Musings on banishing rituals
Over the years, I’ve seen people discussing banishing in terms of “Centering” or “Grounding” “Closing/Opening” and so forth, yet “banishing” – with its strong implication of an imperative command – to expel, or to drive away – forcefully – remains the ‘favourite’ term.
This is picking up from a discussion on Banishing I participated in on Barbelith’s Temple forum a couple of years ago. This is what I said at the time, in response to something aim for joviality wrote:
“A key component of the banishing discourse is our relationship to space. I think it would be fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual (or its many modern derivatives) that it is, at root, a structural orientation towards particular kinds of spatial relationships – an “ordering” and establishment of hierarchical arrangements. Also, look at the number of “introductory” texts that assert that the banishing ritual is equivalent to “casting a circle” – the place in which magic “takes place” – and often, with the implication that magic can only happen within this space. If anything, this reinforces the perceived division between the “magical” and the “mundane” (or the temporal and the spiritual). I would argue that this is a cultural artefact – very much a product of western thinking about boundaries and our concept of “private space” and related to our conceptions of individuality and autonomy, and highlights the importance of being able to control access to that space (which I think is a major subtext in banishing discourse). If we look at the conceptualisation of privacy, identity & spatial relationships in other cultures, it’s often very different to that of the overdeveloped world (there has been some interesting work done on these relationships and their reflection in ritual practices in Balinese culture, by Gregory Bateson, and Hoyt Edge).
I think that one instance where we can look at the ambiguities of our spatial relationships is when we do rituals outdoors. I’ve never been comfortable (even when I did use ceremonial-style banishing rituals, which I haven’t for nearly ten years) with doing them “outdoors”. It just didn’t seem appropriate. I have on several occasions though, participated in outdoor rituals with others and come away with the feeling that some magicians tend to treat “nature” as a big room. Probably the most ridiculous example I can recall of this was a ritual which was planned so that participants would hide behind trees (I think it was something to do with Robin Hood) yet of course, when we all arrived at the ritual site, there were no trees for miles around and so the whole thing quickly became rather farcical. My suggestion that we either find some trees or call the whole thing off was met with derision.
And from aim for joviality’s response:
“I wonder if there’s a sense in which the foundation of the hermetic LBR etc is that very detached perspective, the mage conceptualised as sealed off from the rest of the world and building a ‘power-over’. Perhaps it’s the kind of ‘modernist’ perpective: seems to me it bears the marks of a Victorian ideal situated in a hierarchical power-over context, on a planet seen as full of raw materials and thriving colonial empires, abundant carbon-rich power sources and miles of ‘uninhabited wilderness’ for exploitation, all of which are a kind of sick joke now I think.
The kinds of worldview I find more useful are those which are relational: acknowledging this world we live in which is full of beings all acting and connecting with each other and spatial: consisting of real spaces which our bodies interact with and which interact with and affect our bodies. I have little time for models which aren’t grounded in an understanding of our ecological situatedness as humans. Your example of outdoor ritual, trouser, I think is really important: outdoors we are less easily able to delude ourselves about our controlling position?
Perhaps also the models of the self I use – selves in relation, selves situated with respect to culture and bearing the marks of race and gender conditioning, selves composed of multiple layers of processes which may or may not be congruent – are more suited to the way I use the idea of invocation.
A multiple layered self, in relation with all the local and related beings in the small area of this small planet: unless I was to go for serious sterilization – scorched earth hermeticism? – I need to develop ways of moving forward in the direction I want to go by aligning with others in our common interest, forming coalitions, and having others choose to help, by joining in or leaving alone.”
Another element that I think is a key to understanding the discourse of banishing is that of psychic hygiene – there is a strong concern with hygiene and protecting oneself against pollution by others which can be found in both the writings of Golden Dawn initiates (see for example Flying Roll II by Westcott) and Theosophists such as C.W. Leadbeater (see for example The Astral Plane ). These notions, I’d argue, should be understood within the wider context of Victorian concerns with moral purity and social hygiene – the fear of contamination (both physical and moral) which necessitated the establishment and policing of boundaries – as much a concern in respect to population centres in the UK as it was in respect to the Colonies. This requires some further thought…