Ritual is how we DO religion.
And to do ritual, we perform a set of prescribed actions. It may be something as simple as sitting quietly and counting our breaths or lighting a candle. It may be something as elaborate as an initiation rite.
Yet just performing a set of actions is not enough. There must be an imaginal/spiritual/psychic component in order to transform that set of actions from rote performance to participation in the sacred. When this transformation is successful, we are taking part in sacred magic, a term that is particularly appropriate when it comes to Isis, for Isis is the Goddess of Magic par excellence. As Isis is the Lady of Magic—in Egyptian, Iset Nebet Hekau, “Isis, the Lady of Words of Power”—I consider all Isiac ritual acts to be acts of sacred magic.
While the physical acts of ritual are important—and indeed can help trigger the appropriate magical mindset when practiced sufficiently—it is our condition of mind and soul and spirit that makes the ritual “work.” And by “work,” I mean that it connects us with the spiritual world, helps us communicate that which we wish to communicate, and helps us transform ourselves or our world.
So what are the special conditions of mind, soul, and spirit that facilitate sacred magic? A sense of openness, both physically and spiritually. Expansion of mind and spirit. A feeling of expectancy and anticipation.
Such states are, of course, easier to enumerate than to achieve. I know people—adepts of one tradition or another—who can come into such a state almost instantly, but then they’ve been practicing for years. Most of us, most of the time, need to work at it in order to transform our everyday mindset into the magical mindset. So how do we do that?
A key technique for achieving the magical mindset is visualization. Visualization is “seeing things in the mind’s eye.” Visualization is creative imagination. Many people are familiar with a guided meditation, in which you try to imagine or “see” the scenes your guide is describing, yet you have your own reactions and experiences within the parameters of the guided visualization.
But you can guide your own visualization as well. By this, I don’t mean just having your own free-wheeling reactions to whatever spiritual energy you’ve invoked, but actually guiding what happens. This is not cheating; it’s creating your own magical mindset.
Here’s an example: let’s say you want to create the states of openness, expansion, and expectancy we talked about. This is precisely the purpose of the ritual of “The Opening of the Ways.” This ritual is a good all-purpose rite intended to create sacred space for communion with the Goddess, for meditation, or for any other act of sacred magic. In this ritual, the ritualist visualizes her or his aura as the Temple of Isis (See? Your body is a temple.) and in vision opens the doors (or “Ways”) to Isis, so that the energy of the Goddess can enter the temple.
You might do this by imagining Egyptian pylons in each quarter, complete with wooden doors that you can open in your imagination. I usually envision a pair of Egyptian pillars with translucent, white curtains that blow gently in the breeze and which I can pull aside as I open each of the Ways.
Here’s what might be going on in my head as my physical body stands facing east with my arms before me, palms together, preparing to Open the Ways to Isis of the East:
Before me I see two beautiful pillars, pale-yellow, sandstone colored. If I were to really look at them, I would likely see Egyptian hieroglyphs showing sails and fans and images of Gods of the Winds. But I need not always do that; for now, I simply see the pillars and the closed curtains before me. I feel a bit of tension in my shoulders and arms for I will expend real energy when I open those curtains. I say, “Let the shrine of the east be opened unto Isis, only Isis,” and I open my arms out—wide. I am sure to make this gesture fully so that I can take a deep breath and feel the openness in my own chest. At the same time, I imagine my hands pulling the gauzy curtains to the right and left so that I can now see out to the scene that lies between them.
I might imagine standing on a cliff where a warm breeze blows softly. I breathe deeply, understanding that Isis of the Air, Iset Nef, is entering into my temple, into me.
I repeat the same actions, with different visualizations, at each of the Quarters, above me, below me, and in my heart. When I’ve completed these ritual actions, along with the visualizations, I should be well on my way to achieving the magical mindset. I will be much more open, expanded, and I will be expecting something to happen…
…so now is the perfect time to commune with the Goddess or to do any other work of sacred magic.
At SunFest, we will be using the “Opening of the Ways” to open our Friday night ritual; and we will have a different priestess or priest leading the actions and visualizations at each Quarter. We’ll do a group invocation of Isis, then break up into Cities so that the High Priest or Priestess of the City can guide a visualization of the Goddess rising from the Lotus Pool and crowned with the Sun (similar to the visualization we used at our first Gathering).
At our next Gathering, on December 27th, we’ll do the “Opening of the Ways” with different ritualists at each Quarter. So be thinking now about which one you might like to do. Remember that we have the four directions, plus Heavens above, Underworld below, and Heart at the center.
See you next time!