How to Perform Ritual
by Jonathan Bergeon
Ritual has existed in our culture for thousands of years. Evidence of ritual can be found in our everyday activities, and our not-so-everyday activities as well. But what is ritual?
Ritual is a sequence of events aimed at reaching a certain goal. To go a little further, one could add that it is a sequence of events aimed at reaching a certain goal a certain way. The act of ritual is a highly personalized venture. Not everybody does the same things the same that another does them. Because of this, there exist many methods by which one may reach the same objective. Despite the fact that there are certain requirements, both technical and personal, one must meet before one can hope to achieve one’s magical objectives, the differences in magical style continue to grow, as does the number of people who practice.
In regard to the technical requirements, it can be said that there truly exists only one – that being the assertion of will towards a defined goal. It can also be said that it is not necessary to do anything other than assert one’s will toward a goal for one to be successful, either in magic or whatever one chooses to do.
But for those of us who are not wholly privy to that notion, there exists ritual, and though there is truth in that statement it should be realized that other factors do apply.
One of these factors is the removal of self-doubt. Doubt undermines spells by negating them with contrary energies. If one doubts that one has effectively performed a spell correctly, then those feelings of doubt will be sent out along with the positive energies, countering them. Then, it becomes a case of the best energy winning. Thus comes the value of thinking no more of a magical act once it has been committed. One way that doubt may be quelled is through performing ritual.
Through the aid of ritual, one can erase doubt by taking certain steps to ensure one’s success. These steps serve to put it in the mind of the operator that he or she has done everything in his or her power, magically speaking, to see that the objective will be reached. This point is where such steps such as banishment, purification, consecration, sacrifice, and so on come in. All of these steps exist to ensure the success of the ritual as a whole, as should all the steps employed by the operator.
The steps employed in ritual magic vary from person to person and system to system, and not all are used all of the time. For example, not everybody consecrates the tools used in magic every time they use them. Also, not everybody calls upon outside influences and energies to aid in their workings.
It is my desire to provide you with a basic framework by which you may design your own rituals. A point to remember is that it is more difficult to contemplate ritual than it is to simply go out and do it. In ritual, if what you’re doing seems like what you should be doing, then it probably is. The following is the basic framework that I have promised:
- Cleansing and purification
- Setting the circle
- Invocation of the self
- General working
- License of departure
- Reclaiming of the self
Banishment is a very important process in ritual as it serves to neutralize all of the standing and active energies in the work area. These energies may either be leftovers from a previous working or simply brought about by daily living. Whatever the case, they need to be rendered inert if they are not to interfere with the energies put forth by the operator.
If they do happen to interfere with energies of the operator, then the desired outcome of the ritual could be compromised. Whether this occurs, of course, depends on the intensity of the two energies, the potential and the resident — the potential being the operator’s immediate expenditure, and the resident being the energy present before the ritual was commenced.
This interaction could be looked at like the act of drawing. If you draw a picture over preexisting artwork, the previous work shall undermine, quite literally, the present endeavor. If, however, you somehow remove said working before beginning anew, then the result will be markedly different. The other way is to simply cover up the previous work tit for tat.
The acts of cleansing and purification can be either one and the same or completely different. It really all depends on how you view it and how you do it. For me, cleansing is more of an outwardly physical thing, whereas purification is more of a spiritual matter. The cleansing is done to remove physical impurities, hence the word clean. In contrast, the purification is done to purify the energies neutralized during the banishment. In effect, purification is another form of banishment. But, besides this, it is middle ground between the banishment stage and the consecration stage, completing one while beginning the other. Just as the cleansing portion of this stage cleanses the thing undergoing the process physically, the purification cleanses it metaphorically and in doing so prepares it to become a sacred thing.
The processes of cleansing and purification are sometimes overlooked by certain magicians, who would endeavor to eliminate the middle-man. While this may be entirely acceptable in some cases, it should not always be considered to be so, as cleansing and purification can add to the overall success of the ritual through the fortification of the banishment and the consecration.
Consecration is equally important as banishment, for it gives the energy that was made neutral during the banishment a direction. This direction is the goal of the ritual at hand. This direction is created by dedicating an item or items to be used in the ritual.
That which is consecrated need not be only an item but can also be a person or place. In fact, all things involved in a ritual should be consecrated. This includes all tools, the operator and any assistants involved, and the work space. By taking care to do so, you have essentially realigned all possible influences to meet the intended goal of the ritual.
To simply sum up the first three steps of a ritual, you first neutralize the resident energies, then filter out the impurities, and realign those same energies to fit the needs of the task at hand.
The fourth stage of ritual, at least as I see it, is the setting of the magic circle. Circle-setting entails the defining of boundaries. These boundaries are designed to keep the useful energies in and the unuseful energies out. Within this circle, the energies to be sent out to work the will of the operator are built up. The circle should not be so big that the operator cannot easily manipulate the energies within it, nor so small that he or she lights himself or herself on fire on one of the candles. Remember, fire has the ability to incite certain emotions that may not be conducive to the success of the ritual as a whole, especially when the operator has burst into flames.
The circle is the place where the operator is the prime creative influence. It is his or her little universe inside of a larger universe. One could say that in this space he or she is God; essentially this assertion is true, but the terminology is stretching truth. As the creative force in this little universe, it is basically up to the operator what is and what isn’t.
But how what is affects the grand scheme of things, that is the question. The artist can paint what is to him or her a masterpiece, but what is crap is crap. Conditions will always place a damper on the efforts of the magician if he or she endeavors to work against them. That’s why, when letting somebody have it magically, it’s best to amplify an already existing condition. But that is another subject altogether.
In the next step, the invocation of the self, I am referring to the magical or sacred self — that little part of you that you pull out of the closet when you wish to do something extraordinary. When I think of the invocation of the self, I think of the Havamal, where Odin sacrifices himself to himself. That is essentially what must be achieved, the metaphorical death of the mundane self for the birth of the magical self to occur. I’m tempted to call it the higher self, but some of the selves out there can be pretty low even in their more profound states.
The magical self has its roots in the elementary; in other words, it is generated through the conscious or unconscious will of an entity purposely or accidentally, embodied or no. The magical self, being as it is an energy to be tapped, is invoked. The invocation of the self can be bypassed or substituted with shape-shifting, providing of course you don’t end up like me and become contrary to your own goals when you shape-shift.
The next stage of ritual, should you choose this route, is evocation. Evocation is the calling forth of a certain energy or entity. This energy or entity called upon should be able to assist you in your working. A spirit of a malignant nature is not a good candidate to assist you in a love spell, at least not a nice love spell.
You should also consider that it is quite possible that the disposition of a conjured spirit may be equal to that of a total stranger off of the street. In essence, the position of the operator is that of the lowly beggar petitioning for help in his or her workings. This attitude is a far cry from the operators of the Middle Ages, whose workings resemble the more aggressive approach of, “Give me you spare change or burn in Hell in the name of my loving god.” (Well, everyone needs a hobby.) The main thing that I want to say is to look upon yourself and your situation as another might see it before you conjure and to determine then whether or not it would be worth it to petition for outside assistance. But if you do get ready to do so…
Sacrifice, ahh, that’s the stuff. I could write a book on this, but I won’t. I shall, however, grace you with the two types of sacrifice that exist as I see them. The first is personal, and the second impersonal. The latter is the sacrifice of something separate from the operator, such as somebody else’s property or a life force other than the person doing the sacrifice. As this is not a method I subscribe to, I shall discuss instead sacrifice on the personal level.
First, what is sacrifice? The dictionary defines it as the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else, or suffering the loss of something, and as a verb to give up, to renounce, to injure, or to destroy, especially for an ideal, belief, or end.
But what is the value behind sacrifice? When you go out to dinner, you get what you pay for; the same holds true for magic. When you enlist the assistance of an outside influence, it is best to give and not just take, take, take. Call me shallow, but I have always held sacrifice as a medium of exchange. Here, on the material plane, that which is given up is money. Money has little value to those who have no use for legal tender, so what instead shall we give? The answer is life force.
Now, before you go slashing your wrists, I would like to present an alternative. The life force given up can be dispensed without the shedding of blood, which in this day and age can be a dangerous thing. Instead, one may give up one’s own energies. Some people feel that we have only a limited supply of energy that is irreplaceable, but if that were so there would be a lot more dead or out-of-work magicians. The trick is to find a receptacle such as an apple and charge it with your own energy. That receptacle is then offered up to the power in question and your energy becomes theirs to benefit from.
In the case of the apple being the receptacle, an operation of this sort would go like this:
- Obtain the apple
- Obtain the knife
- Carve the symbol of the power to which the sacrifice is being made
- Commit the statement of dedication
- Charge the apple with your own energies
- Contemplate the action
- Give thanks, make toasts, and so on
Sacrifice is an important subject and a facet of magic that may very well predate all other forms, and it definitely deserves some looking into in regards to its process, as well as the reasons it is performed.
I would like to close this section with the note that I do not condone the killing of animals for the purposes of magic.
The next stage is that of the general working. At this point, the operator does what he or she has gone there to do — that is, unless you’ve already done that during the evocation or sacrifice. The general working is basically the spell that is performed, designed to carry out the will of the caster.
The license of departure is a polite way of saying go home. This process lets a conjured entity know that the ritual is over, and that the entity can please go now so that you can shut everything down. It is in a sense a lesser, more polite form of banishment.
I might compare this to when you are entertaining guests at your home. Time passes, as it always does, and you find that you desire to bring the evening to an end. Banishing your company would be bad manners — for that matter, it might appear downright rude. Instead, you pleasantly insist that you are done now. The license of departure should contain a hint or two of congeniality, along with the usual sternness required to maintain control of the situation. I have found the popular line “Go now unto your places and be you ready to come when you are called” to be effective, although I usually like to throw a thanks in there somewhere. It should also be noted that this line can throw people off when used in a social environment.
The last banishment is done after the license of departure to make sure that everything is back to a preconjuration state. One needs to take care not to undo all that one has done. Therefore, this banishment is a selective one, directed at removing foreign energies rather than neutralizing the resident and potential energies sent forth by the operator during the general working. For the last banishment to be more than selective would be counterproductive.
The banishment of an entity can be a tricky thing, and sometimes it needs to be done more than once. Attention needs to paid to the atmosphere of the work area when a banishment is performed. If you still feel the presence of the entity in question, then you must banish again and if necessary again and again until you get it right. There are plenty of spells out there designed to do the trick, if you find that you are having difficulty. Another thing to watch out for is when you feel nothing at all. Like people, spirits cannot always be trusted.
The final stage, the reclaiming of the self, is the point at which one winds down the ritual, takes off the mask and the robe and what not, and returns to an everyday state. Energy that was put out to construct the circle and other such things is reabsorbed by the operator. Candles are extinguished, and the oil used in their anointing is cleaned off.
The reclaiming of the self is a time when the operator goes back to being Bob, the normal average everyday self. It can be a relaxing period of final contemplation and recording of results, or it can be just a clean-up time. That really depends on the person. But after this, one should think no more on what was done, save for the process by which it was done and how it in the future can be done more effectively.
It would be premature to bring this article to a close without mentioning tables of correspondence, which no one who practices magic should be without. (Unless you feel you have risen above these, in which case you don’t need to be reading this anyway.) For those of us still living on the material plane, a table of correspondence can prove at times invaluable. Such a table provides one with a great deal of basic knowledge and lore, which one can use in the creation of spells and rituals.
Some of the things that can be found in tables such as these are the best days and hours, weeks and months to perform a ritual or magical act. They can also shed light on the proper colors, herbs, and stones that may be employed, as well as certain spirits that can be evoked or invoked to assist in your operations. There are many books out on the market today on the subject of magic and occultism that may provide you with charts of this nature. Also, one can trudge through the mythologies and folklore of the world finding bits and pieces of usable information.
It is important to cross-reference the information that is presented to you in books, as it can vary greatly from author to author. All of the fun of compiling a table of correspondence should not be left up to the experts, as they may leave you with too much irrelevant information. The tables you construct are a testimony to your personal style.
I would like to say that it is important to have fun with the rituals you create, but that really isn’t the case. What is important is that you find a ritual style that works well for you. Fun is optional.