On Geomantic Education

To those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, this will come as no surprise.  I’m finally working on my book on geomancy again.  It’s something that people have been dogging me about for years, and it’s been an on-again-off-again project since 2013.  However, since recently rebuilding my computer and getting all my files back together, I got the bug again to write that book, and good progress is being made again.  At this rate, it’ll be the size of a proper textbook, and my aim is to make it thorough and complete on a level not rivaled since Fludd or az-Zanati.  I’m not going to discount the extremely valuable books put out by John Michael Greer or Stephen Skinner, as I stand on the shoulders of those two living giants with regards to this art, but I aim to put out a text of a different kind.

And yet, despite that this book is (currently) estimated to come out at around 300pp., I can already hear a complaint off in the distance.  My goal is for this book to present a fundamental and thorough exploration of the art of geomancy in such a way that it will start from first principles (what is divination, what are the elements and planets and stars, what are the relationships between these forces and the figures, what are the relationships amongst the figures, how is geomantic “mathematical”, etc.) and go through every major technique I can document in Western geomancy, including variations and specifics of detailed things along the way.  In this sense, I’m following in the same steps as the geomantic authors of yore.  However, there is one major thing that my book does not and will not have that virtually every other book on geomancy has, and while it may frustrate people used to it, I find that it’s something that should never have been written by anyone ever to begin with.

If you haven’t guessed yet, dear reader, it’s lookup tables, those lists of premade answers to particular arrangements of Court figures, figures in the houses, and the like.  It’s these lookup tables (cf. Hartmann, Skinner’s “Oracle of Geomancy”, the Golden Dawn primer on geomancy, etc.) that I believe are a bane to the proper study of geomancy, and I refuse to include them in my work.

Now, I understand why they were written.  For the sake of completion, many authors have endeavored to provide a clear explanation and guide to interpreting each figure in each of the houses; since there are only 16 figures and 12 houses, this is only about 192 small entries.  After all, astrologers have done the same for the planets and parts in the houses for centuries, and they have a lot more to worry about in their texts.  And, for the sake of being reeeaaallly complete, many authors have also included premade interpretations for the different possible combinations of Witnesses and Judge; after all, if the Judge must be an even figure, then that cuts down all pairwise combinations of Witnesses to just 128 different combinations.  Again, not terrible.  For completeness’ sake, and to offer an illustrative guide to the gist of what figures mean for a query, sure, I can see why this was done.

The problem, however, is that many people are not as dedicated to the art when they claim to be its students, and would rather be lazy.  Mass-market publishers, additionally, want things that sell, and will happily cater to the many who would spend a few pence on a text that appeals to them rather than the extraordinary few who would spend more on a text that they need.  I mean, consider how much trash there is out there with the neopagan or pop magic literature; sure, it sells well, and it may very well be a good starting point for those who are serious about their studies.  Hell, even I admit to having a few of Scott Cunningham’s fluffier books somewhere in my library, and it did help me get started back in middle school with learning what magic is and how it works.  That said, if I were to stop there, I’d be putting myself at a great disservice and would never have gotten to where I am today; moreover, if I thought that Cunningham’s style of pop magic spells done on a beach or in the snow was all there was to magic, I’d insult all the magicians and occultists who came before him, not to say the field of magic as a whole.

The problem is that, as time went on in the Renaissance and more and more books were published on geomancy, all they really focused on was the lookup tables.  The techniques were discussed only inasmuch as they enabled you to use the lookup tables; for this, see Franz Hartmann’s book on geomancy as a prime example.  Geomancy became whittled down from this elaborate, profound system of divination that could elegantly answer any subject with extraordinary detail into this…well, the phrase “parlor game” comes to mind, something like Chi-Chi sticks or those little folded paper fortune-teller doodads we all used to make in elementary school.  Even though geomancy was more popular in Europe than Tarot is now, imagine if Tarot were reduced only to using its numbers and suits; it’s effectively playing cards, ignoring different spreads and the qabbalistic symbolism inherent in the art and structure of the Tarot.  That’s what basically became of geomancy towards the end of the Renaissance, and was one of the main contributors to geomancy effectively being lost once the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution came around.  No, geomancy was not completely forgotten, but it was all but regarded as useless and overly complicated for an answer that usually amounted to little more than “evil, except for bloodletting”.

So much for how the publishing and spread of lookup tables influenced the general perception of geomancy.  However, there’s another part of the problem with relying on these: lookup tables are inherently limited.  Sure, the small number of combinations of figures in houses or Witnesses and Judge is sufficiently limited to offer a good high-level summary in a single text; it’s not the fact that there are only so many combinations in geomancy, but it’s that these summaries cannot be helpful in all circumstances and for all queries.  These interpretations are very general, but also very isolated from other factors in a geomantic chart.  Yes, Fortuna Maior in house IV is a good thing for one’s personal life, but what if we’re asking a query about having an ex-lover move out of our house, and this figure is aspected by opposition, and it’s in company with a negative figure, and the querent has indicated that health issues may be at play?  Fortuna Maior, although a good figure, is sufficiently negated that it becomes stressful and harmful to the querent.  Yet, what can a lookup table say?  Not much, except that the querent will do well and strong in their personal life and home.  That’s all well and good, but the geomancer still has to link that to every other factor present to actually give a useful answer.  Without indicating how, books that stress the importance of lookup tables without teaching how to synthesize these factors gimp the geomancer.

Lookup tables, in effect, cheapen the art of geomancy; it reduces a synthetic, holistic, detailed divination system to a copy-and-paste, abbreviated, vague system of terse and snippy answers.  Because of this, geomancers who rely primarily on lookup tables aren’t really learning how to actually use geomancy beyond following page numbers like a “choose your path” story book.

That’s why my book will not have these lookup tables.  Tables of correspondence that indicate what figures mean in specific contexts?  Absolutely! Detailed interpretations of each figure as they are and how they relate to other figures to explore their own worlds?  You got ’em!  Case studies of geomantic readings that explore each individual factor and technique used for a particular chart, then synthesized together to form a coherent, cohesive narrative?  But of course!  These are all parts of understanding the principles of geomancy from a ground-up approach, so that lookup tables become useless anyway.  By enabling the geomancer to develop their own interpretations through a deep knowledge of each figure, understanding how the figures interact with each other ideally and in particular charts, and giving them the tools to synthesize different parts of a reading, the geomancer will never need to use lookup tables for answers on “will he obtain his love” or “how will the undertaking end”; at a glance, the geomancer will be able to answer these on their own anyway based on their own skill and intuition.

So, if the fact that my book is gonna be around 300 pages and remind you of college, dear reader, don’t worry.  This is not a book to flip through because you want to be lazy.  This is a book to absorb thoroughly because you want to be excellent.

Current Status

So, I haven’t made a post in a while.  I apologize, guys, even though I’m not usually one to do so; this is my blog, after all, and I post when and how I feel like it.

No, I haven’t abandoned you, or my Work, or my spirits.  However, I’ve got a lot going on in my life and certain threads are being weaved in unexpected directions; I had my own designs for the warp and weft of this year, but clearly it’s not turning out the way I expected it to.  It’ll still be beautiful and awesome, though, trust me.  However, in the meantime, my plate is rather full and I’m having to shift my efforts away from the usual and expected to other things.  I may be able to make a post here and there, but don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.  Taking on crafting commissions for the foreseeable future is right out; regrettably, I’m unable to take on crafting commissions (including designing) from anyone at least through this summer.  I’m still available for divination readings and consultation sessions, either through Skype or through Etsy, although I’m declining to perform ritual work for others like I am for crafting.

Here’s hoping it’ll be a great 2016 for all of us, both according to our plans and those of the gods who look upon us!

On Simplicity in Constructed Speech and the Occult

I’ve been interested in linguistics since at least middle school, when I took my first foreign language class.  It was a semester-long course in Japanese in my sixth grade, but unfortunately, the teacher had to leave back for Japan one or two months before the semester was actually over.  To fill out the rest of the semester, the school had another teacher come in and teach us the basics of Latin, for some reason.  For me, it was an awesome twofer!  That one semester started off a lifelong interest in languages, much to the chagrin of my mother, who wanted me to stick with Spanish or French because there’d be more money in that.  (I still do need to learn Spanish, of course, but for entirely different reasons than either of us would expect.)

However, my interest in linguistics didn’t just stop at learning languages and the methods of communication involving grammar and syntax.  I experimented with making a number of experimental constructed languages, also known as “conlangs”, and developed a number of writing systems for each of them.  Some of those writing systems eventually became used as ciphers for English, and one of those I developed back in high school eventually became my personal cursive/shorthand script which I still use to this day.  Creating languages and writing systems for a variety of ends has always been a hobby of mine, and it’s one that’s shared across many people of different streaks and creeds.

Chances are, dear reader, that you’ve encountered at least one conlang in your time.  Klingon as spoken in the Star Trek fandom; Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984; the elvish languages of Quenya or Sindarin, the Black Speech of Mordor, and the dwarvish language of Khuzdul created by Tolkein in his Middle Earth; the script of the Atlanteans from the Disney movie of the same name; the list goes on.  Plus, not all conlangs are meant as artistic projects for fantasy worlds.  There are a number of constructed languages, such as Esperanto and Lojban, which are intended as actual languages to be used by people on a day-to-day basis, often to encourage lofty goals of world peace or better and more logical cognition.  The conlang community has done some pretty interesting experiments when it comes to linguistics, and it’s always held an appeal for me and several of my good friends.

And yes, dear reader, there are conlangs in the occult world, as well.  The number of mystical or magical writing systems is just the start of it.  There’s the obvious Enochian of John Dee, which should be apparent to pretty much everyone, but there’re other constructed languages lesser-known across occulture.

One conlang is one I’ve known of for years and years now: toki pona.  As far as conlangs go, this is a special one marked for its simplicity.  Unlike other languages both natural and constructed, toki pona has only 120 words (when I first learned it, it only had 118).  A single word can have dozens of meanings, all semantically related depending on how it’s used.  For instance, consider the word “moku”.  This word refers to something related to consumption or digestion: to eat , to drink, to swallow, to ingest, to consume, to digest, food, meal, snack, something edible, etc.  In a sense, each word is a semantic category clarified by its use in a sentence, and not a single meaning.  The grammar is likewise very simple with only a handful of possible constructions (though, of course, with endless variations).

Why such a simple language?  The creator of the language, Sonja Lang, designed the language to be an experiment in testing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which can best be summed up as “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.  Although strong forms of this hypothesis are generally believed now to be false, it’s still being researched to see how much language influences the way we behave and the way we think.  Lang (or, as known in the toki pona community, jan Sonja or “Sonja-person”) designed the language to be as simple as possible, even combining the semantic meanings of “good” and “simple” into the same word, so as to encourage a mindset and worldview focused on simplicity and dressing things down to a basic, simple means of existence.  The canonical example of this is that there is no word for “friend” in toki pona, but the way one communicates this is with the construction “jan pona”, literally “good person”.  A person who is good, especially to you, is known as a friend.  Thus, some constructions become illogical; a “bad friend” would be “jan poka ike”, literally “bad good person”, but a thing can’t really be good and bad at the same time.  Thus, if a person is bad to you, they probably shouldn’t be your friend.

One of the side effects of having such a linguistic structure is that toki pona is heavily dependent on context.  While you can take a paragraph of English text from any particular source, you can be fairly certain in a short time of what that paragraph is talking about and what kind of text it came from, be it chemistry, physics, literature, law codes, instruction manuals, comic books, or so forth.  Because of the generalized nature of toki pona, it’d be much more difficult to do the same, since unspoken (or previously-spoken) context plays such a huge role in toki pona.  Thus, toki pona utterly lacks finesse and nuance in words, and relies completely on context and (sometimes) lengthy constructions in order to describe something completely.  Then again, to describe something completely kinda defeats the purpose of toki pona.  The purpose is to communicate simply and to think simply; this is to speak well, literally “toki pona”.  To introduce more complexity than absolutely needed is unhelpful and makes what would normally be clear absolutely unclear, which is speaking poorly, literally “toki ike”.

Let’s bring this back to my life as a magician, shall we?  Why would a Hermetic magician, immersed in a cosmos full of complexity and correspondences and nuance and detail, at all be curious or appreciative of such a simplistic, simple language?  What good would a language that doesn’t even have a good means of describing numbers above 5 (and was never originally designed to have a words for numbers beyond “one”, “two”, “none”, and “many”) serve a person whose fundamental influences include the great mathematician-philosophers of the Mediterranean?  With an utterly small phonemic gallery of sounds somewhere between that of Japanese and Pirahã, how can I be served by such a language when my own Work requires subtle and exact descriptions of barbarous words of the gods?

It’s simple.  Complexity and nuance often doesn’t serve us all the time, and it helps to see things in a simple way.  toki pona helps to see the forest for the trees and not be overwhelmed by the individual leaves, especially if you’re nowhere close enough to actually enter the forest.  It’s a common-enough problem in occulture that we end up theorizing and extrapolating everything to an ungainly degree, insisting on artificial divisions of particular subsets of styles of magic, based partially on Aristotelian impulses for binning things and partially on the influence of fantasy divisions of magic into the occult.  However, if we end up theorizing and complicating things to the point where we can’t actually do the Work, then we’ve fucked ourselves over and paralyzed ourselves from getting anywhere.  For all the education, training, research, and meditation that goes into a ritual, the rite itself is the simple execution of a series of actions that may or may not have a particular result.  It’s the things we feel, the things we see, the things we experience in its most basic, vulgar form that direct, inform, and destroy our theoretical models.  After testing, the models should always be adapted to fit the data, as the data can only be interpreted in but so many ways to yield but so many models.

toki pona is a philosophical language, but it’s not philosophical in the sense of the great φιλοσοφοι or the rabbis of old.  Those who speak toki pona aren’t much interested in drawing the finest distinctions between abstract concepts, the division of a speck of dust’s width between two things.  We explain what happened in the simplest, barest of terms available to us to get rid of confusion and complexity and just come out with it.  To abstract away, justify, or obfuscate is really the same sort of action, much as how exaggeration and extreme modesty are two sides of the same coin of lying.

So, how would I be using toki pona as an occultist?  I mean, to those who’ve been reading my blog for a bit, I’ve already talked about this all before.  (I actually only remembered that I wrote a post just like the present one over two years ago on the same topic with many of the same points.  Herp derp.)  After giving it some thought, and after having gone through a few more experiences in the time since the prior post, I think my original idea from two years ago is still good: using toki pona for “the description of a desired state or outcome”, how things should be at their core.  I can talk about the planetary influences of the choirs of angels all day long and how they impact the sensations of my individual fingertips at different times of the day until the celestial cows come home, but it doesn’t change the fact that all I’m doing is emitting air and sound, especially when the topic is so theoretical and strained that it’s hard to make sense even in a well-described language like English or Greek.

I find that, as I get older and a bit more experienced (however little experience a few years can make), I get less and less interested in theory.  Sure, I will always keep researching and understanding different models of reality, and I’ll keep learning correspondences and the theory behind magic, but as I keep coming in contact with it, it gets dry and boring without the moist nourishment of action to apply it all.  Besides, it’s only in the application and results of this stuff that I get to see what theory is valuable and what isn’t; by testing these theories, not all of which should have been preserved from the ancients, I get to separate the wheat from the chaff and throw out the useless junk from the useful gems.  Invariably, as I understand the theories better, my rituals get simpler and more powerful, but only because of the work that’s already gone into them.  And, should I deign to go full-steam-ahead with the complexity and decoration and embellishment of a full Solomonic shebang, it’ll be even more powerful, but the need for that is limited at best and nonexistent at worst.

Simplicity works.  That said, simplicity is the highest form of elegance, and it’s working toward that elegance that takes much time and effort.  It’s a poor choice to separate out things at the start, when it should be by proof of demonstration that we come to know what’s necessary and what’s unnecessary, what’s able to be separated out and what’s able to be coupled together, what can be kept and what can be forgotten.  toki pona helps with that in a few ways.  I don’t expect to rewrite Agrippa’s Three Books in toki pona, but it will help in affording me another internal viewpoint to understand some of the things I do.

End of an Enchiridion

I can’t believe it’s come to this.  It’s been four years, and I cannot even, I literally cannot.  I knew this day would eventually come, as all finite things must come to an end, but I’m confused at the fact that it’s here.  It’s been so slowly coming that I never realized how fast this moment arrived, and I’m…not quite at a loss, but nonplussed all the same.

My Moleskine is full.

This isn’t just any journal, mind you, as Moleskines are hardly ever wont to be.  No, this particular journal is my εγχειριδιον, my vademecum, my Book of Shadow, my spellbook, my grimoire, my personal book of prayers and rituals and seals that I have been writing and maintaining since my first days in Fr. Rufus Opus’ courses.  The cover is worn, and certain pages have all but fallen out, and some already would have if it weren’t for the masking tape holding them in place.  Pages with exceptionally well-used prayers are tissue-soft, and others are dog-eared for quick reference so that I don’t have to flip through a chaotic mish-mash of traditions and systems.  Among pages of my best efforts at Roman and Greek script mixed with my personal shorthand, annotated with origins of each prayer and ritual, I have poured countless hours into keeping track of the words and acts I use in my work as a magician as an aide for ritual, supplementing my memory when my memory alone hasn’t caught up.

And it’s full.  Fuck.

I knew this day would eventually come, and I made plans years ago to digitize it into a more easily accessible format, first copying whatever I wanted from a source to my Moleskine, and from there into LaTeX files to be compiled into a fancy PDF which, for various reasons, I haven’t kept up with lately.  And, while that’s still a good way to go for future use (heck, maybe even dissemination to students?), I’m…not sure that’s what I want to do for myself.  Lord knows I still need to keep track of rituals, and even though this particular book is filled, I question whether a digital format or some other means is the best way to keep an enchiridion.

I’m no stranger to journal-keeping, after all, and I’ve filled a number of them over the years since my first attempts back in elementary school, ranging from the mundane goings-on between classes or meetings to the most arcane theorizing of the cosmos, and this blog is just another manifestation of that; as such, I know the paradoxical heart-wrenching elation that comes with filling a journal.  Still, even this particular one is…jarring.  I’ve carried this book with me around the country, and found myself sometimes going into a minor panic when I realize I may have left it at home.  That book has had oil, water, ash, dirt, spit, and even the occasional blood spilled on it.  That book has grown up and full and worn with me as I’ve grown as a magus.  Even though this all seems rather sentimental for a glorified notepad, and even though I’m unusually attached to such a thing, I’m still somewhat at a crossroads with how to proceed.  Do I get a new one, and retranscribe everything?  Do I go for the binder-and-printout method, so that I can more easily manage and organize the thing on the fly?  Do I just want to use a document I can edit on the fly and get an e-reader or tablet to do the same?

I need to do something, obviously.  Just because this journal is full does not mean my Work is complete, not by any sense.  There will still be prayers to practice, rituals to record, and designs I deign to copy for clarity’s sake, and I will still need somewhere to write them and keep a ready index of.  But…I can no longer do it with this book, which already has so much in it and cannot accept any more.  This is a problem that demands a solution, but…perhaps it’s best to review what I’ve learned from keeping such an artifact first.  What do I know now, after filling up a whole book with my rituals and prayers, that I wouldn’t have expected years ago?  What does such a book become and do for the magus?  Based on my own experience, how should one approach the process of writing in an enchiridion?

  1. It becomes a ritual tool in and of itself, rivaling the importance of any wand or shewstone or oil.
  2. It is a physical object made of paper and thread and cardboard and, if you’re fancy, leather.  Even with careful and delicate use, the book will rip and tear and fall apart, and so should be given all the respect due to any magical tool for as long as it is used.
  3. It gains power in its own right, not only by virtue of the words and seals and patterns inscribed within, but by the constant use and reuse in ritual, as well as by the spirits and powers it comes in contact with.
  4. It offers a way to prototype and practice a ritual without ever performing it first, by recording all words said and motions made, before ever putting them to use.
  5. It provides a useful way to learn what is important and what is not important in ritual, gauging by how little one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  6. Conversely, it provides a way to note what ought to be learned by heart, gauging by how much one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  7. The fact that one is writing, actively putting in words, as opposed to typing gives the book a different feel and different (more) power.  Yes, the information may be the same, but the method makes the difference.
  8. With written words, one has the book indelibly and permanently made in one’s own kind of typographical image, as our handwriting is as much us as any photograph or depiction.
  9. It forms a record of one’s progress by virtue of the order and type of rituals written inside.  Even without records of ritual or proceedings of meditations, the prayers and rituals themselves show the state of the magus when they were first needed, as well as their exploration by the variety of text added over time.
  10. It is a testament to one’s activity and work as a magus, and as such is best kept private and secret lest anyone find it and, thus, find you out as a magus.
  11. Depending on your sources and your teachers, the text inside may be the last time those words are ever written, with you the last magus ever to use them.  As long as those words are around, at least in your own book, the traditions and rituals you use can stand the test of time and survive to be practiced by yet another generation.
  12. Organization from the outset, when keeping track of these things, is overrated.  When you’re still learning, the best order is chronological; by flipping through over and over to find the same things, you get used to the physical location of the text you need within the book.
  13. Presetting certain boundaries, so that this set of pages will be dedicated to conjuration rituals and that set of pages dedicated to Hellenic prayers and so forth, potentially wastes pages since you never know exactly how many or how few pages you need for a given topic, should you even get into that topic, which may not always be determined from the start.
  14. It is a finite object with a limited amount of space.  It will eventually become full, even if you keep only the most important and sacred words in it with nothing extraneous written and no space wasted.
  15. It is a tool and an aide.  It is to be used as much as it can be, so that the paper and ink inside is not wasted on idle copying, but made to work as much as you Work.
  16. When first copying things into it, you will use up a lot of space; only a year or so into my work, I had already filled up over a third of the pages, but it took me another three to fill up the other two thirds.  The rate at which you add things in will almost always decrease over time as you settle into a particular tradition and use the same rituals over and over.
  17. Not everything can be memorized.  While memory can always be improved, there are some things that one will keep forgetting without regular, almost daily use.
  18. A written text is crucial for smooth, repeatable work, so that one can read when memory can fail.  There’s a reason Catholic priests literally focus on the Missal while they perform their ritual, that they don’t slip up and jumble words or forget the order of things.
  19. What you write in the book, you write in your spirit.  The act of transcribing prayers is an important and powerful form of kinetic meditation.  For a similar reason, I find it helpful to say aloud every word that is to be said aloud in prayer or ritual (a la the tradition of soferim in Judaism), and to visualize the action when writing down instructions for actions.
  20. The art of handwriting is not doing too hot nowadays, and I don’t claim to have a good style of penmanship by any means, but it is a crucial aspect of maintaining the book.  Clear handwriting bespeaks a clear, methodical, premeditated mindset, and involves as much art as any skillful orison or profound prayer, not to mention making reading off the paper easier in dim lighting.
  21. It is useful to keep rituals and processes separate from records of using those rituals and processes.  I do not mix the two, and maintain a separate journal for keeping track of spiritual seals, conjuration conversations, and after-effects of ritual.  This is because the same ritual may work at some times and not at others through no fault of the ritual at all, and sometimes a ritual needs to be edited even though it works well-enough so that it can work better.
  22. It is useful to keep practice separate from theory.  Theory and philosophy and theology are nice to know and learn and discuss, but they do not come into play on the ground when the ritual is being done and the only thing that matters is the result.  Save space and keep the theory for another place, and focus only on what is necessary to complete the task at hand.
  23. It is useful to keep practice separate from recipes.  While oils, incenses, and the like may definitely be done in a ritual manner, the ingredients, conditions, and processes may often take up a lot of space that isn’t needed when doing the chanting or other ritual actions involved.
  24. It’s good to get a good-quality journal for this, neither poor nor great.  Something cheap and trashy is easy to fall apart and destroy, and something expensive and rare is too precious to waste a working text with errors, emendations, and errata in.  Settle for sturdiness, not for style, and save the pricey stuff for an heirloom calligraphied masterpiece that will be complete in and of itself.
  25. When there are a series of texts one may wish to transcribe, such as the Orphic Hymns or the Book of Psalms, it’s often better to get a separate text that contains those prayers as a complete set.  Transcribe only the ones you use most frequently, like Psalms 51 and 23 without the other 148 psalms.  An urge for completion is natural in many magi, for whom a perfectionist streak often runs strong, but you’ll ruin your hand with painful cramps and fill your book up faster than you need to.
  26. Be terse in the text for your instructions, and thorough in the text to be said aloud.  Only say what is absolutely necessary for instructions, as that can take up far more space than you need.  Laconic brevity is a virtue in the process of ritual, as is completion and wholeness in the prayers.  So long as you’ve written down enough to perform all steps of the ritual, you’ve written enough, and in the process allow yourself with room to grow and experiment and customize steps of the ritual.
  27. Even if you think they’re demanded of only by the bitchiest of middle-school teachers, get a bookcover or some sort of protection for your book.  You want to keep the book as intact and safe for as long as you possibly can.  Moleskines fit perfectly in a variety of leather car manual three-fold cases, as it turns out, and even includes a little loop for a pen and a pad of paper for quick notes and visions.
  28. Once you’ve started writing, do not stop until you’re done.  Do not leave something unfinished; if it’s part of a whole, write it wholly.  Do not begin writing until you know you can complete it in a single go, but if you need to write it, write it then and there.
  29. Generalize rituals when appropriate; think rubrics for ritual, not specific instances or implementations of ritual, and leave blanks and bracketed spaces for names or other things to be inserted when necessary.  Make a note when a particular prayer may be modified from its original intent or purpose.
  30. Only include tables of correspondence when absolutely necessary, such as when making a reference for how to fill in a ritual rubric.  Times when needing to use a table of correspondence in ritual are few, and usually only serve to take up space.  It’s better to commit the system of correspondence to memory, and that only what is necessary.
  31. Plan for rituals to be as modular as possible.  Build and conduct rituals using multiple prayers and acts, and record each one separately rather than writing the same invocation over and over for multiple rituals.
  32. The word enchiridion literally means “in the hand”, and vademecum “go with me”.  The book itself should be small enough to fit conveniently in a knapsack, but big enough to hold and read from comfortably.  If you use something too small, it’ll fill up too fast and will be hard to read from; if you use something too big, it’ll be hard to hold and hard to carry around.
  33. Never tear anything out of the book.  You will never make a mistake so egregious that you cannot write around it, and all rituals, even if needed just the once, will help you learn.  There will always be spare paper or media available to write on for things that cannot go in the book.  Keep the book intact as much as possible, since it’ll weaken on its own over time without any extra help from you.
  34. Get a good pen, and keep to that same type of pen when you write in the book.  Whether it’s a fountain pen or ball-point pen, you can never have too good a pen.  Carry it around with the book.  Keep it a neutral color, like black or blue, using other colors for specific purposes like corrections or particular symbols or watchwords.  And yes, it has to be a pen, one that isn’t erasable.  The point of the book is to put things in and keep track of what you practice, not to change the past and remove it.
  35. It doesn’t matter how you write in your book, so long as you can read it.  Your book is primarily for you and your eyes; everyone else takes a very, very distant second, although the day will come that someone else will need to use your book.  If you use a shorthand or type of code to write in the book, include a key somewhere hidden just in case you or someone else needs to decode it.
  36. Do not lose the book.  Do not destroy the book.  Do not get rid of the book.  Once finished or rendered to a point where it is unusable through age and wear, keep it somewhere safe, and only if you absolutely cannot keep it with you should you even begin to consider entrusting it to someone you can trust.
  37. It doesn’t matter whether your book is a journal or a sketchbook, i.e. lined or unlined.  I find lines helpful since I’ve never been able to develop a steady baseline for handwriting, and it helps with drawing out patterns and diagrams, but many people prefer an unlined paper to write on.  Go with what’s best for you.
  38. Once you start writing in a book, keep the book and keep using the book until it’s filled or you cannot use it any longer.  Just because you don’t like a ritual you wrote doesn’t mean the whole book is trash.  Just because you’ve changed traditions doesn’t mean you forget your history and past rituals.
  39. Take the book with you and read from it in as many rituals as you need to do.  You may not always need the book, especially if you’ve memorized the rituals and prayers needed, but take it with you just in case.  If nothing else, you help the book build power.

I suppose I had more thoughts on keeping and maintaining such a book than I expected.  I guess I wanted to be thorough, in a kind of “what would you tell a younger version of yourself” kind of way.

I think, at this point, I’ve decided on what I’m going to do.  I may not stick with Moleskine, but I am going to get another blank journal for myself.  I can always digitize the stuff as I need to in case I need a digital copy of my book, but…in all honesty, I can’t bring myself to care as much about that as I will about having a handwritten copy of my rituals with the ability to add in new rituals at a moment’s notice.  For me, and I speak only for myself, I will need to write by hand my enchiridion, and I will do this again, word by every painstaking word, for as many times as I need to.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to the coming weeks as I start this process again, but for me and my practice, it’s absolutely worth it.

On Tattoos of Spiritual Artifices

Recently on the endless stream of half-formed thoughts that keeps me sane in the office, which is to say Twitter, I was approached by someone who likes my work and thinks highly of it.  While I take this as a humbling and honoring thing, I was troubled by this as well, since they asked if it was a bad idea to take the Table of Practice design I developed based on Fr. Rufus Opus’ coursework and use it as a tattoo on their body.

Table of Practice

I told them bluntly that, yes, this is indeed a bad idea.  Why?  Because the Table of Practice pattern is a combination of spiritual geometry and sacred names that is put together in such a way so as to contain and manifest spirits; this is the point of the diagram.  To have this on their body would mean that, wherever they go, they risk having spirits collect on their tattoo with or without their knowledge and, worse, to give those spirits form and place in the world without actively working with them or even attentively or intentionally calling upon them.  These things happen anyway, which is why regular cleansings and baths and banishings and the like are so necessary, but to trigger that even more than it happens on its own and in a more dangerous way is a terrible, awful, no-good idea.  Worse, the person in question wanted to use this for spiritual protection, which is not the point of this design at all!  It can be used for containment and isolation, sure, but it is not primarily intended for that, and has way too many side-effects that make this a poor choice for a protection tattoo.

Put simply, this person was coming from a place of ignorance, a place which I hope I was able to help them out from.  The occult world is full of arcane geometries, obscure patterns, and unusual shapes that many a graphical artist would love to get their hands on or take credit for.  Add to it, so much of this stuff is just so cool-looking (and if you’re one of the vast majority of people who get into the occult, you got into it because it looks so freaking awesome).  There’s a heavy and high danger in this, though, because if you merely work with this stuff because it looks cool, you often overlook how powerful and grave and serious this stuff is.  It’s easy to forget that these things that appear so simple are in and of themselves so dangerous; a simple stray mark, a vowel pronounced with the wrong intonation, the wrong type of pepper used in incense, or such minor differences could honestly and hugely change how something works.  Just because something looks simple and straightforward doesn’t mean that it can be used in a simple and straightforward manner.

This stuff is called the occult, and the word “occult” means “that which is hidden”.  This stuff is not always apparent but always needs to be studied and mulled over for it to make sense and for it to click.  Picking something up and running with it is a bold move, and can easily cross over into folly; without a firm understanding of what you’re doing and to what end, as well as the construction of the tools and designs and artifices you’re using, you could really hurt yourself or those around you.  This goes double for tattoos of spiritual designs and artifices, because you’re literally and permanently transforming your body into an occult tool or a container for occult forces and entities; you need to take extra care when getting a spiritual tattoo because you may be biting off far more than you can chew.

The Spiritual Origin of Geomancy

It occurs to me that I talk a fair bit about geomancy, and on occasion have briefly described the factual history of the art.  Geomancy, as it is understood by scholars and historians, has no pinpointed origin as yet; the best we can guess at is that the art was developed roughly around 900 CE likely in the northeast Saharan region of Africa.  It was likely innovated by migrant tribes, perhaps merchants from further east or by Tuaregs or other Bedouin-esque peoples, as a form of divination that connected with simple mathematics.  It got caught up in Arabic trade routes that synced up with the expansion of Islam, and spread pretty much all over from there: west to Morocco, southwest to Nigera where it became ifá, south to Madagascar where it became sikidy, and east to Palestine and Arabia where it became raml, and even further to India where it became ramalashastra.  When medieval Europe began its academic discovery and recovery that we call the Renaissance, around 1100 CE, it began to import academic, spiritual, alchemical, and divinatory texts from the Arabic world from two directions: from western Morocco into Spain where this new art was called “geomancia”, and from eastern Palestine and Turkey into Greece where it was called “rabolion”.  From these two fonts came a new river of geomantic knowledge that spread quickly throughout the rest of Europe within the span of a hundred years or so.  From there, it quickly became one of the foremost spiritual arts of Europe and maintained its place for another six hundred years, only beginning to fade and go underground with the coming of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.  As older texts began to be rediscovered yet again, many parts of the Western mystery tradition became reintegrated into modern practice, geomancy with them, and here we are today.

While it’s nice for an academic, it’s hollow as a spiritual story to tell.  Happily, many of the older geomantic works, especially in the Arabic tradition but with no small number of European texts joining in, give us a spiritual origin story for geomancy, usually originating with Adam, Enoch, Idris, Daniel, or Hermes Trismegistus and usually from the angel Gabriel.  So, on this day, the fourth day of the tenth lunar month that is the yearly Hermaia, as an offering to Hermes celebrating his joy and work in our world, I figure I’d share my retelling of the spiritual origin of geomancy.  What follows isn’t exactly original, but it’s not exactly a rehash, either.  Have a seat and pour yourself and Hermes a drink, dear reader, and let me tell you a tale.

May the Muses smile on me and help me share this story well.

A_man__a_tree_and_the_desert_by_e_antoine

As was his custom, he was sitting outside under his favorite tree during the height of the Sun’s path through the skies.  Not part of the local priesthood but taught some two week’s sojourn north along the Nile, the man with the thin neck and long nose wore his usual habit of loose-fitting white robes to keep himself cool during the summer heat.  His tree was on the barren outskirts of an old city, a sacred one dedicated to the Eight who made and rule the world, the scribe-god Thoth foremost among them, but although the man was well-acquainted with the local festivals and religion, he was more focused on divinity itself rather than that of any particular temple.

Alas, the day when the man would see the one who calls himself Shepherd of Men would be still far off, but the man hoped every day that that day would be this one.  On that day, he would begin to be called Thrice-Great by countless students.  For now, he just bears the name Hermes as some foreign god does, as yet unaware of his own divine nature but more attuned to the ebb and flow of power and life in the world than most.

It was under his favorite tree that the man would look at the distant roads and marketplaces, too far off to hear but kept in eyesight by the harsh light of the Sun.  The tree was hardy, able to survive in rough winds as well as in parched earth, and had the benefit of offering good shade to the man especially when the Sun’s heat would be otherwise unbearable.  Almost nobody came out this way to bother him, far off as the tree was without a nearby road, which gave the man good time and space to think.  When he could, the man would meditate, contemplating whatever mystery snagged his intellect on any given day, but being human, he would sometimes suffer hunger or thirst or lust.  Not seeing these as bad things but not wanting to indulge in them, the man would keep himself distracted by reciting prayers, analyzing interesting rocks, gazing at the stars, and conversing with the rare passer-by when one happened to wander out this way for grazing or travel to the next market.  Anything he could learn, he figured, would help him eventually; even if he couldn’t yet directly know God, he could always know more about the creations and creatures around him.

It was on one such day that the man was slightly more perturbed than he usually was by worldly concerns.  He had family, and although he cared for them as much as a solitary philosopher could, he wasn’t always in the best contact with them.  One of his sons had a propensity for spiritual development as much as he did, but his other children were better suited to buying and selling.  One such son of his traveled far and wide, well out of the Black Land, and it was a rare day indeed that the man ever got word from him.  Whether it was a fear of having an empty nest or having grass-is-greener syndrome from seeing a successful youth exploring the world, the man was more distracted than usual in the shade and couldn’t fully focus on his usual contemplation.  Thought leaped to thought as he went from his son to his children to his own fatherhood to his own father to his own home.  It didn’t help that he felt like he should only be a part of this world without being of the world, but his worries kept overriding that spiritual calling.

Resorting to habit, the man looked around him and noticed the wind calmer than it should be for this time of year, the land quieter than it had been this week, the Sun brighter than he thought it could ever be.  Nothing around him to take his mind off his son, the man resorted to the earth underneath him and grasped a handful of the loose, sandy dirt under his knees and held it.  He felt the grit, the dryness, the coolness, the crumbliness of the dirt, feeling this handful of soil as if his palm was all he had of sense.  Curious, he tossed it away from him into the air, noting how the particles of dirt traveled through the air in near-perfect arcs, the gleam and glimmer of pulverized crystal and silica shining bright once it crossed the threshold of shade into the realm of light, the smell of dry barely-fertile dirt filling the air.  He began to cough and his eyes began to water as some of the dirt suddenly flew back into his face from a strong wind that came out of nowhere.  That wind caught him off-guard, and the pain in his dusty lungs snapped him back to the present and the place where he sat.

Once he could see clearly again, he wiped off the cough-spittle from his mouth and looked around him.  The dirt he threw covered the ground, smoothed out by the wind, leaving him with a blank space before him that nearly begged to have something, anything, upon it.  Feeling somewhat out of himself from the cough, like he had just awoken from a nap, he leaned forward and dipped his fingers into the flat earth before him.  A dot here, a mark there, a trailing line from letting his arm rest before pulling it back.  He recalled some of his education as a child in being taught simple numbers and parts of numbers, and from that memory, treated some of the marks he made as mathematical forms.  He heard that, once, some teacher visiting from the far north across the Sea, the only non-Egyptian who had ever been taught by the priesthood of home, was saying something like numbers were life and all was number, but this man never really understood that kind of thing.  Numbers were numbers and couldn’t eat or fight or mate, just like the lines and marks he was making before him on the dirt.

Another wind came up, this time from the opposite direction.  Again surprised, the man looked around himself; the sky was unchanged, the Sun barely moved, no storms on the horizon.  There should’ve been no cause for this wind, considering the time of year; this meteorological puzzle would have eaten at his mind more, but he glanced down and saw that the land before him was smoothed out by the wind again, as if the marks he had made were never made at all.  Frowning, he began to consider the benefit of just going home and returning to housekeeping if going outside was going to be so uncooperative.  Another spasm shot through his lungs from the dust he inhaled, making him cough again.

“Hey there.”

The man jumped.  Opening his eyes, wiping tears from his face with a dusty hand, he looked around and saw someone standing a few yards off from him under the light of the Sun.  The man saw a placid face atop loose robes of white and blue, nearly blending into the sky and sand behind him.  Unsure if it was a trick of the tears in his eyes and the light of the Sun, Hermes blinked several times before letting his eyes fix on the stranger.  No sound of approach, no previous call to him, unusually-colored clothes, coming from the direct direction as the noontime Sun?  This was something stranger than Hermes was used to for an average day under his tree.

Seeing confusion flicker across Hermes’ face, the stranger gave an apologetic smile and slowly took a few steps towards the shade. “Sorry for giving you a scare.  I was going to my father’s house, and was curious to see what someone was doing under this lonely tree.”

Hermes, taking comfort in the stranger’s voice that had an odd lilting quality to it, smiled back and waved away the apology.  “No worries.  I think a lot here.  You just gave me a bit of a startle, no worries.”

The stranger looked around and smirked. “I take it you don’t get much company out this way.  Mind if I join you?  The Sun is bright today.”

“Of course, of course!  I don’t deny anyone the pleasure of shade here.  Come, have a seat.”  Hermes waved the stranger over, emitting one last, small cough before the stranger could begin another conversation.

“Thank you.” The stranger entered the shade and sat down gracefully a few paces from Hermes.  Hermes didn’t notice that the stranger’s footsteps weren’t marking the ground, but was still looking around, still half-wondering where that last wind came from.  As the stranger sat down, Hermes opened his mouth to begin his usual niceties to greet passers-by when he caught the stranger’s eyes looking directly into his own.  Hermes stopped short of making any kind of utterance; the piercing quality of the stranger’s eyes seemed like pure fire, and his skin seemed to glow from something more than the Sun’s heat.

The stranger took this opportunity of awe and silence from Hermes and leaned forward curiously.  “Before I surprised you, I noticed you were drawing in the sand.  I take it you’ve studied letters?”  Hermes nodded, confusion mixing with his awe.  The stranger smiled enthusiastically.  “Good!  It always gladdens me to find another soul schooled in that art.  Mind if I ask what you were writing?”

Hermes snapped to his senses and shook himself out of his awestruck confusion.  “Ah, er, nothing, really.  Not letters, more like numbers.  I was clearing my mind and letting my hands do their own thing.”  Hermes grinned with some embarrassment, wiggling his fingers as if to show they thought on their own.

The stranger let out a casual scoff.  “Come now.  Surely one studied such as yourself should know that all forms are valuable.  After all, sometimes the most true meaning can come from pure accident.”  Hermes nodded with a shrug, not sure what the stranger was getting at but feeling something nagging at his mind in that general, vague sentiment. “If it’s not too presumptuous of me, I noticed an interesting thing from afar.  Would you show me some of the marks you made?”  The stranger tilted his head coyly, but Hermes didn’t catch what the stranger was getting at.

“Er…okay.  It wasn’t much, just a few dots in a row like this.”  Hermes leaned forward and made four small dots in the sand, one atop each other in a stack.  “I recognize this as a particular way to write a particular number, but little else.  Like I said, I was just idly clearing my mind.”

The stranger looked down and chewed his lip thoughtfully before glancing up.  “True, but numbers are true, too.  Simple though it might look, I know of this symbol as an omen.  Look at it this way; if you link the dots here”—Gabriel made a light cut down the row of dots in the dirt—”you get a straight, long line, like a road.  Roads are powerful, long though they may be, and the longer, the better.  Don’t you agree?”  Hermes let the stranger’s words sink in a bit, looking down at the dots and looking up again.  “Absolutely,” Hermes replied, “and it’s true that the more one travels, the more one changes.  It’s a lonely path, but then, what journey isn’t truly taken alone?”

The stranger gave a broad smile, teeth glimmering like pearls even in the shade of the tree.  “You speak wisdom beyond your years, sir.  What’s your name?”

Hermes sat up and extended his hand toward the stranger in friendship.  “I’m Hermes.  I live in the town over there,” giving a nod towards the marketplace too far to be heard.  “And you, my friend?”

The stranger clasped Hermes’ hand and nodded.  “An honor, Hermes.  I am called Gabriel.”

Hermes cocked his head and gave Gabriel a puzzled look. “A strong name, Gabriel, and a rare one.  You’re from Canaan, aren’t you?  I haven’t met someone with one of those names before, though I’ve heard of similar names before.”

Gabriel shrugged and looked down evasively.  “It’s not exactly my homeland, but yes, my tribe is settled there.”  Gabriel looked up beyond the eaves of the tree towards the north, then back to Hermes.  “But the road I walk is long, which is why this symbol you cast”—he motioned to the dots on the ground—”caught my eye.  Would you want to know more of the truth of this symbol?”  Always eager for more knowledge and more to contemplate, Hermes nodded and tilted his hand towards Gabriel, beckoning him to continue.  And continue Gabriel did for quite some time, expounding to Hermes this symbol that Gabriel called the Road, and how to find this symbol as a result of multiple marks being made and crossed off two by two.

At the end of Gabriel’s discourse on the letter, Hermes noted a queer thing.  They must have been talking for at least an hour, and Hermes was unusually tired and mentally overstimulated from learning about this character, but the Sun was still in the same position it was before Gabriel had arrived, as if it was suspended and watching Gabriel teach as Hermes himself did.  Gabriel, noticing that Hermes was exhausted from the lesson, smiled and stood up, ignoring the dust that clung to his robes.  “I see that I’ve talked your ear off, and probably ruined your day with my chatter.  I should probably get on with my day, Hermes, and let you do the same, but I’m glad you’ve let me share this with you.”  Hermes shook his head with a grateful smile.  “No, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me!  I appreciate it, and honored by it.  If you’ve stayed too long, then I apologize for keeping you too long.”

Hermes began to climb to his feet to see Gabriel off, but Gabriel dismissively waved Hermes back down.  “Don’t bother, don’t bother.  If you like, I can visit again tomorrow and tell you more.  There were other symbols I saw you drawing; those have meaning, too, much like the Road does.  Would it bother you too much to visit you again?”  Hermes, sensing an unusual opportunity that seemed unusual on an already unusual day, felt that this was one to seize.  “Of course!  You know where to find me, my friend.  I’ll see you again.”  Gabriel nodded and gave a slight bow, then walked off into the desert away from the Sun.

The man looked towards Gabriel as he left, glancing at the symbol for the Road before glancing back up.  Hermes let out a yelp; Gabriel was nowhere to be found, despite the land around being fairly clear and there being no footprints to mark Gabriel’s coming or going.  Now he was certain; this stranger named Gabriel was no ordinary man, just as this day was no ordinary day, and this symbol was no ordinary symbol.  Hermes leaned back on the tree, running his dusty fingers through his hair in perplexion, spending  several hours more in quiet contemplation of this figure, turning over Gabriel’s lesson over and over again in his head, digesting all that the stranger had taught him.  As the Sun lowered to the western lands, Hermes left his mental exploration and decided to call it a day, feeling renewed and grown in this new knowledge.  Hermes got up and headed to his home in the city, leaving his marks in the dirt.

The Sun set, the stars rose, the stars set, and the Sun rose once more.

After the Sun began its ascent to the heavens, as was his custom, Hermes went back to his tree, seeing his marks on the ground from the day before the same as he left it.  He sat back down as he normally would, and let his mind wander before settling on higher thoughts.  As the morning slowly turned to afternoon, Hermes, his eyes closed in meditation, began to drift into a light sleep, when a breezy rustling through the leaves above him roused him from his nap.  He looked around and found, yet again, the ground before him blank from the wind.  The moment Hermes noticed his marks on the ground erased, Hermes looked up to find Gabriel approaching once more from the south.

Hermes gave the strange not-quite-a-stranger a wave, and Gabriel responded in kind, raising his hand in a friendly salute as he approached the tree.  “Well, you’re actually here!  And if you’re here to learn, then I’m here to teach, if you’re ready for it.” “Of course, my friend,” Hermes said with a grin, waving Gabriel over, “I’d like to see what these other symbols you mentioned were.”  Gabriel took his seat once more by Hermes, and repeated the same process as the day before.  Again, Gabriel asked Hermes to draw a symbol, and again, Gabriel expounded the meaning of the symbol to Hermes; again, the Sun stood  still in the heights of heaven, and again, Hermes became worn out from learning all that Gabriel taught; again, Gabriel offered to teach Hermes more, and again, Hermes agreed to meet with Gabriel to learn more; again, Hermes noted the unusual vanishing of Gabriel, and again, Hermes went home looking forward to the next lesson.

For fourteen more days, Hermes and Gabriel continued in the same way, learning all the other figures.  On the sixteenth day, Gabriel told Hermes that these were all the figures that Gabriel could teach: the Road, the People, the Union, the Prison, the Greater Fortune, the Lesser Fortune, the Dragon’s Head, the Dragon’s Tail, the Girl, the Boy, Red, White, Joy, Sorrow, Loss, Gain.  Gabriel told Hermes how the first four figures could be combined from their tops and their bottoms to form the other twelve, and how each figure reflects a different story on its own.  His lesson complete, Gabriel shrugged, saying that this was all that he could offer Hermes in the ways of symbols and their lore, but that this was also just the beginning of their true meaning and purpose.  Hermes, entranced by these symbols and stories, asked Gabriel to return to teach the rest, and Gabriel accepted.

For the next sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how each figure reflects the four elements that compose all of creation as well as how they relate to the stars both wandering and fixed that determine how all things wax, wane, and transform.

For another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes the secrets of combining these figures two by two and transforming them by inverting and reverting and converting them into other figures, and how all these methods change and add to the meanings of individual figures.

For yet another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how to use the meanings of the figures, the elemental and planetary and stellar correspondences, the combinations, and the transformations in answering all sorts of questions, imparting to Hermes the art of divination to reveal all mysteries of this world and all things upon it.

At the end of these 64 days, Hermes found himself exhausted, utterly and completely exhausted, from having so much taught to him in so short a time, but he felt a new wellspring of knowledge beginning to flow inside himself.  Gabriel knew he was wearing Hermes thin, and after his final lesson where he revealed the deepest secrets of this art, Gabriel took from his robes a flask, uncorked it, and took a swig from it.  The teacher passed the flask to Hermes, who gladly took it with both hands; Hermes was unaccustomed to drinking or eating during the day, but Hermes found himself more than parched and in need of something to quench his thirst.  Hermes drank from the flask from the same spout Gabriel did, and found it filled with the clearest, coolest water.  It refreshed Hermes, sure, but once he took the spout from his lips and breathed in, he felt filled with a truly newfound power.  All these days of learning, all of Gabriel’s lessons seemed to immediately snap together like well-built masonry, forming within himself a beautiful temple of the finest knowledge.  Figures shone like priceless jewels, transformations linked the figures like silver filigree across altars, truths and wisdom rose up like the smoke of rarest olibanum—

“I thought you might need a drink after this last lesson,” Gabriel said with a warm smile.  “It’s no easy thing to learn all this, but you’ve done admirably, and I am proud to be able to share with you what I have.”

Hermes snapped out of his reverie and, realizing he was stuck holding the flask in the air as he stared off into space, hastily gave it back to Gabriel, blushing at both his own clumsiness and at the praise Gabriel gave him.  Gabriel took the flask from Hermes’ hands and put it back in his robe with a chuckle before continuing.  “You’re smarter than you look.  You know I’m no ordinary man, and this no ordinary art.”  Hermes, calming down from his embarrassment, nodded; “I know.  With your name, I know not only who you are but what you are and where you come from, and it’s certainly not Canaan.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “Bingo.  I know you and have known you, Hermes, and I am glad you finally know me, too.”  He looked down at the patch of dirt where he taught his art to Hermes, then looked back at Hermes with a contented smile.  “I learned this art from my Father, and it was entrusted to me to help me in my job as His messenger.  And now I entrust this art to you, Hermes, as your brother.”  Hermes looked deeply at Gabriel, not only seeing that fire in Gabriel’s eyes but joining it with his own, and nodded his assent.  “And as I have received this art from you, Gabriel”, Hermes responded, “I am your brother.”  Gabriel smiled and, looking once more towards the northern sky and then down at their patch of dirt, stood up and brushed the dust and dirt off from his robes.  “You’ve learned much, but you cannot master what you cannot name,” Gabriel said as he wiped his hands clean.  “We have no word for this art where I’m from.  What will you call it?”

Hermes stared at Gabriel thoughtfully, then looked down at the patch of ground in front of him that contained all his marks.  He drew out all sixteen figures together, contemplating each point and line as he did.  He gazed at the dirt for a long time, and as the Sun began to touch the horizon, he finally he looked up at Gabriel, his teacher’s profile illuminated in the ruddy gold glow of the evening Sun.  “This is an art to know all that happens in and upon the world.  This is an art born from the Earth, not just with earth or water but all the elements of this world.  I call it ‘geomancy’, to see with the Earth.”  Gabriel grinned as the wind began to pick up, blowing his robes behind his back majestically towards the sky.  “Then I have taught you geomancy, Hermes, and you are the first geomancer of this world.  May this art serve you well, and may you serve the world well by it.”

Hermes nodded and smiled, wiping the patch of earth before him clean before the wind could do it for him this time.  “I hope that I may, brother.”  Gabriel nodded in reply and extended his hand to Hermes, which Hermes took in his own.  The teacher lifted his student up and, after measuring him with his eyes, embraced Hermes in the love only brothers have.  After a time, Gabriel let go of Hermes and turned away, heading for the last time towards the north with the Sun setting on his left and the Moon rising on his right.  Hermes kept his eyes fixed on Gabriel’s back as he walked off, but another gust of wind blew Gabriel’s robes up like wings as it blew more dust into Hermes’ eyes; by the time Hermes could clear his eyes, there was nobody around, with neither the figures of geomancy nor the footsteps of angels to mark what happened.

Sitting back down by his tree, Hermes mulled over his time with Gabriel, all of the things he learned, and all of the things he might yet learn.  A quiet breeze blew, kicking up a bit of dust around Hermes but without irritating his lungs again.  Staring at the ground marked with the sixteen geomantic figures, he rubbed his fingers together, noticing the fine grit of dust and sand caught between the grooves of his digits.  In the last sliver of light of the Sun, Hermes got up and walked home, taking more time than he normally would to carefully settle down in all his newfound knowledge and skill.  Finishing his journey well after nightfall, he paused outside the threshold of his house and looked around, seeing an empty patch of fallow ground to the side of his house.  In the light of the Moon, now high in the sky, Hermes cast his first chart to see how his traveling merchant son was doing.  Hermes smiled; he would never again be worried by being out of touch.

Days, weeks, months, years passed.  Hermes practiced his art of geomancy, but went back to his tree every day and, once his mind calmed down from the mania of having a new method of understanding the world, went back to his habit of meditating and contemplating divine mysteries.  However, the man no longer doodled mindlessly in the sand, but used geomancy to explore that which he had trouble understanding.  One day, he finally became great, greater, greatest among men, beholding the Shepherd of Men and understanding the source and purpose of all things.  Finally, he began to teach; he no longer worried for his children, leaving them to their own devices, except for his son Tat whom he taught as a successor to his wisdom.  As Hermes Trismegistus traveled, he taught arts and skills of all kinds, reserving some for particular students and others for other students, but he kept geomancy a secret, not finding one apt enough in his travels yet to learn it from him.

Inspired by whispers of white and blue in his heart to teach geomancy to one who would do both him and his art well, Hermes Trismegistus traveled to the east, and gave the entirety of the art of geomancy to the one named Tumtum.  Tumtum learned it and traveled west, giving it to the one named az-Zanati.  Az-Zanati learned it and gave it to the Arabs.  The Arabs learned it and gave it to the Europeans.

The ancients learned it and gave it to us.

And now I, having learned it, give it to you.

ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΤΡΙΣΜΕΓΙΣΤΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΓΕΩΜΑΝΤΙΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΙΓΥΠΤΙΑΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΓΓΕΛΕ ΑΓΓΕΛΩΝ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ

Empowerment Candle Ritual with Psalm 119

(Update 1/8/2018: Got here by Googling around or followed a link from another site?  Interested in more about this ritual, especially since this post is old and I’ve learned quite a bit more since then?  Want to know how to do this ritual better?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

Recently, I got back in touch with a good magical colleague of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to in a bit.  Not that anything was wrong, it was just that life got in the way of us having a good time.  Happily, our mutual absence from each other’s lives is now over, and we’re getting down to brainstorming some good ol’ fashioned powerworking, because we’re fancy like that.  My friend and I don’t exactly match much in what we do; I’m the fancy Hermetic quasi-Hellenic part-classical-part-Renaissance ritual magician, and my friend is basically a dirty, fabulous, conjuring, rootworking, Vodou-doing swamp witch.  We happily complement each other’s works, and although we’re kinda like night and day, there are a good number of places we overlap.

One night, we were discussing some traditional protection magic involving mirror boxes and representations made of ourselves to act as decoys in attracting maleficia. My friend brought up the idea of circling the representation in ash composed from burning copies of Psalm 23 and Psalm 91, both of which serve extremely well in spiritual protection and defense.  The notion of circling an image of oneself in ash struck me as peculiar, but also extraordinarily powerful.  The image of Tarot Trump XXII, the World, stuck in my head, and my mind made the leap to using Psalm 119 as the basis for such an ash as well.

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After all, Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Bible, and itself is longer than a good number of books from both the Old and New Testament.  It’s an example of an acrostic hymn, where each section begins with a different letter of the alphabet (in this case, the Hebrew script).  Thus, there are 22 sections of 8 verses each, each verse extolling a different virtue or blessing ascribed to the Law.  Because of it’s all-encompassing nature, it’s one of the most powerful psalms used in psalmic magic, like in conjurework and American folk magic.  Sometimes just a small section of the Psalm is used, and sometimes the entire psalm.

Add to it, the connection of the different sections of Psalm 119 with the Hebrew letters struck me as powerful.  I think my readers are already familiar with my affinity for alphabet magic, especially when it comes to Greek, but that’s not to say I discount the use of Hebrew.  After all, qabbalah is still a thing.  With each Hebrew letter represented in Psalm 119, the psalm truly does have a universal power that can affect, well, everything.  Every force in the Hebrew tradition (12 signs of the Zodiac, 7 planets, and 3 elements because Earth and Spirit aren’t a thing rabbinically speaking) is represented here, and is heavily involved in the modern understanding of the paths of the Tree of Life.  If we combine the powers of the building blocks of the cosmos with the already notable power of Psalm 119 as used in traditional magic, we can get a truly powerful result upon ourselves.

Thus, this ritual makes an ash with Psalm 119 and circles a representation of ourselves with it; we effectively encircle, fortify, and bless ourselves with all of creation and all of the blessings and promises of the Lord, while also orienting ourselves to the Law of God and our duties within it.  My swamp witch friend heard me out on this and we promptly queened out over the prospects of using this in a separate ritual.  After some discussion, we decided to draw out a recitation of the entire Psalm 119 over the course of a lunar month for a general, but profound, empowerment ritual to strengthen, bless, and help us in all our needs in life.  A tentative working name for this ritual might be “Anointing of the World’s Blessing”, given a structural similarity with the World card and what it actually does.

The ritual takes place over a full lunar month (30 consecutive days), broken down into several stages.  The way we’ve planned it, the ritual requires about 15 minutes per day, but it can be augmented as necessary according to your own preferences.

  • Day 0 (New Moon, one day): preparation of supplies and altar
  • Days 1 through 3 (three days): initial prayers
  • Days 4 through 25 (22 days): Psalm prayers
  • Days 26 through 28 (three days): final prayers
  • Day 29 (Dark Moon, one day): thanksgiving and cleanup

The materia for this ritual are fairly simple and easily obtained:

  • Four white candles (tealights work fine)
  • Four seven-day candles (those 7-color glass-encased candles are perfect)
  • A recent picture of yourself
  • A printout of Psalm 119
  • A Bible (any decent translation in your native language is good, but you can’t go wrong with the King James Version)
  • A small glass jar or vial with airtight lid
  • Olive oil

On the day of the New Moon, prepare your representation of yourself.  If you’re just using a picture of yourself, write out your full birth name, followed by “son/daughter/child of” the name of your mother, and your birthday and birthtime (if you have it), perhaps writing your name on it seven times to make a proper name paper out of it.  Once this is done, take the printout of Psalm 119 and burn it to ash.  On an altar or surface that you’ve already ritually cleaned off for the working, set the representation of yourself down and make a complete circle around it in the Psalm ash, and set the four 7-day candles around the circle aligned to the four cardinal directions.

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Set one white candle on top of your representation (with at least some sort of protection between the candle base and your representation) and light it, letting it burn down completely, praying that the ritual to be used with them be purified and blessed with the grace and power of God.  Once the white candle has burned out later that day, dispose of it.

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On the sunrise after the New Moon (the start of the Noumenia), begin the first three days of the ritual.  Light the candle aligned towards the East and face the East as well if you can (not required).  On sunrise of each of these three days, recite the Pater Noster once and the Gloria Patri three times.  Recite an adaption of the prayer from the Heptameron (normally to be used instead of invocations of the angels of the airs when working above the fifth heaven):

O God, mighty and merciful!
O God, great, excellent, and honored through endless ages!
O God, powerful, strong, and without beginning!
O God, wise, illustrious, just, and divinely loving!

I ask you, most holy Father, that I should complete and completely realize my work, labor, and petition, You who live and reign, world without end.  Bless me in all times, in all days, in all places, in all ways.  Let boundless bounty and blessing come to me from the four corners of the world.  Help me, o Lord, in my life that I may come to be girded by the strength and aid of the world, subject only to You.  Amen.

On the sunrise of the fourth day, go to the altar and face East if you can (not required).  Recite the following prayer over the altar:

O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
O God, make speed to save me.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

On this day, pray the first section of verses (Psalm 119:1-8) corresponding to the Hebrew letter Aleph.  As is traditional, it’s important to actually read this from a hardcopy Bible, but that’s only if you care about being traditional.  After praying this section of Psalm 119, meditate briefly on the meaning and content of the section just recited, closing with a silent prayer for the blessing of the world to infuse your life, empower you, strengthen you, illumine you, and assist you in all undertakings.

Repeat this process for the next 21 days, reciting each of the sections of Psalm 119 in turn.  Thus, on the fifth day, recite the second section of Psalm 119 (Bet); on the sixth, the third section (Gimel); on the seventh, the fourth section (Dalet); and so on until the 25th day, reciting the 22nd section (Tav).  Eventually, the 7-day candle you lit earlier will burn out; on the next sunrise, light the next candle going in a clockwise direction (so East, South, West, then North).  The first three candles should have burned out by the 25th day, with more than half of the fourth and final candle having been consumed.  If they burn longer than expected, set alight the next candle on the expected day using the flame from the old candle; if they burn shorter than expected, set alight the next candle on the expected day rather than immediately.

On the 26th day, begin the process of closing the ritual for the final three days.  The process is the similar to the first three days: on sunrise of each of these three days, recite the Pater Noster once and the Gloria Patri three times. Finally, recite Matthew 7:7-8 from the Bible:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Ideally, the candle-verse breakdown should go like this:

  1. Three days of preliminary prayer, Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalet
  2. Heh, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yod, Kaph
  3. Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Peh, Tzaddi
  4. Qoph, Resh, Shin, Tav, three days of final prayer

On the 29th day, the day before the New Moon (maybe two days depending on the specific month we’re in), all the candles should have burnt out entirely.  This is the final day of the ritual when all the other work has been done.  First, take your picture and burn it to an ash, then collect the rest of the ash from the Psalm 119 printout and mix it together.  If there’s any wax or soot residue from the four seven-day candles, take a small scraping from each candle and mix it with the ash.  Get a small vial of good olive oil and mix the ash in fully and well.  Dispose of the rest of the remains from the ritual, then set the vial of ash where your picture used to sit, and set three white candles close around the vial.  Light them and make an offering of praise in thanksgiving to God for his help and blessing in your life; I recommend the thanksgiving prayers I use, based on Draja Mickaharic’s prayer from the Old Testament.  Pray over the oil mixed with the ash that it may assist you henceforth in all your undertakings, both those you desire and those you ought to desire, in the things you do and the things you ought to do, that you may always receive the blessing and strength and courage of the Lord in all your life.  Let the candles burn down completely.  Once they’ve burned out, the ritual is complete and finished.

The oil mixed with the ash is to be kept safe as a special and private anointing oil for yourself.  It’s intrinsically tied to you and your life, and not to be used by others or on the tools of others, only on you and your tools in your workings.  Anoint yourself with this oil (perhaps using Psalm 23, perhaps using my own prayer of anointing that you might find useful) before any working or operation, even if it’s a mundane thing like going to an interview; heck, anoint yourself with it upon rising every day.  This oil is a blessing for you in addition to having received the blessings from praying Psalm 119 itself.

Some suggestions for alternatives or enhancements to the ritual:

  • Instead of using the preface prayer (O Lord, open thou my lips…) to the sections of Psalm 119, you might use Psalm 23 instead, which is also appropriate here.
  • A la my daily mathetic letter meditations, you may find it helpful to do a similar meditation ritual for the letter of the section of Psalm 119 being meditated upon, complete with a visualization of the Hebrew letter itself and projecting it and the sounds of the letter into the ash.
  • If you’d like to focus the entire ritual to a particular end rather than a general empowerment, dress the candles and your representation with an appropriate oil, as well as the Psalm printout before you burn it.  You could also write out the intention of the ritual on the back of your photo as well, writing it in a circle around your name and birth information.
  • Consider dedicating the four candles to the four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel in their appropriate directions (using whatever associations you prefer for this), and invoke them on each day their specific candles are burning.  Going with the Tarot theme, you might place the Kings of the Tarot under each candle (King of Wands for Michael, King of Swords for Raphael, etc.) and place the World card under yourself.  In the picture of my working setup above, you can see that I did just this, with the World card hidden under the silver platter with my picture and the ashes.
  • I only clean off a ritual surface with a light wash of Florida water and holy water (obtained from a church is always a good choice, but you can make it on your own, too), but you might enhance the ritual area by drawing an empowerment sigil under your representation, lining the surface with crossroads dirt, writing sacred verses from the Bible around your representation to be covered with the Psalm ash, or the like.
  • The ritual above says only one section of Psalm 119 per day during the main part of the ritual month.  You might also consider saying the entire psalm each day, or building up to saying the entire psalm over the course of the month (saying the Aleph section on the first day of this part of the month, Aleph and Beta on the second, Aleph through Gimel on the third, until the final day when you say the entire Psalm 119).
  • I know that there are angels for each of the letters of the Greek alphabet, and I’m sure that a similar set of angels exist for the letters of the Hebrew script, though I don’t know (yet) of one.  You might consider doing an invocation of the letter-angel on each day corresponding to the particular section of Psalm 119 being said.  Alternatively, you might consider invoking the angel associated with the force that is associated with each Hebrew letter (e.g. Heh is associated with Aries, so invoke the angel of Aries, Malkhidael; Aleph is associated with Air, so invoke the angel of Air, Raphael).  You can find these names courtesy of Agrippa (book II, chapter 7 for the elements, chapter 10 for the planets, chapter 14 for the signs).
  • If you want to be more Jewish about this, instead of reciting the prayers at sunrise, try doing them at sunset when the Jews consider their days to start.
  • To be honest, I hadn’t originally considered saving the ash from the Psalm and mixing it with the photo to turn it into an anointing oil, but hey, “waste not, want not”.  Instead of doing that, you could save the ash with the picture (not burning it) and turning it into a mojo bag or other similar charm to keep with you.
  • You might consider using a lodestone or magnet lightly dusted with the Psalm 119 ash and placing it on top of your image so that it attracts all the blessings of the world to you.  This magnet would be placed into the vial of oil to continue drawing the blessings to it and to you over time.  I don’t prefer doing this, only because with the ritual, there’s no need to attract anything from the world that you’re already the center of; all of the cosmos revolves around you in this ritual layout.  There are arguments for and against this, and I can see benefits for doing both.  Experiment!
  • If you want to speed up the process, you might be able to condense the whole working into seven days.  The first day would be for setup and opening prayers (days 0 through 3) and the last day for closing prayers and thanksgiving (days 26 through 29).  The intermediate five days would go more-or-less as usual, except that you’d recite four sections of Psalm 119 a day: open with section Aleph, two of the sections of the psalm (Beth and Gimel, Dalet and Heh, Vav and Zayin, Cheth and Teth, etc.), then close with section Tav.  This maintains a coherency along the entire week, but in a faster manner.  Still, why rush it?  Why use the microwave when you can have a slow-cooked, higher-quality meal instead?
  • As with any prolonged ritual working, this may have some unintended side-effects.  Read through the entire psalm first before deciding whether you want to use this ritual.  I honestly didn’t expect this ritual to have as many effects as it did, not all of which were entirely pleasant to go through, but I’m glad it did.

(Again, this post is old, so please check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)