Yesterday I received an email from a reader in Eastern Europe who wanted to know if he had to use Hebrew when doing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. Couldn’t he use his native tongue?
Actually, this is a question I receive all the time. Some people want to use a language other than Hebrew (or Greek or Latin or Egyptian). Some people don’t want to use the God names of ancient Judaism, of Greek or Roman Paganism, or of the early Egyptian pantheon. Can they change it to something else? The answer, I’m afraid, is Â a definite “maybe.” Before I say why I think you can do this, I’d like to give some arguments why you shouldn’t.
Take Me Away
I regret that I don’t remember the exact quote, but I do recall Aleister Crowley advised that when writing rituals you should use language in an archaic style like that of Shakespeare or the Bible. The reason for this is similar to that of donning a magickal robe. By doing something out of the ordinary you are telling your unconscious that you are not doing an everyday activity. Plus you have to focus on what you’re doing to use the tongue that isn’t common. It clearly delineates what is ritual and what is not. It takes you from the room that’s normally your living room and helps change it into a magickal temple.
To that I would add that there really is something special in using something so formal. Saying in ritual, “I call upon the powers of thee who wast olde before the birth of humanity and bid thee welcome” has a completely different feeling than the California greeting of, “Dude! Wassup?”
It’s the Vibration
Just as there is a set of pre-Christian spiritual traditions in the West, so, too, is there a pre-Hindu spiritual tradition in India. Most people think of the Indian concept of the mantra, a special sound or set of sounds, as beginning with Hinduism. Actually, it begins with that pre-Hindu tradition which is today known as Tantra (it’s a lot more than just sex!). In fact, there’s a saying that goes, “There is no Tantra without mantra.”
While it is true that some mantras do have specific meanings, the science of mantra is far more than the mere repetition of words. To some, a particular mantra is not a name or representative of a deity, but actually is the deity in the form of pure vibration. To others, the aspect of deity in mantra isn’t important at all. Rather, the important part of a mantra is that it is a vibratory formula that changes the universe. How can that be?
If you play a note on a violin with a bow while holding the violin near a piano, certain strings in the piano will begin to sound without directly touching them. This is a scientific principle known as resonance. The same thing happens with certain mantras. They have no meaning. They don’t represent anything. They are a sound pattern, a vibration that changes you and the universe. You literally vibrate “in resonance” to the mantra. Repeating it makes the effect stronger.
How could you possibly change a vibration pattern created by a certain set of consonants and vowels in one language to another language? Think about the first word of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. In Hebrew it’s pronounced “Aw-taw.” It means “you” or in Biblical/Shakespearian English, “thou.” Further, in context, the verb in Hebrew is “understood.” That is, although it’s not included, it’s understood to be there. Thus, an accurate translation of the first word of the LBRP would be “You (are)” or “Thou (art).”
Try saying them aloud. They don’t vibrate the same way. They’re not formed in the same parts of the mouth. The mouth isn’t shaped the same way. So even though the three (sets of) words mean the same thing, they don’t have the same vibration and cannot affect you or the universe in the same ways.
Please Use the Right Title
For a moment, imagine that you are a supervisor running an entire workforce. Now imagine that someone comes into the building and thinks you are a janitor. That person will think of you and treat you differently than if they knew you were the supervisor. Sure, it’s only a title; it’s only a word. But that controls the way people think of you and treat you.
I’ve had first hand experience of this. When I’m introduced to someone for the first time, I usually just say that “My name is Don.” I’ve often had some great discussions and interactions with people as long as I’m “just Don.” But if they’re interested in magick, when that same person finds out that I’m the author of Modern Magick, the way they communicate with me changes completely. I’ve experienced this change in seconds, right before my eyes, because my name changes from “Don” to “Donald Michael Kraig author of that book.”
Traditional rituals have been used for centuries because the linking of certain names of the Divine with certain purposes works. Unfortunately, some people think “correspond” means “equate,” even though they are not synonyms. For example, some people see that Zeus is the King of the Greek gods and that Odin is the King of the Norse deities. Therefore, in a ritual, they are willing to replace one with the other. However Zeus only corresponds to Odin. They do not equate with each other. They do not have the same qualities. They don’t even look like each other. If you want to call on Zeus, call on Zeusâ€”don’t call Odin.
Well, that’s true, in my opinion, most of the time. They do correspond to each other and it would be possible to call on the qualities of Odin in a ritual to Zeus where you are working with those same qualities of Zeus. What this means is that you need to have a very deep understanding of both Odin and Zeus. Unfortunately, most of the time I see the people who want to make changes are beginners with little knowledge of either.
There is a famous line in a ritual practiced by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that goes “Holy art Thou, Lord of the Universe.” In this context “Lord” is not talking about a male deity. It is simply a title for a quality of the Divine.
In ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmosis, became the regent and later declared herself to be Pharaoh, wearing the royal robes and a false beard. She was the Pharaoh. Period. And she was a strong and powerful woman. Thutmosis and Hatshepsut were Pharaohs. The title “Pharaoh” was for the position, not the gender of the person holding the position.
“Lord of the Universe” in the above expression is also describing the position, not an individual, gendered being. The Lord of the Universe is deityâ€”not male or female. So there is no need to change the passage to the ungainly “Lord and Lady of the Universe” or use some other noun in place of “Lord” that entirely changes the meaning.
I realize that some Golden Dawn groups have made changes like these. If they work for you, fantastic. However, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this.
[And I would add that if you are working within a Chaos Magick paradigm, this is all null and void. I discuss this more fully in the new 3rd edition of Modern Magick that will be available in September 2010. The current 2nd edition of Modern Magick is now a collectors' item. I believe pristine copies will go up in value after this final printing is sold out.]
Dion Fortune’s Advice
After giving these explanations as to why you shouldn’t change foreign words in traditional magickal rituals, let’s look at the other side. Dion Fortune wrote that there is no room for authority in occultism. By this she meant it doesn’t matter what I say or what any books say. If a book says to do X and no matter how many times you do X you don’t get the result you want, stop! Try something else.
I contend that magick should be approached as an experimental science. All the books on magick present theories that work for their authors (at least the ones who practice what they write aboutâ€¦but that’s another issue). They’re a good starting point, but should never be a finishing point. Perform the experiments (rituals) in the books and keep a scientific record (magickal diary) of the results. If you get the results you want, keep using the techniques. If you don’t get the results you want, do something else.
I often get people asking, “Is it okay if I ___________?” The ultimate answer to that question is not whether I say it’s okay, but whether what you do works. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, modify it or discard it and find something that does work.
So if you’re thinking of changing a part of a ritual, such as the language, practice for a while with the traditional method. Do the best you can. Keep a record of your results. Then make the changes and do the best you can with them. Keep a record of your results.
Use what works the best for you.
It may not work for others, but if it works for you, use it!