As a ritualist, I would like to share my experience of using cutting in the Western Magickal Tradition with particular reference to the Mass of the Phoenix. I'll also explain how this esoteric approach can be reframed and used by those who do not favour the smoke and mirrors but still want to get the results.
What I am interested in is the renewal and perfection of the self through blood ritual. This need for self change and ultimately self knowledge guides the knife for many of us, I call this magick. Where I am, there is no false separation between the physical and the spiritual.
With the spectre of blood borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis the fluids of the body have become even more potent. Paradoxically the climate of fear has strengthened these rites by making them even more forbidden. Honesty is a pre-requisite and the application of the maxim 'Perfect Love and Perfect Trust'. To open your body and spill blood is potentially lethal to those around you. I will very clearly state here that ritual is no protection against viruses and to exchange blood or share blood letting tools without a clear and recent test is the height of stupidity.
For blood is the life
Blood is a magickal substance. Prohibitions on the consumption of blood in Islam and Xtianity confirm this. Very often these cultural rules are the remnants of earlier cults and rites that the monotheistic religions have surplanted.
The anthropological evidence is unanimous, blood is a food for spirits. Sacrifices are not simply killing, but the methods employed are designed to spill the maximum amount of blood. In the medieval grimoires blood is used by spirits to build a form and be rendered visible. A similar feeding strategy is employed in Voodoo.
The nature of the sacrifice is of paramount importance. The reverence done to the sacrificial bull is very different to the slaughter of terrified captives to honour an Aztec war god. As with good journalistic practice the who, what, when, where, how and why needs to be answered before reaching for the obsidian dagger.
Consuming blood is reputed to give you the power of the animal it comes from. This is the sympathetic magick of cannibalism. The closest equivalent we have left is the symbolic blood feast of the Catholic Mass. Those with a close eye on history will recognise that this ritual was lifted from Mithraism and that the blood and bread switch can be traced back at least as far as Egypt.
Blood is also associated with renewal. From ancient Sumer to the bathing habits of Countess Bathory and the myths of the Vampire, blood is seen to prevent aging, and even actively rejuvenate.
So, in summary we have three aims with a cutting and/or blood drinking ritual:
- 1) Feeding a spirit.
- 2) Absorbing power.
- 3) Renewal/Resurrection.
For the more modern or sceptically minded:
- 1) Externalising a specific aspect of your mind.
- 2) Giving yourself permission to evolve or access latent talents.
- 3) The creation of a reward feedback loop activated by the peak experience of the endorphin
- release of cutting and anchored by the taste of blood.
Before you start eyeing up your domestic pets and unwary neighbours or checking whether my postal address falls at the centre of a missing persons black spot, let's get something clear. There is no justification for the non-consensual ritual cutting of another human.
The best sacrifice is you.
If you are not the best sacrifice, then this is your wake-up call to make yourself worthy of cutting or being cut.
So, having established our threefold aim, onto the ritual proper.
The Mass of The Phoenix
Aleister Crowley with his 'by any means possible' approach to enlightenment used ritual cutting, scourging, sensory deprivation and the other tools of the trade which now could be labelled under bdsm. Simply using these techniques to 'get off' is like using a particle accelerator to smash a walnut. These outsider technologies are most often equated in body mod circles with shamanic and tribal practices which rather misses their survival in the West in a magickal and religious context.
The Mass of the Phoenix is the basis of the ritual cutting procedure that I use. The Phoenix is a symbol of renewal, the mythical bird would rise from the flames reborn. That is the aim of this rite and one of the motivating factors for those of you who cut yourselves to get back control. I'd argue that this is a more constructive context to set self cutting into.
Crowley's sublime and infuriating Book of Lies contains the Mass of the Phoenix. It's also known as 'The Mass of the Vampire'. This is a Eucharist ritual, a thanksgiving, not to some spectral Father figure, or surrogate saviour, but to your self and your potential to be your very own God. Self perfection, self knowledge, and self ownership are the goals here. The Mass of the Phoenix can be found online at "sacred texts".
Let me start with a confession for all you blood play enthusiasts. I hate cutting myself. You may find this painfully vanilla, but of course you can alter the quantity and method to suit your recipe. Be a magpie, steal the base technology for your own use.
I find it extremely difficult to voluntarily open even the smallest cut on my body. It's not that I don't get cut. As a martial artist and freesport maniac, pain and blood are a regular occurrence. Luckily this difficulty in voluntary cutting is a very useful state of mind for me.
I do this cutting to symbolically affirm my own immortality and perpetual rebirth.
I perform this rite on, or as close as damn it, to my birthday, or at any other time where I need renewal. Aleister suggests daily, but I would suggest he's being a drama queen. We are not looking for a build up of scar tissue in this instance.
It's beautiful to do this at sunset, with the rite reaching its climax as the last red edge slips below the horizon. Just as surely as the sun appears to die and be swallowed by the night it will be reborn with the dawn of the following day.
I prefer to start with a banishing ritual to balance the forces around me and start with clean working surfaces. Cutting tends to draw in unwanted influences like sharks drawn to blood in the water. Creating a clearly defined space prevents the intrusion of unwelcome thoughts and uninvited guests.
I check my altar over, bell, burin, cakes, flame. If everything as gone to plan then I have time to take everything in rather than racing the sun. I am set and centred.
The rite proper then starts.
Crowley's version of the rite is versified. It's a tried and tested method of getting the information to your unconscious mind and of creating a sense of both momentum and inevitability. I don't use it. I take the lines that work for me and the structure, and dash the rest. I find it more useful to be spontaneous with my words and allow free space to manifest for me to be creative in. I find over complex or verbose ritual stifling, otherwise I'd join the Masons. Well, perhaps not.
The important point is the creation of the correct state of mind by overwhelming the senses with a battery of stimuli. If you look carefully, all the senses are used in the ritual, hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell. This is what Leary would call set and setting. These then are the bare bones of my human sacrifice:
I address the Sun. This is not the Sun as a mass of nuclear explosions, this is the Sun as the God of the Universe in the sense that everything revolves around it. As a magickian this is my aim, to recognise myself as the centre of everything. See Einstein for more on this. I strike the bell. Mine is Tibetan seven metal and the sound carries seemingly forever.
I invoke my higher self.
I burn the first cake.
I cut my breast with the sign.
It is important to use something that cuts, not something that you will have to saw at yourself with or will immediately have you sluicing gallons of claret all over the altar. I often buckle with nausea trying to make the cut. The right tool will save you here. I'm not a fan of razors and prefer to scratch with a burin. That's an engraving tool you can pick up at an art suppliers, mine is all steel and suitably elegant. What I am looking for is quality of focus and not quantity of fluid. This is not a slasher flick. I only need the homeopathic few drops. I soak the blood with second cake and consume it. As a side effect the taste of blood is a 'trigger' or 'anchor' that enables you to re-access this state. When I cut myself like most of us, I automatically touch my mouth and fingers to the wound and remember the covenant of my blood. Affirmation to lock the message into my mind and get the changes. Strike the bell again.
The end of the ritual is a lift from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I find it fitting to go straight out into the night's partying from here, refreshed, reinvigorated and preferably not bleeding all over a fresh shirt.
Finally I watch the sunrise the next morning.
So, this is how the three aims now look:
- 1) The spirit you are feeding is your own Genius, which you may style as your Higher Self, Daemon or Holy Guardian Angel.
- 2) The power you are absorbing is your own infinite potential. You are feeding your aspirations with the very blood of your heart.
- 3) You are renewing your own perfection and affirming your own responsibility to your own development.
Perhaps that has given you a different way to approach cutting. If it does you may find it useful to read this in conjunction with my Experience piece on ritual piercing. Feedback is always appreciated.