A few years ago I transitioned from a South American tradition (Umbanda) practiced in a very freeform style into an African tradition (Ifa) that was amazingly big on ceremony. Ifa had ceremonies for cooking special meals, ceremonies for greeting, even ceremonies for getting ceremonial homework (Ebo)!
When I first encountered Ifa, I was astounded by the power of the tradition. I jumped wholeheartedly into the ceremonies and the AMAZING amount of work involved in the path. It was an expensive tradition; between the ceremonial tools, clothes, foods and alcohols it was hard to spend less than $200 per ceremony and it was easy to spend a couple grand (especially if you could afford the gifts which, while not obligatory, were STRONGLY recommended). Ceremonies were often an exercise in group mind, exhaustion and sleep deprivation with a good chunk of ecstatic trance for those with permission to do so at the time. An interesting aspect of African Ancestor style ceremonies (Voudoun, Ifa, Umbanda), is how they segment which Orisha/Lwa they work with at a time through Specific Songs, Offerings and a clear “this one only” intent. That sheer focus does a great job of helping someone learn how to be possessed and end possessions in a safe and positive way.
I’ve also spent a fair number of years practicing western group Magick with a wonderful woman and friends who believe in Magick. From this experience, I’ve noticed 4 Major Aspects to competent Ceremonial Magick: Conceptual Momentum, Ceremonial Focused Work, Group Mind and Trance.
I’m going to post an article in the future with a better explanation of using and creating conceptual momentum, but for now, think of conceptual momentum as strongly held beliefs of truths which end up having power. To tap into these beliefs will allow you to impart some of the power of these truths into your spell. For example, it is a strongly held belief that the new moon is the best time for divination. When you do a divination ritual, doing the ritual at the new moon imparts some of the power of that belief.
I have seen spells work through their conceptual momentum alone. Someone who didn’t even know what their efforts would accomplish followed written instructions and spell crafted a shield around a house. All they knew was that this would help protect them, they didn’t know how and they weren’t aware enough to recognize the effects other than “feeling safer”. Thus, when the ruby and emerald shield flash into existence I was mightily impressed.
This is the part of ceremonial magic that you always read about. Many hold the idea that all you have to do is follow the rules and the magick will work. Ironically, believing that makes it more true; so, sorry if this article ruins that for you.
Ceremonial Focused Work
Most people think that the work of the ceremony is what gives it power. By the rules of conceptual momentum this is true, however there is a much more powerful aspect to what the work accomplishes.
It gets you in the right mind frame. Yes… Ceremonial Work is Magick Foreplay to get you hot and bothered in all the right ways for the orgasmic explosion of magickal effect. Ok, maybe that was a little extreme… (Anybody got a cigarette?)
Remember how in the introduction I mentioned that different people would have different results with the same effort? This is because there are a LOT of variables in magick. Ceremonial Work helps ensure that some of the variables are a certain way.
- A ceremonial cleansing will help calm and focus your thoughts as well as make sure that there isn’t something in your aura affecting your thoughts or which can directly interfere with the spell.
- Ceremonial opening of sacred space helps define boundaries of the magick, keep out unwanted influences and hold energies you call forth IN the space to use.
- Ceremonial “Quarter Calling” brings in multiple power sources and calls forth spirits who like to help. Imagine you’re doing a spell alone, but then you call forth 4 quarter guardians, a couple ally spirits, a God and a Goddess. You are now doing Magick with 8+ entities focused on the purpose!
- Ceremonial garb creation is a great way to make sure that you spend HOURS preparing yourself to accept magick happening when you wear these clothes.
- Ceremonial Item creation forces you to spend hours focusing your mind that the item you’re enchanting will have a purpose.
Most people don’t realize it, but usually in ceremonial magick the spell is 90% finished by the time they start the ritual!
If I am casting a spell alone, I often don’t need ceremonies; however, if I want someone else’s help, ceremony is pretty much required. Ceremonies are a great way to align everyone helping craft the spell into the same purpose. This is why Ceremonial Magick Is commonly considered Magickal Theater. Good group magick is strongly aided by elements of theater to help everyone in the circle be focused on a specific purpose at the same time. I have enough practice now that if cut a circle with my will it’s pretty potent; however, if I grab an athame and ritually walk the circle putting on a display of physically cutting it, everyone in the circle is sharing in the belief and is empowering the creation of the circle.
Even if you are casting a spell alone, these elements of theater have the power to help maintain your focus on a purpose. It’s rather hard to screw up a circle casting with wandering thoughts when you are walking the circle with your athame in front of you, intoning a chant.
Additionally, as I’ve mentioned, these elements of “Magickal Theater” tap into conceptual momentum. What I haven’t mentioned yet is the idea of a collective conscious. Many scientifically respected persons believe in this; Carl Jung was one of the most notable. Imagine that a part of you is in your mind, and another part of you is a huge group mind of everyone that’s lived. The idea here is that if your ceremony is believable enough you can convince the group mind that it’s real and have a WHOLE lot of power backing your spell!
Trance, Hypnosis, Alpha Wave State, all of these are forms of focus through un-focus. Most people’s normal mind state is a noisy garbled affair where their trains of thought are derailed in landslides of to-do lists, physical needs, and general wandering thoughts. Trance is a place where the mind is quieted. This quiet allows trains of thought to reach their destination more often.
Additionally, when doing magick, there is one particularly important thought to avoid being placed onto the universal canvas of the spell you are painting: Disbelief. It takes YEARS of disciplining your mind and heart to TRULY believe in magick. Even still, you have only trained yourself to believe in aspects of magick. Each new effect and spell requires training yourself to believe in. While frustrating, this is a good thing; a careful hold on reality prevents you from throwing everything away to go serve “Mahjong” the Taipei God in his temple underneath Mount Imamoron somewhere to the South.
Most people find it easy to accept a possibility of something if given proof. You can decide to be open to the possibility of a spell proving itself. This sates your very sane need to hold onto a provable reality. If I told you I believed in Dragons, you would likely disbelieve their existence. If I asked you to be open to proof, you might be doubtful that my proof is going to be solid, but you’re not going to actively focus on disbelieving the dragons nearly as much.
Along with focusing your mind, Trance allows you to quiet your healthy disbelief for periods of time, keeping you to perform spells without your disbelief interfering in their crafting. After ritual and coming out of trance, just be open to the spells proving themselves or not. Trust and confident belief will come over time as some spells succeed and others fail providing proof of some things and disputing the likelihood of others.
Ceremonial Magick allows you a solid foundation of pre-made activities to base your learning experiences on. You don’t need ceremonial magick to accomplish your purpose, but which would you rather do? Start mountaineering with what you have in your pockets or go and buy a backpack with climbing and camping gear? Both have their benefits and negatives. If you get lazy and rely on the tools excessively you’ll stagnate; however, without the tools you will have to limit your experiences early on as you train. The tools can empower you to reach new heights quickly and used properly provide a foundation for long term growth above and beyond the realistic expectations of non-fanatical training and risk taking without them. Tie the tools, fanatical training and risk taking together and you'll start practicing alongside the greats. ;-)
Power Before Wisdom