On Divining versus Counseling

Seems like I’m in a big mood for posting.  Lots of ideas keep popping up for writing, and so many ideas get shelved in my drafts folder.  Here’s one that I think really deserves some talking about.

A while back on the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, someone made a thread about stopping their studies of divination.  It wasn’t that they weren’t getting good results with divination generally or geomancy specifically—they were!—but rather that they were worried about people misusing the information obtained from readings one for them.  It’s easiest to simply quote the original post, with the permission of the author:

Do you often feel bad by the misuse people make from your readings and inputs?  That’s certainly my case.

People generally ask me if they will get pretty difficult long-term things in life and get disappointed when the reading says “no”.

Even when the answer is a short-term “yeah what you’re feeling will get a lot worse, seek a treatment ASAP”, people often won’t do this and that gets me angry sometimes.

A third situation is when they get good purely materialistic answers, which makes their mind go deeper in search of 100% materialistic stuff—that is, makes them avoid psychological growth

That’s why having spent a great deal of time and effort to have accuracy in divination I probably won’t follow this further…and that’s somewhat sad.

The conversation was continued by excellent friend and colleagues, and I joined in as well, but I’d like to flesh out some of my thoughts more fully here, because this touches on a really vital point for us all to understand, whether as diviners specifically or as any sort of spiritually-abled person generally.

First, let’s be clear about our topic here.  Divining is the act of divination, and divination is the process of uncovering or obtaining knowledge through occult or spiritual means.  How it does this is up for debate, but the fact that it does this is uncontroversial, and anyone who is a diviner can do it.  Some people do divination for others, some people only do divination only for themselves.  Whether you do divination for others or not is a choice that’s entirely up to you, as is whether you do it for a fee or not.   That’s all fine, well, and good, but always remember that divination is not counseling.  Not only is counseling inherently an act that involves two parties, the counselor and the counseled, but divination is simply obtaining information and relaying it to the one who requested it; counseling is taking that information and applying it in context to a person’s life.  The two are completely different sets of skills with entirely different purposes, and not all diviners can be counselors.  The issue is that this distinction is not always made clear to people who learn divination, and the notion of what a “reading” is tends to blur such distinctions, especially in many cases where a client or querent has an honest issue on their hands and needs both information and counseling.

The problem of the original post is that of getting stuck in the pull between divination and counseling, and also seeing how people react to your best attempts at guiding and counseling them through divination.  The original poster points out that he gets discouraged from doing divination because of three types of people:

  1. People who get disappointed with the answers of divination because it doesn’t confirm their hopes.
  2. People who disregard the advice given to them in a reading against the hopes of the reader.
  3. People who use spiritual means for strictly material ends against the hopes of the reader.

Before discussing any of these, it’s important to note that all these situations take place in the context of doing readings for other people.  If the original poster is getting discouraged to the point where he might not “follow [divinatory studies] any further”, then it really should be emphasized that divination can always be done for yourself or for people you trust explicitly; you don’t have to do divination for anyone but yourself, if you don’t want to.  There’s no requirement that, having learned divination, you must provide it for others as a service.  If you only want to study divination for your own benefit, that’s great!  Keep doing that.  You don’t owe others something you cultivate for your own benefit.

So, let’s talk about these situations.  Let’s say that we have a client who’s coming to a reader for a reading.  We can say that, for the sake of this post, either the client has paid or bartered with the reader in an acceptable way and the reader is obliged to give the client a reading, or that the reader is giving a reading to the client free of any charge but as a gift that the reader earnestly wants to give.  In either case, it’s understood that the reader is doing readings for other people as their own choice, and once the reading begins, the reader is obliged to give the reading to the best of their ability

It must be noted that, of the three situations above, it’s only the first one that deals with divination strictly and not counseling.  In the first situation, we have a querent who comes to a diviner asking about the outcome or possibility for a certain thing in their lives; the divination gives a negative answer, and the querent becomes disappointed and put off.  As a reader and diviner, being the bearer of bad news is never fun, and I’ve sometimes had to take a moment to myself after particularly difficult readings to regain my composure.  That said, as a reader, I am obliged to give whatever information is in the reading to the client; if it’s there, I must give it to the client because that’s what they’re paying me for (or what I feel obliged to give, in any case).  I know there are some people who might take issue with that rule of honesty, but as I see it, for me to be aware of something and preventing someone from also being aware of it, especially when they’re specifically directing me to help them be aware of it, is immoral and unethical.  Beyond that, just like how I can’t force someone to be happy when I make them dinner, I can’t force them to be happy when I tell them what I read.  This is especially a problem (for the client, I should say, not for me) when someone comes to me for a reading that only confirms what they already think and hope for; they don’t actually care about getting new information, they just want to make a mockery of the sacred practices of divination to make themselves feel better, and when they find out that they don’t actually know everything, they get put out.  Tough for them, I suppose, but that’s none of my concern.

Regardless of the type of news, news is news, and my only job in a reading as a diviner is to give information to the client.  How they react to it is up to them; I have no control over that, nor is it any of my concern.  They wanted information, I gave them information.  They now know what they did not know, and that’s the end of my role in the situation.  Read that again: once the reading is done, the role of the reader is complete.  As a diviner, counselor, reader, or whatever term you want to use, it’s important to know your role in a reading and what the reader-client relationship consists of, because that’s what defines your responsibilities, obligations, and level of involvement in the situation.  As a reader, your roles can be divvied up into two sets: as diviner, that of intelligence-gatherer, information-compiler, and contextualizer; as counselor, that of adviser, therapist, and listener.  All of these roles last for the duration of the reading, after which you’re not beholden to the client for any reason, nor should you be.  To stay attached is a matter of emotional over-involvement, and you can’t afford that level of attachment as a reader.  Down that way lies bias, which is an inhibition that effectively prevents you from performing divination and counseling.  Bias prevents you from seeing things accurately and evaluating the information coming to you critically and objectively, whether it’s the symbols in a chart or the words from your client’s mouth.  Getting too attached also gets you also gets you riled up when they’re riled up, or depressed when they’re depressed, and in either case prevents your own equanimity that can spiritually ensure your ability to divine at all.

So, one of the biggest rules to divination in general, no matter the system: if you cannot significantly reduce bias or entirely eliminate it from the reading at hand, you should not do the reading.  This works in either direction, whether you’re biased towards or against the situation of the reading or the client requesting it.  Regardless whether they’re your friend, husband, or a stranger, if you can’t extract yourself from hopes or fears or hates about the situation or the people involved, then you’re not the right person to do the reading.  Divination and counseling requires levelheadedness and objectivity so that you can not only see the information given to you but also communicate it effectively and accurately, and bias disrupts that ability.  It’s much like when you’re faced with a situation you’re incredibly anxious about; if you can’t calm yourself or if you’re fixated on the worst possible outcomes, you can’t do divination for yourself because you’re neither mentally fit nor objectively-minded enough to read whatever symbols and information might come through.  The same thing also goes for when you’re doing divination or counseling for other people.  Yes, bias in counseling matters, too; after all, it’s hard to avoid revulsion and spite if your client is someone you hate, and as hard to avoid enabling and sugarcoating if your client is someone you have affection for.  We can minimize these things, sure, but being critical and fair to our client is hard if we lean too far in either direction.

So, with those three statements in bold we’ve got so far, the next situation described by the original poster becomes pretty clear to deal with.  In the second case, we have a client who disregards the information, advice, suggestions, and counseling given to them by the reader.  Just like how being the bearer of bad news can break my heart, being the bearer of ignored news is often worse, and I definitely sympathize with the frustration.  But remember, your role to play is complete once the reading is done.  Whether they paid you for a reading or whether they accepted your volunteering for giving them one, your role was only to give them any information they asked for and any advice or suggestions that would be pertinent to their situation.  Anything beyond that is uncalled for and, quite honestly, none of your business.  Whether or not they take your advice, or any advice at all, is not up to you, just like how their emotional reactions to a particular type of information isn’t up to you.  They were warned ahead of time of what would happen, and so they had no excuse to not act on that information, especially when provided with reasonable and applicable advice.  Is it frustrating to see people set themselves up for failure?  Absolutely.  Can I chastise them for it?  You bet!  But whether or not they sabotaged themselves by their own unwillingness to act doesn’t affect my role in the situation; after all, I’m not their caretaker, I’m just their diviner who does divination for them, their adviser who gives them advice, and their counselor who gives them counsel.  That’s all I can do; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Typically, however, clients don’t usually just up and say “you’re giving me advice that I refuse to take” in the middle of a reading.  We commonly know about clients not taking our advice when they’re return clients, those with whom we have a stable reader-client relationship with that lasts over several interactions.  In these cases, the client comes back to inform us that something bad in the reading came to pass as you said, or something good didn’t come to pass as you predicted, and it turns out they never took your advice that would have prevented the bad thing or ensured the good thing.  That’s honestly not my fault; I told them what would happen or not happen under what circumstances, so they sabotaged themselves by not acting on that information in the prescribed way.  Hopefully, they learned from this, and would be more amenable to heeding advice.  However, there are cases where sometimes clients just don’t listen, don’t take advice, don’t carry things through to their end, and just aren’t…well, responsible people who take care of themselves.  If, after a certain point, you can’t help but get angry or frustrated with this client?  Well, that’s a type of bias, isn’t it?  And what do we do when we’ve got bias?  Not a damn thing, that’s for sure.  I know several highly-competent and reliable readers who have had to fire their clients—you read that right, the readers fired the clients and not the other way around.  The clients kept flailing for help and kept coming back for it, but never actually use what the reader gave them.  After a certain point, each reader has come to the conclusion with “Why am I wasting my time and breath on you? Why are you wasting your time and money on me? Good luck, good bye.”

So, those’re my thoughts on the first two situations: dealing with disappointment and frustration on the part of the client with the content of readings, and dealing with disappointment and frustration on the part of the reader with lazy clients who don’t take advice.  The third situation described by the original poster is perhaps the most interesting, and it’s not one that had occurred to me before: being disappointed with using divination for purposes that goes against spiritual or psychological development.  That’s…forgive me for being blunt, but that’s an incredibly prejudiced, judgy, holier-than-thou stance that I feel compelled to rebuke and refute.  To make it simple, this is an issue with bias on the part of the diviner, and again, if you feel biased against the client, it’s best that you don’t do readings for them.

Why do I feel so negatively about this stance?  Simply put, you’re not God.  You don’t get to establish the morals, ethics, and goals of other people according to your own, no more than you get to say what divinities I worship or what practices I perform.  If you think all spiritual work should be done in the name of elevation, development, and growth, then I would say that you’re wrong; people have been using magic for getting laid and getting paid since the first days of our awareness of spiritual dimensions of the cosmos and of human existence, and I find nothing wrong with doing so.  I don’t disagree one jot that spiritual development is a good thing, but I’m not going to knock the physical pleasures of the world, either, which are also good to have and to strive for.  And, quite simply, not everyone is going to be playing on the same playing field as you are, nor will they be playing the same games you play.  You don’t know the purpose of why someone acts the way they do, nor do you know their reasoning for it, nor do you know whether it’s fate or divinely ordained for them to do so.  All you know is that they’re coming to you for help with their purposes; if you find that you react so negatively to their aims, then you should simply decline the to do the reading and move on.

There are cases where I will decline to do readings for people without it being a matter of bias, but because I find the question so offensive or troublesome that I can’t perform the reading in good conscience.  For instance, John Michael Greer recommends that, even though divinations to determine health issues or the time and place and conditions of death were hugely common in the historical literature, it would be unethical to do them nowadays.  I don’t hold those exact same views, but I have a few that I do hold: for instance, unless it’s for a very reasonable strategic cause, I don’t do third-party readings for the sake of spying on others, because I find that a person’s privacy is pretty much sacrosanct.  Likewise, I wouldn’t do a reading about how best to kill someone, how to start a sexual relationship with a child, or other illegal acts.  If you find that something is so immoral or unethical to ask about that you cannot answer it in good conscience, you have absolutely every right to decline to perform a reading.

However, I need to contrast “doing things that actively bring harm to the world” versus “doing things for ends I don’t think highly of”.  Just because you don’t think someone should only focus on finding material success doesn’t mean that they’re not meant to do that, nor does that mean that they should sit at your feet and learn how the world ought to work.  You’re a diviner, not a pastor, and (except in the illegal cases above) when someone comes to you for advice on their query, you don’t get to judge them on it.  The most you can do is decline to do the reading for them, but I’ll tell you this: a reputation for being judgy won’t get you many friends, and if you’re doing readings and divination as a business, then it’ll get you even fewer clients.  Just as our clients should have an open mind, we as diviners and readers should, too.  Besides, you don’t know that they’ll always be 100% materialistic, nor do you know whether the very act of reading for them could change that.

After all, there are indeed people whose jobs and roles in this incarnation aren’t to be spiritual, but still recognize that there’s power in it and want to employ those who interact with spiritual forces.  That’s pretty reasonable to me; while I’d like more people to be magicians or spirit-workers, some people have no interest in doing so, or some don’t care about it or just want me to handle the dirty work for them.  I cannot bring myself to judge others for where they are in their lives or what they’re doing with their life; as another commenter on Facebook said, “we all have our hoe to row”.  I’d recommend staying in your lane on this one; give your advice on being more respectful, worshipful, spiritual, or magical, but at the same time, don’t expect it of or force it onto your clients or querents.

So, those are my thoughts; a lot more words I expected to write on this, and a little impassioned at times.  Let me distill it into a quick TL;DR for my readers:

  1. You don’t have to learn divination for other people if you don’t want to do divination for other people.
  2. You don’t have to do divination for everyone who comes knocking; you can be as selective with your clients as you want, or you can be as open to all comes as you want.
  3. Divination is not counseling, but a reading may be both.  Be aware of when a client just needs divination or just needs counseling or needs both divination and counseling.
  4. As a diviner, your role is to give the information present in the reading to the querent who requested it.
  5. As a counselor, your role is to listen, contextualize information, and give helpful advice to the client.
  6. It’s not your problem how the client reacts to the information, so long as you were honest, clear, and tactful about it.
  7. Once the reading is done, the role of the reader is complete.
  8. If you cannot significantly reduce bias or entirely eliminate it from the reading at hand, you should not do the reading.  This applies to readings you do for yourself as well as those you do for others.
  9. All you can do as a reader is present information and give advice, where called for.  Beyond that, you can’t force the client to improve their situation or their life, though you can stop dealing with them if they keep wasting your time.
  10. Either don’t judge your clients for where they are or what they’re doing with their lives, or don’t do readings for them.
  11. If you’re going to help people, focus first on helping them as best you can, and less on the overall purpose they’re coming to you for help for.
  12. If you find a query to be morally, ethically, or legally reprehensible, you have every right as a reader to decline doing a reading for that query.

For me, deciding on ceasing learning and practicing divination because some people are stupid or because I don’t like why some people might use it is like ceasing to be a software engineer because some people don’t know how to use computers properly or use them for porn; I can’t control what other people use their computers for, and I can’t teach everyone the proper care and use of computers.  What I can do, however, is make things as best I can for those who can use them and who need my skills in making things work for them.  The net gain from doing so is far greater than not doing it at all.

Giving Blessings

I really need to learn to keep more cash on me.  I’m normally a card-type of guy, but in the right circumstances (and in increasingly more ones every day), cash goes a lot farther a lot faster than credit.

One of the main reasons for me to keep more cash on me, or at least staying in the habit of having a few bills on me at all times, is religion.  In La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (aka Santería—I wonder when I’ll stop feeling obliged to give the alternate, perhaps more common name), cash is customary for donations for any number of reasons, not least because it’s legal tender and proof of payment in itself.  When we establish the celebratory throne for an orisha, when we set up the drummers’ seats for a dance, even when we visit a priest’s house for their anniversary of initiation, it’s quite acceptable to leave a few dollars as a respectful donation (often in conjunction with an offering of fruit, flowers, candles, and so forth).  My checklist for going to an event now consists of making sure my whites are clean, I’ve got my offerings ready to go, and stopping by the ATM for a few extra bills.

One of the unusual things, however, is that there is a process for giving cash in the religion (always processes for everything, after all).  This one isn’t difficult; simply cross yourself with the money before dropping it into the basket/basin/jícara/etc.  Making the Sign of the Cross is a natural motion for many people in the religion, and it helps in sanctifying the donation with a holy reverence and respect.

Well, I didn’t realize how ingrained in me that habit had become until I went to a winery this past weekend.  The husband and I went to see one of his good friends play a gig there, and we got a bottle of fruit wine while we were at it.  It was a lovely, cloudy, pleasantly mild Saturday in early May, and we enjoyed ourselves (even through all the pollen).  Our friend, a guitarist and singer, had his guitar case opened up before his station, and a few people had already dropped some cash in there.  I followed suit to support our friend, so I reached into my wallet and—well, my first instinct was to cross myself with the money.  I laughed about it with my husband, and had to remind myself that this wasn’t a religious function and there’s no need to do that here, so I didn’t, and just dropped the cash in his case anyway.  I made a joke about it on Twitter, too (along with a few others).

But…well, I realized after the fact that maybe that wasn’t a habit I should suppress, and a few replies on Twitter had really brought that conversation to the forefront of my mind.  After all, we cross ourselves with the donation in a religious setting to sanctify the donation and show our respect to the ashé of the orisha or drummer or priest or whoever-else.  As an initiated priest in this religion, not only do I show my respect with this act, but I’m also blessing that offering on-the-fly with my action and intent for the sake of whoever-it-is.  It’s not just a show of support or well-wishing at that point, but a spiritual act to lend my grace, support, succor, and help to whoever-it-is, as well as a physical prayer made to express my hope for their grace, support, succor, and help in my own life, as well.  Such is the nature of blessings.

Could I have donated money as a spiritual act before initiation?  Absolutely!  That wasn’t something that was held off for me, especially given all my other practices going on.  But here’s the thing that’s slowly dawning on me in truly profound ways: I can never stop being a priest.  Yeah, intellectually I understood that; orisha live on my head now, and they see what I see and hear what I hear, not to mention seeing and hearing me at all times.  That’s one of the reasons why good conduct is paramount for initiates.  Yet, even in the little things, I don’t stop being a priest.  Why, then, should I not bless something when it’s already a habit for me to do so in an innocuous way?  Why would I not do what is essentially my job at a perfect opportunity just because the context is different from what I’d expect for my job?  I don’t have to be in the Ocha Room in order to work Ocha; Ocha is in me, Ocha is around me, Ocha is part of me wherever I go, whenever I go.  I do not stop being a priest, so why not act accordingly?

This isn’t, of course, about proselytizing or trying to force initiations onto others or try to sell orisha out on discount.  Priesthood is still something I’m coming to terms with and figuring out in all its emanations, but there are a few things I do know, and one of them is that I want to make the world better.  For myself, to be sure, but also for my loved ones, my family, my godfamily, my colleagues, my friends, my coworkers, my teachers, my students…everyone.  In a very real sense of Buddhist emptiness, we’re all in this together, because I can’t exist without you nor can you exist without me, so if I’m to truly do well, I need to make sure that you’re also doing well, as well, because, at its core, I can’t really cease suffering myself until all suffering is ceased.  Sure, there are ways I can prosper at others’ dire expense, but even an ounce of shame would keep me from really enjoying such wealth because it’s not justly earned; only if that wealth is justly earned, the exchange is fair, and everyone has at minimum what they need without worry is it a state I can enjoy.  Extend that notion, then, to everything, everywhere, and everywhen.  It is not true that everyone needs to be a priest to make the world a better place, but it damn well sure helps me in that undertaking.  I have the tools and, slowly, the techniques and the knowledge to work what I can for myself and for those in my world to make the world a better place, and I don’t have a reason to not do that, so there’s only one real choice: do it.  In a sense, it’s a kind of theurgy, no matter how small the individual acts are.  The Great Work isn’t done in a day, after all.

For anyone involved in spiritual practices, there is no reason to separate out the mundane from the spiritual.  Context and consent matters, absolutely, but if you have the chance to infuse a mundane act with a spiritual force in it, why not do it?  If nothing else, it’s practice, and can ensure your own success later down the line.  Ideally, doing so would make things better for the entire world with a simple act that sets of a chain reaction, even if it’s just a minor set of coincidences.  But for those who can give their blessing—and you don’t, strictly speaking, need to be a priest for that—why not give it freely at every opportunity?  If you can call upon the power of the dead, the gods, the elements, the angels, or whatever else it is you work with, why not back up your hopes and well-wishes for the well-being of others with the power that you can direct and work with, especially if it’s in the moment of a trivial action you were going to do anyway?

I have to admit, now I wish I had crossed myself with that money before I dropped it in our friend’s guitar case.  Lesson learned, then.  There are some habits that really should be kept up.

On Blessings

Lately, I’ve been thinking of things going on in my life, or that have happened in my life, and started to call the good ones (like, the really good ones) “blessings”.  It’s something that I’ve heard some of my older or elder friends say, too, about some of the nicer things in life, and…it’s weird.  Before initiation into Santeria, I would never really have used the word “blessing” to describe a good thing that happens.  Awesome, fantastic, or great, perhaps, but “blessing” was weird for me to think of it that way. Now, it seems a lot more natural; perhaps it’s just a shift in the crowd I run with and adopting the terminology, but seeing how I was already running with them before, something must have clicked into place for this sense of the word “blessing” to click for me.

Let’s recap, I suppose. From my Western religious or magical viewpoint that I’d assume is more-or-less common (but I could be wrong!), a blessing is a ritual act where something or someone is blessed.  For instance, a Catholic priest can bless a saint medallion (or any number of other things), and oftentimes perform a light or simple exorcism of a person which can also count as a blessing.  Other priests in other traditions and religions generally follow suit, with the overall goal to instill a force or presence of holiness or divinity in a material vessel, animate or not.  For many of the same reasons, many of the enchanting or consecrating acts magicians do can also be considered blessings; heck, the language we use is often identical to those used in the Church, if not taken directly from their liturgies and rituals, with much the same effect (though issues of apostolic succession and the lack thereof can subtly change or weaken the end result).

We can look at the word “blessing” in two etymological ways: the first, using the Germanic word family of bless, blood, and blót, and the second using the Latin word family of benedicere.  In the former, we have an original word coming from Germanic paganism of “marking with blood”, leading to the term blót, a sacrifice, and blót-hus, “house of worship” or “temple”.  By using the blood of sacrificed animals, the divine figures of worship, the place of worship, and the worshipers themselves would be instilled with the special powers contained within; there are conceptual parallels between this and the Old Testament use of sacrificed oxen and bulls in the Temple, as well as the literal bloodbath Moses gave to the Hebrews as he came down from the Mount.

In the second sense, we have the far more bland Latin term benedicere, literally meaning “to speak well” or “to say good things”.  However, in the Christian sense, consider that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Logos; to speak good things upon someone is to literally cast the power of God upon them for good ends and with good means.  This builds upon the more fundamental Abrahamic understanding of a blessing (all of which ultimately come from God) to the effect that to be blessed is to be favored and approved by God.  This ties into the otherwise unusual statement “Blessed are you, Lord our God” (how almost all Jewish blessings, or berakhot, begin); after all, how could God be blessed, if God gives all blessings?  It’s because being the source of blessings is indistinguishable from the quality of being blessed; both the blessing and the blessor are identical.

So much for etymologies and definitions.  When it comes to using the word, I’ve pretty much limited myself to using it in a ritual or prayerful context.  I would suppose that, as a technical matter, only priests (who have a valid and legitimate connection to their deity and who are licensed and authorized to do so by such a connection) can actually bless an object, person, event, or space.  Laity and other non-priestly clergy who lack that connection can pray for the blessing of something, while magicians can…well, I don’t want to say “consecrate” (literally “to make sacred”, which overlaps heavily with “blessing”), but perhaps “enchant” or (one of my more favorites, thanks Kalagni and Deb et al.) “enwoogify” or “bespooken”.  As a matter of technical correctness, only priests can bless; even if what magicians do is effectively the same thing in result, the mechanics and source of the result is sufficiently different to warrant another term.

But…well, consider what the laity do in this context: they pray for blessings upon someone else.  It’s what I never really put much consideration into before now, but when someone prays for your well-being, your happiness, your prosperity, your safety, your success…those are the blessings they pray for, which are their blessings to you.  Absent any other ritual, divine connection, or other woogity, that act is the lay equivalent of blessing someone, by appealing to the source of blessings to bestow its blessings.  That is their magic, their means of plying their connection, their gift to you.  Again, while them “blessing” you isn’t necessarily a proper use of the term, just as with a magician enchanting for some effect, the effect is ultimately equivalent.

That sort of realization is, in some sense (and in addition to being with people who use that term just as a thing), what led me to start widening my use of the term “blessing”, and why it finally made sense to call good things that happen “blessings”.  When we, as magicians, carry out a ritual for some end, do we not consider ourselves successful when that very thing comes to pass?  Of course we do; we might find ways to improve upon our results for future workings, but we consider the success a validation of our work, our connections to spirits, and ourselves.  Similarly, when we pray for something, do we not consider ourselves having been heard by God or the gods when what we pray for comes to pass?  Heck, we even say that they “answer our prayers”, just as they would a phone call or question.  Thus, if we pray for a blessing, and our prayers are answered, then we would then, logically, say that we have been blessed.

I’ve long held that magicians should pray just as much as anyone else, if not more so; in the types of magic I work, prayer is part and parcel of the whole shebang.  In my own prayers, besides those of adoration of divinity, I pray for guidance, enlightenment, fortitude, progress, compassion, companionship, wisdom, intelligence, understanding, protection, purpose, purity, and so much else.  For myself and for many other people, the most common things we pray for are good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.  There are hundreds of classifications and categories of blessings out there (just look up the endless kinds of berakhot that Jews are supposed to recite upon basically anything happening), but the big ones are things we all want in our lives, which are fundamental to a universal human notion of “a life well-lived”.

So, when something good happens that furthers me along in a way I’ve prayed for, or that someone else has prayed for me, or that just happen because *gestures vaguely upwards*  I should celebrate it and be grateful for it, just as I’d celebrate myself when something I’ve been magicking for comes to fruition.  Good things that happen (and I mean with a capital G, not just the little g good things) are blessings, whether or not I or anyone else has asked for them.  It’s such a simple concept, really; I’m kind of embarrassed that I never understood it before, but I get it now.  Maybe it’s preconceived notions that Good Things just happen coincidentally (which is otherwise a notion I’ve long since abandoned), or that Good Things happen so rarely (when so much that happens is actually Good, even if it’s not good on a microcosmic level), or something else that kept me from seeing…I dunno, a more profound awe in things.

Of course, recognizing that something is a blessing is only one part of the equation; being grateful for it and not taking it for granted are others to follow through with.  After all, when we get something we ask for from someone as a gift, we graciously and gratefully thank them, if not exchange a new gift for them; when we work with people or spirits whom we commission to do work for us, we pay them for their services.  To simply take without giving is selfish and greedy, and degrades the entity doing something for us into a slave, while taking without appreciation treats them as a machine.  For the Good Things that happen to us, we must be grateful that divinity either heard our prayers and saw fit to grant them, or that divinity for the sake of divinity favored us with the Good Things, but more than that, we must never take such blessings of Good Things for granted.  But then, how do you pay back a god?  In the ways that gods want, of course.  I would fain speak for divinities without them chiming in, but the general ways that I see acceptable across the board would be to make the most of the blessings given to you to further your own development, to help others with their own development, adoration of divinity for its own sake by means of your blessing, and to simply live a good/Good life for the sake of divinity, for the sake of the world, and for your own sake.

A blessing isn’t just a one-time good thing, like a slice of cake.  It’s more than a simple result of spiritual labor or material gift.  It’s a foundation, a building material to continue constructing and instructing our lives in the best ways we’re able to, and with which we can help others build theirs.  We just need the humility to ask for these materials, the knowledge of how to implement them, and the wisdom of when to use them, but even these we can inculcate in ourselves, both as practice we cultivate and blessing we seek.

Priesthood in the World We Live In

Readers of my blog know that I’m a stickler for proper terminology, sometimes expounding on the subtle and nuanced differences (sometimes even those that I impose) to distinguish between different terms that are largely used the same, even for words that historically were interchangeable with each other.  I like to be extraordinarily precise with my language, if for nothing else than to save words or to have certain concepts ready to go, though even I acknowledge that it can be difficult with overly-precise language to actually, yanno, communicate with others.  I see this problem frequently in discussions many occultists have—even those I myself have—and why I spend so much time first trying to understand exactly what someone is talking about (with or without snarky remarks about their clearly awful use of terminology) before coming up with a response.  I might spend a goodly chunk of time on just clarifying something, but it prevents the even larger waste of time that happens when someone says one thing but I was thinking completely another thing due to a misunderstanding of what they mean.  Getting lost in translation is a serious problem, especially when so many people don’t have the same research, education, training, or standardization as other people.

Up until recently, I would have held a distinction between the words “priest” and “minister”.  This is a distinction I found online from some blogger or another, though the exact source escapes me at the moment.  Under such a distinction, while both priests and ministers can be considered part of a clergy that works with God or a god, their role and focus would differ: priests focus on serving, understanding, and working with their deity, while ministers serve, understand, and work with the people.  In other words, priests primarily work in a ritual context, and ministers primarily work in an activism context.  The priests and ministers, then, work amongst themselves and with each other so that the ministers help the words of the gods reach the people by the instructions and divinations of the priests, and the priests help the words of the people reach the gods by the complaints and needs communicated to them by the ministers.  Consider the various ministries in Christian churches that feed and clothe the poor (when they can actually still be found); they’re not really preaching or performing Mass for the poor, but they’re carrying out the will of their God by being activists for the sake of the people.  Meanwhile, the priests proper tend to the rituals of Mass, absolution, baptism, exorcism, and the like, but relegate themselves (for better or for worse) to their ritual expertise and less to activist tasks that would infringe on their time and energy carrying out their priestly duties.  Priests only work with the people insofar as to carry out spiritual ritual for them, and ministers only work with the gods insofar as to carry out their worldly aims; beyond that, the two offices don’t really mix.

But here’s a question: if we neglect our fellow human beings, our pets, our lands, our trades, our environment, we leave the world to its own self-destructive devices.  If we neglect the world, we do nothing to prevent its eventual breaking-apart and wasting-away.  In that light, what good is a broken, wasted world to a god?  They receive no sacrifices, no respect, no honor, and no priests; just as we have an investment in seeing the world do well so that we can live well in it, the gods have an investment in the world to make sure their children do well so that they can do well towards the gods.

What I’m starting to realize is that a priest has a vested interest in both their gods and their people; to tend to one necessitates tending to the other.  A priest does not become a priest merely by studying and becoming an expert in ritual; anyone with half a semi-functioning brain can do that, since it’s not hard to memorize a dozen or four established speeches, read out of special books, and make particular gestures with particular tools at the right times under the right circumstances (it’s what most office workers do mindlessly for eight hours a day five days a week, just with different sets of words, books, gestures, and tools).  A priest must be an expert in ritual but must also show devotion to their gods, discerning their wills and carrying it out.  It’s that last part, carrying out the will of a god, that often necessitates the external world of persons and people, though, sometimes to the great distaste of the priest.  In order for a god to be pleased, they need their needs met and satisfied; given that the world we live in has so many people in it, and affecting so many things to such a great extent, many times these needs call for the interaction and direct communication with people.  With no people, many needs of the gods cannot be met; it is often better, for example, for a tribe of people to raise their voice together in joy and honor of a god rather than just one person alone.  Sometimes, it helps our gods carry out their work by performing acts of charity; a god of lepers and diseases who was cast out of his kingdom, for instance, quite often smiles upon money given to the homeless in his name, and a goddess of love and beauty can appreciate her priest helping others feel beautiful for their own sake as much as being recited her own hymns of beauty.

Let’s be a little more misanthropic about this, shall we?  For a more Machiavellian take on this, consider people as tools, as means to an end.  Any good craftsman knows that you need to take care of your tools so that they can take care of you.  If your tools are crappy, you’ll need to make up for it with more work on your part, and we have tools for the express purpose of making our lives easier.  If your tools fall apart, you risk botching a work in progress and can no longer make things you need to make, and if something is broken, you can no longer fix what needs to work.  Getting high-quality tools is an investment, but you can get better results with them faster, easier, and more reliably than with crappy tools, but even crappy tools are better than no tools at all.  If people are tools, then they need to be taken care of the same way: they need food to sustain them, homes to protect them, clothing to dress them, medicine to heal them, teachers to instruct them, pastimes to relieve them, and communities to engage them.  If people are not taken care of, they will die, wither away, revolt, or outright destroy; in general, people that are not taken care of take away from a Good World, and without a Good World to live in, our lives become harder, our hearts weaker, our tongues more bitter, our minds more dejected, our prayers more hollow, our Work less focused.  We are, all of us, in this thing together.  We, too, are tools to be used by our higher powers, and we, too, need to be taken care of.  It’s very much a “wrench in the machine” kind of situation; so long as the entire machine works properly, then each individual part does well, but if even one gear is out of place or if something is put where it doesn’t belong, the entire machine will break down and explode.

To that end, even the most people-hating of priests has to admit that other people will, nearly always, play a part in their own tending to their gods.  There are exceptions, of course; sometimes there is something we can do on our own to tend to our gods’ needs, and sometimes a god has no need of dealing with other people, but these are only ever exceptions to the otherwise vastly-normal situation where the gods have plans and aims and needs that deal with other people.  Communal celebration, tending to our own towns, helping those in need, and making donations where they help are as much priestly duties as are the successful and proper execution of ritual, sacrifice, and devotion.  We must build up ourselves as much as we build up those around us; it’s only when everyone is enlightened can the bodhisattvas themselves catch a break, and it’s only when one person is elevated that everyone can be brought up to their level.  Priests must be ministers, because the priest is the intermediary between the other realms and this world we live in; ministers can help, but it’s the priest who really stands at the crossroads of divinity and humanity, of eternal immortality and fatal mortality.  If there is a distinction to be made between priests and ministers, then it’s just that ministers focus on a non-ritual, non-spiritual subset of the duties of a priest but still in the same service to the same powers.  It’s not that they’re mutually exclusive categories, but that the functions of one is a subset of the other.  Of course, you could very well cut yourself off from people in the ritual service of your deity or deities, but then that would make you a hermit or a monk, which I would indeed reckon is a distinct category from priest.

A distinction I’ve held before (and still hold to) is that we live in three realms: the physical universe, the spiritual cosmos, and the world, which is the intersection between the two linked together by humanity and the human experience; after all, the word itself comes from old English literally meaning “the age of man” (Proto-Germanic *wer + *ald).  We cannot live purely in either the universe or the cosmos, but in the human-made human-filled realm between them.  To be a priest in the world means mediating between the two by the necessary means of the third element: people itself.