In Paper One we saw that Magic is frequently perceived as being a ritual based discipline, and it is easy in today’s world to assume that most magical rituals are ad hoc constructs of a fevered imagination. But in many instances such speculations would be wrong. Setting aside the workings of a fevered imagination for a moment, it is possible to see there are many rituals, be they religious or magical that are well thought out and soundly structured.
I should make it clear that we will not be discussing Ritual in Anthropological or Psychological terms. Thus, we will not be exploring the ideas of Frazer, James or Rappaport etc., nor will we be thinking – if we can avoid it – in terms of Freud, Jung and their successors. We will be exploring ritual and ceremonial as formal and predefined methods of engaging with the dynamics of a psychic/spiritual or liturgical processes, and I will be using the term ‘Liturgy’ as derived from the Greek word ‘leitourgia’ – which originally applied to any public ceremony – but for more than two thousand years has come to denote the Service of the temple.
What does the word ‘ritual’ means? Latin dictionaries describe the word ‘ritual’ as being derived from the Latin ‘ritus’ which means “A form of religious observance or usage” (Smith or Lewis Latin Dictionaries) and in the context of this paper that definition is sufficiently accurate. There are many rituals used within the spiritual movements of the world, but rather than look at individual rituals, we will be looking at some of the fundamentals that form the basis of our understanding of ritual. It should also be noted that what applies to Religious and Liturgical Rituals applies equally to Magical Rituals, albeit with marked differences in principle and dynamic.
A ritual consists of words that have been composed with a specific purpose in mind, they define what we do in religious and magical services. Generally, the words of a ritual are not whimsical conceits that arise spontaneously, no matter how absurd they may seem to be; but are verbal expressions of purpose. Indeed, words lie at the heart of any ritual and are full of significance – underpinning them is a whole world of thought, aspiration, and expectation with precedents that span human history. They have a ‘purpose’ that is set in a ‘context’ and have ‘structure’.
This is, then, a good place to begin exploring what we understand by the term ‘Ritual’. However, I should make it clear that in principle I see little difference between religious and magical ritual. Their intentions and forms may differ but essentially, they are the activities of the human mind engaging, in one form or another, with the divine.
Arguably it is possible to ritualise any action whatsoever, but we are discussing the use of ritual in Magic, on that basis there follows a few examples that fall within the parameters of ‘purpose’ in magic. The list is short but the subjects are, as I understand it, significant.
Ritual initiations are shared by most if not all religious and esoteric bodies. They may be One-off or they may be Progressive or Sequential (grades for example). Church initiation consists of, Baptism, (of water and fire – traditionally given together); this is a one-off; whereas Minor and Major Orders are a progressive initiations – the grades of minor orders being; Tonsured cleric; doorkeeper; reader; exorcist; acolyte; subdeacon; followed by the grades of major orders; deacon; priest; Bishop.
In Freemasonry initiations are also progressive - Apprentice, Fellow and Master, followed by Royal Arch and numerous secondary initiations into other orders. In Esoteric and Occult orders – the primary initiation of Zelator or Neophyte or an equivalent title, is usually followed by grades that are based on the ascent of the Tree of Life. Illustrated below is a graded structure of a typical esoteric order. The names of these grades derive primarily from The Golden Dawn, and the late 18th cent. German masonic Rosicrucian order, the ‘Order of the Gold & Rosy Cross’.
A common use of ritual is to deliver instruction, both literally and in symbolic form. For example: In the Zelator Ritual of the SRIA the candidate is directed to the study of the symbolic meaning of Number. In the Tonsured Cleric grade of the HCC the candidate is directed to the control of appetite. In the ORC the candidate is introduced to a fourfold allegory concerning the spiritual life and the progress of an initiate – the list is almost endless.
The word Evoke means to ‘arouse’, to ‘induce’, either in oneself or within a group an appropriate state of mind. To Invoke means to ‘summon’, to ‘conjure’, to call upon a spiritual agency/entity for reasons arcane or mundane. Summoning a psychic/spiritual force or entity to manifest and engage in a ritual lies at the heart of a great deal of magical study and practice. Particularly when the main purpose is to command entities to achieve a given objective, or to elevate consciousness into psychic/spiritual realms, or manipulate nature’s finer forces. These are powerful actions that are central to the ritual, and they demand a great deal of reflection.
Conferring of an Office
In Christian terms a sacrament is defined as an outward and visible form of an inner and invisible grace. The sacraments were, and are still, considered to be offices by which grace is conferred, as such they are generally understood to be profound, sacred and special. The conferring of a sacrament is generally a formal if not solemn occasion, with each sacrament having its own ritual form. Although it is possible to ritualise the conferring of any appointment or office (such as ‘prior’), in many organisations, the conferring of an Office is often done within a Eucharist service.
Communing with the Divine
Esoteric/occult orders emulating from the Golden Dawn, often use rituals that are based upon ascending the Tree of Life (or the Holy Mountain; Ladder; Chariot etc.) for various reasons, such as to commune with the Divine, to seek a blessing or knowledge of hidden or secret things. The ritual models may vary but the motives are often the same. The Middle Pillar Ritual and the Rosa Mysterium are two good examples. In the ODP: The ritual methods are generally geared towards self-knowledge and spiritual development. Among others, they include: Lectio Divina; and The Ceremony of Spiritual Communion.
Lectio Divina, or ‘divine reading’ is an ancient spiritual discipline that was well-known and employed in the classical world before the advent of Christianity. It consists of the slow repetitive reading of a passage of scripture until it is known by heart, followed by meditating on its significance. Thus; Lectio - Reading; Meditatio - Thinking; Oratio – Response; Inspiration, Outpouring; Contemplatio - Dwelling, Abiding, Stillness.
It is probably true to say that no Religious or Magical ritual begins without some form of Purification, which may often be quite elaborate. Ritual Purification, such as, Baptism & Confirmation (Purification in Water and Fire), the consecration of a Temple, or the Exorcism of Self/Others/Place, can be very simple or very complex affairs, depending upon the circumstances, regardless of which, after the purification of the place and those attending, the evocation and invocation would follow.
Arguably, one of the most popular rituals is that of healing, whether it be for an individual (absent or present), or for a group such as a family; village or region suffering from poverty, disaster, famine, war, disease. This should come a no surprise as we are all frail in some form, and often need the healing that is not covered by general medicine.
When I first engaged in the Work, I was encouraged to explore my ailments in a structured manner, working from the material to the immaterial – it is a work that continues to this day. The ritual treatment of healing is one of the most important undertakings a student (be they Religious or Magician) can undertake. Bringing succour and relief to another person is of immense value – the comfort that comes from knowing that others are thinking about and seeking your good health and well-being is beyond measure.
One of the most powerful forms of healing lies in the area of rectifying our own faults, such as giving up smoking, drinking, or modifying one’s diet – simple yet difficult things to achieve. Additionally, refining our character by developing the virtues of tolerance, patience and silence, to name but a few, is an exercise that calls upon all of our powers of commitment. It is something I can say with certainty requires more space than this newsletter can supply.
In Ritual terms context signifies operating within certain parameters with the appropriate authority. Which raises the question: by what authority does anyone work a ritual within a given Rite? That would in all probability depend upon the organisation, for example, in Christian terms Authority rests upon the instructions and commandments given by the Lord Jesus Christ. These may be read in; Matt. 10: 1 – 5; and 18: 18 – 20 also 21: 20 – 22: Mark. 3: 13 – 15: Luke 6: 12 – 13; and 10: 1 – 20: John 14: 13 – 14, and 20: 22 – 23. Divine authority was conferred upon the disciples by Jesus Christ in the form of the laying on of hands, by anointing them with consecrated oils, and by the communication of the Holy Spirit (breath & tongues of Fire), and subsequently transmitted by the Apostles.
Authority may also be conferred by Divine appointment; indeed, most religions claim to be mandated by Divine appointment, whereas most esoteric groups are appointed by their founder(s) and invested in the persons of chosen disciples. Authority may also be established through the consensus/agreement of the Organisation be it Congregation, Church or Community. Another means of transmitting authority is through succession, by which I mean that authority is either inherited, such as through primogeniture, or passed on to the next in line from one leader to another – or a variation thereof. The most important issue here being an approved process, and the acceptance of the candidate by the membership.
Another aspect of context rests upon the nature of the ritual – be it a regular office such as those performed daily in monastic houses: traditionally these are; Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, or, seasonal devotions – Advent, Lent and the Easter Cycle come to mind, as do the Equinox and Solstice services. Most Religious bodies have Public Offices to perform daily, which tend to be formally agreed by their clergy/officials, and officiated by an authorised member. Alternatively, many Religious bodies and esoteric groups advocate daily offices for individual members use – these tend to be less formal and less prescriptive (daily Prayer for example)
The ‘structure’ of a ritual consists of the arrangement and presentation of the words and actions involved. Every structure has a form, which is determined by Style:
Biblical (Temple – Synagogue)
Christian; (Catholic; Eastern Orthodox; Low/High Church)
Masonic; (Temple, Degree)
Golden Dawn; (Rosicrucian/masonic)
Monastic; (Benedictine, Dominican, Franciscan),
to name but a few.
The Intention underpinning any ritual can be wide and varied but will generally fit into the Style and language of the Rite favoured by the organisation. Many religious movements have their own unique formulae and structure, some of which are close in style, others far apart, nevertheless, all rituals consist of words that have been composed with a specific purpose in mind. They are set in a context and have a structure, such as outlined above, but most importantly, the ritual consists of words that clearly manifests the intention.
The word Ceremony is derived from the Latin ‘Caerimonia’ which means – veneration, an act of reverence. In simple terms, ceremonial means, ‘how we work a ritual’. Where the term ‘Ritual’ denotes the prescribed words, the term ‘Ceremonial’ denotes the prescribed actions, gestures, movements, and affectations used in Religious observances and worship. Ceremonial denotes all the non-verbal components used to assist the working of a ritual. These include the layout and design, the vestments and instruments of the temple, and the formalised movements of those taking part.
The essence of good ceremonial is based upon how much we understand the spiritual principles and dynamics involved, such how one moves around the Temple. These are not necessarily determined by rules and social mores, but they are inevitably reflected in the physical design of the ritual space: which might reflect any of the cosmic or spiritual principles outlined as follows;
Singular – Monotheism;
Twofold – Dualism of Good & Evil;
Threefold – Trinity, Hypostasis;
Fourfold – Tetragrammaton, Elemental;
fivefold - Pentagrammaton;
sevenfold – Gods; Planetary correspondences;
twelvefold – Zodiac.
These and others are analogues of the Cosmos that may define our Sacred Space, a place set apart from the affairs of the mundane world, in which only the sacred rites take place.
Although Cosmology is now dominated by the world of science, from our perspective it is not a choice between an archaic or a modern point of view. In essence there is little to distinguish between our ancestors thinking and modern thought. It is not so much the understanding of the physical dimensions of this world – what we perceive with the senses – but how we understand the spiritual dimensions of the spiritual world around us. In times past, the universe was understood to consist of the heavens, in which God resides, the earth, on which humanity lives, and the underworld, where the deceased (and other creatures) reside.
Today the universe is believed to consist of energy and matter, along with the elephant in the corner known as consciousness (without which there could be no perspective whatsoever). In fact, there is little in essence to separate the basic cosmology of our ancestors from the that of contemporary thought. Thus;
Creation; (Spiritual Hierarchies, Heavens, Earth, Energy and Matter.)
Man; Consciousness (Life).
In ritual terms we need to consider how this understanding of God, Creation and Man is defined and expressed as Sacred Space.
As I understand it, Sacred Space is a space set aside, free from all domestic use, for the individual/community to engage with the Divine. What this Sacred Space looks like is determined by what we receive from ‘Tradition’, whose sources are based upon various models including: Mountain; Tabernacle; Cube; Tree of Life; Church or Temple layout.
The ‘holy mountain’ and the ascending of it, is an ancient motif used to describe the interior work of spiritual development. In ancient Egypt it was represented by the pyramid, which is a symbol of the sacred mound that emerged out of the primal waters of Nut at the beginning of Creation, and upon the apex of which perched the Phoenix, the symbol of life and regeneration.
In Babylon the Ziggurat (a stepped pyramid, sometimes spiral, sometimes square) was a formal representation of the holy mountain.
Known as the ‘House of the shining Mountain’ the Ziggurat varied from three to seven platforms. Each of the platforms of a seven-stepped Ziggurat /pyramid was dedicated to a planetary deity, and was often distinguished by a particular colour. Complex rituals evolved around the ascent of these platforms.
The Ziggurat was established upon the earth as a representation of the cosmos, the abode of the gods. It was designed and created as a means of reaching and observing the heavens, and communing with the gods. Sacrifices were offered at the base, where the congregation met. The main shrine, found at the summit, was reached by ascending from platform to platform, doubtless honouring the planetary deity of each level until one reached the summit and communed with the supreme deity.
In ancient Israel the sacred mount was Mt. Sinai, (as it is still today), this was the mountain ascended by Moses. The Biblical account of his ascent, given in the Book of Exodus, may be viewed as a veiled allegory concerning a system of mystical development whereby the soul may experience communion with God. Only a few (seventy elders) were privy to its mysteries. This system of ritualized prayer and meditation remained unchanged until the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians. The Tetractys (shown below) is a representation of the sacred mountain (Mt. Sinai) and depicts the emergence of Creation out of Ether in the name of the Tetragrammaton.
An interesting example of the symbolism embodied in an image of the holy mountain is a Greek relief carving dating from the 3rd century BC., attributed to Archelaos, the son of Apollonius, a native of Priene. It is thought to describe the apotheosis of Homer. [A. B. Cook, Zeus, (Cambridge, University Press, 1914) vol. I, pp. 129-30.] The carving is divided into four levels. At the lowest level may be seen an enactment of the sacred rites that open the entrance to the spiritual world, signified by the cave on the second level. It illustrates how through ritual purification and sacrifice the initiate enters the holy mountain to receive inspiration from the divine Godhead through the agency of one or more of the Muses. At the summit reclines Zeus the king of the gods. In essence it is not dissimilar from the Tetractys that describes the emergence of the Divine name of God (Tetragrammaton). This image symbolises the emergence of creation out of Ether, however, it also describes a path by which the creature may come to know the Creator – by working back towards the summit.
This system of ritualized prayer and meditation is clearly reflected in the conception and design of the Tabernacle described In Exodus 26. The word ‘Tabernacle’ literally means tent, and is used to describe any sort of temporary tent or booth, as well as a ‘dwelling-place’ erected for the worship of God. The tabernacle erected for worship in the wilderness was thirty cubits in length and ten in breadth and in height. It was divided into two partitions, the first, called The Holy Place was ten by twenty cubits. (Itself divided into two, the outer being called the Outer Court.) The second was called the The Most Holy Place whose length was ten cubits, breadth 10 cubits, and height 10 cubits. The Most Holy Place was divided from the rest of the Tabernacle by a curtain/veil hung upon four pillars of Shittim wood that was covered in plates of gold. In the Most Holy Place the Ark of the Covenant was kept. (Crudens Concordance)
The Outer Court was the room wherein priests received offerings and performed purification rites. In symbolic terms the Outer Court of the Gentiles corresponds to the physical body of the senses and the world of the four elements. The Holy Place, or Inner Court, corresponds to the Lower Mind - the psychic and mental realms, and to the influences of the zodiac and the planets. It is a place of internal purification. The Most Holy Place corresponds to the Mind purified of the dross of matter and its influences, in which the soul free from egoism, may commune with the Divine. The Ark of the Covenant corresponds to Man’s highest principle – pure Spirit united in God.
In Genesis (ch. 1 & 2) the act of Creation is clearly described. It takes place in six stages. They are portrayed in the illustration above. In this representation it is obvious that most of the Creation resides outside of the The Most Holy Place, which represents Unity, from which emerges Duality, Space/time or Creation. Thus, the Land, and the cosmos (creation) symbolised by the table of shewbread and the lights, represent the material world, in which are created the creatures of water, earth and air. The activity of Creation takes place primarily beyond the veil, in the Holy Place and the Outer Court.
The cube represents the Holy of Holies – the Inner Temple. It may be describes as lying beyond Duality or at the very heart of Duality. It represents that place where the soul may commune with God. In the Mosaic tradition it is the where creation meets with the divine, where unity meets with duality. (in Kabbalistic terms that meeting point is Daath). The Cube is the basic template of the world we know. It also represents that from which Space-time and the world of the senses derives. Thus, above, below, before, behind, left and right and the soul its centre. In ancient times the Cube could represent either the basis of constructing the Temple, or the inner sanctuary of the sacred space. The arrangement of the temple is traditionally based upon scriptural references, particularly the following: Exodus 26; Numbers 2, v 1-34; Ezekiel 1, v 4-28; Revelation 4, v 1-10; Revelation 21.
This is a more detailed view of the Tabernacle at the heart of which the cube is to be seen. The circle around it represents the Zodiac, it marks the precession of our world turning against the backdrop of the heavens. Out of Winter, we see the movement of the sun into the Northern Hemisphere, bringing with it warmth and the season of Spring, the fullness of Summer, the bounty of Autumn and returning to the stillness of Winter. This is reflected in the life of all things, be it an apple tree or a human being. We are born, we grow, we mature and then we pass away. Thus, the circle marks the passage of time, the passage of the seasons, the passage of a life.
The Cardinal Point of East corresponds with Dawn, with illumination, with the season of Spring and new beginnings. South corresponds with Noon, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the season of Summer and maximum activity. West corresponds with Sunset, with the season of Autumn and the year’s harvest. It also corresponds with turning to rest, and to visions. North corresponds with the depths of night and absolute stillness, with the season of Winter and complete inactivity. It also corresponds with the contemplative state.
East is also the source of light – the light of knowledge and understanding; the South, the place of activity in the Work; the West, the place of ignorance from whence we come, as well as being a place of visions; the North corresponds with stillness and inactivity, of residing ‘within’, of engaging with the contemplative life and Spiritual Inspiration – it is pregnant with possibilities. The cardinal points also correspond with the four elements: East with Air; South with Fire; West with Water; and North with Earth. The four pillars [to be seen in the corners] also represent the rule of the four elements. These you may notice are in the Fixed Signs, alluding to the principle of Precession, Establishment and Return. They fall under the presidency of the Archangels Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, and Auriel, each being signified by one of the four Holy Animals, The Man, Lion, Eagle and Bull.
The arrangement of the Tetragrammaton indicates the ‘actives in the positive Yod and the Vau and the passives in the negative Hé. A binary between Yod and Hé indicates a dynamic flow of energy between Light and Darkness, ignorance and gnosis. Whilst the binary formed between Vau and Hé indicates a dynamic flow of energy between waking and sleeping, between applied thought and inner contemplation. In this way the relationships between the ‘Actives’ and ‘Passives’ are formed, as are the movements of the Light.
As you look at the diagram, the right-hand side, corresponds with the waxing moon – the positive side of Luna, reflecting the dynamics of Spring & Summer (alluding to the work of prayer and charity). The left-hand side corresponds with the waning moon – the negative side of Luna corresponding with the dynamics of Autumn & Winter (alluding to the stillness of meditation and contemplation).
The blue pillar on the right indicates that our diagram is to be considered on three levels, corresponding with the layout of the Tabernacle described in the previous illustration – the Outer Court; the Holy Place; the Holy of Holies. The red cross corresponds with the Holy of Holies, the yellow sun with the Holy Place and the green cross with the Outer Court. It also corresponds with the three states of consciousness as suggested by the three Kabbalistic worlds of Assiah; Yetzirah and Briah.
To be cont. . . .