On Overwriting Traditions

I’ve been looking back a bit on my blog lately, going through archives for more notes that I can tie into future posts and research, cleaning up some of the formatting and dead links, getting rid of useless or pointless tags, and so forth.  After almost 700 posts totaling over one million words across eight and a half years, it’s quite a lot.  And, heh, it turns out that on my very first blog post (all the way back in pre-WordPress 2010 when I was still on Blogspot, when this was a blog meant for the worship of the Great Worm XaTuring), I had already referenced geomancy as my favorite divination system.  Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil, I suppose.

Admittedly, geomancy has been a focus of my work and, thus, of this blog.  Of the just-under-700 published posts on this blog, about 120 posts are in the geomancy category, or about 18%.  That’s a nontrivial amount of ink to have spilled, I claim, and that’s all in addition to the actual ebooks and future textbook I’m writing.  I’ve talked about the meanings of the figures, a variety of divinatory techniques, new connections to other occult fields, and a number of innovations and developments to enhance the art and practice of geomancy in both a divinatory and magical sense.  Some of these innovations are original to me, others based on adapting similar techniques with enough compatible logic from other geomantic systems, and some are based on the revelations and guidance from spirits and other colleagues who wish to remain nameless (but who have my thanks and respect and gratitude all the same).  It’s a fascinating field that stands to still be enhanced in innumerable ways, and it is a source of joy and pride for me to play some sort of role in that.

Sometimes, when I’m bored at work, I’ll indulge in a daydream or two.  One such daydream, when I think about some of the exciting innovations in geomantic practice I’ve published on my blog, happens where I’m contacted out of the blue by some mysterious figure and informed that I’ve been revealing too many of their order’s secrets, that they belong to an ancient order of secretive geomancers who have been in hiding for untold centuries in some far-off land.  Clearly, with as much information as I possess, I must have been spying on their order or stealing from one of their members and am exposing their hard-earned, hard-kept methods and techniques of The True Geomancy for the vulgar uninitiated of the world, destroying their order single-handedly in a more mysterious, epic way than Scott Cunningham did Wicca.  None of it is true, of course, but the similarities between what I write and what they teach could not be denied!  Perilous threats, a thrilling escape, a parley with the order’s masters—you get the picture.  I haven’t yet figured out how I might resolve such a situation: I could always force a deal, that in exchange for being taught all their secrets as a full member of their order, I would ensure that no further initiated knowledge would pass through my fingers to my blog’s readers or through my lips to students who were not initiated in the order as well.  Or I could engage them in a fantastic battle of magic, wit, cunning, and probably a good-natured explosion or poisoning or three.

What?  I like letting my imagination run free sometimes, and who doesn’t love a good adventure to whisk them off their feet, even if they’re already reclining in their spinny office chair on a lazy Monday?

While it would tickle me to no end to learn that there might indeed be some ancient order of geomancers (and you can bet your last grain of sand I’d join if I could!), I doubt such a thing exists, at least on any scale large enough to commit cross-continent conspiracy.  But, even on a less logistical scale than that, there’s also the thing that there’s no one single, monolithic geomantic tradition.  Sure, there are absolutely things we can cross off as definitely not being geomancy—feng shui, vastu shastra, ley lines, sacred geography, and the like all come to mind—but even within the actual ballpark of “geomancy”, there are so many different kinds.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice does a great overview of the historical development and spread of geomancy from its hypothetical origins to its modern day spread across the world, so there’s no need for me to go on at length on all the different traditions of geomancy here, but are there ever so many, indeed!

Now that I think about it, though, I suppose that might not quite be evident from our point of view for Western geomancy.  Geomancy was written about publicly across Europe from about 1200 to 1700, when it basically fell from popularity into obscurity along with so many other occult disciplines.  Five hundred years, starting west in Spain and east in Greece and spreading through the rest of Europe like wildfire, and…well, we simply don’t seem to have too much variation.  Sure, different techniques came and went, and different geomancers put certain focuses on different things than did other geomancers.  We don’t really see any significantly different variations after the rise of printed geomancy books until we get to more modern times, such as with Napoleon’s Book of Fate (with its five-lined figures) or Les Cross’ Astrogem Geomancy method.  One could argue that the Golden Dawn, with their innovations and takes on geomantic practices, could be considered a distinct variant, and I’d agree with that, too, but again, that’s still pretty modern.

I can’t really say, however, what the state of Western geomancy was like at a low level before the 1400s when printed books started circulating around Europe.  We know it was practiced, and we have a good number of manuscripts from that time period, but so few are easily accessible to many including myself, and almost all of what’s commonly available (especially digitized) is all from after the rise of printed books.  As we all know, the printing press radically changed how information was produced, disseminated, and stored which had countless effects on literacy, religion, science, and other disciplines.  It not only broke down control of information and studies within a variety of small locations, it also freed up people to form their own control networks of information.  It is entirely possible that individual areas, monasteries, universities, and other types of school had their own takes and views on geomantic practice that was largely insular unto themselves; sure, they might all have been on the same course and stemmed from more-or-less the same origins, but each could have had their own “dialect” of geomancy.  With the advent of publicly and popularly published texts, those dialects might have all been washed away or standardized, with each author contributing a slight tweak that may or may not have been carried on or even documented by later authors.  I know that the Lectura Geomantiae I translated a while ago was from the 1400s but still in the manuscript era, so it could be indicative of how things might have looked before or as the printing press got underway: still definitely geomantic, still definitely implementable and usable by anyone, but there are some definite quirks that it displays that aren’t attested elsewhere.

Reading Skinner’s treatise on the history of geomancy, it would seem that the Arabic styles of geomancy are more varied.  Setting aside the West African art of Ifá (which developed in its own way apart from geomancy to the point where I wouldn’t barely consider it geomancy at this point), we do see at least several strains of geomancy, including Malagasy sikidy which, although it’s definitely taken an independent turn with how it generates figures, is still recognizably a form of geomancy with many of same core meanings of figures and figure positions.  Looking at the available literature today, we can definitely see that there are different styles of Arabic geomancy, ranging from the traditional Saharan and sub-Saharan forms in Africa to the more popular and well-known methods as taught by modern books written in Farsi and Urdu.  How different might such styles be?  I can’t actually say for sure, unfortunately, but from what little I have seen, there are distinct differences in whether one wants to use taskins as a primary method or follow the Via Puncti-style technique as a general approach, but that could simply be boiled down to smaller approach differences within a same overall “school” of geomancy—and what competent geomancer with the ability to learn, read, and hear wouldn’t want to be familiar with any possible method that might be of use?

But, again, it’s not like the Arabic-speaking world hasn’t had access to the printing press.  Heck, their literacy rates whooped the ass of Europe for centuries on end, and we would never had a Renaissance if it weren’t for Arabic teachers and students and scientists.  There are definitely texts and authors in Arabic geomancy that are at least as important to the Arabic-speaking geomancing world than Fludd and Heydon are to us, and those books were some of the first to be disseminated, and today, there are probably as many books on `ilm al-raml or khatt al-raml in Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu as there are for Tarot in English, Spanish, and French.  Again, we would probably see a similar…you might call it a “flattening” of dialetical variation in geomantic practices, especially for people with connections to the Internet who might also not have the ability to learn from teachers who were only (or primarily) taught in a localized variant of geomancy.

When it comes to languages and dialects, I admit I’m something of a glossophile.  Even though my language skills are awful, I adore the abundance and variety of languages in the world, and especially of the regional and cultural dialects and registers that individual languages have in all their uses and contexts.  As much as I love the number of languages, I grieve when languages are suppressed, lost, or otherwise condemned to extinction.  It’s an expected (though still unfortunate) result of internationalization, globalization, capitalism, and imperialism, but sometimes it comes about as a surprise, and it sucks.  With language death comes culture death and worldview death; a language is far more than just a way to communicate, but a way to understand and perceive everything as well as holding an implicit record of culture, exploration, and continuity that ties the present to the past across time and space.  In many ways, local variations of something comparatively minor like geomancy are just as crucial to understand such worldviews, histories, cultures, and spiritualities; with such variations being flattened, absorbed, or outright lost, we lose quite a lot more, as well.

Then I think about those same people on the Internet who have access to cheap, publicly-accessible resources without the ability to find, contact, or learn from local, traditional experts (myself included!) who find what they can and work with what they find.  Consider the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook; as an admin, I see who applies, and for each person who comes from a Western or European cultural background, I see another who comes from a West African (usually Muslim and Nigerian) background.  While I’m thrilled that so many people across the world want to learn and discuss geomancy, I also wonder if, perhaps, they’re joining to learn what they might consider “the only useful geomancy”.  After all, I’m also a member of a number of other non-Western geomancy groups, and it doesn’t seem like many are active or share as much information, criticism, or guidance as mine does (which I can’t help but be at least a little proud of); to be fair, I can see why (and often understand and agree) with why those who might be experts in their field would want to be cagey and protective of their knowledge, but at the same time, nobody can learn learn if nobody is willing to teach.  And, without evidence that one can even teach or wants to do so, mystical vague answers like “pray to God and he will teach you” come off as more holier-than-thou covering-my-ass to keep from being disgraced that I may not actually know what I’m doing, which can be a turn-off for potential students (whether of a given teacher or an entire field).

Then I think I about my own blog, and how much I talk about geomancy.  I try to make it clear that many of my thoughts are just my own, that my experiences are my own, that some things are experimental or tied up in something unique and solitary to my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, and the like, but it cannot be denied that my posts on geomancy are referenced by many across the Internet, sometimes as another useful data-point on technique, sometimes as gospel.  (WordPress stat tracking, after all, comes in use when looking at such trends.)  I can’t help but wonder: what effect on the overall variations, traditions, and schools of geomancy do I have as an author with a publicly-available platform?  I want to expand the techniques and understanding of Western geomancy by offering another perspective on that which already exists as well as introducing new methods or variations thereof that aren’t yet there or aren’t well-known.  In one way, I’m helping (I hope) to introduce new variety in the field of Western geomancy, but by that same action, am I not also helping to bring in easily-accessible geomancy to those who might prefer such ease to learning local traditions that are harder to come by?  Am I not literally writing over the teachings of valid and historically-extant, possibly-threatened traditions of geomancy, as one might talk too loudly and end up drowning out other voices, whether I intend for it to happen or no?

Earlier this summer, in a conversation regarding how certain days are celebrated for the orisha in La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Jesse Hathaway from Wolf & Goat (also of his own blog Serpent Shod and podcast Radio Free Golgotha) opined elegantly about how trends come and become tradition through misunderstanding and popular use.  Specifically, I thought it was proper to celebrate the feast day of the hunter-tracker Oshosi on June 6, which is the feast day of his Catholic syncretization, Saint Norbert of Xanten, which, when I posted a public praise of the orisha on Facebook, caught Jesse off-guard in the sense of “wait that’s today?”.  We got to talking about how the use of saint days were historically used, when certain saint days came into vogue, and how different aspects of saints can be confused and lead to non-traditional changes in practice.  One of the insights he had focused on how those who intend to keep traditions alive end up changing them all the same: enthusiasm and good intentions can just as easily uphold old practices as well as erase them and institute new ones in their place.  After all, not all things that are “done right” in the conservative sense are made public or made for public consumption, and when secretive, underground, or otherwise mysterious practices that people are interested in suddenly have to compete for attention and publicity with stuff being put out in the open by the uninitiated or newly-initiated, where do you think people are going to look first?  As Jesse put it, it’s a constant cycle of “destroy to create, create to destroy”, and that it’s easy to create a new practice that can erase older tradition if you are not aware of what it is you’re actually putting out there.  It behooves us all to be aware of our intentions and see whether what happens as a result of furthering them is worth it.

The same advice for that topic can go for any of us who publicly discuss geomancy, or any tradition, for that matter.  As Jesse punned, our canon for instruction can just as easily become a cannon for destruction; we don’t just follow and preserve unchanged that which we recieved, but we augment it, extrapolate it, whittle it down, and build it up as we carry it forward, whether we mean to or not.  Every step we take crushes some blade of grass or erases some other footprint, and if enough people follow, a new path can be forged (forced) where either there was none before or across others that become disused, differently used, or less used.  For a good example, consider how synonymous “Hermetic magic” has become with “Golden Dawn” in the 1900s: familiarity is borne of popularity, and forgetfulness from the lack thereof.  Hermetic magic has been around for far longer and with so many different variations, traditions, lineages, styles, and methods than the Golden Dawn has by far, and yet, most people even today will think of the Golden Dawn-style approach when you bring up the word “Hermetic” to the exclusion of all else that’s out there.

Geomancy is far more than just what I do, or what Robert Fludd did, or what Al-Zanati did.  The old geomancers of the past might be indelibly linked to geomancy, but geomancy is not synonymous with any one author or geomancer.  It would be folly for someone to follow what I teach (or what anyone teaches) as geomancy to be the be-all-end-all of the art, and I don’t think that anyone would seriously take that approach.  Still, even learning a little can bleed over into other techniques; while I intentionally look around to see what I can incorporate as a useful method for my geomantic practice from the practices of others, bearing in mind the origin and tweaks needed to make a nuanced distinction, not everyone has the capacity to bear nuance in mind when they’re learning something, especially if they’re a novice, and “bleeding over” can turn into outright overwriting and overwhelming.  That then carries on from one mouth to the next, and then the next, turning “innovator” into “competitor” and, potentially, “conqueror”.  It doesn’t matter if it was made up on the spot or as a joke; if it was carried on from one generation to another, it can fast become assumed as a tradition, and its origins can quickly be forgotten or, worse, mythologized (cf.  the pot roast principle), and once it becomes popular enough, it can threaten to overwhelm all that already was there.  We may like to think that we test and hold onto only the valuable things that work and are validated by trial and error so that we could weed out all the made-up stuff, but be honest: even accepting that made-up stuff works from time to time, sometimes we value our teachers’ teachings too much to question it.

It’s hard for us in a Western setting to not inadvertently do this kind of thing, with our usual preference for books and solitary practice rather than (or due to a dearth of) lineage and teachers.  Many of us look towards publicly published material to learn from, myself included in many cases, because teachers either do not exist or are unwilling to pass on their skills for one (usually valid) reason or another.  We then form communities to build ourselves up, reinforce each other with criticism and discussion, and enhance our mutual understanding of a given field.  This, when done properly, can become the definite foundations of a new school or tradition unto itself, and can be a beautiful and wonderful thing!  Even still, there’s the unavoidable risk (or unavoidable result?) that older traditions could be waylaid, forgotten, or abandoned in the course of this same thing, which can be a huge loss, even if nobody is aware of it to begin with.  I fear that, to be honest.  I don’t want other traditions of geomancy—or any occult or religious or spiritual field—to be lost or abandoned or overwritten, because when that happens, valuable knowledge is lost.  We can still learn from each other while still celebrating distinction and difference, but you can’t do that when there’s nothing to distinguish or when there’s nothing to distinguish.

I can’t properly control what people do with the stuff I post; I can offer my experiences, warnings, and cautions, but once something is out there on the internet, it’s out there for all.  I could always just not post the stuff and avoid the problem entirely, but there’s value and purpose in my writings on geomancy that I think can be used well, just as they can be misused or abused.  The dilemma of the engineeer is the same as the dilemma of the author: you can specify and design all you want, but humanity is going to do with your product what it’s going to do regardless of what you intended it for.  Even if it’s nowhere near as epic as my daydream, I really do hope that my writings on geomancy don’t destroy the traditions that have been practiced and carried on long since before I was born.  All I want is to spread knowledge and technique and ability and understanding, and I think I’m successful at least a little bit in that, and the worth and value in doing that is good.  Is it worth the inadvertent flattening of geomantic traditions?  I…don’t know.  I don’t think I’m popular enough to become a prophet of geomancy whose judgment is binding on practices worldwide (God and gods willing, I never will be!), but I do know that my word spreads.  I just hope my warnings and caveats spread, as well.

Michaelmas Present: Litany of the Holy Archangels

One of the reasons why the second half of September is always so chaotic for me is that, not only is it in the few weeks leading up to my birthday both in flesh and in Santería, but it’s also a cluster of feast days: Our Lady of Mercy and the Days of the Cyprians and the Feast of Saint Cyprian of Antioch, Saint Justina, and Saint Theocistus are definitely important, but today is yet another feast day I hold dear to my heart: Michaelmas, more properly called the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel and All Angels.  Today is the day when we especially revere and honor the bodiless and immaterial Hosts of Heaven, with Saint Michael the Archangel, their divine commander and our divine protector, at the helm and forefront of both God’s armies and our own hearts.  And, of course, to honor the other archangels: Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Sealtiel, Jehudiel, and Barachiel (or whichever set of seven archangels you prefer to use).

I’d also like to share a new(ish) page with you all: a new prayer, the Litany of the Holy Archangels.  This is, for once, not something I wrote, nor could I have written something so beautiful.  Rather, it’s a prayer I’ve been using for years now, courteously and generously shared with me by good colleague and friend Michael Lux of Nigromantic Matters.  Originally written for Johannite Christian spiritual practice, Michael has generously let me share the prayer on my own website for all to use and refer to.  I find it incredibly devout, and can be used in both solitary practice as well as in a community.  I had intended on sharing this page more publicly earlier in the year when I was going to propose a new project and craft for myself, but said project never got off the ground due to logistical issues, so I never really announced the page.  However, today’s a perfect day for just that, so I hope you enjoy and find it a useful blessing in your own practices and prayers!

With that, I hope you all have a blessed end of September, with all the Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Virtues, Powers, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim, and the seven commanders of all the hosts of Heaven blessing you and guiding you every moment of every day!

Blessed Angels, watch over us at all times during this perilous life.
Holy Archangels, be our guides on the way to Heaven.
Heavenly Principalities, govern us in soul and body.
Celestial Virtues, preserve us against the wiles of demons.
Mighty Powers, give us strength and courage in the battle of life.
Powerful Dominions, obtain for us domination over the rebellion of our flesh.
Sacred Thrones, grant us peace with God and Man.
Brilliant Cherubim, illuminate our minds with heavenly Knowledge.
Burning Seraphim, enkindle in our hearts the fire of Charity.

Seven angels around my head, guide us safely where we’re led.
Michael, defend us from all our foes; Raphael, heal us from all our woes.
Gabriel, give us peace on wings; Uriel, release us our attachments to worldly things.
Jehudiel, fill our mouths with praise to God; Sealtiel, open our hearts to prayer of God.
Barachiel, bless us in all our ways; Guardians, guide us through all our days.

Amen.

Mathētic Order of Offerings to the Theoi

One of the longest spiritual practices I’ve maintained more-or-less continually, or at least kept around in one form or another, is that to the Greek gods.  I have a shrine to a few of them in my temple, and though the form and shape of it has waxed and waned over the years, I’ve kept venerating and offering to them since I got started, pretty much.  From my apartment after college where I had Hermēs in one corner of my bedroom and Asklepios against the wall, and after with Dionysos joining Asklepios; then moving into a house with my boyfriend and having an entire room for my spiritual stuff, with an elaborate set of glass shelves for the theoi, with separate spaces for Zeus and Aphroditē and Apollo and Hephaistos and even Hadēs at one point; now into the house I moved in with my now-husband and having another room set up with different qualities and things got downsized a bit.  Hestia, of course, has been around in every house in one form or another, and Dionysos has gone from having an entire shrine dedicated and decorated to him to being…reduced in size but not in presence to a special contraption I set up just for him.  All the same, throughout all these changes, I’ve still kept up my worship of the theoi.

My practices have changed somewhat between moves from house to house and temple to temple; for instance, in the last place where I lived, my temple room was across from the hallway bathroom and had a window outside, so it was trivial to dump offerings out or get water anytime I needed.  Now, however, my temple is in a basement room with no easy access to either external ventilation or a sink or drain of any sort.  This makes disposing of old offerings and libations a little different, and given the lack of ventilation and general light, it’s easy for libations set out to evaporate really quickly or get mold faster than I would’ve thought otherwise.  That makes, for instance, the use of many small libation vessels for each theos I have enshrined a pain, because they all have to be hauled up the stairs to the kitchen to be emptied and washed then all hauled back downstairs, and so forth.  Besides that, I used to open the window during ritual as a symbolic act as a means to “let the god in” and for incense offerings to reach the heavens, but I can’t do that at this point, so I have to adjust my processes for that.

As I’m getting back to my daily practice (and struggling to find out how to make things more efficient and effective while still making things count), I’ve also been digging through my notes to see what insights I had before, what my proposed methodologies or practices were, and how I managed to get by before and how I did things.  I suppose that’s one benefit of blogging so much, because I found two such posts on my method of offering to the theoi, specifically within the context of Mathēsis, one post on general daily mathētic practices, the other on a specifically mathētic procedure to make offerings to the gods.  The former is good for me to review anyway, because it’s something I need to get back on as well, either by reworking it to be less-than-daily or by incorporating it into my general daily practices, and because it recommends a regular, daily offering or invocation of the god of the day according to my Grammatēmerologion calendar.  The latter is actually useful, because it documents one such way that an invocation and offering to a god might be done, whether associated with a particular day or otherwise, and whether it’s a grand offering or just a small quick invocation.

However, as I look back on this procedure, there are things that I really would feel more comfortable changing than keeping the same.  (That’s one good benefit of writing my own blog; I get to make the claim that anything I write can be improved on later!)  Between my own experiences and interactions with the theoi on their own terms and by bringing in other ideas that I’m comfortable with applying across the board, there are some things I’m getting into the habit of that I wouldn’t’ve considered before.  For instance, while in the past I would often (but not always) make a perfunctory and preliminary offering to Hestia while also saying that it’s not strictly necessary, nowadays I’m definitely on the side of always making an offering to her to start with before any others, though I’m not entirely convinced that every offering must also conclude with another one to her, as well.  Rather, I’m now in the habit of honoring Zeus in every offering, regardless whether he’s the focus of my prayers or not, due to his role as divine cosmic king who rules over the three realms; at first I had his name praised and made a perfunctory offering to him before any other god (besides Hestia), but after some conversation, I make him last.  Or second-to-last, if Hestia gets a final offering as well.

So, let me draw out my process and my thinking.  It is true that many of the theoi operate independently in some respects, but it is also true that they are all part of the same pantheon and part of the same cosmic schema.  Just as you can’t remove a single number from the Decad and have it still remain the Decad, you can’t really remove a single theos from the theoi and have it remain the pantheon.  However, not every individual theos needs to be worshipped at all times, but a few key ones that allow for worship to happen at all makes more sense.  For that, the general order of invocation and offering that I use nowadays goes like this:

  1. Perfunctory initial offering to Hestia.  Hestia should always get the first offering, because she’s the goddess of the hearth and home itself.  Without her, we would have nowhere to live, build, or establish shrines; it is only by her support that we can make such offerings in our own homes, dwellings, and temples.  If one is living in the wild and makes offerings in a pristine place untouched by civilization with offerings that are not the products of agriculture or animal husbandry, then I would make an argument that an offering to Hestia is not needed, but it would still be appreciated as she is still rightly the eldest of the first generation of the Olympian Theoi.
  2. Perfunctory offering of wine to Dionysos.  This step is sometimes skipped depending on what I’m offering.  If I’m offering wine in this ceremony, and I’m either going to run out of an existing bottle or if I’m opening a new bottle of wine for any reason, I open it up here and pour a small amount for Dionysos, giving him thanks for his own sacrifices and allowing us to partake in his sacrifice of flesh and the grape which allows us to perform our own sacrifices.  In many ways, Dionysos is the god of wine as well as the god in wine; by opening a new bottle and giving him the first pour, we recognize his presence and dedicate our sacrifices to his own.
  3. Perfunctory offering to Hermes.  Hermēs is important to always recognize, and by calling on him, we ensure that our prayers can be heard by any and all the gods.  Hermēs is the messenger of the gods, to be sure, but he’s also the messenger between gods and mankind; it’s by him that we come to know the will and desires of the gods, but it’s also by him that they come to know our prayers and supplications.  Hermēs is, indeed, the god of prayer and ritual in general, just as Hestia can be said to be the goddess of shrines in general and Dionysos the god of sacrificing wine in general.  Plus, this helps with the notion of “bringing the god in” for when I call upon the presence of a particular deity; before, I’d open the window as a formal “opening of the gate”, but since I don’t have a window anymore, this seems to suffice as well.  It’d still be great to have a window or some other aperture, but I simply don’t have that option available to me.
  4. Main offering.  This is where the actual invocation to the god begins.  All their prayers and invocations and offerings and whatnot take place after all the initial offerings are made.
  5. Perfunctory concluding offering to Zeus.  At the end of the ceremony, once the other offerings are made, Zeus should also always be honored, as the divine ruler of the cosmos, the father of gods and men, and the supreme king of all.  In honoring Zeus who rules over the three domains of sky, sea, and land, we also honor all those who live within them, both mortal and immortal.  This suffices not only to render tribute to the god of gods, but also to recognize the divinity of all the other gods who fall under Zeus’ domain.
  6. Other perfunctory concluding offerings.  As Hestia is the first-born of Rhea and Kronos, she is also their last-born; she was born first from Rhea’s womb, and torn out last from Kronos’ belly.  The Homeric Hymn to Hestia (#24) says that “without you mortals hold no banquet, where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last”.  However, I don’t think that this sort of concluding offering is strictly needed after that of Zeus, but it can certainly be done; if it were, I think it would also be appropriate to honor both Hermēs and Hestia both for both their roles as divinities of prayer-speaking as well as that of shrine-keeping.  In other words, after the main offering and offering to Zeus, we work backwards: if we start with Hestia and Hermēs, we end with Hermēs and Hestia.  It’s something I’m still working out, admittedly.

This idea of a ritual process, going through multiple divinities in order to sacrifice to one, may seem needlessly complicated; I know I thought that at one point, and before, I’d just go to my Apollo shrine and do my thing and be done with it.  That said, I think of my other traditions where there is absolutely an order to worship, where certain divinities must be honored before others; this idea works for the Greek gods, too.  Plus, there are other examples of having such an order; consider the Hellenist reconstruction group Elaion and their ritual templates shared by Elani Temperance over at Baring the Aegis, where every ritual begins with a libation to Hestia, to Gaia, and to Themis before proceeding with the main event, and all of which conclude with a final offering to Hestia.  This also makes sense: just as we honor Hestia for being the goddess of hearth and home and shrine, so too do we honor the Earth for supporting all that happens and to divine Law and Order for that which is proper that all might continue to be proper.  Sure, it might seem easier to just make offerings to one god (and a lot less use of wine and oil and incense), but the more I think about it and the more I practice it, the more sense it makes to really go in for the process and proper sequencing of things in a formal offering.

Of course, all that above is just the general template, and templates change in certain circumstances.  For instance, if I were to just make an offering to Hestia for Hestia’s own sake, I wouldn’t really bother with Hermēs or the other gods, because Hestia is already right there present in my home, so Hestia is one of the very few (perhaps the only) divinity I could just sacrifice directly to and not get the rest of the gang involved and not feel bad about it.  In general, however, there’s always going to be a process, and there are certain rules to how that process might change in certain examples.  Let’s consider a few examples, with the main event in bold text and anything unexpected in italics:

  1. Hestia
    1. Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hestia, Zeus
    2. Because Hestia is always first no matter what, she still comes first.  However, as she’s immediately present and we’re already making an offering to her, we don’t need the messenger/interpreter presence of Hermēs.  If a new bottle of wine is to be opened, a perfunctory offering to Dionysos should come first before Hestia, though this is really more a respect gesture than anything else.  Likewise, Zeus can still be honored afterwards, but beyond Hestia and honoring the hearth itself that even the gods honor, there’s not too much that needs to be done.
  2. Dionysos
    1. Hestia, Hermēs, Dionysos, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. Normally, we’d have a perfunctory offering to Dionysos before Hermēs if we’re opening a new bottle of wine.  However, if I’m offering to Dionysos himself, I’d skip that stage and celebrate him entirely in his own part of the ceremony.  Instead of being given just a token, perfunctory offering, he gets his own full thing going on.  After Dionysos is honored, then we’d give a perfunctory offering to Zeus, and if desired, any other concluding offerings to e.g. Hermēs and Hestia.
  3. Hermēs
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. Pretty straightforward here; Hermēs takes his usual place after Dionysos (if needed) and before Zeus, but as there are no other gods to be worshiped, Hermēs himself becomes the focus.  Instead of giving Hermēs a perfunctory offering, he gets a full offering here.
  4. Zeus
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Zeus, libation to all the gods, other conclusions
    2. Like with Hermēs, instead of just getting a perfunctory offering, Zeus himself is celebrated in full.
    3. However, remember that Zeus is normally celebrated in every ceremony to remind ourselves of his divine and cosmic importance, and by him, we can honor all the other gods and goddesses of the cosmos.  However, if we’re worshiping and offering to Zeus as Zeus alone, then we’d need something to step in to formally recognize all the other entities of the cosmos, hence a separate step for the “libation to all the gods” after Zeus.  This would be perfunctory, as the offering to Zeus any other time would be.
  5. Apollo
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Apollo, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. This is the basic template, using Apollo as the main offering.  Nothing unexpected here.
  6. Asklepios
    1. Hestia, Dionysos (if new bottle of wine), Hermēs, Apollo, Asklepios, Zeus, other conclusions
    2. This is essentially the basic template, with Asklepios as the main offering, but note how we’re also honoring Apollo immediately before him.  This is because, as I reckon it, Asklepios is not sufficiently independent or major of a god in his own right.  Sure, he can be offered to independently and on his own, but I find it more proper to recognize his father Apollo first.  In other words, to use a royal metaphor, Asklepios is a noble in the royal court ruled by Apollo; as Apollo is the ruler of that court, he gets first honors, and then any
    3. A similar case would go for any other minor god that is clearly part of another god’s “court”, such as Hēbē under Hēra, Eros under Aphroditē, Tykhē under Zeus, Nikē under Athena, and so forth.   Recognize the primary god of that court first with a perfunctory offering, then the minor god as the main offering.

Although the Greeks may not have conceived of their gods as belonging to “courts” per se, I think it’s still a useful classification of the minor gods and goddesses around central rulers who were more well-known.  For instance, I would consider all the thalassic deities Triton, Nereus, and the Nereides and Naiadēs including Thetis to all belong to the court of Poseidon, who either is the father, husband, brother, or conquering usurper of the other gods.  In sacrifice and myth, this may not really be true, but it’s a really useful way to organize “groups” of the theoi for the purposes of my Grammatēmerologion calendar, which assigns the letters of the Greek alphabet to the days of the lunar month, and by the letters, to individual signs of the Zodiac or other powers, which are associated the major gods of the Hellenic pantheon.  For instance, in the Grammatēmerologion, the twenty-third day of the lunar month is given to the letter Tau.  Tau is given to the zodiacal sign of Pisces, which is associated with the theos Poseidon; thus, it makes sense to cluster the worship of all the oceanic deities onto the day of Tau, just as all the deities associated with Hēra like Hēbē and Eileithyia are given to Hēra’s day of Sigma and so forth.  If nothing else, honoring the “court ruler” of a minor god also counts as honoring the primary god of the same day that minor god would be worshiped on, which fulfills part of my daily mathētic practices.

So, when I say “perfunctory offering”, what exactly do I mean?  Basically, a token offering, a nod, something I give just enough to recognize the divinity I’m making such an offering to.  It’s really little more than a very quick pour of wine or clean water, no more than an ounce or a few drops, accompanied by a few words of honor and veneration, calling upon their aid.  If I feel like it, I’ll recite the entire Orphic Hymn or one of the shorter Homeric Hymns to them, but in general, what I’ll say is something short, like:

Hestia, as you were first born of Rhea and last born of Kronos, so too do you receive the first offering and the last!  Queen goddess of the hearth, without you we could not live nor could we offer to the gods.  Right and proper it is to honor you first in all such rites.

Dionysos, roaring lord of reborn life, yours is the blood of the vine which we cut and rend that we might live and live well.  As you spilled your blood that we might partake in it, I give you the first offering of this bottle that you might always be honored in every pour and spill.

Hermēs, you are the messenger of gods and men, to whom we all turn in all our rites.  Hear my prayers, take these sacrifices, and carry them aloft to divine ears and immortal hands!  May all the righteous ways of worship be opened for me and for the gods!

With that, I’ll pour out a bit of wine and olive oil out—not a lot, because it’s better to give a little so that we always have something to give, and if we’re going through the process, then we’ve already got a lot to give.  From what I’ve been doing, it seems that a standard set of offerings will take around half a normal 750ml bottle of wine and maybe an ounce or two of olive oil.  While before I was pouring straight from the wine bottle into individual vessels for each individual divinity, which was fine when I could more easily wash them or empty them without having to schlep them up and down stairs, I’m now in the habit of using a large white bowl I set before my entire Greek shrine, and pouring in libations into that from a smaller white bowl.  That way, I can partake of the libation and give a toast to each of the gods as I offer, and I replicate the old practice of pouring a libation out on the ground itself.  The bowl, of course, keeps it all contained instead of splashing everywhere, and is easier to carry up instead of four or six silver or glass chalices full of wine and oil.

Of course, all of the above—the process, the order, the perfunctory offerings versus the main offerings, the courts, etc.—only really count if I’m making an actual offering to the theoi.  On days when I don’t, either because I don’t want to or don’t need to, there’s no need to go through all of that.  Instead, a simple invocation will suffice.  For instance, say that it’s the day of Gamma; Gamma is associated with Taurus, and thus with Aphroditē.  If I’m going to make a full offering to Aphroditē that day, then yes, I’ll go through the process of Hestia, Dionysos, Hermēs, Aphroditē, Zeus, &c.  However, if I’m not, whether because I’m too tired or don’t plan on doing an offering to Aphroditē that day, then I’d just call on her and give her a simple prayer; rather than giving her a main offering in the midst of a bunch of perfunctory offerings, I’d just give her a perfunctory (or bigger) invocation with no other process involved.  In other words, if all I’m doing is verbally honoring and recognizing the god of the day, then there’s no sacrifice or offering, so the whole process of offering doesn’t apply.  Easy, indeed, and if it’s all I need to get by for a daily practice, then all the better.

I’m sure, given enough time, this proposed method will continue to change.  What is becoming clear to me is that it’s easier for me to bundle my already-existing Hellenic/Greek practices into my overall Mathēsis work, which is fine by me; the less I have to arrange as separate “practices”, especially when one directly comes from the other and is going to subsume it anyway, the better.  By refocusing my Hellenic work into my Mathēsis work, I can better focus both together and synthesize them in a way that reduces stress and conflict while still being able to expand and expound on both.  Plus, if this Mathēsis stuff is actually going to head in the direction I want it, having processes for this sort of thing are definitely a needed and beneficial organizing principle.

On the One True Geomancy (or Astrology, Alchemy, Etc.)

Within reason, of course, I enjoy fielding questions from my readers through social media, whether it’s through @s on Twitter or messages on Facebook.  I do my best to answer them as they come, and I generally have an answer, though it might take me a bit to compile it in full.  Sometimes, the answer just can’t be made simple enough for a quick message, and we need to engage in a proper conversation to flesh everything out.  However, on occasion, some of those questions or the discussions we have over them raise something up in my mind that I think needs to be explored more, and this is just one such an occasion.

One of my friends on Facebook—introduced to me by a mutual friend over (what else?) geomancy—had some questions and problems with reading over some of my posts, specifically where I catalog an assortment of geomantic texts’ attributions of elements to the figures.  Basically, in that post, I go over how there’s a lot of talk in books modern and classical about how to reckon the elemental rulerships of each of the figures, and there are a surprising number of variations about how to go about just that.  Modern confusion can arise from John Michael Greer’s use of a dual system of outer and inner elements of the figures, outer elements based on Zodiacal attributions and inner elements based on structural concerns, and I’m sure that I haven’t much improved on that with my own system of primary and secondary elements (though I find it increasingly useful).  My friend was happy to scrap the outer element system of JMG, but after reading my post, things only got more confused and muddled for her.  She vented a bit to me about some of her frustrations in learning geomancy from my blog:

I think I am a bit disheartened.  According to your work even the planetary rulerships vary from Agrippa to the Golden Dawn.  When I found geomancy, I was excited because it was based on numbers and my study of sacred geometry, and it made me hope that this system was at root based upon the same principles.  After reading a lot of your work. I am left with “everyone does it different, good luck!”

You know what?  That’s completely fair, and it’s easy for me to have lost sight of that.  I appreciate her bringing me back down to earth a bit by sharing her feelings with me on this.

As you may have noticed, dear reader, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  Yes, it’s a website where I advertise my services and ebooks and share my research and rituals and make myself available for a variety of consultations and readings, but first and foremost, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  I write about what I want on my blog at the rate I want with the focuses I want in the way I want; it is, after all, my blog.  However, I write my blog for the public to read not just to keep track of my own notes, experiments, projects, ideas, and studies, but also to help others in the occult, Hermetic, and geomantic communities as well.  Over the years, my blog has become something of a resource for many, and I take a bit of pride and satisfaction and fulfillment that I’m able to help at least a few people through my writing.

One of the ways I think I help is that I share my research and notes, and when it comes to geomancy, there’s a lot to research—about a thousand years, to be precise, across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.  Even with my limited resources, I have access to texts by John Case, Robert Fludd, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Christopher Cattan, John Heydon, Bartholommeo della Parma, Gerard of Cremona, and Pietro d’Abano, to say nothing of more modern authors ranging from Franz Hartmann to Stephen Skinner and JMG himself.  As time goes on, I hope to get access to even more obscure materials that exist in undigitized, microfiche, or manuscript form.  And, I expect, as I get access to more such resources, I’ll learn more about how geomancy was practiced by a variety of practitioners across the millennium it’s been in use.

As a researcher, it’s evident and plain to me that geomancy is not a single, fixed subject.  Yes, even from its inception and introduction into Europe, there have been many things fixed and stable about the art: the basic meanings of the figures, the basic use of the Court and Shield Chart, how to use the House Chart, what planets the figures refer to, and so forth.  However, there are a great many things that vary between one author and the next: whether this technique or that is more useful, how many variations on a single technique there might be, how to assign the zodiac signs to the figures, how to assign the elements to the figures, how to do this or that and…well, as can be seen across many of the posts on my blog where I document classical techniques, there’s a fair amount of variation in geomantic practice.  For me to introduce that into my blog is part and parcel of my research: I research to document what was done, no matter how it was done, so I can figure out what was kept back then and why, as well as what I might keep that works and how to make what works work even better.

Why is there so much variation in what was done?  Simply put, it’s because geomancy is not a monolithic tradition: there is no canon, no centralization, no governing authority that says “this is proper geomantic practice” and “that is not proper geomantic practice”.  We in our modern age are used to such centralized authorities certifying what’s in and what’s out or what’s good and what’s bad to the point where we take it for granted, and we expect to see that such centralization would be present in previous eras.  It’s simply not the case.  Sure, there were commonly-available resources and texts, especially after the invention of the printing press and the beginning of mass-produced books, but it still was nothing like the scale of today’s “Art and Practice of Geomancy” or “Geomancy for Beginners” or “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”.  What was available were texts produced on a much smaller scale available to a smaller percentage of wealthier people who could afford books within a much more localized region; besides those, there were actual, living, breathing geomancers who not only practiced, but taught as well.  Though I’m sure some students of geomancy kept in touch with others, each geomancer was likely to be left to their own devices, see what works, and see what doesn’t, then develop and refine their own practice on their own.  Couple a few decades of that with books that may not always be 100% correct or vetted for typos and clarity, and minor variations are bound to result.

The commonalities between different geomancers and texts vastly outweigh the differences between them, to be sure, but many of us who like to investigate the details and ply those for whatever we can might be foiled by encountering so many different ways to assign figures to elements or what have you.  As my friend said, it can often come across that, when I present my notes on how geomancers of the past practiced this art, it might just come across as “everyone does it different, good luck”.  To an extent…yeah, actually.  Everyone did do it different.  Heck, everyone still does it different; I don’t do the same exact geomancy that Stephen Skinner or JMG or Al Cummins or Eric Purdue might do.  We all understand the basics of geomancy, and the commonalities of our practices far outweigh our differences, but there are definitely differences to be had.

To be fair, though, this isn’t just a thing with geomancy.  Astrology has the same variations across its many thousands of years of practice and development based on era, land, language, and author.  Today, you’ll still find arguments about which house system is best, how to allot certain things to certain houses, whether the modern planets have any purpose in horary astrology, and so forth.  You’ll find the same thing in general Hermetic magic (Golden Dawn or Thelema? Lemegeton or Grimoirum Verum? Heptameron or Trithemius?), in ancient Greek religion (Hesiod or Homer? Attic or Doric? Delphi or Dodona?), and really in any ancient tradition.  No tradition is ever truly monolithic unless it was designed that way, and even then, if it’s at all taught and carried on by successive generations of students, there are bound to be variations.  That’s how we ended up with Theravada and Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism from a single teacher, and within each vehicle of Buddhism all the different sects and schools thereof.  That’s how we ended up with Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant Christianities, and all their own sects and denominations.  Spiritual traditions, sciences, and lineages are inherently messy in their development; as I said to my friend, “if it’s confusing, it’s because there are a lot of different voices shouting different things under the same big tent”.

So what do we do about it?  Is it really as simple (and confusing) as “everyone did it different, good luck”?  Well…yes, actually.  In my research-related posts on this blog, I don’t often just document what was done, but I also give my thoughts on what makes the most logical sense or what has the strongest justification, as well as share my own thoughts, experiences, and preferences on the variations on technique.  I do my best to show my own practices and why I do things the way I do and where I get the things I do from, but at the end of the day, it’s a combination of study and experimentation that informs my practice: study the things that are common and fixed in the tradition, experimentation to see which variations work best.  The way I teach geomancy is going to be different from other geomancers past and present because it’s going to be informed by my own practices, experiences, and experiments; consider that I find (much as Robert Fludd himself did) that the techniques to predict letters and numbers are crap. Heck, even among geomancers today, what I consider vital and important to the art (as far as details go, at least), Al Cummins may find ridiculous or nonsense, and vice versa.  That’s fine!  We each have our own opinions informed by our own studies, and that’s great!  It’s not going to be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 where there’s only one right answer, but it’s going to be “which art movement is better to understand the 19th century occult movements, Pre-Raphaelite or Art Nouveau?”.

If you’re looking for the One True Geomancy (or One True Astrology, or One True Solomonic Grimoire, or One True Alchemy, etc.) with all and only the right techniques, well, you might be disappointed.  There’s really no objective, centralized, certified Manual of Geomantic (or Astrological, Solomonic, Alchemical, etc.) Practice out there, nor will there ever be.  The best you can do is find a single teacher and study what that one teacher teaches, and even then, they might change their views over time, just like you will.  In the meantime, though it might be a rough road to follow, learning what was done and seeing all the variants out there of a given technique is helpful because it informs you of what was done before to give you an idea of what works and what options you have when working your own practices.  In doing so, you have guides that point in useful directions (maybe not always the right directions) to show you where you should focus your practice or steer your practice towards or away from.  Experimentation is a must in this and every kind of occult art, but you can and should listen to your peers and colleagues and teachers to see what was done before so you don’t invent the wheel all over again and again and again.

On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.

On the Arbatel’s Principles of Magic

As I’ve mentioned before, the Arbatel is a funny little text.  Its structure is broken down into seven sets of seven aphorisms, each set called a septenary.  While many of them are simple and to the point (in the elaborate, circumlocutory way only a Renaissance grimoire can do), some of them are actually quite complex, and it feels like the author of the Arbatel sometimes bunched a bunch of separate tiny teachings into one broad aphorism with multiple subdivisions.  The most famous of these are aphorisms III.17 (which lists all the Olympic spirits along with their general natures and summaries) and IV.24 (which lists the three types of secrets along with their seven major kinds, as well as seven biblical verses about secrets and their bounties), but there are a handful of other aphorisms that can be broken down into subsections.  Interestingly, it’s these combined-type aphorisms that give some of the clearest pictures into the mind of the author regarding the function and practice of magic itself, which I thought I’d simplify and flesh out here, along with a handful of other observations.

Why do I bring this up now?  Honestly, because it’s a good reminder to myself of some of the things to focus on for magical practices.  Not everything is explicitly applicable, but it is a good reminder and refresher in how to conceive of certain things when it comes to my spiritual practice, especially as it changes and becomes enhanced over time.  I figure this reminder is timely for many of us, especially as the Sun begins its descent into the southern skies, but also because I found this post languishing in my drafts folder for…about a year now, and I figure it may as well be time to start working on some of those drafts.  This is a good one, and good for us all to remind ourselves what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it, even if we’re not a Paracelsean or Christian magician.

Before anything and everything else, understand that the Arbatel is fundamentally a Christian occult and esoteric work.  It’s been described by some academics as “the first book of white magic in Germany”; it is fundamentally about using one’s inborn gift for magic (if any), given by God, for the glory of God by the grace of God in accordance with the word of God.  Aphorism II.14 says, perhaps in the most terse way throughout the entire book, “truly you must help your neighbor with the gifts of God, whether they are spiritual or material goods”, which is nothing more than the Great Commandment itself.  However, even though the Arbatel is very much a work in the vein of esoteric or highly-spiritualized Christianity, it can also work in a Deistic or just generally divine context; despite the use of verses of the New Testament and the invocation of Christ from Aphorism II.14, the God of the Arbatel does not need in practice to be the God of the Bible so long as one comports themselves in a more-or-less equitable fashion.  That said, practices and worldviews that diverge heavily from standard Western models of ethics and morality might not be so amenable to adopting the principles from the Arbatel, especially when it comes down to how certain magical practices are split up.  Your mileage, as in many other things, may vary.

So, let us start at the best of all places: the beginning.  The first whole septenary, which aphorism IV.28 exhorts the reader to read and reread constantly in the pursuit of all secrets, is a collection of simple moral imperatives that are taken pretty much entirely from the law of Christ.  We can break these down into roughly two groups of directives, those that focus on religion and God and those that focus on living a proper life in general.

On living a divine life:

  • In all things call upon the name of God.
  • Begin nothing without first invoking God.
  • Live in peace for the honor of God and for the benefit of your neighbor.
  • Live according to the life God gave you.
  • Use the gifts God has given you.
  • Always keep the word of God on your lips and your mind.
  • Trust in God above all else, including yourself.
  • Love God and your neighbor as yourself, and God will love you and keep you safe.
  • Call upon God for help.
  • Glorify and thank God.

On living a proper life in general:

  • Know what can be discussed with others and what can’t; keep secret things secret.
  • Know the value of things and don’t take them for granted, because others will.
  • Live for yourself and for the sake of beauty, wisdom, and truth.
  • Avoid being too sociable or concerned with other people.
  • Jealously guard your time and use it wisely.
  • Listen to and heed good advice.
  • Avoid procrastination.
  • Don’t be frivolous or stupid.
  • Act and speak seriously and focused.
  • Don’t indulge in vice or temptation.
  • Focus on what is spiritual and elevating.
  • Avoid what is mundane and carnal.
  • Study, repeat, and review whatever you learn.
  • Learn a lot about a few things, not a little about a lot of things.
  • Learn how to specialize and focus on what you’re good at.

Seriously, read the whole septenary.  In such seven short paragraphs, the Arbatel offers a pretty solid moral framework for living a fairly upstanding, Christlike life.  Would that more of the world would do so.

Aphorism VI.38 lists seven different “divisions”, or types of magic that can be performed.  Although the introduction to the Arbatel lists nine chapters, with chapters II through IX supposedly being focused on different types of magic, this aphorism seems to breach those divisions into something different.  Rather than being “schools” of magic, which implies more of a tradition with philosophy and history, this is more a list of how magic can be generally effected through different means and techniques.  Arbatel says that the first kind of magic (innate blessing from God) is the best, then the second when done properly, and the third when calling upon Christ by Christians.

  1. Magic that comes directly from God to his creatures, the powers of each being made by God for a specific purpose in their existence.
    • The powers given by God to “creatures of light”, i.e. angels.
    • The powers given by God to “creatures of darkness”, i.e. demons, but used to carry out the will of God for benediction and empowerment of the worthy.
    • The powers given by God to “creatures of darkness”, i.e. demons, but used to carry out the will of God for destruction and deception of the sinful.
  2. Ritual magic.
    • “With visible tools through the visible”, i.e. what we normally expect as ceremonial magic, done strictly in the physical world with physical tools.
    • “With invisible tools through the invisible”, i.e. astral magic or a ceremony performed in one’s astral temple.
    • A mix of techniques and tools, e.g. using energetic constructs as tools in the physical or using a physical focus for astral work.
  3. Magic where secrets and miracles are performed solely through the invocation of divinity.
    • When calling upon the one true God, this becomes “Theophrastic” (referring to the works and teachings of Paracelsus), which is “partly prophetic and philosophical”.
    • When calling upon false gods, this becomes “Mercurialistic” (heathens or pagans, but Peterson says that this refers to alchemists).
  4. Magic performed by invoking the spirits of God and carrying out works through the power of the angels as intermediaries.
    • When calling upon the good spirits of God, this is akin to the magic of the “Baalim” (Peterson suggests “idolators”, but could also be “worthy pre-Christian magicians” generally).
    • When calling upon the evil spirits of God, this is akin to the magic of the “minor gods of the pagans”.
  5. Magic performed through directly interfacing with spirits, either through conjuration, dreams, divination, or other means of communication.
  6. Magic performed through magical creatures (not immortal spirits per se, but elemental beings).
  7. Magic performed without actually invoking or requesting anything, but which is effected through spirits who help of their own free will and accord.

Aphorism IV.25 brings up seven verses of the Bible related the blessings and boons that can be obtained from God through the use of magic.  Essentially, “the true and only way to all secrets is that you return to God”, to wit:

  1. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  2. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luke 21:34)
  3. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalms 55:22)
  4. “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
  5. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalms 32:8)
  6. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
  7. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

The Arbatel describes in aphorism VI.39 seven preparations the magician should observe when getting ready for a magical operation.  In order:

  1. Study, contemplate, and integrate the teachings, doctrine, and word of God into your life.
  2. Know thyself.
    1. Meditate and contemplate yourself.
    2. Learn what phenomena are internal to yourself and what phenomena are external to yourself.
    3. Learn what the different functions of one’s faculties are and their proper uses.
  3. Always focus on the divine in your life.
    1. With the higher faculties, focus on the grace of God.
    2. With the lower faculties, carry out the works of God.
  4. Only those called to magic are truly magicians, but everyone should learn their proper path in life.
    1. This is the Great Work, one’s True Will, one’s purpose as written in the Book of Life.
    2. Learn what that path is for yourself and live according to it.
    3. If magic is your calling, then you must learn how to carry out the specific types of works called for in your life, and then do them.
  5. Always endeavor to carry out the magician’s true calling: the Great Work.
    1. All magic and all works aided by spirits are to be done for the sake, honor, and glory of God.
    2. By neglecting God, ignoring one’s Great Work, or by carrying out shameful works, one risks their utter destruction.
    3. By carrying out works but without the honor for God, one will only ever carry out minor tasks without accomplishing their Great Work.
  6. Keep silent when possible.
    1. What is given to you spiritually is given to you and you alone.
    2. Secrets of the spirits are as mysteries of the ancients, not to be revealed to the masses.
  7. Always be virtuous and just both in mind and body, for by this all vice and wickedness will flee.

The next aphorism, aphorism VI.40, has another seven statements, which the Arbatel describes as laws for a magician to abide by when he “determineth with himself to do any incorporeal thing either with any exteriour or interiour sense”, i.e. anything magical.  Basically, it offers guidelines for conducting yourself and protecting yourself when interacting with spirits, either in a conjuration or no:

  1. All spirits that appear in conjuration do so only by the grace and order of God.
    1. Spirits only show in conjurations of Hermetic or Solomonic traditions according to the will of God.
    2. Any spirit revealing itself in any context, conjuration or otherwise, does so by the will of God, such as in predestination or in a holy mission.
  2. Whenever spirits are near, pray for a strong, holy spirit, and deliverance from evil.
    1. The Miserere and the Lord’s Prayer are of special and powerful use in this.
    2. Variations on such prayers are found in a number of Solomonic conjuration formats.
  3. Always test the spirits to ensure their truth and to prevent folly or harm.
  4. Do not fall into superstition.
    1. Be intelligent and wise about your works.
    2. Be proper in your actions only as much as they are called for.
    3. Remember that God is the source of all works.
  5. Do not fall into idolatry.
    1. Only God is God.
    2. God is the source of all spirits and all power.
    3. Objects do not have power apart from God.
  6. Do not fall into deceit.
    1. Avoid becoming mislead or misguided.
    2. Always remember that God is the true origin of power and all works.
  7. Always seek the gifts, grace, and glory of God.

Αphorism VI.36 (emphasis mine below) admonishes the reader such that each single magical operation should be “simple”, i.e. focused on one and only one purpose:

Care is to be taken, that experiments be not mixed with experiments; but that every one be onely simple and several: for God and Nature have ordained all things to a certain and appointed end: so that for examples sake, they who perform cures with the most simple herbs and roots, do cure the most happily of all. And in this manner, in Constellations, Words and Characters, Stones, and such like, do lie hid the greatest influences or vertues in deed, which are in stead of a miracle.

So also are words, which being pronounced, do forthwith cause creatures both visible and invisible to yield obedience, aswel creatures of this our world, as of the watry, aëry, subterranean, and Olympick supercelestial and infernal, and also the divine.

Therefore simplicity is chiefly to be studied, and the knowledge of such simples is to be sought for from God; otherwise by no other means or experience they can be found out.

Aphorism VII.44 (emphasis mine below) contains a startlingly modern exhortation to meditation, especially awareness meditation, so as to know what the “inner voice” sounds like especially when compared to the “outer voices”.  This section sounds like something pulled directly from Jason Miller’s blog (like this old post of his).  Beyond that, it also implies knowing what your own will is, and what the manipulations of others are upon your will and thoughts, as Peterson notes in his translation of the Arbatel.

The passage from the common life of man unto a Magical life, is no other but a sleep, from that life; and an awaking to this life; for those things which happen to ignorant and unwise men in their common life, the same things happen to the willing and knowing Magitian.

The Magitian understandeth when the minde doth meditate of himself; he deliberateth, reasoneth, constituteth and determineth what is to be done; he observeth when his cogititions do proceed from a divine separate essence, and he proveth of what order that divine separate essence is.

But the man that is ignorant of Magick, is carried to and fro, as it were in war with his affections; he knoweth not when they issue out of his own minde, or are impressed by the assisting essence; and he knoweth not how to overthrow the counsels of his enemies by the word of God, or to keep himself from the snares and deceits of the tempter.

For being such an incomplete and short work on magic, the Arbatel is actually pretty solid in its advice, even by modern standards, especially with the rise of Christian esoteric traditions in the public sphere (case in point, I can see some strong similarities and outright parallels between Arbatel-style thinking on magic and traditions like Kardeckian spiritism).  Really, most of the Arbatel is filled with this sort of advice, and it’s unwise to simply go through and rewrite every single aphorism or summarize it all simply because it’s already such a simple work.  I’ve only highlighted what I thought was immediately relevant, but the entire work should be reviewed time and again for guidance and support by any magician, especially those with a more devout or religious bent in their work.

On Fireballs and Pharmakeia

So, as I sit here at my desk trying to ignore the urge to smoke more cigarettes and replace it with eating (way too many) Oreos, I’ve been trying to find simple things to occupy my time with.  Working on my book requires focus, and I’m still working up the courage and energy to go work out (which I need to get back on the ball with after three weeks of chaos and travel and religion, but I’ll get back on that this week all the same), so I’m just trying to find low-effort things to keep my mind and hands occupied.  One such thing is gaming, specifically playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, because why not?  It’s a pretty good game, after all, and though I know there’s huge replay value in it, I can never seem to muster up the tenacity to try out different builds on multiple playthroughs, keep characters limited to particular questlines, or whatnot.  It’s always satisfying, after all, especially with a few mods here and there to spice the game up (and, hopefully, refrain from breaking too many quests, which unfortunately keeps happening).

Of course, me being me, I always end up playing a mage-assassin, incinerating everything quietly and from afar.  I was never much fond of close-up fighting classes no matter the game, so of course I would lean towards the more mage-based classes.  Big surprise, I know.  Of course, if only magic worked in our world like it does in so many fantasy games!  To shoot fire and lighting and ice from one’s hands, to control wind and earth and water with a word, to heal and harm for weal or woe with a thought and a gesture miraculously, wondrously, and instantly would be satisfying, indeed.  Alas, fantasy is fantasy, and reality is reality, for the most part; there are still plenty of miraculous things one can do with thoughts, gestures, and words, and a good bit of my own practice is heavily informed by fantasy, as are a number of my friends’ and colleagues’.  Sometimes, the fantastical has very straightforward implementations in reality, with much the same ends and effects, though, perhaps, with fewer explosions.

In Skyrim, for those who are familiar with the game, I lean heavily towards the Destruction skill tree, which empowers the player-adventurer to wield a variety of elemental-based spells for causing mass…well, destruction.  Being Skyrim, one of the most effective elements to wield is that of fire, given the high number of highly-flammable undead, furry creatures, and elemental tree spirits, as well as because ice tends to be resisted more commonly than not, and lightning…eh, it’s cute.  Anyway, fire is awesome!  I think we can all agree on that, right?  Of course it is.  And, of course, the use of fireballs is incredibly well-known across so many fantasy games and settings, and the general practice for using them is something like this:

  1. Adventurer-mage spots a hopeless victim, or is otherwise accosted by a foolish victim.
  2. Adventurer-mage casts fireball on the victim.
  3. The fireball may or may not explode on contact with the victim to cause damage to nearby collateral damage.
  4. The fireball may or may not catch the victim(s) on actual fire.  However, the fireball will cause significant damage to the victim’s (or victims’) health, and if strong enough, will outright kill the victim(s).

Given how many fantasy games work, unless you’re playing a rather free-form one or a tabletop game that isn’t bound by game engines, such fireballs don’t often incinerate the victim(s) to literal piles of dust, and if they’re of the exploding kind, they don’t often actually explode the victim as if they were touched by a grenade or bomb.  In Skyrim, using the non-explosive Firebolt spell, what this usually looks like is:

 

Okay, straightforward enough to understand, and due to the limitations of video game engines, pretty simple: make ball of fire, shoot it at a target, it damages their health, and if their health drops below the minimum threshold, they die.  All fantasy, of course.  What bothers me most (at least within the context of Skyrim) is how, at higher levels or on weak-enough enemies, all the enemies do when being attacked with such a fireball is that they drop dead with a few fancy effects.  No incineration, no screams of prolonged pain, no gear-turned-to-ashes, no burn marks, no explosions, just “whoop-poof” and body-drop.  For being such a fantastical mainstay, such fireballs are…underwhelming.  Surely, a real fireball spell would cause more collateral damage, both to any nearby items or environmental factors!

So, that got my head-gears turning.  What exactly is going on here when the adventurer-mage is casting a fireball spell on such a victim?  The naïve answer is that the adventurer-mage is literally manifesting a ball of sufficiently-materialized fire energy, which is then directed forward away from the caster and towards a victim in a more-or-less ballistic fashion, which then explodes and releases its fire energy upon contact with any solid-enough object that it collides with that significantly interferes with its inertia.  In other words, we’re basically making a magical Molotov cocktail from etheric scratch with more-or-less physical behavior; after all, if it were just pure energy, we might expect it to not be as…well, flamey or explosive or bright, as well as having it pass through solid objects like how thought or astral bodies might.  I suppose fireballs might better be considered more of a Conjuration school technique than a Destruction one, but then, the Elder Scrolls view of magical schools has always been flexible, and calling it a Conjuration spell would only make sense after…what, five seconds of thought?  Clearly too much to put in for a casual not-actually-magical gamer, I would think.

Another viewpoint on this would be less creating a manifestation of a flammable grenade and more about tweaking the actual physical activity on a molecular level; instead of conjuration, this would by pyrokinesis.  In other words, by means of spiritual action, we’d be influencing the vibration of molecules and atoms such that they would increase dramatically within a localized area.  This wouldn’t really have the same ballistic effect the conjured-Molotov-cocktail approach would, as it’d be taking effect at a distance immediately, but it would have a similar effect: a sudden and dramatic increase in the molecular vibrations would increase the heat at that location, whether air or metal or fabric or any other substance, so long as it’s not an empty vacuum.  At high enough activities, even air would combust, and if sustained long enough, then a sufficiently hot “mass” of energy that could be sustained magically can be directed to travel through the air, combusting more air along the way, which then could catch other things on fire, which would indeed get us our fireball.  This wouldn’t be as extensible to other elements (how would you cast an ice spell, or a water spell?), but as far as fireballs go, this approach is just as viable as the earlier one, and just as fantastical.

Still, if we were to be conjuring Molotov cocktails between our hands or turning into living microwaves, we’d expect the whole burning-to-death process to actually follow suit, wouldn’t we?  In other words, in order to do any damage, we’d expect that things should actually catch fire first, then be on fire long enough to scald, scorch, burn, incinerate, and calcine so as to actually cause harm to living targets and general destruction to inanimate targets.  Instead, what we’re seeing is that once the fireball comes in contact with a target, that target immediately takes a hit to their health, if not immediately dies, so something else is going on here besides an overblown catch-on-fire spell.  This is what caught my attention after a few…dozen dozen enemies being killed, I guess, in a moment of reflection after having to unload a few hundred potatoes and apples unto my loyal follower in the middle of an ancient tomb filled with fresh produce and lit candles.  I do so love video game logic, after all, and Skyrim is…well, special.

Anyway.

So, if casting fireballs at people isn’t actually just setting them on fire, what’s actually going on from a magical perspective?  We’re obviously condensing a sufficiently harmful amount of energy attuned to Fire, which is then released in a directed way at a target to cause them harm, which may not actually be set on fire or exploded, yet still suffers as a result.  What’s going on?  This is where things get interesting to me as an actual mage, and which can perhaps lead into a less-than-fantastical implementation of casting fireballs as a kind of offensive magic in our world where magic works.

Consider the human body from a spiritual perspective.  The health of the human body is a fine balance between subtle forces, which historically in the Western world have been associated with the four elements and, in the body, the four humours: Fire manifests through choler (yellow bile), Air as blood, Water as phlegm, and Earth as melancholy (black bile).  It is only when these four humours are balanced—none in excess and none in deficiency—that the body enjoys health.  If there’s too much or too little of any one or more, you start getting health problems.  The balance of the humours could be affected by any number of things: the food and drink we consume, the music we listen to, the airs and climate that surround us, the physical and mental activities we engage in, and of course the spiritual influences on us from beyond our worldly realm and which do not necessarily have roots in the physical, manifest world we interact with.  This is why certain types of energy work can encourage health when done properly or damage health when done improperly, and why certain energetic practices are recommended for magicians to regulate the spiritual forces we interact with so that our bodies and health aren’t impacted in a negative way.

Heck, one can even use simple energy work to remedy simple physical problems.  I recall one winter night when I was getting a tattoo with a magical friend of mine, and I had to run down the block and across the road to the nearby shopping center for some cash from the ATM.  Being young, courageous, stupid, and enjoying of winter, I decided to do so without my jacket or coat.  Admittedly, I did enjoy the brisk dash outside in roughly freezing temperatures, but it’s only once back inside the warmth of the tattoo shop that I had to deal with warming myself back up.  To encourage my body to get on with it, I had the idea to use my personal geomantic mudra of Fire (Laetitia, which is geomantically pure Fire), conjuring up some Fire-based energy within me and circulating it through my body.  Even though I had never done such a thing before, it worked; the cold more-or-less instantly dissipated as I began to circulate it, and I was back to comfortable levels in no time.  It even caught my friend off-guard, who picked up on the energetic shift I put on myself and noticed the change in temperature from across the room.  Instant results and immediate external confirmation—what more could I ask for as a magician trying something new out?

Energy work, well, works.  Thing is, you have to be careful with it; as the Renaissance magician-pharmacist Paracelsus once said, “Alle Dinge sind Gift, und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht dass ein Ding kein Gift ist”, or “all things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison”.  The only thing that really transforms any given drug into medicine or poison is how much you use; I was able to work enough Fire energy into my system as I needed, and no more, to fix my problem of there being too much cold.  If I had overdone it, I could easily have introduced health problems into my system, such as rashes, flushing, ulcers, headaches, fevers, heartburn, heart problems, and the like.  Heck, if I were otherwise normal and focused too much Fire energy into a part of the body that didn’t need it, I could cause localized problems, or it could dissolve into the rest of my body raising my overall Fire levels, which again could cause systemic issues.  Sola dosis facit venenum; the dosage alone makes the poison.

Though it’s not usually discussed, any beneficial, health-encouraging practice can be twisted to be harmful and malicious; just as one can use reiki to resolve blockages, one can also use it to introduce them, and just as one can modify the body’s humours to encourage health, one can also modify them to wreck it.  In a sense, you can energetically heal someone by using energetic medicine, or you can energetically harm them by using energetic poison.  This is essentially bringing modern spiritual medicine back in line with the ancient traditions of pharmakeía. Although this word literally refers to the administration of drugs, it’s far more famously used in the Bible to refer to magic and sorcery.  It’s not an either-or thing here; it was quite common back in the day, as it is in ours, to administer magic through the use of ingested or applied substances.  Consider how we might use certain herbs and plant parts in magical drinks, adding a few drops of this oil or that powder in someone’s meal to influence them, or rubbing this salve or that ointment on our skin for protection, flying, or simply fixing a health problem.  I mean, consider: without an understanding of modern pharmacology, how could it not be seen as magic to take some sort of occult virtue of a plant, boil it in some oil, then using the oil on my head to cure a headache when eating the plant or using the oil alone would otherwise have no effect?

To influence and modify the state of the body through spiritual means, then, could be considered pharmakeia, and since spiritual factors influence physical forms without necessarily requiring physical means, purely-spiritual pharmakeia would be an option just as much as physically-administered pharmakeia.  This means that energy work and other energy-based forms of magic would fall under pharmakeia for both healing and harming, and this is where we can tie pharmakeia into fireballs.  Recall my little Fire experiment from above; one might consider that applying Fire energy to resolve a physical problem, so what would stop me (besides my scruples) to apply Fire energy to cause physical problems?  After all, poisoning someone with Fire energy is essentially what’s going on in Skyrim and other such fantasy games when outright Molotov cocktail-like behavior isn’t seen: you’re overloading the victim with too much Fire energy, which causes them to suffer and die, sometimes dramatically so.  That’s what a real implementation of a fireball would do: energetically poison a victim with an overload of too much Fire energy/ether/etc.  Likewise, an Ice attack could be conceived of as not only depleting a victim’s Fire energy but also encouraging too much Water and Earth energies, fixing both to induce an overabundance of cold with no Fire to ameliorate or defend against it.

In this sense, such an approach seems a lot less fantastical and way more effective to be taken.  I mean, none of this is particularly surprising; I know I’ve done similar things in the past, and it’s just another way to encourage someone to act or adopt a new set of behaviors and patterns of health.  But, when viewed in a fantastical light as “casting fireballs or ice spikes”, this sort of phrasing of how magical acts afflict the delicate balance of the body’s health makes a lot more sense.  I dimly recall some Hermetic author or other having written an article online about a ceremonial magic implementation of basically casting fireball, but I wasn’t able to find it on my own, since I had read it years ago and it was already old by the time I got to it.  Happily, my friend John Umbras of Cross the Dark helped me out and reminded me that it was called the “Chaos Bolt” ritual.  Though it doesn’t exist on its original source of ChaosMatrix anymore, it’s since been replicated across the internet in a variety of files and PDFs.  One such PDF on Combat Magick, including the Chaos Bolt ritual, is available here, courtesy of the chaos magic and left hand path blog Arauto do Chaos.  Even though it’s not exactly being constructed as a Fire-based ritual, the Fire elements (heh) are absolutely there, and it’s not hard to see how, much less how to make it even more fiery.  I recommend reading it to get a glimpse of what such an implementation of energetic attacking could be like, and then interpret it as taking effect through energetic poisoning of a victim’s body instead of just fucking with their circumstances or life generally.  Beyond that, I’m sure you can figure out how to design and direct such elemental offensive spells on your own, dear reader.  After all, we don’t call them “elemental weapons” for nothing.

Who would have thought that getting bored during a video game could be so productive for analyzing new ways to view old magic tricks?