probably not just healing in general, but healing for some specific
complaint, within some period of time. The statement of intention is the culmination of a process of limitation which begins when
the Circle is opened, and to return to the analogy of the plastic bag, the statement of intention is like the blade on the scalpel -
the more precise the intention, the more the energy of the ritual is concentrated to a single point.
The observation that rituals work better if their energy is focused by intention is in accord with experience in everyday
life: any change involving other people, no matter how small or insignificant, tends to meet with opposition. If you want to
change the brand of coffee in the coffee machine, or if you want to rearrange the furniture in the office, someone will object. If
you want to drive a new road through the countryside, local people object. If you want to raise taxes, everyone objects. The more people you involve in a change, the more opposition you encounter, and in magic the same principle holds, because from a magical point of view the whole fabric of the universe is held in place by an act of collective intention involving everything from God downwards. When you perform a ritual you are setting yourself up against a collective will to keep most things the way they are, and your ritual will succeed only if certain things are true:
1. you are a being of awesome will.
2. you have allies. The universe
is changing, there is always a potential for change, and if your intention
coincides with an existing will to bring about that change, your ritual can act as a catalyst.
3. you limit your intention to minimise
opposition; the analogy is the diamond cutter who exploits natural lines
cleavage to split a diamond.
Suppose you want to bring peace to the world.
This is an admirable intention, but the average person would have no more
effect (with or without magic) on the peacefulness of the world than they would if they attempted to smash Mount Everest with a rubber hammer. Rather than worry about the peacefulness of the whole world, why not use your ritual to create a better
relationship with your spouse, or your boss, or someone who really annoys you? And why not work on the specific issues which are the main source of friction. And try to improve things within a specified period of time. And do it in a way which respects the other person's right to continue being a pain in the arse if they so wish? This is the idea behind focussing or limiting an intention. Having said all this, there are a lot of people in the world who would appreciate some peace, and perhaps your grand intention to bring peace might catch a wave and help a few, so don't let me put you off, but as a general principle it is
sensible to avoid unnecessary opposition by making the intention as precise as possible. Think about sources of opposition, and about ways of circumventing that opposition - there may be a simple way which avoids making waves, and that is when magic works best. Minimising opposition also reduces the amount of backlash you can expect - quite often the simplest path to earth for any intention is through the magician, and if there is a lot of opposition that is what happens. [The very act of invoking power creates a resonance and a natural channel through the magician.]
I try to analyse the possible outcomes and consequences of my intentions. There is a popular view that "if it harms none, do
what you will". I can think of many worse moral principles, and it is better than most, but it is still naive. It pretends that
it is theoretically possible to live without treading on another person's toes, it leaves me to make unilateral decisions about
what is or is not harmful to others, and it is so wildly unrealistic, even in the context of everyday life, that it only
seems to make sense if I intend to live in seclusion in a wilderness living off naturally occuring nuts and berries (having
asked the squirrels for permission). If it is used as a moral principle in magic, then it draws an artificial distinction
between magical work and the "push me, push you/if it moves, shoot it, if it doesn't, cut it down" style of contemporary life. It
completely emasculates free-will. I prefer to believe that just about anything I do is going to have an impact on someone or
something, and there are no cute moral guidelines; there are actions and there are outcomes. The aim is not to live according
to guidelines, but to understand as fully as possible the consequences of the things we do, and to decide, in the light of
our understanding (which has hopefully kept pace with our power), whether we are prepared to live with the outcomes.
And so to sacrifice. There is a problem here. The problem arises from the perception that in magic you don't get something
for nothing, and if you want to bring about change through magic you have to pay for it in some way. So far so good. The question is: what can you give in return? There is a widespread belief that you can sacrifice a living creature, and while most magicians (self included) abhor the idea, the perpetuation of this idea is still being used as a stick to beat the magical and pagan
community about the head. The issue is further complicated by the fact that if one looks at surviving shamanistic practices
worldwide, or looks at the origins of most religions, ritual animal sacrifice is endemic. That doesn't make it right, and I
have an unshakeable prejudice that it isn't an acceptable thing to do, but I am only too aware of my hypocrisy when I order a chicken curry, so I'm not going to stand on a soapbox and rant on about it.
What I prefer to do is to examine what the notion of sacrifice means. What can one legitimately sacrifice? You can't
legitimately sacrifice anything which is not yours to give, and so the answer to the question "what can I sacrifice" lies in the
answer to the question "what am I, and what have I got to give?". You certainly aren't any other living being, and if you don't make the mistake of identifying yourself with your possessions you will see that the only sacrifice you can make is yourself, because that is all you have to give. Every ritual intention requires that you sacrifice some part of yourself, and if you don't make the sacrifice willingly then either the ritual will fail, or the price will be exacted anyway. I don't have a rational justification for this statement, and it certainly isn't based on "karma" or a paranoid feeling that accountants are everywhere; the belief was
handed on to me as part of my magical training, and having observed the way in which "magical energy" is utilised to carry
out intentions, it makes sense. Each person has a certain amount of what I will call "life energy" at their disposal - some people
call it "personal power", and you can sacrifice some of that energy to power the ritual. Sacrifice does not mean turning the
knife on yourself (and there are plenty of people who do that). What it means in ordinary down-to-earth terms is that you promise to do something in return for your intention, and you link the sacrifice to the intention in such a way that the sacrifice
focuses energy along the direction of your intention. For example, my cat was ill and hadn't eaten for three weeks, so, as a last
resort, fearing she was about to die of starvation, I carried out a ritual to restore her appetite, and as a sacrifice I ate nothing
for 24 hours. I used my (real) hunger to drive the intention, and she began eating the following day.
Any personal sacrifice which hurts enough engages a deep impulse to make the hurt go away, and the magician can use that
impulse to bring about magical change by linking the removal of the pain to the accomplishment of the intention. And I don't mean magical masochism. We are (subject to all caveats on generalisations) creatures of habit who find comfort and security
by living our lives in a particular way, and a change to that habit and routine causes some discomfort and an opposing desire to
return to the original state: that desire can be used. Just as a ritual intends to change the world in some way, so a sacrifice
forces us to change ourselves in some way, and that liberates magical energy. If you want to heal someone, don't just do a
ritual and leave it at that; become involved in caring for them in some way, and that *active* caring can act as a channel for
whatever power you have invoked. If you want to use magic to help someone out of a mess, provide them with active, material help as well; conversely, if you can't be bothered to provide material help, your ritual will be infected with that same inertia and
apathy - true will, will out, and in many cases our true will is to flatter the ego and do nothing substantive. I speak from
From a magical perspective each one of us is a magical being with a vast potential of power, but that is denied to us by an
innate, fanatical, and unbelievably deep-rooted desire to keep the world in a regular orbit serving our own needs. Self- sacrifice disturbs this equilibrium and lets out some of that energy, and that is why egoless devotion and self-sacrifice has a reputation for working miracles.
4.5 The Main Ritual
After invoking the Powers and having stated the intention and sacrifice, there would seem to be nothing more to do, but most people like to prolong the contact with the Powers and carry out some kind of symbolic ritual for a period of time varying from minutes to days. Ritual as I have described it so far may seem like a cut-and-dried exercise, but it isn't; it is more of an art than a science, and once the Circle and Gates are opened, and the Powers are "in attendance", whatever science there is in ritual gives way to art. Magicians operate in a world where ordinary things have complex symbolic meanings or correspondences, and they use a selection of consecrated implements or "power objects" in their work. The magician can use this palette of symbols within a ritual to paint of picture which signifies an intention in a non-verbal, non-rational way, and it is this ability to communicate an intention through every sense of the body, through every level of the mind, which gives ritual its power. I can't say any more about this because it is personal and unique to every magician, and each one develops a style which works best for them.
4.6 Dismissal of Powers
Once the ritual is complete the Powers are thanked and dismissed. This begins the withdrawal of consciousness back to
its pre-ritual state.
4.7 Close Gates/Close Circle
The final steps are closing the Gates (thus sealing off the altered state of consciousness) and closing the Circle (thus
returning to the everyday world). The Circle should not be closed if there is any suspicion that the withdrawal from the altered
state has not been completed fully. I like to carry out a sanity check between closing the Gates and closing the Circle. It
sometimes happens that although the magician goes through the steps of closing down, the attention is not engaged, and the
magician remains in the altered state. This is not a good idea. The energy of that state will continue to manifest in every
intention in everyday life, and all sorts of unplanned things will start to happen. A related problem is that every magician will
find sooner or later an altered state which compensates for some of their perceived inadequacies (in the way that many people like to get drunk at parties), and they will not want to let go of it because it makes them feel good, so they come out of the ritual in an altered state without realising they have failed to close down correctly. This is called obsession, and it is one of the
interesting difficulties of magical work.
Closing down correctly is important if you don't want to end up like a badly cracked pot. If you don't feel happy that the
Powers have been completely dismissed and the Gates closed correctly, go back and repeat the steps again.
5. Maps & Correspondences
heaviness, old-age, stagnation, limitation, inertia
creativity, inspiration, vision, leadership
violence, force, destructiveness
harmony, integrity, balance, wholeness
love, hate, passion, sensual beauty, aesthetics, emotional power, nurture
reason, abstraction, communication, conceptualisation, logic
imagination, instinct, the unconscious
practicality, pragmatism, stolidity, materialism
And once we have gods and goddesses (or saints)
to personify these qualities, a weave of metaphors and associations elaborates
the picture; the Moon is instinct, fire is both destructive and energetic,
death is a sythe, air and mercury are "the same", and so on. The
meaning of a symbol is personal - white means "death" to some and "purity"
to others. What matters is that the magician should have a clear map, and
with it the ability to invoke different aspects of consciousness by using
the symbolism of gods, goddesses, archangels, demons or whatever.
It does not matter whether the magician believes in the literal reality
of the territory or not, as long as he or she treats the map with respect
and does not muddy the water by dabbling with too many different maps.
There are two principal ways in which maps become muddled, and as the main
theme of these notes is the precise use of limitation in conjuction
with magical consciousness, I think it is worth mentioning what I see as
potential pitfalls. The first pitfall is mixing systems; the second
is working with other people.
There is a tendency nowadays to muddle different systems of correspondences together, to add Egyptian gods to a Kabbalistic ritual, to say that Tanith is really the same as Artemis, or that Cybele and Astarte and Demeter are "just" different names for the Mother Goddess, to find parallels between Thor and Mars, between Kali and Hecate, between the Virgin Mary and Isis, until, like different colours of paint mixed together, everything ends up in shades of muddy brown. This unifying force is everywhere as people find universal themes and try to make links between groups and systems.
It is (in my opinion) a bad idea to mix systems together in a spirit of ecumenical fervour. Correspondences are like
intentions: the sharper and more clearly defined they are, the better they work. Despite a few similarities, the Virgin Mary is
nothing like Isis, and Demeter has very little in common with Astarte. Syncretism usually takes place slowly over the
centuries, so that for most people there is no distinction between the classical Greek and Roman pantheons and Mercury is a synonym for Hermes, but to do it in real-time in your own head is a recipe for muddle-headedness.
Symbols can be diffused when people work together in a group. It is a mistake to believe that "power" is raised in direct
proportion to the number of people taking part in a ritual. Unless people have been trained together and have similar "maps", then the ritual will have a different effect on each person, and although more power may be raised, it will be unfocussed and will probably earth itself through unexpected channels. When people begin working together there will be a period of time when their work together will probably be less effective than any one of them working alone, but after a time their "maps" begin to converge and things start to improve dramatically. There is nothing magical about this - it is a phenomenon of teams of people in general. I don't like "spectator rituals" for this reason; you are either in it or your are out, and if you are out, you are out the door.
Does it matter what map, what system of correspendences a person uses? Is there a "best" set? This is an impossible
question to answer. What can be said is that working within any magical framework incurs a cost. The more effective a magical system is at limiting, engaging and mobilising the creative power of consciousness, the more effective it is at ensnaring
consciousness within its own assumptions and limitations. If a person works within a belief system where the ultimate nature of
God is pure, unbounded love, joy and bliss, then that closes off other possibilities.
Without sitting in judgement of any set of beliefs, I would say that the best belief system and the best system of
correspondences is one which allows consciousness to roam over the greatest range of possibilities, and permits it the free-will to choose its own limitations. And that is a belief in itself.