The Inner Guide to Megaliths, Review by Northern Earth

Originally appeared in Northern Earth Issue 129, March 2012 pg30-31. To order a copy of this issue please visit Northern Earth

THE INNER GUIDE TO THE MEGALITHS

Alan Richardson

Megalithica Books, 2011. Pbk, 316pp. £12.99. 978-1-905713-53-0

When we talk about sacred experience in the past, and how such experiences were expressed, we call it folklore (or more cloyingly, religion); but today such events are often disparaged as New Age claptrap or even some kind of ‘mental episode’. There is a direct continuum between sacred experience in the past and the present, as most if not all NE readers will know, and it is into accounts of contemporary experience that Richardson ventures.

When we talk of visions, we tend to think of them as something spectacular, but they are more likely to come as brief tantalizing experiences bracketed by the mundane. Clouds don’t have to part, nor bushes to burn – just a curtain is suddenly pulled up, something other is glimpsed, and one is left to make something – or nothing – of it. This book is a collection of such experiences and reflections, shared by those, like ourselves, who regularly visit ancient sites with an open mind. Indeed, many of us will find people we know among the contributors; and we may also find their accounts tally with our own experiences. These are essentially place experiences, tied in with perception, at ancient sites that are not only locations of geography, but of psyche. Although the ancient sites chosen are in Wessex, loosely linked by the travels of a 19th-century antiquarian, the Rev. Edward Duke, one might expect a similar pattern to emerge elsewhere.

Originally published in 2001, under the title Spirits of the Stones (reviewed NE86, p31), I was surprised then that it didn’t make more impact among neo-antiquarians and fellow travellers. I have always considered it one of the most important books in the earth mysteries field, and it is good to see it back in print. It’s not always easy to read, for the best of reasons – I frequently had to stop as half-buried memories of sites and sensations surfaced, and I was imaginatively transported to other places.

Republication, however, implies an obligation to review some of the content, and the ‘Resources’ section is wincingly out of date, irritatingly so as regards NE – it would have been easy and better just to cut this section. [JB]

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Bridging the Gap:Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society by Crystal Blanton

Review by Mike Gleason

Bridging the Gap:  Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society  by  Crystal Blanton

Those of us who have been in the Pagan “community” for any appreciable amount of time are well aware that the topic of this book is one which in of vital concern as  Paganism becomes more acceptable in the world outside our Circles, Groves, and Covens.  From the very beginnings of the public existence of Paganism in the  modern world  there have arisen situations which needed to be addressed, but which frequently were shuffled to the side with a “We’ll deal with that later” attitude.

The past decade or so has seen the rapid rise of both “solitary” and “eclectic” segments of the Pagan community.  This has led to even more destabilization of the overall community, since there appears to be a high level of distrust, if not outright antagonism between these segments and the more “traditional” groups which exist.

Ms Blanton approaches the subject from the point of view of an individual who works in the field of counseling, thus she brings a perspective  which is often lacking in our community.  Of course, that very perspective will make her suspect in the minds of some individuals.  There tends to be an “all or nothing” or “us versus them” attitude, which is unfortunate.  We could all benefit from a bit of distance sometimes.  She offers insight in how (and why) we react to challenges within our various communities as well as ways we can use our reactions to further positive goals.

This is a book which is heavy on psychology and psychological counseling and short on magic and Paganism, per se.  Having said that, I must hasten to add that if you ever want to be a member of a Temple, Grove, Coven, etc., you will benefit from taking the time to read and absorb the contents of this excellent book.

Ms Blanton addresses the needs of groups to relate to their individual members, as well as the need for  groups (and their membership) to relate beyond their own boundaries.  These are aspects which need to be addressed if we, as a religion and a society, are to have any hope of  being accepted.  This acceptance must come from within as well as without.

She points out that many times we are less than forthcoming with our fellow Pagans and Witches.  She  relates an incident where an individual painted their spouse as being more supportive that they actually were, reasoning that no one would meet him, and thus they would never know.  As often happens, reality  stepped in and the deception was discovered, which led to feelings that the individual could not be trusted to tell the truth, thus leading to a break down in trust and, ultimately, the demise of a friendship.

The underlying theme of this book is honesty – with ourselves and with those around us.  The attitude of not “rocking the boat” or of not “making waves” is so prevalent in our culture that we assume it is a natural part of how to get along with each other.  Yet, it ultimately leads to problems which are difficult if not impossible to heal.  In order for us to have healthy relationships we need to respect boundaries, needs, and desires – for ourselves as well as for others.  This book is an excellent introduction to ways of accomplishing that.

Every once in a while I encounter a book which I feel absolutely MUST be in a Coven library.  This is one of those books.  Not only should each member of coven leadership be expected to read this book, each member of every coven, grove, temple, etc., should find this book on their REQUIRED reading list.  In fact, if I were still working in a group situation, I would consider presenting a copy to each member, and then arranging discussion groups to deal with the contents, it is that important (and good) a book.

Do yourself a favor.  Get this book.  Read this book.  Discuss this book.

Dancing with Spirits: Festivals and Folklore of Japan by Denny Sargent

Review by Mike Gleason

Dancing with Spirits:  Festivals and Folklore of Japan  by  Denny Sargent  © 2010   

The religions of Japan are among the least understood by members of Western society.  This happens for a number of reasons, most prominently because they are so much an organic part of the culture that even many Japanese don’t give them much thought.  In fact, one often hears Japanese say that they are not religious, even as they are participating in some festival, or entering/leaving a shrine.  The religions are simply a part of daily life, and thus not considered a separate religious aspect.

Generally, religion in Japan breaks down into one of two major types – Shinto or Buddhism – but that is as simplistic as saying religion in the West is either Christian or non-Christian; true to an an extent, but failing to capture the shear breadth of the religious experience.  Each of the two groups has unique observances, yet commonalities exist.

It is, naturally, almost impossible for the visitor to the Land of the Rising Sun to fully experience either of these religions since they are coming from the outside, and do not have the same cultural references which natives have, and which form such an integral part of the observations and beliefs.  Nonetheless, Mr. Sargent spent four years living in Japan, consumed with a desire to learn as much as he could.  He went out of his way to experience what he could and share what he experienced with readers.  This is not an academic approach, but rather more like a running commentary on those experiences.

While the majority of festivals contain at least a modicum of solemnity, the Kanamara festival throws solemnity to the side.  After all, how serious and solemn can a festival be when the object of devotion is a seven-foot tall shocking pink penis?  Carried off by transgendered individuals to make the circuit of the neighborhood?  Naturally, there is a serious reason for this observance, even if no one is quite sure what it is, or when it actually made its way into the national consciousness.

There are rituals and observances which involve thousands, as well as those which are tailored for the family.  There are festivals which are observed simultaneously across the breadth of the land, and those whose dates of observation are a matter of local custom.  There are festivals and observances which are well-documented in their foundation and those which no one seems too sure about.

In addition to material on the festivals and observances, Mr. Sargent has included a section on the magical creatures, ranging from the various types of spirits, to assorted animals.  This is a relatively short section, and could deserve a book of its own, in my opinion.

He completes this volume with a section on the Goddesses of Japan which, although short, is quite informative.  I’m not sure how much appeal this little volume will have for the “average, Western Pagan”, but as a means of expanding our awareness of how others relate to the Otherworld it is almost invaluable.  Personally, I am not all that interested in Japanese religious observances, but I still found myself thoroughly enjoying this book.  Not only that, but I resented when I needed to stop reading to do other things, and there really aren’t many books that I can say that about.

Ecstatic Ritual: Practical Sex Magic by Brandy Williams

Review by Mike Gleason

Ecstatic Ritual: Practical Sex Magic  by  Brandy Williams © 2008 

This is a revision (perhaps enhancement is a better word) of a book issued in its original form twenty years ago.  During the intervening decades there have been many changes.  Some of these changes have had a major impact on the world of sex magick (the AIDS epidemic is one example) while others are less obvious (more works by female writers).  Nonetheless, they have all contributed to changes.  Ms. Williams did an excellent job the first time around, and has made only minor changes to this second edition. Unfortunately, there are numerous dropped words in the text which should have been caught during the revision process, but which slipped through.

Ms. Williams has produced a very useable “101” book on a topic which is slowly gaining acceptance within the magickal community.  For far too long the topic of sex magick (or, in my opinion, more properly, sexual magick) has been hidden away from the average magick worker, restricted to “higher initiates” and often relegated to the Left-Hand path or dark magick (don’t even get me started on that topic).  Whether or not one uses sexual magick, everyone should be familiar with the concepts and tenets.

One of the few major alterations to the text is in Chapter Seven dealing with bodily fluids.  AIDS has caused major changes in attitudes and understanding. Appendix Three deal with ethics which is a topic that is seriously under-dealt with in most books on magick. Most authors dismiss the topic with a few words or sentences.  At three pages this is a good beginning, but could still benefit from a further expansion.

My overall impression of this book is quite favorable.  It covers the subject well, while still allowing for further explorations.  Ms. Williams’ style is very readable and her work definitely stands the test of time.

For those readers who are uncomfortable with the topic of sexual magick all I can say is “Don’t buy this book.”  For those looking for all kinds of salacious suggestions, I say “Don’t buy this book.”  If, on the other hand, you want some sound ideas on the use of sexual energy in your magick, this is the book for you.

Ms. Williams does her best to be gender- and judgment-neutral in terms of the various potential partnerships, although she has a few “unacceptable” scenarios (which should be upheld by any competent, caring individual).

Although it is not an area of great interest to me, I found the book well-written and informative.

Fulltrui: Patrons in Asatru by Mist

Review by Mike Gleason

Fulltrui:  Patrons in Asatru  by  Mist  © 2011  Megalithica Books  

This is one of those books whose appeal will be severely limited, unfortunately.  Its primary appeal will be to Asatruar, and  not even all of them, as there are individuals who do not accept the idea of patrons within the cultural context.  In fact there are those who deny the personal, physical existence of deity.

The concept of patrons used to be common within the Wiccan community (and still is in some segments), but it has fallen out of favor as the eclectic movement has gained ascendancy.  Many eclectics seem to view the idea of patrons as giving away the power of the individual, and that is anathema to a great many people.

Mist spends a goodly amount of time introducing the concept of patrons; explaining the various aspects involved (the individual choosing or the deity/being doing the choosing being the most important in my opinion).  Everything she says about the generalities involved applies to every neo-Pagan religion which has a worshipful orientation, and that SHOULD make this book more appealing to a larger potential readership.  So I say, here-and-now, even if you are not interested in the Asatru faith, you will really find a reading of this book to be beneficial.

There are a number of concepts which do not resonate for me, but I discovered a long time ago that (unlikely as it may seem to me) others may have differing yet equally valid points-of-view, therefore I accept the fact that disagreement is a fact of life, and not worth losing sleep over.  Mist presents Asatru as a living, evolving religion, with an emphasis on experience and inspiration as primary sources, while acknowledging that there is little information contained within the historical record.  Some might see this as a disadvantage, but in reality human nature is constantly evolving so our religions (being one part of of our own existence) should also be expected to evolve.

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) and PCPG (Peer-Corrorborated Personal Gnosis) are simply “new” names for what used to be termed “Divine Inspiration” (think “Prophets” of the Old Testament, or the Epistles of the New Testament for those of you from Christian background).  They are, ultimately, the sources upon which much of Asatru is built.  While they may be disagreed with, they cannot be refuted since each individual has their own perception (what is slate grey to one person may be charcoal to another).

I am sure that there are large numbers of readers who will dismiss Mist’s descriptions of the Nine Worlds, the various halls within them, and even the gods as either mere flights of fancy or as delusions.  They are entitled to their own beliefs, and there is no way to objectively prove them wrong; subjectively is another matter entirely.  Although I am not a follower of her system, I have done enough journeying through other levels of reality to recognize truth when I encounter it.  And, although I haven’t encountered as of the Aesir or Vanir in my journeys, I have encountered enough deities to recognize the validity of her suggestions regarding how to relate to them.

When referring to the Vanir, Mist mentions that they previously required large numbers of animal sacrifices,  but now seem to be heading in a “greener” direction.  This is one area where I have to question whether it is the Vanir deciding to make this change or their followers.  To be honest, most modern inhabitants of the Western world are not terribly comfortable with the concept of personally killing animals.  Buying meat at a store is one thing, but butchering an animal is (to many folks) both disgusting and just plain hard work.  Being semi-familiar with the rituals of the Santeria, and having attended the preparations for several Asientos, I can understand people’s reluctance.  Still, if your deity is accustomed to being given offerings of beef and you try to convince him/her to accept a basket of wheat or vegetables in its place, I would not be surprised if you suffered some form of consequence as a result of your desire not to get blood on your hands.  If the idea makes you uncomfortable or queasy, perhaps you need to be looking for a different pantheon.

UPG is something which, while not unique to Asatru, doesn’t receive as much acknowledgment among other religious philosophies.  Even among the Pagan faiths there is more reliance placed on the “received lore” (mythology, history, etc.) to gain an understanding of the deities.  Especially in some of the more traditional groups UPG is very much distrusted, if it is acknowledged at all.  But then, Asatru has very little in the way of “received lore” to start with.  Almost everything has come down through the filter of the Christian missionaries and monks who recorded the stories, after they sanitized it and altered it enough to make it conform to their perceptions of the world.

Unfortunately, this book is riddled with editing glitches.  I have been impressed by the quality of the writings produced by this publisher and was tempted to just glide over this problem, but if this was your first exposure to their line, you might be put off by it, and that would be regrettable.  You should overlook the editing problems simply because everyone has an occasional “off” production once in a while.

Mist makes a remark/suggestion on page 83 that causes the hair on my neck to raise up.  I freely admit that this is the result of UPG on my part.  She says:  “For example, Frey required boars killed in offering.  If you cannot find boar meat anywhere, you could substitute it with cow’s meat, or if you are vegan, you could offer him berries, herbs, or natural items from the woods.”  Now, that MIGHT work.  Then again, it might not.  I would strongly suggest that if you are going to offer some unorthodox substitution (and boy, I think vegan offerings for Frey definitely qualify as unorthodox) it would be to your advantage to check with the deity beforehand.  It may be unintentional, but I feel the possibility strongly exists that you might inadvertently offend the deity involved (and who needs a ticked off deity in their life?  Not me!).

Mist provides guided meditations to introduce you to each of the major deities in the Asatru pantheon.  Through these meditations you learn a little bit about each of them, their personalities, and their usual surroundings.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Asatru, this is an invaluable resource in itself, and even for those who are semi-familiar it can serve to open up avenues of exploration.

Following the meditations are a series of articles, written by members of Mist’s kindred, regarding interaction with various gods.  These offer a unique view of what each of the patrons mean to the individuals involved, although they should not be taken as “standards”.  Each of us will relate in our own individual fashion.

In  Chapter 9 Mist offers devotional poetry.  Followers of any of the ancient deities are well aware they enjoy hearing their own stories retold; their praises sung, and other forms of flattery.  It is necessary, however to remember the difference between flattery and b.s.

In the Appendix, Mist provides 25 pages of basic information concerning the Asatru deities and a little over a page of runic correspondences for the gods.  The book is finished off with a bibliography and a list of helpful resources for your individual research and enlightenment.  In my opinion, the only thing missing is a short glossary (although, since this book is primarily aimed at practitioners there isn’t a strong need for this.

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick by Frater Barrabbas Books 1-3

Review by Mike Gleason

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick  Book 1:  Foundation   by  Frater Barrabbas  ©  2008

Ordinarily, I don’t read other reviewers’ comments before I start reading a book, but the author alerted me to a review which had panned this book, so I took a look to see what had caused the dislike.  The gist of the comments amounted to the fact that this book was confusing.  While this may have been true, it is somewhat expected for two reasons.  First, this is a book of Ritual Magick, which is slightly different from the more common Ceremonial Magick.  Second, this is NOT a “101” book, but is designed for intermediate (at least semi-experienced) practitioners, so it makes certain assumptions.

Perhaps that reviewer’s confusion arose from the fact that she was expecting a basic exposition of Ritual Magick, since the book is the foundation of a trilogy.  Since Frater Barrabbas assumes a working knowledge of Ritual Magick to begin with he begins in the “deep end of the pool.”  This is most certainly not a beginner’s work.  If you are a novice you will be confused.  You might want to buy this series and put it aside until you are ready for it.

Another potential problem regarding the other reviewer (in my opinion) is her youth.  She is not yet out of her twenties and may (potentially) not have enough magickal and life experience under her belt.  To an extent, this is evident since she dismisses Frater Barrabbass’ non-amplification of statements without realizing that they were more fully covered in his previous work (The Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick).  He consistently refers readers to this earlier work, and to attempt to understand the current work without having read it is like trying to understand advanced college courses without having covered the prerequisite material.

Although I am not a practicing magician on the level of Frater Barrabbas (I have not dedicated the requisite time or energy necessary to work at that level), I have enough exposure to those kinds of workings to recognize the essential truths of his work.  While the reviewer referenced earlier found reason to disagree with almost every aspect of this work, having had more exposure to magickal workings (I have been working low level magick longer than she has been in this incarnation), I recognize that disagreement about technique and attitude does not invalidate the workings of others.  Like the previous reviewer, I don’t entirely agree with Frater Barrabbas.  Unlike her, I took the time to read his earlier work and thus had a basis to understand his positions.

Keying off the title of this series (“mastering the Art of Ritual Magick”), I would not expect this to be a beginner’s book, since mastery of a subject does not come at the start of one’s studies.  This is obviously intended as an intermediate series of works, designed to prepare the reader (and encourage them) for further independent, unguided studies and practices.

Expectations can color one’s perceptions.  If you tackle a subject expecting to find a simple answer, it is easy to be confused.  Conversely, if you expect deeply profound insight, you may miss simply stated truths.  Go into this book only if you have clearly defined your own expectations and be prepared to give it more than one reading.  Do your preparation (Read The Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick), and your homework, and you can expect to gain new insights and benefits from your magickal workings; attempt it unprepared and unwilling to work at it, and you will come away (at best) confused and/or disappointed.

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick: Grimoire   by  Frater Barrabbas  ©  2009

Once again, I need to remind potential readers that this series of books is NOT intended for the novice magician.  The author assumes an intermediate level of working and comprehension on the part of the reader.  If you have not been working magick, successfully, for a couple of years (on at least a basic level), you will probably have trouble making use of this material.

This volume, the second of a trilogy, is composed, primarily, of ritual forms.  They are not complete, nor are they intended to be.  It is intended to provide a framework within which the individual magician can create rituals which are significant and powerful for himself.

The system is one which was developed by the author, and has some unique (in my experience) terminology and concepts.  I will be the first to admit, however, that Ritual Magic is not my forte, and these items may not be as unique as they appear to me.  As an example, I had never heard of “the 40 qualified powers,” which consists of the ten aspects of Deity in the four elements and their relationship to the numbered cards of the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot.  It is logical and, for those dedicated to this style of magickal working, easy to work with.

The two books which preceded this one (The Disciple’s Guide to Ritual Magick and Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick:  Foundation [which is the introduction to the intermediate level of working] lead to the material in this volume.  The final volume in this trilogy (Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick:  Greater Key) should finish off the instructions offered, although it won’t come close to completing the work – which will continue until the end of the magician’s life on this plane.

There is a lot of information and inspiration herein.  Frater Barrabbas has devised a system which is easy to understand.  He has broken the rituals down into a standard set which can be easily modified by any competent magician.  Don’t be afraid to work with what he gives you.  Tweak it and make it yours.

This is not a book, or a series, I would recommend to everyone.  It is not suitable for one who only “dabbles” in Ritual Magick.  Nor would I recommend it to the “average” Pagan or Wiccan.  But, if Ritual Magick is your focus, and if you want a source of inspiration, this is where you want to be.  You must be willing to do the work, practice, and focus on your goals to make the most of what is offered.

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magic  Book 3:  Greater Key  by  Frater Barrabbas  © 2010  

This is the conclusion of a series of books dedicated to “Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick” (hereafter abbreviated to MARM).  It, like its predecessors ( MARM Volume 1:  Foundation and  MARM Volume 2:  Grimoire, both available from the same publisher) is designed for use by the intermediate student.  It is necessary to have a solid foundation and working knowledge of magick theory, technique , and practice before beginning the work laid out in this series.  This boon is designed to help the magician build a key of correspondences and the  apply that key to the rituals put forth in the series.  It also contains suggestions for setting up and maintaining a working group.

For those critics who insist that a TRUE magician doesn’t need books to learn, all I can say is “Why reinvent the wheel?”  Books can, and should, serve as inspirations and jumping off points.  They are  not intended to be followed slavishly, but to provide background.  As one of my instructors told me decades ago “I will teach you what has worked for others through the years.  If it works for you also, great; if not, we will find what works for you.”  My personal correspondences are colored by my own growth and experiences and depart from “standard” in many aspects.

Frater Barrabbas feels that the idea of a magician working in isolation is a bad idea, and I agree with him.  It is not necessarily desirable that such an individual be a member of a magical order or lodge (although there are some advantages), but it is desirable that they have contact with others of like mike and varying ability.  Feedback (aka “peer review”) keeps one from wandering off into dangerous (on many levels) territory without having backups on call.

Newcomers to the field of Ritual Magick will be well advised to either hold off on purchasing this book, and its predecessors, or else hold off on reading them, as confusion is likely to result.  Because a working knowledge of the subject is assumed, explanations are kept to a minimum, or else are couched in terms which could be unfamiliar to the novice.

The  author presents three basic forms of the keys:  Pagan/Wiccan, Qabbalistic, and Gnostic, thus providing frameworks which should work for the vast majority of practitioners.  His position is that SOME form of religious orientation is absorbed by everyone living, and that to make your magick work you need to account for that  orientation in your rituals.

The Glossary provided at the end of this book is composed primarily of words used in the MARM series, and thus is not as extensive as many.  Still, it is concise and clearly written.  The bibliography is relatively short, but is divided into eleven separate categories which even include some good Pagan fiction.  Lest you think this is strange, I will remind you that Dion Fortune (a member of the Golden Dawn) once stated that her non-fiction books contained all the theory while the practical information was in her novels.

For those students who are “mid-level” in their studies this book will be a valued resource.  The newbies and the more advanced practitioners will find less of use.

Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment by Tony Mierzwicki

Review by Mike Gleason 

Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment  by  Tony Mierzwicki © 2006  

Are you as frustrated as I am by all the “101” books available in the magickal field?  Do you want something with a bit more meat to it?  Well, this book is a good place to start.  True, it contains a great deal of “101” material, but it includes translations of the original sources, not just the tabulated results (although they are provided as well).

Assumptions ARE made about the level of commitment on the part of the magickian, as well as about the degree of comfort and expertise brought to the study of the material.

For those out there who are more interested in reading about rituals than actually doing them (you know who you are), this book will be interesting.  For those already familiar with Classical Greek writings, it may be redundant.  For those interested in working with pre-Medieval magickal systems, it is invaluable.

The first 82 pages provide a fairly comprehensive background on the deities and sources of the information, as well as explaining some individual modifications made by the author.  None of these modifications, by the way, are at all radical, and all are explained clearly

Each of the planetary rites consists of invocations, including the use of “words of power”, none of which would be particularly useful without the inclusion of Appendix 2:  Pronunciation, which helps the would-be Graeco-Egyptian magickian make sure that they are calling the appropriate entity.

Many modern day magicians might be uncomfortable working without the perceived protection of a magick circle.  However, since the magickians of the period lasting through the first five centuries of the Common Era did not use a circle, it would seem that the best way to duplicate their experience would be to duplicate their methods to the best of our ability.

Granted that the author allows his personal perceptions and biases to affect the invocations he uses (modifying the originals in order to achieve specific results), he is honest enough to explain what he has done, and more importantly – why he has done so.

Although I am not a Ceremonialist, by any stretch of the imagination, I found it easy to understand Mr. Mierzwicki’s directions.  I must admit that I found a few areas where he and I disagree in regards to the myths and their interpretations, and a few other items, but I kind of expected that going in.  I knew that my background in Graeco-Egyptian culture was weak, and so I was willing to accept the fact that I would find things to challenge my perceptions.

Although I am not sure how valuable this book will be for my own personal development, I am able to see its overall value and usefulness.  If “high” magick is your forte, this book definitely belongs in your library.  It is not intended to be a “quick fix”, as the rituals need time to work on many levels and cannot be rushed, but working within this system will definitely yield benefits.