‘The extent to which a ritual works is the extent to which we are vulnerable to the forces it raises.’
I found the above statement in some old ritual training notes I wrote 20 years or so ago. It is as true now as it was then. If we are not open, if we are not in some way vulnerable to the blessings of a spiritual force it will simply not affect us. This is because we are, all of us, whole, integral and a complete being in our own right. We are made imago dei; we are the microcosm of the macrocosm. We can remain shut off to any deep spiritual force – if we wish or if we, by habit, cannot open ourselves. This is why the Sufis say:
When a Master enters the room, all a thief sees are pockets.
We can perform deep and powerful invocations, ceremonies, evocations, prayers, initiations and wot not, and it won’t mean a thing unless we are open. This is why, which I keep coming across and keep getting asked about, magicians of many years or decades of experience and obvious ‘power’ can still be untransformed. They are not vulnerable to the forces they raise. And of course the forces may still be real, not a delusion, and their peers and students they perform the magic for can transform, but they simply cannot.
And to be fair, magic hardly teaches us to be vulnerable does it?
The need for vulnerability and openness is one of the reasons there are child deities in the world and one of the reasons Christ declared:
Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
Children are the most open and the most vulnerable among us. They are also the most impressionable and the most able to learn, having less preconceptions and habits of reality. From that most wonderful song, Water, Fire and Smoke:
I’ve knelt in the ashes, in peace may I rise
Empty of knowing and full of surprise
Clothed all in silence a baby baptised
Children are also the most easily scared (and scarred) among us. There is a clue here. Spirituality and magic is not, if it is to be effective, always comfortable. It is scary, as the accounts of meeting spiritual beings and the One within many traditions attest. This is the panic we feel before the presence of the Gods reveals itself. This is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans described by Rudolf Otto in his description of the numinous where that which is wholly ‘other’ is experienced first through terror before it changes into an experience of Mercy and Grace. We poor humans cannot cope with God head on.
Of course, unless we are vulnerable we will experience none of that. We can do ceremony after ceremony, year after year, grade after grade for our entire life and still not experience it.
To be vulnerable is not easy of course. And this is why many initiation ceremonies and processes consciously produce a state of outer vulnerability – to try and kick us into that state interiorly, whereby we can then be touched deeply by the divine.
Outside of initiations a good ceremony will also move us – if we fully engage with it – into that state of vulnerability. Why? Because we never know, we can never be sure, if the divine presence will be invoked, will respond to our call, and will enliven the temple. How can we as humans be sure, be absolutely sure, the Archangel Raphael will be there as we call her? How can we? And so in that moment, in each and every ritual, when we feel this, we are vulnerable and open. As soon as we are sure we have lost the magic.
A good group ceremony will promote and encourage vulnerability to the extent each member can be open to it. Much of this is the attitude and approach of the ceremonial leader. If they are sure, it is an uphill battle for the rest of the people. And sadly we see this in some Christian Masses also, though we need not. I remember talking with a wonderful Christian priest describing her Ordination. She explained that even though it was a result of a calling from God, years of discernment and training, and even though she had driven to the Cathedral, she was completely unsure if it would really happen. She was vulnerable. And an amazing priest.
Vulnerability is of course connected with ego. If we think, or even worse know we are right as a matter of course, if we are not open to new evidence and data, we are going to have a difficult time being vulnerable in ritual. Here I am reminded of the sainted Dion Fortune, whose notes and letters revealed years after her death, was secretly attending mediums to ensure she was not deluding herself and her students. She was vulnerable. And an amazing Priestess.
Being vulnerable means we are in some measure admitting our powerlessness, and in some measure open to death, be that interior, conceptual, emotional or ultimately physical death. This is why Christ remains the exemplar of the mystery of the supreme power of vulnerable powerlessness. As the One, through Incarnation he experienced willingly and consciously the ultimate vulnerability, even as the liturgy states, ‘even the death of the cross.’
As Christ is us and we are Him, this is power of powerlessness is ours also.
This is Christ, the One, mocked and tortured and as Leonard Cohen sings, sinking beneath our wisdom like a stone.
This is Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land being murdered by an angry mob as he declares ‘l love you’.
This is Obi Wan Kenobi facing Darth saying: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
This is Dumbledore in the sixth book, poisoned and injured, crying in pain needing to lean on his student Harry Potter.
This is Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund.
This is who we are called to be.
This is who we will be.