I was due to present a magickal working, but couldn’t think of anything specific, so (on my way out) I grabbed an old grimoire from the shelf with a vague idea of using it to demonstrate how silly old books can be put to use in personal magickal practice.
The book was A.E. Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magick, which I’d picked up somewhere years ago for a quid. When the Baptist’s Head was starting out, from this same book we adapted a ritual for communicating with the Archangel Uriel and had been blown away by the results . I hoped that A.E. Waite would turn up trumps again.
In its gloriously obtuse prose, here is the text for the ritual I chose:
Concerning the Vision of Spirits in the Air
For the Masters of Black Magic, as for the author of the Comte de Gabalis, the air is the abode of far other beings than the bird and fly, but the process by which they are rendered visible is complicated through the exceptional nature of the required materials…
It’s now widely recognised that many of the ingredients for ‘spells’ are either symbolic, or were chosen deliberately for being difficult-to-come-by, in order to put casual readers off the scent of the true purpose for the ritual. In an age where it is considered politically correct to make ourselves understood to as wide an audience as possible, this tactic strikes us as bizarre. But reflect for a moment on the trolls that would flock to the comments section of a blog which made magick simple enough for everyone to understand, and suddenly it starts to make sense.
Waite almost gives the game away in the passage above, with his implied inference that if the materials weren’t such a hassle to obtain, then it would actually be easy to see the spirits.
It is, of course, quite possible to secure the brain of a cock, and dissection with that object may perhaps be performed by deputy; the kitchen-maid or the poulterer’s assistant would be easily secured…
Easy for him to say! For me, locked in an urban lifestyle, lacking domestic help, animal offal is not so easy to come by.
The dust from the grave of a dead man is the second ingredient of the process; but a visit to the nearest cemetery will not be sufficient, because it is useless to collect it on the surface; that which is next to the coffin will alone serve the purpose…
Do I need to point out how insane it would be even to attempt this?
In addition to these substances there are only oil of almonds and virgin wax. A compost must be made of the four, and it must be wrapped in a sheet of virgin parchment inscribed previously with the words GOMERT, KAILOETH, and with the character of Khil.
This didn’t sound too hard. ‘Virgin parchment’ means ‘a blank sheet of paper’, and ‘virgin wax’ (correct me if I’m wrong) is no different from ‘wax’, is it? Instead of ‘almond oil’ I decided sunflower would do just as well. Because this is where we hit the nub: how do we suppose magick ‘works’? Do we suppose a chemical reaction renders the spirits visible when a cock’s brain is mixed with corpse dust?
No. Magick doesn’t ‘work’. I learnt magick from the tradition of Chaos Magick, which avers that results arise from shifting one’s belief, thereby altering one’s reality. Over time I’ve come to regard this as too ‘causal’ an explanation. Alan Chapman and I realised at an early stage in our collaboration that chaos magickal rituals still lead to results even when alteration of the magician’s psychological state (‘gnosis’), supposedly another essential component of ritual, is completely left out. These days, I often don’t bother with either gnosis or belief-shifting. I make no effort to ‘believe’ in the ritual I’m performing. I know it’s a pile of ludicrous rubbish. But I do it anyway, and the results are just as striking.
This cannot be an original discovery, because the key feature of magick has always been that its means are causally insufficient to realise its ends. Magick does not and cannot ‘work’. Results are not the effects of the ritual, but arrive as uncaused, meaningful synchronicities. These are indeed complete ‘coincidences’, things that probably would have happened anyway, even if the ritual had not been performed.
However, the ritual was performed, and it’s this formalisation of intention on which the act of magick seems to rest. So, on the night in question, because it would be insane to dig up a corpse, someone instead pretended that he was dead. We sprinkled dust on him and declared this our desired ingredient.
‘I never saw a cock that had a brain,’ someone jokingly remarked, which provided inspiration to push a cashew nut into the tip of a banana, and improvise around its extraction a routine that was a lot more fun than cracking open the skull of a fowl.
The materials being thus prepared, it remains to set them alight, whereupon the operator will behold that which the Grimoire characterises as prodigious, but does not specify except by the indication of the title. This experiment, it adds, should be performed only by those who fear nothing…
Again, the game is almost given away by: (1) the instruction to destroy the ingredients that have taken such effort to assemble; and (2) the refusal to specify an outcome. (Because there won’t be an ‘outcome’ – except smoke.)
Fearlessness is needed because anyone who fears the spirits will be in dread of certain things happening, and inclined to overlook any other stuff that happens instead. Fearlessness is really only the capacity to adopt a wide mental focus. Without that, wasting time on something that does not work really is a waste of time.
It is easy to deride the process, but reflective persons will see that it is the quintessence and summary of the whole art. This is Black Magic – and most of the white kind – in the proverbial nutshell – a combination in equal proportions of the disgusting and the imbecile. There are many more elaborate experiments, but few of such a representative kind. It is not necessary to add that it has been exceedingly popular and is to be found in most of the Grimoires.
Offensive, stupid, ridiculous, funny, arbitrary and tedious: these registers feature in ritual not purely because of their psychological repercussions, but because they are symptomatic of performing actions least likely to have a causative impact.
To be honest, I hadn’t really planned what to do with the ingredients after the demonstration. Some arrangements were made, but I was unwell and unable to follow them through. Experience has taught me there are often negative effects from leaving magickal intentions hanging, so a few days later I took the ingredients into the woods and finished the ritual alone.
For the first time in a while, my tiny mind was blown by the results. On my route that morning, I found three playing cards in the street which amounted to a divination of intense personal relevance. And later, having discovered a secluded spot, the ingredients burnt with a ferocity I had not expected (but which was presumably a consequence of the oil and wax).
The original author of the spell perhaps avoided describing his or her results in order to avoid sounding lame. The spirits I encountered in the wood that morning were in the sensation of warm sunlight, the sensuous motion of intertwining branches, and a shoal of white clouds, whale-like in their indifference, which pursued a slow vector across the blue sky out to sea.
After a while, some earth-spirits also appeared. The atmosphere reminded me of Marvell’s poem, ‘The Garden’ (c.1650), with its mysterious sense of nature pushing and insinuating into human consciousness.
These were the immediate results on the etheric level of experience, the level of emotions, feelings and forms. Later on, an astral result arrived – an experience at the level of symbolism and meaning. (I’m still coming to terms with it. Oh dear — I think it might involve extraterrestrials…)
A.E. Waite had delivered the goods, yet again. So is it true that this ‘spell’ works? Does it actually cause something to happen?
No, of course not. Don’t be silly.
That’s why it’s so good.
I used the paulstretch audio utility (on default settings) to create this ‘ambient soundscape’ from a recording I made of the ingredients burning.