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Principles of Ceremonial

This article was written by Melita Denning & Osborne Phillips on June 25, 2003
posted under Ceremonial Magick

Magical ceremonial can be built up and elaborated to forms of great subtlety and complexity, but the initial principles which cause its creation are simple in the extreme. In the first place, ceremonial is a different thing from meditation, and it is a different thing from merely wishing or praying that a certain result should come about: the magician sets himself to move the Astral Light in an especial way, and for that purpose certain acts, certain movements and gestures, sometimes an entire dramatic presentation, have to be co-ordinated appro priately. If they are not only chosen for their correspondence to this or that aspect of the Light but also to evoke an inner response in the psyche of the operator, they will have twice the potency which they might otherwise have had.


Magical principle is in this sense "artificial," and owes its effectiveness to that artifice. Once again it can be pointed out that it is not the operator’s natural emotion or aspiration, fraught with fears of failure or involvement with other considerations, which carries him to success. This is replaced, for the nonce, with the play of the ritual. The purpose of the magician is not sealed within him, to be subjected to all the forces of negation, but, directed into the performance and the experience of the rite, it moves the currents of the Astral which in turn place him in contact with the cosmic forces of his seeking.



Before considering any assemblage of ritual acts in detail, we find that such acts in general can be grouped under the following heads:



I a) Acts directly imitative of an intended project, including the desired outcome.
I b) Acts imitative of cosmic and meteorological processes.
II a) Acts meant indirectly to induce or to avert influences by allusive or symbolic association.
II b) Mythic presentments and acts of propitiation or of worship, intended to link the rite with a specific divine force.



Any or all of these types of action may be present in a particular ritual, depending upon its complexity and upon the magician’s assessment of the situation. The classification of magical works according to method, which is more usually given by various authorities, will be found to furnish sub-groupings within the above tabulation. Thus I a) contains the simpler aspects of substitution-rites such as those found (apparently) in Neolithic hunting-magick, and in the Egyptian use of images representing enemies for the purpose of their subjugation: in doll-sorcery generally, and in Mesopotamian rites utilising not only images, but animals or human beings (slaves, prisoners) to represent the person who will benefit or otherwise from the rite. Also included in this category, fundamentally, is the method prescribed by Sir Kenelm Digby for the use of his curative "Powder of Sympathy."



I b) comprises not only some very primitive works--the type of rain-magick which directly imitates thunder or involves libation as a main feature--but also some imagery of refined mysticism. Of the many examples which can be given of turmng about in imitation of celestial revolution, at present it will suffice to refer to the literature of the Dervishes, which seems in places to imply that thus to revolve fulfills the obligation of the microcosm to continue the work of the macrocosm:
The right hand of the Dervish dancer having the palm upward to receive the celestial influences, the left hand having the palm downward to transmit those influences to lower planes of being. A number of writers give other and more elaborate traditions as to the significance of the mystical whirling dance:
the one just given is probably the best-known, and shows something of the Pythagorean heritage which has in various particulars been as faithfully handed down by the Arabic tongue as by the Hellenic.



However, it is not only in such notable developments that we find actions which directly imitate phenomena in order to participate in their movement or to induce it. To this category also relates the spontaneous feeling that rites of Fire for instance should be performed with swift quiet movements and aspiring gestures, rites of Water in a slow and undulating mode, rites of Earth with periods of complete stillness and silence, rites of Air with vigour, expansive gestures and musical sound. These characteristics can be varied according to particular circumstances and individual requirements--the clash of cymbals can evoke Fire, while taurine bellowings and stampings belong to some aspects of Earth--the important consideration is not that a particular Element or Power should be represented according to any fixed rule, but that the participants in the rite should feel their actions to be in harmony with the force to be evoked, and above all with the aspects thereof which are related to the working. Real charact erization can be drawn from the attributes of any power within the range of magical working. Besides personal experience and meditation, the student should encourage imagination by searching in his literary heritage. If a study were being made of the cardinal points or of their Winds (as an example), such a passage as this on the North Wind, from the Sixth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, would merit attention:--"Force is my nature: with force I urge the dark clouds, with force I stir the seas and uproot knotty oaks: I harden the snow and scourge with hail the lands. Thus too when I meet my brothers in open sky (that sky my plain) so mightily do I contend with them that the mid-air rings, and from hollow clouds there leap broken fires. Or when tameless I have descended into vaulted pits of the earth, and have put my shoulders beneath the deepest caverns, with quakings I affright the shades of the dead, and all the world.".



This passage can be compared with the vivid description of the North Wind, "the fierce Kabibonokka," in Longfellow’s Hiawatha: the second canto, The Four Winds, has passages of considerable interest and beauty regarding each quarter. Essential to a study of the West Wind, again, would be Keats’ superb Ode; considerable work might be put in on the characters of the Four Winds, and it is one of the subjects which has always fascinated mankind. Of great antiquity in Egypt, the "Song of the Four Winds" appears by the time of the Twelfth Dynasty to have developed a dramatised form, a dance-game apparently in which four performers at the quarters of a circle presented each the character of a wind, and another whose base was at the centre tried in some manner to "steal the treasure" of the Winds. It may have been an entertainment simply: or its performance may have been a "wind-stealing" rite, having the purpose of raising a wind by means of an allusive drama.



This latter possibility would impinge upon the subject-matter of our next classification, II a), the attraction of forces by indirect, sometimes symbolic means. To the subject of characterisation we shall return presently. Symbolism, as the language of the Unconscious, becomes hallowed as a means of communicating with the spiritual world: but an element of personal insecurity can also in some instances be suspected, a degree of caution against making too plain a declaration of one’s desire: perhaps also too simple a sequence of cause and effect is avoided, in order to strengthen both the power of the operation and the resolve of the operator by introducing mystifications. The transition from direct enactment to symbolism is sometimes so slight and so natural as to need no especial reason. Thus in the Fasti with regard to the Roman celebrations of New Year’s Day, we are told that this day was not made a public holiday for fear such an omen might lead to a workless year: and then that dates and figs, honey and gold were offered to Janus, that their sweetness might bring a year of joy and abundance. A similarly simple transference of ideas is indicated by the shrine and emblems of the fertility cult which were found in a pit of the flint-mines at Grime’s Graves, Norfolk: since the nature of the site precludes for the shrine’s purpose any ordinary connotations of fertility, it is deduced that the intent here was to render the earth prolific in flints.



In other instances, however, the indirectness of the ritual approach is more developed and conspicuous. A notable example is the Hopi Snake-dance, of which the final purpose is to bring not serpents but rain. The serpentine movements of the dance are intended to attract the fiery Lightning-snakes, who in similar manner will begin to play in the heavens: and it is their play which causes the rain. At a more sophisticated level, to the same category belong rites intended to induce a planetary influence, so as to correct an astrological imbalance and thus avert misfortune, for instance.



II b). With a union of mythic themes and magical concepts, both the possible formulae and the actual power of workings are tremendously enriched. This other dimension, the link with a specific spiritual force, not only brings its own formulae into being, but adds significance and power to rites of the foregoing types. It was early realised that to enact a desired project with its successful outcome, or to represent either directly or symbolically a cosmic occurrence over which the performer has ordinarily no control, became transformed from a primitive attempt to a truly magical work when a myth of similar connotations was enacted, declaring or implying such a Magical Link as, "As the Son of Isis thus triumphed over his enemies, so shall my cause be victorious!" Myth from one source or another has everywhere provided the major dramatic bases for rites of many kinds, and magical ritual has thereby taken on a special dignity. Predominant in showing forth this influence are the great rites both initiatory and sacrificial of the various solar cults. There are also, however, rites of sheer adoration or of the celebration of some cosmic or mythic fact, rites which from an exoteric viewpoint belong, not to magick, but to religon: these, when considered with occult understanding, are truly magical in their operation of building up an egregore, and of maintaining a channel thereto from the Divine Mind.







From the least to the greatest of magical rites, then, a high degree of dramatic presentation can be recognised throughout. It is dramatic presentation of a particular kind, intended both to stir the Light and to attune the operator to whatever powers are to be associated with the working.



The degree of preparation for a rite will largely depend upon the importance of the occasion. To utilise the more convenient correspondences to which reference is made in these volumes, is a normal standard of working: the magician will on occasion do well with less, according to need or judgment, but it is sometimes desirable to do considerably more. He, and also the other participants if great and specialised force is required, should in such cases devote pre-arranged periods to meditation or reading which centres upon aspects of the sphere in question: for these periods they need not meet, but the times arranged should be as harmonious to the sphere as is possible. Some authorities, particularly in older writings, would have those concerned, and particularly the leader of the working, to keep during the preparatory phase to a diet specially devised to be in harmony with the intended sphere of working, and it evidently is their intention in prescribing solitude also that the magician should be able at that time, and not merely during the working itself, to attune his psychic and physical organization to the sphere. A remark able example of this counsel is to be found in the Picatrix, a medieval Latin translation of an eleventh-century Arabic text attributed to Maslama b. Ahmad al-Majriti, which makes reference to much Greek as well as Arabian lore: a general life of retirement in desert places, and fasting, is recommended to the magician, but then for evocation of the Planetary Spirits he is bidden to choose his food according to the correspondences of the planet whose Spirit he will after due preparation evoke. The rite itself is eventually performed with conformably coloured raiment, appropriate perfume and incense, and images suited to the reason for the work. A modern example, no less thorough in operation, is presented in Crowley’s "Moonchild." In all counsel concerning the correspondences, however, no matter how simple or how elaborate the means employed, it is a main objective that when the working itself takes place, the principal person in the group, preferably with any other participants, should be able without difficulty to enter into the temper of the sphere.



In the type of magical rite which we are chiefly con sidering, the need for long and elaborate preparation is almost completely replaced by development of the mythic element, which means that in the psyche an affinity with the character of the working does not need to be created, so much as contacted where it already exists. This brings out a further important aspect of the relationship of myth to magick. The problem which it helps to resolve is one which has been considered from different viewpoints elsewhere in these volumes: the need for involvement, in the sense of conviction of the necessity for one’s work, and at the same time for non-involvement, in the sense of freedom from anxiety as to the outcome of the work. While anything approaching psychodrama (that is to say, in context, an exact presentation of an individual’s inner personal situation requiring a specific outcome) must be banished from enactment in any rite of High Magick and could only ruin the work, it can cogently be pointed out here that the great myths of mankind are such as to awaken a response, conscious or otherwise, in any human psyche to which they are adequately presented, so that each participant can have a true sense of "belonging" in the work at a deeper than personal level. For this reason, a magical rite can never be placed on the level of a formal theatre-piece: it is a part of the life-force flowing through the participants. Further, the student is adjured that when he is privately using a ritual, no matter how exactly it may have been prepared by himself or by another, if when performing the actual working he feels that another gesture or ritual movement would be "right" he is to introduce it without hesitation.



From the nature of ritual working a number of further principles can be deduced, which have to be considered with a view to practical usage. The first of these concerns the place of working itself.



Here we are concerned with the containing limits of the magical action, the limits which must obtain for the conditions created by the magician. Even supposing that he purposed to influence the whole world by a single magical working (we might in any given case question the wisdom of this, but we cannot deny its possibility as a general hypothesis): still his course of action should be to build up his force within a limited space and to send it thence, rather than to allow it from its beginning to disseminate among the myriad other influences in the world, changing both in context and in potency as the Hegelian processes of transformation affected it. These processes must inevitably come into play: but the Work should first be completed in security. In other words, the Circle of Working is for true ceremonial magick a necessity: whether for the protection of the magician and his work, or for the simple conservation of energy, or for both purposes. According to its use is the circle constructed and fortified: in different rites we find the circumference traced with the sword-point for instance, or measured by "treading," while the working area may be fortified by Names of Power uttered or inscribed, and signs inscribed, or traced in the air, or framed within the visual imagination and thence projected forth.



Many magical operations involve one or more circumam bulations of the area of working, within the limits of the circle. While purposeless circumambulation is to be avoided, it is suitable to introduce such a movement for the following reasons.



(1) To create a simple vortex of energy. It may be desired to perform a circumambulation, or a number as suitable for the rite, simply to stir the Light and to emphasise an intention of invoking or of banishing, of setting a current in motion or of inhibiting it. The operator may begin circum ambulating from whatever quarter is most appropriate.



Where a "positive" intention has been implemented with the aid of a deosil circumambulation in the early part of a rite, it is very usual to balance this by an "unwinding" or widdershins circumambulation in the later part. This however is not a custom which should be observed except in cases where it has real purpose. In many instances it would be foolishness to "balance" the circlings in this manner and would simply annul the effect of the working: rather, the desired effect obtained, the forces involved in its production should be allowed to sink into quiescence.



There is among occultists a frequent reluctance to employ widdershins movements--that is, anti-clockwise movements--because of a popular belief that these are wholly or predominantly associated with the "Left-hand Path." This whole subject is very confused in the thoughts of many: for the peace of mind of our students we must state here that for purposes of invoking in rites of Luna or of the Chthonic Powers, or for banishing in any other rites, the left-hand turn or the widdershins circumambulation are altogether in order.




Those who would shun the Left-hand Path should avoid works for a selfish and debased end, including works which border upon that description if the planetary association thereof be Saturn, Mars or Luna; likewise avoiding any form of blood sacrifice. The direction in which one turns in the course of a rite cannot decide the matter.


(2) Circumambulation may validly be employed to represent a cosmic orbit, on such principles as have already been indicated.


(3) It may represent a systematic progress or pilgrimage, particularly when the quarters or half-quarters, or some of those points, can be used symbolically to represent stages in the journey. The correspondences of the compass are for the magician to employ and to bring out in his working if they are appropriate thereto: any which are irrelevant may simply be ignored, since they are not potent unless activated.


(4) Aral or "closed" circumambulations to create a simple vortex of energy. These occur in group-workings, and are performed not in a processional manner, but with linked hands, right hand palm downwards, left hand palm upwards:
the number of revolutions being suited to the working, or as many as the circle leader feels to be right. Aral circumambu lation is performed deosil: it is always positive and must in no circumstances be countered.


(5) Orthrochoros:-- a triple circumambulation deosil, betokening the Triune Light, begun in the East, the arms raised in the '*’ position. This circumambulation is only used following high spiritual invocations. It is invariably to be countered at the conclusion of the rite by:--



Dyseochoros: a triple circumambulation widder shins, betokening the withdrawal of the Triune Light: begun in the East, arms crossed on the breat left overright, head bowed.



Whenever possible, the operator should in his own mind assume a definite character, even where this is not specified in the rite. If he is simply "himself," it should be his magical personality of which he is aware: if the theme provides a specific enactment, then to assume for the time being a distinctive role will be far more satisfactory both from his own viewpoint and for the effectiveness of the rite. If the rite calls for one’s taking on the character of the East Wind, it is better to be Eurus or Wabun or another manifestation of that wind, with whatever local identity is most apt to the working, than to remain faceless. If there is a lack of mythic material, one’s ritual character should be built up from the imagination, as appositely as possible. This is not intended to imply the assumption of form, in the manner associated with god-forms: all that is intended here is a distinct characterization. These characters can be as vivid as the types of the Commedia dell’Arte, the "feel" of a particular role being the essence of the matter. For a group working, characterizations should be co-ordinated.


As to the actual movements and gestures which make up a rite, these should never lack in significance. If a rite is being constructed, long speeches should as a general rule be avoided, action should be interpreted by speech but should only minimally be replaced thereby; likewise it should be remembered that an action has besides its intrinsic significance, a significance deriving from the part of the circle in which it takes place, and the instrument (if any) with which it is performed. For example: the East is the place of light’s origin. To carry a lighted lamp to the East, therefore, is to offer it for identification with the Source of Light: thus to dedicate it and spiritualise its significance. To carry a lighted lamp to the West, however, is to carry light into darkness, to illumine the shadowed places, to carry enlightenment. In works involving aspiration to an Element or to the qualities signified thereby (as distinct from works involving invocation of Elemental forces) the natural zodiacal positions for the Elements are appropriate:
East--Fire, South--Earth, West--Air, and North--Water.


To stamp the foot is an emphatic assertion of dominion over the lower powers, inner and outer. By implication, it is especially suited to the Adept in his aspect as the Grand Hermetic Androgyne, proclaiming victory over the lower elements. So the winged white steed Pegasus, Poseidon’s emissary, stamped with his hoof upon the summit of Helicon to subdue that rebellious mountain: furthermore, from the apical hoofprint flowed Hippocrene, the sacred fount of the Muses. Thus the magician, whether in his magical personality simply, or in the character of Mithras, Heracles or other Heroic victor over the chthonic powers, may stamp his foot, either to signal his will to command them, or to indicate his freedom from their bondage and his right to drink of the nectar of inspiration.


To raise something upward is, generally, to bring it into operation as well as into manifestation. For example: in the A.S. Consecration of the Sword, before the act of consecration, the Sword ishorizontal ;afterbeing consecrateditisraised up, the blade vertical, while the triumphant Song of lubar is chanted.


The magical student should practice making broad, distinct gestures. Unless he is very young or else has some experience in costume drama, he may find difficulty in this; but these gestures are to belong to his magical personality, and self-consciousness must be put aside as it has been in develop ing the magical voice. The Astral Light is to be moved by the physical presence of the magician as well asby his expressed will. When once gesture has thus been made significant, it will be found that the direction and mode of every movement is as expressive as the glance of the eyes. Nor must the two-way action of expressive movement be forgotten. Quite apart from magical effects proper, to express a psychic state is to induce that psychic state, and care should be taken not unwittingly to induce a state liable to inhibit the effect of one’s own ritual. For this reason, movements which express or suggest such inhibitive qualities as submission, inertia or dejection are generally to be avoided in magical working. The predominant tone of magical work is one of courage, generosity, and resolu-tion. whether active or passive, and the major forces which the magician has to interpret are those of divine expansiveness and abundance. These are reflected in rite and gesture.


Thus when the goddess Ishtar (as an example) descends through the Underworld to reclaim Tammuz, and when at each portal of the seven adverse spheres she divests herself of a garment, her gesture in so doing is not one of abjection, or of submission to the demons of the sphere: she raises her arms upward and outward. Then she proceeds upon her way in divinity victorious. So when she reaches the seventh and deepest level, and renounces her final garment, entering to find Tammuz and to lead him thence to life renewed, she is her supernal and all-luminous self, the Star in effulgent nudity.


So also, to consider a different manifestation of the Goddess in a totally other region, cultural settingand emotional tone: when the gaiety and love and exquisiteness of Maitresse Erzulie are at last swept into a paroxysm of grief, the arms of the possessed in the Voudoun cult are flung wide and her trance passes into comatose sleep: the fact and the gesture have many witnesses. Here too the gesture is upward and outward. This is a grief neither selfish nor ephemeral: it is cosmic.


Our gesture when as the preliminary to a ritual it is necessary to bring power down from the Sacred Flame to sweep through the conscious personality, is the Calyx. In some measure, it may be said that the Calyx foreshadows the Formula of the Grail.


That the Holy Grail is associated in a manner with the Cauldron of Regeneration of Celtic lore, is a frequent statement among specialists in medieval legend. It is a statement whose profound truth goes far beyond any literary evidence, seeing into the very nature of Adepthood itself. The "Quest of the Grail" is indeed a distinct and recondite image of the task which lies before the risen Adept, the Knight, the Professed. Here, "that which he is to seek, he is to become": the sacred vessel which is to receive the Wine of Inspiration. Nevertheless, this is but one level of the Grail’s significance. It is also the specific and sacred symbol of the Goddess in her Binah Aspect, as receptacle of the power of the Supernal Father. The Grail thus represents a high spiritual reality: one of its co-symbols is the Universe. To raise up a magical instrument, as has been said, is to bring it into manifestation and into operation. He who elevates the Grail in solemn ritual, therefore, is making offering so far as he is able, of the universe itself as a receptacle and instrument of Divine Power. Not only that: he is also whether explicitly or implicitly offering himself as an instrument of that Power.


When the Great Wand or Spear is ritually conjoined with the Grail, there is celebrated the supernal union of the Father with the Mother, the implanting of a seed of mighty significance. This is a theme of high import in the mysticism of the Stella Gloriosa; for when the new Fiat is uttered, and Adonis is conceived in the womb of Myrrha the King’s Daughter, all has been prepared for the new equal-armed cross to come in due time to manifestation in the octagonal shrine of the centre. The Great Work is completed in one octave to recommence in another.


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