Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The following is an extract from my last Toronto lecture, on the process of setting up your own temple.
The temple is the magician extended into four (or more) dimensions. And in time, as the very concept of the temple expands, the magician is seen to be an extension of the sacred space itself. This idea is worth meditating upon.
There are various practical aspects of establishing a temple. One of the commonest problems I run into is students who live with their parents, or share with a non-magical friend, and who feel it will create difficulties and awkward questions if they set up a table with candles and images. Everyone has to resolve this for themselves, but there is nothing that says we can’t establish a concealed temple. The top of a chest of drawers can be considered an altar, once we pull out the candles and light them. And it can revert to being mundane furniture once the ceremony or nightly work is concluded. There is no requirement to advertise what we’re up to.
There’s a curious thing that I’ve found about dedicated spaces. For many years I lived in a high-rise apartment and had my temple on one side of my bedroom. I then moved away, ending up with a small house of my own where I was able to dedicate an entire bedroom to being my temple. Oddly, I didn’t see any change in the quality of my magical results. The will to invoke is much more important than having a luxurious space in which to do so. These days, I’m back in a Toronto apartment, and use a six-foot wide part of my bedroom again, and that’s fine.
Most neo-pagans I know get upset at the idea of not having a temple aligned with the sunrise, but the Hermetic tradition doesn’t require it. My personal temples have all ended up being oriented to the north or north-west, to the point that I feel that’s the correct positioning for me personally. Thelemic magicians and Qabalists generally are quite happy declaring that the optimal direction is ‘magical East.’ Since the opening part of most Qabalistic rituals consists of a Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, which places the solar Archangel Raphael in front of the ritualist, this tends to reinforce the desired alignment quite easily. And if you continue to work in the same space, with this same alignment, soon your magical East becomes well established.
It’s ideal, if you don’t have prying family or roommates, that you maintain your temple as a sacred enclosure all the time, so it retains its specialnesss. In your own mind it needs to exist as a reserved volume of air, a set of coordinates in material space that you can enter into when you’re in the right mood, and activate by your presence and intents.
What needs to be in there? Well, a chair or a cushion, depending how you like to sit for meditation. An altar, which can be a ‘proper’ double-cube one, or simply a small table. And you, because only a human can energise a temple. Otherwise … not much, really.
A temple can be basic or elaborate, and I’ve seen one or two in this part of the world that are positively Byzantine in their imagery. I’m a minimalist, so mine barely looks temple-y to an outsider.
Practically speaking, you need a working space that allows you to stretch your arms to full length. Otherwise, the gestures in ceremonies such as the Lesser Rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram can’t be made satisfactorily. You can do them on a purely imaginal level, with nobody being any the wiser, but magical energy is quite kinetic, and works better if the body can move.
I’ve mentioned candles, and they are important. A living flame on an altar means it’s activated. Even though a candle flame is made up of combusting hydrocarbons, the fact of combustion connects it directly to fire as the prime and purest symbol of energy. And in Hermetic magick, the element of Spirit is also represented by flame. Fire represents aspiration or will, and the consecration of them.
Okay, so you have a table and a candle, and of course matches. What else?
You. And your desire to explore strange ideas and to access knowledge you weren’t sure existed before.
Temples can be decorated by design, but an effective temple acquires its furnishings as they become necessary or relevant. A print of a favourite Tarot card, an image of a deity from some pantheon that has proved helpful, something to hold implements, incense and charcoal … they just make themselves needed, so you find them. And things don’t have to fit a specific decorative scheme, or even an intellectual one. I’ve found my own temples have become compendiums of nonconforming elements over time. Remember, the temple is essentially a representation of who and what you are within, and humans aren’t orderly beings. We are interested in this, and that, and another that and another this.
You need to maintain order, some form of coherence, but a temple is an extension of the human who uses it, and thus it acquires human traits of imbalance, and occasional incoherence, or apparent incoherence. The famously elusive HGA we’re always on about has to manifest through all the distractions, oddities, eccentricities and longings with which we become entangled. Repressing something that is not aesthetically or organisationally pleasing is not going to help you with that relationship. You need to admit the odd or uncomfortable bits of yourself into the conversation.
But if you set out with a Will, and are willing to follow the hints as they come to you, then your temple will build up a charge detectable even to the muggles in your life. And it will be both your spaceship when you’re up for boldly going where you’ve never gone before, and your cave of refuge when you’re a little less sure of yourself.
Love is the law, love under will,