Many if not most rituals in books were written for group performance, yet, most "seekers" today do not belong to a group and modern Americans more often prefer to be Solitaries.
Before offering suggestions on how to convert a group ritual to the needs of a solitary person, let’s discuss the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of ceremonial groups. But, before doing so, we need to distinguish between a group and an association or a community.
Many people belong to an esoteric society, such as the Theosophical Society or the Rosicrucian AMORC. Many of these have local lodges or fellowships that present lectures and facilitate study groups and some have members who can officiate at weddings and funerals much like a church. Some have weekly services just like a church or temple. For the convenience of discussion, let’s call these "associations." Most associations have some type of legal charter and a formal declaration of membership benefits.
I also want to provide a definition of a "community" as an informal collection of people, not necessarily local, of like interests often facilitated by the Internet. If, for example, you are interested in astrology, you are a member of the astrological community. Because you may buy astrology books or the services of an astrologer, you may be on a mailing list of people interested in astrology. You may attend lectures, even go to conferences and conventions, but you don’t have to belong to an association to be part of the astrological community.
Right now, because you’re reading this book—for whatever reason—you are a member of the "greater" Magickal community. That doesn’t make you a member of a group; nine chances out of ten you are a "solitary."
In a densely populated area, a lodge, church, coven, or a "circle" can be conveniently organized. But for those living in rural areas, such participation is impractical.
There is value of getting a group together to work rituals, and generally such a group requires a minimal number of three even when there may be roles for four or eight ritualists. Sometimes the indicated number may be greater, but usually the additional numbers are there for support or to act as a chorus.
Two people make a "couple," but three or more can make a "group." Today there are Golden Dawn, O.T.O., O.T.A., A.S., Wiccan Covens, and other Ceremonial groups (both Pagan and Christian) that you can join for instruction, training, practice and initiation.
Aside from the community interest, what does a group provide—at least potentially?
If you enjoy drama, then what you have is called "ritual drama." You can think of it as a play with stage props, a script, and costumes.
But that same ritual drama can be a magickal ritual. You can have a magickal ritual as a solitary, but there are advantages and disadvantages to working magick in a group.
In the following discussion, please remember that the goal of a true magical lodge is entirely to facilitate Initiation in sense of integrating Lower and Higher Selves. Initiation is not simply an admission rite as in some social groups, or a degree or grade recognition in certain trade groups. In the most esoteric terms, Initiation is a spiritual transition in which one "crosses the Abyss," "encounters the Dweller on the Threshold," or—in Jungian psychological terms—becomes "Integrated," making the self whole.
Here are some possible advantages:
- You can meet people seriously interested in Magick.
- Members often help one another in their study; sometimes that is an obligation of seniority.
- A group of people can produce a lot of energy together. We call that "Power."
- As a member, you yourself may share in the benefits of that Power even if you don’t know how to contribute Power to the group.
- Group Power can benefit either practical goals or facilitate transformative experiences ranging from healings to Initiation.
- (However, an Initiation Ritual may not actually result in "Initiation" in the sense of psychological and spiritual integration no matter how good it feels!)
- A practical magical ritual can also function in spell-casting for such benefits as getting a job interview, helping secure a loan or mortgage, meeting someone special, blessing a new business venture, etc.
But, among the possible disadvantages:
- You can meet someone ready to cause you harm, or unwanted sexual attention.
- Sometimes, you may lose energy to the group, and actually suffer a wasting disease.
- Sometimes, you may pick up psychic parasites from the group.
- Unless the group is truly local, participation can be expensive and inconvenient.
Where does Power come from?
Essentially, Magickal Power comes from "within" and may be biological or spiritual, or both. It is facilitated by such techniques as:
- Chanting. Whether solitary or in a group, chanting can produce a lot of energy. In a very harmonious group, that energy seems to build on itself and can become very substantial. Sometimes singing, especially choral singing, can be equally effective.
- Dancing, or other Movement. Movement either expends energy or generates energy. Moving in a Circle particularly seems to generate energy, and through circular movement can condense it and then release it to function under Intention, or Will.
- Spirit, or whatever you want to call it. At our core, there is a Creative Force that animates us and it sometimes responds to personal or group direction.
- Kundalini—also called "Sex Energy." Sexual activity and yogi postures can activate this energy which may be directed through meditation and visualization to other parts of the body, the chakras, and even beyond the body. It is often identified with "charisma."
- A Battery! Some people seem able to charge the solar plexus with excess biological energy. Particular swaying and bowing movements as among Hasidic groups often leads to ecstatic experiences.
- Food, Drink, and Drugs. For the most part, there are serious disadvantages with their use for energy purposes.
Power is Power, but it isn’t always reliable. I’m not a Catholic, but many of my family are and I have been involved in two wedding services where the officiating priest was drunk. In one case, the priestly power was as flat as yesterday’s champagne; in the other there was so much priestly power that people starting dancing before the service was over!
When I was younger, I headed a small Wiccan/Magical group, and at times we had so much energy within our small circle that people were shaking and even ecstatic and orgasmic, and sometimes fainting from too much power. I’ve participated in sending such energy—the Cone of Power—long distance to affect an instantaneous cure of a tumor.
Most people have experienced similar group energy at music concerts and dances; some have experienced it through shamanic activities or evangelical or Hasidic services. Others have experienced solitary energy through prayer and meditative practices, and couples experience such energy with Tantra and extended sexual activity.
Power is Power, and Power can be transformative. But Power alone will not bring about the Initiative Experience of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Power can help in clearing away the physical and psychological debris that gets in the way of our growth into a Whole Person.
There can be lot of power in a harmonious groups, whereas one that is divisive is like a dead battery, or even worse. A solitary practitioner can "home grow" all the power he or she needs.
The Solitary Ritualist. Ritual is really a disciplined exercise directing energies towards an established goal. In "practical" magic (sometimes called "spell-casting") that goal is usually mundane and involves money, sex (love), and power in the social or political sense. In "high" magick, the goal is spiritual growth and attainment called here "Initiation."
Does a solitary practitioner need ritual? Any disciplined exercise is a ritual, and to get what you want requires it. What are some of the benefits of such exercise? One of the most important strengths to be gained is a trained imagination, also called "visualization." Visualization facilitates Meditation and Self-Hypnosis—both of considerable value in psycho-spiritual growth and attainment.
There is value to adapting group ritual to solitary use, firstly because of the training and skill development involved and secondly when an established ritual is used all the symbols, the chanting, the words of power, the archetypal play, the body movements and gestures, etc. are focused in the one person without distortion from other group members.
The simplest approach is to learn the various roles and the words to be spoken, and to imagine yourself in the main role—the priest or priestess at the center of the circle and visualize all the other roles unfolding in your imagination. In addition, you have to "hear" the voices and "feel" the movements. You need to experience the emotions and experience the ecstasy.
You can do it, and it works.
The Group Ritual. As is well demonstrated by the size and wealth of many churches and religious organizations, there can be a business-like functional value to the group. Does that apply to a working magickal or other esoteric organization? The evidence is not always positive. Many groups organized around a charismatic teacher may continue to exist upon that person’s death, but they usually lose their "dispensation" and are no longer effective.
What are the functions of a magickal or spiritual group?
- To teach beginners.
- To facilitate dramatic rituals.
- Those dramatic rituals can be performed for the benefit of a single person, or for the group itself, or for an audience that may or may not participate in some minor way.
- Possibly, to also provide such personal services as weddings, funerals, etc.
- To financially support staff and physical facilities to carry out other proclaimed missions to the public – including education, medical work, charitable functions, etc. but often these are ‘fronts’ for the larger goal of proselytizing, i.e. conversion of non-believers.
- In practice, some religious groups will have the priestly leader carry on a separate and nearly private magio-religious ritual to bridge between God and Humanity.
Of these six, only "2" cannot readily be provided in other ways—often better ways. But if we grant the positive value of dramatic ritual, the power of the group is demonstrable. Yes, as pointed out elsewhere, it is possible to perform an entire group ritual or drama in your imagination. Just recall the last movie you’ve seen, and you will easily re-experience the drama with the roles played by each character. And, yes, such ritual dramas could be performed professionally before cameras and made available on DVDs to support the solitary’s experience via imagination and meditation just as books support "1" the learning experience.
For a group performance you commonly have three or more roles to fill: that of the officiating priest or master of ceremonies and the masculine and feminine actors. In addition, you can provide a main assistant, and up to four ritualist assistants.
Ultimately, Solitary or Group, the decision is yours. The important point I feel obligated to make is that for the goal of Initiation, Solitary can be as good as Group. And, ultimately, it is what you do yourself that initiates Initiation!