Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Learning Daily Practices

This article is an expansion of a comment I wrote to a reader regarding some unexpected issues coming up while working on learning daily practices. I think much of what I'll be talking about here can be found elsewhere on the blog, but I wanted to put it all in one place.

The daily practice regimen that I usually recommend to students is:

1. Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram

2. Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram

3. Middle Pillar Ritual

4. Meditation

5. Qabalistic Cross

For Thelemites like me, the following is analogous:

1. Star Ruby

2. Star Sapphire

3. Elevenfold Seal (from Liber Regului)

4. Meditation

5. Qabalistic Cross (Star Ruby version)

In my personal work I usually employ a mix of those two sequences, opening with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the modified Comselh Ananael version of the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Hexagram and then the Elevenfold Seal.

The function of each step is as follows:

1. A banishing lesser (or, more properly, general) ritual of the pentagram is a microcosmic ritual that "cleans up," aligns, and purifies your sphere of consciousness. Rituals of this sort do not affect anything beyond the bounds of your personal aura (or body of light or whatever other term you prefer) and act primarily upon you personally. Some people erroneously use these rituals to clear or banish ritual spaces, which doesn't actually work well. Yes, there is a connection between microcosm and macrocosm so you might be able to get a small or limited effect, but it's like blowing air at a heavy object in order to move it and not even remotely efficient.

You will note that the archangels called upon in the LRP correspond to the four classical elements (where the pentagrams and godnames in the LRP don't, BTW) and are positioned according to the "winds" model from Agrippa. This is the directional model that you see everywhere, from ceremonial magick to neo-paganism: Air in the East (Raphael), Fire in the South (Michael), Water in the West (Gabriel), and Earth in the North (Auriel). This is fundamentally a microcosmic orientation, being based on the perception of the qualities of winds coming from each of the four directions by a person standing in various places in Europe. It also holds in Minnesota, where I happen to live.

2. The reason you want your sphere of consciousness to be clear and aligned is to facilitate the invocation of the elemental forces of nature. This is accomplished by means of an invoking lesser (or, more properly, general) ritual of the hexagram. You will note that the macrocosmic elemental hexagrams are positioned in a different order than the archangels in the LRP - Fire in the East, Earth in the South, Air in the West, and Water in the north. This is the second elemtal order found in Agrippa, the zodiacal order, based on the behavior of the Sun as it passes through the signs. The Sun is furthest north in Cancer (Water) and furthest south in Capricorn (Earth). Aries (Fire), the first sign, is placed in the East and its opposite, Libra (Air), is placed in the West.

I have seen teachers recommend messing around with these elemental orders so that they match - generally by switching the LRH so that its directions match the LRP. This method might work for a stronger microcosmic banishing or something like that, but that's not what we are doing here when we perform the LRH as an invocation. By clearing and aligning the microcosm, and then invoking - that is, calling in - the elemental forces of the universe according to their macrocosmic attributions and directions, we facilitate the merging of the microcosm and macrocosm in a "field" that encompasses our ritual space. When we then perform a ritual within this space, microcosmic thoughts transition far more easily into manifestation in the macrocosmic realm.

3. The Middle Pillar Ritual is a general invocation of the divine based on the godnames and attributions of the sephiroth on the middle pillar of the Hermetic Qabalistic Tree of Life. It is placed at this point in the sequence because you want to invoke the divine after you open your field - that is, so you can invoke the macrocosmic aspects of divinity. If you were to do it following an LBRP or LIRP only, you would primarily be activating the corresponding microcosmic aspects within yourself without calling the macrocosmic aspects in. To be clear, this isn't necessarily a bad thing and can be useful under the right circumstances. But it is identification with the macrocosmic aspects of the divine that confer upon you the authority to most effectively and efficiently work with spirits, so it is an important distinction to keep in mind.

4. The meditation here can be any sort of meditative practice that works for you. The simplest is something like a 20 minute session of mindfulness meditation, which simply involved focus on the breath and returning to that focus whenever your mind wanders. I've said this elsewhere, but don't overdo this. I have found that people who wind up having issues with meditation usually are people who do much longer sessions than 20-30 minutes. Americans are heavily socialized around the idea that "more is better," but it isn't necessarily true in this case. Also, do the 20 minutes every day. You will get far less benefit from, say, doing an hour one day and then skipping the next two. The regularity of your meditation sessions are more important than their length. This is also true of your magical work.

Note that an exception can be made to this if you are working with an experienced meditation teacher, for example on a facilitated meditation retreat or in a formal teacher/student arrangement. If you have a teacher that you trust and they recommend longer sessions, don't cite my advice here as a reason not to do it. My point is that if you're working on your own, it's a bad idea to push yourself hard to more than you are reasonably comfortable with because you think it's "badass" or something. Doing that is a recipe for burnout and failure, even if you avoid other significant negative outcomes.

This section is left deliberately flexible because all sorts of things can be added here depending on what you are working on. If, for example, you are working on HGA contact (in the Thelemic system) you can do Liber Samekh here for the six months required for the operation. If you are working with Liber Astarte, you can do devotional meditations and practices related to your chosen deity. There are also various meditative practiced in Liber O that you can work on here. If you are working with the visions corresponding to the sepiroth, you can do additional ceremonial forms here related to that along with your meditation session. And so forth - the point is to allow practioners to adjust their practices as they fit in whatever their circumstances happen to be.

5. Finally, the Qabalistic Cross is used here to "seal in" the results of the practice and conclude the session.

Where the comment I wrote comes into play is with respect to how you go about learning this sequence and practicing portions of it. At my ritual workshop events I generally taught students the rituals in order - LBRP, then LIRH, then Middle Pillar. But a comment from a reader got me thinking a little more about this. If you are practicing the rituals in that order, there is a point where you are doing LBRP and LIRH without any subsequent work. That could be suboptimal, because what you are doing on a daily basis is aligning your microcosm with the macrocosm and... that's it. Opening a field like that and just leaving it can lead to random thoughts propagating into the macrocosmic universe rather than a more defined intent related to your personal and magical development.

Once you are doing the Middle Pillar, this is no longer an issue because the field you have opened is being applied towards identification with the macrocosmic divine. So the adjustment I am going to make to my order is this - when learning the sequence, first learn the LRP, then the MP, and finally the LRH, even though the LRH goes before the MP in the full sequence. LBRP/MP is a common beginning practice sequence among both Golden Dawn and Thelemic practitioners, and it works fine without calling in random macrocosmic aspects. It results in the microcosmic version of the MP, but that's okay. It's fine (and helpful) to align microcosmic aspects of your sphere of consciousness with the divine as preparation for working with the macrocosmic version once you learn the LRH.

Another recommendation is that if you are just working with the LRP, you should learn both the invoking and banishing versions. If all you are doing is banishing, you will probably feel better and more relaxed. Sometimes a period of that can be necessary, depending on how much stress you have in your life when you pick up the practice. But it's important to keep in mind that you don't make a lot of progress "just banishing," contrary to claims that I've seen some teachers make. An easy way to do more than "just banishing" with the LRP is to do the LIRP when you get up in the morning and the LBRP before you go to sleep at night. This is in tune with your body's natural rhythms and will also allow you to make some progress as a magician by energizing and then clearing your sphere of consciousness on a daily basis.

The Middle Pillar can be added to this, such that you would be doing LIRP/MP in the morning and LBRP/MP at night. You are still working with the microcosmic aspects that correspond to the divine, but with both forms of the LRP you are working with them from the perspective of (A) an energized sphere of consciousness and (B) a cleared state of consciousness. This dynamic should help you integrate the macrocosmic divine aspects once you add the LIRH. And once you do that, you are both banishing and invoking in a single practice session so you no longer need both morning and evening if one or the other is difficult for you. LBRP/LIRH/MP can be done once a day to good effect, generally when you wake up or before you go to sleep depending on whether you are a morning person or a night owl. I'm a night owl myself, so I do my practice sessions before I go to sleep.

I think learning the practices in the order outlined here will lead to better results during the initial learning phase. You should endeavor to learn the whole sequence, but do it one piece at a time.

1. Learn LBRP and LIRP (the only difference is how you trace the pentagrams). Then do LIRP morning and LBRP at night.

2. Learn Middle Pillar. Add it to your morning and evening sessions.

3. Learn LBRH and LIRH (the only difference is how you trace the hexagrams). With the way I teach magick, you will use the LBRH sparingly but it's good to know it. Once you have those down, add the LIRH to your practice sessions between LRP and MP.

At this point you can drop the LIRP since you are invoking with the LIRH and you can transition to a single practice session. You can keep practicing morning and night if that works well for you, but with the LIRH you should switch your morning LRP to banishing.

The final piece that I mentioned is that you should add some basic statement of intent prior to the final Qabalistic Cross to seal your practice. The one that I use is adapted from Aleister Crowley's Gnostic Mass - "Bring me to the accomplishment of the Great Work, the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness." You don't need to literally use this exact statement. The point is to direct your practice towards your goal of becoming a better magician and also a happier person. Those should go hand in hand if you're doing it right.

One of the really cool things about learning this sequence and practicing it daily is that it can serve as your foundational opening for any practical operation, not just for your daily practice. All you have to do is replace the meditation and/or statement of intent with the practical components of the spell. So as just one example, to heal yourself by calling on the spirits of Mercury you could do this:



3. MP

4. Greater Ritual of the Hexagram for Mercury

5. Conjuration, Charge, and License to Depart for the spirits of Mercury

6. QC

The components are thus modular and can be adapted to your needs. You should get the basic daily sequence down before starting on learning practical work, but once you know the sequence I am of the opinion that you should just go for it. Some teachers want their students to do some long period of time of daily practice only - years in some cases - before doing any practical work. But as I see it, the only way to get good at practical magick is to do it, and none of us are anywhere near our full potential when starting out.

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Adrian C said...


1) What are your thoughts on the recommendation by certain occult teachers (I have in mind here mainly John Michael Greer) to begin and end every ritual with the QC? For example, in your proposed ritual sequence, it would look as follows:

QC --> LBRP --> QC --> LIRH --> QC --> MP --> QC

(Since meditation isn't strictly a ritual, the QC before/after does not apply.

2) I'm still a little hazy on your understanding of microcosm and macrocosm in the context of your field model. According to the Hermetic axiom "As Above, So Below," there is a fundamental correspondence between the microcosm and macrocosm, right? What happens "below" also happens "above," and vice-versa. Therefore, when you banish the microcosm, are you not also banishing the macrocosm? Why make any distinction between microcosm and macrocosm if any operation affecting one will affect the other? Can you treat them as independent variables?

Scott Stenwick said...

1. In my experience you do not need to do the QC between each ritual step. As I treat it, the QC starts and ends the full sequence but not necessarily each step.

You do start with the QC in my sequence because it begins (and ends) the LRP. In the Thelemic system, the LRH replaces the QC with the Keyword Analysis that begins and ends the LRH. The generic Middle Pillar is in many ways a "souped-up" QC, in that it calls on sephirothic energies, and you don't need to start that process off with a QC. You just use the QC at the end to seal the practice.

I will add that even though it's not a ritual, starting and ending a meditation session with the QC works fine if you don't have time to do the full ceremonial sequence. I would think it should enhance the meditation's effectiveness - at least it seems to work that way for me.

2. Correspondence is not the same thing as identity. I can easily demonstrate to you that microcosm and macrocosm are not identical. Think of an elephant standing in your room - or a smaller animal if an elephant wouldn't fit. Close your eyes and visualize it really intensely in your imagination. Then open your eyes and look around. Is the elephant (or other animal) physically there? My guess is no - and if the answer is really yes, I'd love to know how you managed to manifest that.

So they definitely aren't the same, which means they should not be treated as identical. But this is what I mean by correspondences. I'm willing to bet that if you tried what I suggested there really seriously, over the course of the next few days you will be a lot more likely to encounter situations involving elephants, or images of elephants, or something similar that you normally do going about your day. Some of that comes from priming your attention so you notice such things - that is, the microcosmic side - but I am convinced that some of that also has to do with your consciousness shifting probabilities in the macrocosmic world around you.

So I would do a microcosmic banishing to clear the contents of my imagination, and I would do a macrocosmic banishing to essentially shut down or push away processes, situations, and so forth going on in the world outside my imagination - that is, occupying my regular mundane reality.

Adrian C said...

That makes sense. "Correspondence =/= identity" probably gets at the root of my misunderstanding. I have a philosophical commitment to the identity of microcosm and macrocosm out of a principle of "one reality" (unus mundus), that psyche and world are manifestations of the same underlying dynamic something.

It's not controversial to state that the macrocosm influences the microcosm, but I think where our cultural worldview (materialism, scientism) falls short is in disallowing for the possibility of the microcosm affecting the macrocosm, which is where magick gains its power.

I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on the distinction between microcosm and macrocosm and how the GD rituals map onto them. As I see understand it:

Microcosm: psyche; the inner, private, subjective world of consciousness; the sphere of sensation
Macrocosm: world; the outer, transpersonal, objective world that we perceive as "out there"

Rituals of the pentagram: refer to the elements and the microcosm
Rituals of the hexagram: refer to the planets and the macrocosm

So then, where do the macrocosmic elements and microcosmic planets fit in?

Scott Stenwick said...

Exactly right as far as macrocosm influencing microcosm but not vice-versa. That's right out of Kant, who called them "the world of things in themselves" and "the world of appearances."

Break it all the way down, though, and you get to the hard problem of consciousness and the mind-body problem. I decide to move my arm, and then move it. I began with a thought (world of appearances) and the result of that process results in the movement of a physical object - the arm (in the world of things in themselves).

If we assume that there's some faculty that interfaces with consciousness and enables the kinds of effects that we generally refer to as "psychic abilities" and consider paranormal, the philosophy is fine - your consciousness activates your psychic abilities when you do magick just like you decide to move your arm and then move. But we don't know what the faculty that interfaces with consciousness is, for both arm movements and psychic abilities. Once we solve that, we'll understand magick a lot better.

To talk about macrocosmic elements and microcosmic planets, you need to understand the distinction between the Lesser (or general) rituals and the Greater (or specific) rituals. The scope of any magical operation (microcosmic or macrocosmic) is set by the Lesser rituals, and that then is the scope in which the aspects called by the Greater rituals operate. Here's how those sequences break down:

Microcosmic Elements = LRP + GRP
Macrocosmic Elements = LRP + LRH + GRP
Microcosmic Planets = LRP + GRH
Macrocosmic Planets = LRP + LRH + GRH

In the Thelemic system you use the GRH for signs of the zodiac, so they map the same as planets. In the Golden Dawn system, you use the GRP for signs of the zodiac so they instead map like elements.

Rodav said...

Hi Scott, I'm now doing the full daily practice and it occurred to me that you describe the QC as having a "sealing in" function. I wondered, does it make sense to have it at the end of the LBRP when the LBRP is part of a larger ritual sequence ? Have you ever tried the LBRP without the QC at the end - only having the QC at the beginning of the LBRP and after the meditation (or operation) at the end of the entire sequence ? I haven't been doing the daily practice long enough to make an experiment valid.

Scott Stenwick said...

Yes, I have tried removing it and going into the next ritual step. In my experience it doesn't work as well. The LRP includes two QC's at the beginning and end, and it appears to be written that way for a reason.

I think the idea may be that since the LRP is essentially part of an "imaginary circle" you begin and end it with the QC to complete that stage of the circle. The LRH is also part of your imaginary circle and it does the same thing with the Keyword Analysis.

Rodav said...

Okay, thanks