Almost everything I know about Ordeals
This Article Covers:
● Ordeals of The Grades
● Blind Ordeals
● Self-Imposed Ordeals
● The Futility of Victimism
● How one deals with Ordeals
The term Ordeal, from the Proto-Germanic “uzdailiją”, meaning “that which has been bestowed (upon someone)” and later from the Anglo-Saxon “ordǣl”, meaning “judgment”, “verdict” is the name given to a form of trial in which the tested is exposed to a challenge — almost always containing grave danger — in which the prevalence of the tested party supposes divine favor — which is why it was also called “Judicium Dei”, “Judgement of God” - and consequently, the favored party is considered right.
An example of judgment by ordeal is the Ordeal of the Bitter Water, which according to chapter 5 of the book of Numbers of the Pentateuch (Bamidbar in the Torah), should be submitted women accused of adultery. If she were an adulteress, the water would turn bitter inside her, her belly would swell, her thigh would fall off (a likely euphemism for a uterine prolapse or miscarriage) and she would be accursed among the people. If innocent of the charge, she would become fertile and bear children.
Two forms of trial by ordeal famous in the Middle Ages were trials by combat and torture resistance. Trials by combat were basically legally sanctioned duels in which the contestants dueled, sometimes to the death, and the right was exercised in favor of the winner. There were also situations in which an accused was exposed to some type of torture on the grounds that if innocent, he would not feel pain nor suffer any harm. Of course, by these procedures, many innocent people lost their rights and their lives.
From what one reads in the rituals of some initiatory orders today, we have clues that physical and philosophical challenges in which the candidate risked his life may have actually been applied in the past. Nowadays, almost all of these tests are staged in rituals without any immediate danger to the candidate.
Being Union by Courage, it is one of the ways in which the mind is united with a single idea, and it is one of the matters of interest to our Holy Order which is referred to by many as “An Order of Ordeals”.
Ordeals of The Grades
In our Holy Order, no one can give grades to anyone. Unlike systems in which the aspirant is admitted to a grade, and after being admitted receives instructions and secrets that enable him to operate in that grade, in the A.’.A.’. you must first become capable of operating in a certain grade, so that your Superior merely recognizes and formalizes your advancement. In this advancement you take the Oath and Task from that new grade in which you have just become able to operate.
A grade given by someone, or an Oath taken imprudently is of little value. One could buy a law graduation, and even cheat on BAR exam thus becoming recognized, but that would not magically make someone capable of operating the law.
Diplomas, medals, flashy clothes, and other displays of hierarchical superiority may be attractive to the uninitiated, but in our Individual and Invisible Order, they are of no value. In martial arts, for example, an undeserved black belt may impress laypeople, but having it tied around the waist will not bring any help when facing an aggressor.
A common saying in our ranks is that “the A.’. A.’. is an Order of Ordeals”. Here and there we have references to the Ordeals that await the aspirant. In particular in Liber Collegii Sancti, in item 9 of each of the Oaths from Probationer to Dominus Liminis, it is reinforced that the ordeal is no light one, and guidelines are given on how to prepare for it. I transcribe below:
He shall hold himself chaste, and reverent toward his body, for that the ordeal of initiation is no light one. This is of peculiar importance in the last two months of his Probation.Neophyte:
He shall in every way fortify his body according to the advice of his Zelator, for that the ordeal of advancement is no light one.Zelator:
He shall in every way establish perfect control of his Automatic Consciousness according to the advice of his Practicus, for that the ordeal of advancement is no light one.Practicus:
He shall in every way establish perfect control of his wit according to the advice of his Philosophus, for that the ordeal of advancement is no light one.Philosophus:
He shall in every way establish perfect control of his devotion according to the advice of his Dominus Liminis, for that the ordeal of advancement is no light one.Dominus Liminis:
He shall in every way establish perfect control of his intuition, according to the advice of his Adeptus Minor, for that the ordeal of advancement is no light one.
The work of a Probationer is not aimed at making him better in his grade, but at enabling him to operate as a Neophyte. In turn, the Neophyte’s work is not aimed at making him better as such, but at making him capable of operating as a Zelator, and so on.
Being the Superior’s responsibility to ensure the quality of advancement, he must verify that the Brother under his instruction has become capable of operating in the next grade. He — or his Superior depending on the case — prepares the Ordeal if it does not present itself spontaneously, and as in medieval ordeals, the Brother is exposed to certain influences with which he must deal. Here it is not the Superior who approves or disapproves, but the Brother will show himself capable or not of dealing with that.
In addition to the ordeal closely linked to the Oath of each grade, it is also up to the Superior to apply tests related to the tasks taken along with each Oath as he sees fit, and performance in these tasks serves as a checkpoint to perceive the weaknesses of that particular aspirant.
In all these matters it is helpful to seek a fine adjustment between the extreme of mercy that results in weakness, and the extreme of rigor that results in tyranny: Demanding superhuman perfection in every outcome is as harmful as allowing to advance someone who was proved incapable of dealing with the ordeals of his grade.
A Probationer who has not fulfilled his Oath well enough to operate as a Neophyte, even though he is allowed to advance, will need to return to the tasks of the Probation before being able to move on. How could anyone gain control over something they don’t even know that is there? Likewise each of the other grades of the First Order build upon and/or balance each other in the work of the previous grades, and a weak foundation will prevent construction from proceeding smoothly and orderly.
In addition to those correlated with the works of the grades, there are Blind Ordeals. These, although inherent in the life of every human being and probably in the life of everything that is conscious, are not usually perceived. Due to the nature of his work, the aspirant is enabled to perceive and deal with these ordeals that would otherwise go unnoticed as just another stumbling of mortal life.
This kind of ordeal offers two great advantages. First of all, both the ordeal and the way you react to it will bring about development of the Great Work of each grade. In fact, some ordeals are necessarily manifestations of your own being such as Nature, Foundations, Vacillations, Attractions and Repulsions, Aspirations, etc. especially when these are repressed or unbalanced and seeks flow and expression in a forced and inharmonious way. Second, they will provide you with a point of reference for knowing what topics you need to focus on and what challenges are most urgent to overcome.
One of the main symptoms of a blind ordeal is recurrence. I really like spicy food, and whenever I ate too much pepper, my stomach would get upset, which in turn was the trigger for a migraine attack. Before I realized the correlation, I was often having migraine attacks. As insignificant as peppers and migraines may seem, it was something that undermined my normal condition of work, and of which I was not aware. It took me a lot of discomfort and a lot of migraine attacks to identify the problem and deal with it.
Who doesn’t know someone who always seems to be drawn into troubled relationships where they relive the same problem over and over again, as if the partners were different actors playing the same role? Or perhaps that person whose decisions repeatedly put they out of balance with they finances or they health? What about the person whose laziness or distraction prevents him from completing anything, much less on time?
A blind ordeal will repeat itself indefinitely until it is dealt with properly or its victim perishes by the ordeal or after having lived a lifetime of suffering. The question may even go away for a while before returning, but just as the tide ebbs and flows, the unresolved ordeal awaits you around the next corner.
In almost every entertainment narrative — such as books, movies and electronic games — the closer the protagonist gets to the central figure of the conflict, the greater difficulties and resistance present themselves. It is almost always after a serious crisis that the protagonist perceives that solution, which has often always been there within his reach. On the other hand, fierce and disproportionate resistance can indicate that you are insisting on something incompatible with who you are.
There is also those ordeals that only exist while the individual who suffers believes that he must endure them. Perhaps at some point in personality development the individual has assimilated a certain behavior as part of what he considers “himself”, or committed to something for so long and/or with so much of his energy and effort that he is now too attached to let go of this.
A mother may believe that it is her duty to give everything to her child. Perhaps in old age, she will believe that it is not compatible with who she is to seek protection against her drug-abusing child who loots the house to support his addiction and acts in an abusive manner against her.
It may be that a man believes that his worth is defined by his ability to acquire power and wealth, and comes to see his entire personal universe in terms of how much money he is capable of producing and keeping.
A digital influencer can live every hour of his day concerned with maintaining his image, views of his content, fame, etc.
I believe these are enough examples to understand the context: Some ordeals are nurtured by the individual. They can be assimilated if they are in harmony with the individual’s constitution, but when it comes to something incongruous, insisting on this fight wears out their material, intellectual and emotional resources in exchange for positive results that are almost nil, if any. Eventually, no matter how much the individual try to swims upstream, this entire structure will implode, which hopefully will bring some maturity along with the suffering.
In this, judgment by ordeal is a great way to check whether or not something is in harmony with your being. If you assume that something is in line with yourself, and maybe even dare a little more and say “This is in accordance with my True Will”, but even after repeated attempts over a long time, experimenting with the most diverse approaches, it brings you nothing but suffering, wear and tear, it may be that you are in the wrong direction. “Success is your proof!”
In such cases, the Ordeal will crumble as soon as the individual realizes the trap. As soon as you see that there is no Will sustaining that mere desire.
The Futility of Victimism
Whatever the origin of the ordeal, it makes no sense to view it with victimism. It’s no use waiting for someone or some deity to solve it for you. I recognize that the world is full of things unpleasant to mankind. For example, it is unpleasant that an orphaned young man who grew up in the slums, with no study opportunities and no guiding figures, has much more difficulty navigating certain aspects of life than those who were born into a prosperous and well balanced family.
If this image is so unpleasant to you that you decide to take on a struggle to change it, then congratulations, you are facing an ordeal all your own: You and others who embrace the cause will face the ordeal of social injustice and win or not. Meanwhile the fact remains: The young man who was born at a disadvantage will need to solve his ordeal for himself. Either he finds a way to navigate these difficult paths, finds other paths, or he will suffer this ordeal for life.
Even if you want to and can solve the other’s ordeal with a sleight of hand, do you believe that you have enough understanding to know that it is best for him and for the whole? Do you believe you have the right to deny others the opportunity to deal with their own challenges?
Quoting Crowley’s “Statement on Thelema” (bolds on me):
The first error therein is an implicit assumption that something is wrong with the Universe, and that moreover one is so insidiously obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow as to have completely failed in the task of solving the riddle of Sorrow, and gone through life with the moan of a hurt animal “All is Sorrow.” The second error is still greater since it involves the complex of the Ego. To pity another person implies that you are superior to him, and you fail to recognize his absolute right to exist as he is. You assert yourself superior to him, a concept utterly opposed to the ethics of Thelema — “Every man and every woman is a star” and each being is a Sovereign Soul. A moment’s thought therefore will suffice to a show how completely absurd any such attitude is, in reference to the underlying metaphysical facts.
How one deals with Ordeals
The formula of the Ordeals of this age is not “Justice” but “Adjustment”. I recommend a reflection regarding the replacement of the Atu 20 of the Tarot that was called “The Judgment” by that which in the Tarot of Thoth was called “The Aeon”. It’s not about “right” and “wrong”. It’s not about imposing a point of view, brute force and obstinacy.
If there’s a wall in your way, trying to break it by punching or bumping headfirst into it over and over again is much less efficient than going around it, or perhaps summoning a hammer or dynamite to your aid. Perhaps instead of destroying or transposing this wall, you can make it your own, and by building other elements around it, make it part of your castle. Maybe you want to sculpt it or paint a work of art on it.
The first step in dealing with an ordeal is to identify it, after all if you don’t see the issue, you can’t deal with it. For this, the magickal journal will be of great help. What are the recurring challenges in your life? What situations repeatedly are able to throw you out of balance and into a position of reactivity? What worries you? What has upset you so much in the past that even after a long time it still causes you resentment? What prevents you from accomplishing what you propose, especially the Oath/Task of your grade?
Once identified, if you do psychotherapy, it will be interesting to discuss this topic with your shrink. Talking about the ordeal, even to oneself and in written language, as in the magickal journal, for example, helps to analyze — divide into smaller pieces — how it works. What causes it to arise? Is it always there or does it manifest in cycles? What triggers it acute phase? Which door does it enter by? How is it able to upset your balance, that is, what is the steering wheel with which the ordeal influences the direction of your life?
Create hypotheses about how the ordeal works and test them. Theorize approaches to solving it and test them. Find out which approaches have been unsuccessfully repeated, and which ones you’ve never tried before.
Some ordeals are not solved by active effort. With these, try to position yourself as a spectator and understand what you can learn from it, especially about yourself. Look for ways that it gradually loses power over what you feel and how you react. In the meantime you grow.
As Raul Seixas sang in Faça, Fuce, Force (Do, Poke Around, Push) poorly translated by me:
Do, Poke Around, Push
Don’t kiss the floor
Do, Poke Around, Push, But!
Don’t cry by the door
Do, Poke Around, Push, Go!
Knock down this door
Trace, Poke Around, Push, Go!
This key is straight no more!
My ghosts are amazing, fantastic, extraordinary
They dress up as Al Capone on the nights I’m afraid of gangsters
Abuse my mystical tendency whenever possible
My ghosts turned my loneliness into an addiction
And my solution in Status Quo
On the initiatory path, especially in our Holy Order, the aspirant must be aware of the challenges and obstacles in his path. Each ordeal has a lot to teach you about yourself and your relationship with the world. Every ordeal you deal with makes you fitter. Every ordeal you deal with makes you freer.
I close quoting Liber Librae:
1. Know then, that as man is born into this world amidst the Darkness of Matter, and the strife of contending forces; so must his first endeavour be to seek the Light through their reconciliation.
2. Thou then, who hast trials and troubles, rejoice because of them, for in them is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto that Light.
3. How should it be otherwise, Ο man, whose life is but a day in Eternity, a drop in the Ocean of time ; how, were thy trials not many, couldst thou purge thy soul from the drossοί earth ? Is it but now that the Higher Life is beset with dangers and difficulties; hath it not ever been so with the Sages and Hierophants of the past? They have been persecuted and reviled, they have been tormented of men; yet through this also has their Glory increased.
4. Rejoice therefore, Ο Initiate, for the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph. (…)
Yes, the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph!
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