Fairness

Selected entries from the Enchiridion of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus which are on my mind as of late:

7.  Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored; if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board; you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.

11.  Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

14.  If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave.

16.  When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, “It’s not the accident that distresses this person., because it doesn’t distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it.” As far as words go, however, don’t reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.

And a Stoic…well, not quite a prayer, but I use it as one, compiled and rewritten from several sources including Cleanthes and Euripides:

Lead me, o Zeus, and holy Destiny,
T’wherever my post in life’s battle be.
Willing I follow; were it not my will,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
Fate guides the willing but drags the unwilling.

Futile though it might be, I bring this up as an exercise to myself and as a reminder to my readers, because I’m going through a bit of a tough time.  I’m not writing this to ply sympathies or condolences, but rather as just an exploration of my own thoughts and feelings, recorded more for myself than anyone else.  Recently, my husband’s and my cat died.  Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.

My husband grew up at his grandparents’ house, and about…twelve? thirteen? years ago, there was a particular cat that was hunting and haunting the backyard and forest of their house.  They would entice this cat with food, and she’d come up and eat from them, and would even hop into my husband’s lap for pets and brushing.  She must have been a stray, since she obviously knew the touch of humans and had been spayed, but she seemed to adapt quite well to being taken care of, such as it was.  Eventually, after a year or so, on his way home from a party, my husband saw the cat at the back door with a giant bloody gash on her face; apparently she got in a nasty fight and wanted some help.  He asked her if she was ready to be indoors again.  She looked at him, huffed, and strutted right inside, and didn’t go back outside again.  He named her Isis, a large black Maine coon mix with a white tuft of fur on the front of her lower neck; he didn’t know exactly how old she was, but definitely around four years old at that point.  She gave my husband many years of support and emotional connection in the times when he had nobody else but her.

She lived in his grandmother’s house for a good long while, and while I was dating my husband before we married, I would occasionally catch glimpses of her, but she was always so skittish and not at all sociable.  She’d occasionally stare out the front window or prowl around the house, but she was far from a sociable animal.  When my husband and I moved into our current house, we decided to bring her over to live with us; by this point, she was already like 14 years old, and she had feline leukemia virus all her life, though it never bothered her any.  We did this because he wanted her to live with us, sure, but knowing she was getting on in years, we wanted to make sure the last part of her life was comfortable, easy, and peaceful, away from the stress of being at his grandparents’ house.  After the initial acclimation period, Isis changed dramatically towards both him and me; she was an adorable little attention whore, chirped and chatted, started playing with catnip and feather toys for the first time, and couldn’t get enough of sleeping with us in bed.  Even my husband was caught off-guard by how much she had changed, as if she finally got to be a pampered little kitten again, and hand to God did she enjoy it for all it was worth, as did we.  She was adorable in every way, even if she did piss on some of the rugs now and again or drank from our offering glasses on some of the shrines around the house.

Over the past few weeks, I noticed I haven’t had to refill her food bowl with kibble up as much as I thought I should.  I didn’t pay it any mind, but towards the end of the month, my husband and I realized that we haven’t had to replenish it at all.  She really cut back on eating to eating nothing, and we weren’t able to entice her to eat much of fresh tuna or turkey.  She had been lying around the house in places we didn’t often see her.  She didn’t come up to bed with us when it was bedtime.  She was even more lethargic and less playful and chatty than we were accustomed to her being.  It dawned on us; she was getting to the last stages of her life.  That realization was not easy; on a weekend when everything else was going sideways, this was the last thing we wanted to have to face.  Neither my husband nor I got much sleep.  We mostly stayed awake evaluating her condition, trying to get her to eat or drink at least a little, and just pet and brushed her as much as we could in between having our bouts of tears.  She was getting bonier, and her breath was getting to have a new and unpleasant odor.  We took her to the emergency vet (by the time we were able to get anywhere with her, most vets had already closed for the weekend), and they ran some tests on her; we couldn’t get a clear diagnosis, but we did get a prescription for an appetite stimulant.

She still wouldn’t eat more than a nibble of tuna.

Against every fiber in his body, my husband made the decision that it was time.  I made the arrangements to take her back to the emergency vet on my way back home from working ceremony, and…I needed some time in the car alone before I could get face going inside my house.  I wasn’t aware I could even make some of those sounds.

I won’t recount the whole process of her passing.  Suffice it to say that she went quietly and peacefully, bundled in her tortilla blanket, being pet and loved and hugged and brushed.  She went out with a soft purr, knowing and feeling that she was loved.

We found out afterwards that it was the cancer catching up to her in force, and there wouldn’t’ve been much we could’ve done anyway besides just making her passing as easy as possible.  We did what we had to.

I bundled up her dishes, toys, and blankets and put them in a box, placed under the table in our office where she liked to lie down.

I haven’t been around much death in my life.  Bones, rot, mold, and the effects of death, sure; I mean, it’s a natural part of life, if not the most expected, inevitable, and boring part about the entire thing.  We may not know what happens afterward with complete certainty, but we know that it happens to everything that lives.  But as for actual living creatures dying that I’m aware of, that I care for?  It’s different.  Last year, my grandmother passed away, but it was hard to feel too sad about it.  Sure, there was a touch of grief, but I was far happier than anything for her.  Passing away at the age of 96, becoming a great-great-grandmother in her own life, having outlived three of her husbands, having inherited a small fortune from one of them, having traveled the world, having gotten a college education for a woman in a time when that was difficult, living wherever she wanted, enjoying being as sharp and quick as Olenna Tyrell herself, being surrounded by family and comfort all her life, having passed away quietly and peacefully and painlessly…in short?  My Nana Jane won at life.  It’s hard to not celebrate a life and death such as hers.

Isis basically had that same equivalent status for cats when she went, but…it’s so much harder.  I suppose that’s just the nature of it when she’s effectively your baby that you watch out for, care for, nurture, and nourish.  It’s not as difficult now as in the days and hours leading up to her passing, but it’s still not easy, especially when you keep seeing motions out of the corner of your eye you expect to be her, hearing creaks in the floorboards you expect to be her, a pair of black boots sitting in a sunbeam you expect to be her, a ruffle in the blankets on the bed you expect to be her.

I’ve been trying to revisit some of my earlier Stoic learning and practices, before I really committed myself to Neoplatonism and Hermetic philosophies.  Stoicism isn’t a perfect philosophy, but for dealing with much of the bullshit of life, it affords a fantastic worldview and helps to cool the heart and head from the heat of passion and drama.  For myself, I admit that I had Isis in my life a lot less than my husband had her in his, but her death still hurts.  We brought her into our home with the understanding and expectation that she wouldn’t have much longer to live no matter what, and we made the choice to give her an easy, good death with the understanding and expectation that there’s nothing else that could be done no matter what, but…it’s so hard to make the leap from an intellectual understanding of something and the emotional acceptance of it.  Like SMBC’s The Falling Problem, I could go on for hours about the nature of the situation, the diagnosis and prognosis, what the expected social, emotional, and physical effects would be upon me and my husband, and all the rest…but it doesn’t impact the actual experience of the same thing.  Worse, if not outright embarrassingly, all that mental preparation does exceedingly little to absolutely nothing for emotional preparation.

At that point, I suppose it’s less a job for rationalization and more of one for faith.  I can’t even really say “trust”, because trust in…what?  Isis, for all her love and adorability, is still a cat, and as Wittgenstein once wrote, if a lion could speak, we could not understand him.  There’s only so much I can figure out or know about cats and their behavior, so I have to have faith that she knew she was loved and taken care of to the best of our ability until and through her very last heartbeat and breath.  I have to have faith in my spirits that they heard my pleas to watch over her, guide her, accompany her, entertain her, and protect her as she uses up the last of her nine lives to go…wherever it is cats go, and that once she gets her spiritual bearings, that maybe she’ll choose to stick around for us.  I have to have faith in my gods that they can and do support me to point out to me the strength I have and to give me the help I need to get through this as best as I’m able.  I have to have faith that everything really will be alright, even if it doesn’t yet feel like it is.  I have to have faith in myself that I’ll be alright, even if I don’t yet feel like I am.

And even then, faith feels like a bandage over a gushing wound; triage is no substitute for actual healing, and there’s no real regimen to heal this sort of pain besides taking my time.  I suppose that’s inevitable, too.

I could waste words on how to live your own lives better, spending more time with the ones you love, being more forgiving and compassionate, not taking things for granted, blah blah blah.  There’s no point to that here; I’m not in a great state to give advice, and there are more than enough others who have given that same advice in better ways and in more appropriate venues.  This is just…a reflection, I suppose, a processing of grief over loss.  I suppose I could rewrite that in geomantic terms, by saying Tristitia plus Amissio yields…well, Puella: the compassionate Maiden who takes all in under her roof, the pleasant Hostess who heals and nurtures, the all-accepting Lady of Fortune who shares her love for all until it’s time to move on.  Fitting, I suppose.  Puella is often described as fickle, but I find that an uncharitable description; it’s only because that fortune must pass over everyone equally, that all things must have balance, and that everyone gets their fair share of time and love before that time and love passes away.  It may never feel fair, especially in the heat of the moment or in the cold of the withdrawal, but Puella is the fairest and the Fairest force there is.

It’ll take time, but it won’t take too long.  It may be bad, but it’s not the worst thing.  It may hurt, but I’ve had worse.  Even through the tears and the wailing and the jaw-clenching-so-hard-I-might-shatter-my-teeth, there’s still that glimmer of love and appreciation in the muck and the rot and the ash.  I still have, at least a little bit, that happiness we were able to have Isis in our lives for at least a little bit, to love her and be loved by her, and to see things through to the end for her.

Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.

On Things that Die

I am becoming increasingly familiar with the smell of rot.

The husband and I were on a small road-trip to a friend’s birthday the other day, and we were driving up and down some lovely backwoods roads in the Appalachians to get there.  It was nice to get a breath of somewhat cleaner air than we’re normally treated to, and the sight of mountains covered in verdant green and carbon-tinted shade under blue skies always fills my heart with a quiet joy.  Smells of crab shacks, flowers, cow dung, corn fields, and daytime mountain winds mingled with the cologne we wore and the menthols we smoked along the way.  And, yes, at several points during the drive, my nose would unfailingly twitch as we’d drive past the occasional roadkilled raccoon or hunted deer or whatnot.

“Mmmm. Rot.”  “Yup.” <drags on cigarette>

To clarify: I use the word “rot” to mean the smell of a once-living animal that has died or been killed.  Yes, plants and fungus and other organic matter can decay in their own ways, and perhaps there’s a better word for the smell I’m describing besides something dead-animalian.  Though it’s certainly not what I’d consider pleasant, it’s not so offensive that I can’t stand to be around it.  Sure, I’d rather avoid smelling it, but it won’t stop me from the Work at hand.

I’ve always heard that rot smells sickeningly sweet, but…maybe I have a different notion of sweetness than those who made up that timeworn phrase.  I try to take out the trash regularly enough, keep the fridge cleaned out, and wipe down the showers, but those tend to have the smells of food gone bad, mold in the tupperware, or mildew on the tiles.  These are not the smells of rot as I’d consider it; these are the smells of things going sour or sickening, but not of rot.  Rot has a distinct profile to the smell, and one that’s surprisingly difficult for me to describe.  It’s something totally different than anything else I’ve smelled: something like a mixture of pink cotton candy, overly ripe fruit on the edge of fermentation, old steel, dirt after the rain, and the idea itself of revolting (lit. “turning away”).  Sure, the specific thing that’s rotting will color the smell differently, whether it’s skin or feather or fur or leaves or wood, but that core smell in the middle of it is unmistakable.

The way the smell seems to travel feels different than other smells, too.  While foods or pheromones or perfumes seem to waft like ribbons of invisible smoke in the air, rot crawls and seeps like a slow, glacial flood that is just as hard to get rid of once it’s there.  It lurks behind other smells, making it difficult to mask or suffumigate or sweep under the carpet; there’s always some tiny, faintly pungent hint of it always reminding you that something there has died.  Some people would even say that the smell is capital-w Wrong, like something is trying to force you out of the room, or something is setting off alarm bells to make your hair stand on end in the lizard brain we humans’ve got.

And yet, despite all this, I cannot bring myself to call rot a “smell of death” as I’ve also heard it described.  Yes, it is a smell of things that are dead, but it is not the smell of death.  When an animal dies, that is not the end of the story.  Sure, the soul or spirit or mind of the thing might dissipate or go elsewhere, depending on which cosmology you’re following, but the body continues to exist in the physical world, and the body is nowhere near done.  It becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, fungus, and even insects.  It becomes a food and a host, and the toxic smell that humans have innately, instinctively evolved to reject is the olfactory evidence that everything continues in the world.  Call it the “circle of life”, if you will; just because a thing dies does not mean that’s the end of the story for the thing.  It continues to exist to nourish, to fertilize, to disintegrate, to return to its base elements for the repurposing and recycling of all things in this world as constituent parts into new and more exciting forms.

Our world is predicated on the Idea of life and living things; the only things that are truly absent of life are those bodies, viewed as distinct and separate from their surroundings, that never had life to begin with (and even then, that idea is suspicious on its own).  Everything else is alive, in one form or another.  And yet, all that lives must one day die, right?  So our world must therefore be as much death as it is life, right?  I mean, we’ve all seen this adorable and saccharine little comic about the interplay between life and death at some point on our Facebook feeds:

eeb471addcb898fa3db0fdccf442d2f6

I’m not so certain anymore.  Things that are dead are not death itself.  Much as nature abhors a vacuum, I claim that our world does not abide death.  Life exists to beget more life, and if death weren’t a limiting constraint on these things, life would always and only serve to beget more life in one way or another.  Death is…unwelcome, in many ways, though a necessary law in the world.  But, to me, it feels increasingly like death is something Other, something Else, something Different than anything else in the world.  It does not feel part of this world in the same way that conception, flirting, hate, offices, rituals, or fruit feels like a part of this world.  Death is like a vacuum; if this world is composed of Life, then what place does Death have?

The Japanese language has an interesting idea that makes English students a little distressed: there is no way to say “I’m dying” in Japanese. In Japanese, gerundive forms (sometimes called the “-te form” of a verb) are what’s used to make a progressive action when used with the supplemental verb iru; for instance, taberu means “to eat”, while tabete iru means “to be eating”.  However, in Japanese, shinu “to die” has the progressive form shinde iru, which isn’t “to be dying” but rather “to be dead”.  For speakers of Japanese, the act of dying is something that can only happen in a single moment; it is not something that can be prolonged, continued, or stretched out temporally.  One is going to die at some point in the future, one dies is in this very moment, one died at some point in the past, or one is in the state of being dead.  There is no “one is dying across time” in Japanese; it is a transition from one state to another, and there is no grey area between the two.  Either you are animated or you are inanimate, you breathe or you cease to draw breath, you live or you are dead.

It still seems like Death is something so distinctly different, so Other, that it does not belong to this world.  And yet, that doesn’t seem like a right claim to make; even I think I sound like some willful child raging against having to flush their expired goldfish down the toilet because “it’s not right” or “this shouldn’t happen”.  I do not mean to say in the least that Death is something unnecessary, forced upon us, or wrong; far from it!  Life here on this planet would be a Malthusian hellscape without death to regulate us and keep us in check.  Death is the rightful end of life, and the (generally, hopefully) rightful point at which our spirits shake off their physical forms and go their separate ways.  We all know and have heard from innumerable traditions that Death belongs to this world just as much as Life does.

Yet, what is Death, then?  We know of the dead; they’re “here” as much as any spirit, but then, they’re not “here” in the same sense as you or me, since we’re incarnate and they’re not.  It’s like they’re just beyond the chiffon curtain in the room, on a slightly different frequency a half-kHz up on the radio.  They’re not part of this world of physical forms and bodies, barring any attachments or grounding to bones or artifacts of the dead, so we can leave them out of the picture for the time being.  What is Death, then, if Death can be considered a spirit, one of the very few able to directly interact with the living processes of this world strong enough to quell them?  Is it truly some specter or shade, skeletal and robed in black-white-red with a scythe and an owl on their shoulder, swooping in to catch her prey?  Is it some king of a hell-realm with four eyes and wide nostrils and two dogs, chasing people down and bringing them to his doorstep as prisoners?  Is it a radiant angel, taking people by the hand and elevating them from their bodies for the last time?  Is it an ancient woman, one of three sisters, who cuts the thread of light at its right proportion and length?

None of those, either, seem right.  Sure, they’re ways we can personify and interact with Death as a spirit, but they are themselves not Death.  After all, even gods themselves die, some more permanently than others, and there is some precedent (even if I’ve only come across it in games like Neverwinter Nights) that Death is a non-entity apart from any spirit or god, even those related to or administering the sacrament of death.  Plus, what sort of crazy exception of a spirit would Death then have to be, to be so powerful as to directly interfere with living creatures on a level totally unseen and unheard of when compared to literally every other deity and spirit, save for those religious texts where miracles happen de rigueur?

It does not seem right to claim that Death is a spirit, any more than Life itself is a spirit.  It is a phenomenon that happens in our world naturally, and therefore must be a natural part of this world, too.  It is the exact moment of transition from animacy to inanimacy, and therefore is not an action in the same way “eating” is an action, both because it is a state transition and because it is…probably? difficult to impossible for a living body to intentionally, intentfully die without causing its own death.  Like, a body can continue breathing, pumping blood, digesting, wiggling in the dirt, and so on, but dying is not something the body can just do.  Dying happens as a result of other natural processes: the failure of parts of the body (from the organ scale to the cellular scale) to function together concordantly, trauma inducing failure of the body, disease inducing failure of the body, or so forth.  When Life cannot continue, Death occurs.  When Life fails to proceed “normally”, Death occurs.  And yet, Death is as needed, as necessary, and as natural as Life; it’s not that Death is inimical to Life, or Death is something “wrong”, but that the one picks up where the other leaves off.  And Death then becomes the endpoint for physical incarnation, after which, the story of that spirit that once animated a body, which existed only once for a short while and in a limited location in such a form in all of infinite time and boundless space, continues outside this world of physical forms.  The body begins its own dissolution, the spirit continues its own analysis, but the story ends for the two of them together.

Rot is the smell of the world reclaiming its due and collecting its own spare resources for other purposes.  Sure, it smells toxic and wrong to us, not only because we’ve evolved to avoid it for health and survival reasons, but because it reminds us that, as living bodies, that is something that we’re not yet ready for, and something that we won’t necessarily be around to witness once it happens to ourselves.  Rot is something that happens when you’re already shinde iru; it is not the smell of shinu, although it may be a reminder of it.

Yet, look what happens when rot is not allowed to happen.  Consider the Red Forest in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; the leaves from the trees there do not rot, due to the toxic radiation they’ve all been exposed to.  Things there persist long after they have any right to, just as bodies preserved with formaldehyde or encased in glacial ice for millennia.  These are things that cannot return to the world; they may as well be ejected by rockets from the Earth as space junk, lost and unusable to the world forever, except they linger on posing a space-wasting and ecological threat of disaster to everything around it, like a cancer in the body unwilling to be flushed out by its neighboring cells.  They cannot undergo the total process of life.  See, also, why zombies and the undead generally cannot be permitted in the world, as they take something already in the process of life-after-death (rot) and hijack it.  Either the zombie in question continues to rot, leaving its new consciousness to die a new death, or the zombie is preserved against rot and cannot continue the process of life proper; unnatural, to be sure.

The smell of rot tells me (besides the fact that I need to air out my basement more) that death is always around me.  Rot is a necessary and natural part of all these physical bodies: things that are made (created) to die that are also things that are made (forced) to die.  Rot is the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti that Death leaves behind; it is the trash collector routine of the CPU of the world we inhabit.  Yet rot does not show me what Death is.

Greek Onomancy: The Sphere of Democritus and the Circle of Petosiris

I don’t consider all systems of divination to be equal.  More specifically, I don’t consider all that is considered to be divination to be actual divination.  Geomancy, Tarot, augury, extispicy, horary astrology, and the like are divination systems to me: the interpretation of omens from physically random, spiritually determined sources by means of inspiration and technique.  This is distinguished from prophecy or clairvoyance, which is sheer revelation of messages or sights from the gods, and it’s likewise distinguished from purely mechanical methods of prediction, such as economic and weather forecasts derived from mathematical formulae alone.  All these things, however, share something in common: revelations about the future.  As a diviner, I find this an extraordinarily useful field of magic and occultism, and one of the things I insist those who are interested in magical practices to investigate first.

However, I don’t rank numerology among useful methods of divination or prediction.  I never have, and I doubt I’ll ever ascribe it the same level of predictive power or flexibility as, say, geomancy, and I put numerological methods of divination in the same category as phrenology, palm reading, and other forms of physiognomy.  Something about the use of fixed factors in divination irks me, especially when it comes to matters of names, number, and the body.  Then again, I consider my natal horoscope in astrology to provide useful information, and I do consider haruspicy to be worthwhile; I suppose some fixed factors can be used in divination, if applied judiciously enough.  Moreover, even if I don’t consider such methods to be the most reliable or trustworthy, I’d appear to be in the minority with that view, considering how much of the old literature dating back to Hellenistic times is devoted to these topics.

One of the most well-known and well-used forms of numerological divination involved the isopsephia, or Greek gematria, of a person’s name in determining their health or lack thereof.  Divination was heavily used as a prognostic tool in medicine up even through the Renaissance and early modern times, sometimes through pre-modern medical means like uromancy, sometimes through astrology, and sometimes through numerology.  One such method of numerological divination using names, sometimes called “onomancy”, involves determining whether a patient will live or die from their illness based on their name and the date on which they fell ill.  Although my resources are scant, mostly coming from some Gutenberg texts and the PGM, let me describe two (or three) ways Greek name divination was used with isopsephy to determine how a given matter would turn out.

A few notes first:

  • When we say “the day on which the person fell ill”, we mean the lunar date starting with the Noumenia.  Thus, if someone fell ill three days after the Noumenia, then the day number of the lunar month would be 4.  If someone fell ill on the last day of the month, i.e. the New Moon, then you’d need to check whether that month had 29 or 30 days.  We note the day that someone fell ill based on when they took to rest; for us modern people, that might be the first morning we just couldn’t get out of bed to go to work or class if we were feeling okay the night before, or the very day we suddenly fell nauseated and went home to rest from the office or school.
  • Obviously, given the advance of modern medicine, people don’t tend to get sick as severely or as fatally as they used to (but who knows, that’ll probably change given the end of useful antibiotics and the rise of superbacteria looming over us).  While it’s possible someone could always die from an illness (gotta love human mortality!), consider the more dire warnings given by these divination methods to be something indicating a chronic, debilitating, or acute disease, while the more mild warnings something comparably mild to endure.
  • In mathematical notation, the percent sign (%) used as an operator indicates the “modulo” operation.  While the division mark (÷) indicates division, the modulo mark indicates the remainder.  So, 28 ÷ 9 = 3.333… or 3 with 1 as a remainder, while 28 % 9 = 1.

The first is the Sphere of Democritus, a prognostic technique from PGM XII.351.  This technique determines whether a sick person will live or die based on their name and the calendar date that they fell sick.  First, calculate the isopsephic value of the person’s name and add to it the day of the lunar month on which they fell sick, took to bed, or called out of work.  Once this sum has been found, divide this sum by 30 and take the remainder.  The text gives a rectangular chart divided into two parts; if the remainder is in the upper part, the person will live, but if in the lower part, the person will die.

fig3-hi

  • They will live if the remainder is 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, or 27.
  • They will die if the remainder is 5, 6, 8, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 22, 28, 29, or 30.

So, let’s say it’s 200 AD, and my name is actually polyphanes (Πολυφανης), and it’s a few days before the full moon, say the 12th of the lunar month.  I suddenly get a fever and I decide to go to bed, and a healer-magician comes by and runs some tests.  The isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 30 = 1, and we find 1 in the upper portion of the Sphere.  Good news!  I’ll be fine.

The next method is the Circle of Petosiris, which was popular enough back in the day to take several forms.  I found two such methods which are essentially the same to each other and to the Sphere of Democritus, but the level of detail is different.  The idea, however, is the same, at least for the first Circle of Petosiris: take the isopsephic value of the person’s name and add it to the day number of the lunar month on which they fell ill.  However, instead of taking the sum and dividing by 30, here we divide by 29 and find the remainder.  Instead of just determining whether someone will live or die, we get more detail:

fig1-hi

 

  • Great life: 2, 3, 7, 9, 11,
  • Average life: 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
  • Short life: 22, 23, 26, 28,
  • Short death: 1, 25, 27, 29
  • Average death: 4, 10, 15, 18, 21, 24
  • Great death: 5, 6, 8, 12

Let’s say that, once more, I’m sick and instead of calling over the healer-magician from before, I call over a different magician who uses the Circle of Petosiris instead of the Sphere of Democritus. Again, the isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 29 = 17, and we find 17 in the “average life” section of the Circle.  Good news!  I’ll live reasonably well once I recover without too much a threat of relapse.

The second Circle of Petosiris is more complicated, however, and involves a slightly different method than the first Circle of Petosiris and the Sphere of Democritus.  Generally speaking, however, the technique used for the first Circle can also be used for the Second, dividing by 30 instead of 29, but with a slightly different arrangement of numbers:

fig2-hi

 

  • Great life (speedy recovery): 11, 10, 9, 7, 3, 2
  • Small life (recovery within seven days): 22, 23, 26, 28
  • Small death (destroyed within seven days): 27, 25, 30, 1
  • Great death (speedy death): 12, 8, 5, 6
  • Brightness (vertical line above horizon): 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
  • Darkness (vertical line below horizon): 4, 15, 18, 21, 24, 29

Another method can be used in this Circle such that one takes the isopsephic remainder of the person’s name divided by 30 and compared against the day number of the lunar month on which they fell ill.  These are then both compared against each other.  If both numbers are in Brightness, the combination promises a good figure; if both in Darkness, an unfortunate one.  If the day number of the lunar month is Bright and the number of the person Dark, then misfortune will occur under the pretense of fortune; if the number of the person is Bright and the day number of the month is Dark, the person will do well eventually though they’ll be in danger.  This method is extended more generally such that if one number or the other or both are above the horizon or below, we can get similar answers, though the Bright and Dark numbers themselves appear to be middling between “great life/death” and “small life/death”.

Once more, I’m sick and instead of calling over the healer-magician from before, I call over a different healer who’s much fancier in his techniques and who uses the this second Circle of Petosiris instead of the other methods. Again, the isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 30 = 1, and we find 1 in the “small death” section, where I might die within seven days due to the illness.  However, if we compare the numbers of my name and the number of the lunar date, then we compare 1339 % 30 = 19 against 12; 19 is Bright (above the horizon) and 12 is Dark (below the horizon).  All told, this will be reasonably chancey for me, but I should be able to live and get through this with enough help, though I’ll be in danger of dying all the same.

The “lobes” around the edge of the Circle are, starting at the 9 o’ clock position and going clockwise, indicate both the course of the Sun around the Earth in a single day as well as the four elements:

  1. Midnight (Arctic stars over the earth)
  2. Fire
  3. Sunrise (Rising above the earth)
  4. Air
  5. Noon (Midday over the earth)
  6. Water
  7. Sunset (Setting under the earth)
  8. Earth

The octants on the inner circle say much the same thing, though these are really quadrants, since each pair of octants has the same text.  Much as with the outer lobes, these use astronomical phenomena to describe times of day, though some of them don’t make sense (the Arctic stars only ever stay in the north).  Starting at the upper left quadrant and going clockwise:

  1. Nighttime (Arctic stars over the northern earth)
  2. Daytime (Midday over the northern earth)
  3. Nighttime (Midday under the southern earth)
  4. Daytime (Arctic stars under the southern earth)

Search Term Shoot Back, April 2014 (and an announcement!)

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 April 2014.

First, a bit of an announcement: I’m going to be taking the month of May off from blogging, since I’m moving from my apartment of four years into a house with my boyfriend and a friend of ours.  I just need some time to myself and away from writing the blog for a bit so I can get all my stuff packed up and moved, my new ritual schedules implemented, my new commute acclimated to, and my old place cleaned out and patched up.  I’ll still do my Daily Grammatomancy on Twitter and Facebook when I can, and if you have any questions, please feel free to email me or contact me through social media, and I’ll still reply to comments on my blog.  Also, I won’t be taking any craft commissions until the start of June, though you’re welcome to get a divination reading from me or get one of my ebooks off my Etsy page.  I still have those St. Cyprian of Antioch chaplets for sale, too, if you want to help out with moving expenses.  With that, onto the search results!

“computer generated geomancy” — If you’re looking for a place to get you geomancy figures automatically generated, you could do worse than go to random.org and use their random number generator to produce 16 binary results (0 or 1), or 4 results with a value of 0 through 15 (or 1 through 16).  If you’re looking for a program that draws up geomancy charts for you, there are a handful out there; I’ve coded one myself, geomancian, which is available for free on the Yahoo! and Facebook geomancy groups, but it’s command-line only (and old).  There’s Geomanticon available from Chris Warnock’s Renaissance Astrology, and I think there are a few mobile apps that do similar, but you’d have to pay for these.  If I ever learn mobile programming, I’d make a new one for Android, that’s for sure.  Still, no application can ever give you a proper interpretation of a full geomancy reading, though it can help you with interpreting the chart for yourself; if you want a full reading, I’m more than happy to offer them.

“do virgo males have big penises like greek god hermes” — I…really can’t speak to this.  (Disclaimer: my boyfriend is a Virgo, so there’s nothing I could say here that would end well for me.)  Also, save for the odd herm and a few ithyphallic representations of Hermes (more properly Mercury, especially in Roman art), Hermes isn’t portrayed with a particularly large cock.  It was actually seen as a good thing for a man to have a small dick in classical times, since they were easier to keep clean and reduced the risk of vaginal/anal/oral injury, trauma, or tearing, which would’ve very easily led to infection in pre-modern times.  That said, well, Hermes has shown me a few, shall we say, fulfilling things once in a while.  I’ll let you get on your knees and pray for that yourself, if you like.

“how to turn holy water into wax” — I don’t think you have a proper understanding of the physics that goes on here.  I mean, water and wax don’t mix, literally or metaphorically, and no ritual or physical process could achieve this short of a biblical miracle.  It’d be easier to turn water into wine, but that wouldn’t turn out so great, either.

“occult symbols of death” — Good question, and not one I really know an answer to.  You might use a seal for a spirit of Saturn, commonly associated with death, or of Azrael, the angel of death itself.  You might find symbols associated with Santissima Muerte, too, since she literally is death.  Other such symbols, such as the cap of Hades, associated with gods of death can work equally well.  When trying to find symbols for concepts like this when a spirit is not necessarily called for, I tend to look for sigils made from the letters of the word itself (so a sigil for the word “death” or “θανατος“), an Egyptian hieroglyph, or an ancient Chinese bone script or seal script character which you can easily find on Chinese Etymology.

“invocation of akasha or ether” — I suggest you don’t bother.  The only Western tradition that can even make good use of akasha is the Golden Dawn, since they’ve spent so much of their time augmenting classical and Renaissance Western mystery traditions with pilfered and appropriated Eastern, Vedic, Taoist, and Buddhist systems.  The use of a fifth element directly in magic doesn’t really have that much of a place, as I see it; Agrippa doesn’t reference it in his Scale of Five (book II, chapter 8) where he lists “a mixed body” instead, and its description in Plato’s Timaeus has it “arranging the constellations on the whole heaven”, so it’s probably more strongly based in stellar powers than perceived emptiness.  This makes sense, since we have no prayers, invocations, or workings of quintessence in the Western tradition before the Golden Dawn, but we have plenty for the gods, signs of the Zodiac, and stars.  To that end, you might use the Orphic Hymn to the Stars.  Alternatively, since the quintessence is the underlying substratum of the elements themselves, you might pursue your own Great Work, much as the alchemists did to find the Summum Bonum and Philosopher’s Stone, to understand and invoke ether on your own; I personally use the Hymns of Silence and invocations of pure Divinity.  And if you’re a neopagan who insists there are five elements because Cunningham says so, I hope you’re up for some actual magical lifting.

“how do i attach a crystal to a wooden dowel for wand” — In my experience, use two-part epoxy.  It forms one of the strongest adhesive bonds I can think of, far stronger than superglue, and it’s commonly and cheaply available at most craft or hardware stores.  If you have some sort of aversion to using artificial materials in crafting, the best I can suggest is carve out a niche in the wand just big enough for the crystal to fit and hold it in place with wire or cord.  Even then, it might fall out.  I strongly suggest the use of some kind of suitable adhesive for this, especially if you’re a heavy duty tool user.

“the use of crystals in conjuring” — Generally, I use crystals as the scrying medium within which I see spirits and by which I communicate with them, and this is often the case by many conjurers, especially those doing Enochiana with Dee’s works or the Trithemian system I use.  I also make use of a crystal on my ebony Wand of Art to help direct and focus power, if needed, but the crystal is not strictly necessary for the wand.  Beyond that, use crystals how you otherwise would in other rituals if you find a need for them; otherwise, don’t bring them into the ritual at all.  You don’t need a crystal for your wand, nor even for the scrying medium; a mirror, an obsidian plate, a blown-glass paperweight orb, a bowl of inky water, or a glass of clear water can all suffice as a perfectly good scrying medium, depending on your preferences; hell, depending on your second sight or conjuration skills, you may not need a scrying medium at all; with practice you’ll be able to perceive the spirit directly in the mind, or even evoke them to visible and material manifestation (which isn’t as important, I claim, as others may say it is, since it’s mostly a gimmick done for bragging rights at that point).

“when u draw a circle in a triangle,does it summon spirits? — On its own, no, otherwise every copy of Harry Potter with the Sign of the Deathly Hallows would actually be magical in more than the fantasy sense.  You’re just drawing shapes at this point, and the shapes are so basic and simple as to have no direct effect on their own.  However, you can summon spirits into the circle in the triangle afterward, which is the standard practice in Solomonic magic.

“is holy water used to bless the new fire?” — I mean, you could flick holy water into a fire to bless it, but the mixing of water and fire here bothers me.  The better way to make holy or blessed fire is to bless the fuel you use, such as the wood or oil, in conjunction with or just by saying prayers over the fire once lit.  This is common in Solomonic magic as it is in other religions, such as the fire blessing rituals of Zoroastrianism.  You might also consider making fire from holy woods or herbs, such as Palo Santo, sandalwood, or similar trees, depending on your tradition.  Generally speaking, fire is already one of the holiest substances we know of in the world and held in high esteem by many religions and traditions.  It can be made infernal, wicked, or evil, but the same can be said for anything material or physical, while it being naturally holy and closest to holiness is something that can be said for very few things, indeed.

“people who write in theban scripts” — Generally fluffy Wiccans, nowadays, who insist on making things blatantly-yet-“seekritly” magical.  The Theban script, as noted by Agrippa and Trithemius, has its origins in medieval alchemical ciphers common at the time, a simple 1-to-1 cipher for the Roman script (hence the use of a doubled U/V for a W).  Theban script used to be popular for enciphering alchemical and occult texts, but now it’s used once in a while for neopagan charms or quasigothic anime character design.

“how did saint isidore react when things went wrong” — Uh…”went wrong” is a pretty vague thing here.  For that matter, so is the saint; are you referring to Saint Isidore of Seville or Saint Isidore the Laborer?  The former didn’t really have much go wrong in his life, and the latter had his son fall into a well and needed to be rescued, so that’s hardly an epic to recount to kings.  I mean, the general Christian thing to do when things go wrong is prayer, which is probably what these guys did generally and how they also became, you know, saints.

“can we use orgonite ennrgy to cean air ?” — Short answer: no; long answer: fuck no.  Orgonite energy is properly orgone, which is a meta-energy that does not directly affect the physical world.  Orgonite is a lump of resin and metal shavings with other fanciful crap inside which is claimed to purify orgone from deadly orgone (DOR) to positive orgone (POR), which is crap and impossible even according to the (surprisingly versatile and workable) pseudoscience of Wilhelm Reich who developed orgone technology.  All orgonite could feasibly do is collect orgone energy inside to pull things out; even according to the rules of orgone theory, it cannot purify orgone from DOR to POR, since orgone tech cannot distinguish between the two (nor do I think a distinction is even possible, having never noticed any negative effects of DOR or overly positive effects of POR).  Physically speaking, there’s no mechanism for cleaning the air using a lump of congealed robot vomit, and you’d be better off putting a few fine sheets of cloth on your home HVAC air intake vent and washing it every month or so.  Orgone is orgone, energy is energy; there’s no real difference between “good energy” or “bad energy” when you’re talking about orgone.  You’d be better off learning energy manipulation and clearing space than using orgonite.

“greek alphabet as magical sigils” — Totally doable.  People have used various forms of the Hebrew alphabet magically for centuries now, and the Hebrew letters are well-known as symbols and referrants to the paths on the kabbalistic and Kircher Tree of Life, especially as stoicheic symbols for numbers, elements, planets, and signs of the Zodiac.  The Greek alphabet, sharing an ancestor with Hebrew and many of the same qualities, can be used similarly, right up to its own system of qabbalah.  Just as there exist magical cipher scripts for Roman script (Theban and the Trithemian cipher) and the Hebrew script (Celestial, Malachim, Passing the River, and the Alphabet of the Magi), I know of two cipher scripts for Greek: Apollonian and a medieval Frankish cipher (from Trithemius’ Polygraphia).  I’m sure others could be devised from similar principles or adapted from another magical script; alternatively, you could use archaic or variant styles of the Greek script, such as Coptic or even a variant of Phoenician.

“cockring orgone” — I…suppose this could be a thing.  Orgone does have its origins in the study of the life energy produced from sexual activity, so you’d just be going to the source for this.  I suppose you could make a cockring out of…hm.  Maybe something made of layers of synthetic latex and natural rubber?  Metal with a plastic core?  I’m unsure.  But more importantly, WHYYYYYYY.  If I wanted to give my partner a good zap, I’d just as soon use mentholated lubricant or, better yet, Tiger Balm (protip: for the love of God never do this).

“alan shapiro puts off the fire for the usps” — G…good for him?  I guess?  Seeing how I’ve never used that name on this blog nor known anyone by it, I…well, let’s just say that I’m so odd, because I can’t even.

“circle filled with triangles orgonite” — My first thought was the image of the Flower of Life, a circle filled with overlapping circles which can form triangle-like shapes within, and a potent magical and religious symbol for thousands of years.  And then I saw “orgonite”, and my next thought was “new age bullshit”, which is about what people use the Flower of Life nowadays for anyway.  On the one hand, you’re talking about sacred geometry, and on the other, you’re talking about lumps of crap, so I’m unsure what you’re getting at here.  Also, I’m starting to loathe the popularity of these orgone searches, but they’re just so ripe for making fun of.

“hermetism and homosexualit” — Hermetism isn’t a word often used, and chances are that you’re referring to “Hermeticism”, the Neoplatonic-Gnostic-ish philosophy that came about in the classical Mediterranean from a whole bunch of philosophies and religions rubbing shoulders with each other.  In that sense, Hermeticism and Neoplatonism generally helped form a new concept of what was then called “Platonic love”, a love of souls more than that of bodies.  Men and men, men and women, and women and women can all have Platonic love for each other, while before this movement (especially in the Renaissance) it may have been hard to communicate one’s feelings about another, especially if love was itself defined between two people of the opposite gender.  Another point to consider is that “homosexuality” as a concept and identification didn’t exist until the late 1800s; labeling ourselves in this manner simply wasn’t done before then.  You either never had gay sex, were having gay sex at that moment, or had gay sex at some point in the past; it was an action and not a state.  Actions like this have no significant ramifications I can think of in Hermeticism, since there’s no sin to deal with or laws that say you can’t do that; it’s a very abstract yet thorough philosophy that embraces pretty much whatever and whoever you throw at it.  As for the other meaning of Hermetism, which I take to be a henotheistic worship of Hermes, well, the god-dude himself likes the occasional dick, so he has no problem with it.

“the most homosexual magician on the planet” — I…honestly don’t think I’m the best candidate for this esteemed title.  I mean, yeah, I’ve sucked a lot of dick, but I don’t go around drinking skinny margs, watching Glee, or wearing turtlenecks, either.  I mean, I’m not particularly effeminate (though I do have my moments), nor am I stereotypically promiscuous (not like that’s a bad thing), so…yeah.   Besides, the notion itself is kind of absurd; unless you’re a 6 on the Kinsey scale, I don’t think “most homosexual” is really a thing, but since I do score a 6 on that scale, I suppose I get the title?  Maybe?  I still claim that you’d be better off finding candidates for this title on Twitter, all of whom are good, noble, professional, upright people and magi (also I love you guys~).

“energy circle when summoning spirits how do you draw it” — You don’t draw energy circles when summoning spirits; you draw conjuration or summoning circles to conjure or summon spirits.  In that case, you draw (shock of the ages!) a circle.  You can add other symbols, names, or whatever to it as you want, but these are highly varied, as Ouroboros Press’ Magic Circles in the Grimoire Tradition by William Kiesel points out, but really, a circle is all you need.  You can use chalk, a knife, paint, rope, or whatever to draw it out, but do draw it out, even if it’s just in the carpet with a finger.  Energy circles are used in various forms of energy work with varying degrees of significance, though I’ve never needed such a thing except for shielding or putting out feelers in my local surroundings.

“ikea-rituals” — I’m not aware of any Ikea-specific rituals, but their wide array of furniture and household goods is quite amazing, much of it able to be repurposed to ritual use.  I plan on getting a few more LACK side tables as a series of altars, to be sure, and some nice shelves for my temple and personal library in the near future.  I assume rituals for Ikea would take on a strongly Nordic and Scandinavian flavor, but that’s not my area of expertise.

“where do i put my incense when summoning a demon”  — I would put the incense somewhere between you and the conjuration space for the demon, that way you have the smoke rising up to offer a kind of veil or ethereal lens through which you can more easily perceive the demon.  Where you put the conjuration space (Triangle of Art, Table of Practice, etc.), however, is another question entirely.  Some grimoires offer directions you should face, or a particular direction associated with the demon or spirit, which would provide you with a good idea of directional and spatial layout.

Also, this wasn’t really a search term, but something did catch my eye.  I keep track of what other sites lead people to my blog; search engines like Google and sites like Facebook are at the very top of the list, of course, but also some blogs are also notable.  One crazy hilarious blog linked to my post on the divine names written on the Trithemius lamen,  From the crazy blog itself, it’s about:

We are living in Biblically significant Times. Ironically it was the most persecuted man in modern history that lead me to dig deeper into the Bible and taught me more about God than any other human being on the planet. And that man is Michael Jackson. I started a blog to defend him. I ended up researching him and learned just why they were after him. They did everything they could to shut him down. In the song “Cry” he said “take over for me”, so that is what I am doing. God bless that man and his faith and strength

…alright, then.  Specifically, the post referenced my blog in that those silly Jews never understood God in that God obviously only has one possible name (the one referred to as the Tetragrammaton, which even they say has two pronunciations…I think? it’s hard to read the post) and that all other names refer to demons, and that Michael is not the angel of the Sun but is a demon because it’s another Michael besides Michael Jackson.  They also attempted to bind the angel Michael and God in the name of God because reasons.  My good friend Michael Seb Lux, before discovering that the blog doesn’t allow comment except from certified crazy people it allows, was going to reply with this:

Actually, there are multiple names ascribed to G-d in the Hebrew Scriptures. While Yahweh is the more common one, in Exodus 3:14 G-d speaks His Name as, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh” or “I am that what I shall be”. Similarly, the use of Adonai is common as a theophoric and literally means, “Lord”. Other names used in Scripture are Yahweh Tzevaot (1 Samuel 17:45), ha’el elohe abika (Genesis 46:3), Elah Elahin (Daniel 2:47), Elohim (Exodus 32:1; Genesis 31:30, 32; and elsewhere), and so forth. The four-fold name may have originated as an epithet of the god El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon (“El who is present, who makes himself manifest”) or according to the Kenite hypothesis accepted by scholars, assumes that Moses was a historical Midianite who brought the cult of Yahweh north to Israel.

May all the angels pray for us and God (in every one of his names) bless the Internet that we may be worthy of the lulz of paradise.

Anyway, see you guys in June!