Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release. When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me. This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works. Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context. My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views. If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!
Today’s selection will be on the topics of breathing, intonation, and prayer.
Proper breathing involves the use of the nose to both inhale and exhale, as well as extending the abdomen instead of the chest when ﬁlling the lungs. These are important traits to get the most use from the lungs without being too abrasive or rough on the respiratory system. Most of the capacity for air in the lungs is toward the bottom, but expanding the chest to ﬁll the lungs concentrates the air toward the top where the lungs make less use of the air. By extending the abdomen slightly instead of the chest, one can take deeper, longer breaths that ﬁll the lungs up more completely. A deep, complete breath ﬁlls up the lungs from the bottom to the top, expanding the abdomen ﬁrst and then the chest; when exhaling, the top of the chest is pulled in ﬁrst, emptying out the lungs from top to bottom. Using the nose to inhale helps clean the air ﬂowing into the lungs from the outside while moisturizing it to keep from drying out the lungs; similarly, using the nose to exhale keeps more moisture within the body. Using the mouth to breathe is nearly always poor practice except when large amounts of air are needed quickly.
The basic means of controlling one’s breath is to be aware of the process of breathing itself. To begin, sit comfortably with the back straight, with the legs cross comfortably atop each other as on a cushion or with the feet ﬂat on the ﬂoor and thighs parallel to it as in a chair. While breathing slowly but steadily and comfortably, divert the mind to pay attention to how the chest rises and falls, how the abdomen extends and contracts, how the lungs feel when full and empty, how the nose inside feels when air ﬂows through it, how the outside of the nose and upper lip feels when air moves across it, how the air smells, how the air tastes, and so forth. Importantly, one should be aware of breathing itself, not the process, memories, or sensations experienced as a result of breathing. Breathing should be, at least initially, maintained as an exercise in awareness and not in contemplation or to be used as a foundation for other thoughts. When other thoughts beside the act of breathing intrude, let them go, put them away for later, but return to the act of breathing. Breathing with awareness should be practiced for at least ﬁve minutes a day every day for a beginner, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.
Once the ability to breathe simply and with awareness has been established, practice the fourfold breath technique. To start, clear out the lungs by making a short, popping, “p-p-p-p-p” sound with the mouth, expelling the lungs of all air. This done, breathe in for four counts (second, heartbeats, or whatever unit of time feels comfortable), hold the breath for four counts, exhale completely over four counts, and hold the lungs empty for four counts. Try not to shut oﬀ the throat or nose when holding the lungs full or empty of air. Although one is encouraged to count mentally to four in the beginning, the rhythm of breathing in the fourfold breath should become natural and without the need to mentally time the breath. Attempt to perform the fourfold breath exercise with awareness as before. Repeat the process for at least ﬁve minutes a day every day until it can be maintained indeﬁnitely.
Intonation is the act of using the voice to project oneself forcefully, clearly, and intentfully. Those who are trained in singing, public speaking, or neurolinguistic programming may already under-stand such an act, but most people know only how to use their voice to speak, whisper, and yell.While these methods of using the voice have their place in ritual, intonation is the use of the entire body to speak aloud and not simply the voice and mouth.
Although speaking is essentially a physical process, the use of the voice to speak also involves two other magical skills: breathing and the mental ability to produce words and ideas. Voice is the ability to combine the two into a single process, taking the spirit and mind and transforming them into a perceptible physical sensation. This gives these things form and communicates them to other people, something that mere thought alone or mental projection cannot accomplish except in the most adept of spiritual workers. Not only can the combined use of breath and thought communicate to other people, but the spiritual component of the two can do the same for spirit sand immaterial, nonphysical entities. Just as people can be snapped to attention and commanded,so too can forceful and correct use of intonation bring about change and command in the spiritual realms of the cosmos.
Intonation has the eﬀect of vibration on the body and diaphragm, and is indeed called “vibrating” words or sounds by some groups of magicians. It is similar to the act of singing, where one uses both the throat, chest, and belly to project the voice. To practice this, sit or stand straight and practice deep breathing for a short while. Once the breath is regulated, extend the arms out to the sides, take a deep breath and project the sound “ah” from the belly. Let it reverberate from you,slowly at ﬁrst until it spreads up through your chest, then through the arms to the ﬁngers, then out through the mouth. Hold the voice steady, letting no vibrato give a warble to the voice; control the voice. Do this at a low singing voice ﬁrst, then try it again with a slightly louder voice, then a quieter voice. Try it later with a slightly higher pitch, then a lower pitch. Repeat this process over several days until the sound “ah” can be intoned at any level of loudness and pitch that you can naturally make without causing a sore throat or hoarseness.
Once the sound “ah” can be intoned well, repeat the process with other sounds. First attempt other vowels: “eh”, ”ee”, “oh”, “augh”, “oo”, and so forth. Once these are mastered, attempt simple consonants with vowels: “kah”, “gah”, “tah”, “dah”, “lah”, “rah”, “sah”, “zah”, and so forth with other consonants and with other vowels. Repeat the process with disyllabic words, then longer words. After some practice, any word will be able to be intoned easily but forcefully.
Prayer is the act of calling out and invoking the attention, aid, and power of another entity upon which one relies. Generally, this is to higher beings such as saints, gods, or God, but is essential to communication with any divine or spiritual entity. Prayer may also be done with oneself as a guide or method of meditation or contemplation, focusing inwardly to the soul instead of outwardly to the spirits. Either way, prayer is a method of communication and communion with the divine.
Prayer may be done spoken or silent, alone or in a group, standing or sitting. However, it is generally good practice to pray alone and either kneeling or standing, with the hands clasped, pressed together, or outstretched. In practice, this is similar to or performed identically as contemplation,except on a practice or oﬀering to the Divine or a particular aspect of it. Absorbing oneself in prayer is key to coming in true contact with the Divine. Prayer may be performed oﬀ of a set prayer memorized or written down, or it may be spontaneous and come from the heart; set prayers may be preferred for repeated rituals, while spontaneous prayer is better for contemplation and communion in the moment itself with the Divine. The location of prayer is similarly performed at the same place, such as in a temple or at a particular altar, or it may be made as one walks and travels around in the world. The means by which one prays can be intensely personal or highly communal with others, either controlled and rehearsed or free and ecstatic. Even if a prayer is rehearsed and read aloud from a set written text, however, prayer should always come from the heart and meant with the mind, never simply being read aloud for its own sake.