It was a gorgeous night. The sky was clear, the winds were warm, and the full moon hang high in the dark void above. The silver orb shone down and filtered through the trees, leaving dancing shadows across the forest floor that looked a little like whirlygigs. An owl gave out its hoot in the distance.
Dee, the High Priestess in charge of the ritual that night, made sure to bring everything we needed. Red wine and sweet cakes for the Red Meal, the usual circle casting tools, and a special effigy to put at the North of the circle.
The effigy was a stang – a Y-shaped stick – with a specially made dolly hanging between the “horns.” The doll was made of corn husk, and upon each leaf was written one Coveners wish in Elder Futhark.
Most people call this type of thing – the decor and tools of a specific magical ritual – “aesthetic.” Or at least, that’s the popular term today. The word “aesthetic,” can be used as either a noun or an adjective. As an adjective, it is, “concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty; giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty; of pleasing appearance.” As a noun, it is, “a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
If you take both of these definitions literally and apply them to spellcraft and magic, you end up wondering where to go from there. Honestly: just because a spell is, “of pleasing appearance,” doesn’t make it especially powerful. But that pleasing appearance comes from the second definition – the noun – “a set of principles underlying and guiding the work.”
Too many people – often folk magic practitioners – ignore the aesthetic of their spellcraft. Often, we prefer to do things on the fly. I readily admit that I am both a proponent, and a participant, of throwing together spellwork based on intuition at a moment’s notice. Usually, this means I don’t pay attention to planetary timing, or taking the time to write down exactly what I’m after and what will get me there, spell-wise.
We ignore the idea of ritual. Yes, I said “ritual.” No joke: ritual gets a bad rep. People say there is too much preparation, and no guarantee of results – especially when they get results by just using off-the-cuff folk practices. And add to that the concept of waiting for a specific day and a specific time, calculated to gain the influence of one or more specific planets, and it’s just not worth it. Again, I readily admit, I do the same thing.
The real truth is that ritual is not “easy.” You prep, you time, you gather ingredients, you do the work to create sacred space and draw the influence of deity or other spirits. And when it gets down to the wire, sometimes, you just don’t want to bother. I get it. I really do.
But ignoring those aesthetics – ignoring the idea of ritual altogether – is a bad idea.
Ritual is meant to put you into a certain head-space. Yes, the creation of sacred space actually does affect change in the atmosphere of the room. But it also affects change in your consciousness. I don’t mean going into trance (although that is one way to perform a ritual) – I mean: it puts you into a clearer space to connect with the Divine or with Spirits that you’re calling upon to aide in your work.
When I went to school to become a Hypnotherapist, we learned what external cues – or subconscious triggers – build your authority as a Hypnotherapist. After all, no one wants an amateur to work with them on physical pain symptoms, or to rid the client of an addiction. No, you want someone with authority – someone trained in Hypnotherapy (not an amateur stage hypnotist, in other words).
Ritual works much the same way. There are external triggers that literally change your mind and then change the atmosphere.
For example: as a Hypnotherapist, you use certain languaging – you use terms like hypnosis, pain degradation, NLP, light trance state, relaxation, down, and so on. As a ritualist, depending upon your particular flavor, you might use words like circle of power, athame, essence of the Divine, Great Mother, Witchfather, land sea and sky, cosmic all-father, cosmic all-mother, that Great Ancient Providence, and so forth.
As a Hypnotherapist, you’d also display your Diploma and your Certifications. You’d also dress the part – a suit, because professionalism. And you’d use official intake forms, as well as official report forms on each Client session.
As a ritualist (again, depending on your flavor or tradition), you’d use decor that fit the ritual. You’d also dress the part – which can mean going skyclad (nude) or wearing a specific robe or costume. And you’d use “official,” or consecrated, tools. And maybe, if you’re smart, you’d record a journal entry for the ritual itself, and, later down the road, the results you got from it and any modifications you might want to make for next time.
All of this is “aesthetics.” It’s both the beauty of ritual, and the underlying principles of what makes spellcraft work when it’s couched in that ritual.
Unfortunately, on that perfect night (timing) and in that perfect forest (location), a lot of the fundamental principles of the ritual we were to perform were not met. And – not just for me, mind you – there were no tangible results.
I think it really is – at least partially – in the aesthetics.