Ceremonial Magick: Expectation vs Reality

Bright Blessings, Witches! In today’s post we cover the next installment of the Expectation vs Reality series: Ceremonial Magick. Fair warning, this topic is controversial among many in the magickal community. I would like to note here that as always my aim in writing this is to offer insight objectively and without imparting my personal opinions on the matter. Having said that, let’s dive in!

WHAT IS CEREMONIAL MAGICK?

ceremonial magick

Suspected to be around since the 14th century, a great portion of ceremonial magick is constituted of Western esotericism and Hermeticism. Also known as ‘ritual magick’, ‘learned magick’, and ‘high magick’, ceremonial magick covers an expansive range of complex and elaborate customs and ceremony. Indicated by rituals and a variety of mandatory tools that assist the user, it draws from multiple schools of thought like Thelema, the Hermetic Qabalah, Enochian magick, and philosophies of different grimoires.

Another way to describe ceremonial magick is when the practitioner utilizes certain invocations and rituals as a way to reach out to the spirit world. What the practitioner is trying to achieve determines which spirit, entity, devil, demon, etc. is called or invoked. For instance, those seeking wealth would call the demon Clauneck, who appears in the grimoires The Secrets of Solomon, Grimorium Verum, and Dictionnaire Infernal.

RULES AND REGULATIONS

rules and regulations of ceremonial magick

A huge part of practicing ceremonial magick is following the rules and regulations set forth by practitioners past. As the spirits and entities being called were extremely uncooperative, magicians had to figure out how to not only make them appear, but for them to obey as well. This need resulted in the construction of very specific instructions and methods.

Ceremonial magicians were required to display their abilities and powers over the entity. To do so, magicians used ‘words of power’ which were generally calling the names of archangels, angels, and god which in turn made the spirit reluctantly show themselves and obey commands.

Quite a bit of preparation was necessary before a practitioner was able to begin conjuring. A magician was required to construct all of their instruments by following a specified formula. For instance, knife handles and wands had to be cut from specific trees on certain days of the week in the hours of particular planets. The temple, tools, and magician were all required to be purified via various methods like washing, bathing, fasting, and prayer prior to the conjuration.

OTHER DECREES

Suggestions from The Book of Abramelin include:

  • The magician should not be less than 25 years and not more than 50 years
  • They should not have any hereditary disease, like virulent leprosy
  • The practitioner may be either single or married
  • The magician must be dressed in special robes
  • They must wear a crown of parchment
  • The magician must hang amulets and pentacles around their neck and from their belt
  • The practitioner must cast a large magick circle, carefully made and surrounded with the names and words of power. A small triangle, also surrounded with names and words of power, must be constructed outside of the circle. It is within this triangle the called entity would appear.

THE EXPECTATIONS VS REALITIES OF CEREMONIAL MAGICK

  1. Expectation: Ceremonial magick is considered “elite” compared to folk magick, witchcraft, natural magick, etc.
    Reality: A magickal hierarchy does not exist
there is no hierarchy in magick

What type of magick or path a practitioner chooses to take does not make them “better” or “higher” than someone else. In simplest terms, someone who practices natural magick utilizes that which makes up the natural world, versus a person who invokes spirits, deities, demons and entities in order to command them to serve. While they are very different, one is not above the other.

  1. Expectation: Historically, ceremonial magick was only practiced by those who were male, wealthy, aristocratic and literate
    Reality: A readily available grimoire entitled The Grimorium Verum was mass-produced with directions for both women and men
men and women both practice ceremonial magick

The Grimorium Verum completely debunks the assumption that ceremonial magick was and could only be performed by upper class men. From the very first paragraph of The First Book:

“You must carry the aforesaid character with you. If you are male, in the right pocket, and it is to be written in your own blood, or that of a sea-turtle. You put at the two half-circles the first letter of your name and surname. And if you wish more, you may draw the character on an emerald or ruby, for they have a sympathy for the spirits, especially those of the Sun, who are the most knowledgeable, and are better than the others. If you are a female, carry the character on the left side, between the breasts, like a Reliquary; and always observing, as much as the other sex, to write or have engraved the character on the day and in the hour of Mars. Obey the spirits in this, that they may obey thee.”

Source
  1. Expectation: You have to be a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to practice ceremonial magick
    Reality: This secret society was dissolved in 1903
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Fuzzypeg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When we look at the modern-day ideas behind ceremonial magick, they are more often than not inspired by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the time of the Victorian Era, this secret society flourished and perhaps is still the most well known among other occult groups of the time.

The ultimate downfall of the group was partly due to member infighting over determining the true religious beliefs of the Order. The other nail in the coffin for this society was the contrast of Christian and Pagan credence that finally resulted in the Order’s dissolve.

CURRENT SOCIETIES

The active international organization known as Ordo Templi Orientis – AKA O.T.O. – was originally based on Freemasonry, which along with Rosicrucianism played a crucial role in the Golden Dawn’s formation. Most current day ceremonial magick practitioners trace their roots back to the tenets of the Order alongside the Freemasons’ structure of ritual initiatory grades.

The O.T.O. was lead by occultist Aleister Crowley during the 1900s, when the organization started to add elements of Thelema. A number of changes in leadership occurred after the death of Crowley, however the numerous rituals and initiations for members seems to have remained consistent.

While the details of ceremonial magick is ambiguous at best, this is mainly the result of the need for community secrecy. As posited by British occultist, ceremonial magick practitioner and author Dion Fortune:

“Secrecy concerning practical formulae of ceremonial magic is also advisable, for if they are used indiscriminately, the virtue goes out of them.”

Dion Fortune
  1. Expectation: You have to be initiated by another ceremonial magician to practice
    Reality: Solitary practitioners often work this path
solitary ceremonial magician witch practitioner

While we have talked quite a bit about the societies and orders that come to mind when speaking of ceremonial magick, this does not mean a solitary practitioner is excluded from journeying down this path. As with everything associated with witchcraft and magick, knowledge is the first tool to work with.

Through reading books, blogs, and sites, and engaging in the active pursuit of educating yourself, you can certainly pursue become a ceremonial magician. Don’t let the idea of initiations and membership sway you from going after what you want. However, I do recommended learning and getting comfortable with a strong protection spell. This goes for any path, not just ceremonial magick.

  1. Expectation: Religious officials never practiced any kind of magick
    Reality: Numerous ecclesiastics openly practiced ceremonial magick with no fear of persecution
clergymen practiced ceremonial magick without fear of persecution

Interestingly enough, a multitude of high-ranking Church dignitaries freely practiced ceremonial magick. The reasoning behind this was that those who practiced witchcraft as a religion were heretics while those who practiced ceremonial magick were viewed as practitioners.

As ceremonial magick required a ton of time, knowledge and understanding of multiple languages – especially Latin and Greek – and financial support, those with all three were clergymen. The following is a list of some known to be practiced ceremonial magicians:

  • Nicephorus Patriarch of Constantinople
  • The German Emperor Rudolf II
  • Charles V of France
  • Pope Sylvester II
  • Pope Leo III
  • Pope Honorius III
  • Pope Urban V
  • Cardinal Cusa
  • Cardinal Cajetan
  • Bernard de Mirandole Bishop of Caserta
  • Udalric de Fronsperg Bishop of Trent

IN CONCLUSION…

In the information age that we live in, we are all just fingertips away from publicly available sources that hold the keys to the practice and beliefs of ceremonial magick. And while the details and particulars may be incomplete due to the nature of this path, through dedicated work and training a practitioner is capable of revealing all of the secrets for themselves.

How about you? Do you or have you practiced ceremonial magick? Let me know in the comments! Bright Blessings and Happy Casting!

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