I have to say, Curious Cat is a blast, you guys. While I’ve been on Twitter since I graduated college in 2010, and though it’s always fun (and sometimes hilariously aggravating) to interact with people on there, there’s not a lot of room for anonymity, and you can’t always send people direct messages if you don’t follow them or if someone’s turned DMs off. Enter Curious Cat, a platform that syncs up with Twitter and Facebook to let you ask people questions, even (and especially) anonymously. Since I started using it, I’ve been fielding a lot more questions, ranging from the utterly surreal to bawdily sexual and everything in-between. Given my focus on magic and the occult, a lot of people ask me questions pertaining to, well, magic and the occult, and it’s been great! Sometimes I can’t answer due to things that just can’t or shouldn’t be discussed publicly, and other times I can’t answer because I simply don’t know enough about a given topic to give an answer, but at least I can say as much. Sometimes, though, I might have too much of an answer, and there’s a 3000 character limit for my replies.
One of the recent common things I’ve been asked is on the topic of banishing. Banishing as a ritual unto itself is a mainstay of many forms of Western magic, especially due to the influence of the Golden Dawn and its Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and its Thelemic variant the Star Ruby. Quoth Chic and Tabitha Cicero in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition:
This simple yet powerful cleansing ritual can be used as a protection against the impure magnetism of others. It is also a way to rid oneself of obsessing or disturbing thoughts … we feel that the Neophyte needs to concentrate solely on the banishing form, since s/he has a tendency to light up on the astral and unknowingly attract all manner of Elementals at this early stage of the Work. It is far more important for the Neophyte to know how to banish rather than to invoke. Anyone can attract an Elemental or an energy. Getting rid of the same can be more difficult.
And that’s really what banishing’s about, isn’t it? It’s a kind of ritual-centric cleansing that gets rid of bad spiritual stuff. Consider the etymology of the word “banish”:
late 14c., banischen, “to condemn (someone) by proclamation or edict to leave the country, to outlaw by political or judicial authority,” from banniss-, extended stem of Old French banir “announce, proclaim; levy; forbid; banish, proclaim an outlaw” (12c., Modern French bannir), from a Germanic source (perhaps Frankish *bannjan “to order or prohibit under penalty”), from Proto-Germanic *bannan (see ban (v.)). The French word might be by way of Medieval Latin bannire, also from Germanic (compare bandit). The general sense of “send or drive away, expel” is from c. 1400. Related: Banished; banishing.
To banish is, literally, to put out of a community or country by ban or civil interdict, and indicates a complete removal out of sight, perhaps to a distance. To exile is simply to cause to leave one’s place or country, and is often used reflexively: it emphasizes the idea of leaving home, while banish emphasizes rather that of being forced by some authority to leave it …. [Century Dictionary]
When we banish, we purge a person (e.g. ourselves), an object (e.g. a magical tool or supply), or a space (e.g. a temple or a bedroom) from all malevolent, harmful, or otherwise unwanted spiritual influences, whether they’re entities in their own right (e.g. obsessive spirits or spiritual leeches), spiritual energies that aren’t necessarily conscious on their own (e.g. pollution or miasma), or maleficia that’s been cast upon you (e.g. curses or hexes). Thus, a banishing ritual is a type of spiritual cleansing or purification that gets rid of all this, or at least helps loosen it to make getting rid of it easier.
The thing about banishing rituals is just that: they’re a ritual, and more often than not, they’re explicitly and only rituals. They use ritual gestures and words to induce this effect, often without the use of physical cleansing supplies such as holy water, incense, or the like. Yes, many banishing rituals can incorporate these things, but it might be more helpful to think of banishing rituals as a subset of cleansing practices more generally. Cleansing can take many forms: ablution with lustral water (e.g. khernimma), taking a spiritual bath (e.g. my Penitential Psalms Bath, bathing in a sacred spring or river, or any other number of spiritual bath mixes like the white bath or another kind of herb bath), “cleaning off” with holy water or Florida Water or eggshell chalk or some other physical substance known to have spiritually purifying properties, suffumigating with incense (or smudging, if you do that sort of thing respectfully), and the like. Sometimes these processes have ritual involved with prayers or specific motions, and sometimes not, where you just wipe yourself down and call it a day. In the end, though, all these practices serve fundamentally the same purpose: to get rid of bad spiritual stuff.
What we commonly see in the Western ceremonial magic scene is less of a reliance on physical aids to purification and more of a reliance on ritual approaches to the same that often don’t use physical aids, where we use ritual and ritual alone to cleanse ourselves. This is especially notable for those who are influenced by the Golden Dawn in one form or another, where the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP, or as my godfather fondly calls it, Le Burp) has spawned any number of variations for any number of pantheons and practices. However, that doesn’t mean that the LBRP is the only such possible banishing trick we have; there are simpler ones out there, such as Fr. Osiris’ AL-KT Banishing that I’ve incorporated into some of my own works. Still, the idea is the same: rather than abluting, suffumigating, or other physical approaches to spiritual purification, there are also ritual approaches that don’t use physical means to achieve the same thing.
I agree fully and readily that banishing rituals are useful, because I think spiritual purification is important and necessary for our work as mages and spiritually-inclined people. When we’re spiritually filthy, it’s harder to think clearly, harder to work well, and harder to keep ourselves hale and whole, while it also makes it easier for us to get distracted, get caught up by life’s problems, and get things messed up easily. Though spiritual purification, we remove obstacles in our paths or make it easier for us to remove them, but that’s far from being the only benefit! Purification also prepares us spiritually to become something better and different than we already are, because in purifying ourselves, we not only remove negative spiritual influences that have an external source, but also negative spiritual influences that come from ourselves internally. In dealing with those, we make ourselves fit and meet to work better and more effectively, sure, but we also prepare ourselves to better accept the powers and blessings of the entities we’re working with. Purification can be thought of as an aspect of the albedo part of alchemy, where we reduce ourselves to our core essence through removal of all impurities so that we can begin the process of integration from a fresh, clean start. In this, purification—and thus banishing—are crucial for our work as mages.
But here’s the thing: I don’t like a ritual-focused approach to purification. Banishing absolutely has its place, but I also claim that physical methods to purity has its place, too. After all, for all the spiritual stuff we do as magicians and priests and diviners, we’re also incarnate human beings with physical bodies and physical problems. If we start with the body and work spiritually, we fix the problems we have in the here and now and also loosen and dissolve the problems we have upstream, so to speak. Not only that, but I find that there are some things that a banishing ritual doesn’t work well to resolve, but which cleansing works done physically do. And, of course, the reverse applies, too: there are some things that cleansing works done physically don’t resolve, but which banishing rituals do. Both are needed. And, moreover, you can do both at the same time, working physical elements into a banishing ritual or ritualizing a cleansing done physically. You don’t have to do one then the other separately, unless that’s what you want to do.
Personally? I cleanse (meaning I use physical means to spiritually purify myself, as opposed to “clean”, which is just physical cleaning without a spiritual component) far more often than I banish. There are times when I will do a proper banishing, sure, but it’s less and less common than a simple dusting with cascarilla or washing myself with holy water, which I do pretty much daily. Let’s face it: I’m out in the world, dealing with people and their demons, wandering hither and fro through any number of clouds of miasma, and pick up more stuff when I’m out physically in the world than I do in my temple, where, through the protections I have and the safeguards I take, there’s far less that I pick up except that which I try to let in. I’m not saying I’m impervious to spiritual stuff I attract through the aether, far from it, but I am saying that there’s a lot more that I pick up from just being out in the physical world. For that reason, I find myself physically cleansing myself far more often than I ritually cleanse myself. If I were less guarded and less protections up, I’d be banishing more than I am. But, again, that isn’t to say that I don’t banish. After all, there’s that whole “purification to readily accept better blessings and good influences” bit I mentioned above, which is one of the reasons why the LBRP is such a mainstay of Golden Dawn practices: it not only keeps you pure, but it prepares you in some pretty profound ways that are utterly necessary for progression within their system of magic. Those who don’t work Golden Dawn magic or who aren’t in the Golden Dawn system don’t benefit from that, but they can still use it all the same for their own purification needs.
I’m not a Golden Dawn magician, and I’ve never really cared for the LBRP. While I could use it and get what I needed out of it, it’s not really a thing that I need to do. Instead, what I use, when I do need a ritual purification that doesn’t rely on physical methods, is something I learned from Fr. Rufus Opus. Back in the day when he was still teaching his Red Work series of courses (which he’s long since stopped, partially because of his joining the A∴A∴ and partially because he condensed the Green Work section into his book, Seven Spheres), in the very first lesson of the first part of the courses, he introduces a banishing ritual that’s basically a heavily pared-down and modified Trithemian conjuration ritual. Yes, Johann Trithemius’ Drawing Spirits Into Crystals, that one! The format is basically the same with many of the same prayers, and calls on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental princes of the world to purify yourself.
I also want to make a note about just that last bit, too. Fr. RO introduced this ritual as a way to help the beginner purify their sphere, sure, which is great, but he’s using fundamentally the same ritual to banish as we do to conjure the spirits themselves. More than that, we’re half-conjuring the spirits that are later called upon in the Red Work series of courses to purify the sphere of the magician. By the use of this ritual, Fr. RO is doing the same thing for his Red Work students as the Golden Dawn did for their initiates with the LBRP: we’re getting used to the fundamental ritual tech that we’ll eventually be expanding upon, and we’re getting slowly acquainted and in tune with the very same angels and spirits that we’ll be working with heavily once we get to that point. This banishing ritual cleanses the sphere of the magician, sure, but it also prepares the magician for when they start actually working. Fr. RO never said all this in Black Work 1, nor did he need to; those who would never progress further would still get something useful, and those who would progress further would be slowly prepared for bigger and better results later on far beyond mere purification.
Now, I’m not going to replicate Fr. RO’s original ritual. Instead, I’m going to share my variant, which I developed slowly over my studies in his Red Work courses years back, and which better matches my own ritual practices; plus, not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the original ritual uses some Christian imagery and language that I don’t much care for anymore, and which I’ve replaced with equivalent deist, Solomonic, or Hermetic language instead. I’ve also added some visualizations that, though they appeared naturally for me (especially once my spiritual perception became refined and which made sense later on in the course), they can be helpful for those who want them; they’re not necessary, but they can still be useful, especially for beginners. The only two extra things that might be desired for this ritual are holy water and a wand; both are good to have, but neither are strictly necessary. The holy water can be used as a preliminary ablution, while the wand is good for tracing a circle and conjuring the presence of the angels generally, but the holy water can be omitted if desired and the wand can be replaced by using the index finger (or the index and middle finger together, if desired) of the dominant hand. Incense of a purifying and uplifting nature, especially frankincense, may be burned, but it’s absolutely not required for this. This ritual may be done at any time as necessary or desired, and though it can be done anywhere, it’s best done in a quiet and safe place.
- Take a moment to relax and breathe deeply a few times.
- Stand to face the East.
- If desired, cleanse yourself with some holy water. You can wipe your forehead and hands, you can make the small three Signs of the Cross on the forehead and lips and heart with the thumb, or you can make one large Sign of the Cross with the thumb and index finger and middle finger on your head, heart, and both shoulders (left to right or right to left, depending on whether you want to go with a Catholic Christian approach, or an Orthodox Christian or qabbalistic approach).
You have cleansed me with hyssop, o Lord; you have washed me whiter than snow.
O God, author of all good things! Strengthen me that I may stand fast without fear through this dealing and work. Enlighten me, oh Lord, so that my spiritual eye may be opened to see and know the works of your hand.
- Holding a wand in your dominant hand, or otherwise using the index finger of the dominant hand, trace a circle on the ground around you clockwise starting in the East. While doing so, recite:
In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light, I consecrate this piece of ground for my defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here. Amen.
- Conjure the seven planetary angels. Recite:
In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light! From the seven heavens above I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the seven planets. Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Tzaphqiel of Saturn, Tzadqiel of Jupiter, Kamael of Mars, Michael of the Sun, Haniel of Venus, Raphael of Mercury, and Gabriel of the Moon. Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!
As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their planets, starting from behind you to your right and appearing counter-clockwise, with Michael directly in front of you to the East.
- Conjure the four elemental angels. Recite:
In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light! From the four corners of the Earth I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the four elements. Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Michael of Fire, Uriel of Earth, Raphael of Air, and Gabriel of Water. Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!
As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their elements, starting in front of you and appearing clockwise, with Michael in the East in front of you, Uriel in the South to your right, Raphael in the West behind you, and Gabriel in the North to your left. Visualize them a little closer to you and a little below the planetary angels, who stand behind them and a little above them.
Tzaphqiel! Tzadqiel! Kamael! Michael! Haniel! Raphael! Gabriel!
Michael! Uriel! Raphael! Gabriel!
Oh you blessed angels gathered, let no spirit nor ill intent nor any scourge of man bring harm to me. Cleanse now the sphere of this magician; cleanse my body, my soul, my spirit, and my mind of all defilement, all impurity, and all filth. Let no evil spirit nor pollution nor leech nor any unclean thing here remain.
Lord, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.
- Let yourself become purified with the power and presence of the angels conjured around you. Feel them washing you with their light and their power, permeating you and passing through you in all directions to remove from you all pollution, harm, and any and every baneful influence. Stay in this state as long as desired.
- Release the spirits. Recite:
O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your angels to appear unto me.
O you angels of the seven planets and you angels of the four elements, I thank you for your presence. You have come as I have called, and you have aided me as I have asked. As you have come in peace, so now go in power.
- If desired, untrace the circle drawn on the ground with the same implement as before (wand or finger) in a counterclockwise direction, again starting in the East. Whether or not the circle is untraced, when ready to leave, simply step out of the circle, preferably stepping forward towards the East.
With that specific arrangement of angels of the planets and elements around you, what you’re doing is essentially recreating the arrangement of angels on the Table of Practice used in the Rufus Opus-specific variant of the Trithemian conjuration ritual. In this case, the angels present aren’t being used to set up a conjuration of the self or anything like that, but rather instead used as a kind of cosmological arrangement of powers upon the magician and their sphere. It’s a subtle thing, but an important one; again, this ties into the subtle conditioning of banishing to prepare the magician for bigger and better things to come, as well as training the magician in the tools, arrangements, organization, and ultimate cosmology of the practices they’ll later engage in.
So, that’s it. A simple and straightforward approach to using the planetary and elemental angels for purifying the sphere of the magician with all their powers at once in a balanced, efficient, and effective way. Are there variants? Of course! For instance, the original format of the ritual called on the four elemental kings of the Earth itself: Oriens of the East, Paimon of the West, Egyn of the North, and Amaymon of the South. If you’re comfortable working with these entities, then by all means, use them! For those who prefer an angel-only approach, use the four archangel names instead. There’s good logic for calling on the kings rather than the archangels, especially in that they’re a lot closer to us as incarnate beings than the angels are or ever have been, and so can be called on instead for a better and more incarnation-specific way to purge the sphere of unhelpful or harmful influences. However, I still prefer to call on the angels for my own reasons.
In addition to calling on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental angels (or kings), you can also call on the twelve zodiacal angels as well: Malkhidael of Aries, Asmodel of Taurus, Ambriel of Gemini, Muriel of Cancer, Verkhiel of Leo, Hamaliel of Virgo, Zuriel of Libra, Barbiel of Scorpio, Adnokhiel of Sagittarius, Hanael of Capricorn, Kambriel of Aquarius, and Barkhiel of Pisces. This, again, is a cosmological influence from my own, bigger Table of Practice that I personally use nowadays; you’d arrange them so that Malkhidael is aligned to the East, along with Michael of the Sun and Michael (or Oriens) of Fire, and go counterclockwise from there. You’d conjure them before the planetary angels, using similar language. However, this is overkill, in my opinion; what’s really necessary are the seven planetary angels and the four elemental archangels/kings.
And there you have it! A clean ritual for a clean spirit. What about you? What sorts of banishing rituals do you use, dear reader? Do you stick to more physical cleansings and baths, do you take a ritual-centric approach to ritual and spiritual purity, or do you use both? What techniques, tips, or tricks might you be willing to share? Feel free to share in the comments!