Continuing with the esoteric matters I’d like to explore here in connection with Satanism – i.e…
… the last one I want to cover here is greater magic.
Subsections of this entry:
This is my longest entry so far, i.e. longer even than the cultural appropriation one, amazingly. Then again, greater magic is a very complex topic, especially if you are trying to make it comprehensible to people who may have no occult background, as I am attempting to do here.
I am aware that some of what follows will make me sound completely insane to a certain sort of reader. Nonetheless, I hope that what follows will both give you an idea of what ritual magic entails for a Satanist who practices it, and provide some sense of how the practice itself might be beneficial to a practitioner personally, regardless of whether you-the-outsider believe that it “works” or not.
* * *
The term “greater magic” invokes a contrast with “lesser magic”: while the latter is more low-key and employs fewer supernatural trappings, greater magic involves a formal ritual in which supernatural powers are seemingly called upon, i.e. one invokes / evokes them, makes demands of them (this being what distinguishes magic from prayer, which is pleading rather than demanding) and some sort of result is expected to follow.
I say “seemingly” because in no case that I know of do LaVeyans believe that what they appear to be doing outwardly is what they are literally, actually doing. Rather, the rationale with greater magic is one of the following (or perhaps a combination – I go back and forth between explanations myself):
- From a causal* perspective – i.e. a perspective grounded in science and secularity – employing greater magic is a form of personal empowerment, wherein what one is really speaking to are “dark” components within oneself (perhaps something like Jung’s archetypes); magic then “works” via putting you more in touch with your potentialities and thereby enabling you to go through life more confidently. Any results you get from magic in this scenario are because you changed something within yourself.
- From an acausal* perspective – i.e. a “there are things that science cannot explain” perspective – employing greater magic entails utilizing your will to influence some kind of “dark force of nature,” which may then manifest via synchronicity, i.e. a string of meaningful and/or fortuitous events for oneself, or a string of the opposite for the enemy one is cursing, or etc. This then bears resemblance to the sort of belief-in-magic that anthropologists have observed in so-called “primitive” cultures, and while one may thus criticize it as anti-scientific, I think one should perhaps hesitate to entirely dismiss it out of hand in an era in which “other ways of knowing” is considered to be a thing.
Regardless of which of these two perspectives one uses to talk about magic – my own approach being that they are both “true” at different levels – LaVeyan Satanists do not believe in literally-existing dark gods as independently-existing personalities, regardless of whatever invoking-of-apparent-deities may take place in the ritual chamber. They are self-aware re: what they are doing is a form of controlled delusion, as Peter Gilmore touches on in this essay – as certain chaos magicians might say, you are “pulling the wool over your own eyes.”
Why do this – especially in a religion that claims to seek “undefiled wisdom”? In accord with LaVeyan Satanism’s claim of human beings as “just another animal,” I think there is a degree of realism/acceptance within the denomination that human beings are not, and never will be, completely rational. Moreover, it is because of this that religion has always been so popular, i.e. it fulfills certain emotional needs that human beings have.
It follows then that while LaVeyan Satanism is critical of mainstream religion, it is also realistic re: you probably cannot get rid of all vestiges of it. Or if you do, something else will come along that uses similar dynamics to fulfill similar goals… and also to take advantage of people for its own benefit at their expense, this being what typically happens with religion. Satanic ritual then is meant to provide an emotional outlet – LaVey and his successors have talked about how “man needs fantasy” – and, moreover, a healthier emotional outlet for the individual than religion typically provides: whereas otherworldliness and group identity are often key aspects of other religions’ rituals, LaVeyan Satanism here continues its this-worldly celebration of the unique individual.
To summarize: I think that if you look past certain on-the-surface-outlandish claims about greater magic that LaVeyan Satanism may appear to make, the most constructive way of understanding it is that it is basically affirmations plus LARPing. i.e. That thing where you play a sport and you sit there and carefully envision the actions that will lead you to success, and this then in fact helps foster success? It’s that, but applied to a goal of your choice. On a causal level, success may mean the thing actually happens (e.g. maybe doing a ritual to increase chances of meeting a partner makes you feel more confident, which then is favorable toward the end of actually catching someone’s attention) or it may mean just that you feel better after the ritual (e.g. destroying an image of your enemy and then feeling less burdened by hatred of them afterward). This is then really not that different (on the causal level, at least) from certain exercises recommended by psychologists and therapists – it’s just that the window-dressing is spookier, as will be evident in the details I’ll provide below.
Things also get spookier if you buy into the acausal side of ritual magic, but as my own experience of the acausal is that it is very real while at the same time being rationally/scientifically indefensible, I choose to make zero effort to argue on its behalf. I defend only the more modest proposition that ritual can do positive psychological things for a practitioner that a secular person ought to be able to appreciate once the concept is fully explained.
* * *
It follows from ritual being a form of individual “psychodrama” (to put it in LaVey’s own terms) that its exact format can vary considerably between practitioners, depending upon what each finds to be emotionally-fulfilling and efficacious. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that an overall structure of ritual tends to be observable in most cases, and that more-specific elements/items typical of the LaVeyan tradition provide good examples of the kind of thing ritual may involve, whether the individual actually does these specific things or not.
Structurally, formal occult ritual – and here I’m inclined to say, in general, not just within various forms of Satanism – can be broken down into four stages: opening, statement of intent, intensification and release (that’s one stage), and closing. Before I get to that though, a quick run-down of typical ritual-space set-up, to make it easier to envision what I’m talking about.
Ritual space: a Satanic altar
Some readers may be intrigued to hear that Satanists who practice ritual magic typically do indeed have altars.
In the majority of cases though, this is not for “worshipping” Satan, nor for making sacrifices of any kind, nor does it take the form of a sexy nude person that you put your candles and whatever on top of, contra one sensational image of Satanists that goes around via LaVey’s own practice (sorry if you’re disappointed ;)).
Some more-typical items that may be found on an altar may include:
- Candles – the bare minimum for a LaVeyan-style ritual practice probably being one black candle and one white candle on the altar, plus one candle to indicate each of the four directions, such that the magician is operating in their midst;
- An incense burner (which incense is largely up to personal taste, though);
- Something you use for pointing; in Satanism, usually a blade (and here you thought those weird daggers at the knife store weren’t useful for anything!), but a wand is another possibility;
- Though I personally lean strongly toward “if you can’t memorize it, it’s too long/complex to actually be efficacious,” it would make good sense for any text read as part of the ritual to go on the altar;
- Anything else that helps set the appropriate mood, e.g. Satanic symbols (a topic that I definitely need a separate post for), representations of fallen angels or Pan-like figures or other idols, etc.
Use of these items will be clarified below as I go through the stages of a typical ritual.
The opening phase of ritual involves the symbolic separation of ritual time-and-space from ordinary time-and-space. The purpose of this is to indicate to one’s own mind that the normal, mundane way-of-the-world has been briefly suspended – i.e. “I am actually doing magic now, not just going through the motions.” (Yes, I compared it to role-playing above, but recall what I also said about “pulling the wool over your own eyes.”)
Elements of ritual that pertain to separation of this kind may include:
- Putting on specific clothing that one only ever wears in the context of ritual - the hooded black cloak/robe is always a classic, but not the only option
- Lighting candles and burning incense
- Sounding some kind of noise-maker in each of the four directions to “clear the air” (the Satanic Bible suggests a bell; I have long used a shamanic-style rattle myself)
- Defining the four directions via some kind of invocation or evocation – e.g. point or otherwise gesture with the dagger/wand/etc. and verbally announce which power/quality/entity/etc. is present to the south, east, north and west, such that you are surrounded on all sides by forces favorable to your endeavor
Two further notes:
- There is an opposition to “drawing the circle” (as is sometimes done in other occult traditions’ rituals) in LaVeyan Satanism, due to a sense that it is hypocritical to be identifying oneself with demonic forces and then protecting yourself from your supposed allies. LaVeyan greater magic is nonetheless otherwise similar to those traditions in its opening format though, e.g. the “calling the four quarters” idea is a widely-used construction/designation of sacred space.
- Re: invocation/evocation: my distinction between these (which may vary from other peoples’?) is that invocation is when you are speaking of various dark forces manifest within you, vs. evocation is when you are speaking to various dark forces that you then are summoning from elsewhere, e.g. the Abyss or the acausal plane or wherever your favorite black metal artist thinks the Dark Gods come from. ;) Interestingly, by these definitions, one might observe that invocation seems like it would be more in accord with LaVeyan philosophy, yet much ritual given by LaVey appears to have an evocative format. My own experience strongly suggests that this disjunction is simply due to practitioners finding the evocative format more emotionally-effective – note, again, the irreducibly irrational element of the human psyche.
Statement of intent
This is the step where you state, out-loud and as directly/simply as possible, what you are doing the ritual for.
In the LaVeyan tradition, greater magic intentions typically fall into one of three categories: i.e. sex (attracting a partner), compassion (a solution to an issue that is causing you to suffer) or wrath (cursing an enemy). It is worth noting that all of these matters involve some degree of chance and/or other circumstances normally beyond direct control, as many opportunities depend upon being in the right place at the right time, and being “cursed” may well entail being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The possibility of manipulating factors of that sort is fruitful ground for acausal intervention.
Non-LaVeyan practitioners of Satanic ritual can, and I’d even say normally do, use ritual for purposes other than those just stated. These purposes generally have something to do with self-empowerment along more spiritual lines, rather than the earthly-gratification-type emphasis of the LaVeyan tradition. A few examples include the cultivation of some positive/desirable trait in oneself, the overcoming of some negative/undesirable trait in oneself, protection and/or guidance amid certain risky endeavors, communion with acausal entities (likely then complimentary to other esoteric practices previously mentioned, e.g. trance, divination, etc.), and so forth. What is going on with much of this on the causal level can be articulated via Jungian psychology, i.e. you are trying to get your shadow/anima/animus/whatever to stop thwarting you and to instead work with you in a cooperative, well-integrated fashion.
A few rules-of-thumb for formulating good statements-of-intent:
- It should be one, focused thing, not a laundry list of things. A phrase that I have seen on some of the forms I use to apply for teaching work, “we are unable to honor complicated conditional preferences,” seems relevant in the current context.
- It should be in the present-tense or imperative, as well as direct, active and positive. Do not beg or plead, but rather, just state what the ritual is meant to manifest and/or command the universe to give it to you; avoid formulations that entail “not,” as the unconscious mind is said to be not-great at processing this, i.e. instead of “may X not be in my life anymore,” instead try something like “banish X from my life” or “send X far away” or etc.
- Careful attention should be paid to wording, i.e. pretend you are making a wish to a malevolent genie with whom there is a danger of it using phrasing loopholes to grant your wish in a perverse fashion. This is, of course, blindingly obvious to any practitioner whose Dark Gods of choice are such characters as Loki or Tezcatlipoca. ;)
Some of what I’ve just outlined re: statements of intent does of course raise interesting ethical issues, but as I’ve done with the other esoteric-practice entries, I’ll leave that for maybe another entry later on.
Intensification and release
At this point in the ritual, the practitioner’s aim is to build up a quantity of mental/emotional energy in connection with the stated intent, and then release that energy. This often entails some form of creative exertion, whether literary, artistic, musical or performative in nature. Regardless of the exact method though, the point is you need to exercise your imagination. There is no requirement for what the herd considers to be “artistic talent”; you need only be able to produce some sort of creative effort that you yourself are satisfied with.
For the three typical LaVeyan ritual intentions, the relevant forms of release for sex, compassion and wrath are orgasm, tears and rage-unto-exhaustion, respectively. I would say though that the release part does not necessarily have to go to these extremes to be effective; rather, the important thing is that you create some kind of immersive fantasy for yourself and continue it until a point of satisfaction is reached. Nonetheless, some examples readily recognizable in the LaVeyan tradition might include writing out an erotic scenario, singing a song relevant to your needs that you find emotionally moving, creating an enemy’s likeness and then destroying this, etc., the activity then concluding in each case in the appropriate form of release of those just listed.
An example not conforming to these three types: I regularly perform what other traditions call “banishing,” wherein one is asserting that oneself and one’s home are sovereign spaces that one will not permit unwanted outside energies, influences or etc. to pollute. (I highly recommend this practice to any sensitive folks who struggle with “taking work problems home with them,” or “feeling overwhelmed with negativity from social media” or etc.) My intensification-and-release method for this is to turn in each direction and envision myself being purified via a method fitting to the element and entity I have situated in that direction, e.g. by fire, by water or etc. One dwells upon the image intensely and then moves on once that feels like enough.
In my own experience, this sort of more low-key intensification-and-release is typical of most rituals performed by actual ritual-practicing Satanists. Regardless, one should not underestimate the significance of this stage of ritual, as it is this part that actually causes transformation to occur – the most important transformation being that which occurs within the practitioner, since as what I’ve written above implies, that part I do not think requires any kind of belief in ‘spooky woo’ to appreciate.
My own way of looking at it is that the central point is to change yourself so as to become better able to realize your desires subsequently, or come to terms with your desires more satisfactorily than before, or shift your psychological state into a better one, or etc. Fortuitous coincidences are great when they happen (the acausal having blessed me with a rather long string in the aftermath of some rituals I’ve performed), but it’s better to treat them as icing on the cake than to focus too much on them - see the principles section below for more info re: anxiety about results is counterproductive.
The closing phase of the ritual is more or less just a reversal of the opening, i.e. by extinguishing candles & incense, again ringing the bell or shaking the rattle, etc., one dramatizes a transition from extraordinary time-and-space back into ordinary time-and-space. One thus grounds oneself once more in causal reality.
Prior to the closing gestures I have just described, some practitioners may also include a few other elements that come at the tail-end of the ritual but do not serve the function of a return-to-the-mundane. A few things of this kind might include:
- For evocation-style rituals, thanking any powers/entities/etc. evoked.
- Engaging in some kind of meditative practice, either in connection with the ritual just performed, or oriented more generally toward introspection upon one’s spiritual evolution and/or the powers/entities/etc. invoked or evoked during the ritual.
These sorts of things are more optional than other parts of ritual I’ve outlined above, but I think there is value in them via showing appreciation for the tradition that one is working within. The giving-of-thanks-to-entities may also be an ingredient that renders that fantasy component of the ritual more vivid to the practitioner.
Re: traditional LaVeyan ritual, it is my impression that the step of reading one of the Book of Leviathan’s Enochian keys (basically, short verses containing dark occult content) would be that denomination’s method of appreciation-giving. I get the strong impression though that actual use of these keys is rare – I myself have never used them – hence my not seeing this as an essential component, regardless of how much space the keys take up in the Satanic Bible itself.
Far more common, at least according to my perception and experience, would be if in closing, the practitioner just says something like “Thus is the ritual complete!” and then reverses whatever steps were performed as part of the opening.
* * *
From an acausal perspective, these are things that one has to keep in mind if one wants one’s magic to actually “work,” as opposed to failing or causing undesirable results. At the same time though, from a causal perspective, one might think of these as points grounding one’s fantasy in a touch of reality, necessary if one is to actually experience the self-development, self-fulfillment and/or personal growth dimensions of performing ritual.
While the concepts that follow are taken both from LaVey and from various other occult sources, I am presenting them in my own way for the sake of attempted cohesion and simplicity. For each item, I’ll explain its implications from an acausal perspective, and discuss some similarities and differences between Satanism and other traditions that might also subscribe to these principles to at least some extent. Then afterward, I will discuss how/why these “rules” as a whole are at the same time intelligible and beneficial from a causal perspective, and in the process also show how they relate to some other esoteric practices and elements of Satanic philosophy.
I) Magic is an extension of the practitioner’s own mental and emotional energy, and disciplined management of this energy is therefore essential to magical success.
The upshot of this principle is that once one has decided to use magic to pursue a particular goal, all available energy should be directed toward that goal while within the ritual chamber, vs. afterward, one should not dwell upon it, as doing so will take energy away from the working and thereby weaken or cancel it.
I consider this easily the most universal of the three principles I will outline, as various traditions both explicitly-occult and generally-religious have its equivalent. For instance, in Eastern philosophy, I can think of stories both in the Hindu tradition and in Chinese folklore wherein the story advises that one ought to focus on the task at hand vs. dwelling on end results will take away from the quality of one’s effort in the present.
II) Since magic is “change in accordance with will,” it leads to beneficial results when one has insight into one’s true will, while inciting perverse or negative results when one lacks such insight.
From this principle follows a prohibition: do not attempt magical workings if you are not totally sure what you want or why you want it.
The easiest-to-grasp example is that if you are cursing someone, you must be clear in your own mind re: why you think they deserve this and is the problem really with them or is it with you. LaVeyan Satanists do not believe in karma – nor, as far as I’m aware, do most other Satanic denominations – but they do believe that if you are secretly harboring guilt about hating someone, and then curse that person, results may follow that appear karma-like (e.g. something bad happens to the practitioner), but are actually caused not by the universe judging your actions as immoral, but rather by your own misgivings about what you are doing.
Similarly but more abstractly, if you put your energy out there toward a certain goal but then decide that was not actually what you wanted, that energy still has to “go” somewhere and may then return to you in a manner that causes a nuisance. Unacknowledged cowardice, hypocrisy or self-deceit are all qualities that can further aggravate such situations.
This principle, it seems to me, is recognized in some form by many other occult traditions as well. However, such traditions typically are situated within a religious framework that rules out certain courses of magical action in a way that Satanism does not. Adherents of such traditions are thereby deterred from attempting the sorts of workings most likely to lead to grief for individuals who are unreflective, vacillating or etc. – e.g. if you believe that curses inherently come back to the caster threefold, you will not attempt them, and will thus not get yourself in a situation wherein you are having to make a hard call re: to what extent is your wrath justified or not.
Satanism does not share these religions’ pessimism re: “human beings will probably fuck it up, and therefore shouldn’t attempt to use such power.” It therefore forbids fewer things outright, because you are your own God. By the same token though, it then follows that the more riddled you are with the un-godlike traits of ignorance of your own true motives, unwillingness to initiate action when an opportunity presents itself to you, or other such forms of human frailty, the more you should really not be messing with magic.
III) Magic follows the path of least resistance, and the successful magician would then be well-advised to think carefully about how a result could manifest, rather than just taking for granted that it will work itself out “somehow.”
This principle has a wide variety of important implications – i.e. to me, it is the common denominator behind all of the following common pieces of advice re: Satanic magic:
- As pro-indulgence as LaVeyan Satanism is often portrayed as being, you cannot wish for just anything and expect to get it via magical means. Two types of obstacles that can arise re: seeking pie-in-the-sky via magic are i) you are overestimating what is possible given your own strengths vs. weaknesses – LaVey’s examples have to do with extremely unattractive people thinking that they are going to bed extremely attractive people via sex magic; ii) the situation is such that what you are seeking simply is highly unlikely, i.e. if you need a financial windfall, don’t insist it be accomplished via you winning the lottery. As LaVey says, one must get an intuitive feel for what the “balance factor” is in one’s particular case re: what is possible here – or as chaos magicians would say, you can only slant the luck plane so far.
- The LaVeyan tradition in particular emphasizes that you should only use magic to try to get things that you cannot gain in a straightforward way via you own earthly efforts, and that any magic you attempt should also be accompanied by complementary earthly efforts inasmuch as this is possible. The idea here is that magic may be able to help with matters of chance, such as someone looking at your resume or your dating profile, but you had better then first have applied to a bunch of jobs or be on a bunch of matchmaking sites if you actually want to reap the benefits of fortuitous events manifesting.
- A third potential obstacle to magic is conscious opposition to it on the part of an individual that one is targeting and/or on the part of third parties. This then leads to the often-given advice among sinister path practitioners that you should i) be selective about who you talk to magic about, if not entirely secretive; ii) do workings at night when people are asleep and conscious defenses are thereby lowered.
- Sometimes, the path of least resistance can have some pretty ugly collateral damage. This is a corollary of what I said above re: the “malevolent genie” effect: when doing a magical working, the prospect of collateral damage should either be looked squarely in the face and accepted, or else foreseen and mitigated via careful wording or other measures. For example, if you curse someone, avoid them afterward as much as possible, lest whatever “accident” the Dark Gods throw at them be something that you are also sucked into via being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Failure to think a working through could otherwise lead to regrets – e.g. re: the above financial example, what if your windfall comes about via you getting an inheritance because someone you care about dies? That strikes me as the exact kind of thing that Tezcatlipoca would think was hilarious.
I am of the view that this principle, with implications of these sorts, must be understood to at least some extent by any occult tradition that is actually efficacious. The more one is dealing with a mass-marketed New-Agey prosperity-gospel –type worldview, the more overlooking of these sorts of limitations you are likely to see, as assuring desperate people that there are no limits to what is possible is surely good for selling more books and so forth. I think really, though, the “reality” of how the acausal works is that one needs to appreciate that it is not omnipotent on one hand, but on the other, it is nonetheless powerful in ways that can lead to grief for oblivious or unprepared parties.
Causal explanation of these principles
The first principle about energy management requires that one develop control over one’s own emotions, patience, and the ability to remain in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or the future. These are, notably, the same skills that mindfulness and contemplative forms of meditation also develop. It is also worth noting that if this aspect of the self is properly-developed, curse magic actually yields the same benefit as forgiveness yields in other religions: you cease to be bothered anymore about the situation that formerly troubled you.
The second principle is a strong incentive to “know thyself.” It then is complementary to introspection meditation. One might say that reflecting on a magical working prior to performing it is the “applied” level of what introspection meditation is the “pure” level of. Both then help the individual to get in touch with their “true self” as distinct from what society has told them they want, or what they think they want because it would be shameful in the eyes of the herd to admit otherwise, or etc.
The third principle requires brutal honesty with oneself about one’s assets and capabilities, and pragmatism re: via what chain of cause-and-effect might an outcome realistically manifest in the world. Initiative-taking is encouraged both on the spiritual and the earthly levels, and one could thus argue from a causal perspective that the former helps encourage the latter, which is surely a positive thing re: taking greater charge of one’s own life. Last but not least, this principle is also in accord with what I’ve said elsewhere about Satanism’s appreciation for dark spiritual realities: things will not “work out okay” just because you really want them to – it is up to you to recognize the obstacles in the path and up to you to find ways to overcome them.
Inasmuch as all of the above can make for a better person living a better life, I would thus argue that there is something to be said for greater magic on the causal level. Furthermore, I would hope this makes some sense to others even if they may well be personally skeptical about the acausal level.
* * *