Sometimes people argue about the superiority of modern magic versus traditional magic with the end that one must be exclusive of the other. I've often found in life that if someone wants to tell me that I can only be connected with them to the exclusion of others I want to be connected to, unless they have a good reason, it doesn't play out best to go with the one demanding exclusion. Unfortunately in the case of magic it's often both sides that want to shit on the other side.
In my experience though the best magicians have tool kits with multiple deep pockets. They don't dabble and they don't appropriate. They dive deeply into multiple streams and as a result can utilize the appropriate tool with an understanding of it's context and proper use. With that in mind, there is room for modern and traditional methods of magic.
A lot of the methods of modern magic provide simple quick solutions to small things, and they're enriched by the knowledge and experience traditional magical work provides. I do find that over the years I have grown to rely more and more on traditional systems of magic to provide a more complete system and worldview. Modern magic, however, provides the skills needed for traditional magic, and helps create the spiritual development needed for traditional magic. In fact, many of the magical orders responsible for developing the modern methods of magic structured themselves exactly for that purpose.
The problem, however, is that sometimes modern magic leads people to ideas that cause them to stall out and go nowhere. Some of this is because of shitty books and poor education, some of it is due to misunderstanding, and some of it is just due to bad material being passed off as good. I don't want to get into the specifics of sources. I want to address some silly ideas, and I'm not going to get into ideology, but just some practices. I'm going to try to keep it to a limited number, probably two, that came up today.
So two different people brought up issues with this today. One of them was talking about doing the Lesser Key and claimed to have been doing it since they were young. The follow up to this statement was to ask people's preference for starting with the LIRP and ending with the LBRP versus starting and ending with the LBRP, because of course, she's always started and finished with these because, research shows that's why they exist.
Another friend was asking about how to do the Merkavah stuff I posted yesterday. He asked about what to open with and similar questions, which at first left me with a sense of “huh, what are you even talking about?” Then it DAWNED (bad pun) on me what his background was. So it was reasonable that he was asking since that's how he learned to do magic. His go to was immediately the LBRP, LHR, etc. but those clearly had nothing to do with this system.
The problem here is that the Golden Dawn system assumes that these rituals, and the rest of the system, are a framework into which everything fits. That's just not remotely the case. When people really examine these rituals, the way they fit into the Golden Dawn system, and their effects, along with notes from the original practitioners of the system their purpose becomes pretty clear. Unfortunately they're often left to the level of examination which stops with “Well, the Knowledge lecture said to do this” or “Donald Michael Kraig said that.”
These rituals are awesome in that they're part of the road to making you awesome. They form the basis of a star lit path leading to the inner sanctum. They just aren't the inner sanctum itself. These rituals deal with the relationship between your subtle body and the LVX. Certain ones deal with the light in the form of the point, or the concentration of the soul of the magician, in other cases they deal with the light in extension, or radiance, the divine interaction between the soul and the harmony of the universe. This is why they are part of the daily practice of the developing magician at various phases in his development, because they are built to catalyze that development. They are not however particularly effective as banishings or openings, despite the fact that they provide formulas which hint at how a proper magical ritual, including banishings and openings, should be structured. In fact, that's the extent of their real applicable worth in conjunction with the Solomonic tradition, they provide a skeleton on the conceptual structure used in some forms of Solomonic magic.
So, what does a ritual begin with? First, ablution, or cleansing, primarily of the magician. This can involve prayers, rituals, fasting, but most basically it needs to involve washing, and usually, changing your clothes.
After this, you'll have some opening or establishment of the space, and possibly some cleansing of the space. Different traditions and different preferences may order these in different ways. You might have a general cleansing and then the consecration of the space, then maybe a more specific cleansing then an opening (this is the way I like to do things if doing a big ritual process). The opening, cleansing, and consecration might be all one ritual (the way I like to do things if doing a small ritual). You might dispense with the initial cleansing and just consecrate cleanse and open, you might cleanse consecrate and open, or your cleansing and consecration might be the same.
So what does each do and how? Again, different systems will have different expectations, and some systems won't need all this, but if you need it, you should probably at least match it to the system you're doing.
So the sparks notes version...
The idea - Wash away those things which are impurities. Unburden your soul. Assert your purity. Center yourself on yourself as a magician, competent and prepared for the work at hand. Remove those things which are not part of you being that.
Stuff to do – literally take a bath. Or maybe just wash your hands and feet, I like to at least wipe down the torso, pits, and junk. Spring water, holy water, or water with hyssop oil are good options. Change your clothes. Pray to be cleansed. Meditation, confession, anointing with oil or ash, and eucharistic practices can work well here too, as can rituals specifically intended as cleansing or purification rituals.
The idea – if your space is not dedicated for magic it has a lot of other influences you might want to remove or reduce those before you even begin dedicating or opening the space for ritual
Stuff to do – sprinkle holy water. Clean up stuff that is in the way, distracting, or not part of your ritual kit. Burn some incense.
Consecrating the Space:
The idea – your ritual space is a connection between you as a divine operator within the universe (You as the local Demiurgos) and the universe as the substance of the divine harmony. The space is the fitting together of the divine puzzle pieces that are your soul and the cosmos. It is also the reification of the possibility that you can interact with the substance of creation and make changes to it's essence. The space is therefore both a demarked separation from the world around you an an encapsulation of the totality of your universe.
Stuff to do – Hold on a second and think about the awesomeness of the palpable encapsulation of your divine being united in harmony with the cosmos to create a singularity for the purpose of manifesting reality.
Stuff to do on a practical level – Physically mark out the space. Set up the appropriate elements representing this connection or this moment within the system being worked. Recite the appropriate prayers, petitions, charges, or calls for creating this spiritual presence within the space.
The idea – this will have a lot more variance based upon the system being worked. These might be separated or combined. The cleansing removes spiritual forces that could be damaging for the magician or for his work. When combined the cleansing and opening may also have a component of activating divine or spiritual energy. The opening can be a statement of purpose, a defining of the work being done, or an initial prayer to begin the active part of the ritual. It may also be combined with the prayers to invoke the forces representing the world or part of the world being impacted, as well as the prayers for the presence of divine grace and authority within the magician. But again, this is all going to vary based on the system.
Stuff to do – prayers and incantations, gesticulations with ritual implements involving fire, water or incense, donning of ritual regalia. Again, variance based on the system at work.
The meat of it...
So then at that point, you'll get to whatever it is you're actually doing. Now again, this is one possible framework and you'll note that elements of it do match up to the framework asserted by the LBRP and similar rituals but the way in which they're performed will typically be dramatically different, and the LBRP has within it the meat, or the execution of its purpose.
2. Visualizing Spirits
This has always been a bit of a weird one to me, probably because when I was a kid when you dealt with spirits you dealt with spirits. A very common idea in modern magic coming out of the Golden Dawn however is that you visualize the spirits based on their correspondences and the strength of the visualization is part of how you strengthen the manifestation of the spirit being invoked. Each spirit has a series of attributes to be visualized based on their Kabbalistic correspondences and possibly the correspondences of the letters of their names.
All in all, it comes off a little contrived and doesn't fit most typical theories espoused in studying mysticism and magic, which reflect the idea that the visionary naturally sees the symbols which have been ingrained as part of his culture. He doesn't need to actively generate them in order to lead his vision somewhere. The vision should naturally occur as a result of the stimulus if the stimulus is actually present.
When I was involved with an order in which the leadership had all come from modern Golden Dawn orders they taught this as their standard method of invocation. Invocations were performed by viualizing the appropriate form, and then invoking Kabbalistic god-names to fill the form with power, and then “putting it on like a suit.” The idea was an attempt at “assuming a god-form” but it missed that in both Crowley and Regardie's descriptions of that Golden Dawn practice the magician engages in a very mystical attempt at invoking the actual force, not creating an astral construct. These same individuals also insisted that the Golden Dawn current was broken because it used Egyptian god-forms which were all used up and burnt out. They didn't consider that maybe this isn't how one invokes a spirit...
When you call a spirit you need to be aware and receptive to signs and perceptions which tell you the spirit is there. Maybe you'll see it, maybe you won't, maybe you'll feel it, maybe some characteristic of your environment will change, maybe it won't. Worry about doing the best damn job you can at calling the spirit, and worry about it getting done what it's been called for. Don't distract yourself with mental masturbation by trying to really get a forced visualization of some systematized details down. That's a mental exercise in memory and focused visualization, and those can be useful to magic, but don't let them distract you from the awesome experience that is actual magical contact with the fundamental forces of existence.
3. Get to know the system you're doing and it's spirits
So, your magic might not involve spirits...but either way, get to know the system. Really good magicians know the ins and outs of the systems they practice, the worldview, the traditions, the ideology and mythology, and variant ritual practices. It might not be the only system they use, but when they use it they do it with authenticity, or at the very least, with a firm grounding in the parts of it they're being influenced by.
Taking an unrelated framework and assuming that the universe really does fit into a series of folders in a magical filing cabinet and you can just substitute the appropriate cog to make your one size fits all machine work will not get you nearly as far as using the right tool in the right way. Yes, there are times when a framework and a piece will work well. If there are times though when you need to replace your piece with another equivalent piece from the same folder because the new piece will work better, then the pieces aren't equivalent, and so maybe they won't fit as well into the same gear works.
No one brought up this as a problem today, but it is just a glaring element of the modern one size fits all approach. It also makes it way easier to have rambling discordant series of symbols in a ritual that goes no where, since you're grabbing random cool pieces, and sometimes more cool pieces will be attractive than are actually needed or suited.
4. Trust your angel
Modern magic puts so much focus on Knowledge and Conversation, which is HUGELY important, and it's great that it gets a lot of attention in modern magic, but modern magic also often ignores that you should always be bros with your angel. Your angel is a huge part of your power and authority to do magic. Your angel isn't the only means of agency you have, but it's one of the primary and most important. Your angel is also your guidance. A lot of the basic rituals of modern ceremonial magic are intended to connect you to the forces that lead to a connection with your angel.
Often magicians feel like their angel is inapproachable, or has given up on them, or is too distant or uninterested because they aren't at that point in their work. The thing is, you're always at that point in your work. Your angel is there to be with you and lead you to the full manifestation of your Being. It wants to drive you and push you and help you succeed. So don't turn your back on it by assuming it's turned its back on you. Dive into as much of a relationship with it as you can have.
Anyway, those are some thoughts for avoiding some of the traps that are out there. Again, a lot of what modern magic has to offer is great, and really useful, and is suited to developing the practitioner of traditional magic. That doesn't mean it doesn't have points that can lead to confusion and stifling. Traditional magic is the same way. There are plenty of things out there that can easily be misunderstood, or which may not be complete and might therefore suggest something they don't mean.
All in all though these are some common mishaps I see that are easily avoided. And yeah, 2 became 4. But I expected something like that when I said two. You should also.