Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram

This article is a rough transcript of the presentation my friend Michele and I gave at Twin Cities Pagan Pride last Saturday. The presentation was well-received and I hope that those who attended now have a deeper understanding of this basic ceremonial ritual.

Various forms of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram have been used for more than a century by Western magicians. The LRP in its current form was most likely written by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, the original Chief Adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This magical order and its teachings have had a profound effect on the entire Western Mystery Tradition thanks to the publication of certain of its rituals, first by Aleister Crowley in The Equinox and later by Israel Regardie in The Golden Dawn.

It most likely found its way into Wicca and Neopaganism by way of Gerald Gardner, who in addition to founding Gardnerian Wicca was also an initiate of Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis and who carried on an extensive correspondence with Crowley in the 1940's when he was putting together the original Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

Today this ritual is found in most introductory books on Western ceremonial magick and is taught in the various Golden Dawn and Thelemic magical orders. The banishing form of this ritual is generally used to initiate ceremonial rituals and as part of circle casting for Wiccan and Neopagan rites.

Why “Lesser”? In the original plan for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn this was the only ritual taught to “outer order” initiates below the grade of Adeptus Minor. It was perhaps titled “lesser” to whet the appetite of students for “greater” mysteries.

What it really means, though, is “general” or “preliminary” and as a result it represents one of the foundational rituals of the Golden Dawn and Thelemic schools of magick. While the foundation of a house may be “lower” than the attic it is more, not less, important to the structure of a building.

What the Golden Dawn terms “greater” rituals are in fact specific rituals associated with a particular planet, element, or zodiacal sign. They are very important for practical magick, although many books on Western magick omit them completely.

Why the Pentagram? In Hermetic magick the pentagram represents the microcosm, meaning “small world,” or personal sphere. Microcosm is a combination of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of a particular individual. This is distinct from the macrocosm, meaning “large world,” or transpersonal sphere that includes people, places, or things that from the microcosmic perspective seem separate from any particular individual.

The pentagram as a symbol represents the four classical elements or more properly states of matter, earth, water, air, and fire, plus the fifth element of spirit. In the Golden Dawn schema microcosmic magick is treated as elemental, while macrocosmic magick is treated as planetary.

Banishing and Invoking: Donald Michael Kraig's Modern Magick is generally credited with popularizing the current “LBRP” acronym for this ritual. The B stands for Banishing, which is how this ritual is most commonly used in ceremonial workings.

Banishing means to send away. As this is a microcosmic ritual, the basic function of the banishing form is to send spirits, energies, thoughtforms, or anything else that doesn't belong beyond the boundaries of your personal sphere or aura, which generally extends a short distance beyond your skin. It is important to keep in mind that the LBRP banishes anything connected to you, not anything connected to the space in which you perform it.

Invoking is the opposite of banishing. The invoking form of this ritual, or LIRP, calls energies from the environment around you into your personal sphere in order to increase your effective magical power. In my experience this is not a widely used or taught technique, but it is very simple to learn if you already know the LBRP and can be quite effective.

Horizontal and Vertical Intimacy: These two concepts are key in any analysis of magick and/or mysticism. Whether or not he was the first magician to define them, we were originally exposed to these ideas through the work of Antero Alli.

Vertical Intimacy refers to the individual's connection with spiritual source, divinity, or enlightened consciousness, however you choose to model the states of consciousness reached through mystical practices. Horizontal Intimacy refers to the individual's connection with the people, places, or things that inhabit the mundane world around them.

For example, a skilled mystic who has difficulty putting food on the table has high vertical intimacy and low horizontal intimacy, while a successful corporate manager with an underdeveloped interior life has high horizontal intimacy, both in terms of relating to people and making money, but low vertical intimacy.

To be truly successful a magician must develop both through a process of integration, which is one of the functions of this ritual. The vertical and horizontal are separate from each other but they are not opposites – it is possible to develop both in such a way that they influence each other in positive ways.

Intoning and Vibrating: Both of these methods involve the speaking of words of power in a particular way. The general distinction is that intoning is more directed inward while vibration is more directed outward. In practice they sound similar, but the difference between them is this directed attention.

Neither method has to be loud. Ideally we would all live in situations in which we could bellow out our words of power to our hearts' content, but this is not the reality in today's world for many people. Each word of power should be spoken with a single, complete breath but as long as the attention is maintained on the word to the exclusion of other thoughts it can be spoken as quietly as a whisper.

When first learning how to do this it is a good idea to find a place to practice where you can vibrate at full volume because it is easier to do. Once you have a sense of how vibrating is supposed to feel you can then start quieting down your vocalizations. In simplest terms, you are looking for the tone at which your head resonates the loudest. You then combine this tone with the proper breathing method and directed attention.

Breathing: Aleister Crowley recommended that students should first be proficient at pranayama before attempting to learn this ritual. The reason is that simple breathing techniques can make a huge difference in terms of how well the LRP works. Our own training is more from the perspective of Chinese qigong than the Indian pranayama that Crowley studied but the results are similar.

Qigong breathing involves touching the tongue to the roof of your mouth and inhaling deeply into the abdomen, which should expand outward as you breathe in and contract as you breathe out. If you've studied Tai Chi the breathing is pretty much identical to what is used in that system. If possible you should inhale through the nose with your mouth closed, though if you happen to have a sinus condition that makes this difficult touching the roof of your mouth with your tongue seems to be enough to produce the desired effect.

As you breathe in, you should imagine the word of power that you are about to vibrate or intone being drawn in with the breath and filling your body all the way down to your feet. You should time the visualization so that the word of power reaches your feet as your diaphragm becomes full. Then, when you speak the word, visualize it rising back up to the appropriate point in your personal sphere (intonation) or outward to some particular point in space (vibration).

Some teachers will go out of their way to point out that singing is not vibrating, but this needs to be understood in context. Untrained singers tend to sing high up in the chest or throat, and this is not vibration because the breathing is wrong. Trained singers can often sing their vibrations and do it right because they have already been taught to rely on abdominal breathing in order to maintain clearer and longer tones.

Pronunciation: Not being native Hebrew speakers most Western magicians, ourselves included, do not pronounce many of the words of power in ways that are particularly recognizable to speakers of modern Hebrew. This being said, pronouncing this ritual as it has been taught over the course of the last century seems to work. If you are a native Hebrew speaker and prefer using proper modern pronunciation, though, by all means do so if it helps you to learn this or any other ritual.

Names of God: The LRP draws from the Hermetic Qabalistic tradition of the European Renaissance and uses names of God drawn from Jewish mysticism. The Hermetics considered themselves Christian, but considered heretical by the Roman Church. One of those heretical beliefs was a more universalist concept of deity that survived in Rosicrucian mysticism and later in Freemasonry. From there it found its way into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose founders treated the Tree of Life as a sort of “filing cabinet” or cosmic superstructure into which most mythologies could be adapted.

What this means is that you do not need to be Christian or Jewish in order to make use of the names of power in this ritual. It also means that the ritual can and has been adapted to various Pagan pantheons, but our suggestion is to try out the original and see how it works before moving on to such modified versions. It has endured within the tradition for more than a century, which suggests that it works well for a large number of practitioners.

The Qabalistic Cross: The LRP begins and ends with a simple vertical integration ritual called the Qabalistic Cross. In addition to this, the QC may be performed on its own as a basic grounding and centering ritual, and it makes a good closing to any ritual in which you don't want to banish spiritual forces or energies that you have drawn into your personal sphere.

A basic example of such a ritual is any sort of eucharistic rite, in which cakes and wine are imbued with magical force and then ingested. Banishing your personal sphere to close out such a ritual may not negate the ritual's influence but can diminish it considerably. Closing with the QC on its own prevents this from happening.

The Qabalistic Cross is performed as follows:

1.Start off by relaxing and taking a few deep breaths as you stand with your arms at your sides. Regardie taught that you should imagine yourself becoming gigantic in size, and instruction that is repeated in Modern Magick. This visualization is not strictly necessary, but if it helps you get into the right frame of mind you can go ahead and do it.
2.Touch your forehead as you intone ATEH (ah-TAY). This word means “Unto Thee.” Some have interpreted this step as representing some sort of supplication to deity, but it is nothing of the sort. “Thee” refers to the point that you are activating, the ajna chakra. This is the “third eye” or principle psychic center according to yogic mysticism. What this step is doing is activating the body of light or psychic self.
3.Touch your genital area as you intone MALKUTH (mahl-KOOT). This word means “the Kingdom.” In the original version of this ritual students were taught to touch the center of the chest rather than the genital area. The ritual can be performed that way as well, but the genital area makes more sense given how the chakra system maps onto the Tree of Life. In the arrangement taught by the Golden Dawn both the Muladhara (root) chakra and the Svadisthana (genital) chakra are attributed to the sphere titled Malkuth.
4.Touch your right shoulder as you intone VE GEBURAH (vay geh-boo-RAH). This means “the power.” On the Tree of Life the right shoulder corresponds to the sphere titled Geburah.
5.Touch your left shoulder as you intone VE GEDULAH (vay geh-doo-LAH). This means “the glory.” On the Tree of Life the left shoulder corresponds to the sphere titled Gedulah or Chesed.
6.Clasp your hands over the center of your chest and intone LE OLAHM, AMEN (lay oh-LAHM, ah-MEN). This means “forever and ever, let it be so.” In the chakra system this area is attributed to the Anahata or heart center, and in the Qabalistic arrangement this center corresponds to the spheres of Geburah, Gedulah, and Tiphareth (Beauty), the central sphere on the Tree of Life.

Those of you who grew up Christian should recognize that the words of power taken together are pretty much the same as the standard conclusion to the Lord's Prayer, and those of you who grew up Roman Catholic should notice that the crossing is similar to how it is done in the Roman church except reversed (right shoulder to left shoulder rather than left shoulder to right shoulder). As in those cases, the basic function of this ritual is vertical integration – that is, connection with the divine source as represented by the spheres on the Tree of Life that correspond to particular manifestations of God or Gods. It should also have a grounding, calming, and centering effect when done properly.

The Pentagrams

The next section of the ritual involves the tracing of pentagrams to the four directions along with the vibration of the corresponding names of God. In the Golden Dawn system there are various ways of tracing the pentagram that correspond to particular elements, and the one that is used in this ritual is the pentagram of earth. This figure used because the LRP is a general ritual and earth is seen as including itself as well as the other classical elements.

A particularly stupid take on the banishing form of this ritual is that “beginning magicians have trouble with their finances because when practicing this ritual they are banishing earth.” It's stupid because that's not how this ritual works – the LRP is general, not specific. To banish earth as a distinct element you would need to use one of the greater rituals.

The tracing of the pentagrams is the only difference between the invoking and banishing forms. In the Golden Dawn system the invoking earth pentagram is traced counter-clockwise from the top point, while the banishing earth pentagram is traced clockwise from the bottom left point.

Banishing Earth Pentagram

Invoking Earth Pentagram

Melita Denning and Osborne Philips proposed their own method of tracing the pentagrams of the elements in the Magical Philosophy series that is more logical than the one used by the Golden Dawn. This system has also been picked up by other writers such as Donald Tyson. Unfortunately, after years of experimental testing we found that the Denning/Philips system was found to be less effective than the Golden Dawn method, at least for us, even though on the surface it seems to make more sense. Nonetheless, if you do use that system and it works better for you go ahead and keep using it. In many cases when working magick the key factor is that you organize your mind around a particular symbol set and use it consistently, not necessarily what the contents of your chosen symbol set are.

Note that when traced the pentagrams should be visualized as standing at the quarters of the entire universe, not at the boundaries of your ritual space. This ritual's primary sphere of influence is you, not the room in which you happen to be performing it. Depending on the circumstances you may wish to advance to each direction before tracing the pentagram and vibrating the name, but the ritual can also be performed by standing in place and turning.

Sometimes students feel like they can't do this ritual well because they don't “see” the pentagrams in the same vivid detail as special effects on television. Keep in mind that even a hundred years ago nobody saw anything as intense as what special effects experts can do today. Such a level of visualization is cool if you can manage it, but it is in no way necessary in order to make the ritual work. Your goal should be to successfully banish and invoke. The point is to keep your full attention on the pentagram and the word as you trace and vibrate, and you will eventually make the ritual work properly if you keep practicing and don't get discouraged - whether or not your visualizations rise to television levels.

The ritual continues as follows:

7.Trace the appropriate (banishing or invoking) pentagram to the east as you vibrate YHVH (yah-WAY or pronounced in full as YOD HEH VAV HEH). What we do here is to breathe in, visualize the word sinking down to the feet, and then vibrate as we trace. However, you also can breathe in, trace the pentagram as you breathe out, then breathe the word in and vibrate it as you breathe out with your attention on the center of the pentagram. You may also use the Sign of the Enterer here with the vibration and follow it with the Sign of Silence as you breathe in.

8.Trace the appropriate pentagram to the south as you vibrate ADNI (ah-doh-NYE).
9.Trace the appropriate pentagram to the west as you vibrate AHIH (eh-hi-YAY).
10.Trace the appropriate pentagram to the north as you vibrate AGLA (ah-guh-LAH).

This section of the ritual concentrates on horizontal integration of the four directions. Note that even when banishing the goal is still integration, as both banishing and invoking represent particular relationships between you and the components of the outer world.

It is common to think of the four directions as corresponding with the elements, but it is important to keep in mind that the names used here are not precisely elemental in nature. Instead they relate directly to the quarters themselves. Relating the quarters to the elements as is done in the section calling on the archangels is a relatively recent innovation, whereas medieval magick placed much greater emphasis on directions than elements.

The Archangels

The next section of the ritual calls upon the archangels that represent the four elements attributed to the four quarters according to the “winds” model. This is the standard arrangement used in Wicca and Neopaganism – Air in the east, Fire in the south, Water in the west, and Earth in the north. In Golden Dawn magick this is the microcosmic arrangement, which is why it is used here in the order's foundational microcosmic ritual.

There is also a macrocosmic arrangement based on the zodiac which is used in the foundational macrocosmic ritual, the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. The zodiacal model places Fire in the east, Earth in the south, Air in the west, and Water in the north based on the relative positions of the cardinal signs. This is why the directional attributions are more fixed than the elements, because the various elemental stations change position as you shift from microcosm to macrocosm.

As with the pentagrams, the archangels should be visualized as best you can, but it is important to keep from being discouraged if they do not appear as vividly as they might on television. What you are really looking for is a sense of presence that comes into being in the appropriate direction as you intone the names of the archangels.

The ritual continues as follows:

11.Turn to face the east, extend your arms in the form of a cross, and say the following, intoning the name of each archangel:

Before me RAPHAEL (rah-fye-EHL),
Behind me GABRIEL (ga-bree-EHL),
On my right hand MICHAEL (mee-kye-EHL),
And on my left hand AURIEL (aw-ree-EHL)

It is useful to practice with tablets or drawings depicting the archangels. They may be visualized in the appropriate elemental color wielding elemental tools and so forth. Raphael represents Air, Gabriel represents Water, Michael represents Fire, and Auriel represents Earth. The calling of the archangels represents the horizontal integration of the four elements.

Final Declaration

The final statement recapitulates the basic function of the ritual, the integration of horizontal and vertical intimacy.

12.Say the following:

About me flames the pentagram,
And in the column stands the six-rayed star.

“About me flames the pentagram” refers to horizontal intimacy by aligning your consciousness with the microcosm as a whole. In effect, you have become the pentagram and therefore the entire charged microcosm. The visualization that accompanies this statement is to imagine yourself standing within the figure of the pentagram, much like Da Vinci's famous drawing of the human form.

“And in the column stands the six-rayed star” refers to vertical intimacy. The visualization here is to see yourself standing in a column of light with hexagrams (six-rayed stars) at the top and bottom. This alludes to the path of the magician, ascending the column in order to integrate the macrocosm represented by the hexagram and experience the transpersonal realization of an Adept.


The ritual concludes with the repetition of the Qabalistic Cross.

Daily Practice

A prominent magical teacher once dismissed this ritual by commenting “nobody ever got enlightened by doing the LBRP.” While this is likely true, the amazing thing is that anyone would expect to become enlightened performing this ritual on its own. The LRP should be part of one's daily magical practice but not the totality of it. The banishing form should be followed by some sort of invocation, whether it be a basic Qabalistic invocatory practice like the Middle Pillar Ritual or a poetic invocation of one's patron deity, Holy Guardian Angel, or some other representation of the divine source.

However you do it, daily magical practice is essential to becoming an effective magician and its importance cannot be understated. Even the most magically talented can still benefit greatly from it – after all, where do you think a professional athlete would wind up if he or she never worked out?



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Pallas Renatus said...

Now if only all newcomers read this, instead of the twaddle you get in the (unfortunately many) fluffy books and/or message boards...

Ananael Qaa said...

That would be a good and happy thing. I'd like to get the page rank high enough that if somebody does a Google search for "lesser ritual of the pentagram" they get this in preference to a lot of the stuff that's out there.

Currently it's #14, which isn't that bad considering how recently I posted it, but I have to get it up to #9 for it to show up on the first search page.

Frater Docet Umbra said...

Earlier this year I also wrote a piece on the LBRP, though admittedly with more frills, bells and whistles. At the same time, I do love

Ananael Qaa said...

Very cool. I figure the more commentary that's out there on the LBRP the better, since it's one of the most widely practiced ceremonial rituals.

My presentation needed to fit into a one hour time slot and include time for questions, so the "frills" had to be kept to a minimum. It's good to see you covering more of them.

Angel said...

Great post, you've explained all that a newbie like me would like to know before practicing a ritual. I've tried LBRP before, but without knowing the meaning behind the words and gestures it was difficult to feel it while practicing. Your post has helped me a lot, I have been practicing lbrp before meditation/visualization since a week and I often feel the pentagrams around me.

However, I needed to understand it in more depth coz of it's positive effects. Thanks and heart felt gratitude.


Dacia Pacea said...

Yet another fine article. I think I found it more than 1year ago, before I started practicing magick. I then found it again when I started documenting on the basic practices and the way they're done, but i forgot to bookmark it.

I was meaning to ask you if you achieved the visualizations that Crowley was talking about, like actually seeing the flaming pentagram in mid air.

I have stranismus from a young age, with my right eye going on its own to the right when I don't focus on controlling it, so my central vission has become somewhat distorted, even in my imagination. I guess the brain got used to seeing things from the angle of my left eye more. Even so, I do my best with visualizations and imagine a flaming pentagram cartoon style. Also, I visualise the Archangels as manga figures drawn in bright colors and that seems to work.

But more importantly, the feeling changes indeed after tracing the petagrams and calling the Archangels. It's like I'm in a some kind of SF machine that blasts me with energy from four sides.

Could you write an article about the GRP? It would be nice if you could write even a detailed GRP for practical uses, like you did for the GRH.

Hope this article gets on Google page 1.


Scott Stenwick said...

Thanks! I am glad to hear that you found it useful.

In terms of visualizations, the fact is that most of us are used to television and movies, so when we actually "get" the visualizations they aren't nearly as dramatic as what we expect. The "flaming cartoon" description that you talk about here is in my experience pretty much what they look like for most people. They are far, far less vivid than media images.

I'll see about writing something up on the GRP. It might be a little while, though, since I'm pretty busy running the Office of the Readings for the next couple of weeks.

Dacia Pacea said...

No problem. Take your time. I imagine your schedule to be quite full. I'll just keep following your blog ;)

One more thing. A guy from Brazil in the FB group is about to perform the LRP and wants to know if he should trace the pentagrams as usual, or Fire in the North and Earth in the South, since he's in the southern hemisphere. I'm guessing both ways are fine, but i still needed to ask someone more experienced.


Dacia Pacea said...

I would like to share with you my approach on the QC.

It seems to be a very simple practice to memorize and perform by anyone and it also takes very little time to perform, with little energy spent on the visualizations implied. That is of course, if practitioners use those visualizations of becoming larger and larger until the entire universe lies beneath one's feet and only a shining sphere of white light appears on top of one's head.

It's purpose would be to briefly reach Kether and draw its energy to the material realm and balance yourself for the next workings and after some workings.

After some thought I had the inspiration to asociate the brief journey to Kether with the seven principles of the Lord's Prayer, as talked about by Rudolf Steiner in his lecture:

He talks about the seven principles as correspondences to the subtle bodies of man, with four of them being wordly and three of them, divine - since 4 represents the material plane and 3 represents divinity.

So I decided to shape the ascending visualisation as following:

Becoming larger and larger and
1. Passing through the Oort Cloud that surrounds the solar system
2. Exiting the Milky Way, as it becomes smaller beneath me
3. Exiting the local galaxy cluster
4. Exiting the Virgo Supercluster
5. Passing through the edge of the visible universe as seen through Bubble deep field, or ultra deep field
6. Passing through the edge of the univers that scientists theorize would be many billions of light years further that what we can see with our current equipment
7. Passing through the edge of the universe where it currently is - if it exists that is, but for the sake of this practice I made one; it would be exiting the material universe in all cases.

Finally, I would see the whole universe the size of a soccer ball beneath my very and Kether above my head.

I found this very useful in helping me shift to a magical consciousness in a very short time, before begining my practice.

I also thought that these steps correspond with the spheres Yesod through Binah and end with the path of the Magician, from Binah to Kether, when I break free from the imagined edge of the universe.

I found it very interesting that these imaginary boundaries keep getting harder and harder to pass through, with the last one (asociated with Binah) being the hardest, as i often have the feeling as breaking through ice from beneath, on a frozen lake, using my head. Breaking through it is not enough, as i also find it hard to squeeze my head through the opening.

After I get through and I visualize the two spheres at my extremities, there is a feeling of peace and tranquillity.

There is no need for me to repeat these visualizations when further performing the QC in the following practice and ritual work, for i'm already there and only "get back to Earth" when I close the workings.

This whole procedure could last up to 1minute at times, when I'm more distracted, or I had a bad way, but worth it in the end.

I hope someone will perform this procedure at least once and share the experience.


Dacia Pacea said...


Dacia Pacea said...

** squeeze my head and body

Darn autocorrect! :)