Redefining magic with insights from ritual dance

I have been part of the Western Mystery Tradition for about 4.5 years. Alongside with this, I have also been practicing ritual dance in the form of Gurdjieff Movements for about 3 years. Intuitively I feel that there is a mutual benefit in the integration between the two practices. It is my opinion that that the Gurdjieff Movements have the same quality as the rituals in the Western Mystery Tradition. As a result I feel that the Gurdjieff Movements are an extension and integration of the Western Mystery Tradition wit the body. More and more I come to the belief that traditional magic might benefit from ritual dance in a couple of ways. I will elaborate on these benefits by redefining the definition of magic in this article.

Crowley defines magic as: ‘Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’. Dion Fortune has a similar definition, although she removed the science part and includes changes in consciousness.

In my opinion science should be included in the definition in order to have a balanced definition of magic. In Kabalistic terms: if Art is Netzach, then Science is Hod. The path which connects these two on the Tree of Life is symbolized by the tarot card The Tower. This seems quite fitting. The Tower is the card of the destruction of the ego (will) which is needed to make space for something higher: the Will. But where could this come from?

The center of the horizontal line between Hod and Netzach (The Tower) is crossed by a vertical line between Yeshod and Tiphareth. This line is represented by the tarot card Temperance and, although they meet on the same place, paradoxically it is the inversion of the tarot card The Tower. Here, instead of destruction, seemingly opposite things are combined in an alchemical fusion. This card depicts an angel which could represent the higher self. This is the Will of the higher self we are looking for in our definition of magic.

temperance tree of life.jpg

A beautiful representation of the tarot card Temperance on the Tree of Life. The tarot card The Tower (red horizontal line) and Temperance (blue vertical line) meet at the crossing of the lines. Where the ego is shattered on the horizontal, the soul resurrects on the vertical.

The zodiac sign Sagitarius is attributed to Temperance. There is an insightful glyph where the bow of Sagitarius is fixed between Hod and Netzach on the path of The Tower. Its string however is pulled back to Yeshod (in the picture above Yeshod is the pool of water where the angel stands in). Yeshod, being the source of (sexual) power, gives the strength to destroy the ego, go beyond the veil of Paroketh and to land at Tiphareth. It is there where you can experience the so-called Tiphareth experience: the mythical experience of devotion to the great work. Here is the Will of our soul.

So in order to truly exercise our Will we need one more element: Power. Therefore, the enhanced definition of magic would be: ‘Magic is the Power, Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will’.

This enhanced definition in accordance with the definition of the Fourth Way as defined by Gurdjieff. He states that there are three traditional ways of spiritual development which essentially boil down to: power, heart and mind. Although these are valuable spiritual paths in their own rights, they are also essentially unbalanced as they focus on a single aspect of divinity. Gurdjieff argues that we should take a balanced approach and develop all three aspects simultaneously. Then a new force may arise. Gurdjieff calls this force the Watcher, but I would call it Will. This integrational approach most notably comes forward in his sacred dance practices (also called the Movements).

There are a couple of ways to see these three spiritual paths on the Tree of Life. Traditionally, Power might be Yeshod, Heart might be Tiphareth and Mind might be Chokmah. But alternatively we could also see these three approaches below the veil of Paroketh. Then Yeshod remains Power, Hod becomes Mind (Chokmah on a lower arc), and Netzach represents the Heart (Tiphareth on a lower arc). Seen this way, Gurdjieff’s Fourth way fits quite nicely with the enhanced definition of magic.

Looking at the Tree of Life from the perspective of the Movements give the following insights. Netzach can be seen as the art of dance. Hod can be seen in its strong mental aspects of exact movements (further challenged by circular counting). And Yeshod can be seen as the cultivation of power by means of Kundalini energy. When these 3 centers (body, head and heart) are combined in Movements, the experience of Beauty in Tiphareth can be attained.

Let’s continue this enquiry by asking ourselves: what are changes in consciousness exactly? In my view (and in accordance with the adagio as above so below) a change in consciousness should result both in a change of spirituality and in a change of behavior (matter).

One of the pitfalls of spirituality is its tendency to become dreamy and disconnected with reality. This occurs because of the failure to effectively ground Yeshod into Malkuth.

For this reason in the Western Mystery Tradition, rituals are used. Rituals are predefined recipes of symbolical actions (sometimes with physical attributes) which help to reach higher forms of consciousness.

But the involvement of the body in these rituals is quite limited. In the Gurdjieff Movements however the body is central. It is seen as our temple and grail. The degree to which we are able to direct our body to perform the Movements, is the degree to which we have mastered to execute our Will.

I have experienced myself how the Movements in fact are group rituals which have enabled me to reach a level of consciousness, which I am (currently) unable to attain in ‘normal’ rituals. I had been practicing a set of Movements intensely with a group for 10 days and every day I was able to go to an even deeper level into the Movements. In two hours of Movements I feel to achieve a similar result in increased consciousness as I would have in a complete day of meditation.

One other benefit of ritual dance is that its spiritual attainment has verifiable results. In sacred dance it is immediately clear if someone has mastered a certain level of development or if the person is present or not. It would show directly in his/her movements. I even suspect that for this reason ritual dances were used as advanced temple passwords at temples in the Far East.

In the Tree of Life, matter is represented by Malkuth. So in order to include our body into magic, we need to draw the string of the bow of Sagitarius back even further. The vertical line between Yeshod and Malkuth is represented by the tarot card The World. When looking at the different paths connecting the Sephiroth, there is a strong link with the three lowest paths (1): Moon (qoph), Judgment (shin), and The Universe (tau). The 3 letters spell the name bow. These three paths are forces, when combined, send the arrow of Temperance skyward toward Tiphareth. And although the letter Tau (which means cross) is attributed to it, it is also known as the universal dancer. Shiva, when depicted as Nataraj, has similarities with the classic Raider Waite depiction of The World. Summarized this path can be seen as a very passionate dance.

world shiva nataraj.png

The image of Nataraja (depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dance) has quite some similarities with the tarot card The World, which is also sometimes called ‘Universal dancer’.

As people with experience with spirituality will attest: it takes effort and passion in order to lift your consciousness from the level of matter to the spiritual realms. This effort is even greater when you want to raise your body consciousness as well. Ritual dance, however, is a great medium for achieving this.

After the integration of magic into matter (Malkuth), we can add the final element to the definition of magic. For this I changed the element ‘changes in consciousnesses’ from Dion Fortune’s definition to ‘changes in conscious behavior’. The definition of magic has thus become: ‘Magic is the Power, Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conscious behavior in conformity with Will’.

Finally, I like to end with a statement about Will. The Will of the soul has a different quality than the will of the ego. We all want to achieve certain things and some would use magic for this. The Will in Gurdjieff Movements however is not goal oriented, but process oriented. You don’t achieve a certain goal, but you train your executive capacity in order to be able to fulfill your long term life’s mission. Often you would not know what that is, but your mission would become clearer when continuing with the Movements. In this sense ritual dance is mythical, rather than magical.

In this article I have elaborated on the traditional definition of magic inspired by ritual dance. With the insights learned from ritual dance, I have added two elements to it: power and matter (conscious behavior). In my opinion, these two elements improve the current limitations to magic being: the pitfall to get lost in illusions, not having enough power, the tendency to focus on will instead of Will and the overemphasis on goals as opposed to improving spiritual capacity.

1 – The Qabalistic Tarot, Robert Wank, p. 180

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