Tag Archives: Rites and ceremonies

The Psychology of Ritual

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Psychology of Ritual [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Murry Hope; there is also a newer edition [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher].

Hope the Psychology of Ritual

This book was an impulse buy for me. It was a cheap secondhand copy in decent condition, and I wasn’t familiar with the author. It didn’t look exploitative or too primerish, so I was intrigued.

The author is not a psychologist, but an occultist. In this book she repeatedly insists that she is a member of no particular sect or school, but according to Wikipedia (consulted 2012.11.05), she cofounded the Atlanteans Society (1957) and later the Institute of Transpersonal Sensitivity (1988). Based on the contents of the book, one can infer a vague Neopagan identity for her, incorporating a discriminating eclecticism. Without explicitly acknowledging the Thesophical Society, she draws on New Age doctrines about “cycles of evolution” that have distinctly Theosophical provenance. Other doctrines of popular esotericism that she promotes include a variety of alternative archaeologies (Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts, etc.) as well as New Age mystical interpretations of quantum physics.

In my attempts to grasp Hope’s context, I thought back to a another book I had read by an English occultist from about the same date: Adrian Savage’s Introduction to Chaos Magick. As I recollect, Savage anatomized the English occult scene into three factions: simpering anti-intellectual Witches, authoritarian toadying Ceremonialists, and daring experimental Chaos Magicians. Hope defines her position relative to the first two, both of which she praises, while seeming to identify a little more strongly with the neopagan witch than the ceremonial magician. And then in a sole hilarious mention, she refers to “chaos magic … as an excuse for hedonistic license. Legitimate mystical sciences are perverted in the name of experiment, and discipline has become a dirty word” (209).

The Psychology of Ritual is divided into three main sections plus a fat set of appendices. The first section provides history (often quite speculative or even obviously fallacious) and some general theory about the importance of ritual in general, or “the Rite,” as she terms it. She deliberately mixes magical and esoteric ceremonies with the rites of exoteric religious traditions in order to assert shared principles across a wide spectrum of ritual. A taxonomy of five ritual “codes” offered in the first chapter appears to be original in this work. Rather than psychology, the emphasis in the first section is more anthropological.

The second section starts with a unique chapter in which Hope goes into a variety of conventional 20th-century psychological theories, with emphasis on neurochemistry and the physiology of emotional states. The exposition is, let’s say, not authoritative. For example, Hope confuses melatonin and melanin. The next five chapters give contemporary occult rituals as case studies for the sort of “psychological” approach Hope applies, which usually has more to do with Jungian theory. (She refers to Jung as “the master” on p. 48, but most of her Jung citations are to the somewhat fictionalized memoir Memories, Dreams and Reflections.) For each of these five chapters, there are one or two full ritual texts among the appendices. Hope herself contributes a neo-Egyptian ceremony and a Celtic healing ritual, while others are from Ashcroft-Nowicki, the Farrars, Thorsson (Flowers), Schueler, and an anonymous Jesuit. She then finishes the section with a “Ritual World Tour” or ethnographic survey, a chapter on traditions of initiation, and a chapter on women’s rites.

In the third section she opines on the contemporary conditions for and uses of magical ritual. The section is wide-ranging, and often consists of passionate but unsupported assertions. Still, as much as she might buy into many of the flaky doctrines current in late 20th-century popular esotericism, I consistently got the impression that Hope had a genuinely broad base of personal experience in occultism, and that she is a basically considerate and practical lady.

The book assumes a fairly informed reader, but the tone is very much that of a lecture. Hope has some idiosyncratic diction beyond “the Rite” mentioned above. In particular, she pretty consistently uses “ever” for “always,” which is a little grandiose for my taste. Although this is more of an “intermediate” book than an introduction for the unlettered aspirant, it really didn’t have any new ideas for me. It was a mostly-pleasant read chiefly distinguished by its author’s voice.