Whenever I hear magicians talking about spirit evocation, particularly from a grimoiric standpoint, there is inevitably a discussion of ritual purity. I always find myself a bit surprised by the degree of ritual purity a number of other magicians observe, because I have had positive and effective results while doing very little in that regard: my purity routine for ritual generally involves little more than bathing/showering while saying the Asperges Me. I have my own take on ritual purity as a result, which seems to differ from that of a number of other practitioners.
I’ve often heard magicians express the viewpoint that ritual bathing is necessary because our natural smell is offensive to the spirits. I find that this notion ignores a key bit of history. While bathing was much more common in medieval Europe than popular culture leads us to believe (bathhouses were plentiful and often frequented), the general hygiene of the populace was still less well-maintained than it is in our present day of private showers. As late as 1558, deodorant was still considered the realm of magic, as we can see from della Porta’s Magia Naturalis where he gives a method “to correct the ill scent of the Arm-pits” (Book 9, Ch. XXVIII). I strongly doubt that many of us in the industrialized world today smell offensive compared to the average medieval European, so from a logical standpoint the argument that ritual bathing is necessary to avoid offending the spirits with our human stench holds little water for me when applied to the modern day.
The other two big elements of ritual purity I generally hear about are fasting and sexual abstinence. Early on in my practice, one might say that I observed fasting fastidiously. But I found it more distracting than I did helpful, so I ultimately abandoned the practice. My focus and concentration during ritual, and therefore the quality and efficacy of my magic, increased as a result. Asceticism in general has never resonated with me, and I’ve never personally found much value in it.
Similarly, I find that a lot of the prescriptions for sexual abstinence derive from an Augustinian, sex-negative cultural lens that equates abstinence with saintliness. Sexual abstinence may also have been related to the aforementioned hygiene considerations. It also appears to operate on the tacit principle that the continence of sexual energy can be channelled into the efficacy of one’s magic, which may be true for some but has always felt like an entirely separate and unrelated energy for me. Again, that sort of asceticism may do it for some, but it doesn’t do it for me. I find it unnecessary at best, and counterproductive to my practice at worst. I’ve never experienced my conjuring work to be ineffective as a result.
I also don’t much hold to the idea of following grimoires to the letter. While the rubrics have long histories in some cases, we must keep in mind that the grimoires were originally the working journals of magicians. They may have been using recipes passed down to them, or they may have been creating their own, but I find inherent in the idea of magic itself is the act of creation and creativity. As a result, I look at the rubric from a functional standpoint rather than one of orthopraxy, and I substitute and adapt to fit what resonates best with me.
Generally speaking, rather than drawing a circle I’ll perform the LBRP, and follow it up with asperging the quarters with water and censing them with incense after the Golden Dawn style. Occasionally I’ll use my sword to trace a physical circle, but I tend to find it unnecessary. And that’s all the preamble I generally use before the starting invocation. I use a standard license to depart. I’ve never particularly seen the need for more than that.
One caveat here is that thus far I’ve only communicated with deities and with the planetary spirits and archangels. I can’t speak to other classes of spirits and their own preferences, and if I find myself impaired in my work at some point I may ultimately experiment with ritual purity after I rule out other factors. But thus far, freeing myself of the shackles of prescriptive asceticism has been nothing but positive to my own practice.
Bottom line: If it works, use it. If you don’t need more than that, why overcomplicate things? If the grimoiric prescriptions for ritual purity work for you, I wish you well and encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing. But if they don’t resonate with you, if you find them more of an impediment than an enhancement to your practice, I encourage you to start scaling back and experimenting with whether those elements are truly necessary or whether they prove a hindrance to you like they did to me.