Formalities of Ritual

One of the complaints my boyfriend has about my style of magic is that I’m way too wordy.  It’s true, I admit; a standard Trithemian-style conjuration has about five to ten minutes of preliminary prayer, not including the spiritual preparation and ritual space setup.  I like using the Orphic Hymns frequently, long-winded prayers, strings of barbarous words from the PGM, and so forth.  While he gets a bottle of rum and a cigar for his spirits and gets to work, I prefer my candles, incense, altar cloths, summoning circles, and so forth.  He’s not the type to get into heavy ritual, anyway, but that’s alright.  Someone’s gotta do the work, after all.

Thing is, though, he has a good point.  The stuff I do takes time and patience and perseverance, and with my life being already so full of spirits, not to mention commuting and martial arts classes and being social, my time is increasingly limited.  This got me to thinking about how I can do the same work with the same spirits I do work with in different ways, which led to my having to reevaluate the necessity of my ritual structure and format.  If I lived a court astrologer’s life, or some beneficiary of a magnate paying me to do magic, I could devote all my time to this stuff and not get enough; as it is, though, that’s not gonna happen anytime soon (regrettably), and I have to keep doing the work with the resources and time I have.  And since the time my rituals take is based largely in my habits of formality, perhaps I should reevaluate how necessary such formality is.

When you’re starting work with some new spirit, whether it’s the angel of a celestial sphere or a saint or a genius loci, it pays handsomely to be formal and proper in the beginning.  It’s like making a new professional contact: you want to make a good impression, so you get out your nice suit, you prepare your business cards and elevator speeches, you make sure you schedule the meetings at the right time and show up on time, and so forth. You go the extra nine yards to make sure communication is clear and effective and that you lay the foundations for a solid partnership; it’s a good time to get information on the contact, to make sure they’re who you think they are, and whether you want to continue working with them.  Likewise, it’s good for you to give them the right idea about who you are, what you’re capable of, how comfortable you are in meeting and discussing things with them, and so forth.  The same goes for spirits: you want to make sure they’re comfortable with working with you and you with them, so you make things as proper as you can when you start off with them.

But over time, as the relationship between you and the spirit develops, things can (but are not necessarily) get more casual.  The spirit might be more comfortable with calling on them whenever as opposed to a specific time, the use fewer tools if any at all, opening up to trying different offerings than the standard stuff, the use of special or true names, and so on.  Special permission might be given or agreed upon to work with them in different contexts than you may have been limited to in the past.  As a relationship develops, so too does flexibility and understanding between you and the spirit.  And that’s where things can get interesting for developing one’s own unique spiritual practice.  Of course, this is all dependent on the spirit itself, and sometimes they insist on the formality of something being done in a proper way.  It’s hard to generalize, but generally, formality isn’t as needed after building up a solid relationship.   Building up a solid relationship can take a good amount of time and trials, though.

Take the Trithemian conjuration ritual, for instance.  In the beginning of my magical career, I spent the time and built my own tools and put them to use at the proper time in a space I cleansed and prepared beforehand with the proper candles, incense, prayers, and so on handy and ready to go.  Hundreds of conjurations later, I still do this same thing, even after saying at the end of every ritual “return to me when I call you in His name to whom every knee bows down”.  The angels I work with largely agree to that; they don’t need the conjuration ritual to be present when a simple invocation of them will suffice.  Sure, the full ritual helps in communication and scrying and pathwalking, but none of the ritual is strictly necessary to do any of that, especially after the initiations I’ve received from them and the relationships I’ve built with them.  If I don’t need to do the formal ritual with them to do the same things when simpler, faster rituals will do, why not just go with the simpler, faster rituals?

Part of it is that I’m stuck in the habit of being formal.  I do enjoy donning my white linen robe and sitting down at a specially-prepared conjuration altar, but that takes a good chunk of time that I don’t always have.  I mean, I have my primary magician altar with all my talismans and tools of the planets and elements on it that I hardly use, when it fills all the same needs as a Table of Practice does and is permanently set up.  Why not just do the conjuration there on a slightly more informal level, sans robe and lengthy prep prayers?  I mean, the setup and preliminary preparation does have its good purposes which should never be overlooked, but after having done them so often for so long, maybe they’re not as needed as much anymore.  I mean, consider my ancestor practice: every Monday I get flowers, rum, water, and incense for them, and open up with an invocation and invitation for my ancestors to be with me.  Putting aside the fact that our ancestors are always already with us (they’re literally in our blood, after all), I also wear a pendant dedicated just to them and I invoke them every morning.  They’ve told me to cut the long-windedness and just sit down and chat with them, because they don’t need the formal prayers recognizing them when it’s part of a weekly observance and chillout.  The other spirits I work with, namely the angels of the planets and elements and stars, are more than happy to use a different means of contacting them besides a full ritual at a custom-made conjuration altar, especially if it means I get to still advance in my work without sacrificing my health or sleep too much.

For big rituals where I need the power for a specific purpose, or for a monthly or yearly observance celebrating the feast of some god or other, nothing beats a good formal ritual with all its attendant pomp and circumstance.  For general checkups or offerings, though, the formality isn’t as necessary, especially if I already have a good working relationship with the spirit.  So long as the rules and wishes of the spirit are abided by, everything else is pretty much up for grabs if we’re tight enough to be informal and casual.  Deformalizing rituals with spirits you’re already integrated with is one good way to simplify one’s spiritual life, and one I definitely need to work on.  Nobody’s gonna put more days in the week, after all, and I need as much time as I can get.

Another way to simplify one’s spiritual life is to condense altars and spiritual tools, but that’s a topic for another day.  Perhaps one when I’m not eyeing alternative furniture arrangements to fit in another altar to another spirit.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

9 Responses to Formalities of Ritual

  1. Eternal says:

    You do tend to get a bit long-winded in your methodology, it’s true. Those who work with the white robes often have that preoccupation though- stiff, formal, elegant.
    Though I suppose I can’t say much, having a 30-odd hour ritual I go through on occasion, and several ‘season-al’ ones as well to refresh my memories.

  2. What do you mean, “sans robe”? Man, robing up is the best part of my day many days ;-)

    I certainly think trying various simpler methods is worthwhile, especially since I know you have a really full dance card (and maybe that needs to be looked at, IDK). But! Your boyfriend doesn’t really have any business complaining about how you do magic. I am pretty sure that your elaborate conjurations have not made his dick fall off.

    • polyphanes says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I love robing up, too. But the time it takes me to do all the prepwork and enrobing is nontrivial, and many of my time commitments simply can’t be renegotiated (e.g. work + commute eats up 10 to 12 hours four days a week).

      And what my boyfriend says about my stuff is all in jest; he knows it works for a fact. And I say just as much jocular shit about his in return, nor does it hurt to have someone suggest simplifications or comparisons between different methods in the search for improvement.

      • I know! I was ragging on you. I have dispensed with, or more properly never developed, any time-consuming pre-ritual prep. I will take a ritual bath before big stuff, but mostly I’m just throwing a quick blessing on my robe and slippers as I put them on.

        I don’t have a long commute, but I have a seven-year-old, so I am often squeezing magic in and trimming off what doesn’t fit, too.

  3. It’s been my dream to be a healer, can you provide me a talisman to be used for healing ? Is this for an equivalent price if you have ?
    Thank you very much !

  4. Kalagni says:

    Not surprisingly I tend to be of the long-winded robed variety, but I do also make a lot of use of shorter forms. That’s something I picked up from experience (and like you being told off by a few spirits to shut up and get on with it) and Buddhism. You can have the same ritual in several different lengths, and arguably they’re all just as effective. Yet, there is something about the long form sometimes. I liken it to meals, you can sit down in your favourite chart with everything in one bowl and just shovel it down, or you can actually set the table and eat in a more leisurely way, and both are fine. Much like the meals, I think if we’re proficient enough for the shortform of the rituals, than doing the long form is more about us needing and wanting that calm space more than anything.

  5. Through the years i truncated most of the rituals and invocations i do.
    I realized that in shortened amount of time the same result is achieved even when contacting an entity for the first time.
    It is because you with time get more adept in practical stuff..such as relaxing and getting to an altered state of consciouses, finding the entity and approaching it the right way.
    Lately i do all the needed motions in meditation…using just a few crystals and it works the same way as before when i was a bit more ceremonial and formal in a ritual.
    The upside also is that with practice you are able to “switch” your consciousness in a moments notice and even do the rituals with entities in a public transportation, on your job or a similar place.
    There should be decency and formality when approaching a being outside three dimensional realm for the first time, but you show that with your stance and mental/emotional visage.

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