Cleansing and Banishing Rituals
Many people are aware that when you enter into a psychedelic experience, your set (where you’re at psychologically) and setting (how the experience is framed) can make a big difference. Do you have ways of clearing your mind so as to begin with a blank slate? Having a lot on your mind might provide useful material to work with during the experience, and even uncomfortable thoughts might provide an excellent opportunity to work through or resolve some of your baggage, but sometimes, influences from your mental state or surroundings can get in the way of what you’re trying to do, or even prove dangerous. On the one hand, be responsive! Trips often seem to have a mind of their own, and no matter what your intentions may have been, it’s almost always best to relax and take whatever comes, as it comes and on its own terms. On the other hand, there are ways of lessening the extent to which outside influences will be an issue. The biggest part of that, of course, is choosing your time, place and company carefully, but there’s also another very useful set of techniques: cleansing and banishing.
A banishing ritual is anything done to purify a space, literally banishing unwanted influences from the area. Many different magical systems have their own rituals, and it’s always best to use whatever makes the most sense or is the most salient to you and anyone you’re tripping with. If somebody has very negative associations with the occult, drawing pentagrams and vibrating the names of archangels in front of them might be a bad idea. Do what fits. This sort of ritual need not even be explicitly “magical;” carefully cleaning your body and your home can be an excellent way to prepare for a trip. Prosaically this means that you have a clean place to enjoy during the experience, or a clean place to return to after if you won’t be tripping at home, but the symbolic component is at least as important: by tidying up, you put your mind in order as well. Tripping somewhere you consider filthy can be really unpleasant and prevent you from getting anything meaningful out of it, and a messy place can also make you feel like a loser who never accomplishes anything. At least if you’ve got a clean room, you can feel that much better about how you spent your weekend! Bathing or showering beforehand likewise can give you a good place to start from. Remember that when your senses are enhanced, a level of mess you’re normally okay with might seem truly gross!
In contemporary Western occult circles, the most famous and widespread ritual of any kind is the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, or LBRP. It’s so prevalent that, during my series of interviews in the summer of 2010, three different respondents told me to include directions to it! One noted that it isn’t the banishing ritual he uses himself, but said that it’s the standard and doesn’t require any experience practicing magick for it to be useful or effective (others disagree, and suggest you should not involve yourself in ritual magic without proper guidance. Your call). Many magicians perform it first before doing any major working at all. It isn’t thought to contribute to or influence what comes after it; it simply dispels anything lingering in the air (be that meddling spirits or distracting thoughts). To that end, if ceremonial magic appeals to you, it might be worth trying it out before dosing. Here’s a set of directions written by one of my respondents.
An excellent, simple and popular way to cleanse an area is smudging: burning a sacred plant and washing yourself and the space in its smoke. Many plants can be used for this, each with different symbolism and effects. An Ojibwe elder taught me to take sacred tobacco and either white sage or sweetgrass — white sage if there’s a negativity that needs to be driven off, sweetgrass if we want to keep a good energy going — and burn them together in a smudge bowl (he uses a conch shell). To receive it you must have your feet firmly planted so that you can feel your connection to the earth (still works in a building as long as you’re not more than six stories up), and with your hands draw the smoke over yourself, offering the bowl to everyone present so that they may do likewise. Many people simply burn white sage on all occasions by itself, taking care to get the smoke into all corners of the space. From my experience, white sage burns much easier and more smoothly than sweetgrass and has a strong, pleasant, smell.
With sacred plants, growing them yourself is always the ideal, but the plant matter, and various “smudge sticks” (braids of plants for smudging) can be purchased commercially online, or at incense, herbal and First Nations stores. In Africa and the Middle East, frankincense has traditionally been burned for a similar purpose: it smells wonderful and leaves your space with a positive energy, functioning as an antidepressant and to sever connections to the past. Frankincense is also great to burn during the trip, any time you need a dose of positivity, whereas the First Nations way of smudging I would tend to do at the beginning, and the morning after, rather than during.
Remember, the point of any banishing or cleansing ritual is to make you feel comfortable and to keep out unwanted influences. To that end, do whatever makes the most sense to you, and don’t worry too much about being “proper” or about what comes from where: that’s not the point.
Got a favourite way to cleanse or banish? Post it in the comments!