On Purity and Abstention

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Musings on Ritual Purity and Magic

For those who see matter as sacred, or on equal footing with spirit, how does one understand the ubiquitous injunctions towards ritual purity via abstinence (of food, sex, alcohol, etc.) in magical work? Is there inherent to ascetic ideas a dichotomy and hierarchy of mind and matter, spirit and flesh? For those of us with an animist worldview, is this a technique to be taken wholesale?

One of the primary metaphysical theories for fasting is that the food you forego is spiritually gifted to the spirit to whom your devotion is directed during that time. But does the food – or pleasure – in potentia become an offering just on the assumption that it would be there were you not consciously choosing to give it up? (Is it more impactful, then, if you make the food, then refuse to eat it yourself?) But this operates on a scarcity mindset: someone must go without, that another may have.

Perhaps different spirits would view this problem differently. It would make sense for Saturn to value the sacrifice and discipline inherent in abstinence or fasting. But why would Jupiter, a spirit of growth, generosity, and abundance, wish his devotees to go without? Surely, for that planet, a better offering is to make enough for two and share a full meal with the god in joyful communion. But what of foregoing pleasure – sex, alcohol, etc. – in order to be a better conduit for divine attention or to channel magical power?

This seems to rest on several assumptions: (1) That matter, and therefore bodily pleasure, is “bad” – and to be sullied by it renders one offensive to the spirits. (2) That there is a strong distinction between visible and invisible bodies. (3) That certain protocols are important to prepare the ritualist for successful interaction with magic / the numinous.

Regarding the first, I think many of us see the damage that a denigration of the material world has done, but this raising up of the invisible over the visible is a millennia old metaphysic. It crops up all the time, like in requiring one to abstain from earthly pleasures in order to be “worthy” of invisible attention or influence. I return to the top: I believe this depends on the entity or power being sought. There have always been ecstatic traditions to counterbalance the ascetic ones.

Why would physical offerings of wine, aromatics, and food have any import to spirits if they did not also partake of the physical world – just as we fully embodied ones clearly can partake in the invisible through our minds and dreams and all the rest. Most mythologies have many stories of gods and goddesses drinking alcohol, having festivals, and playing in streams. We all participate in the pleasures of the world.

I do not believe in a hard veil separating one realm from the other, nor even in an interpermeation of the two: the visible and invisible are not distinct, but together form the vast material and spiritual ecosystem of the universe.

Certain protocols do seem to yield better results, and for this I see both mental and bodily reasons: asceticism does one thing very well: it focuses the mind and clears the body of all distractions. No digestive processes interfere with long meditation, no alcohol loosens the bonds of self-control, no love or lust pull one’s attentions away from the matter (hah) at hand.

I do not think this is about purity or worthiness, unless a spirit has asked or a tradition has informed you that it is an expected part of your role as supplicant / magician. I think it is more about preparing yourself to receive and act.

Cleanse yourself of other spiritual-chemical influences before going before Grandmother Mushroom for her wisdom, it’s respectful and it clears up the signal. But Venus probably wants you to share a glass of wine while you do her magic.

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