Practical Arbatel: Conjuration of the Olympic Spirit (Again, but Longer)

A ways back (gosh, has it really been a two and a half years since I posted it?), I made a post about a proposed conjuration of the Olympic Spirits from the Arbatel.  I’ve been looking over my old posts, and I’ve since remembered why I wanted to work with these spirits in the first place: to incorporate the Olympic spirits as a kind of planetary tutelage in my overall work of mathesis.  However, as I’ve been delving more deeply into the aphorisms of the Arbatel and seeing how other magicians have applied it, I’ve since realized more potential in the Arbatel’s system of the Olympic spirits than just that, as well as in how and why it conjures the spirits the way it does.  To that end, in preparation of my own conjuration, I’ve been rethinking how exactly I want to implement an Arbatel-based Western Renaissance-style conjuration of the Olympic spirits, as well as other spirits not explicitly mentioned.  It doesn’t need to be all modern neo-Pythagorean Mathesis-style for me to at least get acquainted, after all, and most of my expertise in conjuration lies in the Trithemian rite, so I may as well stick to the general material that I’m already familiar with.

The issue with the Arbatel is that it’s such a pared-down, incomplete work that it’s intimidating in its simplicity.  I’d wager that most ceremonial magicians are used to all the pomp and presence of a full Solomonic ritual, complete with dress codes and three dozen tools each for their own niche use and exquisite blends of incenses from endangered species of flora and fauna, et caetera ad nauseam.  Heck, even if it’s just a basic Trithemian ritual with simplified tools, we’re used to having something to hold or scry or burn.  Yet we get none of that in the Arbatel, just a small handful of prayers and Bible verses we’re told to recite at the proper time and facing the proper direction.  Add to it that the Arbatel is admittedly incomplete in the form we have it (we only have the first of nine chapters), and we really don’t have a lot to go on; if it feels like the Arbatel is incomplete, it’s because it probably is.  Considering the types of magic in vogue at the time in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany (the three big areas where the Arbatel likely got much of its contemporary influences from in the early-to-mid 16th century), normally replete with astrological talismans and elaborate circles and endless names of God and the heavenly hosts, the Arbatel really sticks out in how little it says to do in order to accomplish what others need so much for.  Plus, consider what the Arbatel has to say about those very methods in aphorism V.34:

All manner of evocation is of the same kinde and form, and this way was familiar of old time to the Sibyls and chief Priests. This in our time, through ignorance and impiety, is totally lost; and that which remaineth, is depraved with infinite lyes and superstitions.

As for the rest of the art of conjuration and evocation, there’s aphorism III.18 (emphasis mine):

There are other names of the Olympick spirits delivered by others; but they onely are effectual, which are delivered to any one, by the Spirit the revealer, visible or invisible: and they are delivered to every one as they are predestinated: therefore they are called Constellations; and they seldome have any efficacie above 140 yeers. Therefore it is most safe for the young practisers of Art, that they work by the offices of the Spirits alone, without their names; and if they are pre-ordained to attain the Art of Magick, the other parts of the Art will offer themselves unto them of their own accord. Pray therefore for a constant faith, and God will bring to pass all things in due season.

Earlier, there’s aphorism II.12 (again, emphasis mine):

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit saith unto Peter after the Vision, Go down, and doubt not but I have sent them, when he was sent for from Cornelius the Centurion. After this maner, in vocal words, are all disciplines delivered, by the holy Angels of God, as it appeareth out of the Monuments of the Ægyptians. And these things afterwards were vitiated and corrupted with humane opinions; and by the instigation of evil spirits, who sow tares amongst the children of disobedience, as it is manifest out of St. Paul, and Hermes Trismegistus. There is no other maner of restoring these Arts then by the doctrine of the holy Spirits of God; because true faith cometh by hearing. But because thou mayst be certain of the truth, and mayst not doubt whether the spirits that speak with thee, do declare things true or false, let it onely depend upon thy faith in God; that thou mayst say with Paul, I know on whom I trust. If no sparrow can fall to the ground without the will of the Father which is in heaven, How much more will not God suffer thee to be deceived, O thou of little faith, if thou dependest wholly upon God, and adherest onely to him?

In other words, for the real magicians to whom God bestows the ability to practice magic, everything you need to conjure spirits will reveal itself by the true actions and teachings of the divine to which the magician must only simply hear and be attentive to.  This implies that, really, even given what little the Arbatel describes for a ritual, even those are suggestions: one only needs faith, and everything else will align itself as according to the need.  This doesn’t exactly offer a firm starting point for people who like to plan ahead meticulously (which, admittedly, the Arbatel itself pooh-poohs in aphorism VII.45 by referencing Jesus’ admonition to Martha), but I understand why; a truly fluent magician, comfortable in their own skin and world, can do anything and everything they need by relying on the powers that be and aligning themselves with their True Will.  However, most of us aren’t at that stage, no matter how blessed we might be, so some guidance is needed.

With that in mind, I’m refining my specific ritual approach to this text.  I can’t properly say “the Arbatel rite” as I might say “the Lemegeton rite” or “Trithemian rite”, because there’s no real rite offered, so I’m instead suggesting an “Arbatel-based” ritual, slightly more fleshed out when possible but pared down when necessary.  Combing through the text for whatever prayers and motions I could find, I’ve come up with the following.  I used a few guiding principles to direct me in this:

  • The Arbatel is already an incomplete text and sparse with what it offers, so use what is explicitly available as much as possible.
  • If not available in the Arbatel explicitly, innovate based on what is implied in the Arbatel.
  • If something cannot be innovated, incorporate only as much as needed from outside sources.
  • When incorporating from outside sources, stick to works likely available or methods common to magicians roughly at the time of the Arbatel’s writing.

As a guiding principle to determine how one should focus or direct a given work, aphorism VI.36 (emphasis mine) admonishes the reader such that each single magical operation should be “simple”, i.e. focused on one and only one purpose:

Care is to be taken, that experiments be not mixed with experiments; but that every one be onely simple and several: for God and Nature have ordained all things to a certain and appointed end: so that for examples sake, they who perform cures with the most simple herbs and roots, do cure the most happily of all. And in this manner, in Constellations, Words and Characters, Stones, and such like, do lie hid the greatest influences or vertues in deed, which are in stead of a miracle.

So also are words, which being pronounced, do forthwith cause creatures both visible and invisible to yield obedience, aswel creatures of this our world, as of the watry, aëry, subterranean, and Olympick supercelestial and infernal, and also the divine.

Therefore simplicity is chiefly to be studied, and the knowledge of such simples is to be sought for from God; otherwise by no other means or experience they can be found out.

Before beginning the work of conjuration, decide from which direction you seek answers to or power from; while technically independent of the planet as all seven planetary powers are present in all the elements (aphorism III.17.4), it would likely be best to match the secret with the planet, such as matching a gold-oriented alchemical working to the first of the medium secrets (transmutation of metals) as well as that of the Sun; thus, one would face the South for this purpose.  Remember that the general kinds of secrets (greater, medium, and lesser, and what those secrets consist of) are given in aphorism IV.24, and the directions given for them in aphorism IV.27:

Secret Set
East Wisdom Greatest
South Tillage Middle
West Strength Lesser
North Harshness Unmentioned

Remember that the conjuration of a single Olympic spirit is to be done in the first planetary hour (beginning at sunrise) of the planetary day of the spirit.  Beyond this, there is no need to observe astrological phenomena for this ritual, but may be done if so desired or if already directed to by the spirits.

In the seven days leading up to the conjuration, begin a light fast, not progressively to total abstinence of food, but simply keep a light, plain diet of moderation and constrain your behavior accordingly, including temptations to intoxication and lust, while keeping to yourself as much as possible.  Ideally, one would live thus each and every day of their lives, but do try to make a turn for the better leading up to the conjuration.  Arise every morning before sunrise and face the direction chosen for the purpose of the conjuration.  Before the sun rises, relax and do some light meditation to quiet the mind and to become aware of yourself (consider aphorism VII.44 exhorting the magician to perform what is essentially awareness meditation, and which reads like something Jason Miller would write).  At sunrise, recite the prayer from aphorism II.14, what I’m calling for the purposes of this post the Preliminary Invocation:

O Lord of Heaven and Earth, maker and creator of all that is visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, call upon you and invoke you, through your only begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that you give your Holy Spirit to me, which may direct me in your truth, for the good of all.  Amen.

Because with true longing I desire to learn fully the skills of this life, and those things which are necessary for us, who are immersed in immense darkness and fouled with unending human beliefs, as I see that I can understand nothing through my own power, unless you teach me.  Grant to me therefore one of your spirits, who will teach me whatever you wish me to learn and understand, for your praise and honor, and the benefit of our neighbors.  Grant to me also a heart that is easily taught, so that I may easily retain in my mind what you have taught, and I will secure them there to be brought forth, as from your inexhaustible treasures, for all necessary uses.

And grant to me your grace, that I may use these great gifts of yours only with humility, fear, and tremblings, through our Lord Jesus Christ with your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Following that, for each of the seven days of the preparation period, recite (either aloud or silently to yourself) one of the verses of the Bible listed in aphorism IV.25 and contemplate upon its words:

  1. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  2. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luke 21:34)
  3. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalms 55:22)
  4. “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
  5. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalms 32:8)
  6. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
  7. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

After contemplating upon the verse for the day, recite the verse Luke 10:20 silently to yourself: “Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven”.  Contemplate this as well, then conclude with any prayers or acts you so choose if any, such as the Our Father, lectio divina, going to Mass, meditating on the Seal of Secrets, etc.  Before retiring for the night, read the first septenary of aphorisms of the Arbatel and recite the Preliminary Invocation again before lying down.  For these seven days, pay attention to your dreams and any other spiritual communication for any guidance in the matter you seek or for other things you may need for the upcoming conjuration.

On the morning of the conjuration, before sunrise, prepare yourself and your ritual area as desired, and meditate as before.  Just as the sun rises, invoke your guardian angel.  I’ve adapted the invocation from the Ars Paulina; while definitely an addition to the stuff from the Arbatel, the text does say that “it is a canon that everyone may know their own guardian angel, and that he obeys him as if it were the word of God” (aphorism IV.26); considering the importance the tutelary spirit (HGA, agathodaimon, natal genius, paredos, etc.) generally takes in Hermetic magic going back to truly ancient times, I would find it folly to not incorporate some request to this spirit, so I’ve included it here, even though it is strictly optional.

O NN, my great and blessed angelic guardian, vouchsafe to descend from your heavenly mansion with your holy influence and presence, here at this place and now at this time with me, that I may enjoy your company, aid, and assistance both now and forever hereafter. O you who abide higher than the Sun and know the secrets of the God of gods, you who ride upon the wings of the winds and are mighty and potent in your celestial motion, descend and be present, I humbly beg you, that if I have ever merited your company or if any of my actions and intentions be real, pure, and sanctified before you, then be present and empower and protect me, your submissive pupil.

In the name of God the Father through God the Son with God the Holy Spirit, unto whom the entire choir of heaven sings continuously: Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory. Amen.

NN here stands for the name of your guardian angel, if known; if unknown, simply omit it from the prayer.

Once again recite the Preliminary Invocation as given above, then recite the prayer for the conjuration of the spirit from aphorism III.21:

O God Almighty and Eternal, you who have established all of creation for your praise and honor and the service of mankind, I beg you to send your spirit NN of the XX, to inform and teach me YY, but may your will, not mine, be done, through Jesus Christ your only begotten Son, our Lord. Amen.

Fill in the blanks where NN is the name of the spirit to be conjured, XX the planetary order of the spirit (e.g. “of the solar order” or “of the heaven of the Sun”) or its general office (e.g. “presidency of the land of Rome”), and YY the topic of request for instruction, which can be something specific (e.g. “the cure for edema”) or more general (e.g. “for all the things I pray from God”).  If the name is not known, omit it, and rely only on the office of the spirit instead.

If no spiritual presence is felt, quiet the mind and all the senses, then repeat the prayer of conjuration again until the spirit is present.  When you perceive the spirit present, continue with the following prayers from aphorism VI.40:

Do not take your Holy Spirit from me, but strengthen me with a perfect spirit.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

I beg you, o heavenly Father, not to give power to a lying spirit, as you did Achab that led to his death, but guard me in your truth. Amen.

At this point, address and test the spirit, their real presence, their office, and their nature (consider aphorism VI.40.3).  If the spirit is a lying one, banish them.  Otherwise, if the spirit is real and faithful, then commune with them as desired.  If this is the first time conjuring a particular spirit, be sure to obtain their name and seal from them for your own personal use; these should only be used in the day and hour of the planet of the spirit.  In the future, use these names and seals instead of those given in the text itself, as they will be most effective for you beyond any others (and, further, ineffective for anyone else).

Unless the spirit is specifically a familiar bestowed to the magician or one that has agreed to stay for an extended time, do not detain them past the end of the first planetary hour.  At that point or when the conjuration is concluded, give the dismissal from aphorism III.21:

Because you came peacefully and quietly, and answered my petitions, I give thanks to God in whose name you have come, and may you go now in peace to your order, returning to me when I call you by your name or order or office, which is permitted by the Creator. Amen.

After this, conclude the conjuration by reciting and meditating upon the verse from Ecclesiastes 5:3-4:

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God. For God is in Heaven and thou upon Earth; therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through a multitude of business, and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words.

Finish with any other prayers or acts as desired.

As can be seen, the Arbatel-style ritual format I’ve drawn up is largely stuff explicitly stated in the Arbatel, mixed with some bits which are inspired by the Arbatel, and a small amount pulled in from other (but reasonable) sources entirely outside the Arbatel.  Still, even with the extra bits I threw in or built upon from the Arbatel, there’s still much that many magicians are accustomed to that simply aren’t here:

  • place and setting, whether indoors or outdoors, weather, etc.
  • use of the actual symbol of the spirit in a lamen, pictorial focus, or other medium
  • use and consecration of a Circle of Art or other protective means
  • use and consecration of the usual tools of the Art, e.g. wands, daggers, holy images
  • use and consecration of clothing and amulets, e.g. lamens, rings, crowns, robes
  • use and consecration of a scrying medium or summoning platform, e.g. Triangle of Art or Table of Practice
  • use and consecration of candles or lamps, their colors, inscriptions, and number
  • use and consecration of incense
  • method of ablutions and purification
  • method of testing the spirit
  • method of banishing lying spirits
  • etc.

For these and all the other trappings of ritual, everything you need will present itself to be used, just as discussed above; if you want it or if you strongly feel that it’s needed, go for it, especially if demanded or recommended by the spirit being conjured.  That said, probably the most frustrating thing about all this is that the Arbatel gives us seals for the seven Olympic spirits, but doesn’t say how to use them.  Still, the same thing applies from before, this time reinforced in aphorism IV.27 (emphasis mine, as expected):

…anyone may easily form [the angels’] names in his own language: so that he which will, may ask a physical Angel, mathematical, or philosophical, or an Angel of civil wisdom, or of supernatural or natural wisdom, or for any thing whatsoever; and let him ask seriously, with a great desire of his minde, and with faith and constancy and without doubt, that which he asketh he shall receive from the Father and God of all Spirits. This faith surmounteth all seals, and bringeth them into subjection to the will of man. The Characteristical maner [i.e. the use of seals in rituals] of calling Angels succeedeth this faith, which dependeth onely on divine revelation; But without the said faith preceding it, it lieth in obscurity

Thus, there is no use in characters or seals of spirits without the faith in the divine that allows it to work, and with that faith, nothing else is technically needed, though many avenues exist that branch off from it.  There is no other explicit reference to the use of seals or characters of the spirits in the Arbatel, and it may be a combination of the fact that the Arbatel is incomplete along with how stingy the author is at revealing some of the deeper secrets of the art; quoth the end of aphorism IV.27:

…But he will not that we give holy things to dogs, nor despise and condemn the gifts of his treasury. Therefore diligently and often read over and over the first Septenary of secrets, and guide and direct thy life and all thy thoughts according to those precepts; and all things shall yield to the desires of thy minde in the Lord, to whom thou trustest.

The first septenary of the Arbatel is largely exhortations to live a good, holy, Christ-like life according to the word of God.  However, note that in the very first aphorism of the Arbatel, aphorism I.1, we find that it talks about secrets explicitly in a way none of the other aphorisms in this section do:

Whosoever would know Secrets, let him know how to keep secret things secretly; and to reveal those things that are to be revealed, and to seal those things which are to be sealed: and not to give holy things to dogs, nor cast pearls before swine. Observe this Law, and the eyes of thy understanding shall be opened, to understand secret things; and thou shalt have whatsoever thy minde desireth to be divinely revealed unto thee. Thou shalt have also the Angels and Spirits of God prompt and ready in their nature to minister unto thee, as much as any humane minde can desire.

Where Turner’s English translation has “the eyes of thy understanding”, the original Latin has “oculi mentis”, literally “the eyes of the mind”.  Yes, this does mean that the subtle faculties of the mind and soul will be used, allowing for greater and deeper understanding and mystical works, but note that the Arbatel also references both inward and outward senses (e.g. aphorism VI.40), indicating that the mind’s visualization and other perceptive skills of the imagination are to be used in this work, either instead of or in addition to the more physical implements of magic.

With this as a tentative base, the only immediate need for the seal of a spirit, without further plans or designs, is in visualizing it; with that, the rest of the faculties will be opened for revelation and communion with the spirit.  Thus, at least for the very first conjuration when making contact (after which, it can be assumed that the spirit will give directions on how to use its seal when prompted to), the seal must be visualized clearly and definitively in the mind when the spirit is being conjured.  Whether it is physically present in the ritual is literally immaterial; if it helps the magician to have it present and visible for ease of focus, or if the magician strongly desires to wear it as a lamen to encourage resonance with the spirit, do so!  All that we need (which we can strongly assume) is that the mind’s eye is opened by the seal to the presence and revelations of divinity through the spirit.

So, given all the above as a starting point, bear in mind the fourth of the greatest secrets given in aphorism IV.24: “to be able to discourse with knowledge and understanding of all things visible and invisible, and to understand the power of every thing, and to what it belongeth”.  The first time we conjure a spirit in the Arbatel fashion, we should always face the East for this purpose; we must not only learn the spirit’s true name and seal (at least for our own selves), but we must also learn how to properly converse with the spirit and to what ends they are present and functional in our lives.  Once we gain that first initial contact, we can establish the pacts and contracts to rely on for future conversations under the guidance of the spirit itself, whether or not we stick with the Arbatel-style ritual above, since, as aphorism II.12 says, “[t]here is no other maner of restoring these Arts then by the doctrine of the holy Spirits of God”.

For me?  I’m still finding out how others have implemented their Arbatel experiments for reference, but given my experience with the Trithemian rite of conjuration and other ceremonies I’m accustomed to doing, I know of a few things I’ll likely adapt from that set of actions and tools into the Arbatel-style ritual as described above, including prepwork, purification, protection, and the like.  I may not use lamens and a crystal scrying medium, but I do figure that a Circle and Wand of Art wouldn’t be remiss, and putting the seal of the Olympic spirit upon the Table of Practice with a candle set atop it seems comfortable to me.  Beyond that, though, once that initial contact is made, I’d see what’s actually needed for my own work with the spirits based on their own input, verifying the things I’ve already done and changing what needs doing, if anything.  From there, it’s just doing the Work.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even get around to actually doing the damn thing sometime before the next 30 months pass!  (I will, I swear.)

On Maintaining Tradition

Not too long ago, I read on one of my friends’ Facebook walls a particular quote that I find profound and worthy of committing to memory:

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.  All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.  Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

After the past few posts about how to downsize magic on a budget to what you can manage, it’s probably easy to think that I’m cheering for doing away with tradition and institutionalized forms of magic in occulture in favor of an easier, cheaper route.  Don’t think that I’m supporting this; I mentioned throughout these same posts that, when possible, doing things by the book is important and worth the effort and cost, and if you can afford to do something fancier, you should.  If you can’t but really still need to do something, and if you know the logic and framework of the system you’re trying to change well enough, then doing things in a faster, cheaper, or more streamlined way can also work to more-or-less the same ends, especially if you’re willing to make up for the difference in cost with more ritual work or if you can rely on already-established spiritual contacts.

Not too long ago, I was recently initiated into a religion that places a huge amount of emphasis on tradition.  Not just ritual protocols and songs, though those are hugely important, but even the small things like how to ask questions, how to treat certain ritual objects on a weekly basis, and the like.  Even the smallest details are often the hinge upon which something is done, and changing these things wantonly is a huge no-no against the people and household who initiated me.  While eventually I might be able to experiment and listen to the spirits with whom we work and find ways that work better for me, those times are yet far off and I have much to learn, and there’s no guarantee I can or should find my own way to work.

However, our tradition is just that, our own, and even closely-associated houses within the same overarching religion might have vastly different ways of doing particular things.  Does this make them wrong?  No!  As with most cultures and religions, there is no centralized or centrally-managed “correct” way to do things.  Variations are to be expected based on location, time period, and evolution within those contexts, and it’s natural to assume that what I consider right, another might consider wrong.  Is that alright?  Of course!  Just because I do something differently doesn’t make either of us wrong, so long as we’re following the traditions and working within them as we should.  That our traditions differ doesn’t mean one tradition has to be changed to suit the other.  It just means that our traditions are different and that we respect our own traditions’ validity, and respect the power of other people to maintain their own traditions.

There’s a big push in occulture, and there has been a while, based on postmodernism, Discordianism, and chaos magic theory that we can do anything we want to do and change anything we want because it’s us who’s doing the work and all that’s really powering our magic is, ultimately, us.  I find that notion half-cute and half-obscene.  For one, no, we’re not alone in the cosmos; that kind of solipsistic thinking is insulting to the others who do, in fact, exist regardless of what we think of them, be they spirit or man, alive or dead.  For another, thinking that we can do whatever the hell we want and being right in how we’re doing it regardless disregards the logic, framework, and methodology that has been built up in the traditions passed down to us, and to disregard that or, worse, to cherrypick from them

The word “tradition” literally means “that which is handed down to us”.  We call a lot of things “traditions” when, in reality, they’re no such thing; it was “tradition” at my university to streak the libraries during finals, when it was really just a meme done by one or two generations of students and people wanted to show how edgy or ballsy they were.  That’s not a tradition.  A tradition is something that has been handed down to you as a whole unit from another person, who themselves received it from another person, and so forth until a particular person had a particular revelation that needed to be passed on.  The person who gives that tradition to you is, essentially, an initiator, and you are their initiate in that tradition.  In maintaining that tradition that was given to you, you show your initiator and all their initiators respect for continuing that work, the contracts they made, the sacrifices they paid for, and living their own lives to pass that tradition on.  Thus, what Chesterton said above about tradition makes this poignantly clear to me: regardless of heeding what innovations we ourselves or others make, tradition is heeding the innovations of our ancestors and those who came before us.

Now, I’m not always a stickler for tradition.  It can on occasion be a good move to break from tradition and do things differently, and not everything that’s been passed down is always a good thing.  Sometimes our morals dictate that times have changed and so too should the things we do; sometimes changing climates, famine, war, migration, and the like prevent us from doing things the way things have been done in the past.  Sometimes our ancestors operated on inexact or incomplete knowledge and we honestly have better ways to do things now that couldn’t be done in the past.  A particular story comes to mind about how certain things are passed on that no longer need to be heeded:

A young woman is preparing a pot roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know”, she replies.  “My mother always did it that way and I learned how to cook it from her”.

Her friend’s question made her curious about her pot roast preparation.  During her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven”.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation.  When she next visited her mother in the nursing home, she asked, “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”  The mother slowly answered, thinking between sentences.  “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot”.  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”  The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.  “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned.”

Just because a tradition declares a certain method to be valid within that tradition doesn’t mean that tradition is infallible.  It just means that that’s how the tradition has codified something; should the code need to change for a good reason while keeping the tradition intact, then there’s no reason that the tradition shouldn’t be changed, though the original method and new way should both be kept in mind.  After all, the original method was made for a reason.

When learning magic or any sort of old art, it behooves us to learn the traditional way of doing things first.  I’m no fan of reading a ritual in a book and changing it outright to suit our own needs, especially without taking the time to see why that particular ritual was written that particular way in that particular book.  This is especially true when we consider a book to be a compendium of traditions with dozens, maybe hundreds of initiators’ teachings present within it, and all their cumulative experience in a particular act present in a codified, static form; the ritual is written that way for a reason, and we should strive to follow that ritual as it is presented to us before we go changing it around because we feel like we’re in the right to so do.  Hint: you’re not.  You might be in the right if you try the ritual and can change parts of it without changing the result or the effect, all while maintaining the integrity of the tradition you’re essentially buying into by following the book, but you’re not in the right to disregard parts of it outright and cherrypick the parts you like because you feel you’re important like that.

If you like, consider a tradition a “canonical” form of a particular body of knowledge and actions against which other acts can be compared.  If something follows the tradition closely or to the letter, we can call that thing traditional.  If that something changes a few things without changing the overall flow, feel, or structure, then we might call that thing an innovation within the tradition.  If that thing changes much to affect the flow and structure, even it reaches towards the same ends, then it’s no longer traditional nor does it belong in that tradition.  While none of these three things are “wrong” when trying to accomplish a particular goal, if we’re initiated into a particular tradition, we need to be very careful about what we show to others as part of that tradition.

Ultimately, in our lives and especially in our Work, we need to be concerned with what works and with what works best, but we also need to be mindful of what’s worked for those who have gone before us and what is known to work for others.  What works best for us might work only for us based on our own work, and this sort of thing inherently cannot become traditional though it may fit within an overall tradition.  What can be passed on should be passed on, generally speaking, and what’s been passed down to us should be passed down to others whenever possible, even if we no longer use it.  Even if it’s just for memory’s and veneration’s sake, tradition is valuable and can help others innovate on their own.

This is one of the reasons why I wrote those posts on doing magic cheaply on a budget.  Sure, anyone can whip up a ritual with a candle or a stick and get magic accomplished; that’s not the point.  Many people are used to working within traditions with access to rare, obscure, or precious items, and depending on where we are in our lives or what’s going on around us, we may not have the ability to carry out those traditions with the resources and tools we have available to us.  This doesn’t mean we can’t do our work that we’re used to, but it means we have to work within those traditions we’ve been taught in a way that maintains faithfulness to them while being aware of our limitations and own context.  Traditions aren’t necessarily fixed things, though it’s nice to keep them as fixed as we can.  Thus, within the Solomonic tradition, if we live in a place where hazel doesn’t grow, we can’t rightly make our wands from a wood we can’t obtain, so we need to find a wood that is available that works as well as hazel might.  If we’re too poor to make lamens from gold, we need to find another material that we can obtain.  We can still be traditional even if we’re unable to do as we were taught.