Timing Magical Rituals
by Simon Jester
copyright 2011

Since posting the essays in which specific rituals for banishing demons were discussed, I've received a lot of questions from friends asking how it is possible to memorize the steps of all these rituals. The answer is two-fold. First, any ritual becomes easier to perform with preparation and practice. Go over the rituals first in your mind, then rehearse their specific steps for a few days before actually performing them. The second answer seems to surprise a lot of people. It is simply this: many of the components of a complex ritual do not need to be performed in a single ceremonial session. In fact, many rituals become much more effective when performed in meaningful segments over a period of time.

Most Europeans and Americans first encountered rituals when they were children being dragged off to various religious services by their parents. Typically, the watered-down church ceremonies that are offered by most orthodox denominations today have a very definite beginning, middle, and ending during which everything that needs to be done gets done. When the approximately 60 minutes allotted for the church service is over, so is the ritual, and congregation members usually go home feeling that whatever spiritual work they needed to do for that week has been completed. When children grow older and develop an interest in magic, they have this "one act" performance in mind whenever they think about a magical ritual. Movies and television shows depicting wizards, sorcerers, and witches performing dramatic yet conveniently brief ceremonies, tailor-made to fit within the time limits established by the entertainment industry, reinforce this stunted concept. And so, when people with such ideas embark upon the magical quest, they often become alarmed when confronted with a whole series of rituals acts bound together under the heading of a single ritual. The natural first assumption is that all this stuff must somehow be done in one long, exhausting stretch, and most people feel completely overwhelmed.

Sadly, many magical lodges and covens have also inadvertently reinforced the misconception that rituals should be "one act shows." All such organizations exist in social environments in which their members have pressing obligations elsewhere. Jobs, families, and the other practical necessities of group members impose rather limiting constraints on how much time they can devote to group gatherings, and so any ritual work done as a group is typically compressed into a single day or weekend of intensive and lengthy ceremonial. This can often have a very deleterious effect on the rituals themselves. An effective magical ritual should induce an altered state of consciousness, and this delicate heightened sense of awareness is often completely obliterated by the paper shuffling and page turning of group members whose memories are overburdened by the daunting chore of trying to remember lengthy lists of names, dialog and choreography.

     Real magical rituals can take place over a period of days, weeks, months, years, or even longer periods of time. Of course, given the length of a specific ritual, the amount of time you have at your disposal, and the level of energy you happen to be feeling at the time, you may, if you wish, perform rituals for hours on end. But most rituals have a natural rhythm all their own that, like music, mysteriously ebbs and flows with the invisible tides of the magical universe. There are active phases followed by necessary pauses, periods of intense spiritual encounter succeeded by disengagement and return to normal reality. The process of weaving in and out between the worlds over time enables the magician to spin a web of magical energy that begins to bind different levels of reality together. Most significantly, the whole process is highly intuitive. You become the composer of your own magical symphony, and decide for yourself (based on your own intuitive sense of magical propriety) when to keep going and when to pause and wait for another time to continue.

With ritual, you are trying to restructure your universe by entering into a meaningful dialogue with higher forces, and it pays to take time and care when performing such work. This is an endeavor that should not be rushed or crammed into a single moment of time. Students of magic, misled by the concept of the "one act" ritual, would do well to familiarize themselves with the seventy day funerary rites performed by the ancient Egyptians, or the Qabalistic Abramelin ritual that (according to the German editions of The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage) takes eighteen full months to complete. The "hurry-hurry-rush-rush" mind set common to the work-day business world should have no place in magic, and can be very detrimental to the mind set one needs to cultivate in order for magical rituals to be effective. During a ritual, you are communicating with supra-mundane beings and not conducting an office meeting with co-workers and upline staff. An entirely different protocol is therefore required because you are trying to cultivate a relationship with magical entities and not giving a Power Point presentation to the fiscal committee!

Misconceptions about magical timing also breed unrealistic ideas about when a ritual operation should occur and whether or not it should be done in one fell swoop or divided into meaningfully effective portions over time. Students of magic soon become aware of the necessity of timing magical operations to coincide with certain astrological events. Unfortunately, they often harbor erroneous ideas about how quickly the sun, moon, planets and stars actually revolve. "Mars enters Leo tonight at 9:48 PM, so we've got to hurry!" is an example of the kind of statement (and mind-set) inculcated by faulty thinking about magical timing and poor ritual planning.  True—there are certain astrological events of short duration such as eclipses, occultations, and the appearance of comets or meteor showers. But, for the most part, the astrological configurations of importance to magical operations are "in effect" for at least a period of days, and this gives you a wider window of opportunity in which to space out your rituals in a way that will not put a strain on your ability to maintain the properly magical state of mind. Even if the celestial event of greatest significance to an operation is a brief one, rituals can be timed so that they begin with that event, or so that their climax occurs simultaneously with the event.

The concept of the magical hours as presented in the grimoires has also done much to unnecessarily hurry magical operations. Beginners in magic often think they've only got approximately 60 minutes in which to perform an entire ceremony. In reality (for reasons to be more fully explained elsewhere), it is sufficient to simply begin the operation during the appropriate planetary hour. For now, however, please return to the banishing and invocation Pathworking rituals in my other essays disburdened of the misconception that you must perform ALL of them, one right after the other, EVERY time you work a particular Path. The reasons for this will hopefully be made clear in future essays.