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.

On Budgeting Time for Work and Work

I’m spending these Days of the Cyprians and the following days leading up to Michaelmas trying to get back to my magical practice.  It’s…well, let’s be honest, I haven’t really had much of a magical routine since 2015, between new-job-chaos and having-to-buy-a-house and house-moving and Santería-initiatory-period and so much else.  Even doing simple planetary invocations strikes my heart with beauty and power, and the muscle memory of prayer comes back easily, though meditation is, as ever, a pain in the ass (a good one, though).  But what strikes me is that my ideas of a magical schedule like how I used to do it simply aren’t as useful as they once were.  It’s not to say that my notion of what constitutes good daily routine for spiritual activities aren’t effective—they most certainly are!—but that I simply can’t use them in the way my life has developed with everything that goes on.  Some practices and prayers I don’t have the need anymore, but others, I don’t have the time for.  It’s not like I haven’t talked about my daily practices before, but maybe it’s time for a refresher.

Let’s consider my daily schedule, shall we?  On a normal workday when I go to the office, with no magical routine nor frills nor extra plans thrown into the works, my schedule looks like this:

  1. Wake up no later than 0615.
  2. Get a shower, brush my teeth, and get myself put together around 0630.
  3. Get breakfast and scarf it down, finishing no later than 0645.
  4. Take a break, make sure all my stuff is together, then head out the door to go to work between 0715 and 0720.
  5. My work day is flexible, demanding anywhere from six to twelve hours, plus about two hours for commuting either way total (including wiggle room to make sure I don’t miss my train) so I can be home anywhere between 1730 and 2030.  Taking the average, let’s say I get home at 1900.
  6. At some point, I need to spend roughly 15 to 30 minutes doing chores around the house just to keep things livable.
  7. In order to get at least six (preferably seven) hours of sleep, which is generally sufficient for me to be operational and which I can catch up on more on my days off or teleworking, I need to be in bed by 2300.

That means I spend time on the following:

  • Sleeping: 6 to 7.25 hours
  • Out of the home working, running errands, etc.: 10 hours to 13 hours
  • Other necessary activities: 45 minutes to 1 hour

All told, that means anywhere from 16 hours to 22 hours of my day are spoken for, leaving anywhere from like two hours (on a rough day) to just under eight (on a really relaxed day).  This is what my free time consists of, so on an average day, let’s say I have about four hours free leftover for whatever I want.  I know people whose schedules are more strained than mine, and I know others who have more relaxed schedules than mine.  Admittedly, it’s my commute (anywhere from three to four hours a day?!) that really eats up a substantial chunk of my time, but we can talk about that in a bit.

Four hours of free time, I suppose, sounds generous enough, but the moment you get engrossed in something, boom, it’s gone.  The moment something slips and needs to be redone or done differently, boom, it’s gone.  The moment you get lazy and want to just take a break, boom, it’s gone.  The moment you have something that needs your immediate attention, boom, it’s gone.  The moment something rears its head from your procrastination because you didn’t have enough time earlier, boom, it’s gone.  The problem is that “free time” can’t all go to one’s leisurely activities or spiritual pursuits; I can’t spend all of that time on playing video games, writing my book, praying and devotions, energy work, or what-not.  Things that are arguably higher priority are:

  • Groceries, supply-shopping, and other procurement for my household (+30 to 60 mins)
  • Chores, housework, and household improvements beyond the daily tidy-up (+30 to 60 mins)
  • Working out for fitness and health (+20 mins for getting to the gym and back home, +60 to 90 mins for the actual workout)
  • Client work and consultations (+30 to 60 mins)
  • Mandatory spiritual obligations and observances befitting my station and initiations (+10 to 30 mins)

Then, when it comes to my desired magical routine, what is it I’d like to do?

  • Meditation: 15 to 60 minutes
  • Prayer: 15 to 60 minutes
  • Energy work and sphere attunement: 15 to 30 minutes
  • Offerings: 5 to 30 minutes

We’re looking at anywhere from almost one hour to three hours of spiritual work a day.  On the face of it, that’s going to be impossible some days, and pushing it on others.  And that’s just the daily routine; that doesn’t take into account special things I want to do, like intense offering sessions to a particular entity, conjurations, consecrations, and so forth, which take up their own time and have their own preparatory phases.  This means that I need to keep my daily routine short, sweet, and to the point, but then I feel like I have to rush it lest I fall behind schedule with something else; the prime time for me to do daily routine is just after I wake up, so that means I need to wake up at least an hour earlier, which means I need to get to bed an hour earlier, which cuts down my time in the evenings after I get home from work.

What all this adds up to is that I have a busy life, and I simply can’t take care of everything I want to in the way I want to.  I have go to go work, I have to sleep, I have to keep my household in order.  I really can’t slack off on working out (like I already have been for too long already), and now that I’m getting back into a magical routine, I don’t want to slack off on that, either.  I simply have too much going on to handle everything I want every day like I want.  Some days have to be set aside for one thing, other days for another thing; I have to really prioritize everything I do and be as efficient with everything as possible if I want to feel useful.  I won’t be able to run errands for groceries and supplies on the same days I go to the gym or have to extra-special prep the house for company, nor will I be able to spend extra time making offerings and doing ceremony if I have other necessities planned like taking my pet to the vet or going out with my husband on date night.

Then there’s the fact that I simply can’t be doing something all the time.  Nobody can, nobody should; sure, we shouldn’t waste time, but consider that you just need downtime where you’re not doing anything at all besides self-care.  Watch a movie, take an extra-long bath, veg out on YouTube, go to happy hour, whatever to just unwind.  If you’re doing things you have to do all the time, you’re going to wear yourself down thinner than tissue paper, and you’re going to run yourself into the ground.  It’s not healthy.  Sure, there’s always a lot to do, but there’s always a lot to do; setting aside an appropriate amount of time in moderation for yourself isn’t going to make things substantially worse than they already are, so you may as well enjoy yourself when you have the opportunity.

Happily, all the above doesn’t go for every single day.  For one, I have the ability to work from home, which allows me to (a) avoid spending three to four hours commuting and (b) I work from home longer hours so I spend shorter hours in the office.  Right now, that’s just once a week, though in the future, I might be able to get it to twice, which would be substantially helpful in freeing up more of my daily time.  There are also the weekends, where I simply don’t have to do nearly as much; of course, “have to do” is different from “need to do”, because these are prime times for me to catch up with friends (which I consider a necessity!), visit family or godfamily (who live up to four hours away), work religious ceremony (which can honestly be an all-day event, if not across multiple days),  intense research, and the like.

Plus, there are times when I’m doing something else necessary that I can overlap with other things.  For instance, while I’m in the office, I’m not always busy; I have downtime there, too, and I often use that for writing and researching and taking care of some client stuff that I don’t have to do at home (mostly paperwork, sending stuff out, and conversations for clarification and guidance).  I’d like to be able to do readings in the office, but between the spiritual gunk that drifts in and out and the fact that I don’t have a fully-enclosed office, it’s hard to have the privacy and ability to concentrate that I’d need, so I have to limit myself to just the mundane paperwork side of things.  The hour and a half I spend on the train…well, you’d think I could use that better than I can, but there’s no wireless connection on the train, the cellular signal drops out frequently, and the seating is awfully crammed for someone my size with large legs.  I try to read, but more often than not, I end up falling asleep and use my traintime as backup-naptime.  I know many people who can overlay trainrides, carrides, and working out with audio books, but that’s not for me; I find such disconnected listening to someone speaking even more soporific than stupid ASMR videos.  Either way, it’s totally possible for me to overlap work and commuting with some of the less-active tasks I have, but it’s not guaranteed that I’ll be able to do so; plus, it’s hard to use these times as honest-to-god downtime or relaxation times, because I’m still technically at work or cramped up in a fast-moving metal box surrounded by people, and it’s hard to be really relaxed to the point of being able to decompress like that.

Ugh.  So where does this all leave me?  There are things I need to do, and then there are the Things I Want to do.  And, unfortunately, I don’t have the time or lifestyle that lets me do it all at the same time.  If I had my way, I wouldn’t be working nearly as long or nearly as far away (housing costs and lack of comfort in cities, yo), which would do me good, surely.  I’d be able to wake up in the early morning, take care of my meditations and prayers and other magical and religious routines, then go to the gym, come back home, get ready for work, go to work, then come home, enjoy some peace and relaxation and work on a few things that needed my attention, then go to bed.  Unfortunately, that can’t happen in the real world, not with the lifestyle I have with its own pre-existing demands.

The big thing to keep in mind is that, for better or for worse, you have to do what you have to do to keep you afloat.  I can’t dedicate my time primarily to magical stuff because that doesn’t pay the bulk of my bills which keeps food in my belly and a roof over my head (career work), and I have to dedicate the proper time to make sure that food in my belly doesn’t rot my bones due to lack of use (working out), as well as making sure that roof over my head doesn’t rot from lack of maintenance (chores and household work).  These are essential things that cannot be compromised.  It’s what I have time leftover that I have to use wisely and prioritize, and that not only means I have to prioritize my routines and day-to-day activities (is this a day for running errands or running on the treadmill? a day for spending time in profound ritual for divinity or spending money in the supermarket for groceries and clothes?), but it also means I have to prioritize my overall projects I work on.

Projects throw an interesting wrench into this whole thing.  There are several big, overarching things I want to do in my own personal practice:

  • Finish and publish my geomancy textbook
  • Begin the Arbatel Operation with the seven Olympic Spirits as well as the Four Kings of Secrets
  • Dig deeper into Mathēsis, including zodiacal explorations
  • Nine-week exploration of particular aspects of Sts. Cyprian, Justina, and Theocistus
  • Explore my own Four Guardians of the Directions
  • Toy around with some of the more involved rituals of the PGM (esp. PGM XIII’s Eighth and Tenth Hidden Books of Moses)

There are other things I want to do, too, and there are also other pots I have my fingers in.  For instance, there’s also the need to learn more songs and practices and rituals for La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (a.k.a. Santería), which is a pretty  involved thing on its own, but again, the study portion of it can be handled elsewhere, and the involvement parts that demand my presence handled on their own dates and times and places.  Each of the projects above is a big, overarching thing that isn’t done in a single one-off task, but a series of tasks established over days and weeks and months.  To work on a project takes time, and I only have so much time.  If I use my spare time to write my geomancy textbook, I don’t have time to focus on Arbatel preparation; if I spend time planning and researching Four Guardians stuff, I don’t have time to give to St. Cyprian.  Sure, I might be able to switch focuses now and then, but it’s a lot easier to dedicate all my spare mental processing cycles to a single thing than to split them across multiple things.  For instance, it’s a lot less stress-inducing to know that I have just my geomancy textbook to work on than to remember, in my idle moments of enjoying chillwave mixes on YouTube, that I have my geomancy textbook to work on as well as that Cyprian invocation next week and also the New Moon’s coming up so I need to prepare for some Mathēsis investigation, etc. etc. etc.

I suppose this is all just me flailing around, trying to figure out how I want to get to where I want to be, how I want to become what I want to be, given the fact that I can’t seem to fit everything into my daily and weekly schedule as much as I want to.  But at least I know how much time I have to afford on a daily basis, and I know how much time certain things take.  It’s a start.  All project, timeline, and schedule planning demands to know how long certain things take and in what order they need to occur; knowing this much is helpful for myself.

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 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?

Experiencing Eternity in a Moment

It’s been just under a week since I stopped smoking (again).  This time, I’m gonna try to make it for good.  I’ve been smoking more-or-less since college, though before 2012 it was really just in social situations like parties or for magical purposes, much like how I use alcohol.  Since 2012, however, I actually picked it up as a habit, and have basically been smoking habitually since.  I’ve stopped for a few times before, especially before big ceremonies, but at this point, it really does behoove me to kick the habit of smoking.  For me, it’s not the nicotine addiction that kept me going (the nicfits passed in the first three days), but the actual habit: the socialization and quality time with friends, the going out to the porch or down to the garage, the flicking-on of flame and fire, the residual smell of tobacco in the air.  The buzz is nice and all, but it’s really the motion and action of smoking that I enjoy, and without it, I admit, it’s kinda boring.  In a few weeks, that’ll pass, too.

For me, though, the worst thing about quitting smoking by far is that my sense of smell returns in full force.  My smell is, after six-ish years of constant smoking, still my most sensitive physical sense, and it extends into spiritual sense, as well; where some people see auras, I taste and mouthfeel them.  The last time I quit smoking for a sustained duration of time, I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t smelling until I went on a walk around town one early autumn morning for some fresh air.  I was relieved to get back inside, because there were too many smells in the air.  I could smell the individual spices someone was using to make fried chicken three houses away; I could smell the exact brand of carwash soap someone was using a block down the road at the intersection over there; I could smell individual types of pollen and differences between diesel and regular car exhaust and the differences in mold and rot between different kinds of grass or leaf clippings and so much else.  There were too many smells in the air, enough that there was no chance for me to get “fresh air” to clear out my poor beleaguered olfactory senses.

Well, that’s starting to come back again, and now that I know what to expect, I’m more prepared for it this time around, so at the very least I’m not caught off-guard by it, pay more attention to it coming back, and enjoy it this time instead of being accosted by it.  I still would like to smoke, but I guess that’s just habit-whining talking.  Of course, other parts of the habit haven’t gone away just yet: I still carry around a lighter with me, just in case I need a source of fire, and I still drive with my windows down, which, of course, brings in more air and more smells into my car when I drive.  With the windows down, at least in the mornings on the way to the train station when the Sun is barely risen and everything’s still dewy and cool, it’s a rather pleasant experience.

Earlier this week, the pleasance of it all hit me in a different way.  Driving with the windows down on a cool, dewy morning with a light breeze outside, the yellow-golden Sun no higher than my own eyes off to the side, all the trees and fields lush with that late-summer, dense, heavy green, some mildly peppy music from an old playlist playing in my car, my arm out the window feeling the wet air slide past my skin and through my fingers…and the smells.  That vibrant, fresh, sweet, teeth-windy smell of such a morning.  The overwhelming power of olfactory memory, combined with all of that, slammed into me harder than anything, and brought back pretty much every single glorious moment of Joy I’ve had…many of which share this same setting.  While the act of it has decreased with age, driving with wind whipping around me has always been a source of soul-satisfying pleasure; driving in twilight, especially that of the dawn, in cool airs laden with humidity of ocean and river and fresh-fallen rain.  It was like, this one morning driving to work, I got to experience every joyful moment I’ve ever been in any similar situation all at once.

And yet, it went so far beyond that, too.  Something…slipped, it felt like, and instead of it being “I love driving in weather like this”, it became something much grander, more profound.  It went from “I enjoy this” to “I rejoice”; this moment of driving-joy touched every instance, every experience, every moment of Joy I’ve ever had in my life, and brought it all to bear right then, and hard.  It was like time stopped having meaning, and there was no difference between me-driving-to-work-at-29 and me-driving-after-work-at-17 and me-driving-to-my-boyfriends-at-20 and me-moving-into-my-dorm-at-19 and me-leaving-my-graduation-party-at-20 and me-visiting-friends-at-an-anime-convention-at-16 and so many other events and memories and times; it was like they were all happening simultaneously, like they continued to happen.  They weren’t distinct, discrete events in some temporal flow, but like my perspective of them changed, like how you can’t see something around a corner if you walk too far down the block.  It’s still there, object permanence tells us that it is, we just can’t see it anymore—you can still hear the echoes of the sounds it makes, you can still smell it, you can still feel it.  It’s still there, you just can’t see it anymore.

In that moment of unbridled Joy, a prayer of praise bubbled up unbidden through my lips:  “Glory to the Eternal Moment”.

Every moment of joy I had experienced—hell, each and every moment itself—collapsed into a single Moment, a single instance, a singularity of Life that seemed to be both forever, yet completely atemporal.  I guess this is why it came out as “Eternal Moment”.  After all, eternity, commonly understood, refers to an infinitely long period of time, something with no beginning and with no end.  However, in classical philosophy, this is not entirely true: that concept, of something that exists throughout time, is properly called sempiternity.  Eternity refers to something that exists outside time, something that transcends time, while sempiternity is immanent within time (it just so happens to be immanent within all of it).

What I saw was a brief, divine glimpse of my life as how we might see every side of a square while a two-dimensional being might only see one side at a time.  What I saw about my life was not a series of moments that changed from one moment to the next, where one thing happened then the next thing then the next as distinct events, but the whole collection of my life happening—always happening—as a single unit, a single Moment, happening all together like how different things can go on in the same town all at the same time, all occupying the same town.  I felt like I was both immanent in and transcendent of this view of my life, where I was able to experience all this happening all at once where I was (am) there, as well as able to look at it from outside myself like how a person watches a movie, like how we watch our own memories.

And just like that, the profundity, the immensity of that sensation passed away, and there I simply was, driving on my usual route to the train station on a regular weekday morning with the usual music playing in the background.  But, I tell you, such an experience couldn’t not have an effect on me, and the afterglow of it has stuck around ever since.  It’s almost like getting to experience the first time I heard and sang the Hymns of Silence again, except…so different, yet still the same glory.  And, in that awful, awesome, awe-inspiring light of glory shining forth from within and without, a realization: truly, just how inifinitely many events can happen at the same time at different places, likewise infinitely many events can happen outside time together at different times.  They might be distinct, sequential moments, but they are all part of the same Eternal Moment within which all things happen—not will happen, not happened, but do happen.

There’s much placed on the notion of interconnectedness, or Buddhist emptiness (cf. the core teaching of the Heart Sutra), where all things exist because of all other things, so in a sense, there is no independent existence because everything relies on everything else to exist.  Likewise, there’s another kind of interconnectedness, except instead of it being entities, it’s events: all events are tied up together, all events depend on each other, all events happen with and because of each other.  It’s not interbeing, it’s interhappening.  All events of the past have an influence on the present, and without the present, none of those events could have happened; likewise, all events of the future depend on this very moment in time, and without them to happen, neither could the present time.  Just like how I cannot be an author without you being the reader, then I cannot live now if I never lived before, and I cannot live now if I never live in the future.  Time, too, is interconnected just as places and entities are.

I’m not sure why such a realization, such a revelation happened.  Could be my brain adjusting to not having a constant supply of nicotine, plus the power of olfactory memory hitting me in an already good mood in a comfortable, receptive state.  I’m not sure what I did to experience or receive such a thing, if anything at all.  All I know is that it Made Sense, and it’s given me a new way to praise divinity and all its works of the cosmos.

Glory to the Eternal Moment.

 

Soapbox Time: Animal Sacrifice and “Black Magic”

I tried to not put a post out about this again.  I really did, you guys, especially since I was fortunate enough to completely miss the recent Internet debacle-argument about this topic, and moreso since I wrote one post on the one topic and another on the other years ago and was hoping to not have to succumb to this particular urge again.  But, then again, it has been like five years since I wrote those posts, and though quite a lot has happened, my views on these two topics hasn’t particularly changed much except for being refined.

So, the other day, I put out my write-up on PGM XII.201—269, which I’ve entitled the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, a consecration of an engraved ring of power that protects the wearer and also ensures their success in magical workings, a sort of forerunner to the Ring of Solomon found in later centuries.  Part of the ceremony calls for the sacrificial offering of seven birds—a pure white goose, three roosters, and three pigeons—but since I’m fully aware that not everyone is willing, trained, or able to perform such a ceremony, I also offered an alternative approach using sacrificial, animal-less cakes made to symbolize the offering of the birds instead.  I think that it’s a wonderful ritual that I’m eager to try at some point in the future, using the cake substitutions instead of bird sacrifices, not because I’m unable or unwilling to use birds here, but because I want to keep things simple for a first honest attempt, along with other personal accommodations for my own circumstances and situations.

Well, shortly after I shared it on one of the social media platforms I use, the ritual got a particular comment that rubbed me the wrong way, which was all of: “Whoa. That’s some serious black magick“, complete with a sadface. Granted, with such a terse comment that gave no justification for saying what it did, I honestly can’t say why that particular person commented that this was “black magic”, but I’m pretty certain I can hone in on it.  And I just…I just can’t, y’all.  I did make a reply to that comment, but since this particular thing set me off sore on two volatile topics at once, I figured if I was gonna get this urge out my system, I may as well get it out in full, in depth, and at length here.

First, let’s get the easy bit out of the way: “black magic” is a ridiculous term that we should have abandoned long ago, right along with “white magic”.  For some, it’s an issue of racism; for others, an issue of not understanding other traditions; for yet others, a shaming mechanism to get people to “evolve” into “higher states of spiritual being” from “backwards” or “primitive” or “dark” places.  Whether for these or other reasons, “black magic” is a deplorable term that’s often used to (a) make someone seem way more spooky than they are (b) market themselves as an edgelord sorcerer a la E.A. Koetting (c) shame the practices, rites, and occulture of others because one is uncomfortable with what they do.  Yes, I know the world is wide and full of awe, things that are both awesome and awful.  At the same time, you generally don’t have the right to judge other practices and cultures, especially those which are foreign to you or those which are from antiquity, unless you can also claim some measure of expertise in the context, development, and reasoning behind those practices of those cultures.

“Black magic” is a phrase that’s often more in line with really spooky witchcraft, devil-working, demon-summoning, cursing, and other outright maleficia in the sense of magic that’s intended to cause harm, pain, suffering, or death to others, generally out of a sense of wrath, greed, malice, or other vice-fueled emotion.  Then again, the term “black magic” is used at best when it “accurately” refers to these things as they are actually done; just as often as not, if not more so, the phrase “black magic” is used to describe any type of magic that one might find transgressive, dangerous, unpalatable, or frightening.  This is ridiculous, to be frank about it; the use of magic in general is transgressive and dangerous, and to anyone who isn’t familiar with anything in magic, it’s all unpalatable and frightening.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve scared off by saying I conjure angels, much less work with ancient subterranean deities, and those are generally the more appealing and “kinder” spirits we work with (though angels are terrifying as shit, too, and we should never forget why the first thing they say in biblical literature is “be not afraid”, nor should we ever forget our place amongst the gods lest we fall into hubris and suffer the extreme penalties for doing so).  If you call something “black magic” because it’s unpalatable or frightening, it’s because it’s unpalatable or frightening to you.  Others, for whom it’s their bread and butter, may find it normal and natural, even holy and sanctified in its own right.  It’s much like how many Christians think of a variety of non-Christian religions as “evil”, “wicked”, “witchcraft”, or even “black magic”; to call the practices of another that you don’t understand “black magic” is just as farcical; consider Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, which would be an example of maleficia that’s otherwise grounded in normalized, culturally-acceptable religion.  Heck, even if you do understand it, call it what it is: is it a curse, or devil-working, or maleficium?  Call it that, and be clear and accurate about it!  But don’t call it “black magic” and think that by being judgmental you’re preserving your pristine ethics and morals, because you’re not, and you end up making yourself look ridiculous.

So, the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual got called “black magic”.  Why might that be?  Considering any of the “accurate” meanings of what “black magic” might mean (and I use the term “accurate” very loosely here), we simply don’t find any of that in this ritual.  In fact, we find a pretty standard, pretty pious hymn to the Agathos Daimōn, the “Good Spirit” of Hellenic influence that became a sort of personalized almighty God figure, much as how many modern Christians conceive of God as not just the God of all the cosmos but also their own personal, private God that watches out for them.  We find the preliminary invocation calling upon all the beneficent gods who rule over the world in all its forms and in all its ways, almost in an animist worldview rather than a polytheistic one, so as to establish the authority of the magician in mythic terms with the right to call upon them.  We find the consecration of the ring to be such that the magician “may wear this power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear this power”, so that “none of the daimones or spirits will or can oppose” them.  If it weren’t for the explicit Egyptian references and comparatively outdated terminology in the ritual, we might be forgiven for thinking this was something from one iteration or another of the Key of Solomon.  I think we can pretty solidly establish that whatever type or field of magic might be referenced by “black magic”, the Royal Ring of Abrasax doesn’t fall into it.

If you want good PGM examples of maleficia, you don’t have to search hard: PDM xiv.675—694 (the Evil Sleep of Seth; much of PDM xiv has similar recipes and poisons for causing “evil sleep” i.e. catalepsy, as well as blindness or death), PGM IV.2622—2707 (the Slander Spell of Selēnē), PGM IV.3255—3274 (Seth’s curse of punishments), PGM VII.396—404 (for silencing, subjecting, and restraining), PGM XII.365—375 (for inflicting the separation of Seth and Osiris or Seth and Isis on two friends or lovers through strife, war, odiousness, and enmity), and PGM CXXIV.1—43 (to inflict illness), to say nothing of all the other restraining and binding spells, as well as all the love spells which verge on domination, subjection, and inflicting pain so as to make someone love the magician.  Then there are also the curse tablets, also known as defixiones or katadesmoi, which we find across the entire western Old World across many, many centuries (more information available at Ancient Esotericism).  Those are all undoubtedly maleficia of various types and kinds, which may or may not have their justifiable uses; the Royal Ring of Abrasax, however, bears nothing in common with these.

The only objectionable part of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, then, must be the use of animal sacrifice, which is seen as a generally distasteful thing amongst…well, let’s be honest: urbanite or suburbanite, middle-class or upper-class, Western-centric practitioners who are separated from the cycle of life and death present in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as social, religious, and magical practices that go back literal millennia across every culture and continent.  On the other hand, I’m a proponent of animal sacrifice, for the ceremonies that call for them, when there’s a recognizable need to incorporate them in those ceremonies, and when performed by someone who is properly capable of carrying out such an act of sacrifice.

Before I continue, I want to mention a bit about the gravity of animal sacrifice.  While a staple of the religious and magical practices of most (not every) culture at some point on Earth, it’s a pretty big deal to sacrifice an animal; more than fruit or grain, raising animals is an investment.  Sure, agricultural goods are investments, too, but the nature of animal sacrifice is different because they’re expensive and, more importantly, have the blood and breath of life in them.  This is what makes them far more potent than offerings of libations, incense, foodstuffs, or other votive gifts, no matter how rare or intricate.  To sacrifice an animal is truly a sacrifice, because you have to come to terms with the cycle of life and death that enabled you to come into the presence of such a sacrifice as well as the process by which you cease its life for the dedication and offering to a divinity, or using its life force in a directed way for magical ends that cannot (whether easily or at all) be accomplished through the use of non-animal means.  It’s not like setting out a cup of barley grains for Hermēs or a plate of pears for Obatala, then tossing it out the next week; the process of animal sacrifice is not to be taken for granted, and neither is the life of the thing to be sacrificed.

Given that, I recognize that there are a variety of reasons one might choose to abstain from animal sacrifice, many of which were brought up in the comments on my original post on this topic from 2012:

  • One takes an egalitarian animist view of the cosmos: everything has a spirit, nothing is spiritually master or owner of another.  In this light, the notion of “dedication” and “sacrifice” become moot, because there is no point in dedicating a sacrifice to an entity that cannot own anything.
  • One takes a strictly pacifist, nonviolent approach in all their works: no harm done to anything as a result of ritual or as part of it.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • One has a sincere love and care for the well-being of animal life, whether they are people, pets, or livestock.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • The rules and restrictions of one’s own practices and religion forbid it (e.g. Orphism).
  • The gods and spirits one works with insist on or mandate bloodless sacrifice for their worship and works.

One common argument I see against animal sacrifice is that “you wouldn’t sacrifice your pet dog or cat, so why would you sacrifice a chicken or goat?”.  You’re right; I wouldn’t sacrifice my pet, because pets aren’t livestock.  Pets are animals we raise for support, companionship, protection, and entertainment; for all intents and purposes, pets are family, and I wouldn’t sacrifice a member of my family.  Livestock, on the other hand, do not fall into that category.  They are raised for food, for breeding, for their hair, for their eggs; livestock are animals for consumption.  To cross the semantic boundary between pet and livestock is…even I find it distasteful, but I also recall myths and stories where such things were done in times of extreme need or revelation (e.g. Baucis and Philemon about to sacrifice their pet goose when they realized that it was truly Zeus and Hermēs visiting them in their hovel).

Heck, even if one is okay with animal sacrifice, there are plenty more reasons why one might not do it:

  • Lack of skill in safely and, as much as possible, humanely slaughtering an animal
  • Lack of funds for animals
  • Lack of appropriate space or privacy to keep animals, whether on a short- or long-term basis, as well as to conduct the ceremony
  • Lack of means or skill to properly process and butcher the animal for ritual or personal consumption, if applicable to the ceremony
  • Lack of means or space to dispose of any non-sacrificial and non-processable parts
  • Lack of knowledge of the proper ritual procedure for conducting such a sacrifice

That said, farms that raise livestock for personal use are often quite skilled in quickly and safely slaughtering animals, and butchery is a time-honored profession that overlaps significantly with slaughtering animals.  So long as one is willing to get their hands and apron bloodied, it’s not hard to learn these skills at least to a rudimentary, acceptable level, and make accommodations where needed for processing, disposal, and the like.  Most humans eat meat to some extent, and for many people, it’s a necessary part of their diet and culinary culture.  (Some might argue that nobody needs to eat animals and that everyone should be vegan, but it’s not a sustainable practice for many parts of the world, and it negates the fact that the human body does not operate on a one-diet-fits-all approach.)  Many people don’t get any sort of glimpse into the process of raising, slaughtering, or processing animals for consumption nowadays, especially in the Western urban world, but we can’t lose sight of the fact of where our sliced deli meats, Thanksgiving turkeys, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and pork chops come from, especially considering how many people thoughtlessly and mindlessly pick up such animal products from their supermarkets and grocery stores to eat them later.  More people in the past were far more familiar with what it takes to process animals from field to plate; heck, if your grandparents are still alive, ask them what it was like to pluck chickens.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people killed animals on their own properties for their own benefit and sustenance in many Western first-world countries, either, and many still do, especially outside the Western first-world sphere.

When it comes to the religious use of animal sacrifice, we need to think about the role religion plays in our lives.  In some cultures, mainly the Greco-Roman ones I’m thinking of, there was no word for “religion” in the sense of a distinct field of human activity; there were words to describe particular modes of worship, but they struggled with a way to define the role of religion in their lives, because they couldn’t separate it out from the other things they did on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.  More than just religious festivals and rites of passage, religion was intertwined with every breath of every day.  In that sense, if we’re going to kill something that took time and effort to raise, why not honor the gods by it and give them their fair share?  Also consider the Jewish practice of shechita, the kosher-permissible ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, which ties in with the practice of qorban, the acts and regulations of sacrifice permitted within the Temple of the Jews.  Then, bring in the long-standing and vital role that animal sacrifice plays in a variety of African religions, both practiced to this day within Africa as well as in the diaspora in forms such as La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Candomblé, Vodou, and so forth; in these moments, animal sacrifices are often special occasions, celebrating a particular divinity, festival, or other sincere need, and are often communal celebrations where the meat is shared.  Indeed, in many traditional cultures, it’s more often than not that people got a substantial amount of their meat intake from participating in religious ceremonies.  And, more recently, some reconstructionist and revivalist pagan traditions are reincorporating the practices of animal sacrifice in their modern practices as was documented to have been done before Christianity knocked them off the map.

There are lots of schools of thought on the exact, precise role animal sacrifice plays (and, moreover, ought to play) in religious works, and generally these are limited to at most a handful of practices and traditions that involve them; I wouldn’t use Neoplatonic views on the appropriateness of animal sacrifice in Santería, nor would I try to impose Jewish ritual practices in a Hellenic ceremony.  Likewise, I would find it unconscionable for someone to judge the practices of another to which they don’t belong.  The most that I would personally agree with would be, if you have an issue for one reason or another, do your best to neither participate or benefit from it.  That’s fine!  In that case, you don’t need such practices, and they don’t need you.  If it comes to pass that you do, for some reason, need such practices as requires animal sacrifice, on the other hand, follow their rules, because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have and, simply put, still don’t need you to change, judge, or opine on the appropriateness of their ritual process.  There are a variety of legitimate needs and purposes for animal sacrifice; heck, even in a Neoplatonic setting, Porphyry and Iamblichus are in agreement that it has its place, and for some people, it’s a valuable and useful part of worship and theurgy to make use it in the right circumstances (cf. this excellent paper by Eleonora Zeper on the subject).

Then, on the other hand, we have magical practices.  Rather than following the institutions of religion and their practices that are typically carried on for many generations, magical practices may overlap with religion, take on religion as an independent and asocial activity, or have no overlap whatsoever.  Because of the variety of these practices, it’s hard to say anything about them in general besides the fact that they exist: they’re in the PGM, they’re in the Picatrix, they’re in the Key of Solomon, they’re in the Book of St. Cyprian, they’re in pretty much any and every pre-modern tradition and source text we have (and a number of modern ones, too).  Ranging from frogs to falcons, swine to swans, there are endless purposes for a variety of particular animals, some of which require no more than some hair or a feather plucked from them, some which require blood but without killing the animal, which require their whole burning once sacrificed (as in the Royal Ring of Abrasax), some require torture and deforming (such as a variety of frog-based spells in the Book of St. Cyprian), and so forth.  If you’re able and willing to do such acts for the sake of ritual, do it; if not, don’t do it and move on with your life.

There’s also the case of substituting blood sacrifices with bloodless sacrifices.  I give one example of this in the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, where instead of sacrificing seven birds, one sacrifices seven specially-made cakes that represent those birds.  Substitution of one ritual process with a similar-enough stand-in is a longstanding practice both ancient and less-ancient; we have records of Egyptian rituals where this was done, we know many folk practices across the world that once relied on animal sacrifices have come to use substitutions instead, and similar substitutions are made in particular traditions of Tibetan and some (but not all) other Vajrayana or Vedic practices, as well.  If done appropriately, done with the right intent, and done in a situation where a bloodless substitute is deemed acceptable by both the magician/priest and the forces they’re working with, then there’s no reason to worry for those who wish to perform a ritual but who are either unable or unwilling to perform the animal sacrifice for it: just use the substitute instead.  However, as Jason Miller points out in his recent post about animal sacrifice and using substitutes, this isn’t always possible: if the use of substitutes is not deemed necessary, whether because there’s a sincere need for a proper animal sacrifice or because the spirits reject bloodless substitutes, then you’re out of luck with substitutes.  I’ve heard stories of at least one modern ATR community that insisted on using bloodless sacrifices for their ceremonies until one of their gods came down in the flesh and demanded it of them, lest he take it from them by force; this type of thing can happen, though hopefully though less extreme measures such as through ceremonial divination and regular check-ins with the spirits you’re working with.

There’s also the possibility of reworking the format and structure of a ritual that calls for animal sacrifice to avoid using it entirely.  Consider that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual given in PGM XII.201—269 has a parallel, closely-related consecration ceremony of a phylactery later on in PGM XIII.734—1077, where no animal sacrifice is required (though an offering of sweetbreads is called for along with bread, seasonal flowers, and pine-cones).  It is entirely feasible to use this alternate ritual procedure, or adopt and adapt the methodology of one with the prayers and purposes of the other, to come up with a blend of ritual praxis that can (but not necessarily promised to be) as effective as either.  Additionally, consider that one may try to avoid the use of sacrifices entirely and simply use the prayers of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual in an otherwise usual, normally-conducted consecration ritual according to one’s regular process.  Is this always acceptable?  Not necessarily; the more you change the format or requirements or implements of a ritual, the further you get from being able to claim that you “did” the ritual, and the less likely you’ll end up with the expected results.  However, it is possible to come up with a new version of an old ritual, so long as you know what you’re doing.

This is a lot of digital ink to spill on something, but in short?  Animal sacrifice does not equate to “black magic”, and “black magic” is a ridiculous term that shouldn’t be used anyway.  If you find the practice distasteful, consider your own dietary habits, your own cultural heritage, your own biases about such practices, and whether you really think you know better than both age-old religious institutions and the gods and spirits they work with before you voice such opinions.  Don’t disparage the works and methods of others from a place of privilege, naiveté, and badly-conceived ethics; if you absolutely have to be judgmental about something, judge on the purpose and merits of the ritual.