Basic Training: Ritual Development of an Astral Vehicle


A common notion in modern magick literature is that the magician can, for various reasons, project the interactive part of their person (usually referred to as their "consciousness") outside of the body, or otherwise independent of the body to what may be considered other dimensions, other realms, etc. A common underpinning cosmological idea is that for everything that is experienced in the world of typical perception, there is a pre-manifest world, unseen and formative (or worlds, realms, domains, etc.), often collectively referred to as the astral. The assumption is that such other realms can be experienced to some degree directly as either part of the magician's general development, to gain specific information about ongoing or upcoming events, and/or to exert influence on the same.

Whether the concept of an astral world is taken as a literal description of how the universe is, or as more of a metaphor or manner of conceptualizing the complex dynamics that govern the way things work in this world, is not particularly important here. What does matter is that people can and do learn to have experiences that fit the general descriptive pattern of astral projection, which the literature suggests can be exploited to foster desired magical change. For those reasons alone, it is a skill worth developing, to at least a degree allowing for meaningful personal experimentation and direct assessment.

Most common techniques for astral projection roughly mirror typical self-hypnosis induction techniques, involving a systematic physical relaxation combined with relatively intense mental focus, usually governed by some specific sequence of mental imagery. The reader is encouraged to review a sampling of published techniques, to get a feel for how astral projection skill development is typically approached, although the reader should beware that websites promising instructions for astral projection are often inundated with advertisements and commercial interests (marketing various books, tapes, and devices). One instruction that is free of commercial interests and is quite popular in the occult studies community is Benjamin Rowe's Short Course in Scrying, which provides a decent discussion of some of the major issues associated with the practice, and fairly typical advice for dealing with them.

The technique that follows shares some of the common features of other techniques, but is somewhat different in a number of ways. It was inspired by techniques described by Donald Michael Kraig in Modern Magick: 11 Lessons in High Magick, which he based primarily on key aspects of the ritual development program set forth by the original Order of the Golden Dawn. As presented by Kraig, the student begins by learning the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP) and practicing it every day, with additional ritual work added as the weeks and months progress, without a stated focus or intent of astral projection. After several months of daily ritual practice, however, the student is instructed to sit in a chair, imagine standing up out of their body, then go about the room doing the ritual work in an imaginary body, in every way as if doing it in the flesh, which along with the preliminary ritual work turns out to be a most excellent method of developing a functional, highly interactive astral vehicle.

The Functional Features of Developmental Ritual

The LBRP and other ritual work that forms the basic training for Golden Dawn-style grade work is much more than training for astral-type work. The contents of the rituals symbolize and encode key cosmological concepts and foreshadow the initiatory scheme of the Order, embedding such things and more deep into the psyche of the practitioner over time with routine practice. The symbols (god-names, geometric shapes, directional associations, etc.) and the cosmological and initiatory scheme of the Golden Dawn, while certainly based on the Western Tradition generally, are rather specific to grade work in the Order, much of which is neither necessary nor desirable for non-Golden Dawn practitioners, and are not at all necessary for successful astral projection. So in modeling a general method for astral projection after the Golden Dawn training, it is somewhat necessary to separate the functional aspects of the rituals from the Golden Dawn-specific content, so that practitioners are free to incorporate symbolism and cosmological constructs of their own choosing (assuming sufficient knowledge to do so), or to merely exploit the functional features of the rituals without the undue influence of unwanted or irrelevant content.   

The functional features of the LBRP that matter for the current instructions are fairly simple, and include:

1. a coherent sequence of physical movements

2. controlled breathing

3. vigorous vocalization

4. mental imagery that includes drawing in magical "energy" during inhalation, and directing it back outward through the arms/hands during vocalization (see this article for an introduction to the basic sensations of magical energy)

A major functional feature of the LBRP that arises from the structure of the ritual, rather than the symbolic content, is that the actions listed above facilitate specific types of somatosensory experiences. When the ritual is performed as designed, those specific somatosensory processes are experienced in a particular order each and every time the ritual is performed. With enough practice, expectation patterns form at the neuromuscular and somatosensory level, which facilitates both the performance of the ritual, and enhances the sensory experience of the performance. The same sort of thing occurs from the repetitious training that athletes often use to prepare for competition.

The term second nature is commonly applied to that kind of neural programming, when a sequence of movements becomes virtually automatic and ballistic once initiated, requiring little if any conscious direction. The term muscle memory has also been used to describe such processes, but that term fails to capture the important role the somatorsensory system plays in the overall process. In fact, once the performance sequence is initiated, feedback from the somatosensory system, based on the expectation patterns developed through practice, is what guides the moment by moment adjustments in the motor system that are ultimately expressed as the specific actions of the ritual, functionally replacing the need for conscious control of the actions. So the neural programming that takes place with continued practice is best understood as a coherent sensorymotor process.  

The somatosensory expectation patterns described above are what makes this ritual structure an ideal tool for developing a viable astral vehicle, and is specifically what makes this method different from most others. That's because when instructed to imagine or visualize by other methods, the experience tends to be limited to a mental experience, a thought so to speak. But after months of ritual practice as discussed above, when one imagines doing the ritual in an imaginary body, the entire range of somatosory expectation that drives the automatic execution of the actions is evoked, so that the imagined experience is immediately physical, even in the absence of actual physical movement. That is, the imagined body will naturally and in a very real way, "feel" what's going on, often though not necessarily on the very first try.

According to the general literature of astral projection, getting something akin to physical sensation from the astral vehicle is among the greatest challenges in learning this skill, and is a major source of frustration, even to the point of hindering progress. What's more, there are very few specific instructions in the literature for dealing with this problem, beyond informing the subject that physical sensation is desired and that one should strive to "feel" it, which is more likely to lead to frustration in the short term than success. The method described here rather naturally overcomes that obstacle for the reasons explained above. A major difference is that the preparation for the first step out of body, so to speak, takes months of daily effort, whereas more common instructions ask the aspirant to try it more or less immediately, so that early attempts are nearly always marked by a sense of failure. It is hereby advanced that it's better to put the bulk of the effort load upfront and avoid the sense of failure altogether than it is to labor to overcome failures that are all but assured by the instructional method itself.

Designing a Personalized Ritual Program

It should be clear at this point that no specific symbolism is necessary to achieve the goal of the current instruction: developing a functional astral vehicle. However, because the ritual structure can so effectively be fleshed out with symbolism capable of doing much more than develop an astral vehicle, many aspirants will no doubt want to take advantage of the substantial daily effort to accomplish some of the other generic goals of such a ritual program: to internalize key cosmological concepts and dynamics along with part of a coherent symbol-set that refers to them. So one option here, perhaps the most popular in fact, is to use the LBRP as is, because it is arguably among the best examples of what a developmental ritual can be. A potential problem with that option for practitioners that are not intentionally pursuing the Golden Dawn initiatory path is that some of what the LBRP instills may not be relevant to ones practice; the worst potentiality being that one may even instill cosmological constructs into the deep psyche that are in fact in conflict with other work the practitioner is doing.

Another possibility is to start with the LBRP, content and all, and then attempt to modify the content to better suit ones personal practice. While this is a sound option in theory, the truth is that very few practitioners have a sufficient knowledge base to do so effectively, without introducing additional potential conflicts into their practice. It is technically impossible to give specific advice in this regard without knowing the details of ones practice, including issues of which even the practitioner may not be completely aware. Some general advice may be useful none the less.

First, while it may seem practical to keep as much of the original ritual as possible in tact, changing only any known conflicting bits, that approach inherently risks leaving any unknown conflicts in place. It is therefore more prudent to break the ritual down to its bare-bones structural features, adding content back in as judiciously as possible, including only those symbols and cosmological constructs (e.g. names, words, specific imagery beyond the drawing and projecting of magical energy, meaningful geometric shapes, etc.) that are known with certainty to fit nicely within ones overall practice. Second, one should not feel obligated to replace, one-for-one, every content feature of the LBRP. So long as the basic structural features are present, it doesn't matter how they are expressed. For example, when projecting magical energy, it is not necessary to do so while drawing a geometric shape in the air, or while vibrating a god-name. Or even more basically, it is at no point necessary to inscribe or visualize a circle about oneself, to assume significant associations for directional positions (above, below, or points on a compass), to call forth the image of angels or other entities, etc. 

As a general rule of thumb, the best ritual designs have no extra or purposeless breaths. So once a ritual attitude has been assumed, each inhalation should include the mental imagery of taking in magical energy and each exhalation should include the mental imagery of directing that magical energy outward from the body. And while the above comments about what is not necessary (i.e. defining a circle about oneself, etc.), it is generally useful to use the magical energy one is drawing in and directing outward to do something coherent and meaningful. To that end, building up an image of a magical space, configured however you personally envision such an image, is not at all a bad idea. And while a generic vocalization is sufficient (e.g. a long drawn out "ah"), using a unique syllable to accompany functionally distinct mental imagery is also a rather good idea, keeping in mind that what is most important about the vocalizations is to intensely vibrate the body, and to pay acutely focused attention to those vibrations, as much as you possibly can.

Once you have designed your ritual to personal specifications, don't be afraid to change it if inspired to do so, though it's best to avoid frivolous or frequent changes, as consistent repetition is the primary key to making this system work.

The Developmental Sequence

1. Practice the ritual daily, at least once a day, always striving for perfect performance. 

2. After about 3 months of good daily practice, every other day do the ritual as usual except for the vocalizations. Do those with an inner voice rather than out loud, but make an effort to hear it in your mind's ear as strong as a roaring thunder and really focus your attention on the physical sensations of magical energy that typically accompany your vocalizations. If you don't feel the vibrations when you first start using the inner voice, don't worry about it. Just keep at it, alternating between your physical voice and your inner voice every other day. You will eventually come to feel the vibrations of magical energy when using your inner voice.

Note. Don't allow yourself excuses to skip days. Do it each and every day without fail.

3. After about 6 months of doing the ritual practice as described above, start doing the ritual practice twice a day, once early in the day if possible, just as you have been doing it and with full vocalization, then some hours later in the day, do it as follows instead:

A. Sit in a stiff-backed chair that is reasonably comfortable. Don't slouch, but find the most relaxed posture you can  manage.

B. Close your eyes, imagine yourself standing up out of the chair, turn around (with your imaginary body) and imagine that you're looking back at the chair and seeing yourself sitting in it.

Note. Don't worry if you don't really "see" yourself sitting in the chair. In fact, don't worry at all if you don't have "vision-like" experiences during this exercise, or even if you don't feel you can visulaize at all. Many people report that they cannot visualize, but the fact is that mental imagery is a highly individual affair, and it's simply not vision-like for everyone. So even if the instructions have a vision-like sound to them, you don't have to take that literally. Whatever you experience when carrying out the instructions here is precisely what you should be experiencing.   

C. Once you have stood up in your imaginary body, do the ritual as you would as if you really had stood up from the chair, including all motions, breath control, and of course use the inner voice method for vocalizing. And very importantly, make a concerted effort to feel the magical energy flowing in and out of you, just as you feel it when you do the ritual in your physical body.

Note. Here too, don't worry about how it does or doesn't *feel* at first. It's not as important to actually feel it as it is to seek the feelings by paying close attention to how you actually feel. Most importantly, keep at it no matter what.  

D. After about 3 months of doing the ritual twice a day (once in the physical body and once in the imagined body), you can reduce the number of times you do the ritual in your physical body to a couple of times per week, but continue doing it in your imagined self as described in steps A through C each and every day.

4. You will eventually come to realize that the sensations are essentially the same whether you're doing the ritual in your physical body or your imagined self. At that point you will have developed a fully functional astral vehicle, suitable for and capable of astral exploration of any variety. For most, the realization described here comes well after it has already happened.  

There is no specific time limit for the final step. Some people may come to it fairly quickly, within a couple of months, while others will take longer, a year or more. The method provided, however, is as near to fool-proof as any method can be, so long as the procedure is followed and continued until the goal is reached. How you go about using your astral vehicle once you've developed it is entirely up to you.



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