On Fitting Rituals Together

Most of the posts I write are written in one fell swoop, more or less, but on occasion, I’ll save something as a draft to finish later, especially if I feel like I don’t have enough information yet or if an idea hasn’t come through clearly.  The thing about these drafts is that they’ll either be finished in a few days after some more research and thinking it through, or it’ll get shelved indefinitely until I remember that I have drafts backed up waiting for another look.  I have more than a few such drafts from my blog-quiet Year in White, and a few more from before that, that I never really bothered to complete or, if they were complete, publish for one reason or another.

Recently, I went through my drafts and found a post on a PGM conjuration ritual, PGM IV.930—1114, which had a bunch of notes and comments ready for review, that I hadn’t previously touched since June 2014 (jeez).  I decided to pick that one to see where I was, and while it was mostly complete, it had plenty of room for expansion.  I decided to finish out that post, take a deeper look at the source material with a slightly more trained eye than I had before, and finally put it up; seeing how I’ve been on a roll with taking all the old prayers and rituals I’ve posted over the years and putting them into finalized, polished, published pages on this blog (which you can view using the updated navbar at the top of the site), I decided to forego the post and just put out the page.  Thus, if you’re interested, take a look at my write-up on PGM IV.930—1114, the Conjuration of Light under Darkness (under Occult → Classical Hermetic Rituals, with the rest of the PGM/PDM/Coptic stuff).

It’s a pretty nifty ritual, if I do say so myself; it’s a straight-up conjuration of the god Horus Harpocrates, and it bears a huge number of parallels to a proper conjuration ritual in the Solomonic tradition that arose after the PGM period, including prayers of compulsion and formal ritual closings.  One of the more fascinating parts of it is that, instead of performing the ritual on an altar, it uses a sort of anti-altar: a lamp held above the ground on the intersection of two ropes suspended from the ceiling of a room.  Reading deeper into the ritual and Betz’s notes on the source text, the ritual as recorded in the PGM is actually a combination of several earlier rituals: a prayer for divine alliance with a deity, a lamp divination ritual, and a conjuration of a god.  The fact that there are some parts of the ritual that seem duplicated or don’t read as a single flow of a ritual written in one go indicates that it is, indeed, cobbled together, but it also feels somehow familiar to later texts like the Key of Solomon in that same not-quite-jarring, not-quite-disharmonic sense.  It still works, though you can clearly see the distinct parts that make up the whole.

A few days back, Scott Stenwick over at Augoeides wrote a post titled The Template Works for Everything, which I encourage you to read.  He starts out by packing quite the punch:

One of the best things about modular ritual templates is how versatile and effective they are for all different kinds of workings. If there’s a “magical secret” out there, how to put the various rituals and forms together into a coherent operation is probably it. Many published books on magick include instructions on how to do the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. Some include the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. Some include the Middle Pillar. And so forth. But there’s little instruction on what to do with them aside from recommendations that you practice them daily. …

At any rate, what I found when I published Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy is that nobody else publishes that stuff, either. I was told time and again how useful my book was because it laid out the whole structure of a ceremonial operation including the basic components that go into actually getting stuff done. I’ve gone ahead and published the whole magical and mystical series here on Augoiedes for precisely that reason. We really don’t need any more occult books that teach the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and then don’t really even tell you what it’s for or what it’s supposed to do.

Stenwick talks a lot more about his operant field theory of magic over on his blog, which should be damn-near mandatory for anyone in a Thelemic or Golden Dawn system of magic to read.  Suffice it here to say that Stenwick puts into no uncertain terms that there are certain components for ritual magic—for any kind of magic within a coherent system—that plug into each other in a modular fashion, and by swapping out certain parts as needed according to a particular template of ritual, you can get anywhere you need to go.

The fact that he put this idea into such bald, direct terms shocked me, because it makes so much sense and I wish I had written about it sooner myself.  He’s absolutely right: every tradition of magic has its own kind of template, and builds rituals up according to that template from smaller actions and rituals.  No matter what it is you’re trying to do, no matter what system you’re using, every complete ritual is a machine built from parts that fit together in a more-or-less cohesive whole, and by swapping those parts out as needed, you get a different ritual as needed.  If it seems like there’s something missing, it’s because there is, and you’re not using all the parts you should.

Yes, rituals that are complete unto themselves from the PGM or any number of grimoires of your choosing are a dime a dozen, but consider: those are snapshots, isolated incidents from within a tradition.  If you actually study the tradition from which such an instance of ritual comes, you’d get a more complete view of the preliminary stuff that would be expected to happen before it, the concluding stuff that would be expected to happen after it, how that ritual can be used as a part of an even larger ritual, and (if you’re exceptionally skilled, and for particular rituals) how to break down a ritual into its constituent parts and repurposed for other rituals.

As an example, consider Rufus Opus‘ now-discontinued Red Work series of courses.  I used to half-joke that he was a one-trick pony and that the only proper ritual he taught in his courses was his version of the Trithemian conjuration ritual, because he did.  Heck, he even wrote a whole book on planetary magic, Seven Spheres, with that being the only real ritual.  It’s true, but that’s the whole point of the system of magic he teaches.  His angelic banishing ritual he teaches, the first actual ritual in the text that isn’t making holy water or learning how to meditate, is just a Trithemian conjuration ritual that substitutes a full charge of conjuration with a half-charge that invokes the angels only so far as they banish one’s sphere; his conjuration of a genius loci is a pared-down version of the Trithemian ritual with a charge of conjuration modified specifically for a spirit of the land; his conjuration of one’s natal genius is almost identical to any other angelic use of the Trithemian ritual with the exception of a heavily-modified charge of conjuration; all the conjurations of the elemental and planetary angels are virtually identical except for the time of conjuration, the name of God used in the charge of conjuration, and the name of the angel being conjured.  Rufus Opus got the modularization of the Trithemian ritual down to a science well beyond its original purpose for conjuring the seven planetary angels, even down to adapting parts of it for his own take on goetic conjurations of demons.  When viewed from a naive perspective, sure, Rufus Opus may only have taught one ritual, but what he was really teaching was a framework, a template, a process of ritual and how to adapt that process to any particular need, just not in explicit terms.

On the other end of the spectrum, consider a text like the Arbatel.  This is a text that teaches about a system of magic, including some of the major spirits and types thereof in the system and what they do, but the text gives you next to nothing in the way of a ritual template; while it provides some prayers and suggestions for working with the spirits it discusses in its aphorisms, the text largely assumes either that you already have a framework of ritual you’re comfortable with, or that you’re spiritually developed enough and suited to the work that one will be revealed unto you.  Those who can read between the lines can divine something resembling a framework, vague as it might be, like I have on this blog before, but it’s just as likely (and just as well) that an experienced magician can take the information of the Arbatel, look at a framework of ritual they already know works, and plug in the few parts that the Arbatel provides to get as much out of it as one can get out of a fully detailed text like the Key of Solomon or Grimoirium Verum.

Now take a look again at PGM IV.930—1114.  It’s apparent that this ritual is composed of parts that were, at some point by some author, cobbled together from earlier rituals written by earlier authors that just so happened to fill the needs of that later author for a coherent purpose, combining the prayers, tools, and processes from each into a single whole ritual.  That magician had a good grasp of what he needed, and tried to keep as true as he could to the parts of the ritual without sacrificing any one benefit for the whole thing.  He had a framework for ritual that would match with that of any Renaissance Solomonic conjurer, and he used whatever parts at his disposal to come up with a complete whole.  Can the ritual be augmented with other preliminary work, or concluded or continued with other rituals?  You bet!  The author even included a part for further extending one aspect of the ritual, which is unfortunately lost in the source material, but not only is the possibility there, it’s a certainty that it’s there.

This is why it’s important for magicians to study the small, routine stuff like simple energy work, basic prayers, attunement and banishing acts, and other simple rituals.  While they all have importance on their own for their own sake, it’s not always said how profoundly important they really are as framing rituals or other ritual components in a wider system of magic.  These small building blocks are used to build larger rituals, and without having a solid grasp of the small parts, it makes having a solid grasp of the larger whole all the more difficult.  It’s not just that the smaller stuff produces a firmer foundation than might otherwise be achieved for later works, but it’s that each part must be able to be carried out smoothly and powerfully so that when they’re incorporated as parts in a larger ritual, the whole shebang is smooth and powerful in a way that treating it as a single unit unto itself wouldn’t be able to achieve.  Every ritual isn’t a single note, it’s a harmonic symphony unto itself, and each part is a movement that must flow from one to the next.

Every tradition has its process and framework, from Russian Orthodox ceremonies to Cuban Orisha ceremonies, and if you pay attention, you can easily pick up on the structure of how things flow, what should come next, what can be changed, what should stay the same, what can be considered an indivisible part, what can be broken down into smaller parts, what can be modified or tweaked to come up with a whole new part, and how to put parts together.  Every system of ritual work has a template, and as Stenwick says, “the template works”.

2 responses

  1. Very nice and totally accurate. Any ritual system is built up from component parts. Even in the Anglican tradition, you can see this in the traditional phrasing of “the Lord be with you”; “and also with you.” It’s effectively a formal request for permission from the congregation to proceed; and a granting of that permission. It’s a useful reminder for group work, that — periodic check-ins that let people speak to the idea that the preliminaries have been properly achieved/performed, and we’re ready to move on, are valuable.

    It does also speak to the idea of having a vademecum or enchiridion or grimoire in your head as well as in your hands, though. Having a range of pieces memorized — either my own, or Thomas Taylor’s Orphic hymns, or bits of Druidic or Golden Dawn ritual, or Psalms, or other elements of ritual — allows for the construction of rites on the fly, or the reinsertion of material to a rite when it gets left out. Memory matters in this work; and having pieces of the work “formatted in the head” is really a critical part of the overall work.

  2. Oh! One other thing: Temple and Template of course have the same root word origin, which has to do with cutting away or cutting apart. A temple is a space cut away from the ordinary world and a template is a space cut out of a piece of cloth or metal or paper to use as a guide when making matched pieces. In both cases, you’re using negative space to create a positive final result. We cut away in order to design a specific desired positive result.

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