Performing the Rite of the Five Seals, or How I Spent Christmas Vacation

The Annunciation, Gerard David, Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ritual is work. That’s what I learned in 2018 from my teacher Ylva Mara Radziszewski in their healing craft program available through Crow Song Healing Arts at the Cunning Crow Apothecary in Seattle. The two year program trains magical practitioners from various traditions to be spiritual counselors, applying magic as medicine. In my own Northern European heritage, this is akin to the cunning folk of centuries past. In 2018 I completed the first year of the program, a foundational course for decolonizing magic and reclaiming a practitioner’s connection to it. The healing craft program (aka witch school) concludes each year with a two-day initiation ceremony. Students give a presentation of some form that embodies what they’ve learned about themselves and their magic, and it was within this context that I found myself reclaiming and performing on myself the Rite of the Five Seals of Sethian Gnosticism.

I first became interested in Gnosticism eight years ago, when I began to feed a curiosity to learn about the Bible. As I was not raised Christian, I grew up knowing very little about the chronology, structure, and teachings of the Good Book. The Gospel of Thomas was frequently quoted during childhood sermons at the Center for Spiritual Living, but I didn’t realize that it was not part of Biblical cannon. And as it turns out in studying early Christianity, I remained more interested in the so-called heretical texts as opposed to orthodox ones.

Incorporating Gnosticism into my spiritual practice was an easy transition based on my New Thought upbringing. Both teach that every individual contains a spark of the divine within themselves – God doesn’t exist externally, but internally. And while certain figures may have come from beyond the veil to remind us of our divinity (such as Jesus, or Seth in Sethian Gnosticism) we each have the power and possibility of waking up and activating our own Christ consciousness. Additionally in Gnosticism, the Source of all creation is too abstract for humans to comprehend. Instead, we can know it through its emanations called Aeons. We are, in fact, the product of the lowest Aeon, Sophia (Wisdom). The highest Aeon is Barbelo, the moment when Source became aware of itself. All subsequent acts of creation come from Barbelo, which exists both as a cosmic being and a spark of gnosis within each living person. But impeding a person’s path to gnosis is the Demiurge (or Jehovah of orthodoxy) and its henchmen, the Archons. Conformity and fundamentalism are where the Demiurge thrives. Break those chains and recognize your divinity, you’re on your way to self-actualization, like Neo swallowing the Red Pill.

The Rite of the Five Seals is a baptism referenced in several Gnostic texts. For my interpretation of the ritual I relied primarily on Trimorphic Protennoia and The Secret Book of John. Both texts are from the mid-second century and reference the Rite from the perspective of Barbelo. And while today’s scholars and spiritual seekers can read about the Rite, we don’t know exactly how the Rite was performed by ancient Gnostics. Instructions didn’t survive to modern times. But lucky for me, I spent 2018 learning how to craft rituals in coordination with the spirit realm and I was about to end the year in a two day initiation ceremony. Here before me was a perfect opportunity to reclaim a teaching that’s meaningful to me and make it my own. If I wanted to call myself a Gnostic Witch, I needed to become a Gnostic Witch.

In planning the Rite, I incorporated a lot of tarot and meditative journeying to help clarify my intentions for the ritual. What did I hope to gain? What was I willing to sacrifice in order to make room for the blessings of this rite? Ultimately I wanted to activate the essence of pure intuitive intelligence within me so that I could bring forth new insights and states of being, while also holding myself accountable and be of service to those around me. In clarifying my intention, I was able to sit with that emotion and let it guide me in planning and performing the ritual.

I also spent about a month collecting and preparing the supplies needed for the ritual. This meant dedicating time to sit in prayer and meditation, asking Barbelo for its blessings. It also meant making biodegradable offerings to Puget Sound whose water I collected to use in the ritual. Over the past few years I’ve increasingly adopted an animist worldview, observing that everything has a spiritual essence and agency. It’s shifted the way I interact with a space around me, being more inclined to ask before taking and not taking more than what is needed. Slowing down the process to gather supplies turned the preparation itself into a meditation. Everything was done mindfully, in a co-creative process with spirit.

Performing the Rite as part of my initiation was emotionally exhausting, cathartic, and beautiful. Being witnessed by twenty or so people while intentionally revealing a part of myself that is deeply personal was incredibly intimate. Certain parts of the Rite were planned intentionally, such as consecrating the space through song and reading from Trimorphic Protennoia and The Secret Book of John in order to perform the baptism. But other parts I left open for spontaneity so that the energy of the moment could add magic to the ritual. For a month I had charged a jar of olive oil infused with frankincense and myrrh on my altar, which I planned on using to anoint myself after the baptism. But when that moment came, I was intuitively instructed to not use the oil. It instead was sacrificed to the element of Fire, in a separate ritual. I also didn’t plan how to end the ritual. I thought I would say a closing prayer, but instead I spoke an affirmation.

Within hours of completing the Rite I felt like my internal divine light ramped up from a single candle flame to a quasar, or at least my awareness of it did. It was both blissful and melancholic. I knew that a part of me had been transformed and there was no going back to the way that I was before performing the Rite. Something had been released to usher in a new state of being, and for days afterwards I dedicated time to be by myself and just sit with my emotions. Now that a month has passed since the ritual was completed, I have a stronger sense of purpose and trust within myself. I’ve returned home to myself.

Year two of the healing craft program kicked off this month. This year I will learn how to craft ceremonies for rites of passage, while also learning to work with psychopomps. Should be fun.

Details about my interpretation of the Rite of the Five Seals can be found here.


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