Ascendant is the first of a projected series of anthologies on the subject of polytheist theology and philosophy of religion, published by Neos Alexandria, one of the liveliest of the current polytheist religious organizations. It's got essays by some of the leading lights of today's polytheist revival, wrestling with an assortment of Big Questions from the standpoint of belief in many gods. My essay, "The One and the Many: An Essay on Pagan Neoplatonism," takes issue with the common but mistaken confusion that sees Neoplatonism as monotheist, on the one hand, or monist on the other. I think it came out well, but it's far from the best piece in the book. If you're interested in the philosophical and theological dimensions of polytheism, this is not a book you'll want to miss.
A Magical Education is the first of three anthologies of my talks and essays, published by Aeon Books. This volume includes nine of the talks I gave at a variety of Pagan and occult conferences between 2001 and 2010 -- specifically, the nine most popular talks, the one I was asked to give again and again. As a taster, here are the titles of the talks:
1 - A Magical Education
2 - Magical Ecology
3 - The Secret History of Neopaganism
4 - Victorian Sex Magic
5 - Understanding Renaissance Magic
6 - Magic, Metapolitics, and Reality
7 - Alchemical Initiation
8 - Healing Through the Elements
9 - Paganism and the Future
The two remaining volumes, The City of Hermes and Beyond the Narratives, include between them nearly all of the short pieces I published between 1993, when my first article saw print, and 2015.
Ascendant will be in print within a matter of days, and I'll post something here as soon as it sees print. A Magical Education will be out in March, but is currently available for preorder here, with free shipping worldwide.
Please note that a magical temple in this sense isn't a building set aside for magical work. I wish I had one of those, but that's kind of hard to afford on a writer's income! A magical temple is a space temporarily set aside for magical practice. It can be any convenient place. Before the temple is opened and after it's closed, the space can be used for any other purpose. (For example, I use my study as a temple space; the rest of the time, it's where I write.) It needs to be large enough that you can set up an altar in the center and then walk around it without bumping into anything. The altar can be any flat surface at more or less waist height at least 18 inches square -- a folding tray works very well. You can cover it with the altar cloth of your choice, or leave it bare.
You'll also need two pieces of hardware to go on the altar. One of them is something in which you can burn incense; the other is something to hold a small amount of water. These can be as ornate or as simple as you like. I practiced for years with a simple pottery wineglass and a plain wooden incense burner. Put the altar in the middle of the space, with the four sides square to the four points of the compass -- if you have any question where east is, get a magnetic compass and find out. When you stand at the west side of the altar and face east, the vessel of water is on the left side of the altar and the incense burner is on the right.
Once you're set up, you're ready to begin. As with the other polytheist ceremonial magic rituals I've posted here, the marker (PATRON) in the text should be replaced by the name of your own patron deity. Here are the rituals:
Opening the Temple
First, stand at the west side of the altar, facing east. Raise your right hand, palm forward, to salute the divine powers you will summon during the ritual, and say, “In the name of (PATRON), and in the presence of all the gods and goddesses, I prepare to open this temple.”
Second, perform the complete Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram to call magical energies into the space.
Third, standing at the west of the altar, facing east, pick up the vessel of water in both hands and raise it up. Say: “Let this temple and all within it be purified with water.” Go to the east, dip the fingers of one hand into the water, and flick droplets of water three times to the east. Go around to the south, and do the same thing; repeat the same action in the west and the north. Return to the east, face east, lift up the vessel of water in both hands, and say: “The temple is purified.” Then go back to the west of the altar and return the vessel of water to its place.
Fourth, standing at the west of the altar facing east, pick up the incense—if you are burning stick incense, just the stick is fine; if you are using cone or loose incense, lift up the burner in both hands. Say, “Let this temple and all within it be consecrated by fire.” Go to the east and with one hand, wave smoke from the incense three times to the east. Go around to the south, and do the same thing; repeat the same action in the west and the north. Return to the east, face east, lift up the incense in both hands, and say: “The temple is consecrated.” Then go back to the west of the altar and return the incense to its place.
Fifth, starting from the west of the altar, walk clockwise in a circle around the altar, passing the east four times. Each time you pass the east, bow your head in respect. This is the ancient and very widespread Pagan rite of circumambulation, still practiced in many polytheist societies around the world. As you walk, imagine your movements creating a whirlpool of energy that draws in magical power from the far reaches of the universe to your magical temple. When you have passed the east four times, circle back to the west of the altar and face east.
Sixth, spread your arms wide and say, “(PATRON), my patron god(dess), I ask you to bless and consecrate this temple of high magic, and aid me with your power in all the work I perform herein.” Pause for a time, and concentrate on sensing your patron deity’s presence and power surrounding you.
Seventh, still standing at the west of the altar facing east, raise your right hand again, palm forward, and say, “In the name of (PATRON), and in the presence of all the gods and goddesses, I proclaim this temple duly open.” This completes the ritual.
Closing the Temple:
First, standing at the west of the altar, facing east, pick up the vessel of water in both hands and raise it up. Say: “Let this temple and all within it be purified with water.” Repeat the process of purifying the temple with water, exactly as you did in the third step of the opening ritual. Then go back to the west of the altar and return the vessel of water to its place.
Second, standing at the west of the altar facing east, pick up the incense and say, “Let this temple and all within it be consecrated by fire.” Repeat the process of consecrating the temple with fire, exactly as you did in the fourth step of the opening riutal. Then go back to the west of the altar and return the incense to its place.
Third, starting from the west of the altar, walk counterclockwise in a circle around the altar, passing the east four times. Each time you pass the east, bow your head in respect. As you walk, imagine your movements dispersing the whirlpool of energy you created earlier and sending the intention of your working out into the universe to accomplish your will. When you have passed the east four times, circle back to the west of the altar and face east.
Fourth, spread your arms wide and say, “ In the name of (PATRON), I set free any spirits who may have been imprisoned by this ceremony. Depart unto your rightful habitations in peace, and peace be between us.” Pause for a moment, and then perform the complete Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
Fifth, standing at the west of the altar facing east, raise your right hand again, palm forward, and say, “In the name of (PATRON), and in the presence of all the gods and goddesses, I proclaim this temple duly closed.” This completes the ritual.*************************
Okay, now you've got the rituals; what do you do with them?
First of all, of course, you practice them until you can do the complete opening and closing ritual from memory, just as you did with the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and the Middle Pillar exercise. (If you haven't practiced those two rituals enough to do them from memory, go back and work on them until you can do that, before you get to work in this ritual.)
Once you've got the opening and closing rituals by heart and can do them with intention, the fun begins. The opening ritual establishes a space in which you can do serious magical practice, and the closing ritual disperses any unused energies and makes the space safe for other purposes. They're the two slices of bread on which you build your magical sandwich. The filling? That's up to you. It can be spellwork, it can be spiritual exercises, it can be active imagination aka scrying in the spirit vision aka Pathworking, it can be whatever kind of magical working you happen to want to get up to. Doing the work in an open temple gives you a safe, cleansed, magically empowered space for any work you want to do, and closing the temple afterwards settles things down afterwards.
There are other ritual elements that get plugged into the ritual structure we're developing here, and we'll get into those as we proceed. For now, try doing this at least once a week; if you don't have anything else to do between the opening and the closing, try doing the Middle Pillar exercise in the space between the opening and the closing.
Have fun, and we'll go further in due time.
This is the basic internal energy practice of Golden Dawn magic. It’s meant to waken and energize five energy centers in the subtle body, and then circulate energy through the subtle body as a whole. It’s best done every day, right after the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and right before your daily meditation.
You’re going to need to personalize this rite to work with whatever pantheon of deities you prefer. You’re going to need the names of five deities; you’re also going to need five colors and five symbols.
The default option here, adapted from Israel Regardie’s The Art of True Healing, is to use deities corresponding to the five elements—spirit, air, fire, water, and earth, in that order. In that case the colors are white, yellow, red, blue, and brown, in that order, and the symbols are the sun, a cloud, a flame, a drop of water, and a stone.
That’s the default option, again. You don’t have to use the default option. If your tradition has other symbols for the five elements, you can use them; if it associates the elements with other colors, you can use those.
You can also choose a different and subtler logic for the deities you assign to the energy centers. The first deity can be the supreme deity of your pantheon; the second can be a deity of wisdom and initiation; the third can be a hero deity, a sun deity, or a deity of the hearth; the fourth can be a fertility deity, or a woodland deity, or a deity who’s closely associated with the life force; and the fifth can be a maiden goddess. (Those readers who know their way around The Celtic Golden Dawn now know the logic behind that book’s version of the exercise.)
By the way, in case you were wondering, the names of the deities don’t have to have four letters each. That was just for the pentagram ritual.)
However you do it, work out a suitable table as follows:
Crown center: DEITY 1 COLOR 1 SYMBOL 1
Throat center: DEITY 2 COLOR 2 SYMBOL 2
Heart center: DEITY 3 COLOR 3 SYMBOL 3
Genital center: DEITY 4 COLOR 4 SYMBOL 4
Foot Center: DEITY 5 COLOR 5 SYMBOL 5
In the Druidical GD, these are as follows:
Crown center: Hu White Sun
Throat center: Ced Violet Crescent moon
Heart center: Hesus Golden Cluster of oak leaves
Genital center: Coel/Sul* Silver Red dragon
Foot Center: Olwen Green White trefoil
*There’s a lot of polarity symbolism in Druidical magic, so which deity you invoke at the genital center is determined by which set of physical genitalia you have, Coel if you’ve got male genitals, Sul if you’ve got the female set.
Or let’s say you wanted to do an Anglo-Saxon version, one option might be this:
Crown center: Tiw White Sun
Throat center: Woden Blue Raven
Heart center: Frige Red Spindle
Genital center: Ing Green Sheaf of Barley
Foot Center: Eostre Brown Flowers
Other arrangements could be chosen easily enough; these are just samples. Make your decision and give it a try.
Once you’ve got your table constructed, the exercise is done as follows:
First, perform the complete Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
Second, imagine a ray of light descending from infinite space to form a sphere of light just above your head, around eight inches in diameter. This sphere is COLOR 1 and contains SYMBOL 1. When you have formulated it clearly in your imagination, vibrate NAME 1 three times.
Third, bring the ray of light to your throat, and form another sphere. This one is COLOR 2 and contains SYMBOL 2. When you have formulated it, vibrate NAME 2 three times.
Fourth, bring the ray of light to your heart, and form a third sphere, which is COLOR 3 and contains SYMBOL 3. NAME 3 is vibrated here three times.
Fifth, bring the ray of light to your genital center, and form a fourth sphere. This one is COLOR 4 and contans SYMBOL 4. NAME 4 is vibrated here three times.
Sixth, bring the ray of light to your feet, and form a fifth center. This one is COLOR 5 and contains SYMBOL 5. The name vibrated here, three times, is NAME 5.
Seventh, return the attention to the center at the top of the head. Bring a current of white light a few inches wide down the right side of the head and neck, the right shoulder and arm, and the right hip and leg, down to the center at the feet, and then back up the left leg and hip, the left arm and shoulder, and the left side of the neck and head, back to the center at the head. Repeat this a total of three times; if possible, synchronize with the breath, so that the energy flows down with the outbreath and up with the inbreath, but it is more important to visualize the whole course than to make it happen within a single breath.
Eighth, in the same way, bring a current of white light from the center above the head, down the midline of the front of the body to the center at the feet, and then back up the midline of the back of the body to the center above the head. Repeat a total of three times.
Ninth, turn the attention to the center at the feet. Breathing in, draw a current of energy up the Middle Pillar of the body from that center to the center above the head; breathing out, allow it to spray like a fountain out and over the whole body, cleansing the entire aura, pooling at the feet and being drawn back up the Middle Pillar with the next inbreath. Do this a total of three times.Tenth, perform the Circle of Presence. This completes the exercise.
To use this ritual you'll need five divine names. One of them is the name of the god or goddess with whom you have a personal relationship. The other are four names taken from the pantheon you worship, each of which has four letters. (Think ZEUS, ISIS, etc.) It's best to have two gods and two goddesses; other than that, and the requirement that each name have four and only four letters, it's up to you.* **
* If you use a sacred alphabet, such as the runes or Ogham, it's four runes or four Ogham fews, whether or not that amounts to four English letters.
** In the ritual below, the names of the deities will be given as PATRON, GODDESS 1, GOD 1, GODDESS 2, and GOD 2.
Got it? Here's the ritual.
1. Stand facing east. Raise your hands from your sides in an arc until your palms join above your head, fingers pointing up. Draw your joined hands down to your forehead, visualizing light descending from infinite space to a point above your head, and say, "In the name of..."
Draw your joined hands down to your heart, visualize a ray of light descending from above your head to the center of the earth, and vibrate the name (PATRON). (Vibration? That's the mode of chanting that produces a buzzing or tingling sensation in your body.)
Now separate your hands, and touch your right shoulder with the fingertips of your left hand and your left shoulder with the fingertips of your right hand, the hands crossing at the wrist. Say:"...my patron god(dess)..."
Now raise the elbows straight up and bring your hands up, out, and down in a circular motion, bringing them back together palm to palm in front of your lower abdomen or groin (depending on your body's proportions). Visualize your fingertips tracing a circle of light. As you do this say: "..I place myself within the circle of Her (or His) presence..."
Now bring the joined hands up to your heart again, fingertips pointing upwards. Visualize the shaft of light descending from infinite space to the center of the earth, the circle of light you drew with your hands, and your heart shining like a sun. Say: "...and protection."
This rite is called the Circle of Presence, and replaces the Qabalistic Cross.
2. Go to the eastern quarter of the space, and trace a pentagram with the first two fingers of your right hand, beginning with the top point, and tracing counterclockwise to banish. (This is for the banishing ritual; you'd trace clockwise to summon.) Visualize the pentagram drawn in a line of light. Point to the center of the pentagram and vibrate the name (GODDESS 1).
Trace a circle around to the south, draw the pentagram in the same way, point to the center, and vibrate the name (GOD 1).
Repeat to the west, trace the pentagram, and vibrate the name (GODDESS 2).
Repeat to the north, trace the pentagram, and vibrate the name (GOD 2).
Trace the line back around to the east and return to the center.
4. Repeat the Circle of Presence. This completes the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram.Notes:
1. Yes, you can have the gods in east and west and the goddesses in north and south if you wish. It works best to have the gods facing each other and the goddesses facing each other, for the sake of balance.
2. Yes, you can reference some kind of elemental symbols in the four quarters in part 3 if your tradition has them, e.g., the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan, or the four sacred animals we use in Druidry. If not, just use the elements as given.
3. Yes, I know, the Hermetic GD version of the pentagram ritual traces the pentagram differently. We've done it this way in the Hermetic GD for some years now with excellent results; give it a try and see how you like it.
4. Why four and only four letters? I have no idea, but it reliably works better that way.