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.