On a Diviner’s Code of Ethics

Having this blog isn’t the first time I’ve ran a website, whether hosted by myself or another.  I’ve dealt with buying a domain and server space and setting up everything on my own before, and though sometimes it can make things more flexible, it can also be a big hassle.  It’s one of the reasons I like the convenience of using a service like WordPress to handle the back-end stuff for me, because let’s be honest, I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the nitty-gritty of website management on my own.

Back in college, shortly before I started the first iteration of this blog on Blogspot and before I got focused into actual magical practices, I had a small website of my own I managed.  It wasn’t for blogging or sharing occult information, no; it was a marketing website for my erstwhile spiritual consultation gig to bring in a little extra pocket money during college by doing geomancy readings for people.  I was reminded of it recently because there was something I know I had on it that I don’t have on this website, and I didn’t have the original files any longer (after several computer builds and platform changes, some loss is unfortunately to be expected), and it was something I wish I had at least for a reference for something I’ve been pondering as of late.  Much to my excited surprise, a single snapshot of that old website was available on the Internet Wayback Machine, and what I was looking for was right on that snapshot.

The thing I was looking for was my first attempt at a diviner’s code of ethics.

Without sharing the entire snapshot of my old website (which…while I’m excited I found an archived copy of it, I’m still embarrassed by it like how an accomplished artist might be embarrassed by their older submissions on their long-since-abandoned deviantart), here’s what I had on that old page relating to it:

I make a deep commitment to upholding the highest ethical and moral standards to dispel negative views and myths surrounding divination in our society. To that end, I endeavor to provide answers with clarity and utility, engage my clients in a relationship of trust and confidentiality, and interact with my community in charitable and beneficial ways. I donate a portion of all profit earned from [redacted consulting company name] to a local charity or use it for the betterment of the [redacted city name] Metropolitan Area.

To formally codify these aims, I have drawn up a “seer’s code of ethics” that I pledge to follow. I believe that all professional consultants should follow some ethical code, especially if they do so for profit. Further, it makes clear the intent I have as a psychic consultant: I work for the client’s benefit first, not my own.

  1. I will respect the confidentiality and privacy of the client, and will only release information with his or her explicit permission.
  2. I will respect the faith or the lack thereof of the client.
  3. I will refrain from judging the client on any grounds.
  4. I will inform the client of anything I can see and state from the reading, honestly and without malice, be it good or ill.
  5. I will inform the client of the manner of my technique upon request.
  6. I will inform the client of the meaning of any symbol in the reading to the best of my ability and understanding upon request.
  7. I will provide further resources to aid the client when I can no longer provide adequate or proper advice.
  8. I will make no claims as to knowing anything not knowable by strictly mundane methods with any assured level of precision or accuracy.

While I often agree to answer most types of queries, I reserve the right to refuse to answer any query I find objectionable. Such queries include, but are not limited to, those about death or violence, those violating the privacy of a third party, and those for the purpose of illegal gain. I will judge each query according to its merits once it is posed, and if I find it objectionable I may refuse to answer it.

I also reserve the right to refuse performing any reading for the client if the client acts in a dishonest or insincere way. I strive to help any client that comes my way, but since my time is valuable I choose to help only those clients with a real need and respect for me and my profession.

I warn any prospective or current client: caveat emptor! I do not claim that I provide completely accurate, precise, or correct readings, nor do I believe it possible to do so for many metaphysical reasons. The client should be aware that he or she asks for a reading at his or her own risk and out of his or her own free will; any answer or advice that derives from a reading must be evaluated by the client on the client’s own terms. I will refuse to take credit or blame for any result of a situation inquired about by the client, since it is my duty to inform and not to alter.

As a professional psychic consultant, I do not endorse any religion, spiritual tradition or philosophical school, and all such views I express are mine alone. I cannot be held responsible for any religious or spiritual matter as a result of consultation. If for some reason divination or esoteric arts are prohibited in the client’s locality or community, I cannot be held responsible for any ramification, legal or otherwise, which might result from receiving a reading.

While I haven’t laid eyes on this bit of text in literal years, much of it still stuck with me in one form or another and how I generally guide myself.  But, of course, times have changed, and I would gladly make changes to this to reflect those changes in my outlook, responsibilities, and what I consider ethical.  Since the time that old website was online, I went from a “oh no I just want to See and Predict things I could never be someone who actually meddles with magic I just want to help people figure out their lives” (I had such a phase once!) to…a not-totally-inexperienced magician, a scholar and teacher of geomancy, Hermetic and Neoplatonic theurgist, initiated priest of Ogun in Santería, craftsman, and author.  I’m familiar with quite a bit more than just geomancy nowadays, but divination is still one of the focuses of my Work; if anything, it’s only become more important as time’s gone on, because so much of what I do is guided by it and so many people come to me for that above any other spiritual service (so far).  Of course, there have been some changes in how I approach clients for divination as well as the topics they ask about, both for my own sense of ethics as well as for what I find works better when dealing with people.

The reason why I wanted to find my old website’s code of ethics was because I was thinking about a more modern version for myself to incorporate onto this website.  That, of course, got me to thinking, why don’t we hear about such codes of ethics for spiritual practitioners more often?  Sure, there are a handful of them here and there, but there’s so much variation and all seem tailored for particular practices or situations, or they rely on other ideas of centralization or authority.  While there are definite commonalities to be picked out between them, it’s sometimes hard to correlate them into something approximating a “common code”.

So, that led me to post on my Twitter/Facebook about perhaps writing another diviner’s code of ethics, perhaps getting my colleague’s collaboration and input on them, perhaps even getting other people to sign onto them as a show of solidarity or something to better enhance our art and our behavior when applying it.  On the whole, it seems like many of my colleagues and friends were enthusiastic about such an idea, but a few had their reservations, either about how such a thing might be developed or why such a thing shouldn’t be developed at all.  Upon pressing them for why, I think they have some good reasons that deserve definite thought.

From that discussion, probably the most salient point was that writing or adopting a code of ethics for diviners could easily lead to a form of accreditation or certification for diviners.  The idea goes like this: declaring a standard of any sort of competence, whether in terms of expertise in one’s art or of behavior when dealing with people coming to that art, and trying to get people to adopt or recognize that standard is a slippery slope to creating standards for other fields within one’s art.  With as few as one standard or code, one can create a codified “school” of diviners, which can end up being exclusive to those who are already on the fringes of society, difficult for people who have trouble adopting or studying such a standard, and even dangerous to those who commit themselves to a standard for the purposes of privacy, decentralization, and being hard to track by authorities in areas where it’s still necessary to do so.  While I was at first confused as to where this particular colleague of mine was coming from, I now completely understand his concerns, and I can easily agree with them as they are.

So, that point raises a question: why should I want to see a diviner’s code of ethics, anyway?  I know that I should hold myself to a standard of behavior for many reasons: ensuring my clients’ confidence in my skills as well as my trustworthiness, acting in an exemplary way for my community both mundane and spiritual, behaving right in the eyes of my gods and spirits to do them honor, and so forth.  Would I like to see others do the same?  Absolutely!  I think the world could definitely use more people of good moral character and ethical behavior, and to see people of righteousness carry out the office of diviner for their communities would do us all good in the end, I think, both in terms of visibility, eradicating stereotypes about us and our work, and helping people out as we can through our skills and arts.  This is especially important when we come across stories of particular occultists, priests, or other workers who abuse their powers or offices and end up as thieves, cheats, frauds, sexual offenders, or worse.

But…I also recognize that my way of right behavior is not the only way.  My ethics are informed by the way I was raised by my family, my studies of Hellenic tradition, Hermetic theurgy, and more recently Lukumí notions of iwa pele as well as more modern notions such as True Will; the path I walk is, truly, a path that only I can walk, no matter how similar it may be to other people’s paths.  What might seem abhorrent to me might be called for regularly by another; such a topic was brought up on that same discussion from earlier, and while I can see the reasons why someone might need to take such a stance, it’s definitely not a stance for me, as it runs antithetical to so much of what I believe and try to act upon.  And while I recognize the utility in breaking rules to achieve a particular end, I would rather have that rule to rely on and be known than otherwise.  Transgressive behavior only works when you’re going against expectations, so if you end up with a particular expectation as a standard, it no longer becomes transgressive.

I mean, my friends and follows lists, to say nothing of my friends and colleagues generally, are on the whole highly educated and technologically adept; I have many friends who are academics, many of whom hold advanced degrees, and no few number of other friends who are priests or deacons trained in seminaries or other formal settings.  It wouldn’t be a stretch by any means to call ourselves elite, Apollonian, or ivory-tower occultists, but at the end of the day, that’s still what we are: occultists.  Occultists, witches, herbalists, and the like have always been pariahs and outcasts in our culture going back centuries and millennia, and no matter how lofty and highbrow we take things, we’re still going to be at the knife’s edge of acceptable behavior (at best). Only good academics who report on magical practices while disavowing any sort of involvement in them get a pass, and even then, those who dwell too long on discussions about it get talked about behind closed doors.  While those of us living the good life in a first-world setting and culture like the conveniences and comforts of standards and rules, we necessarily deal with forces that not only bend and break those very things, but we still must be aware of how Weird we live our lives in the world.  Being still outcasts, fringefolk, or pariahs forces us to be aware of how much the rules of society don’t apply to us, not just for our benefit but also to our detriment, and how, in the end, the only rule we truly have is that there are no rules when it’s a matter of our survival and self-protection.

So where does that leave me?

I think it’s a good practice for people to consider their ethics and what their guiding rules should be in general; after all, these are rules to live by, but aren’t absolute moral commandments held on high (unless they are, but you’d know about them better than I would for yourself).  Not being moral commandments (unless they are), rules can be bent or broken in times of need, but limiting those times to truly matters of expedient means where the destination really does justify the road you take to get there.  And even then, there are always ways of evaluating ethical rules to give a higher-level view of what the rule is supposed to accomplish, and whether or not that goal is even worthy of being held.  Sometimes, the rules you want to live by are getting you to a place that you really don’t want to go to.  Consider, also, whether your rules are more method-focused or goal-focused; are you instituting a rule to conduct your behavior by, or are you instituting a rule to guide you to a particular outcome and steer you away from other ones?  That sort of ethics vs. morals distinction is crucial for this sort of thing.

I also think it would be good for people who do client work in a public way to put up a code of ethics, just for themselves in their public practice, because they’re trying to put on a public face and want business.  This may not be the case for truly back-alley, in-the-shadows workers who prefer anonymity and secrecy, which are also valuable things in their own rights.  Plus, depending on the methods used, not only would most ethical or moral codes fail to be held to, but any public knowledge at all about such methods would probably be as harmful for the client as it might be for the practitioner.  After all, while I would prefer to avoid acts of murder, I find poison a perfectly valid tool to be used when such a thing is called for, but you won’t see me hawking that service publicly, nor will you see me write a poisoner’s code of ethics.  No, codes of ethics are for people who are trying to keep a pretty face on their business and work, and if that’s one of your goals, then I think you’d be better off than not at least suggesting to your clients that you have some ethical bones that support your interactions.

As for the terms of such a code of ethics, I think it would be best to follow two principles: keep it simple, and keep it high-level.  You don’t need to go into detail about how you’re going to conduct every single reading or client interaction in a series of if-then-else conditions, nor do you need to expound on your magnum opus of morality and philosophy.  Do you value truth in your work?  Say so, simply and plainly.  Do you value correctness in beliefs?  Say that you’ll act as a mentor and guide when needed, and depending on how far you want to take it, you may want to avoid saying that you’ll judge the client for their own beliefs, because if you think yours are correct and theirs are different, you’re probably gonna come into an internal conflict.  It’s up to you to decide the actual ethical bones that make up your body of behavior, both in terms of how and what you need for your own conduct, as well as how and what is needed by your clients and community for your office and how you fill it.

I would like to see more occultists who do public work or take on client cases show their code of ethics, but it’s not something I’m going to expect or demand.  As in so many other things, putting up posters about how awesome we are falls far short of actual interactions and personal evaluations we make; no code of ethics we write for ourselves, after all, can be enforced by anyone but ourselves, and if someone’s not the type of person to act right when they need to, then perhaps that code of ethics they have plastered on their website may not be anything else but a waste of bits and bytes.  After all, codes of ethics and whatnot are there to help us become good people, at least in some public notion of it, but if you’re not going to be a good person, it’s going to show, and no amount of electronic make-up can fix it.


Selected entries from the Enchiridion of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus which are on my mind as of late:

7.  Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored; if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board; you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.

11.  Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

14.  If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave.

16.  When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, “It’s not the accident that distresses this person., because it doesn’t distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it.” As far as words go, however, don’t reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.

And a Stoic…well, not quite a prayer, but I use it as one, compiled and rewritten from several sources including Cleanthes and Euripides:

Lead me, o Zeus, and holy Destiny,
T’wherever my post in life’s battle be.
Willing I follow; were it not my will,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
Fate guides the willing but drags the unwilling.

Futile though it might be, I bring this up as an exercise to myself and as a reminder to my readers, because I’m going through a bit of a tough time.  I’m not writing this to ply sympathies or condolences, but rather as just an exploration of my own thoughts and feelings, recorded more for myself than anyone else.  Recently, my husband’s and my cat died.  Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.

My husband grew up at his grandparents’ house, and about…twelve? thirteen? years ago, there was a particular cat that was hunting and haunting the backyard and forest of their house.  They would entice this cat with food, and she’d come up and eat from them, and would even hop into my husband’s lap for pets and brushing.  She must have been a stray, since she obviously knew the touch of humans and had been spayed, but she seemed to adapt quite well to being taken care of, such as it was.  Eventually, after a year or so, on his way home from a party, my husband saw the cat at the back door with a giant bloody gash on her face; apparently she got in a nasty fight and wanted some help.  He asked her if she was ready to be indoors again.  She looked at him, huffed, and strutted right inside, and didn’t go back outside again.  He named her Isis, a large black Maine coon mix with a white tuft of fur on the front of her lower neck; he didn’t know exactly how old she was, but definitely around four years old at that point.  She gave my husband many years of support and emotional connection in the times when he had nobody else but her.

She lived in his grandmother’s house for a good long while, and while I was dating my husband before we married, I would occasionally catch glimpses of her, but she was always so skittish and not at all sociable.  She’d occasionally stare out the front window or prowl around the house, but she was far from a sociable animal.  When my husband and I moved into our current house, we decided to bring her over to live with us; by this point, she was already like 14 years old, and she had feline leukemia virus all her life, though it never bothered her any.  We did this because he wanted her to live with us, sure, but knowing she was getting on in years, we wanted to make sure the last part of her life was comfortable, easy, and peaceful, away from the stress of being at his grandparents’ house.  After the initial acclimation period, Isis changed dramatically towards both him and me; she was an adorable little attention whore, chirped and chatted, started playing with catnip and feather toys for the first time, and couldn’t get enough of sleeping with us in bed.  Even my husband was caught off-guard by how much she had changed, as if she finally got to be a pampered little kitten again, and hand to God did she enjoy it for all it was worth, as did we.  She was adorable in every way, even if she did piss on some of the rugs now and again or drank from our offering glasses on some of the shrines around the house.

Over the past few weeks, I noticed I haven’t had to refill her food bowl with kibble up as much as I thought I should.  I didn’t pay it any mind, but towards the end of the month, my husband and I realized that we haven’t had to replenish it at all.  She really cut back on eating to eating nothing, and we weren’t able to entice her to eat much of fresh tuna or turkey.  She had been lying around the house in places we didn’t often see her.  She didn’t come up to bed with us when it was bedtime.  She was even more lethargic and less playful and chatty than we were accustomed to her being.  It dawned on us; she was getting to the last stages of her life.  That realization was not easy; on a weekend when everything else was going sideways, this was the last thing we wanted to have to face.  Neither my husband nor I got much sleep.  We mostly stayed awake evaluating her condition, trying to get her to eat or drink at least a little, and just pet and brushed her as much as we could in between having our bouts of tears.  She was getting bonier, and her breath was getting to have a new and unpleasant odor.  We took her to the emergency vet (by the time we were able to get anywhere with her, most vets had already closed for the weekend), and they ran some tests on her; we couldn’t get a clear diagnosis, but we did get a prescription for an appetite stimulant.

She still wouldn’t eat more than a nibble of tuna.

Against every fiber in his body, my husband made the decision that it was time.  I made the arrangements to take her back to the emergency vet on my way back home from working ceremony, and…I needed some time in the car alone before I could get face going inside my house.  I wasn’t aware I could even make some of those sounds.

I won’t recount the whole process of her passing.  Suffice it to say that she went quietly and peacefully, bundled in her tortilla blanket, being pet and loved and hugged and brushed.  She went out with a soft purr, knowing and feeling that she was loved.

We found out afterwards that it was the cancer catching up to her in force, and there wouldn’t’ve been much we could’ve done anyway besides just making her passing as easy as possible.  We did what we had to.

I bundled up her dishes, toys, and blankets and put them in a box, placed under the table in our office where she liked to lie down.

I haven’t been around much death in my life.  Bones, rot, mold, and the effects of death, sure; I mean, it’s a natural part of life, if not the most expected, inevitable, and boring part about the entire thing.  We may not know what happens afterward with complete certainty, but we know that it happens to everything that lives.  But as for actual living creatures dying that I’m aware of, that I care for?  It’s different.  Last year, my grandmother passed away, but it was hard to feel too sad about it.  Sure, there was a touch of grief, but I was far happier than anything for her.  Passing away at the age of 96, becoming a great-great-grandmother in her own life, having outlived three of her husbands, having inherited a small fortune from one of them, having traveled the world, having gotten a college education for a woman in a time when that was difficult, living wherever she wanted, enjoying being as sharp and quick as Olenna Tyrell herself, being surrounded by family and comfort all her life, having passed away quietly and peacefully and painlessly…in short?  My Nana Jane won at life.  It’s hard to not celebrate a life and death such as hers.

Isis basically had that same equivalent status for cats when she went, but…it’s so much harder.  I suppose that’s just the nature of it when she’s effectively your baby that you watch out for, care for, nurture, and nourish.  It’s not as difficult now as in the days and hours leading up to her passing, but it’s still not easy, especially when you keep seeing motions out of the corner of your eye you expect to be her, hearing creaks in the floorboards you expect to be her, a pair of black boots sitting in a sunbeam you expect to be her, a ruffle in the blankets on the bed you expect to be her.

I’ve been trying to revisit some of my earlier Stoic learning and practices, before I really committed myself to Neoplatonism and Hermetic philosophies.  Stoicism isn’t a perfect philosophy, but for dealing with much of the bullshit of life, it affords a fantastic worldview and helps to cool the heart and head from the heat of passion and drama.  For myself, I admit that I had Isis in my life a lot less than my husband had her in his, but her death still hurts.  We brought her into our home with the understanding and expectation that she wouldn’t have much longer to live no matter what, and we made the choice to give her an easy, good death with the understanding and expectation that there’s nothing else that could be done no matter what, but…it’s so hard to make the leap from an intellectual understanding of something and the emotional acceptance of it.  Like SMBC’s The Falling Problem, I could go on for hours about the nature of the situation, the diagnosis and prognosis, what the expected social, emotional, and physical effects would be upon me and my husband, and all the rest…but it doesn’t impact the actual experience of the same thing.  Worse, if not outright embarrassingly, all that mental preparation does exceedingly little to absolutely nothing for emotional preparation.

At that point, I suppose it’s less a job for rationalization and more of one for faith.  I can’t even really say “trust”, because trust in…what?  Isis, for all her love and adorability, is still a cat, and as Wittgenstein once wrote, if a lion could speak, we could not understand him.  There’s only so much I can figure out or know about cats and their behavior, so I have to have faith that she knew she was loved and taken care of to the best of our ability until and through her very last heartbeat and breath.  I have to have faith in my spirits that they heard my pleas to watch over her, guide her, accompany her, entertain her, and protect her as she uses up the last of her nine lives to go…wherever it is cats go, and that once she gets her spiritual bearings, that maybe she’ll choose to stick around for us.  I have to have faith in my gods that they can and do support me to point out to me the strength I have and to give me the help I need to get through this as best as I’m able.  I have to have faith that everything really will be alright, even if it doesn’t yet feel like it is.  I have to have faith in myself that I’ll be alright, even if I don’t yet feel like I am.

And even then, faith feels like a bandage over a gushing wound; triage is no substitute for actual healing, and there’s no real regimen to heal this sort of pain besides taking my time.  I suppose that’s inevitable, too.

I could waste words on how to live your own lives better, spending more time with the ones you love, being more forgiving and compassionate, not taking things for granted, blah blah blah.  There’s no point to that here; I’m not in a great state to give advice, and there are more than enough others who have given that same advice in better ways and in more appropriate venues.  This is just…a reflection, I suppose, a processing of grief over loss.  I suppose I could rewrite that in geomantic terms, by saying Tristitia plus Amissio yields…well, Puella: the compassionate Maiden who takes all in under her roof, the pleasant Hostess who heals and nurtures, the all-accepting Lady of Fortune who shares her love for all until it’s time to move on.  Fitting, I suppose.  Puella is often described as fickle, but I find that an uncharitable description; it’s only because that fortune must pass over everyone equally, that all things must have balance, and that everyone gets their fair share of time and love before that time and love passes away.  It may never feel fair, especially in the heat of the moment or in the cold of the withdrawal, but Puella is the fairest and the Fairest force there is.

It’ll take time, but it won’t take too long.  It may be bad, but it’s not the worst thing.  It may hurt, but I’ve had worse.  Even through the tears and the wailing and the jaw-clenching-so-hard-I-might-shatter-my-teeth, there’s still that glimmer of love and appreciation in the muck and the rot and the ash.  I still have, at least a little bit, that happiness we were able to have Isis in our lives for at least a little bit, to love her and be loved by her, and to see things through to the end for her.

Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.

On the Inconvenience of Wholeness

Earlier this winter, I was taking the train to work in the morning, as I usually do.  It was during one of the exceptionally cold days—I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced negative degrees Fahrenheit before—and I was ruing sitting against the window, as I usually do (the sitting, not the ruing).  I take the standard Northern approach to winter clothing, applying layer after layer after layer until you end up a spherical mess of unflattering insulation, but even then, it didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped that morning.  Worse, I had to pee, and I typically try to avoid that on the trains.  Yeah, there are bathrooms on the commuter trains, but trying to wiggle out past the person sitting next to me, wobbling down an unsteady train down to the bathroom in the next car, then having to undo layer after layer of unflattering insulation just to take a leak wasn’t worth it.  I just held it until I got to the office.

The whole experience recalled to mind a method of excreting bodily waste in abnormally or dangerously low temperatures: the use of insulated diapers.  I thought it an amusing technique, both incredibly uncomfortable to sit in my own urine while simultaneously finding the warmth probably very welcome in below-zero temperatures.  Of course, I’m not a diaper fetishist, and the idea is far more uncomfortable to me than it is to others; it’d probably have to be truly, awfully cold outside, and I’d need to be out there for quite a long duration before even giving it a serious thought.  Still, the technique of it is valid, and if I were someone like a Siberian ice-fisher, I’d probably actually consider it.

Now, I don’t often think about diapers; I leave that to some of my other friends and colleagues for their own reasons.  No, I originally heard about the notion of insulated diapers from…well, of all places, a Legend of Zelda fanfic.  Yes, dear reader, your beloved/despised polyphanes is a nerd, and while I haven’t really read fanfic or engaged in much fandom in years, it was definitely a major influence on my formative teen life.  Between Myst, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, and a handful of other anime and manga, I had quite the list going.  The Legend of Zelda fandom was probably the first one I started getting involved with, and there was this one site…god, it’s been years, and I can’t remember it, and I have no idea if it’s even online anymore.  It was, for the early 2000s, a fantastic fan-maintained resource of Zelda-related content, ranging from game walkthroughs to rumors of finding the Triforce in Ocarina of Time to, of course, fanfiction.  The site author maintained his own (as I judged it at the time) pretty epic storyline, and even I helped contribute with some of my own stuff.  It was a fascinating timesink for me.

The fanfic the site maintainer himself wrote was pretty involving, I have to admit, or at least for my 12-to-14-year-old self.  It had everything I could want: drama, an unexplored dichotomy leftover from the actual mythos of Zelda, exploration, and, of course, angst.  (Yes, I still have a soft spot for Linkin Park and Gackt, and my mom still fondly remembers my overuse of “angst!” cried out as an expression of frustration and…well, angst.)  There was one part in the fanfics the site author wrote that stuck in my mind, and which this cold train morning brought up after making the leap from insulated diapers: in an earlier part of the story, Link is sent on a quest to defeat the Truly Unspeakable Evil in a place far colder than Antartica (hence the insulation), but which was so evil, Link was warned not to give even an ounce or an inch of thought or credence to it, for to even give it that much would let the Truly Unspeakable Evil get a foothold in Link’s mind, which would inevitably lead to his corruption and ultimate doom.  Later on in the series, you can guess what happened; Link, as it turned out, gave a half-second’s thought of considering the merits of what the Truly Unspeakable Evil was proposing to Link as he approached the den of the Truly Unspeakable Evil, and that was just enough to plant the seed of Truly Unspeakable Evil in Link’s head, which eventually began to drive him to depression, to madness, and ultimately, to climb the heights of Death Mountain, watch the sunrise one last time, and fling himself over the edge to end it all so as to give in to the Truly Unspeakable Evil.  He didn’t die, of course; that’d be a poor end to a Zelda fanfic, indeed, and the fanfic author had more in mind to write.  Link was grievously wounded, to be sure, but he survived, and was rescued by his friends and allies and, together, they worked to (painfully, if I recall correctly) excise and exorcise the Truly Unspeakable Evil from Link’s mind and body.  It was a surprisingly sweet, uplifting, empowering story to read for a young teenager.

Now, as a somewhat older person with a little more (but only a little more) experience under my belt in both magic, spiritual works, demonic possession and obsession, and just life in general, I can look back and realize…well, first, how fucked up that story was.  I still think fondly of it, but christ, that was a dark story to read.  All the same, it does actually have strong parallels to some of the worst case scenarios of demonic affliction, and how, in some cases, demons can drive someone mad or burden them with depression, and ultimately, it is possible for a demon to drive someone to suicide.  But…now that I look back on it, there’s something that nags me about the whole thing.  I know that I’m evaluating the merits and virtues of a fanfic I read literally 15 years ago and only dimly recall, so please suspend your sense of absurdity for my sake, but…it almost seems like it was too easy for the Truly Unspeakable Evil to be so cleanly excised from Link.  Yeah, falling off a cliff a hundred meters tall would probably knock quite a bit out of you more than just wind, but…

Problems like depression and mania and anxiety or dementia, or psychological urges to murder, rape, abuse, and the like are, indeed, problems.  They’re human problems, of course, and so many of us suffer from them all the time.  We do our best to keep ourselves in good physical and mental health, and hold in our destructive and malefic urges so we can at least maintain a semblance of non-psychopathic decency.  While there’s a little bit of the Divine in all of us, a little shard of the Good, a little spark of the Nous, we’re still mortal and material creatures, born to die.  Matter, in the Gnostic-influenced Hermetic view, stands apart from God in several ways, and is largely considered evil, or at the very least, incredibly inconvenient.  (I’m reminded of the Douglas Adams quote: “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”)  Try as we might, there is not one of us who is truly good, because we’re not made to be; while the part of us that is Good can aspire to Goodness, a human being, when considered as a whole, is a mixture of both Good and Evil.  We’re both.  We have both blessings and curses, benefits and hindrances, positives and negatives.

A human being, any one of us, is a whole entity, and you can’t simply excise evil from a human.  You can’t just rip those destructive urges out, nor can you just banish anxiety and be done with it.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that one should have an urge to rape and kill, nor that we should be so “blessed” with depression and suicide; far from it, these are awful things that I wish we could do without, and work towards a day when we don’t have to worry about them and can maintain them so that they don’t pose a problem anymore, if not get rid of them completely.  But we all have our afflictions, our vices, our sins, and you can’t just fling yourself off a cliff to be rid of them, nor can you jam a red-hot sword into your flesh to burn it out.  Those who have these afflictions are still human, and still have an ounce of Good in them, no matter how covered up or small.  We all have our own essential dignity, so to speak.  But that dignity and that little bit of Good we have don’t excuse the shit we pull and the evil we make in the world around us or in the world within us; we can’t simply be forgiven for the awful, harmful things we do to ourselves or others, because forgiveness without remediation is wasted breath and energy.

We’re whole creatures.  We have good and bad within us, and we can’t really separate the bad out and claim it’s not us.  It’s part of us, and in a sense, it is us.  We have to own it.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves, and we have to actively work to make ourselves as Good as possible.  If only it were as simple as just letting the Good be Good, but it’s not; we have to fight, every second of every minute of every day of every month of every year we draw breath, to preserve the Good, protect the Good, enhance the Good, and elevate the Good, while fighting off the Bad, diminishing the Bad, restraining the Bad, and eventually controlling the Bad as best we can until we’re no longer human and no longer have the Bad as part of us.  Until then, the Bad is just as much as part of the whole of us as the Good is.

Being whole is inconvenient.  It’s not easy, and there’s no straightforward solution, no deus ex machina that can save us as the hero in our individual stories.  It’s not a problem to solve, but a predicament we must live with; in this view, then, every moment of every human life is a crisis, where we must constantly take responsibility for ourselves, own our wholeness and all the parts of the whole that constitutes who we are, and actively make the decision to be Good and to enhance the Good.  We have to be better than what we are.  Not only is that a matter of enhancing the Good all the time, but of diminishing the Bad all the while.

I wish it were easier.  But it’s not.  That’s just the nature of the Work, which is actual work.

Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.