Reflections on Wanting, Resisting, and the Headless Rite


Early on, I felt magic was real—I felt it, and in feeling it, I wanted it from an early age. When my friends and I were first experimenting with what I’ll charitably call “weird shit,” enough weird shit happened to us that we couldn’t deny it. I had spirit contact in dreams and in waking life. I had profound moments of trance consciousness. I remember my first attempt at “raising kundalini” using, I think, some stuff Donald Michael Kraig had written, and something happened.

And while I couldn’t get the proverbial toothpaste back into the tube, I could certainly spread it out and pretend it was part of the porcelain sink.

I lagged on trying to do magic beyond some plaintive wishing and some light, uncoordinated, undisciplined trance work. I was doing plenty of journeying or active imagination work, though I wouldn’t have known it was either of those things. However, I rarely bridged or earthed that visionary work back into the physical in ways that would have allowed for some kind of development of praxis or metaphysics.

On reflection, I suspect part of the problem was that I had inherited and interiorized faulty premises. I had the idea that, for as much as weird shit existed, humans lacked actual magical practices that could do shit. I had grown up with and had been immersed in American mainstream culture that’s fundamentally materialist and often implicitly atheist and always anti-spiritual. That culture had framed spirituality and the other things associated with it in racial, class-based, and gendered ways, and being otherwise a nerd and excellent student, I interiorized these assumptions not in explicitly racial or classist or gendered ways, but they were there.

It also meant that the “spiritual” avenues most accessible and, in theory, most acceptable or palatable to me were through Protestant Christianity and its satellite movements in American culture. That spirituality—and the whiffs of magic that I could detect about it—was always grounded in religious devotionalism and dogmatism of some kind or another. I also had this same sense the times I had considered Wicca and its satellites—or even things like Thelema and Golden Dawn-style systems.

Now, I was nominally willing to acknowledge that these folks all had magic of whatever kind, but something about them always irritated me. As I think about how to describe it in my own admittedly subjective way, I have to describe my experience of them as the tacky feeling of cobwebs and decrepitude, like moving through a haunted house in which everyone else is excited and ebullient about all the awesome stuff going on, but all you can see are cobwebs, decay, and skeletons. They rarely had the sense of exaltation, freedom, joy, and beauty—of space and expansiveness—that I had glimpsed in my own undisciplined “weird shit” and journeying and of which I wanted more.

I also thought that, if people had magic (like I wanted), then the world should look rather different, and the people with magic would be running things.

At some point in the ‘90s, I had the idea—inspired in part by the outer edges of works by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Lovecraft, and others—that the people running things had magic and were using it, but they did their best to deny magic to everyone else. They would deny they had magic and would deny that it even existed. They had the “real magic” while leaving religion and devotionalism and “superstition” to everyone else—or materialism and dualism. And I thought at the time that, surely, if things from earlier eras actually worked, then people would be using them. Surely, if the demons of the Goetia were actually real and the praxis actually effective, then folks would be conjuring up Bune and Gremory and Malphas all the time. And so went these kinds of thoughts.

(These days I’ve come to realize—and being an English major and Shakespeare nerd helped—that, yes, the Powers that Be have always had magic, but the distance between marketing and rhetoric and enchantment is slight.)

So, I spent a lot of time wishing for, occasionally looking for, but mostly wasting time waiting to find some actual magic book or some spirit mentor or an actual human who knew real magic.

Some Resistance

All that said, I did engage in devotionalism, from being nominally “pagan” to “devotional polytheist” and so on. I also had moments where I freaked out when I brushed up against things resembling real magic.

I remember the Simonomicon when I first discovered it at a Walden Books at the mall. I had friends who were all about the Mythos in the ‘90s. We had taken a stab at (and deviated from) the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and someone even had the 1st edition AD&D book with the Cthulhu and Melnibonéan Mythoi in them.

It’s like a Book of Offices with sometimes better art and stat blocks. Good times.


It was a metal time. (TomBud | Pixabay)

I took home my first Simonomicon[1], riding the bus home, reading the introduction. The intro is a wonderful piece of suggestive myth-making: secret orders, the Old Ones being real (if not like how Lovecraft had written), the wyrd shit that happened in the editing and publishing of the book, some loose Sumerian mythology that’s kinda like other mythologies I knew but also not, and so on. I really wanted it to be real. I could suspend my disbelief.

Perhaps more importantly, or maybe more accurately, I could temporarily dissolve the cognitive walls I’d erected around the Mythos that left it “fictional,” if highly affecting and suggestive. That intro to the Simonomicon temporarily blurred that boundary between “fictional” and “real,” between “fictional” and “mythic.”

By the time I got home, I had sensed something. A presence. And being younger and still nominally “Christian,” I freaked out. Nyarlathotep help me, I freaked out, and I went full on Churchian “In the name of Jesus, I cast thee OUT.”[2] I tore up and marred and trashed the Simonomicon. After a bit, the sense of presence faded.

When I got my second copy of the Simonomicon, I had a wee bit more experience and desire to break out, but I found many of the rituals in the book required materials I lacked and had no idea how to acquire or prepare—and I had no evil sorcerers I needed to set aflame. I also was distracted with other things because I really should have just tried reading shit aloud. Having recently picked up Necronomicon Spellbook, and since having developed a better practice of sigil magic and more, I can now see that I really should have experimented with the Simonomicon. But that’s life. Knowing what I know now about sigil magic and intention, I should have tried a lot of things. But I didn’t.

Finding Magic, Finding More Resistance

Years later, as I found myself just diving into some early practices and finding, at least, uplift in my life in pursuing them, and after some initial forays into some practical enchantment, I had that moment where you realize you just accomplished a work of magic.

I remember applying for my current gig, and I threw repeated intentions with the help of a particular helping spirit at getting that gig. I interviewed for the position, and at first I heard I hadn’t gotten the job. I sat back, a drink in hand, and I released all the lust for result. “Oh well,” I essentially said. And I relaxed. Within ten minutes, I got the voicemail offering me the job. And I laughed. There’s this laugh I think folks do when practical enchantment lands. It’s a joyous, triumphant, even surprised laugh.

I’ve had that laugh a few times more.

Don’t get me wrong: I worked to get to the place in my life where I could qualify for such a gig. And I have thrown more work and more magic at securing and improving that gig.

I have also treasured gathering magic from every place that I can—working to find contexts and deciding how to adapt a practice for my own use. I try to avoid appropriating other cultures or traditions, though I will listen or read what’s publicly available and reflect or compare to my own experiences or other expressions of similar practices within my cultural contexts. That comparative enterprise allows me to find things that sing to me but which I then approach from within my own experience. I also avoid calling myself something like, for example, a curandera or tantrika—no, I’m just a witch and/or chaos magician and/or whatever made-up name I choose to call myself.

I still find myself running up against my resistance. I experienced this in learning about and trying to work with the grimoires and the 72 and friends. So. Much. Angst. Anxiety. My unconscious self used my conscious anger and disgust about particular things to try to get me not to do it. Or, I just had outright anxiety, like in the lead-up to trying to conjure Birto the first time. Or, I’ll have anxiety leading up into other workings. However, on reflection, much of that resistance stemmed far more from how the practices forced me to confront real things and real beings, but perhaps more importantly, the practices forced me to confront my own assumptions and beliefs—how I had structured my worldview and metaphysic. I had a similar experience in recovering context for working with saints and dealing with my Christian headache.

Spam, Perfection

I’ve gone on about these things for 1600 words so far because, at first, I was going to talk about seeing other folks do things I don’t like. As I was pondering how to write this post, I wound up engaging in some “rhetorical invention.” Pardon my jargon. Part of rhetorical invention, in discovering what arguments you can make about a topic, involves acts of empathy, in working to see the situation from your opponents’ perspectives and thinking about why they believe what they believe. A writer can do so to figure out how best to try to convince others of their position or to anticipate counterarguments in order to address them preemptively.[3]

However, I have also found rhetorical invention involves checking my own shit.

I had been going to complain about folks obsessing about repeating a particular rite over and over again or who obsess about perfectly timing some rite before they do it. I see this happen often with the Headless Rite. To be fair, I use the Headless Rite on occasion—often on a seasonal basis, or when it makes sense (or feels appropriate) to use as part of a larger operation.

For example, during Saturn’s entrance into the first decan of Capricorn as I tried my Winter Clarion, I used the Headless Rite as an opening rite during the several nights I did my working because it’s a motif match for Capricorn 1. As Austin Coppock writes in 36 Faces, “For this decan, Liber Hermetis offers us the image of decapitated man, holding his head in his right hand. As the Headless One of the Greek Magical Papyri declares—‘I am the headless one, with sight in my feet.’”[4] In another instance, I had a dream that, as I was recalling and recording it after waking up, I realized had a definite headless motif that I took as a spur to do the Headless Rite again. So, I did so.

Some folks, though, go for doing the Headless Rite every day. Often, I find myself thinking, “Why are you just spamming the Headless Rite?” (Yes, I use the gaming meaning of spamming here.) “Why not just do more magic?” The Headless Rite can be a good ice-breaker. It’s a good “refresher.” Gordon White includes the Headless Rite in The Chaos Protocols, partly “as a means to triggering initiation” while carefully noting “it is not an initiation rite.” The Rite allows practitioners to “announce [themselves] loudly” to the spirit world before moving on to “make friends.” And, to be fair, White says to go ahead and “Perform once and then see what happens over the ensuing couple of days. Then perform several more times, randomly and/or as needed.” He frames the Headless Rite as a way of making oneself known to the spirit world in a way that was resonant in Egypt, in Alexandria, in Cairo with Crowley, and today, and he bundles his version with an introductory rite for leaning into directionality.[5] And having done these things myself, I concur with the efficacy in helping practitioners kickstart their practice in living—and often idiosyncratic—manners.

However, I had a hard time understanding why I would want to do it every day for months on end—at least, on its own. I can certainly see using it as a preliminary invocation before going into other, more specific work, and White offers several in The Chaos Protocols, let alone Pieces of Eight. Beyond that, we also live in an age where we have no want of spells and rites that have some kind of historicity and authenticity, let alone trying something you found on Tumblr.

In contrast, I have also seen folks worrying over finding the perfect time or place to do the Headless Rite for the first time. In my opinion, I would say, go out and do it when you get the chance. And then do it again when you find a “good” time, let alone if you find the “perfect” time. But do it. Then do more—more Headless, more magic, more enchantment.

All that said, this is the point where rhetorical invention caught me. You see, I would have been ecstatic to have found The Chaos Protocols in 1994, let alone the Headless Rite or to have found a non-Mathers version of the Lesser Key, The Book of Oberon, or even Necronomicon Spellbook.[6] Or, wow, I’m trying to imagine seeing Julio Cesar Ody’s Magister Officiorum in ’96, let alone Judika Illes’s Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells.

And, I have to think about finding the Headless Rite and the better context we have for it since the ‘90s. I never had the proverbial “depth charge” experience that some report from the Headless Rite, but I’ve noted its effects in my life. (On reflection, I was probably beyond that initial Hey spirit world! point in my timeline.) But, I can imagine someone for whom the Headless Rite has profound results and wanting to keep hammering at it. I probably would have, as well. I can also imagine—given my own resistance to different things over the years—trying to perfectly time (either to put off doing the Headless Rite) or otherwise overdetermine the Rite to “maximize” its effects.

What I’m saying is that I’ve suspended judgment after looking back on my life because, well, I’ve been there. I can’t really condemn these folks without being hypocritical.

I would still say, do the Headless Rite or whatever rite you’ve been eyeing. To be honest, I think it’s better to just do something like the Headless Rite the first time rather than building up this idea of what it might be like. I suspect many folks may feel disappointed when Dumbledore, Stephen Strange, and Constantine don’t show up at their door. But, you might the one whose life goes haywire after doing that spell or rite.

Or, if you’re “spamming” the Headless or something else—carry on until you’re ready to go on and add other things. If you had fantastic results early on and keep trying to recapture the “magic,” do something else and see what happens. I would so encourage you to start trying other things, especially something practical—sigils, saint work, candle spells, whatever. If you get the results you want, carry on and expand and refine. If not, think about what you did and if you can find problems with it—or if you could do it better. And, I don’t mean in terms of gear or materia—though that should be something to critique—but possibly just in terms of the logic, motifs, and grammar of what you tried.

My point, then, isn’t to fret over starting or even over doing that one thing, especially if you’re waiting for some Fortean, Magonian chaos event to occur spontaneously. If it does, then good for you. Please tell me about it in the comments. But, I would say developing your kit and even doing something (meditation, daily prayers, etc.) for a practice has its definite merits—but do it, do something else, too, and keep doing the magic.

Featured Image: TPHeinz | Pixabay

[1] I’m on my third.

[2] I now reflect on how quickly I went to another kind of magic: exorcism.

[3] Tangent: Rhetorical invention is also one way that Renaissance English playwrights approached writing plays. They used their extensive rhetorical training as students—even Shakespeare at a grammar school—in order to put themselves into other persons’ positions. It turns out that this practice is excellent for developing characterization. It also helps contextualize the rhetorical and juridical quality of many of these plays: the characters onstage dramatize different positions on a particular controversial topic, and the audience ends up judging the merits in a rather Ciceronian context (that is, presentation can matter, but so should an audience confront how affect is deployed against their critical faculties).

[4] Austin Coppock, 36 Faces: The History, Astrology and Magic of the Decans (Three Hands Press, 2014), 210.

[5] Gordon White, The Chaos Protocols: Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016), 66-7.

[6] I would argue that Necronomicon Spellbook is a clandestine route to doing sigil magic without the cultural baggage that 1990s chaos magic attached to the practice. The Simonomicon is a clandestine route to getting your grimoire skills going before digging into one of the historical grimoires. I don’t know about Gates yet, though I have it over on my shelf.

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