Changing Traditions

Donald Michael Kraig has a blog post about changes to rituals in organized traditions like the Golden Dawn:

One of my favorite examples of this is that some groups have changed the use of the word “Lord” in Golden Dawn rituals to “Lord and Lady” or “Deity.” On a superficial level I fully understand this. At the time the GD was founded, even though the Order was amazingly non-sexist in practice, the members still used a language that, following the practices of the time, was sexist. I am in favor of eliminating sexism.

However, this change deconstructs the rituals, changing life-altering mystical symbolism into an English-only ritualized drama and, for that section, nothing more.

I can sympathize with the desire to do this. It’s much easier to focus on the modern language and ignore the meaning behind the language. Specifically, the use of the term “Lord” comes from the Hebrew Adonai. This name of God is actually a formula with certain meanings. “Lord and Lady” would probably be Adonai v’Adati. “Deity” would probably be the Tetragrammaton, formed of the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Vahv-Heh which is considered unpronounceable.

These three different names for the Godhead each imply different things. Making as simple and innocuous a change as this without understanding the changes to the meanings of the passages that use the terms is questionable.

There is a lot of contemporary pop music I don’t like, especially in the alternative scene. Alternative music has made some astounding innovations over the past few decades, but as of late a lot of it seems to be falling flat. I firmly believe that this is because many of the bands getting radio play today were self-taught start-ups that managed to get signed because they were new and unique. Unfortunately, “unique” doesn’t always mean “good.”

So why am I delving into musical snobbery while discussing changes to magical tradition?

Those self-taught musicians often lack a level of complexity and technical proficiency that earlier musicians possessed because those earlier musicians were by in large classically trained. They fully understood the theory behind the music, and made changes and innovations based upon their understanding of that. Most musicians whop lack that theoretical underpinning do not seem to sufficiently comprehend what they are attempting to change before they try something new.

In short, you have to know basic math before you can design an innovative new airplane. You have to understand music theory to create innovate new sounds. And you have to understand why a magical ritual is set up a certain way before you go tweaking it to score political points.

When I was first exposed to Chaos Magic, I saw it as a subset of Ritual Magick, and I still see it as related. It was implied in the works of Carroll that if you were trying out Chaos Magic, you already had some experience in ceremonial and ritual magic, and this understood why some of the rituals were set up the way they were. This gave you enough understanding to know what you were changing, why, and what effects it may have on the ritual.

Without that understanding, changing even subtle elements of a well-established ritual can compromise its effectiveness.

If you’re going to build your own system, fine. But self-consistency and symbol are vital to any magical system, and of you change a ritual firmly established in one tradition and alter those elements without considering what they provide to the ritual, you risk potential failure.

Know the basics before your try to mess with stuff.

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