My previous post on the topic of initiation elicited an excellent response on the blog of my good friend Deryck Reaburn-Jenkin, What has not been. In a thought provoking article entitled Responsibility, Accountability, Initiation and Reason, Des makes the point that initiation into a Wiccan coven entails a responsibility to the other members in that group; he says “when one is initiated one is bound to that group by oaths that honour not only the tradition but also one’s fellows within that tradition“. This touches on the very essence of magick as it accurately defines the obligation of the initiate to his discipline, whether that takes the form of binding oneself by an oath to one’s gods, to other members of a group or to your Holy Guardian Angel.
obligation- [a. OF. obligation, -acion (1235 in Godef. Compl.), ad. L. obligātiōn-em an engaging or pledging, a binding agreement or bond; rarely lit., a binding; fig., an entangling, ensnaring; n. of action f. obligāre to oblige.]
1.1 The action of binding oneself by oath, promise, or contract to do or forbear something; an agreement whereby one person is bound to another, or two or more persons are mutually bound; also, that to which one binds oneself, a formal promise. O.E.D.
As solitary practitioners of all persuasions are not creating any bonds among their fellows, this aspect of initiation is indeed missing from a rite of self initiation as Des quite rightly points out. But in another way it could be argued that by swearing themselves to follow a particular discipline that aspirants are obligating themselves to a long chain of other adepts that have passed their knowledge of the Path of the Wise on to them. Either way, the heart of all true rites of initiation, and so of all genuine works of magick, is the magician’s obligation; the Oath.
The third operation in any magical ceremony is the oath or proclamation. The Magician, armed and ready, stands in the centre of the Circle, and strikes once upon the bell as if to call the attention of the Universe. He then declares “who he is”, reciting his magical history by the proclamation of the grades which he has attained, giving the signs and words of those grades.
This is not merely to prove himself a person in authority. It is to trace the chain of causes that have let to the present position, so that the operation is seen as karma.
– Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice
The oath is the most commonly overlooked component to a functional magickal ceremony and yet without it no magick can possibly take place at all. The reason for this is that the oath defines the intention of the magician in performing the planned magickal act. The oath determines the objective of the ceremony and connects it to the Great Work of the magician, making each operation a small step along the path initiation. Without the oath a magickal ceremony is little more than playacting simply because the ceremony will lack any real definition or connection to the magician.
The Spell of the Cord
By this knot of one
The spell has begun.
By this knot of two
It comes true.
By this knot of three
It must be.
By this knot of four
It’s empowered more.
By this knot of five
The power thrives.
By this knot of six
This spell I fix.
By this knot of seven
‘Tis manna from heaven.
By this knot of eight
It is my fate.
By this knot of nine
My desire is mine.
–Doreen Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow
Even in the simplest forms of magick there is usually a component that at least operates as a standing for the fully stated oath of the ceremonial magician. Valiente’s rhyming charm is effective simply because it connects the magickal manipulations with the greater intention of the witch that is reciting it. Even so, this sort of magick rune necessarily limits the scope of the possible applications and so there are no end of spells for this and that, most of which are little more than poorly composed poetry. In the main the composers of magick spells lack the deft touch of a Valiente who was a formidable poetess and so their magickal efforts lack the power and precision that is possible using a more formal Hermetic structure for the composition of the Oath of Obligation.
At its most fundamental the oath is an invocation of the magician’s higher self, his True Will. For this reason it is appropriate to compose the oath on the pattern of the Formula of the Wand. Using Tetragrammaton as a template the oath can then be divided into four distinct portions, each adding a facet to the obligation and which, taken collectively, defines exactly what the intention of the magickal operation at hand is.
יIn the first part of the oath the magician identifies himself by stating his magickal names and grades of attainment or other spiritual achievements, defining exactly who he is and how he arrived at this exact moment for the performance of the magickal operation.
ה In the second part of the oath the magician states the purpose of the magickal ceremony and proves the necessity of its performance before invoking the Lord of the Universe (as opposed to any deity that he may be invoking in the ceremony as a whole).
ו Before this great Lord for the third part of the oath; the magician obliges himself to perform the ceremony and states that nothing shall stop him from performing it and swears that he will not leave it until there is a successful completion of the operation.
ה Finally, in the fourth portion of the oath the magician unites the divine Will of the Lord of the Universe with his manifest, material and individual True Will by the words; “Father, if it be Thy Will, let this cup pass from me! Nevertheless not my will but Thine bedone!” In doing this he connects the purpose of the current operation to the greater will of the Lord of the Universe and defines the desired outcome of his magick as an inevitable event in the True Will of all creation.
The performance of the oath connects the series of magickal operations that the magician performs over his lifetime into a single unified intention, the completion of the Great Work and so its most enduring power is derived from that most reliable of methods- devotion. In its truest sense the oath is the essential expression of the devotion of the magician to his chosen discipline and to the oaths of his initiations which he invokes by it. This makes the magician’s oaths the central focus of every ceremony that he performs regardless of the intention or the methods that are employed and provides a consistency to his magickal work overall that is often missing from less structured efforts in magick.
This also makes the repeated recitation of the oath a continual reaffirmation of the obligations that were sworn to by the magician at his original initiation ceremony and provides the real energy behind any transformation that results from those rites of passage. After all, no single ceremony, however perfectly performed, will be able to invoke enlightenment into the candidate and it is only by repeated and constant exposure to the Light that it can begin to dawn in the darkness.
I come in the Power of the Light.
I come in the Light of Wisdom.
I come in the Mercy of the Light.
The Light hath Healing in its Wings.
-Golden Dawn Neophyte Ceremony