I mentioned in the ritual of self-initiation that one should carry out the 10 days of ritual, plus the day immediately preceding these, by observing a type of fasting and behavioral restrictions. I call this the Mathetic Rule of Observance, which consists of six rules to restrict one’s actions and intake of food during mathetic rituals. They’re based on Pythagorean and other spiritual practices; although the rules can be added onto and be made more strict or modified in special cases to accommodate certain situations, the minimum rules to follow are six in number:
- No harm to any being.
- No sexual activity.
- No lying or speaking ill of anything or anyone.
- No consumption of meat or beans.
- No intake of stimulants.
- Wine may be drunk in moderation.
Essentially, these are rules to help with rules of purity for rituals. Many magical traditions and rituals have their own rules of purity, usually stopping at “fast from everything for at least half a day” or “no sexual activity for three days” for a certain period of time; other spiritual traditions and paths, like Buddhism, have precepts that one should follow to prevent oneself from committing impure actions that’d come back to bite them in the ass afterward. I often don’t make use of these restrictions, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to try out more in my own work. Generally, unless it’s mandatory I do so, I simply try not to eat, have sex, or masturbate for at least an hour before ritual, but there are exceptions, and I want to make mathetic exploration and ritual such an exception.
So why purity? There’s a lot of confusion around purity, and many rituals have no need for it at all; some tantric, ecstatic, or LHP traditions almost necessitate the use of indulgence in many ways, if not outright amorality and antinomia. This even applies to some ancient Mediterranean traditions, especially those honoring Bacchus, Orpheus, and other ecstatic mystery cults. That’s less the case, however, for Pythagoreanism and Neoplatonism, which were focused more on controlling the body to better free the spirit within. By keeping the body operational and focusing on it just so that it can survive healthily, keeping it satiated without indulging it, one can better focus on elevating the spirit and ascending to the higher realms in a way both easier and worthier of the objects of adoration and exploration, like the Good, the Monad, or what have you. Plus, keeping rules of purity like this can prevent the body, soul, spirit, and mind from being contaminated by things that would continue to bring them down.
Pythagoreanism had a litany of rules one had to follow in order to remain in the Pythagorean community, the rules for which far surpasses most non-monastic rules of asceticism I’ve ever seen. Some of them were pretty big: strict vegetarianism, wearing white clothes, and the like. Others were trivial and detailed, like:
- Do not touch a white cock.
- Do not pick up what has fallen.
- Do not cut fire with a sword.
- Do not look in a mirror beside a light.
- Do not step over a yoke.
Some philosophers have explained these rules as being strictly metaphorical; for instance, one rule says “do not eat the heart”, which would literally mean not to eat the heart of any creature (which would have been redundant, considering one’s vow of vegetarianism), but is sometimes explained as not to be consumed by envy or malice, but to share with others sympathy and love. That kind of thing, you know? Many of the rules were likely intended to have a double meaning, such as “decline walking in the public ways, and walk in unfrequented paths”; it’d be hard, especially if one is to live a life free from violence and worldly concern, to maintain that kind of mindset when walking in large public byways with the chaos and bustle of towns going on around you; likewise, it’s hard to focus on the philosophical and eternal truth of the cosmos when you’re stuck thinking about the things everyone else thinks about. I mean, as magicians, how many times have we rolled our eyes seeing the trash that’s being hawked on magazine counters and at the aisles of supermarkets about the latest celebrity’s latest breakup with their latest husband, especially after we just do a ritual pondering the powers of the stars or elements?
While one can have as many extra rules and restrictions one would like, the minimum rules I’m establishing for mathetic practice are six. Each one is important, and each has profound effects on the body and spirit alike to help one with ritual. While these are definitely more Apollonian than Dionysian, and while I fully recognize and respect the need for balance between the two, the system of mathesis as a whole leans more towards the former than the latter. To that end, here’re some short explanations why each rule is in the Mathetic Rule of Observance.
- No harm to any being. This pretty much goes without saying. Everything in the cosmos is born for a purpose, and everything in the cosmos has a bit of the divine within them. Yes, fighting happens, and sometimes war is inevitable; conflict is a part of the world. However, unless one is a soldier (in which case, on active duty, one probably doesn’t have much time for deep philosophical and theurgic works generally), it helps to refrain from causing harm to others. Causing harm can lead to one being caused harm, not to mention that causing harm can distract one from a holy purpose and disrupt their thoughts and internal balance, which only sets one back. If conflict is inevitable, there is almost always a way to resolve it without causing harm; aikido is something that focuses on this. Yes, joint locks and throws are a thing, but this method of martial arts focuses on ending fights without causing harm. For people of a philosophical and theurgic mindset generally, chances are that fighting is not on the day-to-day to-do list. Besides, not all harm is physical; emotional and spiritual harm can also be exacted upon others, such as through manipulation, guilt tripping, deception, cursework, or having others do harm on your behalf. All of that should be refrained from as much as possible.
- No sexual activity. Honestly, I do not consider sex to be an inhibitor in and of itself to spiritual practice; nor, for that matter, did Pythagoras, though he too had some restrictions on it. I personally find sex to scratch a really good itch, and I know many people use sex for magical purposes. However, mathesis isn’t that kind of magic, and if we want to ascend spiritually, then denying the body this is a better thing than not. By denying the body sex, we build up more power inside and prevent ourselves from getting distracted by worldly needs. Sexual power, when contained, is fantastic to reroute and use for some powerful experiences, and by using it in sex (especially for procreation or mere enjoyment), we use it and get rid of that power for another purpose and cannot reclaim it. Emissions from sex are on the same level as that of spit or blood; they’re not impure or waste products of the body, but they belong to the body and not to the spirit. Let the body be empowered through sexual denial, and it can be repurposed for the spirit in mathesis. Besides, sex with others during a mathetic ritual can potentially contaminate the body from the other person, which would then spiritually inhibit you from a purer working style.
- No lying or speaking ill of anything or anyone. In some ways, this is a clarification of rule #1, no harm to any being. While rule #1 focuses on physical and emotional harm, this rule focuses on logical and communicative harm. By misleading others, we encourage falsity and deception in the world, and when we’re focused on trying to better ourselves with the power of truth, we end up undoing the work for others that we’re trying to do for ourselves. Add to it, by speaking ill against others, we engage in “walking in the public ways”, getting involved with gossip, rumors, and other sundry matters that we have no business engaging in, especially when the less we’re involved generally, the better. Lying, by the way, includes all forms of exaggeration and diminution: boasting pridefully about one’s accomplishments or modestly trying to conceal them are both negative things to do that would break this rule. After all, humility is not modesty; being modest is to diminish yourself (reverse exaggeration), while humility is saying things as they are without embellishment.
- No consumption of meat or beans. Our bodies need to survive for as long as we live in this world; without our bodies, we cannot live. It’s that simple. To live, we need to eat. It’s that simple. However, we are what we eat, and if we kill animals to feed ourselves, we become more animal than human and require death to live. While I love me a bacon cheeseburger or a KFC Double Down sandwich, for the purposes of mathesis, we want to avoid anything that would harm the transmigration of souls. If we kill something to eat, we kill the life of a body with a soul in it, and since we could very well be the next soul to inhabit a cow for slaughter, we probably don’t want to be eaten when we would rather live instead. Likewise, for a similar reason, Pythagoras taught that beans should never be eaten or touched, and even walking through a field of beans was taboo. This is due to the appearance of the bean to resemble a human body: Pythagoras taught (probably) that beans and humans shared the same source or material, so to eat a bean was akin to eating human. Add to it, beans contained the souls of the dead, and to this day bean dishes are usually called for in most funerary rites across the world. To be surrounded by souls of the dead is counter to our goal of attaining a soul of life in imperishable truth. From a more practical standpoint, meat and beans are exceptionally heavy foods that weigh down the body and soul alike. For deeper spiritual practice, we need to have the body be sated enough without becoming heavy and world-bound.
- No intake of stimulants. That’s right: abstinence, as far as possible, from caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and any kind of stimulant. For caffiends like me who complain about there being too much blood in my caffeine system, this rule is pretty much the worst possible punishment, but there’s a point to it. By stimulating the body chemically, we try to pull as much energy out of it artificially as we can, and that only temporarily. Oftentimes, while a good jolt might be just what the doctor ordered, overreliance on them is extraordinarily common. Further, by getting the body overpowered, it can also dominate the faculties of the mind; rather than having the body heavy with food into lethargy, it gets heavy with heat into physical action. Both inhibit the spirit from working properly within the body; add to it, the spirit can best function off the body’s natural energy without having it altered through chemical stimulants. Besides, if I can go a few days without energy drinks and cigarettes for an initiation, you can, too. That said, Hermes is definitely a god of stimulants, so this is probably the least important of these rules, especially considering the late-to-bed and early-to-rise nature of the ritual.
- Wine may be drunk in moderation. Just as stimulants can be damaging to the natural flow and processes of the body, intoxication can do the same in reverse. Any drug, drink, or substance that dulls the senses is as damaging to those that oversharpen them or demand more out of them than one could normally provide. Wine, however, is a staple of ritual, and is important in many Hellenic and Mediterranean rituals; it’s infeasible to except wine from this, only because it has its uses. Yes, it can dull the senses, but it can also soothe one into relaxation. Further, it is proper to offer and share wine with the gods and among ourselves, both as sacrifice and as a gift. Thus, wine may be drunk, but only in moderation; it should not be consumed to get drunk. When drinking, alternate glasses of wine with twice as much water, and neither drink too quickly nor greedily when you do so. Moreover, this rule exhorts one to moderation generally: extending this rule, we can say that one should eat only enough to be sated but never full, sleep enough to be rested but never lethargic, and internet enough to be informed but never distracted.
Now that the rules have been explained, I’m not limiting the Mathetic Rule to just these six rules. You can add on whatever you wish
- Do not wear black clothing. This would be difficult for me, but I can pull it off all the same through a judicious use of my wardrobe. However, consider the color black. We see things as particular colors because light reflects off them in a particular way based on what light is absorbed by the material; things that appear red absorb light that is not red, for instance. Things that appear white reflect all colors at once, absorbing nothing; white is a symbol of not only purity but of purification. Black, on the other hand, absorbs all colors; it takes in all things and holds them there. Black does not reflect, but sticks to things. When in mathetic practice, wearing black should be avoided generally, since it absorbs things like negativity and filth and holds onto them, causing them to better contaminate you. After all, you can’t generally see the stains on your clothes when you’re wearing black, and you have no idea how filthy you get until you finally take them off.
- Do not eat root vegetables. This is an extension of two major rules above, not eating beans and not causing harm. Beans bear a specific resemblance, according to Pythagoras, to human beings and the potential for life itself, especially due to their growth in the ground where the dead live underneath. However, this rule is an influence from Buddhist monastic restrictions, where one cannot dig holes. This is because animals, even insects and small creatures, live in the earth, and by digging holes for planting or for setting posts or beams, one risks injuring and killing them. Digging up root vegetables to eat not only risks killing the plant, but also all insects around the dirt and soil where the plant is buried. Further, the ground is where we put our dead; it is, quite literally, dirty. Root vegetables are tied to the earth, and by eating the earth we keep ourselves earthy. This is less than helpful if we want to ascend and rise up out of our world.
- Do not eat cooked food. This is an extreme dietary restriction, seeing how much of our food needs to be cooked either thermically or chemically, in order to be safe and edible. Mind you, this includes cooking by heat as well as by chemical application. In other words, one can only eat fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked grains, stews, and even processed sugars cannot be eaten with this rule. By eating only fresh, live vegetables, you inculcate a desire for life within you and subsist on only that which helps keep the body satisfied without bringing it down in any way. The only more extreme dietary restriction I can think of is to simply fast from all food entirely, but that’s often not helpful, either. In fact, I think this rule should only be done for a maximum of ten days unless you can specifically train yourself to subsist healthily on this, especially with the restrictions on meat and beans or (perhaps) all root vegetables.
- Do not steal. I think this goes without saying. Don’t take what’s not yours, since that can bring harm to others and cause harm to yourself, spiritually or physically. Besides, without something being officially yours, you don’t know where it came from, what kind of contagion it might have, or whether you need it. Indulging one’s avarice and greed is not something good for mathetic practice.
- Do not accept things directly handed to you. This rule is from Santeria practice of the so-called “iyawo year”. When Santeros make ocha, or are accepted into the priesthood, they must undergo a year of initiation where they can only wear white and have a number of restrictions placed upon them. This one means that you cannot accept things that are directly handed to you; they must be placed down before you can pick it up. (There are exceptions, of course, but those don’t have to apply here.) If you’re trying to remain pure, then you need to keep away from impurity. If other people are impure, they can give you their impurity and contaminate you. Passing you something is a way to transmit that contagion by means of the object being passed over. This can make shopping exceptionally awkward, admittedly, but this is just an example of what kinds of practices you can add on to enforce and encourage purity.
- Do not be completely in the dark. This is based on some rules of ceremonial magic where one should never pray in the dark, but always with a fire or light present; the Pythagoreans themselves had a similar rule involving their mysteries. Light encourages truth, while darkness conceals it; further, in darkness, you never know whether there’s someone around you to harm you or eavesdrop. If you want to remain in the light, then you need to always remain in the light; never be in a completely darkened room or space. Always carry a light or candle with you, sleep with a candle or nightlight on, and similar acts can be done to ensure that there’s always some light around you.
So, what happens if we break one of these rules? Does that invalidate our efforts or negate the power of the ritual? It can, but it doesn’t have to. These rules of observance are only intended to encourage one to focus on spiritual work; they’re precepts, not obligations or commandments, and are meant as a rough guide to help us manage our physical actions while we attempt some really powerful spiritual actions. Should we break a rule, go back and admit your fault to anyone who was affected by it, and offer to help clarify or fix any problems that result from them. Otherwise, if nobody external to ourselves was affected by our fault, accept what you did and move on. Dwelling on our “transgressions” is potentially worse than having committed them in the first place; we did what we did, it’s in the past, accept it, and don’t let it happen again. Fearing what we may have done affecting us negatively in the future distracts us from the work at hand. There’s no prescribed ritual or prayer to forgive or confess breaking any of the rules above; if you want to, admit fault in your private prayers, either to some savior god or to Hermes or whatever, and ask for help and guidance to keep you from doing it again.
What about exceptions to the rules? No set of rules is one-size-fits-all unless it’s a set of universally applicable platitudes that don’t actually say much. For instance, consider the no stimulants rule. Some medication for conditions like ADHD are by their nature stimulants, and allow people to focus better in a way that is constructive to spiritual activity, even actually sleep properly. Some people require animal protein in order to digest other foods properly, though these are a very small minority of people. The overall meta-rule here is that, as much as you can, you should stick to these minimum rules as best as you feasibly can given your circumstances and situation; the more you can stick to them, especially if you can stick to all of them, the better. If you can’t stick to one rule for a necessary reason, find a new rule similar enough to substitute it with. For instance, if you require stimulants in order to maintain regular mental functions, try a “no refined sugar” rule instead. If you’re required to work in a field where harm is a very high possible outcome, minimize it as much as you can and substitute it with “no idle talk”. Other rules, however, are pretty much universal: don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, don’t diminish, don’t condemn, don’t indulge.
Again, this Rule isn’t a set of commandments. There’s no community to shun you, no authority to excommunicate you (at least, not yet). They’re there to help you in the spiritual work, not to establish a set of negative commandments (“thou shalt not”) to prevent you from living or exploring the work. Given the focus of mathesis, it helps to restrain the body so as to let the spirit soar, but if you can successfully balance a physical and spiritual life while striving for the spiritual, then chances are you already live by a sufficient set of rules on your own without having to adopt these.