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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

                     RITUAL THEORY AND TECHNIQUE 
                      Copyright Colin Low 1990
       1. Introduction
       2. Magical Consciousness
       3. Limitation
       4. Essential Steps
       5. Maps & Correspondences
       6. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
       These  notes attempt to say something useful  about  magical
  ritual.  This is difficult,  because ritual is invented,  and any
  sequence  of  actions  can be ritualised and  used  to  symbolise
  anything;  but then something similar can be said about words and
  language, and that doesn't prevent us from trying to communicate,
  so I will make the attempt to say something useful about  ritual,
  and  try to steer a path between the Scylla of  anthropology  and
  sweeping   generalisations,   and   the  Charybdis   of   cultish
  parochialism.  My  motivation for writing this is my belief  that
  while  any behaviour can be ritualised,  and it is impossible  to
  state  "magical  ritual  consists of  this"  or  "magical  ritual
  consists of that",  some magical rituals are better than  others.
  This raises questions of what I mean by "goodness" or  "badness",
  "effectiveness"  or "ineffectiveness" in the context  of  magical
  work, and I intend to duck this with a pragmatic reply. A magical
  ritual  is "good" if it achieves its intention without  undesired
  side  effects,  and it is "bad" if the roof falls on  your  head.
  Underlying this definition is another belief: that magical ritual
  taps  a  raw  and potentially dangerous  (and  certainly  amoral)
  psychic   force  which  has  to  be  channelled   and   directed;
  traditional  forms  of  magical ritual do that  and  are  not  so
  arbitrary as they appear to be.
       An  outline of ceremonial magical ritual (in the basic  form
  in which it has been handed down in Europe over the centuries) is
  that  the  magician works within a circle  and  uses  consecrated
  tools  and  the  magical names of various entities  to  evoke  or
  invoke Powers.  It seems to work.  Or at least it works for  some
  people some of the time.  How *well* does it work?  That's a fair
  question, and not an easy one to answer, as there is too much ego
  at  stake in admitting that one's rituals don't always work  out.
  My  rituals  don't  always work - sometimes  nothing  appears  to
  happen, sometimes I get unexpected side effects. The same is true
  of those magicians I know personally,  and I suspect the same  is
  true of most people.  Even at the mundane level,  if you've  ever
  tried to recreate a "magical moment" in a relationship,  you will
  know that it is hard to stand in the same river twice - there  is
  an elusive and wandering spark which all too often just wanders.
       In summary, I like to know why some rituals work better than
  others, and why some, even when that elusive spark is present, go
  sour and call up all the wrong things - these notes contain  some
  of  my  conclusions.  As I have tried to lift the  rug  and  look
  underneath  the surface,  the approach is abstract in  places;  I
  prefer to be practical rather than theoretical,  but if magic  is
  to be anything other than a superstitious handing-down of  mumbo-
  jumbo, we need a model of what is happening, a causality of magic
  against which it is possible to make value judgements about  what
  is good and bad in ritual. Traditional models of angels, spirits,
  gods and goddesses,  ancestral spirits and so on are useful up to
  a  point,  but  these  are  not the end  of  the  story,  and  in
  penetrating beyond these "intermediaries" the magician is  forced
  to  confront  the  nature  of  consciousness  itself  and  become
  something of a mystic.
       The idea that the physical universe is the end product of  a
  "process  of  consciousness" is virtually a  first  principle  of
  Eastern esoteric philosophy, it is at the root of the Kabbalistic
  doctrine of emanation and the sephiroth,  and it has been adopted
  by  many twentieth century magicians as a useful  complement   to
  whatever  traditional model of magic they were weaned on  -  once
  one  has accepted that it is possible to  create  "thought-forms"
  and "artificial elementals" and "telesmic images",  it is a small
  step to admitting that the gods,  goddesses,  angels, and spirits
  of   traditonal  magic  may  have  no  reality  outside  of   the
  consciousness  which creates and sustains them.  This is  what  I
  believe  personally  on  alternate  days  of  the  week.  On  the
  remaining  days  I am happy to believe in the  reality  of  gods,
  goddesses,  archangels,  elementals,  ancestral spirits etc. - in
  common  with many magicians I sit on the fence in an  interesting
  way.  There  is  a belief among some magicians that  while  gods,
  goddesses  etc may be the creations of consciousness,  on  a  par
  with money and the Bill of Rights,  such things take on a life of
  their  own and can be treated as if they were real,  so  while  I
  take  the  view  that magic is  ultimately  the  manipulation  of
  consciousness,  you will find me out there calling on the  Powers
  with as much gusto as anyone else.
  2. Magical Consciousness
  The principle function of magical ritual is to cause well-defined
  changes in consciousness.  There are other (non-magical) kinds of
  ritual and ceremony - social,  superstitious,  celebratory etc  -
  carried out for a variety of reasons,  but magical ritual can  be
  distinguished by its emphasis on causing shifts in  consciousness
  to states not normally attainable,  with a consequence of causing
  effects  which  would be considered impossible or  improbable  by
  most people in this day and age.
       The  realisation  that the content of magical  ritual  is  a
  means  to an end,  the end being the deliberate  manipulation  of
  consciousness, is an watershed in magical technique. Many people,
  particularly the non-practicing general public,  believe there is
  something inherently magical about ritual,  that it can be  done,
  like cooking,  from a recipe book; that prayers, names of powers,
  fancy candles,  crystals, five-pointed stars and the like have an
  intrinsic power which works by itself,  and it is only  necessary
  to be initiated into all the details and hey presto! - you can do
  it.  I  believe this is (mostly) wrong.  Symbols do have  magical
  power,  but not in the crude sense implied above;  magical  power
  comes from the conjunction of a symbol and a person who can bring
  that   symbol   to  life,   by  directing  and   limiting   their
  consciousness through the symbol,  in the manner of icing through
  an  icing gun.  Magical power comes from the person (or  people),
  not from the superficial trappings of ritual.  The key to  ritual
  is  the manipulation and shifting of consciousness,  and  without
  that shift it is empty posturing.
       So let us concentrate on magical consciousness,  and how  it
  differs from the state of mind in which we normally carry out our
  business in the world. Firstly, there isn't a sudden quantum jump
  into an unusual state of mind called magical  consciousness.  All
  consciousness  is  equally  magical,  and what  we  call  magical
  depends  entirely on what we consider to be normal and  take  for
  granted.  There  is a continuum of consciousness  spreading  away
  from the spot where we normally hang our hat,  and the  potential
  for  magic depends more on the appropriateness of our  state  for
  what  we  are trying to achieve than it does on  peculiar  trance
  states.  When  I  want to boil an egg I don't  spend  three  days
  fasting  and  praying to God;  I just boil an  egg.  One  of  the
  characteristics  of my "normal" state of consciousness is that  I
  understand how to boil an egg,  but from many alternative  states
  of consciousness it is a magical act of the first order.  So what
  I  call magical consciousness differs from  normal  consciousness
  only  in  so far as it is a state less  appropriate  for  boiling
  eggs,  and more appropriate for doing other things.
       Secondly,   there  isn't  one  simple  flavour  of   magical
  consciousness;  the space of potential consciousness spreads  out
  along several different axes, like moving in a space with several
  different  dimensions,  and that means the magician can  enter  a
  large number of distinct states,  all of which can be  considered
  different aspects of magical consciousness.
       Lastly,  it  is normal to shift our consciousness around  in
  this space during our everyday lives, so there is nothing unusual
  in  shifting consciousness to another place.  This makes  magical
  consciousness  hard  to define,  because it  isn't  something  so
  extraordinary  after all.  Nevertheless,  there is  a  difference
  between walking across the road and walking around the world, and
  there  are  differences between what I call  normal  and  magical
  consciousness,  even  though  they  are arbitrary  markers  in  a
  continuum.  There  is a difference in magnitude,  and there is  a
  difference in the "magnitude of intent",  that  is,  will.  Magic
  takes  us beyond the normal;  it disrupts  cosy  certainties;  it
  explores new territory. Like new technology, once it becomes part
  of  everyday life it stops being "magical" and becomes  "normal".
  We learn the "magic of normal living" at an early age and  forget
  the  magic  of it;  normal living affects us in  ways  which  the
  magician  recognises  as  magical,  but so "normal"  that  it  is
  difficult to realise what is going on.  From the point of view of
  magical  consciousness,  "normal  life" is seen to be  a  complex
  magical  balancing  act,  like a man who keeps a  hundred  plates
  spinning on canes at the same time and is always on the point  of
  losing one. Magical consciousness is not the extraordinary state:
  normal  life  is.  The man on the stage is so busy  spinning  his
  plates he can spend no time doing anything else.
       A    characteristic   of   magical    consciousness    which
  distinguishes  it  from  normal consciousness  is  that  in  most
  magical work the magician moves outside the "normally accessible"
  region  of  consciousness.  Most "normal people" will  resist  an
  attempt  to  shift  their consciousness  outside  the  circle  of
  normality, and if too much pressure is applied they panic, throw-
  up,  become ill, have hysterics, call the police or a priest or a
  psychiatrist,  or end up permanently traumatised.  Sometimes they
  experience  a  blinding  but one-sided  illumination  and  become
  fanatics for a one-sided point of view.  Real,  detectable shifts
  in  consciousness outside the "normal circle" are to  be  entered
  into  warily,  and  the determined ritualist treads a  thin  line
  between success,  and physical and psychical illness.  A neophyte
  in  Tibet  swears  that he or she is prepared  to  risk  madness,
  disease  and  death,  and in my personal experience this  is  not
  melodramatic  -  the  risks  are  real  enough.   It  depends  on
  temperament  and constitution - some people wander all  over  the
  planes  of consciousness with impunity,  some find  it  extremely
  stressful,  and some claim it never did them any harm (when  they
  are clearly as cracked as the Portland Vase).  The grosser  forms
  of  magic are hard to do because body and mind fight any  attempt
  to move into those regions of consciousness where it is  possible
  to  transcend  the "normal" and create new  kinds  of  normality.
       The  switch into magical consciousness is often  accompanied
  by a feeling of "energy" or "power". Reality becomes a fluid, and
  the will is like a wind blowing it this way and that. Far out.
       There are several traditional methods for reaching  abnormal
  states  of consciousness:  dance,  drumming,  hallucinogenic  and
  narcotic substances,  fasting and other forms of privation,  sex,
  meditation, dreaming, and ritual, used singly and in combination.
  These  notes deal only with ritual.  Magical ritual  has  evolved
  organically  out  of the desire to  reach  normally  inaccessible
  regions of consciousness and still continue living sanely in  the
  world  afterwards,  and once that is understood,  its  profundity
  from a psychological point of view can be appreciated.
  3. Limitation
       The concept of limitation is so important in the way magical
  ritual  has developed that it is worth taking a look at  what  it
  means  before going on to look at the basics of  ritual.
       We are limited beings: our lives are limited to some tens of
  years,  our bodies are limited in their physical  abilities,  and
  compared to all the different kinds of life on this planet we are
  clearly  very specialised compared with the potential of what  we
  could be,  if we had the choice of being anything we wanted. Even
  as human beings we are limited, in that we are all quite distinct
  from oneanother,  and guard that individuality and uniqueness  as
  an inalienable right.  We limit ourselves to a few skills because
  of  the effort and talent required to acquire them,  and only  in
  exceptional  cases  do we find people who are expert in  a  large
  number  of different skills - most people are happy if  they  are
  acknowledged  as being an expert in one thing,  and it is a  fact
  that  as  the  sum  total  of  knowledge  increases,   so  people
  (particularly  those with technical skills) are forced to  become
  more and more specialised.
       This idea of limitation and specialisation has found its way
  into  magical  ritual  because  of  the  magical  (or   mystical)
  perception  that,  although all consciousness in the universe  is
  One,  and that Oneness can be perceived directly,  it has  become
  limited.  There is a process of limitation in which the One (God,
  if  you like) becomes  progressively  structured and  constrained
  until  it reaches the level of thee and me.  The details of  this
  process (sometimes called "The Fall") lies well outside a set  of
  notes on ritual technique, and being theosophical, is the sort of
  thing  people like to have long-winded arguments about,  so I  am
  not  going  to  say much about it.  What I  *will*  say  is  that
  magicians and mystics the world over are relatively unanimous  in
  insisting  that the normal everyday consciousness of  most  human
  beings   is   a   severe  *limitation*  on   the   potential   of
  consciousness,  and it is possible,  through various disciplines,
  to extend consciousness into new regions;  this harks back to the
  "circle of normality" I mentioned in the previous section. From a
  magical point of view the personality,  the ego,  the  continuing
  sense of individual "me-ness",  is a magical creation with highly
  specialised  abilities,  an artificial elemental  or  thoughtform
  which consumes all our magical power in exchange for the kind  of
  limitation necessary to survive, and in order to work magic it is
  necessary to divert energy away from this obsession with personal
  identity and self-importance.
       Now,   consider  the  following  problem:   you  have   been
  imprisoned  inside a large inflated plastic bag.  You  have  been
  given  a sledghammer and a scalpel.  Which tool will get you  out
  faster?  The  answer I am looking for is the scalpel:  a  way  of
  getting out of large,  inflated, plastic bags is to apply as much
  force  as  possible to as sharp a point  as  possible.  Magicians
  agree on this principle - the key to successful ritual work is  a
  "single-pointed will".  A mystic may try to expand  consciousness
  in all directions simultaneously,  to encompass more and more  of
  the One,  to embrace the One,  perhaps even to transcend the One,
  but  this is hard,  and most people aren't up to it in  practise.
  Rather than expand in all directions simultaneously,  it is  much
  easier to *limit* an excursion of consciousness in one direction,
  and  the  more  precise and well-defined  that  limitation  to  a
  specific  direction,  the  easier it is to get out  of  the  bag.
  Limitation of consciousness is the trick we use to cope with  the
  complexity  of  life in modern society,  and as long  as  we  are
  forced  to  live under this yoke we can make a virtue  out  of  a
  necessity,   and   use  our  carefully  cultivated   ability   to
  focus  attention  on  minutiae  to burst  out  of  the  bag.
       What limitation means in practise is that magical ritual  is
  designed  to  produce specific and highly  *limited*  changes  in
  consciousness,  and  this  is  done by using a  specific  map  of
  consciousness,  and there are symbolic correspondences within the
  map which can be used in the construction of a ritual - I discuss
  this later. The principle of limitation is a key to understanding
  the  structure  of  magical  ritual,  and  a  key  to  successful
  To   summarise   the  last  two  sections,   I  would   say   the
  characteristics of a "good" ritual are:
       1.  Entry  into  magical consciousness and  the  release  of
           "magical energy".
       2.   A limitation of consciousness to channel that energy in
            the correct direction, with minimal "splatter".
  Without  the  energy there is nothing  to  channel.  Without  the
  limitation, energy splatters in all directions and takes the path
  of minimal psychic resistance to earth.  A magical ritual is  the
  calculated shifting and limitation of consciousness.
  4. Essential Steps
       There is never going to be agreement about what is essential
  in  a ritual and what is not,  any more than there will  ever  be
  agreement about what makes a good novel.  That doesn't mean there
  is  nothing worth discussing.  The steps I have enumerated  below
  are  suggestions  which  were handed down to me,  and  a  lot  of
  insight (not mine) has gone into them;  they conform to a Western
  magical  tradition  which has not changed in its  essentials  for
  thousands of years,  and I hand them on to you in the same spirit
  as I received them.
       These are the steps:
       1. Open the Circle
       2. Open the Gates
       3. Invocation to the Powers
       4. Statement of Intention and Sacrifice
       5. Main Ritual
       6. Dismissal of Powers
       7. Close the Gates
       8. Close the Circle
  4.1 Open the Circle
       The  Circle is the place where magical work is carried  out.
  It  might  literally be circle on the ground,  or it could  be  a
  church,  or a stone ring, or a temple, or it might be an imagined
  circle inscribed in the aethyr,  or it could be any spot hallowed
  by  tradition. In some cases the Circle is  created  specifically
  for one piece of work and then closed, while in other cases (e.g.
  a  church) the building is consecrated and all the  space  within
  the  building  is  treated as if it is an open  circle  for  long
  periods of time.  I don't want to deal too much in  generalities,
  so  I  will deal with the common case where a circle  is  created
  specifically  for  one  piece  of work,  for  a  period  of  time
  typically less than one day.
       The Circle is the first important magical limit:  it creates
  an area within which the magical work takes place.  The  magician
  tries  to control everything which takes place within the  Circle
  (limitation),  and so a circle half-a-mile across is impractical.
  The  Circle  marks  the boundary between the rest  of  the  world
  (going  on its way as normal),  and a magical space where  things
  are  most  definitely  not going on as  normal  (otherwise  there
  wouldn't  be  any  point in carrying out a ritual  in  the  first
  place).  There is a dislocation:  the region inside the circle is
  separated  from the rest of space and is free to go its own  way.
  There are some types of magical work where it may not be sensible
  to have a circle (e.g.  working with the natural elements in  the
  world  at large) but unless you are working with a Power  already
  present in the environment in its normal state,  it is useful  to
  work within a circle.
       The  Circle may be a mark on the ground,  or something  more
  intangible still;  my own preference is an imagined line of  blue
  fire drawn in the air.  It is in the nature of consciousness that
  anything  taken  as real and treated as real will  eventually  be
  accepted  as  Real - and if you want to start  a  good  argument,
  state  that  money doesn't exist and isn't Real.  From  a  ritual
  point  of  view  the  Circle is  a  real  boundary,  and  if  its
  usefulness is to be maintained it should be treated with the same
  respect  as  an electrified  fence.  Pets,  children  and  casual
  onlookers  should  be kept out of it.  Whatever  procedures  take
  place within the Circle should only take place within the  Circle
  and in no other place,  and conversely,  your normal life  should
  not  intrude  on the Circle unless it is part of  your  intention
  that it should. Basically, if you don't want a circle, don't have
  one,  but if you do have one,  decide what it means and stick  to
  it.  There  is a school of thought which believes a circle  is  a
  "container for power", and another which believes a circle "keeps
  out the nasties". I subscribe to both and neither of these points
  of view.  From a symbolic point of view,  the Circle marks a  new
  "circle of normality",  a circle different from my usual  "circle
  of  normality",  making it possible to keep the two  "regions  of
  consciousness"  distinct  and  separate.   The  magician   leaves
  everyday life behind when the Circle is opened, and returns to it
  when  the  Circle  is  closed,  and for  the  duration  adopts  a
  discipline  of thought and deed which is specific to the type  of
  magical work being undertaken; this procedure is not so different
  from  that  in many kinds of laboratory where  people  work  with
  hazardous  materials.   The  circle  is  both  a  barrier  and  a
  container.  This  is a kind of psychic sanitation,  and in  magic
  "sanity"  and  "sanitary"  have more  in  common  than  spelling.
       Opening  a Circle usually involves drawing a circle  in  the
  air  or on the ground,  accompanied by an invocation to  guardian
  spirits,  or  the elemental powers of the four quarters,  or  the
  four watchtowers,  or the archangels,  or whatever.  The  details
  aren't so important as practicing it until you can do it in  your
  sleep,  and  you should carry it out with the same attitude as  a
  soldier on formal guard duty outside a public building.  You  are
  establishing  a perimeter under the watchful "eyes"  of  whatever
  guardians  you  have requested to keep an eye on  things,  and  a
  martial  attitude  and  sense of  discipline  creates  the  right
  psychological mood.
  4.2 Opening the Gates
       The  Gates in question are the boundary between  normal  and
  magical  consciousness.  Just  as opening the Circle  limits  the
  ritual in space,  so opening the Gates limits the ritual in time.
  Not  everyone opens the Gates as a separate activity;  opening  a
  Circle can be considered a de-facto opening of Gates,  but  there
  are  good  reasons  for  keeping  the  two  activities  separate.
  Firstly,  it  is convenient to be able to open a  Circle  without
  going into magical consciousness;  despite what I said about  not
  bringing normal consciousness into the Circle,  rules are made to
  be  broken,  and  there are times when something  unpleasant  and
  unwanted  intrudes on normal consciousness,  and a Circle can  be
  used  to  keep it out - like pulling blankets over your  head  at
  night.  Secondly,  opening the Gates as a separate activity means
  they   can   be  tailored  to  the  specific  type   of   magical
  consciousness  you are trying to enter.  Thirdly,  just  as  bank
  vaults  and  ICBMs have two keys,  so it is prudent to  make  the
  entry into magical consciousness something you are not likely  to
  do  on a whim,  and the more distinct steps there are,  the  more
  conscious  effort is required.  Lastly - and it is  an  important
  point  -  I open the circle with a martial attitude,  and  it  is
  useful  to have a breathing space to switch out of that mood  and
  into  the  mood  needed for the  invocation.  Opening  the  Gates
  provides an opportunity to make that switch.
  4.3 Invocation to the Powers
       The  invocation to the Powers is often an occasion for  some
  of the most laboured, leaden, pompous, grandiose and turgid prose
  ever written or recited. Tutorial books on magic are full of this
  stuff.  "Oh glorious moon,  wreathed in aetherial light...".  You
  know the stuff.  If you are invoking Saturn during a waxing  moon
  you  might be justified in going on like Brezhnev addressing  the
  Praesidium of the Soviet Communist Party,  but as in every  other
  aspect of magic,  the trick isn't what you do, but how you do it,
  and  interminable invocations aren't the answer.  On a  practical
  level,  reading a lengthy invocation from a sheet of paper in dim
  candlelight requires so much conscious effort that it is hard  to
  "let  go",  so I like keep things simple and to  the  point,  and
  practice  until  I can do an invocation without having  to  think
  about  it too much,  and that leaves room for the more  important
  "consciousness  changing"  aspect  of  the  invocation.
       An invocation is like a ticket for a train, and if you can't
  find  the  train  there isn't much point in  having  the  ticket.
  Opening   the  Gates  gets  you  to  the  doorstep   of   magical
  consciousness,  but it is the invocation which gets you onto  the
  train  and  propels  you  to the  right  place,  and  that  isn't
  something which "just happens" unless you have a natural aptitude
  for  the aspect of consciousness you are  invoking.  However,  it
  does happen;  people tend to begin their magical work with  those
  areas of consciousness where they feel most at home,  so they may
  well have some initial success.  Violent,  evil people do violent
  and  evil conjurations;  loving people invoke love - most  people
  begin  their  magical work with "a free ticket" to  some  altered
  state  of  consciousness,  but in general,  invoking  a  specific
  aspect  of  consciousness  takes  practice  and  I  don't  expect
  immediate  results when I invoke something new.  If  interminable
  tracts of deathless prose work for you,  then fine, but I find it
  hard to keep a straight face when piety and pomposity combine  to
  produce the sort of invocations to be found in print.  I name  no
       I   can't   give  a  prescription   for   entering   magical
  consciousness.  Well devised rituals, practised often, have a way
  of shifting consciousness which is surprising and  unexpected.  I
  don't know why this happens; it just does. I suspect the peculiar
  character of ritual,  the way it involves the senses and occupies
  mind and body simultaneously,  its numinous and exotic symbolism,
  the intensity of preparation and execution, involve dormant parts
  of  the mind,  or at least engage the normal parts in an  unusual
  way.  Using  ritual  to  cause shifts  in  consciousness  is  not
  exceptionally  difficult;  getting  the  results  you  want,  and
  avoiding unexpected and undesired side-effects is harder.  Ritual
  is not a rational procedure.  The symbolism of magic is intuitive
  and bubbles out of a very deep well;  the whole process of ritual
  effectively bypasses the rational mind,  so expecting the outcome
  of  a  ritual  to  obey the  dictates  of  reason  is  completely
  irrational.  The image of a horse is appropriate:  anyone can get
  on the back of a wild mustang, but reaching the point where horse
  and  rider  go  in  the same direction at  the  same  time  takes
  practice.  The  process  of limitation described in  these  notes
  can't  influence the natural waywardness of the  animal,  but  at
  least  it  is a method for ensuring that the horse gets  a  clear
  4.4 Statement of Intention and Sacrifice
  If   magical  ritual  is  not  to  be  regarded  as  a  form   of
  bizarre  entertainment carried out for its own sake,  then  there
  has to be a reason for doing it - healing,  divination,  personal
  development,  initiation, and the like. If it is healing, then it
  is usually healing for one specific person, and then again, it is
  probably  not  just  healing in general,  but  healing  for  some
  specific complaint,  within some period of time. The statement of
  intention  is  the culmination of a process of  limitation  which
  begins when the Circle is opened, and to return to the analogy of
  the plastic bag,  the statement of intention is like the blade on
  the scalpel - the more precise the intention, the more the energy
  of the ritual is concentrated to a single point.
       The observation that rituals work better if their energy  is
  focussed  by intention is in accord with experience  in  everyday
  life:  any change involving other people,  no matter how small or
  insignificant,  tends  to meet with opposition.  If you  want  to
  change the brand of coffee in the coffee machine,  or if you want
  to rearrange the furniture in the office, someone will object. If
  you  want  to drive a new road  through  the  countryside,  local
  people object.  If you want to raise taxes, everyone objects. The
  more  people  you involve in a change,  the more  opposition  you
  encounter,  and in magic the same principle holds, because from a
  magical point of view the whole fabric of the universe is held in
  place by an act of collective intention involving everything from
  God downwards. When you perform a ritual you are setting yourself
  up  against  a collective will to keep most things the  way  they
  are,  and  your  ritual will succeed only if certain  things  are
       1. you are a being of awesome will.
       2.  you  have allies.  The universe is  changing,  there  is
       always  a  potential  for  change,  and  if  your  intention
       coincides with an existing will to bring about that  change,
       your ritual can act as a catalyst.
       3.  you  limit your intention to  minimise  opposition;  the
       analogy is the diamond cutter who exploits natural lines  of
       cleavage to split a diamond.
       Suppose  you want to bring peace to the world.  This  is  an
  admirable  intention,  but the average person would have no  more
  effect  (with or without magic) on the peacefulness of the  world
  than  they would if they attempted to smash Mount Everest with  a
  rubber  hammer.  Rather than worry about the peacefulness of  the
  whole  world,  why  not  use  your  ritual  to  create  a  better
  relationship  with  your spouse,  or your boss,  or  someone  who
  really annoys you?  And why not work on the specific issues which
  are the main source of friction. And try to improve things within
  a specified period of time. And do it in a way which respects the
  other person's right to continue being a pain in the arse if they
  so  wish?  This  is  the idea behind  focussing  or  limiting  an
  intention. Having said all this, there are a lot of people in the
  world  who would appreciate some peace,  and perhaps  your  grand
  intention  to bring peace might catch a wave and help a  few,  so
  don't  let  me  put you off,  but as a general  principle  it  is
  sensible to avoid unnecessary opposition by making the  intention
  as precise as possible.  Think about sources of  opposition,  and
  about  ways  of circumventing that opposition - there  may  be  a
  simple  way  which avoids making waves,  and that is  when  magic
  works  best.  Minimising  opposition also reduces the  amount  of
  backlash you can expect - quite often the simplest path to  earth
  for any intention is through the magician,  and if there is a lot
  of  opposition that is what happens.  [The very act  of  invoking
  power  creates  a  resonance and a natural  channel  through  the
       I  try to analyse the possible outcomes and consequences  of
  my intentions. There is a popular view that "if it harms none, do
  what you will".  I can think of many worse moral principles,  and
  it is better than most,  but it is still naive.  It pretends that
  it is theoretically possible to live without treading on  another
  person's  toes,  it leaves me to make unilateral decisions  about
  what  is  or  is  not harmful to others,  and  it  is  so  wildly
  unrealistic,  even in the context of everyday life,  that it only
  seems  to  make  sense  if I intend to live  in  seclusion  in  a
  wilderness living off naturally occuring nuts and berries (having
  asked  the squirrels for permission).  If it is used as  a  moral
  principle  in  magic,  then it draws  an  artificial  distinction
  between  magical  work and the "push me,  push you/if  it  moves,
  shoot it, if it doesn't, cut it down" style of contemporary life.
  It  completely emasculates free-will.  I prefer to  believe  that
  just about anything I do is going to have an impact on someone or
  something,  and  there are no cute moral  guidelines;  there  are
  actions and there are outcomes.  The aim is not to live according
  to  guidelines,  but  to  understand as  fully  as  possible  the
  consequences of the things we do,  and to decide, in the light of
  our understanding (which has hopefully kept pace with our power),
  whether we are prepared to live with the outcomes.
  And so to sacrifice.  There is a problem here. The problem arises
  from  the  perception that in magic you don't get  something  for
  nothing,  and if you want to bring about change through magic you
  have to pay for it in some way.  So far so good. The question is:
  what  can you give in return?  There is a widespread belief  that
  you  can sacrifice a living creature,  and while  most  magicians
  (self included) abhor the idea,  the perpetuation of this idea is
  still  being  used  as  a stick to beat  the  magical  and  pagan
  community about the head. The issue is further complicated by the
  fact  that  if  one  looks  at  surviving  shamanistic  practices
  worldwide,  or  looks at the origins of  most  religions,  ritual
  animal sacrifice is endemic.  That doesn't make it right,  and  I
  have  an unshakeable prejudice that it isn't an acceptable  thing
  to  do,  but I am only too aware of my hypocrisy when I  order  a
  chicken curry, so I'm not going to stand on a soapbox and rant on
  about  it.
       What  I  prefer  to  do is to examine  what  the  notion  of
  sacrifice means.  What can one legitimately sacrifice?  You can't
  legitimately sacrifice anything which is not yours to  give,  and
  so the answer to the question "what can I sacrifice" lies in  the
  answer to the question "what am I, and what have I got to give?".
  You  certainly aren't any other living being,  and if  you  don't
  make  the mistake of identifying yourself with  your  possessions
  you  will see that the only sacrifice you can make  is  yourself,
  because  that  is all you have to give.  Every  ritual  intention
  requires  that you sacrifice some part of yourself,  and  if  you
  don't  make the sacrifice willingly then either the  ritual  will
  fail,  or  the  price  will be exacted anyway.  I  don't  have  a
  rational justification for this statement, and it certainly isn't
  based  on  "karma"  or a paranoid feeling  that  accountants  are
  everywhere;  the belief was handed on to me as part of my magical
  training,  and having observed the way in which "magical  energy"
  is utilised to carry out intentions,  it makes sense. Each person
  has  a certain amount of what I will call "life energy" at  their
  disposal  -  some people call it "personal power",  and  you  can
  sacrifice some of that energy to power the ritual. Sacrifice does
  not  mean turning the knife on yourself (and there are plenty  of
  people  who  do that).  What it means in  ordinary  down-to-earth
  terms  is  that you promise to do something in  return  for  your
  intention,  and you link the sacrifice to the intention in such a
  way that the sacrifice focuses energy along the direction of your
  intention. For example, my cat was ill and hadn't eaten for three
  weeks,  so,  as  a last resort,  fearing she was about to die  of
  starvation,  I carried out a ritual to restore her appetite,  and
  as  a  sacrifice I ate nothing for 24 hours.  I  used  my  (real)
  hunger to drive the intention, and she began eating the following
       Any  personal  sacrifice which hurts enough engages  a  deep
  impulse to make the hurt go away,  and the magician can use  that
  impulse  to bring about magical change by linking the removal  of
  the pain to the accomplishment of the intention. And I don't mean
  magical   masochism.   We   are  (subject  to  all   caveats   on
  generalisations) creatures of habit who find comfort and security
  by  living our lives in a particular way,  and a change  to  that
  habit  and routine causes some discomfort and an opposing  desire
  to return to the original state: that desire can be used. Just as
  a ritual intends to change the world in some way,  so a sacrifice
  forces  us to change ourselves in some way,  and  that  liberates
  magical  energy.  If you want to heal someone,  don't just  do  a
  ritual and leave it at that;  become involved in caring for  them
  in  some way,  and that *active* caring can act as a channel  for
  whatever power you have invoked. If you want to use magic to help
  someone out of a mess, provide them with active, material help as
  well;  conversely,  if you can't be bothered to provide  material
  help,  your  ritual will be infected with that same  inertia  and
  apathy - true will,  will out, and in many cases our true will is
  to  flatter  the ego and do nothing  substantive.  I  speak  from
       From a magical perspective each one of us is a magical being
  with  a vast potential of power,  but that is denied to us by  an
  innate,  fanatical,  and unbelievably deep-rooted desire to  keep
  the  world  in  a regular orbit  serving  our  own  needs.  Self-
  sacrifice  disturbs  this equilibrium and lets out some  of  that
  energy, and that is why egoless devotion and self-sacrifice has a
  reputation for working miracles.
  4.5 The Main Ritual
       After  invoking the Powers and having stated  the  intention
  and  sacrifice,  there would seem to be nothing more to  do,  but
  most people like to prolong the contact with the Powers and carry
  out  some  kind of symbolic ritual for a period of  time  varying
  from  minutes to days.  Ritual as I have described it so far  may
  seem like a cut-and-dried exercise,  but it isn't;  it is more of
  an art than a science,  and once the Circle and Gates are opened,
  and the Powers are "in attendance",  whatever science there is in
  ritual  gives  way to art.  Magicians operate in  a  world  where
  ordinary    things    have   complex   symbolic    meanings    or
  correspondences,   and  they  use  a  selection  of   consecrated
  implements or "power objects" in their work. The magician can use
  this palette of symbols within a ritual to paint of picture which
  signifies an intention in a non-verbal,  non-rational way, and it
  is  this ability to communicate an intention through every  sense
  of the body,  through every level of the mind, which gives ritual
  its power. I can't say any more about this because it is personal
  and unique to every magician, and each one develops a style which
  works best for them.
  4.6 Dismissal of Powers
       Once  the  ritual  is complete the Powers  are  thanked  and
  dismissed.  This  begins the withdrawal of consciousness back  to
  its pre-ritual state.
  4.7 Close Gates/Close Circle
       The final steps are closing the Gates (thus sealing off  the
  altered  state  of consciousness) and closing  the  Circle  (thus
  returning to the everyday world). The Circle should not be closed
  if  there is any suspicion that the withdrawal from  the  altered
  state has not been completed fully.  I like to carry out a sanity
  check  between  closing  the Gates and  closing  the  Circle.  It
  sometimes  happens  that although the magician goes  through  the
  steps  of closing down,  the attention is not  engaged,  and  the
  magician remains in the altered state.  This is not a good  idea.
  The  energy  of  that state will continue to  manifest  in  every
  intention  in everyday life,  and all sorts of  unplanned  things
  will  start to happen.  A related problem is that every  magician
  will find sooner or later an altered state which compensates  for
  some of their perceived inadequacies (in the way that many people
  like to get drunk at parties),  and they will not want to let  go
  of  it because it makes them feel good,  so they come out of  the
  ritual in an altered state without realising they have failed  to
  close down correctly.  This is called obsession, and it is one of
  the interesting difficulties of magical work.
       Closing down correctly is important if you don't want to end
  up  like a badly cracked pot.  If you don't feel happy  that  the
  Powers  have  been  completely dismissed  and  the  Gates  closed
  correctly, go back and repeat the steps again.
  5. Maps & Correspondences
  If  consciousness is imagined as a space we can move  around  in,
  then it is a space of several dimensions.  An indespensible  tool
  for  any magician is a method for describing this space  and  its
  dimensions,   a  method  to  specify  the  "the  coordinates   of
  consciousness",  like giving a map reference.  The magician  uses
  such  a  descriptive method to say "this is where I want  to  get
  to",  and you can imagine a ritual as a vehicle which  transports
  him or her to the destination and back again.
       A descriptive method of this type is one of the most obvious
  and  characteristic features of a particular  magical  technique,
  because  states  of consciousness are usually described  using  a
  dense mesh of symbolism and metaphor,  and if a magical tradition
  has  been around for any length of time it becomes identified  by
  the details of this symbolism.  Given the tendency for maps to be
  confused  with territory,  there is a tendency for  symbolism  to
  take  on  a life of its own and become completely  detached  from
  authentic  magical technique.  People confuse  magical  symbolism
  with magic; its use as a coordinate system is lost, vast tomes of
  drivel are written, and every manner of absurdity follows.
       I am a Kabbalist by training and use a map of  consciousness
  called "The Tree of Life".  This map has been coloured in using a
  thousand  years  of  symbolism,  and the result  is  called  "the
  Correspondences",  and it is a system which allows me to navigate
  around the dimensions of consciousness with some precision. There
  are many other maps,  some well worn by history, some not, and my
  choice  is  a  matter of personal preference.  It  works  for  me
  because  of the kind of person I am,  but it is only a map and  I
  wouldn't  pretend that there was anything  intrinsically  special
  about it.
       Many  magicians operate within a  religious  framework.  The
  Christian Mass is a magical ritual par excellence,  and there are
  several other magical rituals associated with Christianity.  Some
  magicians  work  within  a  pantheon  -  Graeco-Roman,  Egyptian,
  Scandinavian, Aztec or whatever. Some (e.g. Crowley) invent their
  own religion.  A characteristic of all these systems is that they
  provide  a  complex mesh of symbol and metaphor,  a map  for  the
  magician  to  work  within.   For  any  pantheon  it  is  usually
  straightforward (with some bending,  stretching and hitting  with
  a hammer) to identify a personification for the following aspects
  of consciousness:
       heaviness, old-age, stagnation, limitation, inertia
       creativity, inspiration, vision, leadership
       violence, force, destructiveness
       harmony, integrity, balance, wholeness
       love,  hate,  passion, sensual beauty, aesthetics, emotional
       power, nurture
       reason, abstraction, communication, conceptualisation, logic
       imagination, instinct, the unconscious
       practicality, pragmatism, stolidity, materialism
  And  once  we have gods and goddesses (or  saints)  to  personify
  these qualities, a weave of metaphors and associations elaborates
  the picture;  the Moon is instinct,  fire is both destructive and
  energetic,  death is a sythe, air and mercury are "the same", and
  so on.  The meaning of a symbol is personal - white means "death"
  to some and "purity" to others. What matters is that the magician
  should  have  a  clear map,  and with it the  ability  to  invoke
  different  aspects  of consciousness by using  the  symbolism  of
  gods,  goddesses,  archangels,  demons or whatever.  It does  not
  matter  whether the magician believes in the literal  reality  of
  the  territory or not,  as long as he or she treats the map  with
  respect  and does not muddy the water by dabbling with  too  many
  different maps. There are two principal ways in which maps become
  muddled,  and as the main theme of these notes is the precise use
  of limitation in conjuction with magical consciousness,  I  think
  it  is  worth mentioning what I see as  potential  pitfalls.  The
  first pitfall is mixing systems; the second is working with other
       There is a tendency nowadays to muddle different systems  of
  correspondences together,  to add Egyptian gods to a  Kabbalistic
  ritual, to say that Tanith is really the same as Artemis, or that
  Cybele and Astarte and Demeter are "just" different names for the
  Mother Goddess,  to find parallels between Thor and Mars, between
  Kali and Hecate,  between the Virgin Mary and Isis,  until,  like
  different colours of paint mixed together,  everything ends up in
  shades  of  muddy brown.  This unifying force  is  everywhere  as
  people find universal themes and try to make links between groups
  and systems.
       It is (in my opinion) a bad idea to mix systems together  in
  a  spirit  of  ecumenical  fervour.   Correspondences  are   like
  intentions:  the sharper and more clearly defined they  are,  the
  better they work.  Despite a few similarities, the Virgin Mary is
  nothing  like Isis,  and Demeter has very little in  common  with
  Astarte.   Syncretism   usually  takes  place  slowly  over   the
  centuries,  so  that  for  most people there  is  no  distinction
  between the classical Greek and Roman pantheons and Mercury is  a
  synonym for Hermes, but to do it in real-time in your own head is
  a recipe for muddle-headedness.
       Symbols  can  be  diffused when people work  together  in  a
  group.  It  is  a mistake to believe that "power"  is  raised  in
  direct  proportion  to  the number of people  taking  part  in  a
  ritual. Unless people have been trained together and have similar
  "maps",  then  the  ritual will have a different effect  on  each
  person,  and  although  more  power may be  raised,  it  will  be
  unfocussed  and  will probably earth  itself  through  unexpected
  channels.  When  people  begin working together there will  be  a
  period  of  time when their work together will probably  be  less
  effective  than any one of them working alone,  but after a  time
  their  "maps"  begin  to converge and  things  start  to  improve
  dramatically.  There  is  nothing magical about this -  it  is  a
  phenomenon of teams of people in general. I don't like "spectator
  rituals" for this reason;  you are either in it or your are  out,
  and if you are out, you are out the door.
       Does  it matter what map,  what system of correspendences  a
  person  uses?  Is  there  a "best" set?  This  is  an  impossible
  question to answer.  What can be said is that working within  any
  magical  framework incurs a cost.  The more effective  a  magical
  system is at limiting, engaging and mobilising the creative power
  of  consciousness,   the  more  effective  it  is  at   ensnaring
  consciousness  within its own assumptions and limitations.  If  a
  person works within a belief system where the ultimate nature  of
  God is pure,  unbounded love, joy and bliss, then that closes off
  other possibilities.
       Without sitting in judgement of any set of beliefs,  I would
  say  that  the  best  belief  system  and  the  best  system   of
  correspondences  is one which allows consciousness to  roam  over
  the greatest range of possibilities, and permits it the free-will
  to choose its own limitations. And that is a belief in itself.
  6. Conclusion
       The  gist of these notes is that ritual is a  technique  for
  focussing magical power through the deliberate use of limitation.
  Limitation comes from the belief system of the magician,  and the
  set  of  correspondences  used to  create  symbolism  within  the
  ritual. Further limitation comes from the structure of the ritual
  itself,  and  ultimately from the statement  of  intention.  With
  practise  these elements add up to a single-mindedness which  can
  shift  consciousness  out  of its normal orbit.

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