Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No.5. Vol. 1, Autumnal Equinox 2003
A Word on Ritual
Welcome to the autumnal edition of the JWMT, an issue devoted to ritual. One immediately pictures the Sâr, in full regalia, invoking an array of Spirits, Houses, and Demons, to perform his Art of terrible complexity. But there's much more to ritual than this. What exactly are we doing in performing a ritual act? Taking breakfast is a great example. The coffee must be of just the right confection, the knife, spoon, cup, must be placed just so, we sit in the right place to read the paper correctly, and so on. What are we doing here? We are "setting ourselves to rights" with the world. Indeed our whole actions on waking are to perform this "joining". Accomplished correctly, we are "fortified" and may sally forth to conduct our daily business, ready to put our view at meetings or finish off that important piece of work. Get it wrong (overslept, out of coffee, spilling something, arguing with the kids, &c), and our day is "out of kilter", we're not "framed".
Ritual is thus a way to "create a perfect space" for the purpose in hand. Here is a thought-provoking piece of writing :
On Mattathias' (Maccabaeus) death, control of the movement (the Zealots) passed to his son, Judas, who 'withdrew into the wilderness, and lived like wild animals in the hills with his companions, eating nothing but wild plants to avoid contracting defilement' (2 Macc. 5:27). This attests to what will eventually become an important principle and ritual - that of purifying oneself by withdrawing into the wilderness and, as a species of initiation, living for a time in seclusion….It is, in effect, the equivalent of the modern 'retreat'. In the New Testament, of course, the supreme exemplar of self-purification is John the Baptist, who 'preached in the wilderness' and ate 'locusts and honey'. It must be remembered that Jesus, too, undergoes a probationary initiatory experience in the desert. ("The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception", M. Baigent & R. Leigh, Cape 1991, pp 294-5, Corgi edition, 1992).
Thus ritual is akin to a re-creation of initiation ; one must 'withdraw' into that 'special place' where one may "see clearly". And the notion of the "desert" is important too ; the structure of the ritual first creates the "desert" before filling it with the chosen ingredients. And of course, the notion that "as above, so below" is paramount : it is within oneself that one creates the ritual, the rest is for greater focus ; ideally , one could perform a ritual entirely in the inner consciousness, with no exterior manifestation whatsoever.
The second notion I'd like to touch upon, is the EFFECT of ritual. One may conceive quite a limited objective, as in the case of Alex Sumner's 'Money Spells' featured here. However, quite often the immediate objective will gradually give way to quite a long lasting sequence of repercussions ; you're not just buying a chocolate bar, you're contracting into an obligation with various "forces", and these forces will certainly fulfill their part of the "bargain" if you do yours !
An example. I performed a ritual nearly ten years ago, with the purpose of consecrating my Path, as it were. For this ritual, which was to be perfomed in the lonely farm house where I was living at the time, in the midst of a forest on a plateau in southern France, I conceived the script, the decoration, the apparel, and the way the altar would be dressed, including a pentacle specially drawn for the occasion.
This was to be a dedication, so an offering was necessary, which ought to be connected symbolically with the Force with which I was "contracting". At the time, I had obviously found aspects of this Force which seemed to me to "accord" most exactly with the goal I was setting myself ; I was attuned to that vibration.
The ritual passed off perfectly well, and I knew with certainty that the offering had "hit the mark" and that I had "signed the contract".
Since then, a Trail has unfolded ; as my perceptions of this force have evolved, magnified, deepened, so the encounters, partnerships, events, have multiplied : "sub-contracting", as it were. What I'm trying to put over is that a ritual is "binding" ; it's going to exert its influence "forever" ..you'd better be pretty sure that you really "want" that which you're contracting for….
The articles in this semester's offering aim to show the varieties of ritual possible in the Western Mystery Tradition, from gaining wealth to gaining the ultimate knowledge of Righteousness, by way of an Ecossist Masonic staircase or others of the variety of ways available.
When you go into the desert, you'll come back changed, and right at the step of the door where the path starts ; never forget that :)