The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBR) is one of the chief rituals of Western Magick. It has been with us at least since the Golden Dawn of the nineteenth century, and it has penetrated into all the many Golden Dawn spinoffs, including Neo-Paganism. Yet there is still no widely available, clear instruction. The directions of the magical orders are mere mnemonics for those who are assumed to have personal instructors. To formulate my personal approach to the ritual, to aid any others who may be considering practicing the LBR, and to satisfy the idle curiosity of any gawking onlookers, I have put together this short discussion of the ritual and its symbolism and performance.
Ritual is a form of moving meditation and the LBR is a tool to facilitiate meditation. The real action of a magick ritual takes place in the mind, in my view, but not all ritualists would agree. Many would say that the effect of the LBR is to create a fortified and cleansed area on the astral plane, which they think is as real as Hoboken, if not more so. It doesn't really matter in practice as the only effect we know is the one in our perceptions.
The experience of a proper LBR is pleasurable and soothing, yet energizing and empowering. One is made at home in the mystical realm, protected from lurkers and phantasms by strongly imagined wards. This solace from mundane experience is a precondition for more serious works of meditation or ritual, but it can also form a healthy part of the life of the mind by itself.
I'll just reprint the description of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram from Liber O, a publication of the occult order A.·. A.·.
|i.||Touching the forehead say Ateh (Unto Thee),|
|ii.||Touching the breast say Malkuth (The Kingdom),|
|iii.||Touching the right shoulder, say ve-Geburah (and the Power),|
|iv.||Touching the left shoulder, say ve-Gedulah (and the Glory),|
|v.||Clasping the hands upon the breast, say le-Olahm, Amen (To the Ages, Amen).|
|vi.||Turning to the East, make a pentagram (that of Earth) with the proper weapon (usually the Wand). Say (i.e. vibrate) IHVH.|
|vii.||Turning to the South, the same, but say ADNI.|
|viii.||Turning to the West, the same, but say AHIH.|
|ix.||Turning to the North, the same, but say AGLA.|
|[Pronounce: Ye-ho-wau, Adonai, Eheieh, Agla.]|
|x.||Extending the arms in the form of a cross say,|
|xi.||Before me Raphael;|
|xii.||Behind me Gabriel;|
|xiii.||On my right hand Michael;|
|xiv.||On my left hand Auriel;|
|xv.||For about me flames the Pentagram,|
|xvi.||And in the Column stands the six-rayed Star.|
|xvii-xxi.||Repeat (i) to (v), the "Qabalistic Cross."|
There are a number of necessary preconditions in any cleansing ritual. Not the least important are the physical conditions.
It's not a good idea to just launch into this thing from a standing start. You should start by evacuating any bodily wastes. Heavy food in the digestive tract is bound to interfere, so don't pig out right before practice. If your nose is clogged, clear it. (There are some gross yogic techniques for doing this if necessary.) Remove any serious muscle tensions; I do this in two ways, by stretching and by sitting quietly for a few minutes. If you do hatha yoga, this would be a good time to sit in a pose like vajrasana or lotus.
It's best to bathe or shower first, and put on special clothes worn only during ritual, but those are optional considerations.
It's very useful to have a room in your home that is either set aside for ritual, or can be transformed into a suitable room readily. In 1984, I shared my ritual room with my lover, who uses it for typing. This was a fortunate arrangement, since we both want the room to be simple, uncluttered, and non-distracting, and all I had to do is hide the typewriter and throw a cloth over the desk. If you can't arrange something like that, make sure you at least have enough free floor space in the center of the room you're using for freedom of movement.
You should refer to the ritual above while reading this section.
The "Qabalistic Cross" (steps i-v) is a self-consecration. The magician becomes a sanctified instrument for the execution of the rest of the ritual. This can't be an empty exercise; linger on each phrase for as long as it takes to form some strong, albeit brief concentration on the meaning.
Think of the short prayer of the Qabalistic Cross as a baptism, using light rather than water. Imagine that your body has "centers" which you are bringing to life by anointing them with your hand. There are five such "centers". At the end of the Cross, remain for a moment in that posture, upright, hands clasped, feeling the Cross within yourself, yourself as the Cross. This should bring on a purified perception of the body.
The Cross addresses a second person, a "thee". Who is this mysterious person? "Thee" is your own "higher self", by some readings. If you prefer monotheistic symbolism, read "God[dess]" for "thee". Even for monotheists, the consecration is of yourself, although "by the power of God". The two symbolisms can be mapped easily onto each other; it's an issue of God within or God without.
The "vanilla" version of the Cross is not what most Thelemites use. Instead, go "Atoh" (touch brow), "Aiwass" (touch breast), "Malkuth" (touch genitals), and then the arms as normal. "Aiwass who?" That's a name Crowley's Holy Guardian Angel called itself by. If you attain to the Knowledge and Conversation of your Holy Guardian Angel (as it is so quaintly called), use its name instead of Aiwass. Don't expect this attainment to happen tomorrow or next week; inthe Golden Dawn and Thelema, it's a major attainment, the center of the path. But then, you're the only real judge of it.
This pentagram is a five pointed star, point up. To draw it, start from the lower left-hand corner (your left), go up to the top point, and continue from there. The index finger is a common tool for drawing the stars; it's a very natural way of writing symbols in the air. A good wand can be hard to find.
Note that you do not draw the stars at the end of your finger, but project them outwards as if your finger was a laser, with the stars being drawn by the beam onto an outlying vertical plane - perhaps a few inches short of the wall, or on the wall, or just in a convenient expanse of air. Over time I've come to draw them at the outermost reaches of space, at the thrones of the Guardians of the Watchtowers at the four quarters of the earth, in the flat-earth Christian cosmology employed by the Renaissance magicians Dee and Kelley. This approach sanctifies the entire earth rather than just the room.
Drawing the pentagram will be easy or hard for you, depending on whether you are good at visualization. I'm not, so it's hard. (I'm getting better with practice, though.) Ideally, the stars should be of flame, drawn in the air, but early on a faint outline is no cause to complain. It's not a good idea to use drugs to increase your visualization abilities on a routine basis. If you are experienced with drugs, it may be useful to employ them for an LBR every once in a while just to show you what it could be like.
The pentagram can be a potent symbol. Recall Leonardo's image of the microcosm, i.e., the individual human. The central pentagon represents the torso, the top point the head, the other four points the limbs.
For a religious humanist, the individually named pentagrams are essentially aspects of the higher self, given life/breath by the vibrations of the god-names. For a theist, the pentagrams are anthropomorphic manifestations of deity, summoned by the vibration of god-names.
In the LBR, the vibration of the god-names "charges" or "enlivens" the pentagrams in the air. This is difficult to describe, but easy to recognize. There is a feeling of presence in one of these charged warding images - though not necessarily a feeling of true externality or separate intelligence.
We are told to "vibrate" the names. The description and illustration of the "vibration" given in Liber O have been known to mislead people into hilarious postures. What the picture most resembles is the skulking monster from the movie The Mummy. To the modern eye, it is remarkable how truly unclear a photograph can be.
I didn't learn how to vibrate a god-name until I signed up with yet another occult order and was taught it in person. I wouldn't wish membership in an occult fraternity on anyone, so here is a description which I hope will be adequate in print.
1. Stand upright. Blow all the air out of your lungs. Hold your arms straight out at your sides.
2a. Close your eyes and inhale nasally, imagining that the breath is the name. The exact nature of this imagination differs from person to person. Thus, you imagine yourself inhaling the name into your lungs.
2b. As you inhale, sweep your forearms smoothly and deliberately up so that your fists rest on your temples.
3. Imagine the breath moving down through your torso slowly, and through your pelvis, your legs, and finally to the soles of your feet. (Don't do this so slowly that you are hurting for air when the name reaches your feet!)
4a. The instant the inhaled vibrational name hits the soles of your feet, imagine it rushing back up and out.
4b. Simultaneously, throw yourself forward, thrusting your left foot forward about twelve inches (or thirty centimeters) and catching yourself on it. Your hands shoot forward, together, like a diver or like Superman taking flight. You bend forward at the waist so that your torso winds up parallel to the floor.
4c. The air in your lungs should be blown out through your nose at the same time, but imagine the name shooting out straight ahead.
Steps 3-4 are known as the Sign of the Enterer, or of Horus. This symbolizes powerful active energy. The Enterer should be something of a "rush". The vibrational name is projected outwards into more tangible manifestation - in this case, in the pentagrams of the LBR, which are charged by the force of the projected god-names.
5. Finally, withdraw into a standing position, left arm hanging at your side, right forefinger on lips, left foot pointing ninety degrees out from the body.
Step 5 is called the Sign of Silence, or of Harpocrates. This Egyptian god was mistakenly believed (at the turn of the century) to pertain to silence, because his finger or thumb was touching his lips. This gesture is now believed to be a symbol of childhood; this correction appears in the World card of Crowley's Book of Thoth Tarot deck. Harpocrates was the god of the Sun at dawn, and so symbolizes wonder, beauty, potential, growth. So, step 5 may be done in this academically corrected light instead.
However, the "hush" gesture of the Golden Dawn Sign of Silence is adequate for the modern occultist, even if deprived of A Divine Identification. It is a common gesture, at least in European/American culture, meaning silence. Silence balances the ultra-active Sign of the Enterer better than does the more scholarly positive/active "Sign of Harpocrates the Rising Sun", and silence is surely no alien concept to mystics.
You'll note that "Ye-ho-wau" is given as the pronunciation of YHWH. Modern scholarship has a different take on the pronunciation of the Big Guy's name. I use "Yahweh" rather than the "Ye-ho-wau" of Liber O because that's what the Catholic priests of my youth taught me to say, and I've never been able to shake it off. Use whatever pronunciation you prefer, or a different name altogether.
The pentagrams are given form by the drawing, life by the vibration, identity by the four-part prayer of steps (x) to (xiv). Some people do very elaborate visualizations of angelic guardians on each of (xi) to (xiv). Because of my tragic personal deficiencies, I am content with strong feelings of presence, identity, and divinity in each of the four directions.
A horizontal cross is built up step by step as you say, "Before me Raphael", etc, with you at the center; and the position of your arms forms a vertical cross, a renewal of the Qabalistic Cross from the start of the ritual. You may feel a peculiar rising and expansion when both of these crosses are formulated. One has become the center of the geometry of the space, and it is like a world in itself, cut adrift from the mundane currents of everyday experience.
Steps (xv) and (xvi) are when the real banishing takes place, during "For about me flames the pentagram, and in the column stands the six-rayed star." A great pulse of force is emitted during these steps, imposing the personal will on the space and clearing it of all hostile influences.
After this is done, the invoked "archangels" maintain the banishing effect, guarding in all four directions. Of course this talk of angels is nonsense - the importance lies in the psychological effect. Whether there "really is" an archangel standing there keeping out inimical spirits is not important. The "feeling of cleanliness" is what matters.
The final Qabalistic Cross is an affirmation of the completeness and symmetry of the ritual, and also a new self-consecration. This is more efficacious than the previous Cross because it is done in a banished environment.
With practice, you will no doubt come up with your own style of performance, and your own different symbolism for ritual acts. Different people do rituals as differently as actors play parts, even though the lines and motions may be fundamentally the same. (The alternative is an authoritarian, dogmatic horror which is alien to the deep occult understanding of religion, but is still common in magical groups.) Slavish imitation will get you nowhere in Magick - except, perhaps, to a high spiritual degree in some parochial in-group!
The Christianity - or at least angelic monotheism - of the ritual symbolism may give pause to some. Many of us involved in occultism have negative feelings about Christianity. These may be somewhat justified, but there are a few saving graces here.
First, as with any ritual, you should feel free to make it yours, to mess around with it. If you don't start to at least play with the styles of a ritual after a while, you are probably not doing it very well. It is perfectly legitimate to substitute cognate symbols at any time. However, the saying in the martial arts is that one first learns another's style, and after mastering it, moves on to create one's own. For a beginner, it will be easiest simply to use an existing ritual form in order to explore the meaning of a banishing ritual.
Given experience with the ritual, which transcends any mere set of symbols, one may devise a form more in keeping with the emergence of one's personal style. For instance, Neo-Pagans use various highly reified forms of the same basic ritual in many of their traditions, but with non-Christian deities, spirits, and heroes at the quarters. Aleister Crowley wrote a new version, the Star Ruby, which used the names of deities and officers from his "Thelemic" system rather than monotheist gods and angels.
In any case, of those people who abhor Christianity, how many have looked at some of the practices of historical pagans in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas? No religion should ever be "accepted" by an occultist. When using any religion's symbolism, the adept should cut to its sacred poetical core, and discard the political dross. By this standard, Christianity looks hardly better or worse than any other religion. Without this selection process, and by factoring in historical excesses and power plays, almost all known religions look as bad as Christianity. In other words, those who happily use Norse gods, Arthurian heroes, Taoist immortals, Voudoun loas, or what have you in rituals, but never touch a Christian angel, are guilty of the same narrowness they impart to the Christians.
Having performed the banishing ritual, one is now ready to do a formal invocation, an evocation, a meditation, or whatever the overall spiritual purpose may be. The LBR is a preliminary ceremony, although it has a beneficial effect in itself. It can profitably be done as a stand-alone ritual, but you should move on. Its mastery is a first step to adepthood.
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