Psychic Self Defence Ch. 8 – The Risks Incidental to Ceremonial Magic


Psychic Self Defense - The Risks Incidental to Ceremonial MagicExtract from the Book

Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune



If the problem of psychic self-defence is to be adequately dealt with, we must have an understanding of a subject upon which very little has been written – the nature of the forces of intelligent and organised evil.

The great faiths of the ancient world all had their evil gods as well as their beneficent deities, and they did not call these evil gods devils. In Hinduism we have Shiva and Kali; in the Egyptian system we have Set and Besz and Typhon; in the Grecian pantheon there are Pluto and Hecate.

All the other faiths, also, have their angelic choirs, their Archons, or builders, and all the hierarchy of heaven. Protestant Christianity alone has forgotten its angiology, the Creator has to be both Architect of the Universe and Bricklayer, forming man from the dust of the ground without assistance.

If we refer to Paradise Lost, however, we shall find that Milton was familiar with both divine and infernal hierarchies, and that these were graded and charted according to a definite system. Anyone who is acquainted with the Qabalah will recognise that in Milton he meets a fellow Qabalist.

In the Qabalah we find the esotericism of the Old Testament. I propose to use the Qabalistic terminology to explain the esoteric theory of evil because, firstly, it is the one I am most familiar with; secondly, it forms the basis of Western occult thought and all medieval magic is based upon it, together with much modern magic; thirdly, it is, in my opinion, singularly lucid, coherent and comprehensive; and being a system consecrated by antiquity, I cannot be accused of romancing, or fabricating my own system.

In order to render my concepts clear, a brief explanation of Qabalistic doctrine must be given. As it is not possible to enter into an exposition of this vast system, I will state certain axioms dogmatically, and explain them by illustration instead of argument, thus obtaining the maximum clarity for the minimum expenditure of space.

The initiate recognises two kinds of evil, Negative Evil and Positive Evil. Negative Evil is the polarising opposite of good.

Let us try and make this clear by an illustration. Every action gives rise to a reaction. The forward drive of the bullet is equated by the recoil of the gun. Everything which moves has to have the equivalent of a thrust-block against which to push – something firm under its feet from which to take off. It is difficult to walk on a slippery surface because it offers no resistance. We must have something for the foot to grip, to push against, and give us the forward impulse at each


Negative Evil is the thrust-block of Good; the principle of resistance, of inertia, that enables Good to “get a purchase.”

But Negative Evil is more than this. We might call the principle of resistance the “negative~~ aspect of Negative Evil. For it has also a “positives’ aspect, the Principle of Destruction.

We can best explain the cosmic function of the Principle of Destruction by calling it by its esoteric name of the Scavenger of the Gods. Its function is to clear up behind the advancing tide of evolution, removing that which has become effete so that it may not choke and clog evolving life.

We now find the answer to the eternal riddle as to why God tolerates the Devil. The Devil is the cosmic thrust-block and Scavenger of the Gods. It is this aspect of evil which is given a more detailed symbolism in the pantheons of other faiths, having its Shiva and Kali, or its Pluto and Hecate aspects. We can now see why these resistive and destructive forces are classed as gods and not as demons, for they are reactions according to cosmic law, not anarchical and chaotic forces.

We now come to the consideration of Positive Evil. This again has a “negative’s and “positive’s aspect. Its “negative’s aspect is pure chaos, unformed substance and unco-ordinated force. It has been aptly called the Cosmic Abortion. To drift into the sphere of “negative” Positive Evil is like being caught in a psychic quicksand.

We are now ready to consider the sphere of “positive” Positive Evil, the demons themselves, or the Qlippoth, as they are called in the Qabalah. In order to understand their significance we must make a further excursion into Qabalistic philosophy.

The Creator is conceived of as bringing the universe into manifestation through a series of Divine Emanations, ten in number. These are called the Ten Holy Sephiroth, and are represented in a diagram as arranged in a particular pattern. This is the famous Tree of Life, the key to all symbolism.

The Sephiroth were not emanated independently, each from the Divine Source; but overflowed, the one from the other. As soon as one Sephira has emanated another, these two are said to be in equilibrium, compensating each other. But there is a period during the emanation of a Sephira when the force is not yet in equilibrium, but is pushing out unsupported, like an incomplete arch. It is the uncompensated force emanated during this epoch of unbalance, and never subsequently absorbed after the establishment of the new sphere, which constitutes Positive Evil. There are, therefore, ten kinds of Positive Evil, just as there are ten Divine Emanations.

To these spheres go, according to their kind, all the evil imaginings of the heart of man that are not neutralised by repentance or compensated by the overplus of good in other members of the same group-soul. There is a deep occult doctrine here which we cannot enter upon now; it must suffice to state it dogmatically in explanation of the Qabalistic conception of the Qlippoth. When we consider all that must have been poured into these ten sinks of iniquity since the days of Atlantean Magic, through the decadence of Babylon and Rome, down to the Great War, we can guess what rises up from them when their seals are broken.

Not only do influences emanate from them which tempt and corrupt souls, each according to its susceptibility, but time has served for the formulation of evil intelligences. These probably originated through the workings of Black Magic, which took the essential evil essence and organised it for purposes of its own. The beings thus formulated assumed an independent existence, developed, and multiplied their kind. They appear as dreams and hallucinations, and may produce a considerable degree of objective phenomena, such as noise, deposit of slime or blood, balls of light, and, above all, stenches of an amazing pungency.

The Ten Divine Emanations are personified as Archangels, and the Ten Infernal Emanations are personified as Arch-demons. It is these which are the Names of Power in Magic. Each Sephira, then, has its obverse side in the corresponding Qlippottic demon. The initiated adept always gains control over the demonic force before he attempts to utilise the angelic force which, by the appropriated means, can be contacted in each Sephira. If he does not do so, he contacts them both simultaneously. Moreover, the planets, the elements and the Signs of the Zodiac are all intimately connected with the Sephiroth, being arranged upon the Tree of Life in a pattern known only to initiates.

The initiated adept is exceedingly careful what he does when he is working with these potencies because he knows that he has always got the Qlippoth in the background. The uninitiated occultist goes ahead gaily, juggling with such Names of Power as he has picked up from the innumerable books on the subject now available for the general reader, thinking that if he does not invoke the demons he will not get them. He forgets that every planet is a Jekyll and Hyde. Consequently, ceremonial magic has got a bad name owing to the unpleasant frequency of untoward results, just as surgery got a bad name before the days of Lister. It is the imperfect technique that is the trouble.

I was once doing some experimental work with geomancy, which is a method of divination belonging to the Element of Earth. Now all divinations, when performed according to their esoteric formulae, always begin with an evocation of the genius that presides over that particular operation. The genii of geomancy are not of a very high type. I was imperfectly familiar with the method, and was trying to set up my prick-figure on a piece of paper instead of using a tray of wet sand as I should have done. Things began to go wrong, and the room was filled with the most terrible stench of drains. The appropriate banishing ritual was immediately performed, and the air cleared; but there was not much doubt about the objectivity of this phenomenon while it lasted.

A very interesting case is given in the Occult Review for December, 1929. in a letter to the editor, signed H. Campell.

“Desiring some information which I could not get in any ordinary way, I resorted to the System of Abra Melin, and to this end prepared a copy of the necessary Talisman, perfecting it to the best of my ability with my little stock of knowledge. The ritual performed, I proceeded to clear my ‘place of working.’ A little knowledge is a dangerous thing; my ritual was imperfect and I only rendered the Talisman useless without in any way impairing the activities of the entity invoked. This looks like nothing else than gross carelessness on my part; and to a certain extent this is true – but the point I wish to make is this, that my knowledge of this particular system, and therefore my ritual, were imperfect; and in any case, I had been shown no method of combating this particular entity when once aroused. Now note the results.

“Unfortunately I have no account of the date when these occurrences began, but the first hint of trouble must have come on or about March 3, 1927. I can guess the date with fair accuracy because, as I was to learn, the manifestations were always strongest about the new moon, and after I had gone to sleep. Upon this occasion I can remember waking up suddenly with a vague feeling of terror oppressing me; yet it was no ordinary nightmare terror, but an imposed emotion that could be thrown off by an effort of the will. This passed almost as soon as I stood up, and I thought no more about it.

“Again on April 2, or thereabouts, I was troubled by the same feeling, but regarded it as nothing more than a severe nightmare, though the fact that my sleep was distorted towards the time of the new moon had occurred to me; while as full moon drew on, the nights were peaceful again.

“The new moon of May I brought a recurrence of the trouble. This time very much more powerful, and necessitating an almost intolerable effort of will to cast if off. Also it was about this time that I first saw the entity which was rapidly obsessing me. It was not altogether unlovely to look at. Its eyes were closed and it was bearded, with long flowing hair. It seemed a blind force slowly waking to activity.

“Now there are three points which I must make quite clear before I proceed. In the first place, I was never attacked twice in the same night. Secondly, when I speak of physical happenings, the smashing of glass and voices, they were never, with one absolutely inexplicable exception, actual, but pure obsessions; and this leads to the third point. Not one of these incidents happened while I was asleep. Always I found myself awake with the terror upon me and struggling violently to cast off the spell. I have had nightmares before, but no nightmare that I have ever had could hold my mind in its grip for minutes at a time as this thing did, or send me plunging through a ten-foot-high window to the ground below.

“The first indication I had that these visitations were absolutely out of the ordinary course of events came on May 30. About midnight I was suddenly awakened by a voice calling loudly, ‘Look out,’ and at once I became aware of a red serpent coiling and uncoiling itself under my bed, and reaching out onto the floor with its head. Just as it was about to

attack me I jumped through my window, and came to earth among the rose bushes below, fortunately with no more damage done than a badly bruised arm.

“After this there was absolute peace until June 30, when the real climax came. I had seen the thing again on the night of the new moon, and had noticed considerable changes in its appearance. Especially it seemed far more active, while its long hair had changed into serpent heads. The night after I was awakened by a violent noise and jumped out of bed. I then saw the noise was caused by a great red obelisk which crashed through the west wall of my room and leaned against the wall at the east end, smashing both that and the window to pieces but missing my bed, which was in an alcove to the left of its path. In its transit it had smashed all the mirrors, and the floor and top of my bed were strewn with broken glass and fragments of wood. This time the obsession must have lasted some minutes, I dared not move for fear of cutting myself, and to reach the matches – wherein, I knew, lay safety – I had to lean across the bed and again risk the glass. Yet in my heart I knew that all this was false, but had no power to move. I could only stand there, incapable, looking at the shattered room in a state of hopeless terror.

“And now comes the most extraordinary part of the whole business. When I had finally mastered the obsession, I went to bed again dead tired, and I know that the only sound I made that night was jumping to the floor, also my room is at least a hundred yards from the rest of my family, yet next morning at breakfast I was asked what was the terrible noise in my room during the night.

“After that I realised that the game was up. I had not taken these occurrences lying down, but I knew that it was impossible for me to try and control the force which I had set in motion. In desperation I turned to a good friend, who, I was aware, knew much of these things. She did not hesitate, but came at once to my assistance, and from that day to the present the trouble has absolutely gone from me.

“Such is the case; and I only hope it may warn those who are contemplating my folly to treat with the greatest of care any printed systems of magic, and not to use them at all unless they have the fullest control over the entities invoked.”

Among the general public, who do not dabble in occultism, the results of a magical mishap are never seen, and the only doctors who ever see them are fellow-initiates who happen to be medical men, and they, naturally, keep silence. The catastrophes are of varying degrees of severity, ranging from a bad fright to a fatality.

I cannot say much upon these subjects, for they are among the most secret paths of occult lore. Enough must be hinted, however, to reveal what, under certain circumstances, may be experienced. I do not think it in the least likely, however, that the Qlippotic demons will be encountered save through the use of ceremonial magic. They are as rare as anthrax in England, but it is as well to know the manner of their manifestation so that, when encountered, they may be recognised.

The great majority of dabblers in occultism are protected by their own ineptitude. They fail to get results, and consequently come to no harm; but if they should succeed in getting results they would find that they had their hands full. The serious student, unless he is working under skilled guidance, may also find himself in difficulties, and for various reasons.

He may be insufficiently experienced in the operation he has undertaken, for in magic theory is one thing and practice is another. A student of occult science will often take a formula out of a book and try to use it. He ~night just as well study the instructions in a book on surgery and try to operate. Most formula are incomplete, there is always unwritten work. Some of the “barbarous names of evocation” which the uninitiated use as Words of Power, are really the initial letters of a mantric sentence or formula. I came across an invocation once in which the Word of Power was Tegatoo. On investigation this turned out to be the battered remains of The Great Architect Of The Universe.

Even an experienced occultist may get into difficulties if he attempts magical work when he is in bad health, over-tired, or has had even a moderate amount of alcohol, for very little is too much when the Invisible Forces are being handled. Equally does this apply to each of his assistants. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and if one of the team cannot handle the forces, everybody is going to suffer. A ritual lodge is no place for the well- meaning ineffectual.

There is an immense amount of dabbling in occultism going on today. Most of it is innocuous because it is totally ineffective; but there is never any knowing when one is going to strike a live wire. Take, for instance, the advertisers in various occult papers who offer to supply “charms that work.” One of two things is certain. Either they do not work at all, in which case one is wasting one’s money on them; or they work by means of some power with which they have been charged. What is the nature of that power, and did the persons who made the charm or talisman really know what they were about? Did they take the precaution to bind the baser aspect before magnetising with the higher aspect? These are the elementary precautions of the practical occultist who has been properly trained. Did the maker of the talisman know them?

Again, one buys second-hand books on magic. Who was the previous owner and for what purposes were these books used? Or one buys a new book which has been brought out by some occult school for propaganda purposes. These books are often magnetised before they are sent out, and so form a magnetic link between the purchaser and the Order which caused them to be issued.

Or someone may join a group who has previously been associated with another occult group whose contacts were debased. Unless the proper precautions are taken, that person will bring the psychic contagion in with him, and his fellow-members may have unpleasant experiences.

I well remember it being said to me by an occultist of great experience that two things are necessary for safety in occultism, right motives and right associates. We lull ourselves into a false security if we believe that good intentions are sufficient protection. My advice to the would-be student is to invoke the Master to send him an initiator, and to refuse to attempt any practical work until he is fully satisfied that the initiator has been found.

I cannot here enter into either the precautions to be taken against untoward happenings in practical occult work, nor the remedies to apply if they take place; I will merely indicate the signs by which such an eventuality may be recognised. This is all that can be done, and all that is necessary in a book of this type; the initiate knows what to do without need of guidance from me; the non-initiate cannot do anything, and must seek assistance. It is enough for him if he knows when such assistance is needed.

If things go wrong in the course of a magical ceremonial, the power “shorts,” and someone, it may be the operator, or it may be the weakest person in the team, gets knocked out as if he had received a punch from an invisible pugilist. When picked up, he will be very dazed and badly shaken, and will certainly be some days, possibly weeks, before he gets over it. He will be in a state of complete prostration and considerable mental confusion, which will gradually wear off. Unless there is some organic defect, such as hereditary mental instability, a bad heart, or hardened arteries, there will be a complete recovery, given time; but naturally it is a bad outlook should one of these conditions be present, and those who have them should not take part in occult experiments. Personally, I do not believe that the invisible forces alone will ever actually cause the loss of life or permanent disability in the absence of any physical lesion. The person who goes out of his mind as the result of a psychic shock would have gone out of his mind if he had been in a railway disaster or any other drastic emotional experience.

Unless the psychic atmosphere indicates otherwise, it is not necessary to do any banishings, or take precautions against obsession, because the power has dispersed itself in the very act of inflicting the shock.

During my early days of occultism I developed my powers very rapidly because I recovered the memories of previous incarnations en bloc, and with them the capacities acquired in previous lives, and I shook myself up severely on numerous occasions before I learnt the technique of handling the invisible forces. I never experienced any permanent ill-effects from my mishaps, though I admit that upon occasion I have been extricated by my friends from a considerable amount of debris.

During the early days of my occult career a girl was brought to me by a mutual friend, who told me that the mother of this girl, an ardent student of occultism, seemed to have a terrible effect upon her daughter. The mother was a widow, and mother and daughter lived together under very comfortable material circumstances; but whenever the girl made a friend, or showed any desire to leave home, the mother performed extraordinary antics, coming to the daughter’s room at night and drawing signs in the air about her bed. The effect of all this upon the girl was most peculiar. She felt unable to free herself from the mental domination the mother had obtained over her, and she was wasting away in a

most curious fashion. When I saw her, although able to get about, she looked like nothing I have ever seen save a famine victim.

I made a psychic investigation, and formed the opinion that the mother was working by means of an entity of which she had obtained possession. How this had been accomplished in the present instance, I do not know, but such things are common in occultism. I determined to take on the case, and to chase and, if possible, break up this artificial elemental. I was away from the group I was accustomed to work with, but among people keenly interested in occultism of every sort, size and description, and I had no difficulty in picking up a team to help me with the undertaking.

I had no qualms about the undertaking. A second-hand elemental, directed by a woman with only a rule-of-thumb knowledge of magic, did not appear to me to be a formidable opponent. I had seen a good deal of practical occultism, had lent a hand at similar operations, and possessed the necessary formulae. So I went round the town, asked certain friends to lend a hand, and others to come and see the fun. To be frank, our attitude was that of a party of small boys going ratting.

We met at the appointed time and place. Formed our circle, and went to work. The method I meant to use made it necessary for me to leave my body, and the group were really there to look after it while I was out of it, and see it came to no harm. I got out on to the astral readily enough, did my job, and returned, feeling very pleased with myself, for it was the first time I had operated entirely on my own, without the supervision by my teacher.

As I began to recover physical consciousness, which is just like coming round from an anaesthetic, I had a sensation as of machinery running, and felt as if I were lying on something very lumpy. I opened my eyes, and saw some thing brown towering above me to an enormous height. As I gathered my senses together, I discovered that I was lying on the floor, close to the skirting, across the feet of an unfortunate man, who was thus securely pinned against the wall, and it was he, shaking in his shoes, that had felt to me like the vibration of machinery. Various other members of the circle slowly and reluctantly reappeared from behind the piano and sofa and other heavy articles of furniture. They had seen some practical occultism for once in their lives, but they did not appear to like it.

It appears that, after I had gone out and left them with my unconscious body, they got a good deal of phenomena in the way of bells and voices outside the circle. If they had kept quiet, it would have been quite all right, but they lost their heads and scattered. Then, the circle being broken, I began to perform antics, arching up on my head and my heels and, in some way that has never been explained, arriving at the far side of the room at the feet of one of the circle, which, of course, did not improve matters.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. We were just gathering ourselves together, thinking that everything was over, when a force of what nature I have never known suddenly rushed round the circle, and one member seemed to take the brunt of it. He went flying across the room and landed, fortunately for him, face downwards in an arm-chair, and was ill in bed for three weeks.

While all this was going on, the father of one of the people taking part became uneasy about her, and walked across from where he lived at the far side of the little town, to see what was happening. Like most little country towns, this one usually went to bed early, but he told us that as he came along he saw that innumerable windows were lit up, and he heard the sounds of children crying all down the street.

When I think of the risks I took and the conditions under which I worked in those early days, I wonder that I or any of my friends are alive to tell the tale. It is said that there is a special Providence to look after fools, drunkards and little children. I think there must be another that looks after inexperienced occultists and their friends.

It may be interesting to note that as a result of this operation which I so rashly undertook, the girl was entirely freed from the domination of her mother, and began forth with to put on flesh and rapidly became normal. That end of it, at least, was entirely successful.

Another very curious case is that referred to in the Occult Review of January, 1930.

“The mysterious death of a student of occultism, Miss N. Fornario, is receiving the attention of the authorities at the present time. Miss Fornario was found lying nude on the bleak hill-side in the lonely island of Iona Round her neck was a cross secured by a silver chain, and near at hand lay a large knife which had been used to cut a large cross in the turf. On this cross her body was lying. A resident of London, Miss Fornario seems to have made her way to lona for some purpose connected with occultism. One of the servants at her house in London stating that a letter had been received saying she had a ‘terrible case of healing on.’ One newspaper report alludes to ‘mysterious stories on the island about blue lights having been seen in the vicinity of where her body was found, and there is also a story of a cloaked man.’ Occultists no less than the general public will await with interest any disclosures that may be forth coming concerning this occurrence.”

No disclosures ever were forthcoming, however, and conjecture alone can work upon the case. One detail only can I add to the brief but comprehensive report of the Occult Review. The body bore marks of scratches.

I knew Miss Fornario intimately, and at one time we did a good deal of work together, but some three years before her death we went our separate ways and lost sight of each other. She was half Italian and half English, of unusual intellectual calibre, and was especially interested in the Green Ray elemental contacts; too much interested in them for my peace of mind, and I became nervous and refused to co-operate with her. I do not object to reasonable risks, in fact one cannot expect to achieve anything worth while in life if one will not take risks, but it appeared to me that “Mac,” as we called her, was going into very deep waters, even when I knew her, and that there was certain to be trouble sooner or later.

She had evidently been on an astral expedition from which she never returned. She was not a good subject for such experiments, for she suffered from some defect of the pituitary body. Whether she was the victim of a psychic attack, whether she merely stopped out on the astral too long and her body, of poor vitality in any case, became chilled lying thus exposed in mid-winter, or whether she slipped into one of the elemental kingdoms that she loved, even as Swinburne swam out to sea, who shall say? The information at our disposal is insufficient for an opinion to be formed. The facts, however, cannot be questioned, and remain to give sceptics food for thought.

It may be as well to say in concluding this chapter, that when I speak of the experiments of ceremonial magic, I do not mean ritual initiation. Now a ritual initiation is of course ceremonial magic, and so, for the matter of that, are the sacraments of the Church. But the occultist, using his terms perhaps somewhat loosely, does not include the initiatory rituals when he speaks of ceremonial magic.

There are many varieties of initiatory ceremonies, but these are all designed to work upon the soul of the candidate only. Ceremonial magic, on the other hand, in the technical sense of the term, is designed to work upon the soul of nature. The two operations, although there are innumerable forms of each, are entirely different in type, and aim at, and achieve, entirely different results.

There is a strong prejudice against ritual magic among those interested in popular occultism owing to the strictures passed upon it by Mme Blavatsky. Now Mine Blavatsky was trained in the Eastern School and had very little, if any, practical acquaintance with the inner aspect of Western Occultism, nor was she a master of its methods. She spoke from an Eastern standpoint and judged Western esoteric conditions by those she had seen in the East, where Tantric magic has become depraved in the hands of Dugpas and similar sects.

In the dense and materialistic atmosphere of the West it is exceedingly difficult to get any results worth mentioning without the use of some form of ceremonial. Even the Theosophical Society, of which she was the foundress, has unconsciously drifted into Western methods, adopting the Catholic ceremonial and the Masonic initiations as side chapels to its main temple, and the mixture is giving trouble. The “Back to Blavatsky” movement within its ranks may be able to produce a much purer ethical and metaphysical teaching, but I think we may safely prophesy it will produce no practical results, in Europe at any rate.

Ought we to eschew ceremonial methods because occasionally, in inexpert hands or under unsuitable conditions, they lead to disastrous results? Ought we to eschew motor racing, or mountaineering, or flying, or research into the nature of radio-active substances? All these take their toll of life each year. There is an unjustifiable risk which no level-headed person will run if they can help it, and there is a justifiable risk which everybody must be prepared to take who wants to come out of the ruck. It is not every follower of the Inner Way who is suitable for ceremonial work, just as it is not every individual who is fitted to handle the controls of an aeroplane; but there are some people, both men and women, to whom a spice of danger is a spur which brings out the mettle of their pasture, and these will always be found in the van of great adventure.

Further Reading

For further reading on Psychic Self Defence and Dion Fortune
7 Basic Psychic Self Defense and Energy Protection Techniques
Introduction to Psychic Self Defense
Dion Fortune