Dominoes and Orisha

This summer was a lot more writing-filled than I would ever have anticipated, and not just because of the whole Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration thing, either. (I’ll stop harping on it eventually.) Really, this year was more surprising than not in a lot of ways, and one of the things I ended up getting myself into was, of all possible things, domino fortune-telling. Like…that one really did catch me off-guard, not least because I’m kinda terrible at actually playing the game. What started it all was, back on Curious Cat earlier this year, I was asked about the connections between dominoes and geomancy; since both geomantic figures and dominoes are composed of combinations of points, there’s gotta be a connection there between them, right? Nope! I have never once encountered any connection to dominoes in any geomantic text I’ve ever come across, whether traditional or modern, and I couldn’t think up any connection between them, either. I charted the different dot-patterns and tried to fit the dominoes with geomantic figures, and I just couldn’t come up with anything. They’re just too different to make simple comparisons with, and there’s not a lot else to go on. It just goes to show that just because different things kinda-sorta superficially look the same doesn’t mean that they’re connected at all.

And that’s where I intended to leave dominoes. Except…I didn’t. In fact, I pretty much outright couldn’t. Something snagged my attention hard to dominoes, and so I began researching domino fortune-telling. It might have been a spirit guide or ancestor of mine waiting for just such an opportunity, or it might have been something genuinely instinctive and curious in myself. Either way, this was something that I couldn’t simply drop, and I ended up taking it quite a bit further than was probably reasonable, but whatever.

It started with my recalling an old hand-me-down book from my brother’s neopagan days, Ray Buckland’s 1992 Secrets of Gypsy Fortunetelling, which had a brief section on dominoes. I dug the book out from the back of my dusty shelves, and started there. It seemed straightforward enough: each of the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes has a particular set of omens associated with it, along with meanings particular to the suits (the number of pips on either end of a bone) and weights (the total number of pips on a bone). There didn’t seem to be a lot to it, and there wasn’t a lot there to begin with. So, not being satisfied with just one book, I started to see what else was out there. Skip ahead a few months: 50 books later and half as many websites in several European languages, I ended up compiling over 150 pages of notes for the various interpretations of the bones, how they seemed to shift and turn and twist over the decades, what different authors seem to have thought about their own takes, and the like. These notes ended up getting transformed into a book format, which is now at over 200 pages and which will go to print once I finish getting a few other things wrapped up with it.

I should note that domino fortune-telling isn’t that old a practice. The earliest text I can find that describes this system of domino fortune-telling is from 1873, Mehemet Ali’s Oriental Interpretation of Dreams. This text gives a simple one-line interpretation for the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes, and these interpretations were later copied, sometimes vertabim from one text to another, sometimes expanded from one whole sentence to one whole paragraph. Now, I’m not ruling out the possibility of domino fortune-telling being in earlier texts or having an earlier origin than the early 1870s, but I have noticed that this type of dream-interpretation/pop-divination book (and there are dozens of examples on both sides of the Atlantic!) doesn’t include sections for dominoes before 1873, but they almost all did after 1873. (Side note: many of these texts include sections on playing card divination, numerology, astrology, and palmistry, but none include anything about geomancy, or at least, none in any reasonable way beyond the simplest of look-up tables, like in the 1884 Napoleon’s Oraculum and Dream Book, and even there, there’s no connection between dominoes and geomancy.) Even if we want to give the origins of domino fortune-telling an earlier date, we just don’t have the evidence to make it too early. After all, dominoes were only introduced into (or invented in, depending on your historical approach) Europe, specifically France and Italy, in the 1700s, reaching England and Germany only in the later part of that century, and spreading from there into the Americas after that. So, if it seems that the art of domino fortune-telling is young, then that’s because it is, because dominoes themselves are young in the West.

An interesting thing I noticed was that, as domino fortune-telling texts came over into the Americas, a particular subset of modern Spanish texts with Caribbean or Latin American origins all seemed to share a common trend not seen in other domino texts: links between dominoes with the orisha, West African deities carried over into the Caribbean and Brazil through the slave trade, with one of the most famous branches of orisha religion being a Cuban one, La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, also known as Santería. Myself being an initiated priest of Ogún in this religion, I was intrigued by this. Sure, dominoes are a huge thing in the Caribbean, and Cubans are known to start outright jihad over the game (sometimes friendly, sometimes not), but to see dominoes prescribing ritual solutions or suggesting things about orisha alongside the traditional interpretations of dominoes caught me off-guard. Sure, it’s not a lot of information along these lines, but it does exist in a handful of texts and sources, so that got me wondering how this mash-up came to be. This led to a separate strain of research alongside the rest of my domino fortune-telling investigations.

Now, bear with me here, dear reader. I know there are a few unknowns here, and I know that I’m still young in Lukumí, so there’s plenty that I don’t know. But something about the mash-up between dominoes and orisha just doesn’t smell right or feel right to me, so let me explain why. If I’m wrong, then I look forward to being educated better on it by those who know better than I do.

The thing about Lukumí (and orisha religion in general) is that, for all its own innovation and adaptations it’s had to undergo in order to survive under oppression and slavery, it’s still a comparatively rigid and closed system; it is in many ways as much an institution and religion as the Roman Catholic Church. After all, the word “regla” indicates “rule”, like the Benedictine Rule for monks in Catholicism, in the sense of there being a defined set of protocols and practices that must be followed in order for something to be considered legitimate within the bounds of orisha religion (or at least a particular type of orisha religion, like Brazilian Candomblé, Yoruba Traditional/Isheshe, Trinidadian Shango Baptist, etc., all of which have slightly different sets of protocols). This is founded on the pacts that we humans in the initiated priesthoods of orisha have made and established with orisha, and which are propagated as part of initiation into these priesthoods: if you’re a priest, you’re held to those pacts, and if you’re not in those pacts, then you’re not a priest. Within these pacts is regla; outside these pacts is…well, not a lot of note, really. To operate outside of these pacts is to operate outside regla, which isn’t looked upon favorably and wherein lies danger. This might sound like gatekeeping, but as an initiated priest myself, it’s literally my job to gatekeep: priests are the ones who maintain these pacts with orisha, and until the day comes when there are no more living priests of the orisha, these pacts will be maintained and must be defended. Orisha worship is a living and vibrant tradition, not something to be reconstructed (like Nordic, Hellenic, or Celtic practices) or approached on a whim based on something neat you read in a book that one time. To work within orisha religion is to initiate, study, train, and follow the practices and customs of your lineage based on the pacts that founded them; unlike other modern pagan or non-Abrahamic practices available in the West, orisha religion isn’t a DIY build-from-the-ground-up practice you can just do as you like with. You don’t have to initiate to worship orisha, but you do have to initiate to “work with” them (which is a turn of phrase that I find increasingly off-putting, but which I think gets my point across here).

Similarly, unlike many forms of popularly-practiced paganism, Lukumí doesn’t lend itself to free-wheeling syncretism due to the importance of maintaining these pacts and regla; you can’t just up and say that Ogún speaks through this particular Tarot card or that Oshún problems are indicated given a particular astrological transit, because neither Tarot nor astrology have any connection to orisha. Yes, there is (limited) syncretism in Lukumí, developed according to a Lukumí-specific logic, and those are valid and legitimate to varying extents depending on who you’re talking to, especially when you factor in an old-world style of Catholic saint devotion a la interpretatio Graeca. But syncretism has its limits, and when it comes to communicating with orisha or discerning their actions and recommendations, there are certain sanctioned forms of divination that are accepted by both orisha and their priests, e.g. dilogún (reading with sixteen cowrie shells), obi (reading with four pieces of coconut meat or kola nut), or Ifá (its own thing). If something isn’t sanctioned, then it’s not regla; if it’s not regla, it’s not legitimate; if it’s not legitimate, it can’t be trusted; if it can’t be trusted, it shouldn’t be used. And, well…dominoes just aren’t sanctioned for orisha-related divination, just like Tarot or runes with orisha.

There are only a small number of websites that talk about “el quenkén”, supposedly the term for (Lukumí-specific) orisha-centric domino reading based on a similar game played in Nigeria (about which I can find nothing). Unlike other topics involving either dominoes or orisha, websites about orisha-centric domino divination are really scarce, which itself suggests that this just isn’t a “thing”. In print, there are only three texts I can find that talk about this topic, the earliest being Luis Manuel Núñez’ 1989 Santeria: A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic; the other two texts, Juan Garcia Cortez’ The Osha: Secrets of the Yoruba-Lucumi-Santeria Religion in the United States and Americas and Carlos G. y Poenna’s The Yoruba Domino Oracle, both published in 2000, offer further developments and explanations of orisha-related domino reading, often directly echoing Núñez. All three texts include the same basic information as the non-quenkén traditional domino texts, just with an added orisha flair. That there are only three texts on this topic, all of which are incredibly modern, compared to the dozens of books about obi, dilogún, and Ifá that go back a hundred years or more, gives me even more cause for concern. Further, there’s an interesting trend between these three texts:

  • Núñez’ text introduces domino reading by saying that dominoes “are not as respected or trusted as the formal oracles” of obi, dilogún, or Ifá, and many of the domino interpretations include directions to “throw [obi]” to confirm something with a particular orisha or to “go see a Santero or Babalawo” for further investigation and reading with dilogún and Ifá, respectively.
  • Cortez’ book, which mixes legitimate practices with illegitimate ones and which includes errors that would only be known to those who are properly initiated, doesn’t include the outright disclaimer that dominoes aren’t as trusted or respected as the sanctioned oracles, but he admits that he “was lucky enough to inherit [this method of reading] from my father’s Santeria book”. This rings odd to me, since Lukumí is primarily an oral tradition where one learns from observation and practice, not books. Moreover, like Núñez, many of these domino interpretations also say to go to a properly-initiated priest for further investigation.
  • y Poenna’s book says that reading with dominoes “is an explicit divination system that has been used for many years in the Yoruba tradition” (based on my research and the accounts of my elders, this statement is a total fabrication), but also says that “they are only helpful for people who are leading stable lifestyles” (what of people who have unstable ones and need stability?) and that “they are not usually read when someone is in a huge crisis” (what good of it, then?), and “often refer the querent to additional divinations using” obi, dilogún, or Ifá. It claims that “domino divination has its roots in the various earth-based systems of geomancy” (it isn’t) and that “it is possible that dominoes themselves were originally created as a means of geomantic divination” (they weren’t) but also that the practice “traces its origin to the Yoruba oracle of Ifa” (it doesn’t). Again, many of the bones instruct the reader to go to a “Pardon” or “Pi de Santo” (horrific misspellings of “padrino” and “pai de santo”, respectively, though the latter term is properly Brazilian and not Spanish or Cuban), or to a babalawo.

The evidence from the above texts speaks loudly to me: orisha-centric domino reading is inherently considered to be incomplete due to the necessary reliance on other diviners and other systems of divination and, fundamentally, cannot be trusted as a form of communication with and from orisha like what these texts otherwise claim. There are indeed times when a sanctioned oracle in Lukumí can redirect you to another priest to get more information, but these situations are well-understood and backed up by the logic of these systems; dominoes, however, do not appear to have such sanction, and it seems like it’s an intrusion into orisha religion, or at least Afro-Caribbean orisha religious culture. Domino fortune-telling on its own outside orisha religion has never had such warnings of “go to a card reader” or “do not trust this oracle more than this other older one”, but it’s only within the context of orisha religion that we see such warnings. That’s pretty telling to me that dominoes aren’t sanctioned, aren’t regla, aren’t legitimate, and aren’t trustworthy in the context of orisha-related practices. This isn’t to say that dominoes aren’t useful for divination and fortune-telling (they most certainly are!), or that diviners who also happen to be olorishas can’t use them for divination (they most certainly can!), just that dominoes should not be read in this particular way with these references to orisha, sacrifices, and the like. In other words, domino reading in general is fine, but orisha-centric domino reading is not.

Now, there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, orisha-centric domino divination was really carried on from older Yoruba sources and used as a form of communication with orisha by some legitimate priests, weird as it may sound to us nowadays. Or, alternatively, it could feasibly have happened that this was an innovation that was invented and adopted by some legitimate priests and considered to be legitimate within their own small communities, just not a wide-spread or well-known one, and that nobody in my lineage and nobody that I’m in contact with can vouch for it due to an absence of knowledge. This kind of thing can and does happen; there are Lukumí lineages in eastern Cuba that do things incredibly differently than in western Cuba, there are legitimate differences in approach and practice between metropolitan and rural practitioners, and those who are unfamiliar with these differences can err out of ignorance and incorrectly say that different practices they’re not aware of must be illegitimate outright, even when they’re actually legitimate. This sort of unfortunate accusation can and does happen, and it can cause harm to many people when it does. So, I’m not 100% ruling out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, dominoes were used by someone in Lukumí-style orisha religion as a means of communication with orisha with good intent. But, doing what I can do to find out as much as I can find, that honestly doesn’t look like that’s the case. Orisha religion (whether in the Caribbean, Latin America, or West Africa) is much older than dominoes, what records exist about orisha-centric domino reading are all super modern, and none of the respected and well-informed elders I can contact are aware of it. While I won’t mistake evidence for proof, what evidence I have doesn’t speak well for this.

It really would be fascinating to use dominoes for communicating with orisha and obtaining their advice, but there’s no real evidence that orisha-centric domino divination is any older than I am, and judging by the accounts of my elders, there seems to be no legitimate history behind the practice. Granted, my elders are only human, but they have 30, 50, or more years in the religion with their own elders, families, and friends; heck, there’s one example saying that orisha-centric domino reading isn’t valid written by a well-known elder priestess of Yemonja all the way back in December 2005. Orisha-centric domino divination really does seem to be no more than an unsanctioned invention in trying to use the gods and sacred advice of one initiation-restricted religion in an open, unrelated practice. After all, Núñez, Cortez, and y Poenna all agree that, unlike reading obi, dilogún, or Ifá, reading dominoes is not restricted to the priesthood, but without training (which only comes about as part of initiating into the priesthood), non-initiates wouldn’t know how to interpret what orisha is properly saying and what to prescribe because of it beyond the little they have written in their books, especially when compared to the encyclopedic amounts of knowledge and lore reached through dilogún or Ifá. I mean, when you’re trying to get religious guidance and advice, you should want an initiated, respectable, trained priest who has the power, authority, license, and expertise to prescribe ritual and religious solutions, and who knows why and when such things should be prescribed.

Let’s be honest, even from a practical standpoint: no non-initiate has any business pulling the 0-3 domino from the boneyard and telling anyone (according to Núñez) that “you need to feed Eleggua a white rooster on Monday and do what Eleggua tells you to do”, especially if they themselves don’t have an Eleggua, have never thrown obi, or have never sacrificed a bird before. On top of the fact that non-initiates have no license or authority to speak on behalf of orisha, there are other things wrong with just saying even that much that non-initiates wouldn’t be aware of, especially without any particular cause or need pointed out in the reading beyond the most vague of indications, which the nature of domino reading doesn’t really get at to the same depth, breadth, or length that dilogún or Ifá would. It’s exactly like if someone whose own spiritual education doesn’t extend any further than a few meet-ups at the local new-age store were to get the Tarot of the Orishas and start doing readings “with orisha” and telling people “Oshún is on the Ace of Cups here in your querent spot in the spread, so Oshún clearly owns your head”. It just doesn’t work like that, because dominoes (with pretty much complete certainty) don’t and can’t speak for orisha, just as Tarot doesn’t and can’t speak for orisha.

If, dear reader, orisha-centric domino reading is indeed a non-sanctioned invention of popular spirituality that takes orisha from its original sanctioned context, as all the evidence I can find suggests it is, then this would be a good example of appropriation.

Now, as I said, it could still be that orisha-centric domino reading was preserved from an earlier Yoruba tradition (incredibly unlikely) or (questionably) invented either by initiates in Lukumí or by those who were not initiated yet adjacent to initiates (and who probably didn’t want to get into the hassle of properly initiating into the religion, as was/is seen with some spiritual workers who did/do prescribe orisha-related things without initiation). Still, it’s possible for people of the same overall culture to appropriate from a subset of that culture when things proper to that subset are not open to others outside it. So, while this isn’t necessarily outright cultural appropriation, it is religious appropriation. And, yes, it is true that Lukumí does grow and evolve and adapt, within particular parameters and following a particular logic, just as any living tradition does—but this just ain’t it, chief. The absolute most that dominoes might be able to indicate along these lines is that something is up with some part of your own private, priestly, or orisha practices and you might want to get that checked out, but that could apply to any sort of spiritual influence around you, not just or simply orisha (and there are many more influences around us than just them at any given moment), nor would it talk at all in the same way with the same authority, legitimacy, and clarity how dilogún or Ifá might actually talk. Dominoes might be able to speak more to (or even for) other spirits you work with, venerate, or worship, especially if they agree to it, but orisha aren’t in that category. This is, in some ways, much like how espiritismo (the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean forms of Kardecian Spiritism) interplays with Lukumí: orisha do not and cannot talk in a misa espiritual (basically a séance), but non-orisha spirits associated with them (e.g. deceased priests or culture heroes) can touch on orisha-related things just as they could non-orisha-related things. Still, espiritismo does not and cannot stand in for divinatory or oracular message from orisha, even if some of the mechanisms seem similar, because orisha belong to a closed religion in which espiritismo has no part; the same goes for dominoes. To cross that line is to enter into intrusion into a closed, initiation-locked system and to appropriate from it.

Of course, by my own admission, I don’t think the whole history of the practice of orisha-centric domino reading can be reliably known with such a paucity of sources, and I am still young in the religion as a whole, and thus still learning quite a bit! But, from everything I can see, know, hear, and learn? Bringing something like domino fortune-telling that has no legitimate origin in regla into it (or, rather, taking things out of it for use by non-initiates with already-not-regla domino fortune-telling in the role an initiate would be expected to play within regla) is effectively appropriating and misusing the religion and divination system both. Orisha-centric domino reading does not appear to have a longstanding practice despite (a very few) claims of it being “old”, nor does it have a theological backing to support its use with orisha. And to those who say that it does, I reply: show me the odu in which the dominoes are born and that orisha can speak through them as they would the cowries, and show me your lineage of teachers (not books) who teach this method of divination, because if there is such an odu and if you have such a lineage, I’d love to know about it to properly, happily, and quickly correct my views and this post.

Barring a miraculous discovery of some truly-secret low-key divinatory practice that doesn’t properly fit into Lukumí yet validates what Núñez, Cortez, and y Poena write about the topic—and I honestly don’t think such a revelation is ever going to happen—mixing dominoes with orisha is not something I can support, nor is it something any legitimate initiate or non-initiate can really use in orisha-related or domino-related practices because of the gross disservice it does to the religion and the gross misunderstandings it makes to domino fortune-telling. And, honestly, I really hesitated whether to make known these authors and book titles. I only bring up these texts to indicate the sources I’m talking about, but I emphatically and strongly discourage the reader from reading them, both to protect what legitimate information is contained therein from those who are not initiated (and, likewise, to protect the noninitiate from them), and to prevent the various mistakes in these books from spreading further. However, on top of these books already being published, cat yronwode’s Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts encourages readers to check out y Poenna’s book, which I think is irresponsible and dangerous out of ignorance, even if meant helpfully, so I may as well be explicit here about these books to offer some sort of correction in the public record. What’s most troubling is that at least two of the above authors, if not all three, have or at least claim initiation into Lukumí, so I’m not sure where their information is really coming from or what lineages they represent. But, based on the knowledge and accounts of my elders whom I trust, I can’t find anything legitimate or historical about this practice within the context of orisha religion.

Domino fortune-telling is something which I gladly accept, study, encourage, and am myself beginning to practice—it’s just that I should (and will) only do so responsibly outside Lukumí, not within it. There has never been too much information behind it, but I’ve been able to develop a really strong and widespread body of information for each of its symbols, which is fantastic to make it a really helpful and usable system of divination, but it’s just not on the same level as legitimate forms of divination of orisha religion. And that’s okay! It doesn’t have to be, since the focus isn’t for communicating with orisha anyway. I think that’s the best way to go about it, both for myself and for others. So, for my readers who are likewise interested in domino fortune-telling: the core stuff is good and useful, just set aside anything that mixes it with orisha. And, for my readers who are interested in orisha religion: don’t pay attention to anyone who says they’ll do an orisha reading for you with anything less than legitimate methods.

Search Term Shoot Back, October 2015

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of October 2015.

“can we change our physical gender by occultism” — First, a clarification: sex and gender are two separate things.  Sex is physical and involves the organs, bone structure, and hormones that your body has and produces; generally, this is male or female, but there are cases where someone is born intersexed with a mixture of the two sexual types.  Gender is a mental and social construct, and is a fluid gradient between masculine, feminine, agendered, and other genderqueer (hence the use of third person singular gender-neutral pronouns, i.e. neither “he/his/him” nor “she/her/her”).  Second, magic doesn’t work this way, not like how you asked.  I can no more change myself from a physical man into a woman any more than I can shoot fire from my palms or cause earthquakes by hitting the ground with my staff.  That’s the stuff of the gods and of myth.  Magic is a spiritual influence, not a physical one, and although it has physical effects, it goes through spiritual means to do so.  The Harry Potter stuff is just fantasy, and no more.  Now, you can certainly use magic to make transgender transition easier or more obtainable (easier access to hormone therapy, increased finances for physical reconstruction/plastic surgery, glamor to convince people easier that you’re a particular gender, persuasion to make bigots accept you easier, safety when alone at night or with friends), but there’s no ritual that will just up and change a man into a woman or a woman into a man.

“kybalion santeria” — Ugh. Ew. No. The two should never mix.  The Kybalion is New Thought trash; I know that many occultists read it as one of their first books, which acts as a gateway to bigger and better stuff.  I know.  I get it.  I do.  But the Kybalion is trash that causes more harm than good, and the fact that a lot of people read it doesn’t make it a good book.  It’s not Hermetic, certainly; heck, the name of the text itself is made up and supposed to recall “qabbalah”.  And, all that said, trying to mix the Kybalion with Santeria is…unpalatable.  Heck, Santeria is closer to actual Hermetic theurgy (complete with emanationist cosmogony and ensoulment of things) than the Kybalion could ever hope to be, and Santeria is a religion from slaves.  Slaves who had nothing but their ancestors and their gods and a crafty way of calling on them by a number of names unfamiliar to them.  Anyway….yeah, no.  Don’t mix the two, kiddo.

“how to consecrate a ring with the power of the sun” — Consecration of jewelry or talismans generally is an important part of my work.  How does one consecrate stuff?  Well, it depends on the force or god you’re consecrating it to.  With the planets, it depends on what tradition you want to work with, since there are dozens of cultures that have some sort of planetary magic, and hundreds or thousands of rituals between them all.  Originally, I got my start with a Christian-Hermetic angelic approach, which is still what I’ll pull out for really heavy-duty long-term projects, but I’ve experimented with many others.  For the Sun, specifically, I’d strongly recommend a ritual I recently came across from the PGM, which I’ve entitled the Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Helios.  Tweak it accordingly to receive the powers you want.

“is it cultural appropriation for magicians to work with saints” — No.  Spirits call whom they call; it’s not up to meatsuits to tell you “no, you can’t work with spirit X because you’re white”.  I’m very much of the opinion that when a god comes to you, regardless of where they come from, you pay attention.  I have no Greek ancestry, yet the Greek gods welcome me and Hermes especially calls to me; I have Jewish ancestry, but I feel less Jewish than a pig farmer in an oyster bar on Yom Kippur.  I’m getting involved with the ATR community, who’ve taken me in and with whom I hope to serve and pitch in as much as any black Cuban.  I’m not baptized, but the Christian saints have helped me out and continue to do so regularly.  Why is this?  Because spirits recognize color and ancestry and culture but (in general) they don’t care.  If you want to work with them, if you learn about them, if you encounter them how they ask and prefer to be encountered, if you fulfill your vows and keep your word to them, if you remember them and respect them, if you do your best to be a decent fucking human being, then you’re probably going to do better than many who are just “born into the culture” and don’t see it as any more than a thing their grandparents do.  However, respect is the key; that’s the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.  There can and should be a two-way exchange between cultures, and we should never be binned into a box just because we were born into it.  That said, we shouldn’t loot, disrespect, or forget the origins of those whom we call on, and we shouldn’t transgress boundaries that even people of a particular culture wouldn’t transgress.  Consecrating elekes with your Wiccan pentacle or setting up an “Elegua protection altar” with hematite skulls and candy is not how you respect the gods.  You don’t just read a book written with half-assed, half-correct information by gods-only-know-what-hack and think you’re good to go as some sort of divine initiate.  Lineaged initiations, for instance, cultural mores, and purity laws are things to be respected.  For instance, even though I’m not Christian, I go to Catholic mass all the same when I need to get in touch more with a saint; that said, because I’m not baptized, I won’t take part in the Eucharist and receive communion.  Why?  Because I’m doing it for the same Power that the saint lived and died for.  It’s respect, and I apply that to all my spirits, be they gods, theoi, orisha, saints, angels, ancestors, kami, demons, or whatnot.

“the true table of practice” — There is no “true” Table of Practice, no more than there’s a “true” wand or “true” Triangle of Art.  Tables of Practice are tools used in conjuration as a basis for summoning a spirit, and there are different types of Tables used: there’s the one from the Ars Paulina, the one from Trithemius, the one from Dee, and I’m sure there are yet others that exist in the Western Hermetic tradition.  The Table you use is dependent on what text or tradition of magic you’re working with.  If it exists, by which I mean if you have a tangible version of it you can use in a ritual, regardless whether it’s gilded stone or engraved wood or Sharpie on a cereal box, then it’s true enough to work.

“cyprian of antioch vs st michael” — Why “versus” at all?  Cyprian of Antioch is a saint, and so honors God through His angels, including Michael the Archangel, the Prince of the Heavenly Host.  They work together, although Cyprian might prefer to call on a number of other powers before calling on Michael.  Now, while I strongly recommend developing a relationship with both Cyprian and Michael, and while they both tend to achieve the same end result when it comes to spiritual work, they achieve them in different ways.  Saint Michael the Archangel is the one who conquers and subdues wicked spirits, demons, and devils; think of the usual image of him where he’s impaled the Devil with his sword or spear and has him chained and underfoot; Michael helps you command the spirits as your servants.  Saint Cyprian of Antioch, on the other hand, is the one who ennobles and elevates wicked spirits, making them genteel and dignified so that one may work with them on an equal footing; Cyprian helps you collaborate with the spirits as your partners.  Sometimes it’s better to go with Michael than Cyprian, sometimes the other way, sometimes either way.  It depends on your style of interaction with the spirits, whether you prefer to be harsh or soft and whether you prefer slaves or partners, and it depends on the specific circumstances you’re working with spirits.  Sometimes you need force, and sometimes you need nobility.

“how to do things with quartz crystal” — Yes.  You do the things with the crystal by using it.  You might need to hold it differently or make sure it’s smooth enough for some particular means; you may not want those ridges on a Lemurian crystal (snerk) chafing your anus or vagina.  Not all crystals work as soup ladles.  Crystals generally do not work well as shampoo.  Horses tend to get you from place to place on the streets in rural Pennsylvania better than crystals.  One cannot make good coffee or tea with quartz crystals (or, for that matter, the crystallized powder of dehydrated coffee).  Smoothed crystals work well as back massagers.  Most crystals, except for the tiny ones, can help keep papers on your desk in the case of an unexpected tornado.  So many things!

“scorpio planetary hours” — There’s a bit of a semantic mismatch here.  Scorpio is a sign of the Zodiac, a 30° segment of the ecliptic in the eighth sphere of the fixed stars, beyond the spheres of the planets.  Planetary hours are segments of daytime or nighttime that are associated with the individual planets.  Scorpio is not a planet, and thus receives no planetary hour.  However, Scorpio is associated with the planet Mars in its negative/passive/feminine aspect, so we can say that certain hours of Mars (such as those at nighttime or during the waning Moon) can be associated with Scorpio, as I’ve experimented with before.  However, as my results from said experiment have indicated, there’s no real need to use planetary hours for the zodiac; rather, you’d want to time stuff so that the sign in question is rising (at the eastern horizon) or culminating (at the zenith/midheaven).

“witchcraft entity children summoning conjuration rituals” — I…what?  Are you wondering what spells witches use to summon children?  Is Hansel and Gretel a cautionary tale of “don’t let your children get bewitched”?  Do you think that those Satanic witches summon children to their stoops so that they can dismember them and use them in sacrifices to the Devil?  Pah!  Smart witches understand that one should use the most mundane, innocuous methods and stock up when children are in abundance.  On that note, have fun trick-or-treating this weekend, kids!

“angelic runes chart”, “planetary runes combinations” — Funnily enough, these are not what triggered my recent post on term clarification for different types of symbols, but it was a Reddit post on /r/occult.  Anyway, neither angels nor planets have runes (pace anonymous author of the Liber Runarum).  The word “rune” refers specifically to the letters of the alphabets used for Germanic and Scandinavian languages prior to the introduction of the Roman script in northwestern and northern Europe.  There are runiform scripts out there, like Old Hungarian and Old Turkish, which look kinda-sorta like futhark/futhorc runes, but they’re not themselves runes.  Angels have seals or sigils (such as those given in the Magical Calendar or the Heptameron or Agrippa), and planets just have glyphs.  In general, it’s better to just use the generic word “symbol” to refer to things.

“cassiel ritual for separation of lovers” — Cassiel is the angel associated with the planet Saturn, and is otherwise known as Castiel, Caffriel, Tzaphqiel, or some other mangled form of its original Hebrew name.  Saturn is not exactly the most emotional or sweetest of planets, and is also associated with the metal lead.  You know the story of Cupid?  He has two sets of arrows: gold-tipped ones to cause people to fall in love, and lead-tipped ones to cause people to fall in hate.  I don’t have a ritual handy under the angelic powers of Saturn to cause people to spurn each other, but it’s not hard to see how this might be done.  For instance, if I were to make up such a ritual…get a fishing weight made of lead and hammer it out into a flat disc.  Engrave one person’s name on the left of the disc and the other person’s name on the right, with the symbol of Saturn written three times down the middle of the disc.  On a Saturday night in the hour of Saturn, preferably with the Moon waning and placed antagonistically towards the planet, call on the angel of Saturn with myrrh and asafoetida incense.  Proclaim the love of so-and-so with thus-and-such null and void, that the powers of Saturn sullen and ensorrow their relationship, and that the two lovers be no more; break the disc down the three symbols of Saturn into two, such that the two names are no longer together on the same piece of lead.  Suffumigate the pieces in the incense and set a black candle to burn on each such that the black wax covers the two pieces of lead.  In the morning, instead of using the bathroom as normal, piss on the two pieces of wax-covered lead, and bury each piece where the person will step over it (so-and-so’s piece where so-and-so walks, thus-and-such’s piece where thus-and-such walks).  You’re done!  Go take a shower and enjoy your chaos.

“how to consecrate a 7 day candle”, “burning candle rituals in psalms”, “candle burning rituals psalms”, “burning candle rituals use of psalms”, “florida water and white candle rituals”, “psalms 23 white candle magic”, “how to burn candle to pray with psalm”, “candle burning ritual using the psalms”, “can you use florida water to consecrate a candle” — I’m not sure if I noticed it before or if it’s actually weird this month, but it seems like I’ve gotten a higher-than-normal rate of candle/psalm-related searches.  Chances are these are variants of something a single person was using and kept getting turned back to my blog, and given the inclusion of Florida water in a few of the searches, I’m going to guess they’re looking for something more American in style, like hoodoo or rootworking uses.  Honestly, while the usual all-purpose candle consecration ritual I use comes from the Key of Solomon (book II, chapter 12), that’s generally overkill for something like this.  Washing a candle off in fresh, clean water or holy water is more than enough; Florida water may make it a little “brighter” than you want, but it’s a good spiritual cleanser all the same.  You can anoint candles with olive oil that’s been prayed over or with a specific magical oil, but it’s not strictly needed unless you think it’ll help with your specific need better.  There’re whole books and styles of setting lights and burning candles, especially with Psalm magic, far more than I can describe here, but use candles in ways that make sense, generate spiritual power from the flame, and demonstrate through ritual motion of moving and placing candles according to the specific psalm and purpose of the ritual.

“can i invite pomba gira into my dreams” — Ahahahaha a̴͔͓̰͕̩h̸͙͙̱̲̝a̜̝̦͈̤̦ͅh̕a̝͍̟̯̹̠h̺à̙̖͕h̻̻͚͍͔̼͙a̖͔h͇͟a̛̬̗̥̞̦h̡̠ H̷̹̣̘͈͎̭͔͟À̵̲̖͍̪̱̘H̢͚͈Á̘̳̠̭̰ͅH̥̼̳͎̞̻̖̲A̵̳̗̜̫͍̬̬H̜͇̰̟̜͜A̵̸̳̙H̡̙̯̩͉̼̼̹̳̰̕A̫̬̻͇͖̝̫͜ͅH͖̞͡A̞̳͇̫̕ͅ H͔̞̜̣̟̀͟͟͢A̭̯̹̥̼͙̪̤̩̤͔͟͢͠Ḫ̸̶̢̨̲͉͇̙̫͍̹̥͓̝͈̺̯͟Á̷̟̠̤̼̝̪̙͙͕͕̭̲͉̭̀͜͢H̸̵̴̖͓̪͙̬̹͕̣͔̰̟̥͈̭́͝A̧͙̟̘̞̠̼͍͠H̶̨̡̻͈͈̮͖̬̙̯̳̺̻͉̬̼̗̰̗̣͉̀͢A̴̵̦͖̲̠̯͚̲̜̬͔̪͇̙͈̺̦̺͚ͅH̴͇̟̦̙̦̺̖̭̰̦͕͔́͟Ą̸̪̲̝̯̥̤̲͖̪̥̲͖̗̗̕͜H̞͇̱͉̜̠͖͔̹͓̜̟͈̕͢ͅA̶̕҉̡̤̫͉̦̗̤A̴҉̡͎͈̰͎̘͈̭͙͟A͜҉̖̬͍͚̩̦̬̲̯A͘҉̤̗̭͉̪͇̠Ạ̸̛̛̫̝͈̰͍͉͖̻̝̞̺̭̼̹̣̠̀͢Ą̡̱͓̝̦̼͖̯̞̟̞̻̱̙̠̦̰͠ͅA̷̢͇̹̫̘̥͙̻͙̼̝͍̠̼͡ͅͅA̴҉̴͈͔̬̫͎͙̹̲̰͍͙̕͟ͅͅÁ̴̶̱̘͉͍͈͘A̗̻̯̲̪̟̯͚̠̠̭̥̬͓̻̙̙͢͝ͅ y͖̜o̷͘͏̺̮̭̮͇̪̰ù̧̩̖̪͖̬̀ͅ ̵͖̠̘̯̲͎̙̳͘f̘̮͖͙͝o̗̪̺͉̺̫̣͕o̥̖̳̹͢ĺ͉̥͍̥͇̥̹͞ 

 

And now, since I figure I may as well rejoice in it, here’s the list of all phallus-related searches from this month.  Because people obviously come to read the Digital Ambler for two things, magic and dicks, and I’m not sure which is more popular anymore.

  • anal sex with big black cocks
  • dick big kongo
  • black huge dicks
  • use method large cock
  • egypt massive dick man image
  • pompeii penis depictions
  • ebony dicks
  • huge dick

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: First Swirlings

A few weeks ago, I made a post about an idea about working with a Greek style of Hermetic qabbalah, tentatively calling it kambala (Greek way to write out qabbalah from Hebrew) or to Paradedomenon (lit. “that which is handed down”).  The idea, I claim, is an interesting one: in the absence of Hebrew kabbalah, is it possible to make a Hellenic style of emanationist cosmological magic and theology that works with the Greek letters as magical units and entities in their own right?  Asked another way, could there conceivably be such a thing as a Greek qabbalah?  So I started thinking about it, and I first went and looked up translations of the names of the sephiroth and the like from Hebrew into Greek, and started translating other names into Greek as well, and also rewriting the magic number squares of the planets using Greek letter-numerals to develop new planetary spirit names.

Now I’m thinking I was going down the wrong path and need to start fresh without using the Tree of Life, or even using Jewish kabbalah at all.

I mean, what is Jewish kabbalah?  It is a deep, powerful, multifaceted, beautiful system of Jewish mysticism that can deliver one great, perhaps infinite, knowledge and power through the proper use of its system, but it’s still at its heart a Jewish system.  Thus, it is Jewish, and geared towards those who are Jewish: not only by blood (as tradition would have it), but also by culture (having the means and faculties available to a proper Jew) and definitely by religion and religious studies.  Kabbalah is really only meant for those who are prepared to study it, which requires a deep and thorough study of the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Mishnah, and so many other aspects of Jewish religion and how it ties into Jewish life.  For all intents and purposes, to get the most out of kabbalah, you have to be Jewish.  You don’t necessarily have to be a Jew (unless you’re so hard-core traditionalist that only the first-born son of a kabbalist can learn it from his rabbi father), but you definitely have to be Jewish in order to properly study kabbalah.  Anything less, and you’re not going to be able to use it as much as it can or ought to be.

As for me?  Sure, I can claim descent as a Jew, but I’m about as Jewish as an Olive Garden is Italian, which is to say “hahaha not really”.  Sure, I can say the berakhah for Chanukah, and that’s about it.  I’ve never had my bar mitzvah (even though my father has idly wondered that we should probably get ours done eventually at the same time), and it’s more likely that I’ll be baptized into Christianity before having a bar mitzvah.  I’ve only read the Old Testament in English, not even in the proper order of the books that the Tanakh would have; I don’t maintain kosher standards of purity or cleanliness (especially not with the occasional use of blood rum), and I can’t even read or speak Hebrew.  In all honesty, for me to properly study kabbalah, I’d need to learn Hebrew, get bar mitzvah’d, and undergo what’s likely to be many years of studying before I even read properly about the sephiroth.  Which is why I’m not, nor will I ever, learn about Jewish kabbalah outside a few books by Aryeh Kaplan.

But of course, that’s not the only way to study the Tradition.  What about Hermetic qabbalah (this time with a Q)?  I’ve been making good use of that, to be sure, as have many others in the Golden Dawn, Thelemite, and other modern Hermetic movements, and heck, even in a good number of neopagan movements I’ve seen that are influenced by Gardnerian Wicca and the Golden Dawn.  While I’d argue that the heart of Hermetic qabbalah and Jewish kabbalah is the same (it provides a means to understand the source of an emanationist panentheist cosmos by means of a cosmological Abrahamic structure), the study of the two nearly couldn’t be further apart.  And, to be honest, after mulling it over some, I’m not sure Hermetic qabbalah is even recognizably able to achieve the same goal as Jewish kabbalah.  My good friend the Rev. Michael Strojan has compared Jewish kabbalah to a beautiful rose garden maze leading to a unique spiritual experience of the mind of God in creation, while Hermetic qabbalah is a far more rational, utilitarian cosmological mapping.

In fact, when a Hermeticist tends to refer to “qabbalah”, they’re usually referring to the specific teaching of the Tree of Life, the linking of the ten sephiroth with 22 paths in a particular geometric array.  In Hebrew, this is known as the upright arrangement of the sephiroth, or “yosher”, which is one way to view the sephiroth; the other is “iggulim”, or “circles”, viewing the cosmos as a series of nested circles with God on the outside and Malkuth in the innermost circle.  I’ve seen a similar way to represent the sephiroth before in Hermetic qabbalah, but only as an introduction to emanationist principles and never for serious magic or prolonged study.  While the paths of the Tree of Life are important, they’re usually grossly understudied in favor of the sephiroth themselves; I’ve seen plenty of people talking about scrying the spheres but next to nobody about scrying the paths, and I admit that I’m guilty of this, too!  It’s nearly all about corresponding things to the ten spheres, and that’s about it.  Consider Yesod, the ninth sephirah: Yesod is associated with the first heaven, which coincides with the sphere of the Moon, so anything lunar can be corresponded to Yesod.  That’s nearly about it in Hermetic qabbalistic framework, it’d seem, unless I’m missing a large amount of the cultural movement and study of the thing.  I’m aware that many Hermeticists have gone in much deeper study of the sephiroth and the paths, but I wouldn’t call them a majority.  To most magicians who use Hermetic qabbalah, they only use it as a system of correspondences.

More than that, however, for a non-Jew, even a learned Neoplatonic theosopher and magician, to attempt their own study of kabbalah can come off as something insincere.  I mean, as non-Jews (and I’m including myself de facto in that group), we’re not raised Jewish, we celebrate different holidays, we’re not studied in the traditions and text that Jewish kabbalah builds upon.  While it’s certainly possible to get a lot out of the system, we won’t be able to fully plumb the depths of the system without having all those other things under our belt.  And while it’s certainly allowed to study any and all knowledge and teachings out there on the subject, it’s still a subject that’s pretty much not meant for most of us.  Even in traditional kabbalistic teachings, many Jews couldn’t learn it, which is why we have the Sacred Magic of Abramelin, since (chapter 9, my emphasis):

This wisdom hath its foundation in the high and holy Qabalah which is not granted unto any other than unto the first-born, even as God hath ordained, and as it was observed by our predecessors. Thence arose the difference, and the truck or exchange between Jacob and Esau; the primogeniture being the Qabalah, which is much nobler and greater than the Sacred Magic. And by the Qabalah we can arrive at the Sacred Magic, but by the latter we cannot have the Qabalah. Unto the child of a servant, or of an adulterer, the Qabalah is not granted, but only unto a legitimate child; as occurred in the case of Isaac and Ishmael; but the sacred wisdom through the mercy of God all can acquire, provided that they walk in the right path; and each one should content himself with the gift and grace of the Lord. And this must not be done out of curiosity, and with extravagant and ridiculous scruples, wishing to know and understand more than is right; seeing that temerity is certainly punished by God, who then permitteth him who is presumptuous not only to be turned aside out of the true way by the Second Causes, but also the demon hath power over him, and he ruineth and exterminateth him in such a manner, that we can only say that he himself is the sole cause of his own ruin and misery. It is certain that the Old Serpent will attempt to contaminate the present book with his venom, and even to destroy and lose it utterly, but O Lamech! as a faithful father I entreat thee by the true God who hath created thee and all things, and I entreat every other person who by thy means shall receive this method of operating, not to be induced or persuaded to have any other sentiment or opinion, or to believe the contrary. Pray unto God and ask him for his assistance, and place all thy confidence in him alone. And although thou canst not have the understanding of the Qabalah, nevertheless the holy guardian angels at the end of the six Moons or months will manifest unto thee that which is sufficient for the possession of this Sacred Magic.

Is there a means for us to study divinity and obtain power and knowledge thereby?  Of course!  The Word of God is something all humans with ears can hear (as much of my 49 Days of Definitions project indicated), but not every word is meant for us.  There are many words out there for us to understand the Word; they are all the Word, but not using the same words.  In a Hermetic sense, kabbalah is a form of Logos for the Jews who are able and allowed to study it.  So, while a Hermetic qabbalah with roots and liberal borrowing from the Hebrew kabbalah is not improper, strictly speaking, it does seem like trying to borrow a prayer in another language to another divinity and speaking it aloud with a bad accent to your own.  To be terse, the more I look at it, the more Hermetic qabbalah looks like cultural appropriation, and knowing how rife much of the Golden Dawn material was with culturally appropriated techniques and technology, this isn’t too surprising.

Besides, while Jewish kabbalah is definitely Jewish, it’s not entirely Jewish.  It’s apparent that there was much cross-pollination between Jewish and Neoplatonic thought back in the days of the Roman Empire, especially after the Jewish Diaspora after the destruction of the Second Temple, and it was only then did the Hebrew alphabet begin to be used as numbers in addition to letters, a notably Greek practice that had already been in place for centuries, along with the Greek practice of isopsephic exegesis in interpreting words as numerical strings and linking them to numerological concepts and other words by means of isopsephy.  Heck, even the Hebrew word “gematria” has its origins in Greek “geometria”.  It might reasonably be said that what is today Jewish kabbalah is a combination of Greek Neoplatonist philosophy and isopsephic techniques combined with the native Jewish Merkava and Hekhalot mystic techniques.  This was used, then merged again with other European thought as the centuries passed, so that kabbalah borrowed and reborrowed other philosophies just as it was borrowed and reborrowed from.  As a magician in the vein of Neoplatonism, I can definitely see much that I resonate with in kabbalistic thought and practice, but the system takes place in a context that is sufficiently different from my own that it’s difficult for me to penetrate it without my entering into that context itself.

In that light, recontextualizing kabbalah into Hermetic qabbalah wholesale just isn’t the best way to go about it, and to develop an even further-detached system as a Hellenic or Greek kabbalah based on the Hermetic qabbalah would be even less effective.  While such a Greek kabbalah would be great for my own practice and context, being much more familiar with Neoplatonic, Stoic, and even some Pythagorean philosophy (which is really the root of much of this, anyway), trying to base it on the already “debased” (to exaggerate the sense) Hermetic qabbalah would be like a game of Translation Party.  And, just like with proper English-to-Japanese translation, you need to have a good sense of the language, structure, and system you’re trying to build things into based on the ideas and thoughts you already have instead of trying to go through a predetermined middleman system with its own rules already in place.  In order to create a Greek kabbalah, I’d need to start fresh from first principles.  Scrying the Tree of Life in a Greek framework isn’t the only work that has to be done, but the creation of a new map of the cosmos and new paths, developing an understanding more fitting to my own context instead of that of a different religion and tradition, is all necessary.

In other words, I hope you stay tuned as I work towards a Greek kabbalah.  This will be a series of posts over the coming month exploring all the aspects I consider necessary to build such a system, so I hope you follow along.

Things I Don’t Believe

Inspired by the wonderful Patrick Dunn over at Postmodern Magic, I’ve been interested in doing a similar post (though not quite a series of posts) on various subjects in spirituality, the occult, and magic that I don’t believe in or have no basis for believing.  I mean, there’s a lot of BS out there, and even though I deal with BS quite seriously on a daily basis, I have to set my BS tolerance threshold somewhere.  To be fair, part of this list might just be due to the fact that I’m still fairly young and may not have as much experience with some of the things below as others may, but those are reasonably few and fair between.  After all, young as I am, I’ve still seen and done a fair amount in my life that a good number of others haven’t.

And with that bit of mysterious nostalgia out of the way, let’s begin:

Some upcoming mass spiritual revolution, dawning of the Age of Aquarius, galactic realignment, whatever.  This ties in right well with any apocalyptic or end-of-the-world theory (hopefully you all haven’t forgotten that 2012 was just last year), none of which I believe in.  Rather, I’m a proponent of the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun.  Consider that humanity has only been around for about 200,000 years as a biologically distinct species, 50,000 years as a culturally self-aware race, and 10,000 years as a race that works with agriculture and cities.  Evolutionarily speaking, this is not a long time (we normally see evolution taking place over the span of millions of years).  To think that we’re due for some new mass spiritual awakening because the biases and structures of the past millennia or two haven’t been too friendly towards a specific generation or countergenerational revolution is folly.  Do I think humanity doesn’t evolve, ever?  No!  We’ve been changing and (I like to think) getting better, inch by inch, mile by mile, man by man, but it’s not going to happen all at once in a year or two.  Maybe over a handful of millennia, if we’re disciplined and adept about it, but I’m not holding my breath.  Much as John Michael Greer has been saying on his blog The Archdruid Report, people want such apocalyptic change not because they’re too lazy to have it done by themselves or to work for it over a span of time.  On the other hand, I’m not saying that there isn’t some kind of storm in the offing metaphysically, but it’s not some kind of 2012-esque mass enlightenment nonsense.

Orgonite.  I’m not talking about orgone energy or technology in general, but specifically orgonite.  Maybe a year or so ago before I started the MaGOS project, I’d’ve dissed and tossed orgone tech from here to Kathmandu, but the tech does generally seem to work, and shares similarities with Franz Bardon’s stuff.  However, that cannot be said for orgonite, which (for those blissfully ignorant) is a congealed mass of resin mixed with metal shavings and, optionally, bits of crystal and decorative material (glitter, dyes, etc.).  Their intended effect is to purify local areas of “deadly orgone” or bad energy into “positive orgone” or good energy, given the basic hypothesis of how orgone energy works (ambient vital essence attracted to organic materials and repelled by inorganic materials).  Still, if the original orgone tech was unable to differentiate between the two, orgonite (a more portable extension of the tech) won’t either.  Add to it the fact that some of the crazier of the hippies out there like to “gift” or throw the chunks (often poured into and hardened in muffin tins or martini glasses for the shape) at cell phone towers, in Indian burial grounds, or in African reservoirs, and you have a recipe for utter stupidity.  Plus, in my experience, it oftentimes comes out looking like jagged congealed robot vomit.

Karma (the popular conception of it, aka The Rule of Three).  I understand karma from a Hindu or Buddhist perspective, with a bias towards the Buddhist interpretation of the idea.  In short, karma is an action arising from an intention of an unenlightened or conditioned being that has an effect.  Once enlightened (or, perhaps in a more Western phrasing, acting in accordance with one’s True Will), one acts without karma.  This is how the thing works, people, not this “rule of three” or “what goes around comes around” nonsense.  The modern use and meaning of karma is just another example of both horrible cultural appropriation and a way to isolate a basic human need to see retribution done on others.  Try as we might to remain altruistic and detached, humanity has an instinctual taste for revenge and justice that likes seeing itself effected, especially on others for whom we may not know the whole story.  On the flip side of this, though?  No matter what religion, philosophy, or path you fall into, if you need the threat of punishment to keep you in line and keep you from harming others, you’re doing it wrong.  Besides, this stolen idea of karma completely throws out the (also Buddhist) notion of expedient means, or the ability to use normally unfruitful or harmful methods to arrive at a better state of the cosmos.  Examples are using white lies to lure distracted children out of a dangerous situation, or killing one person to save a million others.  In other words, the ends justify the means much more than the means do on their own.  For those with a more Hindu bent to their cultural appropriation, you’re also neglecting the fact that karma can often be “atoned” for and, through the proper offerings and rituals, washed away completely, similar to Christian confession and absolution of sins.

Claims of unbroken lineage from time immemorial for modern pagan or magical movements.  Yes, humanity has always had a spiritual bent to it.  Yes, spirits/gods/whatever have always existed.  Yes, magic has always been done in some form or another.  Yes, every generation of humanity has its fair share of witches and magicians.  No, you cannot make claims that your modern reconstructionist orthodox tradition of whatever has been passed down in secret family lines for thousands of years intact, especially if you don’t have the pedigree or diplomas to prove it.  I’ve seen this claim been made of several branches of occult work, and especially those of (Dianic) Wicca and other “families” of witchcraft.  Witchcraft, especially done nowadays, is not a “surviving pre-Christian tradition”.  While some ancient godnames and the like might still be in use in extraordinarily rural areas of the world, if only in utterly derived or devolved forms, a lot of the modern reconstructed stuff you see nowadays is just that: modern (i.e. not of the past) and reconstructed (i.e. built according to assumptions from extant historical sources).  Believe me, if you actually did practice a “pure pre-Christian pagan path”, you’d be using a lot more animal and blood-based sacrifice than you are.  Purity in spirituality is a fairly stupid concept to my eyes (there’s value in learning a complete system as-is, but whole systems often have multiple parents).  On a related note, the belief that the Burning Times was as bad as many people claim it was is also bogus to my eyes and ears. Nine million people killed?  Weren’t there, like, nine million people in Europe to begin with during those times?  C’mon.

There’s no need for animal sacrifices.  I’ve gone over this before after bringing up a ritual from the PGM that involves a donkey’s head and blood, but honestly, this is a simple matter for me.  Life energy is powerful, and when it’s appropriate (and it’s not always appropriate), it’s a good idea to use a sacrifice of life.  Modern traditions, especially those from the African Diaspora, still use them, and every ancient culture practiced them.  Ritualists collectively stopped doing them with the advent of Christianity, which wiped out most forms of animal sacrifice along with most other religious traditions to replace it with the transubstantiation of Communion (which, theologically speaking, is pretty freaky when you think about it and just as awesome).  Not all gods desire blood or life sacrifices, sure, but a lot of them sure do.  While cultural norms may evolve and change over time, the gods don’t have to (being immortal and whatnot); after all, if you’re serious about worshipping your gods, you listen to them and not some fluffy Llewellyn-addicted white-lighter.  If you want to worship the gods, you do what they ask or tell you to, not what others judge you by.

Now, there are a few things out there that I’m inclined against believing outside of dogma and mythology, but I’m open to the idea of it having some chance, and convincable with demonstrative proof of their existence.  So, wanna try fielding something with an example and seeing whether it passes my BS threshold?  Let me know in the comments!