My decision to begin practicing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP) came last summer, several weeks before my family and I were to go on a vacation in the country. We were going to a rural manor house in southwestern Hungary, near the Slovenian border. The manor house is divided into several apartments now, and serves as a guest house. We’d stayed there for a week the summer before, sharing our apartment with another family with children, and we’d enjoyed it so much that the two families decided to do the same thing again. It’s a great vacation for city kids, and for us city parents. We can just let the kids do whatever they want, because there’s plenty of space to spread out.

The house is connected to a working farm, with poultry and pigs and draft horses. But the main income of the area comes from wood, so the farm is surrounded by many square miles of managed forests. Very near the house, the owners planted several acres of dense woods with a narrow winding footpath through it. It’s thoroughly artificial in that a walk on the path takes you through various stands of different species of trees planted in monoculture. Here and there is a sign identifying the trees. Obviously the purpose of the little patch of woods is educational, and for that reason it is called, in Hungarian a tanösvény (apologies to those of you whose computer won’t handle Hungarian letters), which translates roughly as “teaching path.” Appropriate name for the way I planned to use it.

After a wasted youth as a decadent night-owl, in my later adulthood I have become a born-again early riser. A disgustingly early riser. In order to deal with the responsibilities of a large family, a full-time job and mystical (and sometimes literary) pursuits, I get up at 4:30am. I planned to take advantage of this habit to get time alone in the woods.

Every morning, I woke up before dawn and slipped into the kitchen to get dressed. Armed with tea-light candles, good Japanese rose incense, a notebook, and some matches, I marched off to the forest and meandered along the Teaching Path until I came to a stand of fir trees that appealed to me, and offered enough space and level ground between them to move easily. That first morning it had rained the day before, so it was misty, and dew was dripping off the trees.

I decided where my cardinal points were (I’m fairly obsessed with knowing which way North is anyway, so that wasn’t hard), lit a candle and some incense near the middle of the circle and got started. I had the text memorized, and didn’t have any problems regarding pronunciation because I took Hebrew classes when I was in college. I had a little chart with all the names in the respective directions in my pocket notebook, which I’d been studying and memorizing for days. So I was all set.

But I didn’t know what to expect. You see, two friends had told me strange stories about what happened when they did the LBRP. One of them, a woman I knew in St. Louis in the late seventies, said that after she’d done the LBRP, some kind of elemental appeared in the air and floated around her apartment for hours. Then another one appeared. And eventually one of them ate the other one before it finally disappeared. Whoa!

Then in recent years another friend, a man from the South of England, said that after he’d performed the LBRP, when he came back to the room later, he would find objects, like the candle holders, standing upside down, and other poltergeist-like phenomena.

I had no idea what to expect.

Well, it was exciting to pronounce those holy words of power (names of God, and angels) with the energies of daybreak buzzing through the forest, but there were no special “phenomena” that I could detect. Rowe’s instructions for the Kabbalistic Cross include seeing a rose bud where the beams of white light connecting Kether to Malkuth and Geburah to Chesed (Gedulah) cross in your breast. The rose then unfolds and emanates an aura of pink light around your body. This is similar to an exercise from Joseph Weed’s books for projecting heart energy that I’ve done for several years now. I felt the heart-energy buzz for hours after that first performance.

Several days into vacation, I kept hearing noises in the woods while I was performing the ritual, which I assumed to be deer. Once I’d finished with the ritual and was packing up my stuff, an old man dressed in simple rumpled clothes, carrying a bucket and a paring knife, walked up to me and, in a local rural accent asked me if I’d found any mushrooms. I replied only small white ones, and held my thumb and index finger up about an inch apart. He dismissively waved his hand, and disappeared in the opposite direction he’d come from. I wondered if he’d seen or heard any of my ritual. I briefly wondered if he’d really been a human being. (Can spirits have two-day beards?)

There are a few details I can outline with a few notes.

— I didn’t use any “weapons”, because I’d been in the habit, ever since reading Culling’s The Complete Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order G.B.G* as a teenager, of using my fist in the shape of a figa as my wand. I’m sure it has sexual connotations to the Crowleyites, but I was too dense to cotton on at that age.

— At first, it was the power of the words themselves that made the biggest impression on me, but that changed later.

Rowe’s instructions are to visualize a landscape seen through the portal of the pentagram that is expressive of the element in question: i.e. in the south, a parched sun-baked desert for the element of fire. It’s a heavy load of visualization along with all the pentagrams and other elements of this ritual, but it ended up paying off later when I started using the ritual for opening the portals. And I suspect this was intended.

— At first I used the anthropomorphic images of the angels that Rowe described, but I changed that later. Which I will describe when the time comes.

— Rowe’s text describes invoking in great detail, and only incidentally mentions banishing. So I invoked for nine mornings straight. This ended up leading to an interesting adventure, which I will describe now.

Ever since the first LBRP in the woods, I had a hankering to go into the woods and perform the ritual in the middle of the night. I kind of imagined it as a test of courage. It’s one thing to do a magic ritual by yourself in the woods in daylight, but in the dark of night? But I was always too exhausted after getting all the kids in bed, and my stomach was too full, and I’d had one too many beers while we were preparing supper, and I didn’t have a decent flashlight, and… and… and…

As dim as I can be sometimes, it even occurred to me that after invoking for all those days, it might be a good idea (understatement) to banish, so I wouldn’t come back to this patch of woods in years to come to find a pack of wandering golems or giant man-eating flowers, or what-have-you. I planned to banish thoroughly on the morning of the day we left.

That was the plan.

The night before we were to leave, my seven-month-pregnant wife woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me she was bleeding. The obstetrician (thank God for cellular phones!) told us to go to the closest hospital to get an injection that begins “ripening” the foetus’s lungs; the weak spot for any premature baby. We left the mother of the other family in charge of our sleeping kids and headed off. After an ultrasound that determined there was a small tear in the placenta, and giving her the injection, the doctor informed Very Aries that she was staying in the hospital for observation, and that I was welcome to leave (Hungarian hospitals are not very user-friendly).

When I returned to the farm, I realized that all hell would break loose the next morning when the kids heard where their mother is, and that I would be too tired to get up obscenely early like I usually do. Sitting in the car it occurred to me that I had all the supplies for the ritual with me in my hip pouch, including a flimsy plastic LED flashlight one of my kids had bought somewhere. The idea of depending on that light scared me. I wasn’t sure the batteries would last or if it would suddenly malfunction. And there’s no way to find your way out of a dense wood with a windy little path without a flashlight.

But I decided to do it anyway. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t banish.

In our Waldorf school (and others), the first through fourth graders undergo a “test of courage”. At Michaelmas (end of September) they are taken out to a forest where they have to perform some sort of symbolic quest involving following a certain path and performing some tasks. The children in the higher grades play the parts of gnomes and spirits (dwarves and whatnot) who try to deceive the little ones and lead them astray from their task. There are other symbolic acts involved. Now, even though the little ones know the dressed up “elves” darting around in the undergrowth are their school mates, the whole thing gets pretty real for them, and they get sort of scared. On a certain level, it really is a test of courage.

Going out into the forest with an iffy flashlight was a test of courage for me. I knew if something went wrong, I’d simply have to wait in the dark and cold until the sun came up. And,… well… there are THINGS out there in the woods, you know! I read fairy tales to my children. Civilization is a very thin veneer on a very mysterious world that still exists beyond the tidy order of our cities.

It was a humid August night, with a new moon (wouldn’t you know!), and legions of singing crickets and other bugs. I could barely make out the trail with my light and almost got lost several times. Amazing how different the forest looked. The circumstances surrounding my wife and the hospital already had me keyed up, but now I was in a state of high adrenaline consciousness. I kept spooking small animals and deer that weren’t used to people being in the forest after dark. They went crashing away in the dark.

I found the spot, which I was only sure of because I’d rubbed an X on the bark of a tree the first day. I started the incense and the candle, and turned off the flashlight, placing it in the hip pouch outside the circle. No light but a single candle, and the fir trees just sucked it right up.

I composed myself and my thumping heart. Despite the fact that it felt like there were a million eyes in the forest watching me, I performed square breathing (inhale six beats, hold six beats, exhale six beats, hold six beats…) until I was relatively calm. I began the Kabbalistic Cross, and my voice sounded impossibly loud, echoing off of the trees around me. I definitely did not feel like I was alone.

The stories of bizarre phenomena connected with the LBRP went through my mind. Although I’d been through a week and a half with nothing unusual happening, if anything weird was going to happen, I was sure it would be now. I was ready for anything to crawl out of the woodwork.

Since the only light was the tea-light candle on the ground, every time my arm passed between my eyes and the candle, for a split second I thought it had gone out, and a shock of panic would go though me. But then I would go on. Finally, I got to the invocation of the archangels, and with the formula fully expressed, and the forces arrayed all around me, a calm and peace came over me. I felt safe.

Once I finished the ritual, my state of mind was quite different. I was in no hurry to leave the woods, and several times I came across bucks and does, who allowed me to get within a few meters of them.

The next few days were difficult. I had to pack up and take the children back to Budapest by myself to drop them off at their grandmother’s, and then return to pick Very Aries up from the hospital. She got enforced bed rest for three weeks after that.

But my difficulties seemed more manageable. I’d passed the test of courage. A minor test, but a test no less. And every time you are tested and pass, you gain just that much more confidence in yourself.

*I know! I know! Lots of people think it’s a really crappy book. But I learned a lot from it at the time. Everyone’s got to start somewhere!