Monday, July 18, 2016

Thoughts on the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram

A reader contacted me about two weeks ago asking some questions about the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. Apparently one of the external sites I link to has a version of the ritual that differs from the version that I use, and that version has a couple of changes that I don't personally like. So since the Lesser Hexagram plays an important role in the operant magical system, I really should have put up a post on it years ago so I could link to my a page of my own and avoid any confusion.

But I suppose there's no time like the present, right?

This article is not as detailed as my presentation on the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, which was written for a Pagan Pride audience that I assumed would include a lot of novice practitioners who might never have even performed a ceremonial ritual. If you are such a practitioner, I recommend that you review my Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram presentation before delving into this one. My suggestions for breathing, visualization, vibration, and so forth apply to this ritual as well, and should be understood before moving beyond the Lesser Pentagram.

To recap, it should be understood that "Lesser" does not mean "lame" and "Greater" does not mean "awesome" in the parlance of the Golden Dawn magical system. "Lesser" means preliminary or general, as the Lesser rituals are used to set up your magical space for performing any sort of ritual whatsoever. Greater means specific, and as such the Greater rituals follow the Lesser rituals and serve to "tune the space" to the corresponding element, planet, or sign for your operation.

The current Golden Dawn system also includes a ritual called the "Supreme Ritual of the Pentagram," but as this nomenclature essentially breaks the original model I have to think that it was a later addition of some sort. A "Supreme Pentagram" is akin to a Greater Ritual of the Pentagram for Malkuth, in which each of the four elemental pentagrams is traced at the appropriate quarter with the corresponding godname. In terms of the Thelemic rituals, it is most similar to Liber V vel Regulu.


The first thing you will probably notice when you start working with this ritual is that elemental directions are different. That is intentional. In the Western magical system, there are two primary sets of attributions for the directions and classical elements. Both of these are found in Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, so they date back to at least the Renaissance.

The first of these is called the "winds" model, and it is probably the most widely used. In this arrangement, Air is in the east, Fire is in the south, Water is in the west, and Earth is in the north. It is called the "winds" model because it is based on the following arrangement derived from the four classical powers:

The winds from the east are Warm and Moist so Air is in the east.
The winds from the south are Warm and Dry so Fire is in the south.
The winds from the west are Cool and Moist so Water is in the west.
The winds from the north are Cool and Dry so Earth is in the north.

As I mentioned in my Elemental Work posts, John Opsopaus has written a great series of articles on the Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements, which explains in detail how the classical powers combine to produce the four classical elements, and I refer you to that series if you are looking for more information on this subject.

The key takeaway from the origin of the "winds" model is that it is microcosmic in nature. That is, it is based on how the winds feel to the individual experiencing them, which is essentially a subjective focus. The second model is based on the position of the Sun in the signs of the Zodiac throughout the year in the northern hemisphere, and is macrocosmic in nature as the position of the Sun is entirely objective.

The Sun is at its most northward at the summer solstice, in the sign Cancer. Cancer is the cardinal sign of Water, so in this arrangement Water is in the north. It is at its most southward at the winter solstice, in the sign Capricorn. Capricorn is the cardinal sign of Earth, so Earth is in the south. At the beginning of the year, the vernal equinox, it is in Aries. Aries is the cardinal sign of Fire, so Fire is in the east. Finally, at the end of the year, the autumnal equinox, the Sun is in Libra. Libra is the cardinal sign of Air, so Air is in the west.

Note that I have never visited the southern hemisphere, so I never have tried to do my practices there and see how well they work. It may be that as the "zodiac" model depends upon the objective position of the Sun, the elemental directions may need to be reversed. So Air would go in the east, Water in the South, Fire in the west, and Earth in the north. At the same time, in that arrangement Air and Earth do not change position from the winds model, which might be relevant.

This because understanding the dynamic tension between these two models is one of the keys to making the operant field work. Some teachers have recommended that you rearrange the elemental directions in the Lesser Hexagram so that they correspond to those in the Lesser Pentagram, but if you want to use the operant field to its full potential, do not do this. It turns the Lesser Hexagram more microcosmic, which will limit your ability to influence the external world.

Other teachers - most of them, in fact - recommend that you use the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram together as part of your daily practice. Again, if you want to use the operant field to its full potential, do not do this. It creates a banishing field, which basically shuts down both microcosmic and macrocosmic magical forces. There are circumstances where you might want to do that, but as a daily practice it is serious overkill and, again, can limit your ability to influence the external world.

I can't say that I have the data to emphatically assert that those teachers are wrong, but this is what I will say - try both my way and theirs for a period of time and see what works the best for you. I am willing to bet that most of you will prefer my version, because so far that's what I've seen. Most people I have taught strongly prefer the operant field method, as it lets them start getting practical results more quickly.

So here is how you perform the ritual itself. You should always perform the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram before the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. Once you have concluded that ritual, you begin and end the Lesser Hexagram with the Keyword Analysis, which contains the L. V. X. signs. These were the Minor Adept signs in the original Golden Dawn system, and they correspond to the central sephira Tiphareth.

The Keyword Analysis is performed as follows, according to Aleister Crowley's Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae.

(i) Stand upright, feet together, left arm at side, right across body, holding the wand or other weapon upright in the median line. Then face East and say:

(ii) I. N. R. I.
Yod. Nun. Resh. Yod.
Virgo, Isis, Mighty Mother.
Scorpio, Apophis, Destroyer.
Sol, Osiris, Slain and Risen.
Isis, Apophis, Osiris, IAO.

(iii) Extend the arms in the form of a cross, and say: "The Sign of Osiris Slain."

(iv) Raise the right arm to point upwards, keeping the elbow square, and lower the left arm to point downwards, keeping the elbow square, while turning the head over the left shoulder looking down so that the eyes follow the left forearm, and say: "The Sign of the Mourning of Isis."

(v) Raise your arms at an angle of sixty degrees to each other above the head, which is thrown back, and say: "The Sign of Apophis and Typhon."

(vi) Cross the arms on the breast, and bow the head, and say: "The Sign of Osiris Risen."

(vii) Extrend the arms again as in (iii) and cross them again as in (vi), saying: "L. V. X., Lux, the Light of the
Cross."

There's a lot to unpack here, and I am not going to delve into all of it. For example, the image at the top of this article shows the L. V. X. signs mapped onto the paths of the Tree of Life. That's a lot of material to cover, and you probably will get more out of it researching it yourself based on your understanding of Hermetic Qabalah. This article is more of a how-to or need-to-know piece that explains how the ritual is performed rather than addressing all of its deep symbolism.

So essentially, this short passage recounts the Osiran myth, in which Osiris is slain by his brother Set and resurrected by his wife Isis. Note that Set is NOT the same entity as Apophis and Typhon, though they are sometimes conflated by modern practitioners. In Egyptian mythology Apophis or Apep was the serpent who lay in wait below the horizon and attempted to devour the Sun each night as it passed through the underworld.

The identification of Apep with Set is particularly ironic because it was in fact Set who guarded the bark of Ra against this mighty serpent, and thus helped to prevent the Sun from being devoured every night. So Set and Apep were in fact adversaries. Typhon is a Greek deity who like Apep symbolized chaos, which is why the two are conflated in this sign. In the context of the Osiran myth, Apophis and Typhon therefore alludes to Osiris passing into the underworld symbolized by Apep, rather than to the identity of his murderer.


These images show the four L.V.X. signs that are given during the Keyword Analysis at the appropriate points. I perform the Keyword Analysis pretty much as shown here, with one major modification. I do not say "the sign of" when giving the four signs. I feel like doing so robs the ritual of much of its dynamic character. So I give the Sign of Osiris Slain and just say "Osiris Slain," the Sign of the Mourning of Isis and say, "The Mourning of Isis," and so forth.

Once you have finished the Keyword Analysis, you begin in the east and move clockwise, tracing the hexagram of each element to the appropriate direction as you vibrate the keyword ARARITA. This word essentially means unity, and is derived from a Notariquon or acronym alluding to the Hebrew phrase Achad Rosh Achdotho Rosh Ichudo Temu rahzo Achad, meaning "One is His Beginning; One is His Individuality, His Permutation is One."

The elemental hexagrams are constructed from two triangles. The upward-pointing triangle represents Fire and the downward-pointing triangle represents Water. So Fire is Fire over Fire, Earth is Fire balanced with Water, Air is Fire over Water, and Water is Water over Fire. That being the case, these are the colors in which they should be visualized.


Note also that you always trace the upright (Fire) triangle first. Some books and other sources show the upper triangle always being traced first, which is incorrect. It only makes a difference for the Water hexagram, but you should be aware of it for that reason alone. Also, a number of commenters have noted that the hexagrams resemble their corresponding elemental weapons, and this can be a useful mnemonic. Fire would be the wand, Earth the pantacle, Air the dagger, and Water the cup. If you look at the shapes closely, you can see how they line up.

One of the common variations that I find on Thelemic sites is that the upright triangle is shown in blue while the downward-pointing triangle is shown in red. This is from Aleister Crowley's commentary on "The Holy Hexagram" in The Book of Lies, in which he discusses the inversion of the "hexagram of nature" in the Holy Hexagram or "hexagram of magick." However, I am of the opinion that this commentary refers to the Star Sapphire and NOT to the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram.

It should be noted that this ritual has been subjected to a number of variations particularly by Thelemites, as the Thelemic system is not based on the formula of the Dying and Reborn God as the original Golden Dawn system was. So far, though, no one version has emerged as the definitive "Thelemic" version. My magical working group developed our own, which uses a completely different keyword analysis and employs the unicursal hexagram as the elemental figure. You can find that ritual here, but I recommend learning the original before playing around with different versions.

Some teachers argue that you should be able to trace "Planetary Lesser Hexagrams" by attributing the planetary points to all four elemental forms of the hexagram used here. I completely disagree with this usage, as the lesser hexagrams are elemental in nature, not planetary. If you want a planet, you should instead use the Greater Ritual of the Hexagram for that planet. Furthermore, it's not even clear to me what you would use a "Lesser Planetary Hexagram" for that you couldn't do with the Greater rituals at least as efficiently.

At any rate, once you have completed tracing all four hexagrams, you return to face East, completing the circle, and repeat the Keyword Analysis. The ritual is then complete, and in conjunction with the Lesser Pentagram should have opened a magical field based on the banishing/invoking orientations of the pentagrams and hexagrams. The operant field, the version that I mostly use in both my daily practice and my practical ceremonial work combines the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram.

So now that this is up, my next task is to look for links to the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram on the site and point them here. There are almost 1500 articles, so wading through them will take some time. But this is the definitive version as far as I'm concerned, so if you see me talking about the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram anywhere else, this is what I have in mind.

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