The Initiatory Significance of the
Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram
by Simon Jester

    One very important aspect of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram that I did not review in my last entry concerns what might be called its "ritual positioning." This has nothing to do with the actual physical location in which the ritual is performed. Rather, it concerns the metaphysical location in which the ritual ideally places the magician. We have already written about the way the Ritual of the Qabalistic Cross orients and focuses the magician's consciousness at the place of perfect balance between the vertical dimension of Being and the horizontal dimension of Action. The LBRP also magically places the magician in a very special position, one where extremely potent initiatory energies may be tapped.
    As noted in the previous essay,  Aleister Crowley once stated that those who consider the LBRP to be merely a simple banishing ritual are unworthy to possess it. Crowley was hinting at the deeper, initiatory significance of the LBRP, which may be gleaned from an examination of the metaphysical location where the ritual places the magician who performs it. This location may be deduced from the identities and positions of two of the archangels invoked during the LBRP. When facing east, the magician says: "Before me, Raphael. Behind me, Gabriel." In addition to being the archangels of the eastern and western quarters, respectively, these archangels are associated with two of the Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar of the Tree of Life. Raphael is the archangel of Tiphereth and Gabriel is the archangel of Yesod. The magical location occupied by the magician while performing the LBRP falls between these two archangels and spheres at the intersection of two important Paths on the Tree of Life. As we shall see below, the intersection of these particular Paths is especially charged with energies highly conducive to the initiatory experience.
    When looking at a diagram of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, you will observe that 22 lines may be drawn between the various Sephiroth in order to connect them. These are the Paths spoken of in Qabalistic literature, and each one is assigned to a specific letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Various Hermetic schools of thought assign letters to Paths differently, so you will find some representations that employ other arrangements. But, according to the traditional Golden Dawn system, the two intersecting Paths activated during the LBRP are the Paths of Samekh (running vertically from Tiphereth to Yesod) and the Path of Peh (running horizontally from Netzach to Hod.) These Paths are extremely relevant to the aspiring initiate, as an examination of their related Tarot imagery shows.
    In the Golden Dawn system, the Path of Samekh is associated with the Temperance card of the Tarot Trumps and the Path of Peh is assigned to the Tower. The Tower Struck by God, as its full title and vivid imagery indicate, symbolizes the sudden and complete overthrowing of an idolum: i.e., a limited paradigm, worldview, or even a personality construct that lacks sufficient comprehensiveness and is therefore too limited to function as an adequate tool for personal spiritual growth. The Path of Peh runs horizontally between Netzach (the sephira of feelings) and Hod (the sephira of thought), and the idolum that is being toppled by the lightening bolt of reality is usually emotional or intellectual in nature (eg., a cherished, sentimentalized image of someone that blinds us to that person's actual faults, or an overly-rigid, intellectualized belief-system that is stubbornly maintained in the face of all contradictory evidence.) Our lives are filled with such self-maintained impediments and obstacles, but reality often steps in and knocks down these impractical "ivory towers." The Tower Struck by God shows what happens when a greater reality collides with such a limited construct and shatters the overly narrow perspectives and illusions of which it is built.
    The Temperance card traditionally shows an angel (i.e., a higher power) mixing liquids that are being poured from two different chalices, one held slightly higher than the other. The idea here is that a lower, less spiritual form of reality is being combined with something higher and more spiritual. Opposites are being blended and united, in this case the opposites symbolized by the Sephiroth on either end of the Path of Samekh: the Lunar Yesod and the Solar Tiphereth. "That Which Is Below" is being made like "That Which Is Above." In terms of the microcosm, the mundane self is being worked, tested, and tempered by encounters with the Higher Reality in which it is confronted with situations that force it to develop and evolve.    
    This kind of tempering involves an often-painful transformative process, analogically similar to that undergone by the blade of a sword that is heated till it glows in the tempering fires of the furnace. Magicians working the Path of Samekh often encounter difficulties and challenges in their daily lives that are designed to test them, and, if they are successful in their battles to overcome these obstacles, emerge stronger and wiser with a more spiritually evolved outlook. The Temperance card represents the process that occurs in the alchemical crucible on the Path of Samekh, in which the psychic atoms of the magician's being are heated, rearranged, and hardened into a more refined form.
    When performing the LBRP, the magician symbolically stands at the crossroads of Peh and Samekh, the very spot where the energies of spiritual transformation symbolized by the Tower Struck by God and the Temperance cards are combined and brought to their most intense focus. The magician comes to this metaphysical locus armed with the pentagram, a potent symbol of self-transformation. He or she ritually casts aside the idolum of the everyday, consensual worldview by banishing the earth, and invokes the divine aid of the Archangels in order to initiate a process of spiritual growth. Magically speaking, this is equivalent to standing in the middle of an open field during a major thunderstorm and waving a twelve-foot metal pole in the air! You're asking for lightening to strike!
    What happens when the bolt strikes? Usually nothing as immediately dramatic as the shattering cataclysm depicted in the Tower card. The Tower represents an artificial structure completely oblivious to its own limitations, and so the thunderbolt catches it completely off guard with very destructive consequences. The magician, however, confronts the storm front at the crossroads with a profound awareness of the shortcomings of the materialistic, everyday worldview. This is not to say that surprises do not wait in the magic circle, but the trained magician comes prepared for them. He or she expects the unexpected, and so is not destroyed by the forces invoked. The very structure of the ritual itself, plus the effort of learning its symbolism and performing its complex steps, provides a kind of protective insulation that converts the powerful magical current to manageable levels.
    The LBRP, like all magical rituals, can be re-written in order to incorporate elements from diverse traditions or from a magician's personal symbolism. As you progress in your study and practice of magic, you will become more skilled at adding your own creative input to existing rituals and at composing original creations. For the beginner, however, its best to stick to some traditional ritual format at least until you've acquired skill and confidence in the use of basic magical techniques.