Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release. When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me. This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works. Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context. My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views. If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!
Today’s selection will be on the topics of divination and notekeeping.
Divination is the act of obtaining knowledge through occult or spiritual means. Its root word shares the same root as “divine”, and in the process of divination one shares their essence and knowledge with that of the Divine. The spirits and Divine itself know much more than any human or human-made system, and as such seeking the answers from the Divine may guide us where human intellect alone cannot.Many methods of divination exist, and every culture and tradition has some method of per-forming this act. There are two main components to divination: the inspired prophetical part and the technical symbolic part. Inspired divination is the reception of words, thoughts, and knowledge directly from the Divine, such as with prophecy or being ﬁlled with visions and clairvoyance. Technical divination is the manipulation or procurement of symbols which are used as omens, done either with tools or by waiting for certain natural events like bird flight or thunderstorms. Many forms of divination make use of both styles, integrating them into a complete whole; however, no one divination system is best for all magicians, and many magicians practice multiple forms of divination depending on a particular need or ritual.
Inspired divination, or prophecy, may be performed by entering into a ritual communion with a particular divinity or spirit and asking them for their knowledge, or to receive a particular vision that can explain or guide a matter further. Use of trance or ecstatic states may be necessary for such visions to be fully seen, and sometimes the images or messages delivered are occluded in mystical or highly symbolic speech. In some instances, non-human language may be used, which must itself undergo intense evaluation to understand the message. Of all the styles of divination,inspired means to occult knowledge may be among the most pure but also the most diﬃcult to render correctly. Being in a state of purity and worthiness to receive the message from the spirit may also play a factor in the process of inspired divination, and whether any message is received is entirely up to the spirit or force being invoked. Some ancient prophets, such as the Pythian oracle,performed such divination only on one day of the year as pleased the god of prophecy Apollo.
Technical divination, or common divination, can take a myriad of forms. Any method that manipulates material or worldly means to obtain symbols can be considered technical divination;thus, the disparate methods of horary astrology, Tarot, rune-reading, geomancy, reading tea leaves or coﬀee grounds, throwing shells, extispicy or haruspicy, augury, and numerology are all methods of technical divination, since they all rely on symbols produced by mechanical or natural means. However, each of these also has some element of the inspired in them, either in the method in which these symbols are generated or by the skill and clarity of the mind of the diviner to properly interpret the symbols to produce an answer.
Divination is an essential skill in a magician’s repertoire, and the relationship between divination and magical ritual may be considered akin to the relationship between the medical skills of prognosis and treatment. In medicine, prognosis, literally meaning “foreknowledge”, is used to predict and analyze a medical condition, illness, or injury that one has and the eﬀects it will have on a patient. Based on the symptoms, causes, and likely progression of the condition, a physician will prescribes a set of actions, medicine, surgeries, or rehabilitation needed to cure or otherwise work with the condition. Not all treatments may be needed, and some treatments may be too extreme for the condition while others may be too weak, and some treatments may need to be applied in tandem with each other in order to produce a useful eﬀect. Similarly, divination can help one to understand a situation, its causes, its symptoms, and its eﬀects on oneself and what approaches may be taken to work with, ﬁx, develop, or move past the situation.
To use another analogy illustrating the combined use of magic and divination, consider a river in which one stands. Down this river ﬂoat many objects, some of which are priceless treasures while others are trash and slime. With divination, one may ﬁnd out where to stand to avoid the trash coming down the river or where to position oneself so as to have the treasure ﬂow into reach. With magic, however, one can change the ﬂow of the river in subtle ways to have the course of the trash to ﬂow away from the magician and to change the course of the treasure to ﬂow directly to them. Through the use of both magic and divination, one can obtain the best of both techniques and maximize the amount of boons they receive in life while minimizing and steering clear of the dross and pain that life regularly doles out.
Not all divination systems can be used by any given person. Some people show better talent for communing directly from the gods, while others need something more concrete to work with. Some people prefer Tarot cards, while others prefer plain poker cards to divine with. Some methods give out much more detail than others while requiring more time and training to learn. Some spirits and traditions dictate which forms of divination to use to work with a particular entity or in a particular situation, with set treatments and practices to go along with the answers. The magician should be eager to try out multiple forms of divination and become capable in at least one, able to understand the symbols and obtain answers to any pressing questions that might arise.
When used for ritual purposes, divination should be performed to determine whether the ritual is both necessary and proper for a given end, as well as to see whether a given spirit or divinity is willing to help or forbids the magician to perform it. Monthly and yearly divinations should be done regularly to keep abreast of subtle changes in one’s life, and may also be done for individual days and weeks; this has the added beneﬁt of regular practice to enhance one’s knowledge and skill in a particular divination system. Divining for others may be a useful skill and service to one’s community and, for the enterprising magician, may also provide a source of income and aid,especially when combined with other magical or ritual services that the magician may be able to provide for clients who face a spiritual problem.
Among the most mundane or tedious of tasks, the act of notekeeping and recording one’s work is still a vital task in one’s magical life. The importance of notekeeping cannot be understated;without recording conversations, experiences, and memories, a magician will be hard-pressed to understand the course that they have already taken in relation to the path they have yet to tread. Although memorization of texts, prayers, patterns, and the like will be of equal use and beneﬁt to the magician, having a written log of the things one learns, does, and experiences will be both more trustworthy and more permanent than simple memory.
Ideally, a magician would have several sets of records or notebooks to be used for diﬀerent purposes, and many such notebooks exist as handed down by previous magicians. Books like the Three Books of Occult Philosophy of Cornelius Agrippa to the Book of Shadows of Gerald Gardner to the Liber AL of Aleister Crowley all are examples of records a magician might keep for one’s own beneﬁt or for the beneﬁt of others, such as students or fellow initiates. However, no two magicians are the same, and no two magicians record things in the same manner.
- A handbook, vademecum, or Book of Shadows to have as a quick reference for prayers, rituals,recipes, and designs. Good for fast notes, but ideal for use in a ritual setting when larger books may be too unwieldy or otherwise unavailable.
- A textbook of ritual or grimoire to act as a “master copy” of rituals, prayers, and so on. More structured than a handbook, a textbook orders the magical knowledge and lore contained within and contains more of it, acting as a complete (or nearly complete) record of all of one’sown knowledge. This text itself presents itself as one such grimoire.
- A book of seals to store any sigils, seals of spirits, designs, and plans for construction or meditation upon.
- A book of interaction to record the interaction, communion, and conversation between oneself and any spirit, angel, god, demon, or other entity, especially in a ritual setting.
- A book of divination to record any divination readings done, either by themselves or done by others, along with any omens, prophecies, or other divination-related information.
- A journal to record meditations, contemplations, projects, philosophy, general ritual actions,and other general thoughts and memories.
While having one or more of each type of text is ideal, it is not strictly necessary; at the minimum, having a handbook to record things learned or obtained and a journal to record things experienced or conjectured will suﬃce. Keeping the material written in the handbook separate from the journal is essential, as it separates knowledge into two clear categories: knowledge to be done in the handbook, and knowledge that was experienced in the journal. While one may have use of a particular prayer in one’s handbook throughout many rituals, one may not always need to recall something a spirit said once or an unrelated hypothetical ritual one has not yet done. This delineation of knowledge can help a magician keep organized and ready to access any particular type of knowledge on a moment’s notice. It often happens that one produces multiple volumes throughout years of being a magician, and keeping diﬀerent parts of their experience and learned knowledge in distinct places can help in tracking them down.
Where appropriate, entries in these texts should be marked so as to note the circumstances of a given record. For instance, during a particular ritual, the date and time of the ritual’s performance should be written down, as well as the location if done in an unfamiliar or special place. Other factors, such as the phase of the Moon, the planetary day and hour, mental and physical condition,recent illnesses or events, the weather, omens or divinations done beforehand, and so on may also be noted if known or deemed appropriate knowledge.