Magical Ritual Methods – William G. Gray

Magical Ritual Methods
William G. Gray
Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1980
301 pages

I’d been hearing hype about this author for quite some time, particularly from my husband (who has historically had excellent taste in occult works). So I finally sat down and read Magical Ritual Methods, which was suggested to me as an excellent introduction to Gray. It took me several weeks, but I got through it–and what a great read it was!

I’ve been practicing magic (primarily from a neopagan/neoshamanic viewpoint, with a healthy dose of Chaos magic) for a little over a decade at this point. It’s hard to classify this book, because although it goes through the basics of magic, it does so in an incredibly thorough manner. This is by far the best explanation of the mechanics of magic I’ve read–why and how it works, from the connections to the Inner World, to the psychological implications, and so forth. Rather than passing magic off as solely the result of symbols (as is so popular in postmodern magical styles), Gray allows for the independent existence of entities, focusing on the creation of links to them through the internal self.

I can definitely see the groundwork of Chaos magic in this text. Rather than dogmatically adhering to a particular paradigm, Gray explains that what’s important about the symbols used is that they are relevant to the individual magician. He boils magical ritual practices and tools down to the very bare bones, and shows us their inner workings–which really are nowhere near as complex as one might think (or fear). He teaches with both authority and humor, and this makes it an excellent instructional text.

The writing style is a little older than most of what’s available today; I had to read the book in increments and give it time to digest. It’s not impossible, though–I got plenty out of it so long as I took it slow and gave it time to sink in, and after I got used to the style I was fine. However, for those raised on modern writing styles and content depth, the text may be a bit difficult. My basic understanding of magic is part of what helped me to grasp the concepts described here, and I know I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it had I read it a decade ago when I was just getting started. So I’m not sure whether I’d recommend this as a beginner’s book or not. It depends on the individual; some may have no problem diving right in, while others may want to wait until they’ve read a few simpler texts to give them the very basic context of magical practice.

I only have a couple of small complaints, primarily dealing with a bit of dogma. Gray seems to be under the impression that ritual magic is a superior form of the art, and occasionally makes disparaging remarks about more “primitive” forms of magic. While I can see his point, for instance, that certain styles of magic are less efficient, and that dedicated ritual practice has refined the techniques, I don’t think that less formal styles are to be discarded entirely. In fact, I intend to take the lessons in this book and use them to refine my own practices, combining ideas from this with my own neoshamanic/etc. work. I also disagree with his dualistic approach, particularly in the very last chapter where he expounds on the differences between Cosmos and Chaos and brings up the old White vs. Black magician/lodge thing. Granted, he handles it in a MUCH less sensationalistic manner, and he makes some very, very good points about the current destructive nature that humanity as a whole has adopted. However, the White/Black connotations may interfere in some minds with the actual message–that magic can be used to evolve humanity to a higher point, help us get past the wars and pettiness and cruelty that are so commonly demonstrated.

This has definitely joined an elite shelf of my favorite books, and I believe it’s going to be one that will be in my most-recommended list when people ask for suggestions.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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