The Kabbalistic ritual technique I am about to describe is based on an assumption which may or may not be valid, but which gives the technique a characteristic style. The assumption is "form precedes manifestation"; that is, anything which manifests in this, the real, physical world, is preceded by a process of "formation", a process described in its general outline by the doctrine of sephirothic emanation and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. This premise is not so odd or metaphysical as it might seem. Every object in the room I am sitting in is a product of human manufacture. The mug I am drinking my tea out of was once clay, and its form existed in someone's mind before taking shape in fired clay. The house I live in was once an architect's design, and before that, an abstract object in a land developer's scheme for making lots of money. Every object of human manufacture originally existed as an idea or form in someone's mind, and each idea went through a process of development, from inspiration to manufacture - I have described much of this elsewhere in these Notes. It is not a large step to conceive of the whole universe as the product of mind, so that every form of substance - the physical elements, each species of plant and animal - are the result of a process of formation occuring in mind. Where are these abstract minds? They compose a whole which the Kabbalist conveniently labels "God", and the parts, if we want to refer to them seperately as subordinate components, we call "archangels", and "angels" and "spirits", and "elementals" and "devils". Each of these minds or intelligences holds a portion of the archetypal form of the world in place, and each mind is a form in its own right; each of these archetypal intelligences can be comprehended as a part of Binah, the Intelligence of God and Mother of all form.
When I drop a stone, it falls to the ground. It does this because the spirit of matter inhabiting the stone uses messenger spirits (or angels) called gravitons to communicate with the spirit of matter inhabiting the Earth. It turns out that the curvature of space-time (its form) is determined by the Lords of Matter in an intricate but completely exact way according to the distribution of mass-energy - the details can be summarised in an equation first written down by Albert Einstein. It may seem absurd and retrograde (and William of Occam would certainly turn in his grave) to suggest that what we call the laws of physics are forms maintained in the minds of archetypal intelligences, but as Einstein himself stated, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible"; that is, it can be described using language. There are abstract forms which describe change in the physical world, and they can be comprehended by mind, and although it is a large step to propose that mind takes primacy over matter, it is a view attractive to the practising magician. It is a view completely consistent with Kabbalah. When I call upon a spirit to modify the law of gravity at a specific time and place, I am not violating a physical law; I am changing it at its source.
If "form precedes manifestation", then practical magic is about understanding how the future is formed out of the present. The seeds of many futures are planted in the present, and accessible to the magician as the forms of the future. The forms of the future are being progressed by many minds; where they overlap, there is conflict and inconsistency, a situation resembling a bus where each passenger has a steering wheel providing an unknown and variable input to the eventual direction of the bus. In one interpretation (primacy of will) the magician is the person with the most powerful steering wheel; in another interpretation (Taoist nudging) the magician is a person who understands the dynamics of steering sufficiently well to use opportune moments to move the bus in a desired direction. Perhaps both interpretations are valid. In either case, if one accepts the simile, then it should be clear that magic is rarely about certain outcomes. In both cases the magician must have a clear notion of direction, what is usually called intention.
Formation is a process of increasing limitation or constraint. Once something is manifest it is constrained or limited by what it is at that instant. Suppose I want to make a film. It could be a film about anything. Once I have a script I am more limited, but have a lot of scope in directing the film - choice of actors, sets, locations etc. Once I have the rushes my choices are even more constrained, but I still have some freedom in the editing. Finally, once the film is released, I have no more freedom to change it, unless, like some directors, I choose to re-edit and re-issue it. Intention is also a limitation: it is a limitation of will. I chose to make a film, but I could have chosen to write a book instead, or chosen to take a holiday. In choosing to make a film I limited my free-will. I could of course abandon the film project, but a life of incomplete, abandoned projects is not very satisfactory to most people, so my will to complete (i.e. to bring into manifestation) sustains my intention and I have to learn to live with this fairly considerable limitation on my theoretical free-will.
The limitation of will and the formation of the film go hand-in-hand. I can't just intend to make a film: I have to intend to get a script, find some money, borrow the equipment, recruit some actors and a crew. The formation of the film is driven by a fragmentation of my original intention into many components and sub-components as the task proceeds, and activity and intention feed off each other until, knee-deep in the details of film making, I might find myself thinking "I'd give anything if we could get this scene in the can and knock off for a beer." We have gone from a person with theoretically unlimited free-will to someone who cannot knock off for a beer. Most people who go to work and attempt to bring up a family are in this situation of being so limited by previous choices and past history that they have very little actual free-will or uncommitted energy, a situation which has to be understood in some detail before attempting serious magical work.
To summarise: if magic is about making things happen, then the magician might want to understand the process of formation which precedes manifestation, and understand not only the forms which other people are intending, forms which may be competitive, but also the detailed relationship between formation and intention. You don't have to understand these things; many people like magic to be truely magical (i.e. without causality or mechanism), but Kabbalah does provide a theoretical model for magical work (the lightning flash on the Tree) which many have found to be useful. I think it is a mistake to confuse a lack of consciousness of mechanism with a lack of mechanism, just as someone might look at a clock and assume that it goes round "by magic", and so I'd like to say something more about the concept of limitation, a concept essential to understanding the ritual framework I am going to describe.
We are limited beings: our lives are limited to some tens of years, our bodies are limited in their physical abilities, and compared to the different kinds of life on this planet we are clearly very specialised compared with the potential of what we could be if we had the free choice of being anything we wanted. Even as human beings we are limited, in that we are all quite distinct from each other; we limit ourselves to a small number of behaviours, attitudes and beliefs and guard that individuality and uniqueness as an inalienable right. We limit ourselves to a few skills because of the effort and talent required, and only in exceptional cases do we find people who are expert in a large number of different skills - most people are happy if they are acknowledged as being an expert in one thing. It is a fact that as the sum total of knowledge increases, so people (particularly those with technical skills) are forced to become more and more specialised.
This idea of limitation and specialisation has found its way into magical ritual because of a magical (or mystical) perception that, although all consciousness in the universe is One, and that Oneness can be perceived directly, it has become limited. There is a process of limitation (formation) in which the One (God, if you like) becomes progressively structured and constrained until it reaches the level of thee and me. Magicians and mystics the world over are relatively unanimous in insisting that the normal everyday consciousness of most human beings is a severe limitation on the potential of consciousness, and it is possible, through various disciplines, to extend consciousness into new regions. From a magical point of view the personality, the ego, the continuing sense of individual "me-ness", is a magical creation, an artificial elemental or thoughtform which consumes our magical power in exchange for the kind of limitation necessary to survive, and in order to work magic it is necessary to divert energy away from this obsession with personal identity and self-importance.
Now, consider the following problem: you have been imprisoned inside a large inflated plastic bag. You have been given a sledghammer and a scalpel. Which tool will get you out faster? The answer I am obviously looking for is the scalpel. The key to getting out of large, inflated, plastic bags is to apply as much force as possible to as sharp a point as possible. Magicians agree on this principle - the key to successful ritual is a "single-pointed will". A mystic may try to expand consciousness in all directions simultaneously, to encompass more and more of the One, to embrace the One, perhaps even to transcend the One, but this is hard, and most people aren't up to it in practise. Rather than expand in all directions simultaneously, it is much easier to limit an excursion of consciousness in one direction only, and the more precise and well-defined that limitation to a specific direction, the easier it is to get out of the plastic bag. Limitation of consciousness is the trick we use to cope with the complexities of life in modern society, and as long as we are forced to live under this yoke we might as well make a virtue out of a necessity, and use our carefully cultivated ability to concentrate attention on minutiae to burst out of the bag.
We find the concept of limitation appearing in the process of formation which leads to manifestation; in the limitation of will which leads to intention; now I suggest that a focussed limitation of consciousness is one method to release magical energy. Limitation is the key to understanding the structure of magical ritual as described in these notes, and the key to successful practice.
There is never going to be agreement about what is essential in a ritual and what is not, any more than there will ever be agreement about what makes a good novel. That doesn't mean there is nothing worth learning. The steps I enumerate below are suggestions which were handed down to me, and a lot of insight (not mine) has gone into them; they conform to a Western magical tradition which has not changed in its essentials for thousands of years, and I hand them on to you in the same spirit as I received them.
These are the essential steps:
The Circle is the first important magical limit: it creates a small area within which the magical work takes place. The magician tries to control everything which takes place within the Circle (limitation), and so a circle half-a-mile across is impractical. The Circle marks the boundary between the rest of the world (going on its way as normal), and a magical space where things are most definitely not going on as normal (otherwise there wouldn't be any point in carrying out a ritual in the first place). There is a dislocation: the region inside the circle is separated from the rest of space and is free to go its own way. There are some types of magical work where it may not be sensible to have a circle (e.g. working with the natural elements in the world at large) but unless you are working with a power already present in the environment in its normal state, it is best to work within a circle.
The Circle may be a mark on the ground, or something more intangible still; my own preference is an imagined line of blue fire drawn in the air. It is in the nature of consciousness that anything taken as real and treated as real will eventually be accepted as Real - and if you want to start an argument, state that money doesn't exist and isn't Real. From a ritual point of view the Circle is a real boundary, and if its usefulness is to be maintained it should be treated with the same respect as an electrified fence. Pets, children and casual onlookers should be kept out of it. Whatever procedures take place within the Circle should only take place within the Circle and in no other place, and conversely, your normal life should not intrude on the Circle unless it is part of your intention that it should. From a symbolic point of view, the Circle marks a new "circle of normality", a circle different from your usual "circle of normality", making it possible to keep the two "regions of consciousness" distinct and separate. The magician leaves everyday life behind when the Circle is opened, and returns to it when the Circle is closed, and for the duration adopts a discipline of thought and deed which is specific to the type of magical work being undertaken; this procedure is not so different from that in many kinds of laboratory where scientists work with hazardous materials.
Opening a Circle usually involves drawing a circle in the air or on the ground, accompanied by an invocation to guardian spirits, or the elemental powers of the four quarters, or the four watchtowers, or the archangels, or whatever. The well known Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram  can be used as the basis for a Kabbalistic circle-opening. The precise method isn't so important as practicing it until you can do it in your sleep, and it should be carried out with the same attitude as a soldier on formal guard duty outside a public building. The kind of ritual I am describing is formal; much of its effectiveness derives from a clinical precision. For example, I never at anytime turn or move in an anti-clockwise direction within the circle. When I work in a group one of the most important officers is the sword-bearing sentinel, responsible for procedure and discipline within the circle. When you create a circle you are establishing a perimeter under the watchful "eyes" of whatever guardians you have requested to keep an eye on things, and a martial attitude and sense of discipline and precision creates the right psychological mood. When working in a group it is helpful if the person opening the circle announces "the circle is now open" because there should be no doubt among those present about whether the opening has been completed to the satisfaction of the person carrying it out, and the sacred space has been established.
There are many ways to open the Gates, and many Gates you could open. I imagine the gates in front of me, and I physically open them, reaching out with both arms. I visualise different gates for different sephiroth, and sometimes different gates for the same sephira.
An invocation is like a ticket for a train: if you can't find the train there isn't much point in having the ticket. Opening the Gates gets you to the doorstep of magical consciousness, but it is the invocation which gets you onto the train and propels you to the right place, and that isn't something which "just happens" unless you have a natural aptitude for the aspect of consciousness you are invoking. It does happen that way however; people tend to begin their magical work with those areas of consciousness where they feel most at home, so they may well have some initial success. Violent, evil people do violent and evil conjurations; loving people invoke love - most people begin their magical work with "a free ticket", but in general invoking takes practice, and the power of the invocation comes from practice, not from deathless prose.
I can't give a prescription for entering magical consciousness. Well devised rituals, practised often, have a way of shifting consciousness which is surprising and unexpected. I don't know why this happens; it just does. I suspect the peculiar character of ritual, the way it involves every sense, occupies mind and body at the same time, its numinous and exotic symbolism, the intensity of preparation and execution, involve dormant parts of the mind, or at least engage the normal parts in an unusual way. Using ritual to cause marked shifts in consciousness is not difficult; getting the results you want, and avoiding unexpected and undesired side-effects is harder. Ritual is not a rational procedure. The symbolism of magic is intuitive and bubbles out of a very deep well; the whole process of ritual effectively bypasses the rational mind, so expecting the outcome of a ritual to obey the dictates of reason is completely irrational. The image of a horse is appropriate: anyone can get on the back of a wild mustang, but getting to the point where horse and rider go in the same direction at the same time takes practice. The process of limitation described in these notes can't influence the natural waywardness of the animal, but at least it is a method of ensuring the horse gets a clear message.
The observation that rituals work better if their energy is focussed by intention is in accord with our experience in everyday life: any change, no matter how small or insignificant, tends to meet with opposition. If you want to change the brand of coffee in the coffee machine, or if you want to rearrange the furniture in the office, someone will object. If you want to drive a new road through the countryside, local people will object. If you want to raise taxes, everyone objects. The more people you involve in a change, the more opposition you will encounter, and in magic the same principle holds, because from a magical point of view the whole fabric of the universe is held in place by an act of collective intention involving everything from God downwards. When you perform a ritual you are setting yourself up against that collective will to keep most things the way they are, and your ritual will succeed only if certain things are true:
Regardless of which is the case, I will suggest that precision and clarity of intention will generally produce better results.
And so to sacrifice. The problem arises from the perception that in magic you don't get something for nothing, and if you want to bring about change through magic you have to pay for it in some way. So far so good. The question is: what can you give in return? You can't legitimately sacrifice anything which is not yours to give, and so the answer to the question "what can I sacrifice" lies in the answer to the question "what am I, and what have I got to give?". If you don't make the mistake of identifying yourself with your possessions you will see that the only sacrifice you can make is yourself, because that is all you have to give. Every ritual intention requires that you sacrifice some part of yourself, and if you don't make the sacrifice willingly then either the ritual will fail, or the price will be exacted without your consent.
You don't have to donate pints of blood or your kidneys. Each person has a certain amount of what I will call "life energy" at their disposal - Casteneda calls it "personal power" - and you can sacrifice some of that energy to power the ritual. What that means in ordinary down-to-earth terms is that you promise to do something in return for your intention, and you link the sacrifice to the intention in such a way that the sacrifice focuses energy along the direction of your intention. For example, my cat was ill and hadn't eaten for three weeks, so, as a last resort, fearing she would die of starvation, I carried out a ritual to restore her appetite, and as a sacrifice I ate nothing for 24 hours. I used my (very real) hunger to drive the intention, and she began eating the following day.
Any sacrifice which hurts enough engages a very deep impulse inside us to make the hurt go away, and the magician can use that impulse to bring about magical change by linking the removal of the pain to the accomplishment of the intention. And I don't mean magical masochism. We are creatures of habit who find comfort and security by living our lives in a particular way, and any change to that habit and routine will cause some discomfort and an opposing desire to return to the original state, and that desire can be used. Just as a ritual intends to change the world in some way, so a sacrifice forces us to change ourselves in some way, and that liberates magical energy. If you want to heal someone, don't just do a ritual and leave it at that; become involved in caring for them in some way, and that active caring will act as a channel for the healing power you have invoked. If you want to use magic to help someone out of a mess, provide them with active, material help as well; conversely, if you can't be bothered to provide material help, your ritual will be infected with that same inertia and apathy - "true will, will out", and in many cases our true will is to do nothing at all.
From a magical perspective each one of us is a magical being with a vast potential of power, but that is denied to us by an innate, fanatical, and unbelievably deep-rooted desire to keep the world in a regular orbit serving our own needs. Self-sacrifice disturbs this equilibrium and lets out some of that energy, and this may be why the egoless devotion and self-sacrifice of saints has a reputation for working miracles.
Here are a few suggestions:
A ritual would involve typically one to three sephiroth. An important consideration is balance: when invoking sephiroth on either of the side pillars of the Tree one is creating or correcting in imbalance, and it is worthwhile to consider the balancing sephira. For example, when using Gevurah destructively, what fills the vacuum left behind? When using Chesed creatively, what gives way for the new? The same principle applies to the pairs of Hod/Netzach and Binah/Chokmah.
The Tree is naturally arranged in many triads, or groups of three sephiroth, and after one has gained an understanding of individual sephira it is natural to go on to investigate the triads. From the point of view of balance there is a great deal to be said for initiation into triads of sephiroth rather than individual sephira. The sephiroth are interconnected by paths, and again, the paths can be investigated by invoking pairs of sephiroth. This further extends the palette of correspondences and relationships, and over time the Tree becomes a living tool which can be used to analyse situations in great depth and detail. Unless one works closely with a group of people over a period of time the Tree must remain largely a personal symbol and vocabulary, but if one does work closely with other people it becomes a shared vocabulary of great expressive and executive power - ideas which would otherwise be inexpressible can be translated directly and fairly precisely into shared action via ritual magic.
Clues as to when to invoke a given sephira can found in the correspondences, but for the sake of example I have given an indication in a list below:
The sephira Malkuth is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Yesod is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Hod is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Netzach is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Tiphereth is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Gevurah is useful for the following magical work:
The sephira Chesed is useful for the following magical work:
The sephiroth Gevurah and Chesed are best considered as a pair, since any work concerning one usually requires consideration of the other. For example, if you want something to grow and expand (Chesed), will it grow at the expense of something else (Gevurah)?
The supernal sephiroth of Binah, Chokmah and Kether can be invoked, but I would not recommend doing so until you have considerable experience of invoking the other sephiroth - either nothing will happen, or the scope of the results may go beyond your intention.
There is almost enough information in these notes to go off and "just do it". The information I have withheld I have done so deliberately, as it consists of little things which any person with a small amount of common sense, initiative and trust in themselves can work out. You don't need to learn other peoples' rituals: trust your own imagination and creativity, however insufficient they might seem, and write your own. You need to trust yourself, and that is why I haven't provided a detailed prescription. If you think Kabbalah should be more complicated, then make it more complicated. If you think it is essential to learn about the four worlds, or the parts of the soul, or the beard of Arik Anpin or whatever, then learn about them, but I don't think it is essential to begin with, and there are better and quicker ways of learning than running off and buying the "Zohar". If you trust in yourself, you will learn what you need to know at the rate at which you can learn it. Kabbalah is only a map (but for the record I believe it is an accurate and useful map), and the entrance to the territory lies within you.
In my experience the sephirothic magical rituals are the key to everything else. If you are afraid of ritual that is fine; lots of people are. If you are afraid of ritual but you invoke the Powers with the attitude and respect that is their due, and you are not afraid to give freely for what you get, then you will get a great deal, and almost certainly a great deal more than you would have expected.
Colin Low 1992