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 Orphic Hymns and Multiple Aspects of Gods

After making public my recent text on the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar calendar system I use for my Mathesis work, I’ve decided to go ahead and make another text for myself.  This latter text is something I don’t plan on making available, since it’s little more than a compilation of oracular verses, wisdom texts, and hymns; due to the copyrighted nature of some of the translations (even if I’m changing them heavily to reflect something I find more fitting based on alternative translations from the original Greek), I don’t think I can or should make this public, as it’d probably put me on uncomfortably thin ice that I don’t care to skate on.  If you’re interested in some of these original texts, here are some references for you to check out:

The reason for my compiling this new text is that…well, basically, I don’t like having books in my temple space.  It’s a personal quirk of mine, but if I can avoid it, I prefer to have my books on my bookshelves where the rest of them are, so that if I need to reference them, I can just reach out and grab one rather than have to enter my temple space unnecessarily.  For instance, I’ve had Dervenis’ Oracle Bones Divination stashed with my Greek stuff because it’s the text I use for astragalomancy, or Greek knucklebone divination; it’s been down there for quite some time, so it’s ended up picking up that faint incense smell common to books gotten from New Age stores.  I haven’t removed it from the Greek shrine area because I keep using it there, though at the cost of when I want to reference it, I typically put it off because I don’t like fiddling with my shrines if I’m not actually going to work with the shrines or, at least, not in a state of purity.  Now, by compiling my own text, I can print out a copy of what I need, store it in a binder, keep the binder in the temple, and move the book to its proper place back on the bookshelf.  I plan on also keeping a binder-copy of the Grammatēmerologion for much the same purpose, too.

It makes sense to me, at least.

One of the things I plan on including in this new binder-text are a selection of the Orphic hymns (Ὀρφικοί Ὕμνοι)—you remember those, right?  They’re the hymns that were commonly associated with the religious sect of Orphism in the classical age, and were further attributed to their mythological founder Orpheus.  Though they have mythological origins dating back to prehistory, it’s more likely that they were written anywhere from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century CE.  Among many other esoteric, ritual, magical, and religious texts, the Orphic Hymns have withstood the test of time as an inventory of some 90-ish (depending on how you count them) prayers that invoke the various gods, goddesses, and spirits of the Greek spiritual cosmos.  I’ve used them countless times both in my magical works as well as my religious offerings, and even Agrippa has great things to say about them when he discusses the power and virtues of prayers and hymns used as incantations both for religion and for magic (book I, chapter 71, emphasis mine):

Besides the vertues of words and names, there is also a greater vertue found in sentences, from the truth contained in them, which hath a very great power of impressing, changing, binding, and establishing, so that being used it doth shine the more, and being resisted is more confirmed, and consolidated; which vertue is not in simple words, but in sentences, by which any thing is affirmed, or denyed; of which sort are verses, enchantments, imprecations, deprecations, orations, invocations, obtestations, adjurations, conjurations, and such like. Therefore in composing verses, and orations, for attracting the vertue of any Star, or Deity, you must diligently consider what vertues any Star contains, as also what effects, and operations, and to infer them in verses, by praising, extolling, amplifying, and setting forth those things which such a kind of Star is wont to cause by way of its influence, and by vilifying, and dispraising those things which it is wont to destroy, and hinder, and by supplicating, and begging for that which we desire to get, and by condemning, and detesting that which we would have destroyed, & hindered: and after the same manner to make an elegant oration, and duly distinct by Articles, with competent numbers, and proportions.

Moreover Magicians command that we call upon, and pray by the names of the same Star, or name, to them to whom such a verse belongs, by their wonderfull things, or miracles, by their courses, and waies in their sphear, by their light, by the dignity of their Kingdome, by the beauty, and brightness that is in it, by their strong, and powerfull vertues, and by such like as these. As Psyche in Apuleius prayes to Ceres; saying, I beseech thee by thy fruitfull right hand, I intreat thee by the joyfull Ceremonies of harvests, by the quiet silence of thy chests, by the winged Chariots of Dragons thy servants, by the furrows of the Sicilian earth, the devouring Wagon, the clammy earth, by the place of going down into cellars at the light Nuptials of Proserpina, and returns at the light inventions of her daughter, and other things which are concealed in her temple in the City Eleusis in Attica. Besides, with the divers sorts of the names of the Stars, they command us to call upon them by the names of the Intelligencies, ruling over the Stars themselves, of which we shall speak more at large in their proper place.  They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, then which nothing is more efficatious in naturall Magick, if they together with their circumstances, which wise men know, be used according to a due harmony, with all attention.

But to return to our purpose. Such like verses being aptly, and duly made according to the rule of the Stars, and being full of signification, & meaning, and opportunely pronounced with vehement affection, as according to the number, proportion of their Articles, so according to the form resulting from the Articles, and by the violence of imagination, do confer a very great power in the inchanter, and sometimes transfers it upon the thing inchanted, to bind, and direct it to the same purpose for which the affections, and speeches of the inchanter are intended. Now the instrument of inchanters is a most pure harmoniacall spirit, warm, breathing, living, bringing with it motion, affection, and signification, composed of its parts, endued with sence, and conceived by reason. By the quality therefore of this spirit, and by the Celestiall similitude thereof, besides those things which have already been spoken of, verses also from the opportunity of time, receive from above most excellent vertues, and indeed more sublime, and efficatious then spirits, & vapors exhaling out of the Vegetable life, out of hearbs, roots, gums, aromaticall things, and fumes, and such like. And therefore Magicians inchanting things, are wont to blow, and breath upon them the words of the verse, or to breath in the vertue with the spirit, that so the whole vertue of the soul be directed to the thing inchanted, being disposed for the receiving the said vertue. And here it is to he noted, that every oration, writting, and words, as they induce accustomed motions by their accustomed numbers, and proportions, and form, so also besides their usuall order, being pronounced, or wrote backwards, more unto unusuall effects.

In my work, I typically use Thomas Taylor’s 1792 English translation, which are arguably among the most well-known and are useful in magic for their rhyming and well-metered format, though Apostolos Athanassakis put out a new translation in 2013 which is arguably more literal and faithful to the original Greek.  I’ll also take the opportunity to point out that Sara Mastros of Mastros & Zealot: Witches for Hire is making a new set of translations, as well, which you can check out on her Facebook page.  HellenicGods.org has the original polytonic Greek texts for the hymns as well, which are useful in their own times and needs.  All the same, regardless what translation or style you use, the Orphic Hymns have power that truly have withstood the test of time; I highly encourage you to use them, if you’re not yet doing so, or at least give them a read-over a few times, as they give period-appropriate descriptions of the gods the Hellenes and other Mediterranean peoples worshiped and invoked.

One of the things about the Orphic Hymns might confuse people is that there are sometimes multiple hymns for the same god; for instance, Zeus has three, Dionysos has four, Hermes has two, and so forth.  Each hymn, however, is clearly labeled as being distinct; Taylor gives the ones for Zeus as To Jupiter, To Thundering Jove, and To Jove the Author of Lightning, or in their respective traditional Greek appellations, Zeus, Zeus Keraunios, and Zeus Astrapaios.  Though these are all Zeus, what gives with the different prayers?  The idea lies in something called epithets and aspects of the gods, which was easily understood in Hellenic times but may not be as easily understood to us modern folk.  Basically, a single deity could reveal themselves in any number of ways, or take on special offices and patronage in certain circumstances that they wouldn’t necessarily take on otherwise, and each of these aspects had a different epithet to distinguish that specific instance of the god, and often had different temples as well.  For instance, Poseidōn is the lord of the seas, to be sure, but there’s also Poseidōn Sōter (who keeps people at sea safe), Poseidōn Asphaleios (the averter of earthquakes), and Poseidōn Hippios (creator and tamer of horses).  Poseidōn is Poseidōn is Poseidōn, but you wouldn’t go to Poseidōn Hippios to ask for no earthquakes in the coming year.  You can kind of think of it like how Mary mother of God is also Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Navigators, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, or any other number of titles based on specific miracles she works or in particular places where she’s appeared; another modern parallel is the notion of caminos or “roads” of the orisha in Yoruba or Yoruba-derived religions like Lukumí.

For me, the idea of having multiple aspects of a god that can be approached separately isn’t hard to understand, but what does bring up an interesting problem is how to make use of some of these approaches in a modern system.  For instance, in my Mathesis work, I associate each of the letters of the Greek alphabet to an element, a planet, or a sign of the zodiac according to the rules of stoicheia.  It would be great, then, to have a deity presiding over each letter to approach that deity specifically for the blessings and wisdom of that specific letter.  However, there are overlaps between some of these sets of attributions.  For instance, Zeus is the god of the planet Jupiter as well as (according to Agrippa’s Orphical Scale of 12 in book II, chapter 14) the zodiacal sign Leo.  Moreover, using Empedoclēs as a guide for associating the gods to the elements (clarified by the ever-wonderful help of John Opsopaus), Zeus is also given rulership over the element of Air.  In this case, we have three separate patronages under one god, which could be considered three mathetic aspects of Zeus.  Not all the gods have this quality of having multiple stoicheic patronages, but a few of them do:

  • Aphroditē: ruler of the planet Venus and the zodiacal sign Taurus
  • Hermēs: ruler of the planet Mercury and the zodiacal sign Cancer
  • Hēra: ruler of the zodiacal sign Aquarius and the element Earth (according to Empedoclēs)
  • Zeus: ruler of the planet Jupiter, the zodiac sign Leo, and the element Air (according to Empedoclēs)
  • Arēs: ruler of the planet Mars and the zodiacal sign Scorpio

Unfortunately, of these gods, only Zeus has three separate Orphic hymns, and Hermēs only has two (one of which is for Hermēs Khthonios, or Underworld Hermēs, which I find most apt astrologically to represent Mercury retrograde).  This is also complicated by the fact that some stoicheic forces are associated with multiple entities I recognize that could be approached by, some of which have Orphic hymns and some don’t (those that do are linked in the list below):

  • Earth: Hēra,
  • Mercury: Stilbōn, Hermēs (when Mercury is direct), Hermēs Khthonios (when Mercury is retrograde)
  • Venus: Eōsphoros (when Venus sets before the Sun), Hesperos (when Venus sets after the Sun), Aphroditē
  • Mars: Pyroeis, Arēs
  • Jupiter: Phaethōn
  • Kronos: Phainōn

All this is made more complicated by the fact that the footnotes from Taylor can be both helpful (in understanding the writing of the Hymns) as well as confusing (for us outside a strictly Orphic system), such as in a footnote from the hymn for :

According to Orpheus, as related by Proclus, in Tim. p. 292. Earth is the mother of every thing, of which Heaven is the father. And the reader will please to observe, that, in the Orphic theology, Rhea, the mother of the Gods, the Earth, and Vesta, are all one and the same divinity, considered according to her essential peculiarities.

From that particular footnote, I glean two things:

  1. That the notion of aspects of gods is indeed something we should respect and understand in our modern practice, and even might be considered to apply at higher levels where individual un-epitheted deities may be aspects of a yet higher one (such as Rhea, Hestia, etc. of the Earth-Mother).
  2. That my attribution of the Sphairai of the Dyad according to my Mathetic Tetractys of Life to Heaven and the Earth is a solid one.

There’s also the issue of how far I want to go in associating some of the other entities of the Hellenic cosmos to the stoicheic forces based on what’s present in the Orphic Hymns.  For instance, there’s a hymn To Fire, but this is more accurately “To Aithēr”, and aithēr is a whole lot more than just fire, both cosmically and religiously; do I want to equate the two for the purposes of stoicheic associations?  What about Water with Okeanos, or Air with the hymns to the North, South, and West Winds?  Do I want to give Pan to Spirit, along with Dionysus, or should I give that slot (or both) to Nature instead?

So what does this all mean, and where does this all leave us?  For one, I doubt that any Orphics of the classical period managed to pass on their cult to the modern day, so I don’t think we have any living experts on the tradition to clarify some of the specific purposes of the Orphic Hymns to us, especially where one deity is given multiple hymns, sometimes according to multiple epithets and sometimes not, and even where epithets are given, they’re often exceedingly obscure (but if there are any, please feel free to hit me up, I’d love to ask you some questions).  For another, I’m reminded that my ideas for associating the letters of the Greek alphabet to the Hellenic theoi and daimones still need some refining, either so that I end up with only one entity per letter, find a single epithet or aspect of an entity that has multiple letters for each letter, or a neat system that can accommodate multiple entities per letter.    For yet another, given Taylor’s footnotes, I have quite a bit to read of Proclus and some of the other Neoplatonists so as to fortify my knowledge and make better-informed decisions about some of these associations.  This isn’t to say I’m looking to set the map in stone from the get-go without deeply exploring the terrain first, but that I’m trying to plan my best first attempt at exploration based on the knowledge and resources available to me.

Mythos and Stories as Models of Practice

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with Python and LaTeX scripts again.  For those who aren’t as inclined to computers, the former is a very flexible, extensible programming language of no small fame, while the latter is a type of language used to format, typeset, and compile documents (sorta like what HTML and CSS are for webpages).  I use Python for all my short, little, experimental research things, like calculating certain astronomical/astrological phenomena or doing a brute-force search of all 65,536 possible geomantic charts for particular patterns, minimums, or maximums of certain qualities.  Meanwhile, I use LaTeX for all my document needs, mostly for ebooks but also for letters, résumés, and other things in lieu of a normal word processor like OpenOffice or Microsoft Word (because I’m a crazy fool who loves the commandline and raw power over convenience and ease).

The main impetus for this bout of hobby programming that’s been going on this week is so I can make a full calendar in LaTeX that spans from June 23, 2009 through June 23, 2047, complete with dates of eclipses, lunar phase changes, seasonal start and midpoint dates, and zodiacal ingresses of the Sun.  It’s hard to find that sort of data over such a wide span of time, and much more difficult than that to find it in an easily-obtainable format that I can use for LaTeX compilation.  To that end, I wrote the scripts to calculate all the astronomical information from scratch (Jean Meeus’ “Astronomical Algorithms” is a godsend of a book for this, so do get yourself a copy for reference) and formatted the output just the way I needed it.  It’s not exactly an exciting feeling to realize that it’s easier to just code and test all the algorithms yourself than trying to find the data you need online, but after two long days of coding, the profound feeling of accomplishment can’t be easily described (except, of course, as “fucking awesome and thank god that’s over”).

For what end would I take on this crazy project, you might ask?  Because this unusual span of time is the 69th cycle of 38 years of the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar I devised that associates the days of the lunar months, the lunar months themselves, and the lunisolar years with the letters of the Greek alphabet for use in ritual grammatomancy and, more broadly, my nascent theurgic practice of mathesis, a new kind of Hermetic theurgy I’m developing that refocuses on Pythagorean, Platonic, and Neoplatonic influences before introduction of qabbalah.  It’s been a bit since I’ve done any mathetic work, given the whole house-buying/house-moving of 2016 and the Year in White of iyaworaje that went on through most of 2017, but I’m preparing slowly to pick it up again.  Since a daily observation of the letter of the day is a practice I found great use with, I wanted to have an actual calendar to reference instead of having another one of my scripts calculate it for me each and every morning.  (This also means I’ll be getting back to my Daily Grammatomancy posts I was doing for a while over on my Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it yet, please head on over and do so!)  So, yanno, it’s the little gains that help give a sturdy foundation for this sort of work.

The thing is, though, that I’m not setting out to develop this whole new practice and system for its own sake, or for the sake of being able to say “look at me, mister high muckety-muck of my own sandcastle!”.  I want a way to explore the Neoplatonic and Hermetic cosmos without having to rely on the procrustean bed of qabbalah that we can’t seem to escape from, purge, or ignore; Hermeticism and Neoplatonism existed before and did fine without it, and even if qabbalah brought in excellent insights and models and frameworks for the two philosophies to expand with (and it most certainly did!), after a certain point, those same models and frameworks can become a hindrance.  If nothing else, taking another look with another system can breathe a breath of fresh air into these things, and allow for opening up new doors and avenues to cosmic exploration, theurgy, and spiritual development.

Going through my old posts and notes on what I’ve already set up is incredibly useful, but I see something clearly now that I didn’t before (time is great for providing experience, after all, no matter how much we might think we have some at the time).  Consider one of my favorite quick rituals, the Blessing of the Vessel, first discussed in this 2015 post, which I use as a way for generating a sacred elixir to partake of the blessing of the Divine.  This ritual works quite well on its own, though it uses some pretty arcane Judaeo-Coptic symbolism.  However, if I were to make a mathetic variant…I ran into a mental wall trying to figure that one out.  Sure, I could just replace the names of the angels or godforms, but…that seems hollow to me.  While swapping out related concepts from one system to automagically transform it into a new system is definitely a thing, like using a Celtic or Hellenic deities instead of the four archangels to make more pagan forms of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, I personally find the practice distasteful and it never seems to work as fully, as cleanly, or as effectively as the original ritual in its own context with its own appropriate entities and names.  Moreover, I couldn’t think of anything comparable to the symbols and metaphors used in the Blessing of the Vessel that could be seen in Hellenic mythology off the top of my head, which…

That reminded me of that post I wrote not too long ago about how the rituals we use are means of reliving myths.  La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, more commonly known as Santería, is a perfect example of this.  All the ceremonies we participate in, all the things we wear, all the offerings we make, all the songs we sing, and so forth are established not just by tradition, but by the precedents laid out for us in the mythological stories that undergird the entire religion.  In this case, as in many religions and systems of faith, “myth” here doesn’t just mean a fairy-tale, but a narrative that explains how things become into the world and why we do certain things in a certain way.  The mythos of a religion, then, is the collective story of the cosmos from the point of view of that religion; to participate in the religion is to participate in the eternal telling-retelling of that mythos, where we are both a member of the audience as well as an actor on the stage.  Every religion is like this: Christianity retells the story of Christ’s sacrifice through the Eucharist, which is an eternal event that is played out in discrete instances that participate in the eternal truth of Jesus’ sacrifice; Judaism retells the story of the covenants of God with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron and the Exodus through the Passover Seder and the various mitzvot they maintain; Buddhism describes the paths to nirvana through the practices of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and how we are to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as well as all the discrete, different practices that can more quickly help us achieve our goal; Santeria tells through all the odu and all the pataki about the exploits of the orishas and how they impact our lives and what we can do about the problems through the rites and rituals that the orisha laid down so long ago, and so on.  Even in magic, we use stories that undergird our work: Solomonic magicians take on the role of Solomon as primordial gōes, reiki masters take on the role of their initiators going back to Usui-sensi to ply their work, Greek necromancers take on the role of those heroes like Odysseus who went down to the land of the dead and came back alive, and so forth.  These aren’t just simple stories we tell to children; these are the archetypal foundations of ideology, worldview, culture, faith, and interaction that our societies and civilizations are built upon and grow around.

So, what then of mathesis?  I realized that, though I have the basic ideas of Hermetic theurgy within a Pythagoreansim-centered Neoplatonic framework down and a handful of basic tools and methods at my disposal, I lack a story, a myth that explains what the whole goal is and how spiritual practices and methods should be established.  It’s these stories that not only provide inspiration for new methods to grow and develop, but also point to some of the dangers I might face and flaws I might find in myself along the way, as well as the remedies and precautions to take for when I do face them.  Without such a story, all I’m really doing is bumbling around in the dark repeating the same acts over and over with no purpose.  I can liken this to an actor on a stage reciting the same soliloquy extemporaneously with neither context nor play; no matter how excellently they might recite it, it has no meaning or purpose except to practice the ability of recitation for its own sake.  It’s only when such a soliloquy takes place in the proper context of a play that it has meaning.  All these practices of purification, meditation, contemplation, initiation, and whatnot don’t mean anything if they don’t have an overall story to fit into.  Like a collection of pieces to build furniture from IKEA, if you don’t know what you’re doing and have no instructions to fit everything together, that collection is going to remain nothing more than a pile of bits and odds and ends that don’t do anything except allow for someone to play at a frustrating adult version of Legos.

Now, I should say that I’m not trying to distill mathesis down to any one myth, any one story that we know of from ancient Greece.  I’m not suggesting that I’m doing that, or that I should do that.  I’m really talking about something more archetypal and fundamental than any one story, something that takes place time and time again in individual stories.  Consider what Leo Tolstoy (or Dostoyevsky, or John Gardner, or others) once said: “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town”.  This is the kind of archetype I’m talking about: a fundamental action that takes place.  Just how the Iliad is an example of the classical “war epic” while the Odyssey is one of the “journey epic”, and how the Aeneid is an example of both, and all of which take place in greater and larger cycles of epics and sagas, each with their own stories and subplots that collectively describe how things come to be, what is the sort of high-level framework “saga” that mathesis might adopt as its underlying mythos?  That’s an interesting thing for me to ponder as a model for mathesis.

After all, consider that we can use the word “model” in terms of “framework”, but also in the sense of “role model”.  What sort of character am I playing out by working in this way?  What sort of tribulations, conflicts, issues, problems, predicaments, and crises might I face?  Where might I look towards for help and succor?  To what end do I play out this role, and how does this role pick up and start again (reincarnate, rebirth, renew) in another iteration of the story?  After all, the idea of “role model” is played out quite heavily in occult and spiritual work in terms of godforms; the Catholic priest takes on the role of Jesus when he lifts up the host and say “this is my body”, the Vajrayana Buddhist takes on the role of their yidam in meditation, the Golden Dawn initiate takes on the role of any number of Egyptian gods for a given ritual, and so forth.  In adopting a role, we take on the strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and powers of that form we take; consider the Headless Rite, where the primary mechanism is to become Akephalos, the Headless One, to command the forces of the cosmos for exorcism or banishing or conjuration.  Not only do models inform us what our views of the cosmos will be like, but models also inform us how we act within that cosmos and what our abilities and limitations are.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t live by our own stories; of course we can, and we must!  While there’s definitely truth to Ecclesiastes 1:9—”what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—there’s a difference between the fundamental archetype which is mythos and the discrete, concrete instantiation of a a story that falls under that mythos.  Like with the whole “two stories, journey or arrival” quote from above, consider that, at least under the “journey” header, we have such disparate and varied stories such as that of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pokémon, and the Odyssey are all such stories.  Under the broader notion of Proto-Indo-European religion, which formed the basis for many of the pagan religions across Europe and some parts of Asia and the Near East, there are high-level archetype stories of divine horse twins, a sky father, a dawn goddess, and a hero slaying a dragon; take a look, dear reader, at Celtic, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic, Nordic, and other Indo-European myths and you’ll find countless stories that relate to them, oftentimes many iterations of a single story with different variations.  We each have our own story, each of which is unique, and all of which play into the archetypes of the cosmos both as processes and actors.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things that I think we as occultists tend to neglect.  It’s…it’s at least an issue, but I’m unsure whether it’s a full-blown problem, that so many of us lack contexts for the things we do.  Like the actor reciting a preset soliloquy extemporaneously without context, many of the practices we have are so distanced and removed from the theologies, cosmologies, and philosophies that gave birth to them, and we’re at a loss without understanding that collective context.  I mean, sure, the Headless Rite will still work for you whether or not you understand the currents of Egyptian, Christian, Jewish, Greek, gnostic, academic, priestly, and folk influences that collectively gave rise to that ritual and its place in the broader understanding of Greco-Egyptian magical praxis and theory, but knowing all the rest of that does significantly help attune oneself better to the ritual, not just by understanding where it came from, but also the role of the ritual, the magician who invokes Akephalos, and Akephalos itself.  To put it in modern terms, consider chaos magic with its notion of paradigm shifting.  You can pick up any ritual and make it work, sure, but if you can’t paradigm shift between them, you can’t get the most out of any given ritual you perform because you aren’t immersed in the fundamental contexts (the mythos) that allow for that ritual to work.

This is most dangerous for eclectic practitioners that don’t belong to any one tradition or practice except “what they feel like, a bit of this and a bit of that”; without a coherent, cohesive, connective mythos that undergirds their worldviews, philosophies, cosmologies, and so on, I find it extremely rare that anything of what they do even comes close to the power and efficacy of someone who has a mythos and has truly integrated themselves and everything they do into that mythos.  A mythos as model, then, provides both a skeleton and a skin for one’s practices: a skeleton to arrange and structure one’s practices together, and a skin to separate out what belongs to it and what does not, filtering things in to and out from one’s system of practices.  Without a mythos, you’re just a jumble of things that you do, some of which may have an immediate use but no overarching purpose; a set of practices without a mythos is no more than a jumble of IKEA parts without instructions that may or may not combine together to form a useful bit of furniture, and even then only if you stumble upon the right combination and order of doing so.  If you’re just interested in performing and knowing how to perform individual acts for individual needs, more power to you, but if you’re looking for purpose and direction and how all these things you do can lead to you it, then you’re going to need a mythos to understand how all these things you do play into it.

It’s because of this that I’m so interested in setting up a new kind of Hermetic theurgy with Neoplatonic philosophy divested from qabbalah.  The central mythos is the same both with and without qabbalah, sure, but the stories that play out would be different.  A different story means different actors, different problems, different predicaments, different crises, different climaxes, different resolutions, different conclusions, even if it all fits into the same mythic pattern.  With each new difference comes new insights, new abilities, new techniques, new practices that can be developed, refined, and applied, yielding new ways to understand the cosmos and ourselves.  Mathesis and qabbalah might both be mirrors made of the same stuff that reflect reality, but they’d present it from different angles, with different views, colors, shadows, and understandings of the thing to be reflected.

Qabbalah works for Hermeticism, to be sure, but almost all that we do is part of the same Hermetic story.  I want to tell a new story, and see where else I might end up.  What story will mathesis tell, I wonder?

Diviner’s Syndromes: Prometheus, Tithonos, Teireisias

Recently in the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, there were a few discussions about how long one should study and practice before charging for their services.  As always, these conversations are enlightening, and occasionally entertaining; I’m also pleased to note that such conversations never seem to get overheated or rage-inducing anymore, neither for myself nor others.  This conversation did take an interesting turn, however; someone brought up an interesting view, apparently common in some Asian worldviews, which is another argument for why diviners ought to charge at all:

…diviners tend to have “shortened” lifespans due to their profession of revealing the heavenly secrets to others. Therefore, it’s only right to charge a fee, in return for revealing the heavenly secrets. This resulted in people charging, regardless in the level of skills…

…There’s often a belief that diviners often suffer some sort of disability or misfortune, as a result of being in a profession that goes against the Will of the Heavens.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint, and I immediately chimed in with two points from ancient Greece as a sort of circumlocuitous approach to my answers and thoughts:

  1. There’s a division of these arts between the gods Apollo and Hermes, according to that fun classical read the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. They both deal with foresight, sure, but they do so in different ways: Apollo is, properly speaking, the divinity of prophecy, while Hermes is the god of divination. The two are not the same. Prophecy is actually knowing the mind and will of Zeus (i.e. true and unadulterated knowledge of fate), while divination is simply reading and extrapolating from patterns in natural things or randomly generated patterns aided and assisted by the gods, which may or may not necessarily match up with the will of Zeus. Only Apollo could grant prophecy, but Hermes was given divination because Apollo (the previous “owner” of the art) had no need for it once he had prophecy as his Thing. Going to Apollo was a hard time indeed, but anyone could easily approach Hermes.
  2. It was commonly known that the Pythia, the sacred oracle and prophetess of Delphi under Apollo, would tend to lead shorter lives than other women of the same area due to her sacred work. Whether this can be attributed to the potentially psychotropic gases that inhabited her sacred cave or to the nature of her spiritual work is unknown, but it was believed to be the latter, not as retribution for speaking the will of heaven but because of how hard it is on a mortal body to contain the spirit of an immortal, especially repeatedly as a kind of career.

Eventually, after a bunch of other people put in their excellent points and I had some time to actually think and write out my thoughts, this is what I replied with:

… [regarding how money is passed from client to diviner in] divination in Santeria, there’s a lot more going on than just an exchange of money for getting the tools familiarized with the energy of the client; there’s a whole process to sanctify the area for the divination, and there are protocols involved for if the reading gets too “hot”, or energetically excited to the point of danger, or just to ward off negative omens so that they can be more effectively dealt with and so that nothing “sticks” to the diviner. Plus, for some priests, they need to undergo a light purification ahead of the reading to make sure they’re clean and focused enough to do the reading properly, and it’s almost always considered good practice to do a cleansing afterwards of the space and reader themselves to make sure no “ick” was left behind. In other words, we clean up after ourselves.

Plus, in the first year of being initiated in Santeria, there’s generally a blanket ban on…quite a lot, but that also includes spiritual works such as divination for oneself or others. This is because the new initiate requires a year of isolation from anything that could pose physical or spiritual danger, and this includes tapping into the energies, lives, and minds of others, which may not be always so pure or kind as we’d otherwise like them to be. When we perform divination for someone, we get at least a little mixed up in their life, a little entangled in their energies, which can rub off on us or leave us “stained” with their spiritual activities. If other spiritual hygiene isn’t implemented, those effects build up over time into a spiritual miasma that can really put us under.

There’s also the idea that, when we do divination, we’re using a little of our own spiritual power to fuel the act, even if it’s not “us” doing the real Talking. Just how a day of investigating papers and books to do research can leave us with a headache and eyesores, prolonged divination or doing lots of successive divinations in short order can leave us drained, which is a state of weakness, which can make us more vulnerable to spiritual miasma or other negative afflictions, which can lead very well to encountering physical dangers.

Do I think we’re revealing some cosmic secrets which are not to be known by mere mortals and which which the gods jealously guard? Not necessarily. Do I think there are other risks and dangers inherent to the act of divination? Absolutely! Having an active spiritual practice that includes proper rest, recharging, cleansing, hygiene, and spiritual upkeep is important for everyone, but especially so for diviners, who can often end up facing some real pieces of work out there which can really leave us a mess as we try to help others with theirs.

For the supplies we consume and the time we take preparing and maintaining our own well-being, I think that alone deserves compensation, for sure! And that’s not including the cost of tapping into and expending our spiritual power for the reading, the years of training and expertise we’re calling on, travel expenses, and so on, all of which deserve at least an attempt to pay for.

This led me to think of three “diviner’s syndromes” to tack onto my older notions of divinaddiction and divinaversion, the latter two affecting the person receiving divination and the new three affecting the person doing divination.  For the sake of art and whimsy, I’m naming these three diviner’s syndromes after three figures from Greek mythology:

  • Prometheus (Προμηθεύς) was the Titan god of forethought who, after sculpting humanity out of clay, wanted to make their lives better and thus tricked the gods out of meat for their sacrifices and stole the secret of fire from the gods, both for the sake of humanity.  As punishment for this, the theoi bound him to Mount Kaukasos, condemned to have his ever-regenerating liver plucked out by an eagle for the rest of time…at least until Herakles rescued him.
  • Tithonos (Τιθωνός) was a prince of Troy, and beloved of the goddess of dawn Eos.  Eos wanted to take Tithonos as her lover, and wanted to make him immortal.  However, she could not do this herself, and so asked Zeus to do this.  Zeus did so, but it only became apparent later that Eos made a critical misstep and forgot to ask for eternal youth along with immortality.  Tithonos grew old and older, never dying, but losing all his strength and sense and sanity.
  • Teireisias (Τειρεσίας) was one of the most famous seers in ancient Greece.  Having lived life as both a man and woman due to some incidents involving snakes, Zeus and Hera decided to use him as a judge in one of their debates regarding who had more pleasure during sex, the man or the woman; Zeus said that the woman did, and Hera argued that the man did.  Teireisias agreed with Zeus, giving him victory; Hera, in her rage, blinded Teireisias.  Zeus, unable to undo another god’s actions, gave Teireisias the power of perfect foresight to make up for his being deprived of eyesight.

I think you can see where I’m going with this, dear reader, if you’re at all familiar with how adopting the signs and symbols of myth can play out in our real lived lives.

  • Prometheus syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that comes about as an honest-to-god theft of secrets and revealing of information that cannot be known, causing offense to the gods or other spirits and which causes them to act upon you offensively.
  • Tithonos syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that results in decreased vitality, strength, intellect, health, and overall well-being due to being neglectful of one’s own physical and spiritual hygiene and maintenance.
  • Teireisias syndrome doesn’t really fit in with either of the two above; it indicates that a physical handicap of some sort allows for a greater spiritual strength, sort of how like those who are blind often have increased senses of hearing.  Like Teireisias, who gave up physical sight for spiritual foresight, those who are often outcast make the best of their situation and rise above their mundane problems through spiritual development.

Of these three, I think Tithonos syndrome is probably the most hazardous, and also the most likely we as diviners encounter.  I know that from my own experience and from the reported experience of others, doing a string of divination readings in a row can often tire me out and wear me down, causing me headaches, fatigue, light-headedness, or just making me more predisposed to being hangry.  And that’s the ideal case, too; if I do readings for people who have some really heavy shit going on, or who are being meddled with on a spiritual level by people throwing curses at them or by spirits obsessing over them, or if mental illness comes out in the reading or in their behaviors that play out on a spiritual level, then the problems ramp up real quickly.  And that’s all on top of the actual personal interactions I have to work with to act, not just as seer, but as counselor to make sure the person can integrate my advice in a healthy, productive way that isn’t threatened by fear, jealousy, anxiety, mental illness, or the like.  Between the energy I’m putting out, the energy I have to put up with, and the constant personal investment I have to make to accomplish the reading, it’s truly no small matter.

So, to prepare myself for a divination (and especially any string of divinations, like for a psychic fair or if I have multiple appointments lined up on the same day), I’ll be sure to take a special bath to protect myself while enhancing my sight and quickening my tongue, warding the reading space to make sure the information comes out clear without spiritual interference, and wear my preferred diviner’s charms and recite my prayers to make sure all goes well; to wrap things up, even if I’m dead tired from doing everything above, I’ll make myself cleanse the area of the divinations along with myself, lock everything down, cut all loose threads that didn’t want to be tied up earlier, and then get a good meal and a good night’s rest.  It’s a lot to handle, but it’s absolutely necessary, because without such precautions and postactions, it’s almost laughably easy to get so tired you get vertigo, faint, pass out, fall sick, or come to some other bad end that results in physical illness or injury.  It’s not worth it to ignore these ameliorating actions, because the cost will always be higher in the end.  Over time, with practice, your spiritual stamina can be lengthened, your focus sharpened, your defenses strengthened, and so forth through routine meditation, warding, energy work, prayer, and so forth, but this only lessens the harm because you can deflect more of it at a time; it doesn’t eliminate the threat or effects of it entirely.  Tithonos syndrome is no joke, dear reader; if you engage with divination, this is a real risk you bring upon yourself.  Take care of yourself.

Then there’s Prometheus syndrome, which…I’ll be honest, I don’t think it plays out like this.  If the gods didn’t want us to speak about the future, they wouldn’t let us know it to begin with.  Consider what Apollo says in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, where Hermes tries to strike a bargain with Apollo so that he could get in on the sweet, sweet gift of prophecy (emphasis mine):

But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand, bid me tell those decrees which all-seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men. Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take.

In other words, Apollo cannot give prophecy to Hermes because Zeus has ordained that prophecy belongs only to Apollo, and that all those who seek to trespass on prophetic powers or augury or other omens without the proper license do so in vain, no matter what they try to bribe or tempt Apollo with.  Only those who are true and truly guided by the proper channels can obtain such truth from Apollo; all others will fail in the attempt.  In this light, I find it less likely that one suffers the fate of Prometheus in stealing fire from the gods for speaking what ought not be spoken, and more likely that one just says wrong things; at best, such a bad prediction is useless and without effect, but at worst, it can truly mislead someone into ruin of their own doing for paying heed to the wrong people.

That said, I think that there are three cases where Prometheus syndrome could actually take place:

  1. One has a pact with a particular spirit who acts as a familiar or tutelary divinity of divination, and that pact allows the diviner to rely on that entity for divination in exchange for honoring that spirit through sacrifice and payment, and relying on that entity only as much as that entity agrees to share.  To press that entity further than what they agree to can end up angering that spirit to the point of causing punishment, just as neglecting one’s own end of the deal by ignoring or foregoing sacrifice and payment to them.  Still, this would less be a case of “speaking what ought not be spoken” and more a matter of “violating spiritual vows”.  If you rely on such a spirit for aid in divination, work such boundaries out for yourself, then stick to them; if you have a taboo or prohibition on divining for a particular topic (e.g. one’s eventual date of death), don’t try to pry into those secrets.
  2. While all the above makes sense to me from my Western perspective, I can’t discount that there may very well be cultures and traditions where divination is truly seen as a means of theft from the gods, and the methods they use actually work out in that way.  I can’t speak to this, but it may well be that any such form of divination is truly like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympos, which would them open them up to punishment.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s not something I can discount.  To avoid this, try a different system of divination and cosmological worldview that doesn’t see it this way, I guess?
  3. The last case would technically be considered an inverted Prometheus syndrome; rather than suffering punishment for speaking what ought not be spoken, I find it a very real threat to not speak what ought to be spoken.  In other words, if you see something in a divination, you as the diviner are obliged to inform the client about it, especially if it’s about a danger or risk to their well-being.  The idea goes that whatever you don’t inform the client of comes back to hurt you instead; it’s thus in your best interest to speak everything that you see and can correlate into a cohesive story (and the once-off “just popped into my mind” bits, too) to the client.  That way, the client has as complete and thorough understanding as can be given to them at the time, and the diviner can say that they did their best to help the client.  After all, knowing is half the battle, but if the diviner withholds knowledge that they’re privy to from a client that the client is paying for, not only is it dishonest, it also opens up the diviner to either punishment or “taking the hit” for the client simply from whatever is coming for the client.  Of these three cases, it’s this inverted Prometheus syndrome I’m most concerned about, but that can be resolved pretty easily: don’t lie in divination, don’t hide in divination, don’t mislead in divination.  If you speak what you see and all that you see as best as you can, then not only do you uphold your own professionalism in divination, you also hold yourself clean and free from the repercussions of problems that you’d otherwise stand in the way of.

So much for Prometheus syndrome and Tithonos syndrome.  Then there’s Teireisias syndrome, which…I dunno.  Like, I know plenty of diviners of all kinds: male, female, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, queer, old, young, abled, disabled, of every race and every socioeconomic class and every attractive quality (or lack thereof).  I haven’t really noticed much of a pattern in seeing whether “disabled people make better diviners” or “gay men make better prophets” or whatnot, so for me, I’d probably chalk Teireisias syndrome up to more of a myth than something to actually consider as a thing.  I suppose it’s more like self-selection or selection bias; consider, after all, that many people who get involved in the occult arts and sciences tend to already be outcasts, and being different in some way (queer, nonbinary, disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, etc.) is a big cause of being considered outcasts.  I guess it’s like how many men think women talk more than they do; if they see queer/nonbinary/otherwise-different people doing divination, then it’d be a matter of overrepresentation becoming rumour becoming fable rather than something mystically inherent in different people.  But, hey, if it helps us with getting more business, you can bet I’ll play my asthma, bad knee, and gayness up for as much as it’d be worth, and I’d encourage everyone else to do the same with whatever makes them different (so long as they’re also, yanno, competent enough to be worth it).

Those are my thoughts on diviner’s syndromes that we might encounter, along with some of the dangers and problems we face and how we might begin to rectify them.  What about you, dear reader?  If you’re a diviner yourself, have you noticed any problems that you encounter with divination that affect you on a spiritual or physical level?  Do you know of any tales, cultures, or myths where divination is taken as a last resort out of fear of divine punishment (besides the whole Witch of Endor thing from the Book of Samuel)?  How do you try to keep yourself in as good a condition as you can before, during, and after divination?  Let us know down in the comments!