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.

On Want and Work

So much for working on my book over the past month; between ceremony and office work, as well as starting to go to the gym (finally, after far too long), turns out that I didn’t have as much time set aside, even after not working on my blog as much.  Fah.  Ah well, time goes on, and work will continue.  But, of course, writing is just one part of my work; I love to research, to construct rituals, to make connections, and to put them down on paper (physical or electronic).  Writing for this blog, helping others out in figuring out their own ceremonial or magical problems for solutions and workarounds, doing divinations, and writing my book (slowly) are all deeply satisfying for me, because it feels productive and, moreover, makes me feel helpful to others.  There’s also the research aspect of the Work that I love: studying the prayers and songs and chants, planning out ceremonies and rituals down to the individual motions and seconds, and seeing how individual motions and moments connect across a ceremony to produce a single, unified result.  That, too, is valuable and worth our time.

But we don’t call it the Writing, or the Research, or the Lesson, or the Study.  We call it the Work, because without Work, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.  You can study and research and write all you want, but if you never put paper to practice, you don’t get much of anywhere.  And, from time to time, I catch myself slipping back into the comfort of the armchair and realize that, well, one position maintained too long starts to get uncomfortable, and eventually, the whole body becomes sore from sitting down so long, and the only way to stop that soreness is to…well, get out of the chair, stand up, and do some Work.  And yet, once you sit down for too long, it’s easy to forget what, exactly, to do once you stand up again.

One way some astute readers of mine can figure out what sorts of projects I’m doing, if any at all, is to note the rate at which I post stuff, what the focuses and trends are on the things I write about, and how much I say about it.  Looking back over the years, it’s easy to note the slow periods of my writing, and there’s a definite correlation between the things I do and the things I write: if I’m doing a lot, I tend to write a lot, and if I’m not writing a lot, it’s generally because I’m not doing a lot.  It’s not always true, of course, as there are always things I can find to write about (assuming I’m in the mood for writing and have the words to put to paper for it): between managing a geomancy group on Facebook, keeping abreast (sometimes) of conversations on social media, seeing particular issues crop up in people’s lives, and finding neat tidbits to talk about from the PGM or other source texts, there’s plenty to be said in general, but when it comes to an actual impetus for writing, it’s often tied up with having an impetus to Work.

And, lately, I haven’t been Working much.

Sure, I can point to a variety of factors as to why I might not be doing as much of my own experimentation and ritual: my three hours a day commuting, the time I spend on an almost weekly basis working ceremony for the Lukumí/Santería community (and all the study and obligations that go along with that), household upkeep, going to the gym, trying to spend time with friends, staying in the office doing actual work to bring in money while I stay in my manager’s good graces, and so on and so on.  Still, some of this sounds…more like excuses than anything else, because heaven and hell know that I’ve been able to do quite a bit more with as much on my plate as I have now.  And that doesn’t change the fact that, if one were to think that Lukumí is becoming my primary “mode” and Thing now, that I’m not doing much outside of ceremony for myself; sure, I spend time with my orisha, but I’m not really going to them either for much of stuff that I want.

And that’s the crux of it all: I don’t want much.  It’s not that I don’t want much, it’s that I don’t want much.  I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, Want is the drive for Work.  It’s all well and good to practice one’s conjuration skills with the angels or demons of your choice and flavor, but to me, I feel somewhat bad about conjuring them for its own sake without a purpose.  I could practice sigils or candlework, but if it’s just for the fuck of it, how can I really put any intent into it besides half-heartedly, half-assedly saying some prayers and throwing some energy around?  It seems like, without having a goal or purpose or need or…really, a Want to drive my work, everything I could think of doing seems empty and pointless, and so that reduces me to simply studying about things, and even that tends to be scattered and unfocused.

I mean, as far as modes of living go, I lead a pretty good life, and definitely among the most privileged in the world, too.  I’m in good health overall, I’m college-educated, I have a home and a mortgage payment, I have a car of my own that’s paid off, I have clothes and finery aplenty of my own, I’m married to the love of my life, I’m gainfully employed in a stable and well-paying job, I have family and friends and godfamily and colleagues that I care about and who care about me, and I make some good side-cash out of my hobbies of writing, crafting, and occult work.  I’m not shitting on myself by saying this: I’m basically living a middle-class dream, which is rare for US millennials nowadays, and my life is easily the envy of billions of people across the world.  (Many of the lives of my readers, too, as a matter of fact; the fact you have a computer and are educated enough to read my blog attests to having at least a few successes of your own, even if by the grace of luck and birth.)  To put it bluntly, many of my needs are met, as far as the needs of normal human beings go.

But…well, you and I are not normal human beings.  We’re not satisfied merely by being successful in this world, are we?  The usual middle-class dream is definitely nice to live, but that’s not our real dream, is it?  The adventures and situations of sitcoms and television dramas might be enough for some to aspire to, but even I have to admit that they bored me to tears; no, it’s the adventures and mishaps of fantasy and sci-fi novels that would satisfy me.  At heart, I admit that I want to go above and beyond the normal, mundane, humdrum existence of human life, to experience what few to no others experience, see what few to no others see, go where few to no others dream of stepping into, speak what few to no others dare to utter.

It might be said that an ideal life is a buffet: you get your plate, you get what you want from the buffet (if it’s available), you sit back down, you eat, and you continue eating until you’re full.  I suppose that metaphor works well enough for most people, but again, you and I aren’t most people, are we?  For us, we don’t really have a finite stomach that can be filled with a plate or three of simple food you can find at a buffet.  Remember that, etymologically, the word “appetite” comes from Latin “ad + petere”, meaning “to seek out”; for us, life isn’t an appetite we want to simply satisfy, but a longing to seek out, explore, and flush out as much as we can.  Most people are content with a small, finite number of finite types of food, but you and I know better, don’t we?  There is no such thing as a finite set of experiences, a finite set of places, a finite sets of ideas, a finite set of words; all we have is a finite length of time to live, and we better do our damned best to sample shallowly from or dive deeply into whatever we Want out of the infinite patterns and arrangements of Life.

Sure, I can be content with my life; after all, I’m doing pretty well.  But why should I be content with what I have, when I have so much more out there that could be gotten or sampled?  Yes, the things I have are good, but they’re not perfect, and they can always be improved.  Yes, the life I live is sufficient for most people, but it’s only if I shut off the magician-trickster part of my mind that I could stand to consider it “enough”; after all, I have a better idea than “most people” about the depth and breadth and height and width and girth of possible reality and irreality; why be happy confined to this little tiny tower of mine, when there’s a whole world out there to explore?

It’s easy to slip into a mindset of “this is enough” or “I shouldn’t ask for more”; it’s easy to fall into a pattern of commonality, of vulgar banality, by simply accepting things the way they are and making yourself content with it.  True, there are things in the world that we cannot change, for which we must accept them as they are; it’s a good mindset to have where one should think “change this, or change myself”.  However, I don’t think many realize exactly how much there is in the world that we don’t have to simply accept, how much there is in the world that we have the power to change.  And, for the things we cannot necessarily change and which we must accept that happen, there are many things we can change, barter, bargain, or tweak about how it happens.  Yes, the walls of Troy were indeed destined to fall, but the city could have lasted another ten years in safety and prosperity, if only Aphrodite had asked Poseidon who built them.

In any software engineering project, an application isn’t really “finished” once it’s deployed.  Sure, the design may have been implemented to the letter in code and compilation, but just because it’s out being used doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.  There will always be people who have problems using the program, and changes must be made to accommodate them; there will always be bugs lurking in the code, and corrections must be made to eliminate them; there will always be areas of inefficiency in the program, and improvements must be made to optimize them.  So it is with life: no matter how good or complete you might think it is, there are always things to improve on, because there’s always some quirk, some annoyance, some inefficiency, some blindspot that can be found and improved on.  For those who have rough lives, magic is easy to learn and put to practice; for those who have good lives, what few problems they have can still be resolved using magic.  The Work makes the lives of all better, no matter where you start from, so long as you do the Work.  Having dire needs is easy to fire up your Want to fuel your Work, but for those who don’t need much, it’s harder to build that fire of Want.

Summer’s a lovely time for bonfires and to stock up on fuel for the coming, lengthening nights.  So, whether you think you’ll need to keep warm by a rusty trashcan fire or enjoy the light from a gilded fireplace, let’s start gathering while the gathering’s good, eh?

No matter whether you’re a ceremonial magician, neopagan, academic philosopher, or someone who’s just sorta interested in the occult, I’d like all of my readers to try a little exercise with me to figure out what it is we Want out of our pathetic lives.

  1. Get two pieces of paper and a pen (not a pencil, but a pen or some other permanent writing tool).  At the top of one sheet, write “DO”.  At the top of the other sheet, write “HAVE”.
  2. On the “HAVE” sheet, write out all of the things you already currently have, enjoy, and accomplish in your life.  Everything you’re satisfied with, everything you’ve worked to attain and then attained, everything you’re content with, everything you think you should be happy with, write them down, item by item.
  3. On the “DO” sheet, write out all of the things you want to do that you have not yet done, or get that you don’t yet have.  It could be big, it could be small; it could be meaningful, it could be trivial.  It doesn’t matter.  Write them down anyway, so long as it’s not already on the “HAVE” sheet.
  4. Go back to the “HAVE” sheet.  For all the things you already have, branch off each item and add onto it the things that can be improved on.  If you already have a home of your own, what can you do to improve it, or would you instead want a better, nicer home?  If you already have a car, what about trading it in for a better one, or souping it up on your own?  If you already have a job, what about getting a promotion, or moving to a new career, or changing how you get income entirely?  I guarantee you that each and every thing you already have can be improved on in at least some fashion; aim for at least two things to improve on for each and every thing you have, or cross it out entirely if you genuinely cannot think of how to improve on it, if you even have any desire to.
  5. Go back to the “DO” sheet.  For all the things you already want to get, make it more specific; improve on the improvements.  Make the things you want to get more concrete, more actualized, more detailed; think not only of purpose and goal, but of means and method as well.  Be specific.  If you find that something you want to get is already an improvement of something you already have, cross it out.
  6. Once you’re done with the “HAVE” and “DO” sheets, copy all the new items over from the “HAVE” sheet to the “DO” sheet.
  7. Look over each item on the “DO” sheet.  This is the time to judge whether you want to devote the time and energy to something; if you have anything to reconsider about a given item on it, cross it off, but leave the remnant of it there.
  8. Burn the “HAVE” sheet with intent to start off your own fire of Want.
  9. Use the “DO” sheet as your high-living to-do list, and keep it sacred as a special text for you to follow.

It doesn’t matter how good you think your life might be, because your life can always be improved.  The Work isn’t done until your life is done, and I claim with some certainty that we’re not done yet, so why waste our time sitting in an armchair that makes us sore?  Let’s get to Work.

Not Everyone Needs to be Spiritual

It’s not often that I partake in Twitter or Facebook memes of the “let me divulge trivia about myself!” type, but recently, I found one that was actually kind of fun:

After all, as I see it, there’s no better way to get to know each other than by your shared dislikes or hatreds or by the things that really set you apart from others.  Anyway, I got a fair number of likes, and so I shared a fair number of strongly-held opinions, ranging from how I prefer the dishwasher to be set up to musing on spiritual practices.

One of the things I mentioned as part of this memes I actually had to expand on, because it’s actually a pretty important topic for me in general to consider as a magician and priest who takes on client work and who works with others for their own spiritual benefit, either for them to build up their own practices or to handle the load for them so that they can focus on their lives better.  I broke it down into two separate tweets:

I don’t think everyone has the capacity to live a spiritual life, nor is everyone meant to. Some people should (or must) focus on being worldly without incorporating spirituality, magic, or religion. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

To build on this: not everyone is meant to be a priest/magician/shaman/etc. Some need religion just to have religion in their lives without becoming a master of it, just like how some people need to know just enough math to shop for groceries without becoming a mathematician.

I touched on this same topic tangentially in my recent post about divination versus counseling, when the notion of getting frustrated with clients who don’t use divination for their spiritual evolution came up and my annoyance that this frustration would be a thing for some people:

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

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

I think you all can see where I’m going with this.

Let us assume, at least for the sake of argument, that God (or whatever sort of ultimate-divinity fate-issuing word you want to use for such a concept) has in mind for each incarnate human a path, a plan, a destination.  You might call this your fate, you might call this your True Will, whatever, the idea still stands.  Such a path is unique for each person in this lifetime of theirs, and fulfills a particular goal of God.  It’s a lot like what one of my favorite bands, the Crüxshadows, expresses in their song Elissa:

Everyone has a purpose
Hidden within our lives
Something we were meant to do
Or feel before we die

I don’t think I’m saying anything offensive here by proclaiming that this could be (and, in my opinion, is) correct.  But let us continue!  There’s a purpose for everyone, and that all depends on the person for whom the purpose has been established.  Such a purpose is, in general, known to the mind of God and, on very rare occasions, to the person themselves mediated by their guardian angel or priests who deal directly in describing to people their fate.  It is up for that person to work with their fate, and hopefully to rely on the aid of others who can and are willing to give it to them to accomplish it.  That’s about it, right?  Besides being incidentals towards helping another towards their fate, nobody has any kind of right to tell them that their fate is wrong, mislead, or misguided in any sense.  To say so is to be judgmental of that person and for the path that God has laid out for them, which means being judgmental of God, which typically ends poorly for all those involved.

It doesn’t take that big a jump to say that, if everyone has a purpose, some of those purposes may not lie in the spiritual realm or in working with reality in a spiritual way.  Consider some of the greatest academic and scientific minds of the past several centuries or before who, for all their accomplishments, were atheists or had only nominal ties to a given religion.  Having attained their works, would you feel comfortable in saying that they wasted their time?  Would you say that their revolutionary ideas, theories, and inventions which give us today health and wealth weren’t enough and that, nice as they were, they should have instead focused on other things of a more spiritual nature?  Divinity is as much present in matter as it is in spirit, at least in the Hermetic view of things, but you don’t have to call it “God” to be respectful and inquisitive about it.  There are other mysteries in the world than just those kept for initiates in temples, after all.

To phrase it another way, I’m sure that some of us have noted people in our spiritual communities that just don’t seem to “get it”, whether “it” is a particular method of divination, a particular vibe from sensing objects, a particular insight from dreams or omens, or whatever.  Some people don’t seem to click with a variety of spiritual practices, and, to me, it’s not unreasonable that there are people who don’t click with any spiritual practices at all.  It’s not necessarily that they’re having a hard time finding “the right system” of divination or worship or sacrifice or magic; it could very well be that there is no system for them to find, because they’re not meant to be a spiritual person.  No matter how much pressure we might put on them because we feel it might do them good, no matter how many alternatives we present to them for them to try out, it could simply be the fact that they’re not suited for any of them, because their talents, strengths, and abilities lie elsewhere.  Sure, training and practicing something might get them somewhere, and faking it ’til you make it can help a little, but let’s be honest: just like some people are naturally terrible cooks or authors, some people just aren’t cut out to be spiritual practitioners.

And that’s fine.  And you don’t get to judge them negatively for it.

Before people misconstrue some of the nuances here, let me clarify a few points.  For one, one main thing I can see being a major impediment to people being spiritual practitioners of some kind is conditioning.  Conditioning is a real thing that goes on for many people in many cultures, and there are people who, even if they should be spiritual practitioners, have been conditioned out of any such inclination.  If it’s part of their path that they should be spiritual people, then the conditioning will be broken one way or another, and it’s just a matter of time and dedication for them.  Don’t judge them for where they are on their path; give them the time they need, and welcome them when they get to where they need to be.  Sometimes, they just need to know that the door is left open for them, because they got held up in the commute.

Another thing to be aware of is, simply, life circumstances.  I would love to dedicate my entire life to spiritual endeavors and pursuits, but let’s be real: I have a mortgage, credit card bills, and a distinct reliance on food that I can’t seem to break myself of, and I need to work to pay my bills.  While I’d love to spend my days in meditation and astral travel and client work and tending to the spiritual needs of myself and people, I don’t have the time or energy for it on top of my full-time job with a nontrivial commute, dealing with my family, keeping my household in order, and so forth.  And, despite my complaints, I know that I have it damned easy compared to others I know who are bogged down with overtime all the damn time, have children with their own after-school activities, stressful marriages or family situations, chronic health conditions, and the like where they have, maybe, at best, an hour a week to practice that they could still better dedicate to tending to their worldly needs.  It sucks, it absolutely does, and I feel bad for these people who want to get deeper into practice but simply don’t have the time for it.  Still, I can’t judge these people for, perhaps, falling short of some sort of spiritual benchmark I’ve artificially and arbitrarily established for them.  They’ll get to it when they can get to it, and in the meantime, they should focus on what keeps them living and breathing.  After all, it’s hard to do breathing exercises if you’ve already expired.

Beyond those, what about the people who can be spiritual and want to be, but aren’t up for being actual practitioners or priests?  I mean, for me, that’s fine, too!  Just as not everyone can be spiritual, not everyone can be a priest.  After all, what is a priest?  Setting aside tradition- or religion-specific classifications for a moment, a good general definition of a priest is someone who is an expert in ceremonial and spiritual needs.  Not everyone who cooks needs to be a chef; not everyone who writes needs to be a critically-acclaimed author or a calligrapher or a court-ready stenographer; you don’t need professional training to do something good enough for yourself, or maybe even for a few people who trust you within your limits of ability.  Likewise, you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy good food, you don’t need to be an author to enjoy a good book, you don’t need to be an artist to appreciate art; you don’t need to be a plumber to poop in a toilet.  You can derive satisfaction and fulfillment from something without being able to do it yourself; that’s why we have and hire experts to do work and labor for us.  Sure, there are some things that you must be able to do for yourself, but if your needs within a particular domain can be met by the expertise of someone else, and if it’s more convenient and logical for you to hire them for that rather than for you to spend the time, money, and effort in attaining that same level of expertise, then why not simply outsource it?  That’s why we have experts, after all.

In a spiritual sense, this is why priests have congregations to tend to: not everyone out there is cut out for learning liturgy, ceremony, ritual, and spiritual practices, but they still want or need to derive benefit from them.  That’s why we have priests: to be experts in a domain where not everyone is cut out to be an expert.  Many people out there may not be spiritual practitioners but are still, in some sense, spiritual; they just need someone else to do the ceremonial lifting for them, and that’s fine!  They have their reasons for it, and they know that this is the best option for them.  Good for them!  Not everyone needs to be a priest, after all, whether that’s because of their life path or their life situations.  As I’m coming to terms with more and more, being a priest isn’t just about one’s devotion to the gods, but also about one’s devotion to the people who worship them as well.

Then I look around at occulture, and it seems like you can’t swing a cat without hitting a priest of this or a priest of that.  I mean, it’s not like this is a new or recent issue (it most certainly isn’t), but I do notice something of a trend for many people trying to become a priest in this tradition or that practice when it may not be the best choice for them.  After all, when everyone around you seems to be a priest, what’s your deal that you aren’t?  Sometimes people take the title of “priest” too whimsically when it really does have a factor of experience, education, training, and sometimes initiated lineage playing into it that, about as often as not, they tend to lack.  Then there’s also the social component of being a priest: you can’t be a priest if nobody accepts you as one or turns to you as one.  Priesthood is necessarily about involving people, whether that’s a community of non-priests or another community of priests who turn to you as their priest (like a bishop to priests, or a high priest to lower priests).  Of course, at this point, this is where my own internal definitions of priesthood conflict with others in a variety of contexts, so I’m getting off-track here.

My point is that, if you’re spiritually-inclined, do your best to explore it and see how far it takes you.  If you’re not, don’t worry!  If you think you’re not spiritual but feel some sort of tug towards it, explore it both ways: it might be a matter of conditioning that has rendered you spiritually incapable of working, or it might be a matter of peer pressure that you feel you ought to be spiritual when you’re not supposed to be.  If you’re not spiritual, then revel in worldliness and material, manifest reality, and explore the mysteries and wonders and pleasures thereof!  If you are spiritual, then revel in both, or at least the realm of spirit!  And, if you are spiritual, don’t worry if you can’t dedicate the time to being an expert magician or high priest or other grand muckety-muck; if all you need is some light sermon-serenading or some meditation, maybe alone or maybe in a group of like-minded spiritual people, then enjoy and use what you can do as far as you can take it!  If you are spiritually-inclined and have the time, energy, and desire to plumb the depths of spiritual reality and practices, then by all means, be an expert magician or priest!

Just know that your path isn’t the same as others, nor are your capabilities.  Do what you need; do what you Want.  Don’t judge others for living their lives as they need to or as they Want to, but support them all the same as best you can and as best you should.

On Divining versus Counseling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compilation Paralysis

I’ve been on a compilation kick lately.  I mentioned in a recent post of mine about the Orphic Hymns that I’m compiling a personal temple text from a variety of sources because I don’t like having books in my temple room if I can avoid it; for instance, I have a copy of Dervenis’ Oracle Bones Divination that, up until quite recently, I’ve been using as my reference for astragalomancy, and have kept it with my shrines for the Greek gods.  This…makes me uncomfortable, so I transcribed all the necessary information from that into a personal ebook for me to keep a printout of instead.  Not only do I get to finally put the damn book back on the bookshelf after way too long, but I also get to reformat it, reorganize it, and include other information I want to reference, as well as tweak some of the translations for my own tastes.

Of course, one thing led to another.  I also included a few pages for grammatomancy, which also references a good chunk of my Mathesis correspondences to the letter, and because Opsopaus included the Delphic Maxims in his Oracles of Apollo book, I decided to include those, too.  Again, nothing too elaborate or in-depth; I have enough experience with these systems and the backgrounds and contexts in which they were written to not have to have all the extra information in a temple reference.  The final result is something I could be content with…except, of course, I wasn’t.  Given all the references to the other gods between grammatomantic correspondences to the zodiac signs and, by those, to the Greek gods (cf. Agrippa’s Orphic Scale of Twelve, book II chapter 14), I wanted to also have a section for the Orphic Hymns.  This is reasonable; after all, my personal vademecum-enchiridion-prayerbook has a number of them already transcribed, and while I won’t use all the Orphic Hymns in my practice, why not have a complete set for reference, just in case?  It wasn’t hard to find a copy of the Greek texts as well as the Taylor translations that I could simply copy, paste, and format for LaTeX’s customary needs.

But, of course, why stop there?  I also ended up adding Gemisthus Plethon’s hymns as well as those of Proclus, which I find useful for my Neoplatonic uses as well as my devotional ones.  And, if we’re going with devotions, I decided to also include a few prayers attributed to Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, and so on, and because of those, I also wanted to bring in a few things from the PGM, which then became more than a few things from the PGM, and then I added in the planetary invocations from the Picatrix because those would be useful, too…

The ebook I was preparing ballooned from a simple reference for divination to a compendium of devotional and oracular texts.  Whoops.

But, yanno, I was hooked!  I wanted to bring in what I could, because it might be useful, whether in a devotion to the theoi or in divination or needing something to reference for meditation.  And, so, my penchant for completionism and perfectionism kicked in—hard—and I’ve been looking through my other references and books, trying to pick out useful prayers, invocations, rituals, and the like for my temple.  In effect, I was essentially making a typed-up version of my vademecum, with a different focus and with plenty more texts that I’m not accustomed to using.

This is all well and good, of course, assuming I could actually use the thing.  And in the form it was in, even in the form it had been in, it was quite plenty useful, and definitely satisfied my original needs of having a handy divination reference in my temple.  But since I brought in all these other things, I knew I wanted more, and because I wanted more, I also knew that it was incomplete.  And how would I tolerate having something be incomplete?  The idea is as distasteful as unnecessarily having books in my temple room.  Because it was incomplete, I didn’t want to print it out prematurely, especially with having to deal with page numbers or section enumeration, because if I wanted to add or fix something, I’d have to go back and reprint the damn thing for consistency, and even though I can get by by using the office printers once in a while for personal ends, I didn’t want to waste that much paper and ink.  Editing a text is one thing—I’m not opposed to using interim texts with scratched-in notes—but putting something on paper, especially printing something out, gives me a hard-to-achieve and yet so-satisfactory feeling of something being “fixed”, even if it is for my eyes only.  So, in order to make printing this thing meaningful, I wanted to make sure it was worthy and proper for printing.

It’s been over a month since I had the original problem of “I need a quick reference for divination”.  It’s also been over a month since I’ve had a workable, totally satisfactory solution for this problem, too, and yet I still haven’t fulfilled my needs.  Instead, I got caught up in a problem I call “compilation paralysis”: not wanting to proceed in some matter due to a fear of not having enough resources, options, or sources.

Some authors, especially those in academia or in teaching-types of writing, might know the feeling well, of not feeling like you have adequate source material to publish.  I have that same sensation, too, for my geomancy book-in-progress, knowing that there’s still so much more that might be included but…well, the benefits diminish after a certain point, and well before that, it’s probably better to cut out stuff that’s truly extraneous and unnecessary before adding anything more.  It does, in fact, help to start off with too much and cut down rather than having the opposite problem, and this is a habit I picked up in college for my research papers (getting down to the ten-page mark was a lot easier than trying to BSing and subtle-formatting my way up to it).  But, at the same time, consider the context: what these authors are dealing with is a single book on a single topic that is published for a single need.  Once that need is met, the book is (in theory, at least) publishable; further books can be written or new editions made with further appendices, but those aren’t strictly needed.  My problem, in this case, is dealing with something for me and me alone that needs to satisfy my sometimes-nebulous needs.

One of the reasons why I support people having a notebook or, perhaps even better from a utilitarian standpoint, a binder with written pages for their vademecum-enchiridion-prayerbooks or records of their prayers and rituals is because these are essentially living documents; as we grow in practice, they grow, too.  As we find new prayers, rituals, and correspondences, we add them in, organization be damned.  We can reevaluate the real use of these things we add, and reorganize what makes the cut, when we fill the first notebook and move onto the second one, as I did not too long ago.  These aren’t things that need to be polished, edited, or fixed in any way except what serves our needs in prayer and ritual, and as such, don’t need to be fancy, embellished, typeset, illumined, or otherwise made particularly fancy.  In fact, I have a personal fear of using those beautifully handcrafted, leatherbound, embossed, etc. journals I see floating across the internet and bookstores because I tremble at the thought of messing up such a beautiful work with errors or wasted paper; not only is my calligraphy not up to par to match the beauty of these books, but I find these things to be more appropriate to true works of devotion and love that are complete and refined unto themselves.  (I only speak for myself, of course.)

So, like, with my personal enchiridion, I don’t particularly care about making errors; there are scratchmarks, crossouts, and addenda all over the damn thing.  The important thing for me is not to waste space, so I try to be as efficient as possible cramming in as much information and references as possible into as few pages and lines as possible.  This is fine; after all, it’s my own personal thing, and nobody else needs to see or use it; besides, Moleskines can be expensive for such a notebook, even if they’re the perfect size to carry around (and fit in a Hyundai car manual leather case, I might add, which gives it extra padding and some extra utility, in case you wanted to try that out as a Moleskine bookcover).  The things I add to my enchiridion are a testimony to my growth and directions and shifts in focus I take in my practice, which I find is informative on its own.  The only important criterion I have for adding stuff to it, truly the only one, is whether something is going to be useful to me; if not, I’m not gonna waste the time writing it in or the ink to write it.

That’s what reminded me to get out of my compilation paralysis.  There’s no need to be scared or anxious about not having enough sources; if I need something later, I can just add it it.  It’s not like I didn’t already have these sources and there’s a threat of losing them; I’ve never needed a copy of the Homeric Hymns or the Nabataean prayers to the Sun or Saturn on hand when I didn’t already have my enchiridion or my copy of the Picatrix at hand, after all, so why should I be so worried about not having them in this temple reference?  I can always add new things into the overall document, print out the necessary pages, and just add them into the binder where appropriate.  It’s not that big a deal.  I know for a fact that I can always get this information should I need it, and if I haven’t needed it yet, there’s no harm to start off with that which I know I need right now and add stuff later.  I’ve got more than enough source material for what I need, anyway, and it’s more manageable to deal with two small binders than one massive one.

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow, but even I have to admit it: none of us needs to know everything about our practices right out of the gate.  It might be nice, to be sure, but that’s also kind of the beauty of it, to let growth happen organically, especially if you’re in a practice that you’re developing on your own, as so many magicians and pagans are.  You don’t need full copies of the Homeric Hymns or Orphic Hymns in both Greek and English the moment you decide to build a shrine to one of the gods; you don’t need to know all the specific proportions of all the ingredients for the obscure incenses needed for all the planets from the Picatrix when you’re not even going to bother with a planet you’re going to interact with tonight once and probably not again for a few years more.  Part of the practice is just that: practice.  We do things, and then we do both more things and we do those same things more.  We learn, we accumulate, and we incorporate what we do into what eventually becomes our whole practice.  Part of that is necessarily finding more things to add and adding them at the proper time, as well as changing the things we do as we need to change them so as to keep doing them better or, at least, keep doing things better for our own sakes.  If we need to make emendations, do so at the proper time; you don’t know what would need them until you do or until they’re pointed out to you, and so much of that is based upon trial and error, experimentation and evaluation.  It’s not that big a deal.

There’s no need to worry, and there’s no cause for paralysis.  All you need to do is, simply, do.  Amend, fix, and add when you need to.  Don’t worry about trying to have everything ready for everything, especially when you don’t know what “everything” consists of.  Relax, then Work.