On Compassion in Hermeticism

It’s been several times now on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server that the topic of compassion has come up.  Sometimes the topic comes up by means of discussions of remorse, guilt, or penance for one’s actions, but more often than not it’s someone asking the question more directly, like:

In the Hermetic tradition, is there a call to compassion, as there is e.g. in Christianity or Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhism?

Or:

What is the stance on compassion in Hermeticism? Like, in Buddhadharma, you have to show every being, including sinners, limitless compassion.  Does Hermeticism also have limitless compassion?

This is a conversation that I enjoy having (even if I just end up relinking to the older conversation threads whenever the topic comes up again in the server), because I think it raises a really neat point to discuss regarding the specifically modern role that compassion seems to play for a lot of people in a lot of modern or New Age-esque spiritual settings.

If we turn to the Hermetic texts, there’s a lot written about plenty for us to focus on, a lot that we’re called to do: show devotion (SH 2B.2), join reverence with knowledge (CH VI.5), not be evil (CH XII.23), enter into God so as to become God (CH I.26), etc.  Sections 6 and 8—9 of the Asclepius, especially, go on at length about humanity’s role in the cosmos (Copenhaver translation):

Because of this, Asclepius, a human being is a great wonder, a living thing to be worshipped and honored: for he changes his nature into a god’s, as if he were a god; he knows the demonic kind inasmuch as he recognizes that he originated among them; he despises the part of him that is human nature, having put his trust in the divinity of his other part. How much happier is the blend of human nature! Conjoined to the gods by a kindred divinity, he despises inwardly that part of him in which he is earthly. All others he draws close to him in a bond of affection, recognizing his relation to them by heaven’s disposition. He looks up to heaven. He has been put in the happier place of middle status so that he might cherish those beneath him and be cherished by those above him. He cultivates the earth; he swiftly mixes into the elements; he plumbs the depths of the sea in the keenness of his mind. Everything is permitted him: heaven itself seems not too high, for he measures it in his clever thinking as if it were nearby. No misty air dims the concentration of his thought; no thick earth obstructs his work; no abysmal deep of water blocks his lofty view. He is everything, and he is everywhere.

Just now, in speaking about mortal things, I mean to speak not about water and earth, those two of the four elements that nature has made subject to humans, but about what humans make of those elements or in them—agriculture, pasturage, building, harbors, navigation, social intercourse, reciprocal exchange—the strongest bond among humans or between humanity and the parts of the world that are water and earth. Learning the arts and sciences and using them preserves this earthly part of the world; god willed it that the world would be incomplete without them. Necessity follows god’s pleasure; result attends upon his will. That anything agreed by god should become disagreeable to him is incredible since he would have known long before that he would agree and that it was to be.

But I notice, Asclepius, that mind’s quick desire hastens you to learn how mankind can cherish heaven (or the things in it) and tend to its honor. Listen, then, Asclepius. Cherishing the god of heaven and all that heaven contains means but one thing: constant assiduous service. Except for mankind alone, no living thing, neither divine nor <mortal>, has done this service. Heaven and heavenly beings take delight in wonderment, worship, praise and service from humans. Rightly the supreme divinity sent the chorus of Muses down to meet mankind lest the earthly world lack sweet melody and seem thereby less civilized; instead, with songs set to music, humans praised and glorified him who alone is all and is father of all, and thus, owing to their praise of heaven, earth has not been devoid of the charms of harmony. Some very small number of these humans, endowed with pure mind, have been allotted the honored duty of looking up to heaven. But those who lagged behind <at> a lower reach of understanding, under the body’s bulk and because theirs is a mingled twofold nature, have been appointed to care for the elements and these lower objects. Mankind is a living thing, then, but none the lesser for being partly mortal; indeed, for one purpose his composition seems perhaps fitter and abler, enriched by mortality. Had he not been made of both materials, he would not have been able to keep them both, so he was formed of both, to tend to earth and to cherish divinity as well.

Amidst all this, though, even given notions of us being in love with the cosmos and creation or being given to taking care and cultivating the world around us, I don’t think that either of these things rise to the notion of “compassion”.  The word “love”, for instance, is a highly polysemic and polyvalent word, and we’re all familiar with how many Greek words there are for love and all the different kinds implied by it, but in the Greek of the Hermetic text, the word used for English “love” is ἔρως erōs.  Unlike the conventional sense of this being a sexual kind of love, philosophically it was used as a sort of attraction to and appreciation of beauty (especially that of the Good).  Such a love, which we naturally express for God because God is both Beauty and the Good (CH VI.5), can thus be extended to all things that partake in the Good, which is indeed everything (CH VI.2), because all things contain in themselves a lil’ sliver, a dim reflection of a higher, beautiful Divinity.  That said, from a Hermeticist’s perspective, we don’t love these things for their own sakes, but we love these things because we see God in them, and God is the thing that we all truly love in this philosophical, mystical sense of erōs.

But this is besides the point when it comes to compassion, which is a little different.  Sometimes understood as a blend of loving-kindness or mercy, sometimes phrased in terms of Buddhist karuṇā which exceeds loving-kindness (maitrī/mettā), sometimes a Christian or even Hellenic pagan notion of χάρις kharis “grace”, sometimes understood instead more literally as sympathy or feeling-together/suffering-with someone, a lot of people engaged in a lot of modern spiritual work (or spiritual work with an otherwise modern mindset) often give as much time to “compassion” as they do things like “mindfulness” (an important point to which I’ll return later).  However, unlike the straightforward use of erōs to talk about love, we don’t really see anything about this in the Hermetic texts.  Like, at all.  It’s just not discussed or brought up, because it’s not really in there.

To be sure, Hermeticism isn’t anti-compassion!  Personally, I think having compassion is a beautiful thing that the world could certainly do more of.  The important thing here is that there’s nothing in the Hermetic texts that encourages us to develop or practice compassion explicitly, or at least for its own sake.  Rather, in my view, compassion arises as a result of partaking in virtue and not partaking in vice.  In that sense, compassion may be useful to practice as a means to cultivate virtue and diminish vice, but only as a means to do so, and even then, it’s far from the only means.  After all, when it comes to various vices, there are lots of ways to develop ourselves spiritually to avoid them, staunch them, or mitigate them, but when the Hermetic texts talk about these things, by and large they encourage us to avoid vice because of the negative effects these things have on us who would indulge in them or engage with them.  Regardless of what effects any sort of vice might have on anyone or anything else, the whole point of Hermeticism is to get us, as individual human beings, to develop spiritually and grow closer to God.  What the Hermetic texts primarily talk about is the effect that our actions have on ourselves and why doing them impacts us; engaging in these “sins”, as it were, is harmful to us because it engages in our base animalian drives that keeps us attached to corporeality and thus sunk and mired in this material world of death.  (It was along these lines that I devised a list of “Hermetic sins” based on the planetary energies from CH I and irrational torments of matter from CH XIII, a useful moral guide for anyone but especially those with an eye on Hermetic self-development.)  Engaging in these activities furthers our harmful addiction to base incarnation that makes it harder for us to free ourselves from this cycle of birth and death, and that is the primary harm we wring by engaging in these sins, and thus why (from a Hermetic textual standpoint) we should avoid doing them.

Bluntly speaking, focusing less on the harm we do to others and more on the harm we do to ourselves basically renders the notion of “compassion” here almost moot; Hermeticism teaches us to act in a certain way because it benefits ourselves rather than benefitting others.  However, lest anyone suggest so, this isn’t motivated by selfishness or self-centeredness, but rather a desire to save ourselves first before we start worrying about others.  This is basically the same idea as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs on an airplane, or the lesson of Matthew 7:3—5 “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.  Just as Hermeticism is a heavily anthropocentric form of mysticism that privileges and centers humanity within the spiritual cosmos to get us to better contextualize divine truths, Hermeticism is also heavily self-centered in that it encourages us to focus on our own salvation and ascent—and, for that matter, that’s much the drive of pretty much any salvific religion, like Christianity or Buddhism.  Hermeticism teaches us to practice and develop virtue, to be sure, but “compassion” isn’t one of these virtues.

However, I’d argue that it’s precisely because Hermeticism encourages us to such holiness and virtue for our sake that we end up developing compassion all the same.  In my view, compassion is basically a side-effect of the development of virtue, holiness, awareness, and mindfulness, and even if it’s not something directly cultivated, it arises all the same because of the things that Hermeticism does teach us to cultivate.  For instance, going by the logic in the Hermetic texts, we shouldn’t engage in violence against others because it hurts them, but rather we shouldn’t engage engage in violence because that engages our lower base natures which keeps us apart from God, i.e. it hurts us; however, as we grow closer to God, not only does that keep us from doing violence to others, but it also leads us to rejoice in their not-being-hurt.  The fundamental motivation here in avoiding indulging in violence (or any other vice) isn’t compassion, but compassion is still developed regardless—a side-effect, in other words.

Compassion, in the Hermetic sense, is a mark of cultivating virtue, an extrapolation from the underlying directives and injunctions and goals of Hermeticism, but it is not something called for on its own, much less for its own sake.  I mean, consider: one can certainly cultivate compassion on its own, but what purpose does that serve?  And what limits should one impose so that one isn’t consumed by compassion as a passion itself?  If you cultivate complete and total compassion as an end unto itself, then unless you develop a lot of discernment and discretion at the same time in your own practice to contextualize and guide it, then you’d never even find anywhere to piss in peace because everything we do would affect something negatively; we’d bleed and eat our own hearts out all the time.  To be sure, this is taking compassion to a faulty extreme, but the point here is that compassion for its own sake is not the point, and arguably never the point when we look at most of the world’s religions or traditions.  Even in compassion-centric paths like Buddhism, where compassion may be considered inseparable from wisdom and is itself a vehicle to buddhahood or bodhisattvahood, it’s still just a vehicle, not the destination.

This is where a lot of modern takes on compassion in spirituality seem to go amiss, to my mind.  So much of our modern society (including where spirituality takes place or where people take off from for spirituality) does emphasize compassion as a primary in and of itself, even to the point of claiming that all the major world religions regard compassion as the point (there are countless TED Talks that touch on this), but when we dig into a lot of these religions, we don’t really see that; rather that seeing compassion as the point of these things, we rather see that compassion is a means to the point of these religions or otherwise as a side-effect of reaching the point one way or another.  Treating compassion as a primary point or goal for its own sake, to my mind, is a lot like ars gratia artis “art for the sake of art”: not to express anything deeper, not in service of some grand goal, not to develop one’s sensibilities—it’s the equivalent of doodling a few squiggles on a piece of paper that you throw away at the end of a boring meeting. It’s decontextualized, aimless, and meaningless—which is, unfortunately, how a lot of materialistic and fundamentally atheistic approaches to the world and human ethics or morality work, really.  In that light, people claiming that we should all strive to be more compassionate in society for its own sake isn’t unlike corporate execs saying we should all do mindfulness to increase workplace productivity: not for our own actual benefit, but to make the society we’re in more manageable and profitable.  It’s a depressing thought, and when we see this applied to compassion, it ends up faking it rather than meaning it, all to maintain a sort of status quo.  Our modern society (and the worldviews that it inspires) demands compassion as a primary behavior, but why it demands it is something of a sticky issue that doesn’t often get so examined.

In the same way that a lot of modern society has bastardized mindfulness, compassion has often been treated the same way; seeing religions as espousing compassion as a primary thing is a really modern, almost materialist and rationalist view of religions in general, mistaking the trees for the forest.  To my mind, more spiritual folk in any number of traditions should consider their spirituality less from the side of technology and technique (which they spend too time on) and more about ethics and morality (which they don’t spend nearly as much time on as they ought).  When it comes to Hermeticism, thinking of “compassion” as some sort of goal misses what Hermēs Trismegistos himself establishes as the goal, and even though some people (or even some traditions) might be able to take developing compassion as a vehicle to develop a sense of religious purpose or spiritual direction, it’s a really difficult thing for many people to manage, and ends up being a more circuitous route to take than a more direct approach of developing virtues that lead us to the goal anyway.  To be sure, compassion is no bad thing, and Hermeticism certainly isn’t anti-compassion, but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Hermetic texts because it’s not something for us to worry about when we have so much else more important to focus on instead that’ll develop it anyway.

A Musing on Occult Blogging and the Distinction of Passions

That recent post I made was definitely a wild one, I admit.  It’s extremely rare that I use this blog as a platform for an outright call-out or attack on anyone or anything, and it’s not something I enjoy doing or want to make a habit of.  After all, what I enjoy most about blogging is blogging about the things I actively enjoy reading, writing, studying, and practicing, and me getting involved with drama or current events just distracts me from writing about that and my readers from reading about that.  When I make a post like that, it’s because I feel it’s part of my moral and ethical responsibility to do so.  Last time I did something like this, it was to call out the old admin of the now defunct Hermetic Agora Discord server, and after that, I mulled in a follow-up post about the social and esoteric implications of the underlying issues that led to such a call-out post to begin with.  Like then, I want to unpack and muse over this more recent call-out, too.

To be sure, November 7 2022 (when I made my call-out post about Gordon White and Rune Soup being a toxic and violent influence in the online occult community and having been so for years now) is now officially the most well-viewed day for my blog in its history, beating out the previous record set ten years prior to the day (November 7 2012) when this blog (quiet and meek as it was) was hit by an abnormally large botnet raid or scan or somesuch that sent my views skyrocketing into the many thousands.  While I’m glad that my call-out post earlier in the week was so well- and widely-received to get the word out (I’ve had dozens of friends and colleagues reach out privately to me thanking me for such a post, in addition to the many more who did so publicly at the risk of their being raided online), the absurd hit count I got earlier in the week (and which I’m continuing to get day by day to a lesser degree) is a stark reminder of something I’ve neglected about interacting with things online: “rage sells”.  Those two words are at the crux of so many problems involving all sorts of media that we have today, both online and offline, both social and static.  It’s why extreme polarization in large swaths of the population happens because of mere mainstream news banking on increased viewership from rage-inducing stories; it’s why we get far-right/alt-right terrorists merely by watching YouTube autoplay a series of videos that lead from Enya and Minecraft to Jordan Petersen and worse; it’s why social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter have warped to the breaking point the very conceptions of “relationship” and “community” for so many people that lead such companies to build algorithms to enflame people’s emotions.

“Rage sells”, and I admit, my last post was, in many senses of the word, rage (although I consider it a righteous rage against someone behaving harmfully and who is a detriment to the online occult community).  Did I want to get a good hit count on that post?  Absolutely; it’s part of me getting the word out.  Did I expect that much of an increase across my blog generally, whether that rapidly or that sustained?  Did I expect that much of an increase in my follower/viewer numbers, even after taking into account all the people that split from me (or from Twitter generally)?  No, actually!  And that simple fact serves as a reminder as to why some people act the way they do online.  Without wanting to harp on him too much (that was very much the point of the last post after all), Gordon White does just this very thing: lashing out and attacking anyone and everyone repeatedly and often who doesn’t fall in line with his conspiracy-addled rage.  Despite his encouragements to his readers that they should live their lives free from rage (which he calls “hate”—a difference I’ll get to later) in their hearts, he is still relying on preserving and cultivating such rage (both on his blog and his Twitter, projecting and deflecting the time to shift the narrative to suit his needs) in order to keep people engaged with him.  Of course, he’s far from the only one who does this, so it’s not fair (even to him) to paint him as some extreme outlier on this front.  Enflamed emotions encourage engagement; that’s basically a truth for social media nowadays, where you can find endless articles about how emotional engagement is the key to viral content marketing, study after study about what emotions trigger increased engagement and how strongly each kind of emotion influences engagement, and so on and so forth.

I mean…for a more humorous take:

I’m not about that kind of life, that kind of media propagation or content generation, and I don’t want to be.

As I said in the last post, and as I said above, I’m just here doing my thing, and my thing is writing about the occult, spirituality, religion, mysticism, magic, divination, and other kinds of esoterica, and even from its earliest days (although far more pronounced now) was centered on Hermeticism.  This blog has always been about that, and will always be about that.  And yes, to be sure, I do make a few ebook PDFs for sale as a sort of “intensely-produced content” for those who want to go beyond the abundance of stuff I write publicly, and while I’m still on hiatus, I do hope one day to get back to doing readings and consultations for people—but, all that said, I’m not really here to market myself.  I don’t go out of my way beyond a notification post when I come up with something new (which isn’t common) to sell a product, and I’m definitely not trying to corner a market or develop some sort of base of paying viewers to give me money on a constant basis.  That’s never been my goal, and never will be my goal.  My goal for this blog is to just do magic and mysticism and to share what I find in the course of studying, researching, and practicing that.  Being on social media in general is just a way to further that and emphatically not the purpose of me doing that—and that’s a distinction that a lot more people should bear in mind when they get into developing their own stuff.  It should always be remembered, after all, that “substance” is not the same thing as “content”.

As a lot of people clued into online events are aware, Twitter is going through something of A Time right now, what with Elon Musk’s recent takeover of the platform and quickly showing the world how hilariously bad he is at…well, everything that isn’t just spending money.  As a result, that’s leading a lot of people to consider different social media platforms, whether it’s returning to Tumblr, resuming interest in Mastodon or Counter.Social, or jumping to new platforms like Cohost (though, hilariously, I can’t find anyone actually mentioning anything about staying on or going back to Facebook).  I mused about social media a bit on Twitter a few days back, and realized that all that social media platforms do for us is the equivalent of each of us making our own website and us bookmarking each others’ websites, putting all those bookmarks in a folder in our browser.  Sure, social media platforms standardize, aggregate, and make convenient this whole process, but that’s basically what it is at heart.  When I made this observation on Twitter, someone commented their view that they don’t fully trust people involved in their circles who “don’t have a basic bloc, a place to put things outside of the algorithm”.  That’s a viewpoint that I wholeheartedly agree with, to be sure, and it raises a really neat distinction between someone who uses social media as a means for something that isn’t a part of it or built within it, and someone who uses social media as an end unto itself.

I admit that I enjoy seeing numbers go up (who doesn’t? it’s like points in a video game), and I do think it’s really neat that I have several thousand followers online across multiple social media platforms (including, if we go with a Web 2.0-based notion here of what qualifies as “social media”, this blog itself on WordPress).  Still, though, my main purpose for being on social media is an emphasis on being social (to communicate and relate to others online), rather than it being merely media (to share or propagate content); it’s a neat thing that I get to share my writing and project on Twitter or Facebook, but I’m not on social media in order to spread my blog.  That I have so many viewers is neat, but let’s be honest: I would still be writing about the things I do whether I had 10 followers or 10000.  I don’t write to get engagements, I don’t blog to get views, I don’t post to be famous; I write, blog, and post because I have things I just want to write, blog, and post about.  I write for the sake of writing, not just to keep myself in check with my own studies (and to give myself a reference and a record to look back on over the years), but also to help share things I find useful so that others might derive some benefit from my writing.

Still, exploiting emotion is a great way for people on social media to get numbers to go up in general, but that’s not what I want to do; if it happens, I want there to be a good reason for it besides benefitting my blog.  I mean, who am I to enflame people’s emotions in general?  While I claim that there’s a distinction between “righteous anger” and “non-righteous anger” in how it arises, can be expressed, and affects us as human beings, I still remember what CH XIII.7 talks about as irrational tormentors of matter:

This ignorance, my child, is the first torment; the second is grief; the third is incontinence; the fourth, lust; the fifth, injustice; the sixth, greed; the seventh, deceit; the eighth, envy; the ninth, treachery; the tenth, anger; the eleventh, recklessness; the twelfth, malice. These are twelve in number, but under them are many more besides, my child, and they use the prison of the body to torture the inward person with the sufferings of sense.

It’s that tenth one, “anger”, that I want to draw attention to.  The Greek word used here originally is ὀργή, which Salaman, Copenhaver, Mead, and Scott all translate as “anger”, which is an eminently reasonable translation for it.  However, looking up the full meaning and use of this word more generally, we can see that it eventually came to include notions of anger or wrath stemming from a meaning of “natural impulse, propensity, temperament, disposition, mood”.  To me, my understanding here isn’t of ὀργή to refer to what I’d consider “righteous anger”, which is a rational aversion to and desire to fix something that is morally and ethically wrong.  Rather, I’d see it as representing the anger that arises from thumos, the “emotional drive” (often discussed alongside epithumia “appetitive desire”) which is a baser, nonrational passion arising from body-centered ego (tellingly, the Perseus-Tufts online dictionary above notes that we don’t find ὀργή/ὀργάς in Homeric texts, who uses θύμος instead).

Consider a Stoic parallel: for most negative passions (πάθῃ pathē), there are also corresponding good feelings (εὐπάθεια eupatheia).  For the Stoic, there are four high-level categories of passions, a combination of whether they are valued as good or bad, and whether they relate to things in the present or future.  The passion of good things in the present is pleasure, and good things in the future is appetite/desire; the passion of bad things in the present is distress, and bad things in the future is fear.  These are inherently nonrational impulses and mistaken judgments that arise to cause us emotional disquietude, but there are also appropriate and rational impulses and correct judgment that serve to bring one to emotional peace.  Corresponding to the passion of pleasure is joy, to fear is caution, and to appetite/desire is reasonable wishing (though there is no rational correspondent to fear).  The difference here is that a Stoic may well wish for something to happen, but in a way appropriate to the thing itself and the Stoic’s relationship to it, as opposed to an irrational, mistaken mere instance of appetite/desire.

In a similar way, I claim that not all anger—one might even say not all “hate”—is the same, and that there are healthful expressions of what might be apparent as and equivalent to baser kinds even though they are nothing of the sort.  For my part, consider the line from the Headless Rite that says “I am the Truth who hates the fact that unjust deeds are done in the world” (Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ Ἀλήθεια, ὁ μισῶν ἀδικήματα γίνεσθαι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ Egṓ eimi hē Alḗtheia, ho misôn adikḗmata gínesthai en tôy kósmōy).  “Hate” here is just the word μισέω, which really just means “hate”, but what do we mean by “hate”?  Hatred is, at its core, a strong aversion or intense dislike of something, an unwillingness to suffer something.  Sometimes hate can arise from mere opinion and irrational desire, sure, but sometimes it can also arise as the logical and rational consequence of particular ethics and morals that one has cultivated and developed, and if those ethics and morals are well-founded, then hate of a thing directed by such ethics and morals must necessarily be followed as an extension of those ethics and morals.  In that light, while “hate” for some people may well be emotionally-driven, for others it may instead be logically- and rationally-driven.  And this is still something distinct from “rage”, which is merely an indulgence in one’s baser, lower, ego-driven emotions.

When I make a call-out post (as I did with DanKadmos from the Hermetic Agora, the Temple of the Hermetic One, the oppressive acts of the previous US presidential administration during the protests in 2020, racism and fascism and violence against movements like Black Lives Matter, or the like), is there emotion involved?  Sure; I’m still human and definitely no sage.  However, I don’t like wasting my time writing posts like this, and I don’t want to waste my readers’ time in reading posts like this unless there’s a reason that I think justifies the time; if I just want to bitch about something, I keep it to Twitter (if I think it’s funny enough to get a few people to laugh) or (far more commonly) I just keep my mouth shut.  I don’t write call-out posts just to get people upset and enraged, because that’s something I find abhorrent from a moral and ethical perspective, much less a Hermetic one that seeks to quell one’s temper and passions in order to attain higher and more refined states of spiritual development.  I write these posts to get people to act in a way I think helps the world and helps make the world a better place.  I write such posts not as a distraction from my usual writing here, but as a logical extension and result of the practice of living what I write about here.  It is as much part of the message and goal of what I do here as everything else.

As I mentioned in my last post, I fully expected that making such a post about someone so popular in the online occult sphere was going to be divisive, drive people away from me and my writings, cause my much-vaunted numbers to drop, and so on.  And yanno what?  That’s just fine with me.  As I’ve said before in no unclear terms, if people are willing to support horrible things, then I’d much rather they not read my stuff at all.  For all that some people might cry out about others being “hateful” towards them, consider what I said about what “hate” actually means: if you’re willing to suffer or tolerate (or even encourage or rejoice in) things that I make no qualms about being detestable or despicable to me (and with good reason!), then I’m not sure what I have to offer you or what you might hope to find here besides a few tricks nestled amidst my words.  If, after reading and considering what it is I have to say, all that still drives you away from me or makes you want to unfollow me on my blog or Twitter or what-have-you: good.  Go on with your life, and I genuinely hope you do better wherever you go than you are now.

I’m not playing this game to earn a name for myself or to build up a sycophantic echo chamber around myself; in truth, I’m not playing any sort of game at all.  I’m just here doing my thing, as I ever have.  That’s what I encourage others to do, too, both online and off: focus on what it is you want to do, for its own glorious sake as much as you possibly can, and let people rejoice at that and with you in that.  Just remember that, whatever you do, you should do all of it—and that includes the stuff that you might find distasteful but which goes along with all the rest.

Last minute notice: Ariana Serpentine’s online book release party for “Sacred Gender”!

I apologize for the last-minute notice for many of you (as you might guess, there’s been a good amount going on here lately as it is between spooky season and righteous indignation), but for those who would be free tonight, I want to draw your attention to the lovely and incredible Ariana Serpentine (also on Twitter and Facebook), who just put out her new book Sacred Gender: Create Trans and Nonbinary Spiritual Connections through Llewellyn.

From the book’s page itself:

Explore gender from a sacred perspective and learn how to turn dysphoria into euphoria. With suggestions for making devotion more inclusive, Ariana Serpentine empowers you to spiritually connect to your gender and incorporate it into your personal and group practice. Sacred Gender invites you to talk to your ancestors through the stars and introduces you to spirits and deities that can help you achieve self-actualization. Learn how to manifest your desires with sigil magic and identify affirming names, pronouns, clothes, and accessories with the smile test. Filled with thought-provoking journal prompts, reflection exercises, and a gender initiation, this beginner-friendly book encourages you to see parts of yourself that may have been obscured and liberate your spirituality from the gender binary.

I’m honestly thrilled that she’s put this out, as it promises to be a great text to take apart and put back together notions of sex and gender within spiritual, magical, or divine contexts.  This is a topic I’ve written about and wrestled with before, so I’m excited to get my copy in the mail and see what Ariana has in store for us all.

To celebrate the book being released, Ariana is putting together a Facebook Live event as a book release party, scheduled for tonight, November 8 2022 at 8:30 PM EST which is in a little over an hour from this post being made (my apologies for getting the word out so late, again!).  For such an event, Ariana is putting together a series of readings from the book, guests talks by River Devora and Mhara Starling (of The Welsh Witch Podcast) and myself to talk about gender and spirituality, and an ask-me-anything section.  I’ll be there to talk about Hermeticism and gender, but there’ll be so much more there, as well.  (If the event is recorded and saved for after-the-fact access, I’ll add a link to it to my About page for others to check in on later like I have my other online appearances and interviews.)

Here’s hoping to a great time tonight, and here’s hoping to see you there!  And, of course, be sure to get her book if you think it’s something to chew on; you could get the book directly from Llewellyn, but you can also get it on Amazon in both paperback, Kindle, and audiobook form, too!

Dump the Rotten Soup: A Note on Gordon White

I don’t take pleasure in calling people out, but occasionally it has to be done, especially when the person being called out is actively engaging in harmful, hateful things.  Even when it’s proper and righteous to do so, some people find it hard, especially if the person they’re calling out has a large following or if there are political, financial, or safety reasons at play.  Everyone has their own concerns they need to take stock of, and for that reason, not everyone who deserves a call-out gets one.

A few days ago on Twitter, I did my part to call out Gordon White of Rune Soup, around which the Rune Soup Premium Membership (RSPM) is focused.  This was several years late by my reckoning (for which I apologize), but I saw an opportune moment to do so, and decided that something like this is better late than never.  To that end, if you read Gordon’s blog and see his (hilariously awkward and infantile attempts of) attacks at me, this is why; he’s lashing out because someone dared to speak up against him (although I’m far from the only one to do so).  He is not someone to take seriously, much less take classes from; he is a far and sad cry from being any sort of champion of chaos magic, instead descending to little more than anti-vax right-wing grifting.

For those who aren’t on Twitter or have made the choice to ignore it, indulge me if you will.  For recordkeeping’s sake, I’ll list the relevant Twitter threads I made below for you to read at your leisure:

  1. In which I call out Gordon White and Rune Soup for being involved in violent and anti-vax rhetoric while drumming up a personality cult around him
  2. In which I make fun of his subsequent (and hilariously clumsy) attack on me from a blog post he made in response to the above thread
  3. In which I call out his hypocrisy in trying to pillory me for my employment
  4. Ditto, this time him trying to lambast me for being involved in an ATR while employed as I am
  5. In which I share a screenshot of Gordon saying that the COVID vaccines “literally cause AIDS”
  6. In which I share a screenshot of Gordon sharing extremist, partisan, conspiracy “news sources” that engage in evangelical Christian end-of-the-world conspiracies (think Cain, Satan, nuclear war, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, etc.)
  7. In which I make fun of another attack on me for my employment and priesthood (see thread #4 above)

I encourage you all to read the posts above if you can; if nothing else, they should be fairly entertaining, and there’s plenty of commentary from myself and others in the many replies thereof.  I’ll be referring to them and screenshots shared there, since I’m going to go against my usual practice and instead refrain from linking at all to Gordon’s blog or Twitter feed (he doesn’t deserve the traffic from my site).  I may, however, link to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine records of his website, however, depending on the need.

Oh, and yeah, him saying that COVID vaccines cause AIDS thing is very much real.  Let’s just get that out of the way first while we’re here.  Below is a screenshot of something he said in his private RSPM groups, and it’s far from the only such thing he’s said (alongside the tired variants on how vaccines cause autism, etc.).  Those who’ve been following Rune Soup know that Gordon has said some awful stuff in general when it comes to medicine, healthcare, and the vulnerable, but he says so much worse stuff behind closed doors.  And, as an out gay man himself (and myself, I should note!), I feel like he should have at least some sort of shame about invoking the HIV/AIDS crisis in this horrific, self-serving way.

Anyway, let me share my original statement regarding Gordon White.  It built off of a quote-tweet by Marco Visconti, in which he asked “Are we all still ok with the fake permaculture shaman to keep on serving virulent anti-vaxxer rhetoric alongside his abysmal rune soup?”.  I know I wasn’t and hadn’t been for some time, so I decided to let my thoughts be known clearly:

The only place for Rune Soup, honestly, is down the drain. It’d been bad for a while, and I really don’t know what else to tell people except to stay away from Gordon White’s stuff at this point, given all the hubristic, hateful, and violent ranting coming from him and his blog.

I used to like him, I was a supporter of his stuff, I joined in on his classes, and it was great while it lasted, but…well, as it turned out, GW/RS is a fine example of spirituality mingling with conspiracy to make conspirituality—which is as much a con as anything else.

It’s not just me that’s picked up on this; I tuned out of GW/RS’s stuff a good while back after he gladly invited some unfortunate people on his show, but others’ve kept up and have better receipts.
https://sublunar.space/2021-04-drinking-the-kool-soup.html
https://codexastarte.substack.com/p/waiter-theres-a-fly-in-my-rune-soup
https://codexastarte.substack.com/p/waiter-theres-a-fly-in-my-rune-soup-f5a

The RT’d thread above has quite a few replies by people I know, like, and trust who have been more involved in RSPM than I ever was, or who have kept up even more on GW/RS and can talk more about the stuff they can trace both to and from his stuff. It’s worth a (sobering) read.

Far be it from me to speculate about GW’s private issues, but from my perspective, he’s become a stereotype of the addled fake guru-turned-cult-leader peddling bad predictions couched in feel-good nonsense. He’s far gone from the practice-oriented chaos magic champion of yore.

I know I have a lot of RSPM folk among my friends+followers, and I hope you know what you’re doing with open eyes and a clear mind if/when you continue to involve yourself with GW/RS. For me? I can’t condone the conspiratorially crazy or crasslessly crude.

I also note that GW/RS is developing more and more of an extreme right-wing readership. Between that and the constant edgelordy gnosticism (which already attracts an ugly underbelly of Internet-addled trolls), the ambiance of his audience is not one I’d want to associate with.

The past few years have done a number on a lot of people, that much is certain, and it’s given a lot of people the chance to gleefully take off their masks in more ways than one—and sometimes, there’s worse to deal with than just someone’s odious breath.

Twitter being what it is, something like this spread quickly.  Now, going into this, I knew that this was going to hit a lot of people in different ways, and I know that I have many people I consider friends or colleagues who are or were part of RSPM or who are otherwise fans of Gordon.  Although it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who pays attention to the things I say when it comes to politics or science, I know my own silence regarding Gordon specifically may have led some into some false sense of alliance between my and Gordon’s views, which I’ve since publicly rebuked and repudiated as being repulsive and vile.  By speaking out, I knew I was gonna make at least some people upset.

And, predictably (given how he’s reacted in the past to other people who’ve called him out along similar lines), Gordon wrote a post of his own on his website in a matter of hours attempting to pillory me.  A screenshot of the post in question:

A transcript:

I’m sure you all remember my pompous, Tory, cokehead little stalker still hopping mad that he isn’t -and never will be- me. From memory, Sam is some kind of federal IT bureaucrat so I guess he knows where his bread is buttered. Only a personality who could endure such a job could also be responsible for the unremittingly boring and lengthy blog posts that always fail to distinguish between what hermetic texts actually say versus the words they contain. The only magic in them is a cure for insomnia. All of this is to say I guess his dumb little take is not very surprising.

Anyway, this is what I have the distinct pleasure of dealing with while I go about my fake permaculturing and my fake shamaning. (Including bringing the work of Indigenous elders from around the world to public attention for the first time.) Apparently that’s ‘hate’, according to Sam. Apparently his grumpy little Tory cokehead friend’s repeated instances of misogyny and homophobia isn’t ‘hate’. (Fun bonus fact: Sam is gay.)

I find it comical how he described me and my blog in literally the exact opposite terms in his interview with me from September 2017, but so it goes, I suppose.  As for whatever insults he has for Marco, that’s a whole thing that’s its own debacle unto itself; Gordon likes to cry about being bullied while throwing insults like this, even to the point of making up identities for him to play his own brand of identity politics with, and it goes well beyond just Marco.  It all just blends into background noise after a point when you go through his blog archives.

The rest of his post isn’t worth the read; it’s just so much him whining about how misunderstood he is (despite his ample writing over the years that make abundantly clear what he believes) and how his followers should take the moral high road when it comes to haters (though I doubt they’d do well at that by following his example).  In this specific blurb riddled with ad-homimems, however, Gordon not only attempts to dox me (name, employer, and sexuality—none of which I’ve ever kept a secret, but it’s still a class act of him lashing out) but also makes a pathetic attempt at insulting me and my writing, to which I have two things to say:

  1. Sorry not sorry that my blog posts can get a bit long so that I can produce things of substance instead of mere content, or that I don’t just copy-paste other people’s half-read opinions and share them as some sort of deep truth of my own like some people do.
  2. Sorry not sorry that I use textual criticism because I care about getting things right for real implementation instead of following hucksters who call for harm against people doing meaningful work.

There’s also the “white savior” complex he brings into this, too; it shouldn’t be forgotten that Gordon has made a huge hubbub in recent years about his “shaman certification” that he received (after paying something around $10k for) from Alberto Villoldo, a Cuban psychologist who developed a form of neo-shamanism based on Peruvian and other South American practices, though not without controversy of his own regarding the (severe) impropriety of him doing so, which casts doubt on the very legitimacy of what Gordon inflates and reminds people of constantly.  Although, let’s be honest, it’s not like figuring out how legitimate such a “shamanic healing” practice would be given how Gordon himself talks about and markets it:

In addition to what he said about me on his blog, he also said a few unfortunate things about me on his Twitter, trying to shame me for my employment as a low-level software engineer for the United States federal government.  I’ve never kept this a secret, although I don’t bring up which specific agency beyond saying that it’s one of the calmer apolitical ones in existence.  I know what my job consists of and how it impacts people (and Gordon by his own admission doesn’t, I should note), but I don’t bring it up because nothing I say online or on this blog is ever said from the perspective of a federal employee.  To be sure, the United States as a whole has caused atrocious horrors the whole world over; I’d never deny that.  However, for Gordon (who has built so much of his blogging career on talking about elaborate non-systems and how so many things supposedly interconnect and interrelate to the point of outright unfounded conspiracy theories), there is no nuance here; I am paid by the government, and therefore I am among the worst of archons all unto myself.  Specifically, he now holds me to be responsible for “the most dangerous organisation on earth, that literally turns brown children to paste” and also “responsible for Latin America’s disadvantaged condition, as well as the death of about a million Latins”.  Sure, the US government is to blame for that, yet to impugn me as specifically responsible for this is just puerile, ungrounded, and unhinged finger-pointing on his end.  He also seems to take a special, sick joy in also attacking my initiation as a priest in La Regla de Ocha Lucumí (aka Santería, an Afro-Caribbean orisha religion) which he somehow finds ironic in this context, I guess, all the while woefully ignorant of its history and context. (At least I can trace my priesthood by name back to my forebears with others to attest to its legitimacy, something Gordon can’t with his “shamanic certification”.)

What he’s trying to do (though inexpertly) is shame me for my privilege in how I am so obviously and intimately tied up in the reckless destruction of human life across the world generally and Latin America specifically—all the while boasting about his own descent from British colonial administrators in the Pacific and using that to his lifelong advantage, working for global media companies and immersing himself in the active pushing of government-sanctioned/-directed propaganda to influence people the whole world over, and running in the same circles as actual royalty of colonialist empires and actual billionaires.  He says so right on his own website’s About page, and I swear by the gods above and below that I am not making this up (with the important and rather telling-on-oneself bits bolded by myself):

Australian by birth, Gordon White’s family has strong connections to the wider South Pacific thanks to his grandfather’s experience in colonial administration in Nauru and New Guinea. He spent much of his early years exploring and diving in Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.

[…]

After moving to London, he held senior data and analytics positions in global media companies, as well as starting a chaos magic blog and podcast called Rune Soup… which ultimately led to the publication of his first three books, The Chaos Protocols, Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits and Pieces of Eight.

[…]

Fun trivia about Gordon:

  • He has been in both the actual DeLorean from Back To The Future and the Batmobile from the original Adam West series.
  • He is distantly related to Sir Isaac Newton.
  • He accidentally ended up at the same party as Prince Harry.
  • He has lived on two volcanoes.
  • He has dived on a sunken city.
  • Sir Richard Branson once bought him a bottle of champagne.
  • He is obsessed with sharks.

I think it’s clear to say that Gordon White isn’t some sort of Joe Six-Pack, some sort of common man that disempowered people should relate to.  He is very much a product of the same old money and colonialist regimes that he instead tries to pillory me (and others!) for.  Rather than responsibly accounting for his own privilege, he instead builds his whole career on his privilege being a predicate for everything he’s done, up to and including buying his own farm (which he struggles with) to live out some sort of prepper’s dream to deal with his own midlife crisis.  Rather than making use of his privilege and his experience with the self-same archons that he developed his whole “archonology” theorycrafting about to actually help people, he’s more inclined to perpetuate and propagate those same tendencies and strengths to bend people around him to stoop to his insanity even more.

I could go on, but if you take a look at what I linked to above and Marco Visconti’s original tweet (and all the replies from the many other people to it), you’ll see so much more of this in tired abundance.  Between the non-ironic shares of “news articles” from extremist/conspiracy rags like Expose News or Rebel News, the calls for violence against healthcare workers, the piles of anti-vax rhetoric that he only ever doubles down on (and now seems to be making his whole brand), the extremely improper “medical advice” he gives for people to deal with the vaccine (including talking about turpentine enemas to extract toxins)…it’s not great.  But this is who he is; this is what he does.

While Gordon has definitely and publicly gone off the rails in the COVID-19 pandemic and how traumatized he was by not being able to travel so freely anymore (quelle horreur!), it’s not like his right-wing extremism is a new thing.  He’s shown tendencies towards New Right ideology in posts dating back at least to 2015, invoking the likes of Ernst Jünger for the sake of rebellion against multiculturalism.  Taking a page out of his own conspiracy/archonology playbook, if there’s one thing Gordon is good at, it’s using, twisting, and adapting language to suit his own self-serving needs—although anyone with a head on their shoulders and their eyes open can see clearly what it is he’s doing.  (The irony of him using Mark Twain’s quote in his recent posts of “it’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled” would be so satisfying if it weren’t so nauseating in this context.)

This blogpost of mine is not intended to be something like Fr. Pera’s documentation of the Nazi occultist Georgina Rose aka Da’at Darling; I’m not tracking all of the awful things Gordon has said or encouraged people to do over the years, as that’s a far greater endeavor than I have the time or energy for, especially when I’ve spent the past few years content with just ignoring him.  However, at this point, the harm he’s causing through his violent rhetoric (all the while couched in feel-good holistic woo and Ursula Le Guin quotes) is simply too much to keep silent on, and so I refuse to any longer.  This is why I spoke out several days ago on Twitter, and is why I’m speaking out now on my blog (which I hope, dear reader, hasn’t been “unremittingly boring” for you).  I simply share what I have at hand about why I’m saying these things, all to make this point: Gordon White is not someone to follow, learn from, or give one’s money to.  I am simply letting people know what he’s actually doing and saying behind his cultivated online presence.

A call-out like this is not going to make me many friends, or so I assume; I’ve already had some (albeit happily not many) people distance themselves from me, calling me an “unhinged tweet spree hate message spreader” or just simply “scum” (for real).  And, yanno what?  It’s honestly no skin off my nose for being called names for calling out someone who seems to want to start a cult around himself.  Unlike Gordon, I’m not trying to corner some market, cultivate some personality cult, or take advantage of people with an obvious grift that preys on people’s enflamed emotions and vulnerability with far-right propaganda-bot-fueled talking points during a global pandemic (and worse).  I’m just here doing my thing, and that’s all I care about; to that end, I just want to make sure that people are well-prepared with the knowledge they need regarding one of the bigger (and more harmful) names in the modern occult community today.  Hence, this blog post, which I hope will be the only one I ever have to write about him, since I’d like to get back to my habit of not having to think about him or reluctantly visit his website/Twitter when someone tells me about some new odious thing he wrote with my name on it.  Since I’ve solidly earned a place on his shitlist, I fully anticipate that he’ll continue ranting and whining about me with bungled attempts at defaming me or shaming me while ignoring the breathtaking hypocrisy or outright ignorance involved in him doing so; I don’t care.

While I don’t expect to deconvert anyone already stuck on Gordon’s bullshit (though hope springs eternal!), I do want to spread the awareness of his bullshit all the same, to let others know who have been picking up on some of these rancid smells that it’s not just them, to let people know that there are those willing to speak out against him despite his following, and to offer an explanation of why my name is coming out of his execrable mouth.  Despite his holier-than-thou railing against people with hate in their hearts, I’m not someone so full of hate like Gordon is in this; I am only (in the words of the Headless Rite) someone “who hates the fact that unjust deeds are done in the world”.  The Rune Soup really is rotten, and the sooner we dump it, the better off we’ll all be.

PS: I am uninterested in reading defenses of bloviating, conspiracy-addled, rage-spreading hucksters, despite what you might have learned from them or how good a friend they might be to you; they can defend and redeem themselves by changing their own apparent behavior and character. And yanno what? I’d love for these kinds of people to do just that! I’m not about playing a game of tit-for-tat to garner support or leverage social media engagement; I just want us all to do better. So please, if you’ve got something to share in support of Gordon or similar people, just save your breath and keystrokes, and instead let them show who they are by their own words and works.