Defeating the Inner Critic Through Ritual Psychodrama

Pop-psychology defines the “inner critic” as the harsh inner voice of judgment that most people feel to some degree, the inner accuser attacking them with feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, and incapacity. For some, it can become an inner abuser, growing so toxic that it casts a shadow over an entire life.

In Freedom from Your Inner Critic, Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss write that

When you feel ashamed, hopeless, inadequate, or just plain awful about yourself, it’s because your Inner Critic is attacking you. The Inner Critic does this in a variety of ways, but most commonly, it works by hammering you with negative messages about your self-worth. It may criticize your looks, your work habits, your intelligence, the way you care for others, or any number of other things.

This can ruin otherwise positive experiences and may even lead to self-destructive behaviors and the ultimate self-negating act, suicide. When an inner critic becomes insufferable, one tries desperately to be rid of its influence. But that doesn’t generally work because it has emerged from the netherworld of the unconscious. It is theoretically a sub-personality trying to protect us in some warped and counterproductive way, usually as a result of overwhelming stress during our formative years. Earley and Weiss note that “[w]e can’t get rid of a part of our psyche any more than we can get rid of a part of our body. We won’t be able to cast out or banish our Inner Critic forever. It might go underground for a while, but it will pop up later and cause us even more grief.”

I have found this to be true for most clients who come to me with this problem. They can psychologize their struggle but, at best, they achieve only temporary relief. Because the inner critic is part of them, it learns to circumvent their defenses, strategically appearing and disappearing, emerging when the body and / or mind is vulnerable and staying away when a person feels strong. Nevertheless, ceremonial magic gives a workable solution.

In magic, if the psychological model isn’t useful, we shift into a different set of metaphors and symbols to solve a problem. If one of our sub-personalities is tormenting us, we may not be able to get rid of it (or befriend it and work with it, as Earley and Weiss suggest) using medication and / or therapy. But we can treat an offending sub-personality like a spirit and use the techniques of spirit work to subdue, banish, or imprison it. This works. And it creates lasting change.

We have to be careful, though, not to equate ritual magic with a kind of second-rate psychology. Ever since Aleister Crowley wrote in 1902 that the spirits of the Goetia are actually “portions of the human brain” (The Lesser Key of Solomon: Goetia, trans. Mathers), insecure magicians have tried to use psychologistic language (appropriating terms from psychology to talk about non-psychological matters) to feel better about working with spirits. It has created an enduring debate that irritates most practically minded magicians. As Skinner and Rankine aver in The Keys to the Gateway of Magic,

This is a fallacy introduced by Aleister Crowley’s comments in “his” edition of the grimoire the Goetia. Demons are not, repeat not, psychological and definitely not anatomical ‘portions of the human brain’ as Crowley categorically stated in his introduction. In this introduction Crowley writes a tongue in cheek exposition of magic that has confused many generations of students ever since. It was not till the publication of the excellent edition of the Lemegeton by Joseph Peterson in 2001 that Crowley’s partial and defective edition has been finally eclipsed. Hopefully his introduction will now also cease to influence current thinking about evocation. Although we have the greatest respect for Crowley’s intellectual rigour and pioneering spirit, the introduction penned by Crowley in that book has effectively put back research into evocation by more than 75 years, by introducing the beguiling but deceptive notion that demons are purely subjective.

What Skinner and Rankine don’t discuss, however, is the usefulness of ceremony in providing tangible psychological release. Magic might not be psychology, but it can have a positive psychological effect! This is something Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan grasped early in its existence. In The Satanic Rituals, LaVey calls his formal black mass “the original psychodrama” and notes that “This ritual is a psychodrama in the truest sense. Its prime purpose is to reduce or negate stigma acquired through past indoctrination,” which might be the best nutshell definition of magical psychodrama ever formulated. That is exactly what a good ritual can provide, whether or not further magical outcomes are necessary or intended.

Sometimes, the personal subjective benefits from a ritual are the most valuable. I believe this, even though I tend to side with Skinner and Rankine in most arguments, since I have personally experienced the power of spiritual beings beyond the subjectivity of my own mind. Still, magic to feel better, magic to provide emotional release, is legitimate and reaches back to early shamanic practices designed to heal and protect. Even the Golden Dawn had a ritual designed to rid one of personal obsessing demons. It was called the “I.O.B. Ritual” (for “Identify, Objectify, Banish”). And many people have used it since Don Kraig included it in his book Modern Magick.

Grimoire magicians will automatically know how to imprison a spirit in a triangle of art or a circle, curse it, and exile it forever from the sphere of sensation. If you are suffering from a harsh inner critic, I recommend you try the following:

  1. Try to have a dialogue with the inner critic, if possible. Ask its name. If it won’t tell you or won’t even speak to you beyond trying to abuse you, that’s fine. It never hurts to ask.
  2. Develop a sigil for this creature. Remember, it is important to perceive it as separate from you. We know it’s an aspect of your mind, but you are now relating to it (objectifying it) as something “other.” I prefer the simplest sigil method: write out its name in capital letters. If it won’t tell you, write out INNER CRITIC. Then write out your full name, e.g. ROBERTA SOFIA SMITH. Cross out all repeated letters, leaving you in our example with something like: B F M H. Combine those letters into a single symbol that appeals to you. That is the sigil (the seal) of your inner critic. Then say the letters aloud. To me, it sounds like Befamah. That is the first pronunciation that came into my head. So it is the one I’ll use.
  3. Take Befamah’s seal and put it in a Triangle of Art. Summon using the conjurations given in any grimoire (you will have to learn the basics on your own). But know that the spirit doesn’t have to appear. Given the behavior of most inner critics, it will likely be in hiding. It doesn’t matter. You have its seal and a name. Now you are going to destroy it. I am partial to “The Greater Curse” from the Goetia, designed to imprison a spirit in the Abyss. As follows (modified for the occasion): Now O thou Spirit N., since thou art pernicious and disobedient, and wilt not appear unto me to answer unto such things as I would have desired of thee, or would have been satisfied in; I do in the name, and by the power and dignity of the Omnipresent and Immortal Lord God of Hosts IEHOVAH TETRAGRAMMATON, the only creator of Heaven, and Earth, and Hell, and all that is therein, who is the marvellous Disposer of all things both visible and invisible, curse thee, and deprive thee of all thine office, joy, and place; and I do bind thee in the depths of the Bottomless Abyss there to remain until the Day of Judgment, I say into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone which is prepared for all rebellious, disobedient, obstinate, and pernicious spirits. Let all the company of Heaven curse thee! Let the sun, moon, and all the stars curse thee! Let the L IGHT and all the hosts of Heaven curse thee into the fire unquenchable, and into the torments unspeakable. And as thy name and seal contained in this box chained and bound up, shall be choken in sulphurous stinking substances, and burned in this material fire; so in the name IEHOVAH and by the power and dignity of these three names, TETRAGRAMMATON, ANAPHAXETON, and PRIMEUMATON, I do cast thee, O thou wicked and disobedient Spirit N., into the Lake of Fire which is prepared for the damned and accursed spirits, and there to remain unto the day of doom, and never more to be remembered before the face of GOD, who shall come to judge the quick, and the dead, and the world, by fire.

Say it forcefully. It’s a wonderful weapon against all spirits and is, in the truest sense of the term, “going medieval” on them. If you have a problem with all the apocalyptic religious language, you may write your own curse, but this one carries the weight of tradition and its language is satisfyingly potent.

If you have never summoned a spirit before and don’t want to study how, you can always use the IOB Ritual (, which is actually a simplified version of a grimoire summoning and curse. The point is that when we objectify and dismiss the inner critic ritualistically, it creates that reality for us in the world of the unconscious, which is where the sub-personality lives. If we only try to battle it with our conscious rational mind (as with talk therapy, reason, or cognitive behavioral techniques), it pops back up like a weed we can’t eradicate.