Foundations of Ritual
January 26, 2014 Leave a comment
I’ve gotten a few requests from people for me to teach them magic and ritual. This is fantastic; I’m glad people are eager to learn more about themselves, their place in the cosmos, their innate godhood, and everything like that. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I started writing this blog, not just to vent and show people the things I do and how easy(?) putting Hermetics to use is. That said, I’m hesitant to teach, not only because I find myself as-yet unworthy of having students, but also because I don’t consider it possible to teach anyone magic as an isolated subject; one doesn’t “just learn” magic, just as one cannot “just learn” how to build a spaceship or “just learn” protein synthesis. Before I even consider taking up anyone as a student of mine, I insist that they have the proper foundations that provide the context in which ritual magic can be done.
For anyone to learn anything, they need to have a strong foundation upon which they can build. For ritual magic, indeed, any life that involves ritual, those foundations are myth, technology, and reason. Above the others, however, myth is the single-most important factor in any magician’s knowledge.
It’s important to understand what I mean when I say “myth”. I don’t mean a set of fanciful stories about primitive worldviews or pre-scientific notions of how things work. I mean “myth” in the classical sense: the overarching backstory to the world, the legends that fuel our lives, and the causes for things. Myth has been described as “ideology in narrative form” and, to a large extent, I agree with this. Instead of understanding it as a collection of stories, you might interpret myth as “theory” or “philosophy”; myth provides the reason for us to live our lives in the world we happen to live in. If your worldview includes gods, then the mythos you should learn will involve those gods, their natures, their stories, their likes and dislikes, and their adventures and pleasures and wraths. If your worldview is atheistic and focused on energies, then the mythos you should learn will involve the background of energy, how it works, how it flows, and how it affects and is affected by other things in the cosmos. If your worldview is based around emanationist Qabbalah, then the mythos you should learn will involve the sephiroth, the planets, the elements, the angels, God and his different names and forms, and how events in any sphere of existence are reflected, affected, and effected by other spheres. Myth provides the theoretical framework upon which myth is based upon; it can be as terse as tables of correspondences, or it can be as flowery as ancient histories and stories passed down by mouth from one generation to the next.
Technology, on the other hand, might be considered the opposite of myth. Technology is the study of useful skills, arts, and crafts. Knowing how things should be in the ideal world is one thing, but knowing how to accomplish things in the real world is quite another. While technology can involve any sort of tool usage, it can also include methodologies such as procedures to make something, from food to clothing to houses to jewelry. Anything you do down in this world involves technology in some way; learning how to use technology efficiently and powerfully is important in being successful in the world. Something doesn’t have to be hi-tech to be considered technology here; writing systems, calendars, proper usage of heat to cook food, and eloquent speaking can all be considered technologies, as can building windmills, solar panels, computers, jewelry, or orgone accelerators. Technology uses the world around us to make or change something for a particular end with a particular method and process. If you’re a computer scientist, then your technology should consist of programming languages, setting up computers, managing RAID storage systems, and the like. If you’re a chef, then your technology should consist of knives and other implements, cutting foodstuffs for preparation, using ovens and stoves and grills, and presentation of food for aesthetic pleasure, and the like. If you’re a masseuse, then your technology should consist of strong hands and arms, energy manipulation, proper oils for lubrication and sensuality, and the like. Technology is what we do down here to do stuff.
Reason is the bridge that combines mythos with technology for a higher aim. This is essentially logic, but not necessarily the formal logic of mathematicians and legalists. Logic here can consist of that, but it can also consist of emotions (how to feel better), survival (how to keep living), economics (how to become wealthier), or philosophy (how to live better), and other styles. Reason uses myth as its values and axioms, upon which all arguments and actions can be based; everything else that follows is either a logical derivative of myth (e.g. if Aphrodite dislikes Helios for revealing her tryst with Ares, it follows that involving the powers of Venus and the Sun in the same place may not end up well) or an application of mythos with technology (e.g. if Aphrodite likes apples due to the whole Paris-Helen thing, one should probably sacrifice apples to Aphrodite). Reason is what allows myths, tables of correspondences, divine preferences, and stories to be effected in the world using technology, as well as being what allows technological results to form more myths. Understanding the causes and effects of things in a strictly material sense, strictly spiritual sense, and some combination of material and spiritual senses involves reason all around. Figuring out “how things work” in a technological sense within a mythological framework involves reason every step of the way.
So, consider the case where someone wants to build a spaceship. First, they need to understand the mythos of spaceships: the physical theory behind flight both in air and in space, the mathematical knowledge of arithmetic and calculus, the material properties of steel and aluminum, the theoretical programming of spaceship software, gravity, meteorology, and the like. They also need to have a solid technological footing to build spaceships: how to cut metal apart and rivet it back together, how to wire computers together, how to set up an air ventilation and water filtration system, where to purchase fuel from, where and when to launch from, and the like. They also need to have reason: how will the dynamics of space travel affect the integrity of the ship, how will high-acceleration and low-gravity environments affect the human body, where it might be legal to build and launch a spaceship, whether it’s a good idea given one’s finances and health to build and launch a spaceship, and the like. No matter what, though, the theoretical knowledge (the “myth”) behind building spaceships is most important, because one cannot figure out whether a spaceship will work without knowing the mathematics and physics behind spaceships.
All these same things come into play when working with magic, just with different mythos, technology, and reason. This is why I insist that, for people who want to learn my style of magic and Hermetics, someone have an exceptionally strong footing in the classical stories of European literature, such as the Homeric Cycle, the Bible, apocryphal and philosophical texts from different European and Mediterranean religions, tables of correspondences and qualities of the elements and planets and zodiac signs and lunar mansions, astrology and astrological timing, etc. Beyond the others, myth is the single most important foundation someone can and must have in order to learn magic and ritual. All ritual takes place within mythology, whether it’s building a spaceship within the mythos of physics, making a talisman within the mythos of astrology, or making sacrifices within the mythos of a particular deity. The technology can be picked up as one learns and grows, and the reason to link mythos with technology can be cultivated over time to produce new and hitherto-unknown ritual, but myth is that which guides and directs us to pick up either the needed technologies to implement it or the reason to bind it and bridge the gap between technology and myth.
Myth should never be dismissed as something that is merely primitive. Myth is the foundation for our lives, and if all ritual is an extrapolation or extension of life itself, then ritual is even more based on myth than our lives. Ritual brings myth into our lives and makes our lives into living myths; if one has no myth, one will necessarily have no ritual.