Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Problem of Ritual Magic

Ritual Magic is a term often used to include Hermeticists of all kinds, though there are those, often working from old books, who use nothing BUT ritual in order to interact with their magical universe. I've heard Ritual Magic described as being an approach where people us ritual to get what they want. This seems to be based on a very narrow interpretation of Crowley's definition of Magic as being "the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with the Will." There are many kinds of change and people like Fortune use the term "changes in consciousness" in this definition.

Although there are forms of ritual which are intended to "get" something or "change" something, there are also an elaborate collection of ceremonials which teach something. Let us, for example, look at the Neophyte Ritual of the Golden Dawn.

Other than the actual initiatory psycho-drama which is intended to alter the consciousness of the new initiate, there does not seem to be a lot of purpose to this ritual. There is nothing asked for, nothing is produced, it is not a worship ceremony, so what is the point?

The point is that it is a ritualistic allegory of the human psyche. We look at this ritual from the side, or as an officer, and consider what exactly we are doing and what it represents. The ceremonial has six internal officers and one external, if there is room for a sentinel. Along the centre-line of the temple we see three officers and we can correspond them to the various layers of our human entity. This remains even during the initiation ceremony, for we see the Hegemon, who represents the individual's conscious self, coach the new initiate in the correct words and formulas, but only at the instruction of the Hierophant who represents the Higher Self or the Inner Teacher (Key 6).

In fact nothing happens in the temple at all except by the command of the Hierophant. This is an example of how the ritual shows us the truth of ourselves. We think that the "I that is me," or the personality, is ultimately responsible for the thinking and the acting, but it is our Higher Selves which give instructions which then filter down into our own minds as ideas. This is why we can have sudden flashes of genius which seem disconnected from our idea of ourselves, for they originate at a much higher level.

When the initiates and officers walk around the temple, they are lead by the Kerux, carrying lantern and staff, like the Hermit, guided by part of our subconscious, and not by our conscious selves at all!

These rituals are filled with these allegories, just as the Masonic rituals are, which show truths that can be extracted and understood as a kind of 4 dimensional teaching aid. The changes that result are those of the individual's understanding as it affects everyone in the group. If possible it is of value to video-record the ritual and review it as a group, see what interactions occur, and how they occur, and who initiates them. When does, say, the Hierus appear to act on their own?

This is the reason that the opening of the ritual is taken up by each officer explaining their purpose and the symbolism of their tools. It is like the expositional dialogue of a play or film, letting you know this person's role so that when you observe their behaviour you know why and what it means. All of this requires a considerable study or a very, very good teacher, but it is there, and it is the true purpose of the ritual. There is also a certain re-connecting to the Egregore that occurs, but it could be established through other means, such as a worship ceremony.

Some people complain that these rituals "accomplish nothing" but do not see the value in the play itself, the mysteries which are being enacted. This is no less "Ritual Magic" from a technical point of view, but it is quite different to what most people think of when they imagine the subject.

This then creates a problem when people think about Ritual Magicians, for the name may imply Hermeticists who, amongst other things, use ritual, or those working purely on a Ritual path such as is dictated in books like the Legematon, The Arbatal of Magic, The Books of Solomon, The Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, and other books of ritual. The term fails to take into account rituals done as teaching allegories, or the vast array of subjects studied by groups like the Golden Dawn.

Ritual is but one tool, and it can be used for many purposes. Whether that makes you, or someone else, a "Ritual Magician" I cannot tell you.

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