In Part II of my Hermekate as Sigil series, I made reference to “The Saturn Ritual,” which was complimentary to my self-initiation ceremony, but also carried the initiatory narrative forth. There are some similarities in purpose here with Chöd rituals, and as I think about it now, a central part of the symbolism is also alchemical, mirroring spagyrics—this idea of burning away the impurities of the “material” of the Self, keeping only the essential salts for later use…something along those lines. Now feels like the right time to re-release it. Happy Saturday.
Just prior to leaving for California, I spent a three-day weekend visiting some friends. Some drama unfolded that involved my soon-to-be-ex-wife, and the need to clear the air was palpable. This was not “let’s have a good cry” material. This needed to be more visceral than that, more primal. Fixing this required going to deep, dark places. It called for swallowing my pride, ignoring the hungry ghosts and venturing down to sweep up the cellar. Underworld work.
Hunter, who himself was not sure how much stock to put into magick, had been holding onto a lot of my ritual tools and other esoteric trinkets while I was away in Norway, and he surprised me by suggesting we do our own little version of a Burning Man ceremony—rather fitting, as the annual Burning Man festival had its origins in divorce-inspired catharsis.
We spent all day driving around, getting supplies and making plans. Even though he is not a ritualist, Hunter’s help was invaluable and it felt really good to be supported in this endeavor. Though the focus was on banishing or otherwise containing negativity, it seemed clear that working gratitude for supportive friends into this occasion would be crucial. It wouldn’t have happened without them. There’s no way I would have had the energy to get everything set up myself in one day.
As evening approached, the energy in the air had noticeably shifted. It had begun to stir, like a pot of water on the verge of breaking into a boil. Hunter lived with his wife and cat, and they had another visitor on top of it. Normally, I would be very cagey about things like preparing for a ritual (especially considering these were Theosophists), but there wasn’t enough time to be discreet. Fortunately, nobody missed a beat, which was somewhat unexpected. Even with an understanding of the healing intent of the upcoming working, especially given the fiery and severe nature of the symbolism, many T.S. folks would project unnecessary Shadow content onto it and call it black magick (okay, yes and no). Dark candles and burning effigies, indeed! In a way, the act of doing this ritual in a grove of trees smack in the center of the grounds at such a place was just as cathartic as any of the symbols woven into the rubric of the ceremony itself. Not everybody there would mind, but such a working would have its share of pious critics among those who live and work on the campus, and even more so in the greater worldwide Theosophical community. Not only was this an act of cleansing and release in light of recent turmoil, it was also an extension and reiteration of the previous year’s self-initiation ceremony, in which I declared myself a ‘magician’ and sent out a call to the Universe; what better way to solidify and reinforce those intentions than by daring to ritually burn a dummy in the dark of night at the headquarters of the American section? This was the Yin to the previous ritual’s Yang—a necessary step towards completion and a closing of that open loop.
The effigy was constructed of hay, and during some downtime in the afternoon, Hunter suggested we get some extra use out of the hay bale and shoot some arrows at it. This actually seemed to me like it could work out ritually–allowing for the release of some aggression harmlessly, but also serving to charge the hay prior to the ritual. Each arrow that I shot into that hay bale carried with it the intention of release and healing. I hadn’t fired an arrow since I was a kid, but my aim was true in the end. Although arrows are not the first symbol we would associate with Hekate, it had relevance to what was unfolding between us, and I knew this was her way of making her presence known. I felt that some day soon, I would be working closely with her. I had approached her slowly, step by step, over the preceding months. But at that moment, she was in that bow, in those arrows, and with each shot, I delivered some of the energy to be banished into that hay bale, firing in her name. That hay was full of it before we even started building the dummy, which we did shortly after finishing up with the target practice.
Dan–(yes, really)–a third friend–was mostly a witness to all of this. A filmmaker, he was primarily interested in getting footage of the burning effigy. This was private work, but these two people were my best friends in the world; brothers. While Hunter and I worked to build the effigy, Dan went to film an awesome sunset. Shortly, a group of teenage girls approached him. This kind of thing happens at the T.S. headquarters all the time— a big, old, dark, scary building, far offset from Main street, in the middle of one of the most conservative towns in America. It is the town’s “haunted mansion” and “Xavier Institute” in one, and surviving a trip onto the grounds to ask the residents silly questions seems like a local rite of passage.
Hunter and I couldn’t hear the conversation, but Dan informed us later that that is exactly what was going on: Questions implying spooky powers and goings-on were laid out one after another, ending with:
“Well, we heard people do magic here.”
Knowing full well what Hunter and I were up to behind him, Dan laughed and said, “Nope. Nothin’ like that goin’ on here…”
I felt my intuition stir as their conversation ended and I watched the group of girls walk away. Although I could not hear what was being said, I knew that the ritual would be disturbed by teenagers; I thought these ones would come back, but it was actually disrupted by an entirely different set of teens. This ritual wanted to be witnessed, to be shared. That was part of the point of it all. I was banishing fear and reservations that pen me in, and nothing comes to us for free. I could have the release I needed, but the price would be to do it, open-heartedly, with supportive witnesses and hecklers alike contributing their energy. It was as though, on some level, the gathering pool of energies was making its presence felt to anyone in the vicinity who could pick up on it.
I figured the natural symbolic font from which to draw energies for this working was Saturn—the day was Saturday and this was all about wrapping things up, purging them, bringing the previous cycle to a close and moving on. The moon was still waxing crescent—just barely a sliver was visible—so the moon energy was more conducive to healing or building, but it was early enough in the moon cycle that I don’t think it made much of a difference, and besides, healing was a part of this too. New Moon would have been better; Dark Moon would have been best; but in the end, we do have to work with what we have. The astrological hour of Saturn was set to begin around 9:30pm and would continue until about 10:20.
At 9:30, we all walked out to a small grove of trees in the middle of the grounds. We hammered the effigy, bound to a stake, into the earth and I started setting up for the ritual, laying out the elemental offerings and setting things out in convenient locations for easy access during the ceremony. Before long, I was ready to begin. Hunter and Dan sat quietly and reverently, observing as I began the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. Ah, the good ol’ days….
Not two minutes into the ceremony, voices could be heard from beyond the Western quarter, outside the grove. Interesting side note: It was geographically the East. I was nervous. There were teenagers in the parking lot. Dan immediately stood up and went to go see what was going on. I shot a glance at Hunter, who maintained a serious expression and gave a slight nod, indicating that I simply continue. Feeling very exposed at this point, having been vibrating God names in a very low, but quite resonant tone, I shook it off and continued, feeding the nervous energy back into the ritual. Boundaries, motherfuckers.
Eventually I came to the West, drew the pentagram there and vibrated the corresponding name, loud and proud, right in the direction of those kids. When I subsequently charged the pentagram (which came next and was silent the way I did it), the group began screaming and running away. Dan, who had watched that happen from outside the grove, insists that from their end, in the mundane sense, the screaming had nothing to do with the ritual; it was synchronicity. Still, the timing was very affirming. Needless to say, I had great trust in the guardian of the Western quarter!
After forming the circle, the rubric I wrote called for working six sigils into the structure of the effigy. Six undesirable personality traits or qualities had been selected, each to be rendered into a sigil and drawn on a separate scrap of parchment. (Those qualities were: Fear, dependency, guilt, self-loathing, indecisiveness and lack.) The hands, feet, head and heart of the effigy each got sigils tied into them as I said an incantation over each one:
“On this day and in this hour
Under Saturn’s terminal power
For greatest good and highest healing
Bind this burden
Purge these feelings
Circumscribe and sweep them up
In perfect love and perfect trust
Clear the way for that which follows
Fill with light this waiting hollow.”
The heart, though, was a special case. When I got to it, I drew a large hunting knife and plunged it into the effigy’s chest. Cutting open the chest cavity of the effigy, I produced a Sequoya pine cone given to me by Hunter. It originally came from the Northern California redwoods where Return of the Jedi was filmed—just where I would soon be headed. This kind of pine cone will not grow into a tree until it has burned. The existence of such trees is something I have long held as a beautiful symbol, teaching us that growth requires sacrifice and that there is a place in this universe for ruin and dissolution. What would we do without them? We would trip all over ourselves and the debris of our inescapable past mistakes. The universe would eventually grow static. We would soon have no room to grow.
I wrapped the sigil meant for the heart of the effigy around the small pine cone and inserted it into the chest. From the ashes of the past would come forth the seed of the future. Closing the chest cavity up and saying the incantation one last time, weaving the sigil’s energies into the straw surrounding it, the effigy was ready to burn. So mote it be!
I poured a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the effigy’s right foot and used the candle from the South to light it. Blue flames erupted up the effigy’s leg, soon shifting into a beautiful reddish orange as the straw “flesh” of my former self succumbed to the heat.
I circled the burning effigy a few times before dropping to my knees beside it, closing my eyes and taking a few meditative breaths. The energy in my body was abuzz as I trembled and sweated. I could feel the heat as the flames danced near my skin. I focused my attention on feeling prana, moving it up my spine. Then, expanding my “sphere of sensation,” encompassing the energies building in this circle, I set to work forming an upward-flowing vortex to funnel off the energy. Eventually, eyes still closed, I slowly raised my arms skyward. As Hunter and Dan reported, at that same moment, the effigy stopped burning and the charred “flesh” of its arms and legs sloughed off and fell to the ground.
Some spots, including sigils, had not sufficiently burned, so I re-administered alcohol and flame. Soon, only the torso remained, refusing to burn completely. Still smoldering, but smoking profusely, I knew it would go out without some help.
Our hearts pump more than blood. They are receptacles and repositories of cosmic fire, the vital essence of which blood is only the physical manifestation. Bending down before the effigy, and inhaling deeply of the same vital essence in its airy form, I blew with every bit of force I could muster, waking the fire from latency into activity. Breathing into the burning heart of my dying former self, I offered him succor and release through divine annihilation. I repeated this two more times for a total of three. With each breath, I released untold tension and grief. My very internal organs seemed to join in the trembling that had long taken over the rest of my muscles, shaking loose toxins and spewing them forth into the flames for transmutation. After the third breath, the torso burned magnificently and soon joined the rest of the ashes on the ground. Only the central pillar of the effigy was left standing—Axis Mundi of a charred, dead Microcosm, smoldering in the starlight as the air crackled like a static-charged blanket. The struggle was over. Nothing left to do but banish and close things down.
Digging through the ashes after the ritual, I produced the burned pine cone and kept it in a jar, along with all of the ash that I could fit, intending to plant it in the redwood forests once I settled into my new home of northern California. I did not realize at the time that I would not be staying there long. I have since planted the pinecone and ashes elsewhere of significance to me.