Someone recently messaged me on Discord, saying that they had performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram for the first time and were worried about the consequences of messing it up if they accidentally forget an angel name or inadvertently omit the closing Qabalistic Cross. They were feeling anxious about it, and wondering if this was a big issue.
First, let me put you at ease: the answer here is a resounding “no”. A technically incorrect LBRP may be ineffective, but it’s not going to be harmful unless you’re actually trying to banish something where the consequences matter. But when it comes to just learning the ritual, or to your daily practice, the consequences of a botched LBRP are going to be somewhere between minimal and negligible, apart from simply not having the benefit of a successful banishing.
Second, let’s get real for a moment about the Golden Dawn tradition, and about fear of failure within it.
Even those of us who have been doing things so long they’re second nature still botch things from time to time. I’ve been performing the LBRP for 20 years or more and sometimes I still have a brain glitch on rare occasion and trip up on which name I’m supposed to be vibrating in which quarter if I’m just spacing out instead of actually concentrating. (And once you’ve been doing this a long time, maintaining that mindfulness in performance is the long-haul challenge!)
Yet we don’t often talk about failures in the Golden Dawn tradition. Perhaps this is because most of us simply prefer to highlight our successes and gloss over our perceived shortcomings, or perhaps because it’s not something that the corpus of the tradition speaks to it simply hasn’t gotten the attention it’s deserved. Either way, I find that the biggest thing that holds people back when they’re getting started on this Path isn’t difficulty understanding the material or any actual technical shortcomings, but rather fear of making mistakes. The fear of messing it up is a lot bigger barrier for people than actually messing it up.
The fear of making mistakes is something I deeply relate to. Before I make a decision I always want to understand my options, understand the relative merits and drawbacks, and most of all to understand the ramifications and consequences of those different potential choices. I want to have all of the data, understand it, and be able to choose confidently as a result. I’m the kind of person who wants to be able to learn something and dig into it and understand how and why it functions. Then after I figure that out I can start working with it, adapting it, and personalizing it. But when you’re first approaching this stuff and have no idea what the metaphorical levers to tweak even are, it can present a significant barrier to forward motion. And as you can well imagine, my desire for complete information and understanding is nice in theory, but tends not to pan out so well in reality.
Apart from my love of ritual and ceremony (blame it on growing up Episcopalian), one of the things that most appealed to me about the Golden Dawn tradition back when I started journeying down this road was that it lays out a pathway and a structure that supports it. There’s a system, which promises to lead the Neophyte through the wilderness of uncertainty like a beacon in the night (or like the Lamp of the Keryx illuminating the way forward). And one of the jobs of the system is to help the beginner learn the necessary skills in safe contexts.
It can be difficult to put one’s trust in an unfamiliar system, and I don’t advise doing so lightly. But in this case, the way the system was designed addresses exactly these fears. There’s a reason why only the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram was prescribed to the Neophyte, and no practical work was given out until the Adept grades.
Learning things takes time and experience, and gaining that experience inherently involves trying and failing, and committing to getting just a little bit better each time. Practice is the only thing that makes perfect, after all! And as it turns out, this is exactly where you want to mess up your ritual work in the Golden Dawn system. It’s better to make the mistakes when you’re just banishing as a part of your training or daily practice, because most of the time there are no consequences to a botched performance and you can simply try again (or move on and come back to it later). This is far preferable to messing up an important invocation, or even worse, hosing the banishing afterward. The expected training regimen of the Neophyte (and by extension of the Outer Order) omits practical magic other than the LBRP because by the time you get around to using that practical magic as an Adept, you’ve come to understand the system deeply and have come to see why your trust in the system can be well-placed–because you’ve learned enough to know what you’re doing when you perform a ritual action, and don’t have to simply take it on faith.
We don’t talk about fear of failure, because we’re told that “fear is failure”. But let us not forget that the true failure–the one that matters, the one that the Hiereus admonishes the Neophyte not to give over control to–is the fear itself. The real failure isn’t in messing up a ritual performance, in forgetting what names or words to use, or in being hesitant to try something new and unfamiliar. The real failure is in being too afraid to try in the first place. As long as you show up to try, and don’t try to get over your head with invocations before you’ve got a firm command over your banishings, the safety nets built into the system will do their job.
So take heart, you who are just starting out on this journey: your banishings may not be especially powerful or even technically correct to start with, but you aren’t going to rain calamity down on your house as a result. The biggest loss is the one that comes from not trying at all. So if you feel overwhelmed or if you’re too caught up in your head about where to begin, just pick something that seems doable and start practicing. Once you start getting over those initial hurdles and the various pieces of gesture and sound and visualization begin coming together, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll nail down the practice. The biggest part is just getting over that initial hurdle of discomfort and starting somewhere. The rest will come.
The Step of the Neophyte is given by advancing the left foot forward a short distance. It alludes to the decision of the Neophyte to seek the Hidden Wisdom within the Order. It also represents the Will of the Neophyte expressed in its first glimmer of action–as every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you are feeling held back by your indecision and fear of mistakes, try incorporating the Step of the Neophyte into your magical practice and meditations, and see if it helps you. As you step your foot forward, feel yourself as The Fool, walking ahead into the unknown but trusting the universe to carry you toward a safe and nurturing end. (And if you try this method, please let me know!)