On Pride and Humility

Not that long ago, someone on Curious Cat asked me a pretty good question, and it’s something that’s been sitting with me for a while now:

People constantly complain about ‘baby witches’ and the inefficacy/infantilization of mainstream pop-culture “magic” on Witchblr, but on the other hand, instead of behaving like the mature and levelheaded adults they purport themselves to be, these Super Serious Traditional Ceremonial Magicians tend to be extremely rude, condescending, narcissistic and outright boorish in their treatment of others.

It’s like they’re reenacting outcast goth teen fantasies of being Powerful Darksided Magicians able to kill their enemies in a fingersnap. I mean, is this a prerogative in becoming a devoted and serious practitioner of magick? Because if so, I proudly throw in the towel.

While some questions I can answer on my phone on the go, there are others that I’d rather sit down with at a proper keyboard, think about for a bit, and type up a better thought-out answer than not.  This was one such question, and in reply, I said:

There’s a reason why so many religions prescribe humility as a virtue to be cultivated. And I know that I, myself, can lack it at times, though I try to keep it a focus for myself, too.

No, there’s no prerogative to being a pompous, prideful, supercilious bastard when it comes to magic. But when you have people getting into occult stuff—and it occurs as much with witches as it does with ceremonial magicians, even if ceremonial magicians have a reputation for it—it’s easy to get carried away when we start realizing all the power we now have access to. Fr. Rufus Opus (who at least admits that he’s overly cocky now and then) warns against “Insufferableprickitis” or “Moses-off-the-mount syndrome”, where we finally think that we truly Get It and have all the keys to the power of the Almighty. Even if it’s true, you don’t want that newfound radiance to be so overbearing and annoying that you treat other people like they’re utterly unenlightened and fools for not yet being on their level.

Everyone, no matter what field or hobby or profession or culture, thinks that they’re better than others or that they have a better way of doing something. It’s good to take pride in your accomplishments, whether it’s in software engineering or publishing anthologies of poetry or in plying the forces of the cosmos for theurgy and thaumaturgy, but it’s not okay to disparage or despise others because of those accomplishments.

There’s also an undercurrent of “oh you’re doing this because it’s popular now”, too. Big whoop. Fads come and go. If they’re meant for it, they’ll stick with it, and if not, they won’t, regardless of what mean things are said to them.

Plus, you’re reading stuff on the internet. It’s extraordinarily too common for people to get huffy and enraged and self-aggrandizing on the internet. Relax, take a deep breath and a step back, and don’t let people get to you that way, whether you’re the recipient of that kind of talk or just a witness to it. Let your work, instead, focus on making yourself better, sharing (but not enforcing) the skills you have according to your means and ability and desire, and making the world a better place.

It’s true that many occultists—myself included—can be on the pompous, arrogant, egotistical, and pretentious side, and it’s an especially common accusation lobbed at ceremonial magicians, and not without due cause.  The way I see it, there are two main influences going on here:

  1. Occultists (including witches) in general are liable to feel this way.  When you’re presented with a materialistic world and find a non-materialistic way to bend or break the rules without getting into trouble, i.e. magic, you’re going to feel powerful, and that realization will lead you to get a bit puffed-up, especially when other people say that what you do is impossible or frowned upon.  The thrill of doing stuff that society says you can’t and shouldn’t be doing can be exhilarating.
  2. When we say “ceremonial magicians”, we typically refer to those in Hermetic and Solomonic styles of magic, where we call down immense forces of the cosmos or call up demons and devils of all kinds, often with imperious threats and provocations in order to make sure that the cosmos hears us and, more than that, obeys us.  I mean, just look at the prayers in the Lemegeton Goetia, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, or the rituals of the Munich Manual.  The modus operandi of browbeating the world to obey us is a common one, even going back to classical mystery traditions and the rituals of the PGM two thousand years ago and more.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, but those are the two big ones that occur to me.  Another thing that I mentioned in my answer above is, simply, that we’re on the Internet, and it’s easy to say a lot of things without repercussions like getting punched in the face or spat on or having a drink thrown at you because there’s an element of anonymity and facelessness that lets us feel more righteous and dignified than we properly have a right to be most of the time.

Being overweeningly proud is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not one that’s necessarily limited to ceremonial magicians, or to occultists in general, but to a lot of people in the world.  Pride is, after all, considered to be one of the seven deadly sins (and by some accounts, the most serious of them all), but I think it’s important to recall what pride is.  A proper kind of pride is akin to greatness of soul and magnanimity, bound up with nobility and goodness of character; it’s possible to take pride in the things we’ve done, placing value and greatness on our accomplishments or abilities, and it’s good to do this within reason.  Taking too much pride, however, tends to vanity, self-worship, vainglory, narcissism, and all-around hubris, and that’s where the danger comes into play.  Hubris, in the classical sense, is having pride beyond what is deserved to be proud of, which leads to ill-treating others for one’s own satisfaction and gratification.  And that’s a real problem which was truly fitting of punishment direct from the gods themselves, a notion that was carried on in Christianity to this day.

Thus, this is where humility comes in.  Though it can be used to mean having a low self-regard or feeling unworthy, it’s also a recognition of our place in the cosmos, how little we are, and that we should be selfless compared to selfish.  Consider the etymology of the word itself:

humility (n.)
early 14c., “quality of being humble,” from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness” (Modern French humilité), from Latin humilitatem (nominative humilitas) “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,” in Church Latin “meekness,” from humilis “lowly, humble,” literally “on the ground,” from humus “earth,” from PIE root *dhghem– “earth.” In the Mercian hymns, Latin humilitatem is glossed by Old English eaðmodnisse.

In other words, to be humble is to be down-to-earth in a way that reminds you that you are of the earth.  Yes, Hermeticism has much to say about us having divine origins and that we’re made in the likeness of God and all that, sure, and all that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: as human beings, part of us is divine, but being human is being human, living on the Earth and living in Heaven.  Heck, the word “human” itself has the same ultimate origin as the word humility:

human (adj.)
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”

To be properly human is to be humble.  Yes, we all belong to God and it is to God our souls will return, but our bodies are made from dust, and to dust our bodies shall return.  We have to remember and set ourselves apart from the gods and spirits we work with, because we are incarnate, mortal, and finite as opposed to discarnate, immortal, and infinite.  We have to remember that we are humans, and have far more in common with other humans and the human world we live in than with the spirits and their non-human world.  For that reason, we need to remain humble, not only to avoid reaching too far past our proper station as humans, but also to avoid putting ourselves on too high a pedestal above other humans.  We have to take care of ourselves, recognizing that no matter how much we might be capable of, we are only capable of but so much.  As Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter, once told me long ago:

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Now, it’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, because the two are vastly different.  As I wrote about back in 2013, humility is more being meek in the facts of a situation, while modesty is more about understating something to the point of reverse exaggeration, and that’s essentially lying against oneself.  But I also brought up that there’s a similarity between (proper) pride and humility: (proper) pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do, while humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and humility is accepting that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  To be properly proud as well as humble is to be honest and truthful about yourself to the world in the world you live.  Boasting, on the other hand, is having too much pride, the lie we tell to make ourselves seem more than we actually are; modesty, likewise, is the lie we tell to make ourselves seem less than we actually are.

I bring up all this because I want to bring up one of my favorite prayers today, the Litany of Humility.  I think I first brought it up on my blog in another post from 2013, where I meditated on what might make me special, but more importantly, how my being special doesn’t make anyone else less special.  This prayer, as seen in a number of Christian, and especially Catholic, texts, is often attributed to or outright claimed to be written by the 19th/20th century Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, although it doesn’t seem like he actually wrote it.  Instead, the real origin of the Litany seems to be lost to history—a fitting end, I suppose, for one who prayed for no glory of the world, instead giving their work to the world freely.  At any rate, the Litany of Humility isn’t like the usual litanies of the Christian Church, at least, not like those commonly used in the formal liturgies like the Litany of the Saints; while it can be used liturgically, it reads and feels more like a personal plea and a way to remind oneself of the good things we should aim towards and the bad things we should aim away from.

While I originally used the standard modern Christian version in my prayer practice, reciting it at least once a week for a good long while, as my practice has shifted, I’ve been less and less…I don’t want to say “comfortable”, but less inclined to call on explicitly Christian names and phrases when I can avoid it in favor of more general deistic language.  Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve recited or read it (dropping out of a regular practice will do that to you), so I think it’s time to take another look at it.  While I still think the original Christian version is an excellent one that we should all bear in mind, I also think it’s worthwhile to make it more usable by others who aren’t Christian.  To that end, I sat down with it and amended it somewhat for my own personal use, and thought I might share it for others to consider using in their use, should they so desire.  Below is the variant I use now that basically keeps the same text, with a slightly different opening and a different invocation for each request.  Rather than being Jesus-centric, e.g. “from the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus”, I’ve substituted every invocation of Jesus with simply “o Lord”.  This way, the prayer is more accessible to those within a more broadly Abrahamic, deist, or non-Christian Hermetic practice.  The sentiment is the same: we invoke God and pray that we might begin to possess the virtue of humility while shedding from ourselves the vice of pride.

O Lord, hear my prayer, and grant me, I beg you,
the blessing to be humble of heart,
the power to crush my pride,
and the grace to master myself that I may more fully serve you.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, o Lord.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being rebuked, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being maligned, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, o Lord.

That others may be loved more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may grow and I diminish in the opinion of the world, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than me, provided that I might become as holy as I should, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen.

I think it’s important to remember all that being proud entails, and what being humble necessitates.  That goes for both ceremonial magicians and witches, both occultists and scientists, and all people, especially myself.  I’ve come a long way since those posts in 2012 and 2013 when I discussed these things before, but I know that I’ve only come but so far, and there’s still so much for me to do, and no matter how far I might reach, there are still yet others who are (properly and well-deservedly) better than me.  It’s all I can do to do all I must do, and that’s for the best.  I’m happy to have recalled this prayer up, because I think it’s high time for me to reincorporate it back into my prayer routine regularly again.  Perhaps there are others who might find it useful, too.

Cleansing, Defending, and Blessing a House

A group of friends living together near me were going through some tough times recently, and I offered to help cleanse and bless their house, just to get rid of any lingering bad stuff and keep it out while inviting more and more good things in.  It’s a small thing I can do, and I offered since it was the least I could do for them.  I’ve only ever done this piecemeal on my own place, touching up the apartment as needed, so getting to work on someone else’s place was a new experience for me.

Being the engineer that I am, I decided to come up with a plan of attack, dividing up this working into four different stages: preparation, cleansing, defense, and blessing.  Preparation covers getting the supplies, making sure both myself, my friends, and their house are ready for the project, etc.  Cleansing involves getting rid of anything stuck in the house, any negative entity or force that’s causing any kind of harm to the tenants or property.  Defense involves setting up protections, shields, and wards to keep out any further negativity, letting in only positive or neutral things that help instead of harm.  Blessing helps make the house a home, and involves benedictions upon the place, using luck-, peace-, or prosperity-bringing oils and incenses, and the like.  I let my friends know in advance what I was going to do and got their permission for doing so, because being ethical rocks and so does having informed clients.

The supplies I needed were:

  • Holy water
  • Cleansing water (Uncrossing oil, Banish and Cleanse oil, Van Van oil, 7-11 Holy oil, lemon ammonia, Florida water, holy water)
  • Blessing water (peace water, holy water, rose water, Florida water, and champagne)
  • Fiery Wall of Protection oil
  • Abramelin Oil, or another suitable anointing oil
  • Cotton swabs
  • Banishing incense (dragon’s blood, star anise, crushed red pepper, and black peppercorns)
  • Blessing incense (frankincense, copal, cinnamon, and Power powder)
  • Blessed candles, one for each room of the house (I used white tealights anointed with 7-11 Holy oil and consecrated according to the Key of Solomon, book II, chapter 12), plus a few extra for thanksgiving and prosperity work
  • Large steel nails, one per corner of the property (iron railroad spikes are perfect for this)
  • Instrument of Will (wand, staff, sword, dagger, athame, &c.)
  • Instrument of Protection (amulet, Solomonic ring, &c.)
  • Offerings (large candles, sweet incenses, flowers, simple cakes, &c.)

Once I gathered all the supplies, I prepared myself by cleansing myself and doing a thorough banishing and cleansing including a hyssop bath and meditation, making sure I wasn’t going to track in any more filth into their place.  I also conjured the angel Kammael to charge up my instrument of Will and nails to act as defensive wards.  Before I arrived, I asked my friends to clean the house with the usual things: sweep, vacuum, dust, etc.  I went over to their house on a Sunday in an hour of the Sun during a waxing moon; the first words out of my mouth upon entering were “pax huic domui”, or “peace upon this house” (Luke 10:5).  I offered each of the tenants a bit of holy water to sprinkle themselves with and cleanse themselves as they saw best; since the household was largely Catholic, I suggested the usual Asperges Me that I use myself.  With everyone clean, I donned my Solomonic ring, said a few prayers for guidance and protection, and started my work.

I had a brief chat with the genius of the house (I didn’t do a formal conjuration for this, just reached out and had a quick discussion), letting him know what was up and what I was about to do.  I asked for permission for performing my work, and he gave me his permission to continue.  I also asked the genius for an image of what the house looked like to him, to compare with my own feelings of the place as well as what it’d result in once I did my working, and also asked about any problem areas that needed special attention.  With this information, the first thing was to demarcate the area of working, so I took my instrument of Will (my new ritual sword) and walked around the boundaries of the property clockwise, sealing off the area for the working.  Until I finished, I asked nobody to leave the boundaries of the property or to let anyone in.

To cleanse the house, I opened up every window and door in the house (good thing the weather was good for this, neither too hot nor too cold, not a terrible amount of pollen or dust or noise).  Although not necessary, I find it helpful to have a fresh breeze blow through the house, getting rid of some of the more natural pests naturally and literally as well as symbollically “airing out” the place.  I lit a candle in every room of the house and consecrated the flames, so that the light could shine throughout the entire place; these candles were left to burn completely, and the remaining tins were disposed of respectfully.  The light from the candles was to illuminate the place and bring the light of the Ain Soph Aur down into the house, as well as to watch over and empower all the rest of the working.

I went to the entrance of the house facing inside and gave a general license to depart for all the spirits that had taken residence up in the place (the genius was specifically excepted).  I went through each room and waved around a thurible of banishing incense in each room, repeating the Greek phrase “ΑΠΩ ΑΠΩ ΠΑΝΤΟΣ ΚΑΚΟΔΑΙΜΟΝΕΣ” as I did so.  I did the bottom level first, the top level second, and the ground level last, going from the back of the house to the front.  After reciting Psalm 6, I went over the house again by spraying the cleansing water, repeating the Latin phrase “ABI ABI OMNI PROFANI”.   The incense was used to smoke out any blatantly negative or harmful spirits, and the cleansing water was sprayed around to wipe up and out any harmful residue, malice, and other astrally icky junk that had built up around the place.  I then went around the house clockwise flinging holy water around the place (not the cleansing solution), repeating “BEGONE, BEGONE ALL EVIL SPIRITS”.  With this done, the house was cleansed to my satisfaction, and all the windows and doors were shut to begin building up the fortifications.

To defend the house, I returned to the front of the house and recited the Prayer to St. Michael, which I use before anointing things with Fiery Wall of Protection oil.  Again, bottom to top and back to front, I went through and dabbed the oil on every window and door in the house. I wanted to do a five-spot pattern (one on each corner, one on the center/handle) on every window and door, but the house was bigger than I anticipated and had a lot of windows; I used a single spot on every window, and a five-spot on the front and back doors as well as all the bedroom doors.  The anointing of every entry-point into the house with this oil forms a tight shield through which nothing harmful can even approach, much less break through.  Although I used my own fingers for my own house, I used cotton swabs this time for the oil so as to keep it from dripping or making a mess; besides, some people are sensitive to the oil, and it may burn their skin.  I then dabbed Abramelin oil on the front and back doors, charging them to let in only that which helps and keep out that which harms.  After this, I went to the four corners of the property clockwise and drove a large steel nail into each corner, calling on the angel Kammael of Mars for defense against all evil, harmful, malicious, wicked, or negative spirits, entities, bodies, or forms.  These serve as wards, and I dabbed each with Fiery Wall of Protection oil after I drove them into the ground and charged them to defend the property.

With the cleansing and defending done, the only thing left was to bless the house and make it livable again.  I returned to the front of the house and gave a benediction of the place, then went through the house and fumigated it with blessing incense while repeating the Trisagion, along with spritzing the blessing water through the house while repeating “blessed be, clean be, safe be, happy be, prosperous be”.  I also used a quick prosperity spell used from the Bible (light three candles and repeat Zechariah 8:12 three times over the candles) as an extra step.  I went to the “hearth” of the house (the kitchen) and made offerings to the goddess Hestia (to watch over and nurture the home), the god Zeus Ktesios (to defend the boundaries and walls of the home), and the genius of the house (to manage and coordinate the homeliness of the house), thanking them and asking for their help in protecting the home and keeping it hale, whole, and happy.  I returned to the front of the house, released the spirits back to their places if they were helpful and not harmful in any way, and offered a few prayers of thanksgiving and exaltation at the end.  I then went outside and untraced the circle I made with my instrument of Will, going counterclockwise this time, and let the house stand on its own again.  I finished the whole thing by making a few thanksgiving prayers to the Almighty, then enjoyed the rest of my day.  The only tenant of the household who was out during all this came back just as I untraced the circle, which was extremely fortuitous timing.

Not including the preparation, the working took about an hour and a half to walk through every room of the place multiple times (candle, banish, cleanse, anoint, bless), circumambulate the house four times (once to circle it, once to asperge it, once to nail in the spikes, and once to uncircle it), and perform offerings and prayers.   Not only is everything negative removed from the place, it’s kept entirely shut out.  The incenses, offerings, oils, and waters I used helped to brighten the house and make it inviting for peace, luck, prosperity, safety, and fortune.  Just like a place needs to be cleaned every so often, it’ll eventually need to be cleansed again; however, with all this work done at once and so powerfully, minor touchups will be all that’s needed anytime soon, and that I can take care of covertly or teach them how to do really easily.  So long as they don’t go deliberately trying to fuck shit up in their own place, the house will take care of itself and they’ll be fine.

Why am I sharing this?  Besides the fact that my blog is essentially a more fun version of my increasingly-neglected magical journal, I figured I’d share my methodology and experiences.  This is also a good chance to get feedback and opinions from other practitioners to see how they would do something like this.  This was a pretty heavy-duty working for a normal household; in all fairness and honesty, most people do not and never will need these levels of protection and blessing.  Most people are content with getting by on their own with no special help from higher or lower worlds, and most people don’t do anything to piss off spirits, magicians, or other powerful entities.  I’m not saying that most people don’t have hardships or fall on hard times, or don’t attract the attention of demons or nagas or the like, or couldn’t use a bit of magic to help out.  That, in fact, was the point: having the ability, means, and skill to do magic, I damn near feel obligated to use it for the benefit of those who need it, and in the process help make my friends’ lives and the world a little bit better and brighter.