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NLP, Hypnosis and Ritual Magick

by Philip H. Farber

There are certain people who have the ability to communicate with a purity and intensity that most can only aspire to. Aleister Crowley was definitely one of these people, an acknowledged master of language and, if anecdotal evidence serves us, able to create profound experiences merely by his presence. We may also speculate that some measure of this talent, acting on himself, was responsible for his great feats of discipline and self- transformation. Of course, Uncle Al was not the only one who has had this kind of ability. George Gurdjieff (for instance) claimed to be a potent hypnotist, who could affect changes without the knowledge of his students. We can ascribe this power of subtle communication, if we wish, to many religious and political leaders throughout history. But do we understand how it works? And, beyond that, is it useful to us in our True Will?

For lack of a better term, we can call this ability 'hypnosis'. That term is somewhat misleading as it may, in some minds, narrow the focus down to a few techniques of dubious usefulness. While we certainly can include the stereotyped watch-watching of the old- time hypnotherapist, and the senseless antics of the stage hypnotist, these are an insignificant (and fairly useless) aspect of hypnosis. For our purposes, we can allow the term to include such a wide variety of techniques and phenomena that we might as well redefine hypnosis as "an understanding of the methods of communication and their usefulness in affecting change." By this definition it can be understood, for the magician, as an additional set of tools for "causing change to occur in conformity with Will."

A new understanding of hypnosis began in the middle and late twentieth century with the work of psychotherapist Dr. Milton Erickson. Erickson, confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, was an exceptionally keen observer. He was able to map out, in his mind, any number of parallel avenues of communication that ranged from the most obvious verbal forms, to a whole range of things that are often lumped together in the category of "body language." Erickson was able, for instance, to monitor a patient's breathing and heart rate, strictly from external cues -- what he could see with his eyes -- while listening and communicating in the complex course of his therapeutic work. He soon discovered that this ability was incredibly useful in understanding and creating dramatic and lasting change in his clients.

While Erickson may have been one of the most powerful psychotherapists ever, his techniques were never adequately explained until the studies of Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970's e.v. Bandler and Grinder applied the Cartesian linguistics of Noam Chomsky, as well as a cybernetic approach, to describing what Erickson and other effective therapists were doing. They broke the techniques down into manageable chunks that could be easily taught and, in the process, spawned the field of Neuro- Linguistic Programming (NLP). Unfortunately for the common experimenter in consciousness, NLP was (and still is) marketed in the form of extremely high-priced workshops aimed at therapists and (look out!) businessmen who could use the techniques to increase sales and, thereby, their own temporal power. On the more positive side, the information has now disseminated to the point where there is an enormous body of published work (a partial list appears at the end of this article), and a persistent magician (who is already adept at gleaning esoteric information from obscure writings) can find some very interesting ways to enhance hir magickal practice.

That's the background in the smallest of peanut shells. Of course, magick frequently is work done on oneself, rather than the doctor/client method of the therapeutic setting. Fortunately, almost all the techniques of Ericksonian hypnosis are adaptable for self-hypnosis -- and, even better, adaptable for use in a ritual setting. The implications, I believe, are enormous, ranging from the general ability to improve concentration and memory, to very specific methods for enhancing Golden Dawn and Thelemic types of ritual.

To begin with, Ericksonian technique is essentially compatible with Thelemic code. It is practically impossible to make someone do something against their will with hypnosis, which is why traditional hypnosis only seems to work with a small percentage of the population. Ericksonian hypnosis is effective with practically everyone, if performed properly, but it is virtually impossible to get someone to do something against their True Will, whether that is known to the conscious mind or not. I learned this by trial and error in the course of my experimentation, and I would expect others to verify or dispute any such statements of mine with similar experimentation.

Hypnosis of this type depends on suggestion, rather than command. A statement such as "You will go into a trance" generally produces a response such as "Oh? How am I going to do that?" or, more commonly, "Up yours!" On the other hand, a verifiable statement followed by a suggestion of possibility, "You are sitting in a chair, and you can become comfortable sitting that way," can produce a more readily observable effect of relaxation. Even better, allowing for a wider range of choice, for instance "Which chair can you be most comfortable in?" presupposes comfort in the chair that may be chosen, and prepares the hypnotizee for becoming comfortable. Are you comfortable with this yet?

This manner of suggestive phrasing may not give the hypnotist the kind of rigid control that our stereotypical stage hypnotist ("Now you will bark like a dog!") might have wanted, but it does allow for compatibility with any system that relies on unconscious (or deeper) knowledge for direction, as Thelemic magick does. A key to this kind of "artful vagueness" is the idea of the process instruction. A process instruction is one that guides the mind into an experience, without giving any specific commands or suggestions as to content or sensory mode. That is, if it is desired to access the resources of a happy memory, one does not say "Remember a time when you wore a blue suit, drank champagne, and were entertained by Frank Sinatra." It may not have happened. Rather, one can say, "Remember a time when you had a happy and surprising experience." The experience remains unspecified -- it could be anything, since one person's happy surprise is another person's nasty shock (that's the effect blue suits and Sinatra have on me). Similarly, in magick one does not say "Become a businessman who works in an office and makes a lot of money." One can say, however, "Do what thou wilt." The result remains something that is compatible with the mental ecology of the individual.

Some key process words and phrases are: remember, experience, perceive, recognize, challenge, demonstrate, associate, be conscious of, intuit, wonder, believe, realize, integrate, etc.

Of course, there are many more cases of process instruction, and very clear guidelines that can be used to develop them. Entire books have been written on the subject (most notably, Bandler and Grinder's first effort, The Structure of Magic, a two volume work which, contrary to its title, is more of a grammar text than a grimoire). I hope only to give a general idea here, to suggest some useful directions of experimentation, and the kind of language that can enhance the action of ritual.

The next prerequisite for adapting hypnosis to ritual work is the simple, but very handy, idea of representational systems. That is just a fancy phrase for "senses". The representational systems most commonly in use are: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (feeling), and Olfactory/Gustatory (smell/taste). The first three are most often in use, smell and taste (which are closely linked) only come into play in specific situations. Most of us, by disposition, are strongest in one of these and deficient in the others, though all are used at some point.

To help determine your own predisposition, ask yourself the process instruction, "What do I like the best about the place where I live?" What is your first response? Was it the way the place looked? The quietness or something that you might hear? Or perhaps the feeling of comfort that you get being there?

Knowing your predisposition can give you important clues as to how you can strengthen your concentration on a particular subject. When you are imagining elemental qualities for the Lesser Pentagram Ritual archangels, do you primarily see, hear, feel or smell those qualities? Beginning with that, you can then focus on other particular aspects of the other representational systems. That is, if your concentration on the elemental quality of fire is restricted to just seeing the color red sweep through your circle, you can consciously add the feeling of heat on your skin, the sound that flames make as they consume their fuel, and even the smell of burning (optional, since smell seems to be so closely associated with air in the first place). This can 1) move you into states of consciousness that are markedly different from your "normal" state, 2) increase the depth and purity of your concentration, and 3) further occupy the conscious mind, thus stilling internal dialogue and allowing greater play of intuitive (unconscious) functions.

This leads us directly to the idea of anchoring. Anchoring is the very basis of both post-hypnotic instruction and ritual work. It is an idea very much like classical conditioning, and can be easily demonstrated on humans. A particular cue, in any representational system, is associated with a specific action or experience. Thus, Pavlov's bell is the anchor that activates the experience of salivation in Pavlov's dog. In the popular conception of post-hypnotic instruction, the anchor, for instance the phrase "Afghanistan banana stand" elicits the response, for instance, "Shoot the Pope." Some more concrete examples: What response do you have to the smell of your favorite food? To various tonalities of your lover's voice? To the sound of the telephone ring?

As magicians, we quickly learn to identify experiences with specific words, symbols and smells. Therefore, to apply this again to the elemental archangels, the anchor is the name "Raphael" and the experience is the color, sound, and feeling of air sweeping through the circle. Again, this is the essence of ritual. Everything in ritual is chosen, basically, for its purity and ability as an anchor. The "Barbarous Words" have no other easy association in one's mind except that which is learned in the course of a ritual. In the case of a magickal tool, we consecrate the cup specifically to the element of water, and use that cup (hopefully) only for ritual. An even better example is your magickal robe, which is worn only for ritual purposes and, very quickly, becomes so associated with that work that the very act of putting it on may produce an exalted state of mind. Crowley relates that (to paraphrase freely) he was so anchored to his asana position that, years after he ceased practicing it regularly, merely assuming the position would produce a state of profound relaxation.

It can be a fairly simple thing to use hypnotic anchoring techniques to strengthen the anchors used in ritual. For instance, at the risk of belaboring the archangels, one could take the idea of water, meditate on it, elicit each representational system, then, when the experience is strongest, vibrate the name "Gabriel". The representational systems can be explored by using the artfully vague language of the process instruction (to yourself, in your head) to enter a light trance (or state of comfort, relaxation, whatever term you prefer) and then call up each sense in turn: "As I sit here, I can become more comfortable and enter a state in which I can anchor experiences to the names of the archangels. Whatever useful resources I have from past experiences can be available to me now, if useful. As I sit here, I can recall a time when I felt bare earth on my body, and I can experience the temperature of the earth and the texture of it. I can hear the way that it sounded as I felt it, whatever sound or silence it may have made. And I can see the way that it looked and the different colors of it. I can smell the way that it smelled." Note that even when we specify a representational system, we can leave the details as vague as we are able to. The method, again, is suggestion of a possibility, not command; "can" instead of "will". When the experience is as complete as possible, you can begin to vibrate the name "Auriel". The name can then be vibrated for as long as the concentration remains strong. As soon as it begins to flag, cease vibration and immediately disconnect yourself from the experience by taking a deep breath, changing your posture, opening your eyes (if they were closed), making the Sign of Harpocrates, etc. This prevents random elements from becoming attached to the anchor.

If you want to do this even more powerfully, you can actually create the experience in real-time. For instance, you can go to a swimming pool, jump in, and as the water closes around you, concentrate on the experience and vibrate the name "Gabriel".

By anchoring each part of a ritual seperately, just once or twice, the total ritual becomes a much more intense experience when practiced in its entirety. This is adaptable to almost every ritual, and to every aspect of a ritual. Anchors, if you can remember, come in every sensory mode. Incense is of course our olfactory anchor; the shapes of magickal tools and weapons are visual and kinesthetic anchors; circumambulation is a kinesthetic anchor, and so on. The information attached to the anchors can be derived, as always, qabalistically, astrologically, elementally, or by any other system.

Using these methods, one can also create entirely new rituals, tailored for specific purposes. The following hypnotic-style ritual uses the qualities of action, concentration, manifestation and understanding in positions analagous to the pentagram ritual archangels. If you choose with care, you may find other qualities or entities that you wish to experiment with. You may find this ritual useful or not, but in any event, it is given here as a demonstration of how certain aspects of ritual work, not as a replacement for Thelemic rituals. I hope this can suggest new and creative methods of working.


1. Banish and consecrate.

2. Sit or stand in a comfortable position in your circle, facing east.

3. Develop a resource state for the quality of ACTION:

Search your memory and find at least three different times (and places) when you were active and effective. If these do not come readily, you can simply imagine a time or situation in which you are acting effectively. To define action and effectiveness just a little bit more: action is doing, being decisive, manipulating things skillfully, it could involve skilled movements of the limbs, or of the mind, or speaking, but always in some way causing change.

Study these situations. What qualities do they have in common? What things are characteristic of action and effectiveness? Run through each of your sensory modes in turn and learn what is there. This attention to sensory modes can also help add new pieces to your knowledge of this state. What or how do you see at these times? What or how do you hear at these times? What (if anything) are you thinking? What or how do you feel at these times? What position or posture is your body in? Is it in motion? How? Do you taste or smell anything in particular? Keep yourself in the experience. You can experience it again, now.

Develop a specific sound to symbolize this state of being. It can be anything, just so it is not confused with other states of being. Use the word "Action" if you wish, or develop a nonsense sound or phrase. Using sounds to symbolize something can be done in ways just outside of the ordinary. For instance, you can use the initials A.E. to symbolize this state (Action and Effectiveness), and pronounce it AY-EE. Whatever works for you.

Vibrate this sound, using full, yogic breathing, as you experience the state which you have developed. Do this for a minute or two (or longer if you can maintain it). Cease concentration and experience of the state at the same time as you stop vibrating the sound. Then you can take a deep breath, shake yourself, or clap your hands to help clear away this state.

4. Develop a resource state for CONCENTRATION. Remember or imagine times/places when you were able to concentrate powerfully, single-mindedly. The strongest moments of concentration often include moments of ego-loss, that is, in concentrating so intently, you become the object of concentration. While this is often described as a state that only great mystics ever reach, I believe that everyone has spontaneous moments of this kind of single- minded, congruent concentration. It usually doesn't happen when we are "trying" for it, but just when it comes naturally, perhaps when we are enjoying something, reading a book, listening to music, watching a great movie, playing a game or sport that requires concentration, etc.
Concentrate this concentration on concentration by running through all the sensory modes, as you did above. What do you see, hear, feel, taste/smell? Remain in the experience. Experience it again, if you can.

Develop a sound to symbolize this experience. Vibrate the sound as you experience the experience, as above. Cease vibrating and concentration simultaneously. Take a deep breath, shake or clap.
5. Develop a resource state for MANIFESTATION. You can remember or imagine times/places when you were able to bring things into form, into reality. This is an idea that might be likened to the end result of action. Remember the times when the project was finished, the report finally written, the jigsaw puzzle completed, the house built, the painting painted, the play performed, etc.

As you run through the sensory modes, you can remember how you felt at these times, what you saw, what you heard, what you tasted or smelled. Experience whatever it is that you experience.

Develop a sound to symbolize manifestation. Vibrate this sound/word/phrase while experiencing this state of manifestation. Cease vibrating and concentration simultaneously. Breathe, shake or clap.

6. Develop a resource state for UNDERSTANDING. You can remember or imagine times/places when you understood, when some realization flashed upon your consciousness. This is sometimes the end result of concentration. Perhaps you finally figured out the math problem, realized whodunit, understood an abstract concept, flashed on a philosophy. This can be the result of some kind of analysis, or some kind of intuition, but what you can concentrate on here/now is the result, the state of understanding.

Run through your sensory modes, and as you do so, you can experience the things that you saw, that you felt, that you heard, that you tasted or smelled.

Develop a sound to symbolize this state. Vibrate the sound while experiencing the state. Cease vibrating and concentrating simultaneously. Breathe, shake or clap.

7. Close your circle.

8. Which parts were easiest to do? Which sensory modes were easiest to imagine/remember? Keep a thorough record.


1. Banish and consecrate.

2. Sit or stand in a comfortable position in the center of your space, facing east.

3. In front of you, just outside the edge of your circle, you can imagine a figure that embodies the experience that you developed as a resource state for ACTION. For some people, it is easier at first to recover the state, then imagine this figure, your ideal Active Self, walking off to stand at the perimeter. To recover the state, if this is the technique you choose, vibrate your action-sound and run through the sensory modes again.

4. With your action-figure standing before you, begin to vibrate the sound that you associate with the action resource state. As you do this, imagine that the figure before you is emanating the energy of this resource state, filling the circle, and yourself, with the qualities of that experience. You can allow yourself to feel (or imagine that you feel) infused with that energy. When the circle is fully charged with this energy, vibrating with it, then you can give that figure at the perimeter authority, under your will, to remain in position and continue to keep the circle filled with that particular energy.

5. Behind you, just outside the edge of your circle, you can imagine a figure that embodies the experience that you developed as a resource state for CONCENTRATION. (Imagine the figure walking from you to its position at the perimeter, if that is the way that works for you.)

6. Vibrate the sound that you developed to symbolize this state of concentration, and as you do so, imagine that the figure is emanating this quality, as you experienced it, and filling the circle (and yourself) with it. When the circle is fully charged, give the concentration-figure permission, in accordance with yourwill, to remain at its post, keeping the circle filled with that energy.

7. To your right, just outside the edge of your circle, you can imagine a figure that embodies the qualities and experience that you developed as a resource state for UNDERSTANDING.

8. Vibrate the special sound for understanding and imagine the figure emanating that energy, filling the circle and yourself with the energy of understanding, as you experience it. When the circle is full of this understanding-stuff, then give the figure permission, under your will, to remain at its post and keep the circle filled with that energy as you continue with your ritual.

9. To your left, just outside the edge of your circle, you can imagine a figure that embodies the qualities and experience that you developed as a resource state for MANIFESTATION.

10. Vibrate your manifestation-sound, and imagine the figure emanating that energy, filling the circle and yourself with the energy of manifestation, as you experience it. When the circle is full of this manifestation quality, then you can give the figure authority, under your will, to remain in its position, continuing to keep the circle filled with manifestation-energy.

11. Remain in the circle for a while, experiencing whatever it is you experience at this point. This might be a good time to practice your daily meditation, or go on to an invocation.

12. IMPORTANT: before closing the circle, absorb these four figures back into you. Imagine each one returning to the thought- stuff inside of you from which it was born. Do this thoroughly. Then you can breathe, shake or clap to clear yourself, as in the last exercise.

13. Close the circle.

14. Keep careful records. What was it like being in the circle with these four guardians at the perimeter? What kinds of things did you feel inclined to do or think about at that point?


Bandler and Grinder. The Structure of Magic. 2 vols. Science and Behavior Books, 1975.

---------. Patterns in the Hypnotic Technique of Milton Erickson. Meta Publications, 1975.

---------. Trance Formations: NLP & the Structure of Hypnosis. Real People Press, 1981.

Boas and Brooks. Advanced Techniques: an NLP Workbook, Metamorphous Press, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 1984.

Dilts, et. al. Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume One. Meta Publications, 1979.

Erickson, Rossi and Rossi. Hypnotic Realities: The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion, Irvington Publishers, 1976.

Farber, Philip H. FUTURERITUAL: Magick for the 21st Century. (Eschaton Productions, Chicago, 1995)


© copyright 1987-2007 Philip H. Farber. All rights reserved.