Skip to navigation | Skip to content

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…


  1. Gyrus
    Posted December 27th 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Some of my research has touched on general conceptions of space and orientation (Edward Casey’s The Fate of Place is a good intro to the philosophical history of these ideas). I’d not really joined many dots to ritual practice, but I can see a lot here.

    Without arguing against how much Western ideas of personal space and property have influenced things like the LBR, I can’t help but think there’s another side to modern magicians seeing nature as a “big room”. The sense of the sky as a vast domed roof—usually a tent or yurt—has a pretty well-attested pedigree in traditional cultures. From the earliest hearths, predating constructed dwellings, through to medieval architecture, we’ve had a pretty strong tendency to domesticate the cosmos and cosmologize the home. Maybe the lack of the latter is more notable than the presence of the former in modern magical culture?

    I guess the membrance between the home and nature has thickened and dried out with the advance of civilization, and crossing outwards into the world our sense of wild space splits. On the one hand, projecting our modern domesticity onto nature reveals their incongruity; on the other, there’s the sense of nature as wholly Other, unstructured and chaotic, in an extreme sense apparently not shared by cultures living close to the land.

  2. Gypsy Lantern
    Posted January 12th 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m in an LBRP phase at the moment. I pick it up occasionally and see where it takes me. I’m really interested in how my internal experience of this same series of actions has changed, deepened and developed remarkably over the… I guess, almost twenty years that I’ve been performing it for now, off and on. I’ve always got something from it. It leaves me feeling fresh and focused, and I like it. One of the main reasons I stopped doing it for awhile is because it didn’t seem to fit very well with the rest of my practice. A lot of my criticisms of it were similar to those detailed above, and I didn’t like how it was an unquestioned cornerstone of western-style magic, that you always had to open and close with this, or something akin to it. But as a practice, I’ve always got something interesting from it.

    What I’ve been doing lately is observing more closely what happens internally when I move through the various stage of the routine. I’ve been aware for awhile how these internal responses have changed over time, but I’m currently observing how some of these inner movements are habitual things I’ve been doing in response to the actions for decades. I’m experimenting with how I can refine what happens internally during this exercise, and further sharpen what it does for me.

    I see it more as an internal exercise, than a banishing of external space. The room I do it in is filled with floor-to-ceiling Voodoo altars, and I don’t want to “banish” any of that. But I do want the operation to “clear the decks” of whatever else I’ve been doing during the day, so I can feel clear-headed and focused. So in this regard, it’s really more of a meditation exercise.

    I’ve also been situating the LBRP much more firmly in the context of the rest of my practice, which works very well as an adjunct to the Christian elements of Voodoo. In my earlier days, I always found the idea of calling on archangels a bit jarring, alongside whatever pagan or chaos or Lovecraftian stuff I was up to. But since I have Saints, syncretised with Lwa and Orisha, it’s not much of a leap to have Archangels. I’m treating the Archangel component of the LBRP totally literally, and I plan on getting some little statues of the four of them from a Catholic store, and develop Voodoo-type relationships with them that will feed into the practice of LBRP.

    What I like about my LBRP practice is how the exercise itself doesn’t change – it’s still the same set of words and actions – but what goes on internally when I do it is changing and developing all the time.