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”.

Book Review: “The Holy Guardian Angel”, ed. Michael Cecchetelli

As you may already have heard elsewhere on the blogosphere, dear reader, there’s a new book out on one of the most central and confusing parts of modern Western Hermetic magic: the Holy Guardian Angel.  Michael Cecchetelli of The Lion’s Den, author of Crossed Keys and The Book of Abrasax, recently approved the final proof of his most recent book “Holy Guardian Angel: On the Practice and Experience of the Holy Guardian Angel” and it’s on its way to the printer with Nephilim Press.  With 10 authors contributing, including amongst others Jason Miller, Conjureman Ali, Scott Michael Stenwick, Aaron Leitch, Frater Ashen Chassan, and my own mentor Frater Rufus Opus, the book is one I’ve personally been waiting for for some time now. Happily, Fr. MC himself posted a call for reviewers, and after sending the good man an email, he sent me a copy of the text for my own review!  To say that I’m honored is an understatement.

I personally made contact with my HGA back in the summer of 2012, about the time when I was consecrating my Solomonic Ring and was undergoing a large amount of time doing solar work in addition to the Headless Rite at least once daily.  I made some allusions to it before, but never formally talked about making contact with my HGA or talked at length about my HGA’s nature.  Partially, that’s because I’ve been busy with other parts of my ritual work done or finishing up other projects, and in my life that’s already pretty busy to begin with, this is no trivial matter.  I haven’t done as much introspection and inspection of my HGA that I probably should have by now, and I admit that the feeling I get between us may be strong but is also somewhat distant.  That said, since having made contact with my HGA, he has never ignored me or abandoned me; that connection, though it may be distant and small, has never been weak or forsaken.  I’ve spoken with other magicians in my circle of friends about the nature of the HGA, with one of the best/most comical ideas being that the HGA is akin to a “divine sockpuppet”, throttling back the incomprehensible majesty of the Source into a single comprehensible figure for our individual selves, something like a personal Christ figure, but this might be more properly be considered akin to an agathodaimon or similar tutelary god.  It’s tricky, and during previous blogosphere debates on the HGA, I’ve never thought myself capable of getting enmeshed in them since I don’t really know what to say.  The connection with the HGA is something intensely personal and is truly a revealed mystery, and there’s really so little that can be said about the HGA to begin with.  Those who have contact with the HGA know what it’s like and have little need to talk about it; those without contact have no means to understand what can be said.  Still, even among those who do have contact with the HGA, there’s a lot that can be said about the development, use, and work with the HGA, and that’s what Fr. MC’s new book aims to accomplish.

"Walking With the Angel" Banner

The text itself is 216 pages long, beautifully typeset and well-edited, making the reading of it a pleasure all on its own.  The book is broken down into four parts: the nature of the HGA, what comes after contact and how to work with the HGA, different schools of thought about the HGA, and a whole section devoted to some of the important blog posts made during the 2011 pan-blogosphere debates on the HGA.  Of course, MC himself is only one contributing author to the book, and that only in the final section; as he says in the introduction, he “realized no author had set about producing such a volume [on achieving K&CHGA], wherein are presented a diverse and varying cross-section of the beliefs on the subject, was because no single author could”.  It’s a complicated subject with layers upon layers of interpretation, use, and philosophy, making writing such a book on such a spirit more daunting than any other series of tomes on almost any other part of magic.

One theme that’s developed throughout the work is that K&CHGA is not just part of the Great Work, but is in fact the whole of the Great Work itself.  Taken at face-value, that’s kinda a silly statement, and doesn’t make much sense, but on deeper inspection, it becomes abundantly clear.  Many people in the Golden Dawn associate contact with the HGA to start at the grade corresponding to Tiphareth on the Tree of Life (Adeptus Minor); it’s no coincidence that (as far as I’ve heard) there are no formal grades beyond this point beyond what’s directed by one’s HGA alone, though the structure exists for them.  The entire work from this point onward is directed by one’s HGA, who really is our true teacher to understand our True Will.  After a certain point, however, even the HGA disappears when it becomes no longer useful for us, like how a raft is left behind after a journey across a river.  This is why I almost always say that I’ve made “contact” with my HGA instead of “knowledge and conversation”; I have at least partial knowledge of my HGA, sure, but developing the deep connection between us to where there is nothing external to me, becoming one with, within, and as God, the true “conversation” of the HGA, is something I’ll forever be working on.  The HGA, indeed, is a fundamental part of the Great Work, and though Crowley states that “the single supreme ritual is the attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, this is a ritual that takes a lifetime to complete.

This theme is developed through the book, that attaining contact with the HGA isn’t a one-time thing.  Even for myself, where I already have contact with my HGA, Fr. MC’s book is packed with good advice from people who have done the Work beyond what they’ve generously written about, and it inspires me with new things I’m eager to try out.  While I don’t see the need at this point to go through the Abramelin operation or redo a six-month stint of daily Headless Rites, that doesn’t mean I completely understand and can do anything with my HGA that I want to do.  You don’t just do the rituals and be done with it, receiving a full spirit guide at your beck and call; it’s the opening to a relationship where you two must work together to understand the Work to be done.  Just as the Sun rising once for one day doesn’t give all the light and energy necessary for the Earth to do everything it needs to do for its predicted 3.7 billion years, it has to rise continuously over and over again, each time going through the nocturnal underworld in order for the Earth and all its life to continue developing, building, and lasting.  Speaking from experience, I can definitely attest to this being the case, but happily this book provides means and new ideas for me to continue working with my own HGA in a big way that I wouldn’t’ve thought of.

Something that I’m totally okay with and agree with as a matter of scope is that the book does not offer much in the way of ritual.  Several authors offer some ritual rubrics and ideas to actually work with the HGA, but these are still rubrics with mostly experiences of use with them and not detailed ritual instructions themselves.  Rather, the book focuses more on “what the HGA can do for you”, and points out that there are so many ways to approach the HGA and many ways to come in contact with it, not just via the Headless Rite or the Abramelin operation.  That’s one of the goals of this book and the overall work of the HGA, too: it really doesn’t matter how you do the work here, so long as you do something.  Fr. MC himself says as much in his final entry: “there is no substitute for experiential knowledge…what is most crucial is to DO”.  The rituals offered within the book are references to those from the PGM, Abramelin, Solomonic-inspired shamanic acts, or Gnostic Ogdoatic methods to work with the HGA, which is saying quite a lot about the background the book offers that it combines all of them near seamlessly into a cohesive text.  What this book is good for is that offers the reader a glance into the experience of those few practicing magicians with actual experience with the HGA, as well as their (wildly divergent but critically useful) thoughts on the spirit.

It’s the combination of authors within “The Holy Guardian Angel” that really gives authority and authenticity to the book.  There’s a lot written about the HGA out there, but very little of it can be trusted (even more than most stuff on magic out there).  Even Fr. MC himself says as much in one of his old blog posts (reproduced in the book as a part of the section on the blogosphere debates):

…of all those who claim they have established “Knowledge and Conversation….”, 70% are lying, 15% have interpreted the aforementioned S.A. or another helpful spirit AS the HGA when in fact it is not and therefore truly believe they HAVE Knowledge and Conversation… etc…, 10% have no contact with any spirit and are under the new age proliferated misconception that contact with spirits evoked comes in the form of “clear messages, like really reeeaallly clear messages in my head” or another such abominable lie.

5%, then, are those who genuinely have made conscious, true contact and have attained what Abramelin and Abraham von Worms call “Knowledge and Conversation of The Holy Guardian Angel”. And thats a liberal number. In the majority of cases, those who are among this 5% and have ascended to this level, will know recognize one another in conversation or when reading each others writing on the subject. This is because the experience of meeting this transcendent being is absofuckinglutely changing, and there are no circumstances under which one having done so could not be utterly, permanently changed.

While I may not agree with the literal percentages of these counts, it hits home when Crowley himself says that “until the Magician has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel he is liable to endless deceptions”.  Attaining contact with the HGA is no easy thing, and while it’s no advanced thing either, it takes work and, like any real spiritual endeavor, it changes the entire game of one’s life.  It’s one of the closest parallels the modern Western mystery tradition has to a life-death-rebirth ritual seen in many other spiritual paths, and if you ask anyone who’s undergone that type of ritual, if it was done right then you and everyone around you knows for a goddamn fact it was done right.  Anything else is a lie and there is no substitute for it, either to get others to think you have the contact with this spirit or to get yourself to have contact with this spirit.  That we have such a collection of esteemed magicians who have the experience and scars to show they have the real deal with their corresponding HGAs is a treat for magicians in the modern day, especially since more and more is being written about the HGA by people who may not be anywhere as qualified to talk about it.

Whether you’ve already had contact with your HGA, or even already reached the grade of Ipsissimus in the Golden Dawn, or even are a newcomer to Hermetic magic generally, Fr. MC’s book “The Holy Guardian Angel” is going to be a wealth of information and practice for you.  It’ll give you things to look forward to if you don’t yet have contact with your HGA, and it’ll give you plenty to chew on if you already do (or think you do).  The book is one of the closest things we have to a textbook on working with the HGA especially when paired with things like the Book of Abramelin or Liber Samekh, but it’s also definitely one of the most approachable texts out there.  To see the words and minds of these magicians put together in a single volume on a complicated subject is a treat, both intellectually and spiritually, and definitely a must-have for ceremonial magicians.  Stop by Nephilim Press and place your orders soon!