It seems at times like you can’t throw a rock on the occult Internet without hitting a post about the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. Everybody has an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions. So why am I offering mine? Recently on the Hermetic Agora Discord server, someone opined that the LBRP is worthless once a person begins doing more advanced magic. This was a hot take from their mentor, whom they claimed had a great deal of experience in the Golden Dawn tradition. I found this difficult to believe for multiple reasons, not least of which because the LBRP is the foundational ritual of Golden Dawn magic. The idea that anyone who has a long history of experience with the tradition would make such a claim leaves me near apoplexy. And since “nerd rage” is responsible for a significant amount of my writing output, here we are. If you will, allow me to take you on a journey through my own understanding of the LBRP and its value to modern occultism, both within and outside of Golden Dawn magic.
We could begin by talking about how the LBRP is the only ritual officially given to any magician in the Outer Order–and given that “Golden Dawn” only refers technically to the Outer Order, this one ritual is the essence of “Golden Dawn magic”–but that’s been repeated ad nauseam already and doesn’t really address the question of utility, so I won’t bother to dive down that rabbit hole here. Instead, I’m going to approach it from a bit of a different lens.
I recently began studying kung fu, the first martial art I’ve trained in since childhood. As with any martial art, much of the learning involves rote motions called forms (or kata in Japanese martial arts). As anyone who has studied a martial art knows, these forms won’t exactly help you in a street fight. But that’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to instill the foundational movements, to train the muscle memory until the point that they become automatic. It’s once the forms become internalized that they become useful. As the student evolves and grows in their training, they take these foundational building blocks and can piece them together in a graceful dance of blocking and striking. In time, these motions become part of a repertoire of action, a palette of colors that the advanced student can draw on individually and put together in creative ways that are equally martial as they are artistic.
The exact same is true of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. In the Outer Order, students are taught this foundation ritual as a means of introducing them to the motions, sounds, and most importantly the headspace of ritual magic. While this is by no means the only use for the LBRP, this approach should be the primary focus of any Golden Dawn magician until reaching Adept level. The training spent on this one ritual prepares the student for more advanced work as they take on officer roles in a temple, and prepares them even more directly for the ritual work of the practicing Adept.
It must be borne in mind that the Lesser Banishing Ritual is not the only ritual of the pentagram in the Golden Dawn tradition: the “Lesser” is in the name for a reason. The other pentagram rituals, such as the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram, build in much more complex and layered ways on top of the LBRP. They are an advanced kata that the student will be prepared for through continual training and repetition of the LBRP. The Opening by Watchtower is an even more advanced kata that builds upon both of these. The same ritual actions and training that prepare the student for the SIRP and other pentagram rituals also translates to the performance of the hexagram rituals and the Rose Cross Ritual, as well as other forms that one traditionally learns as an Adept.
But the LBRP is not all about training and preparation, any more than learning basic knife skills is only about the training and preparation of a professional chef. Can you imagine a classically-trained chef turning out Michelin-quality dishes who can’t dice or julienne properly? I won’t say it’s not possible, but it would be a rare anomaly indeed. And in the same way that knife skills support culinary ventures whether one is a student or a chef, the LBRP supports magicians whether one is a Neophyte or an Adept. Neither the ritual itself nor the skills it trains ever go out the window. They are an evergreen source of utility.
That said, I do believe the LBRP has been over-emphasized within discourse around the Golden Dawn tradition; and further, that the range of its utility is likely not as broad as some may claim. The frequent consensus seems to be that the LBRP is a sort of Swiss Army knife as a ritual tool: it can be applied to any number of uses. Aleister Crowley went so far as to claim that “properly understood,” the LBRP “is the Medicine of Metals and the Stone of the Wise” (The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley, Vol. 1, 1905). But as River Enodian observes in their wonderfully-titled article “Who Really Gives a Crap about the LBRP, Anyway?“, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram has “frequently been overused from anything to house cleansings to exorcisms,” despite Israel Regardie’s note that the “Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram is only of use in general and unimportant invokations” (The Golden Dawn, 6th ed., 1998, p. 281). And indeed, one must use the correct tool for the job. A Swiss Army knife may have a multiplicity of functions; but even so, it performs many of these functions less efficiently and effectively than standalone tools built to a specific task, and we may fairly call the tasks that can be realistically achieved with a Swiss Army knife modest in scale in comparison with such tools.
So what are the proper uses of the LBRP? It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer, in part because–like every component of the Golden Dawn system–it is interwoven with the system at so many touch points and in so many layers that it can be difficult to extricate them. There are the stated applications of the ritual itself; but then there are also the pedagogical intentions behind the ritual, the manner in which the ritual works within the greater context of Golden Dawn magic, and the ways in which it gets adapted by magicians in new and surprising directions. I’m going to omit the latter consideration, as it is here where things seem to go a bit off the rails. Instead I’ll focus on the applications of the LBRP within the traditional Golden Dawn teachings and their contextual setting.
When it comes to the applications of the LBRP that are provided to the Neophyte, Regardie mentions only three: as a form of morning/evening prayer, as a protection against “impure magnetism” (by which he means “obsessing or disturbing thoughts”), and as an exercise in concentration (GD, p. 54). In the Adept materials it is related that the LBRP is also given to Neophytes so that they “may have protection against opposing forces, and also that they may form some idea of how to attract and to come into communication with spiritual and invisible things” (GD, pp. 281-282). These are the stated use cases for the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. A review of contemporary literature by authoritative voices within the tradition confirms that these are the only use cases generally given to the student apart from the use of the LBRP as a preliminary and concluding rite for other ritual magic workings. Anything beyond this is either a tacit application of the LBRP or a later addition.
Just as the novice student of a martial art may not be given the reasons or rationales behind memorizing a kata, however, there are indeed tacit applications of the LBRP from a pedagogical standpoint. Regardie is clear on this in his advice to the beginning student, even though he does not spell it out in quite this way. In his introduction to the second edition of The Golden Dawn, Regardie advises the student to first work on the physical forms of the LBRP until one is expert in them, then to move on and practice the imaginal aspects of the ritual to the same degree of fluency (GD, p. 3). These are the two halves of the kata of the LBRP. Regardie admonishes students to practice the LBRP without using a magical weapon–as with a martial art, weapons come later after the student has learned to work with an empty hand. And like a kata, the intention is that the actions (and visualizations in this case) become automatic enough that the student can be in the moment and allow the will behind the mere actions to shine through and connect solidly with the intended target.
Regardie states that the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram together with the Qabalistic Cross “are the epitomes of the whole of [the Magic of Light],” in the same way that the Neophyte Ceremony “contains the essential symbolism of the Great Work” (GD, p. 39). But Regardie does not mean that the LBRP is usable for every application of the Magic of Light, any more than he means that the Neophyte Ceremony is the be-all and end-all of the symbolism thereof. Instead, he casts the LBRP as the foundational kata of Golden Dawn magic, which “should precede every phase of magical work, elementary as well as advanced” (ibid.).
The way it was taught to me, and the way it was practiced in my Temple, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram is used to “shake the Cosmic Etch A Sketch” in order to create a blank canvas to paint on. If you’re looking for a bug bomb, try the Supreme Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram instead. Or try something else. But let’s stop claiming of the LBRP more than it was intended to do. In the end, overreaching claims only serve to devalue and discredit what is otherwise a foundational ritual with highly beneficial applications well outside of the Golden Dawn tradition itself, and puts individuals into precarious situations where they believe they have the appropriate tool for a job without recognizing that there are much more effective tools that are built to purpose.