Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.

One response

  1. Very much looking forward to these books. The Balaam story was one of my favorites as a kid in church, probably because of the donkey. But it’s a good bit of teaching to have that as a part of a myth for diviners — speaking only what’s true is powerful and correct, but very dangerous. Because he was right about the “stumbling block” to the path of Israel. It reminds me of the kind of chart where you’re advising someone, “Look, you morally shouldn’t do X, but X is the way to succeed at the problem.” There’s a neutrality to truth that’s beautiful and terrifying.

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