On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.

Burning Up or Burning Down

Last night I went to the pub with some friends, because it was Tuesday and I work from home on Wednesdays, so what else was I supposed to do?  (Be responsible, do some reading, do some chores, etc., but I never made claims to be a responsible boring adult.)  Because it was cold and Tuesday (the day of Mars), I took along two little magical trinkets of mine: a fire agate pendant I’ve made into a home for a fire elemental I’ve befriended and a large chunk of citrine quartz that a friend gave me, which houses a golden-light-cat spirit or something.  Having them around, plus chatting with my HGA on the walk to the pub, was interesting and they all got to know each other a little more closely.  I had asked for their opinions on the interaction of Fire and Light in terms of magic and the cosmos, and the resulting chat was pretty interesting.  (I apologize if my thoughts below aren’t particularly clear, but I’m still sleepy.)

First, some mundane observations.  All things can potentially burn.  Fire is present in all things, whether as potential energy or combustible materials within a substance, though it might take more work to get something particular to burn than something else.  When things burn, they emit light and heat, and can cause other things nearby to catch on fire.  Fire cannot take place without some gas, however, such as oxygen, which can also double as the necessary fuel if one desires a short but large fire, as opposed to a slow but controlled and small fire burning on a piece of wood.  Controlled fire, fed and tamed appropriately, can be a huge boon to those who know how to use it; uncontrolled fire can be disastrous and dangerous to anything and everyone around.

In terms of the occult, although fire produces light, Light is the cause of Fire.  When something burns and shows its Fire, it’s really the underlying Light that’s being revealed, whether in terms of activity or desire or nature.  Light shines and is shown into the world by actually accomplishing one’s will, which has the underlying cause of working out the Will of the One Thing, which reveals its undifferentiated Light when accomplished.  Fire is not undifferentiated, and it itself is not the One Thing, nor is it a quintessential element; Fire is just one of the four elements that make up our little niche of the cosmos on Earth.  However, it is the highest, lightest, and Lightest thing we have, and is closely associated with the Light that comes from above.

As the most volatile element, Fire burns, and in burning also consumes matter.  When Fire burns, it can burn in one of two ways: up or down.  In either case,  matter and the other elements are consumed for a certain purpose, a certain direction, a certain intent, a certain Will.  Burning up will result in illumination and enlightenment, and requires the consumption of material reality in order to achieve this.  This is like the Fire of the Sun and the process of K&CHGA, which often has the side effect of burning up all the bad parts, dark parts, and nasty parts of one’s life to achieve a better one.  This is a good kind of burning, though the heat can burn and blister, because one reaches a higher state than one was previously at.

On the other hand, one can also burn something down; unlike the previous kind of Fire which burns with the intent to reach a higher end, Fire can also burn to reach a lower end, which burns material reality for the sake of material reality.  Unlike cracking a few eggs to make an omelette, transforming something base into something more rarefied, this is like trying to violently fight with someone to achieve friendship, or fucking one’s way into being a virgin.  This sort of action tries to consume material goods to produce it, which can have that effect but at a greater cost than one might otherwise pay.  I’m reminded of what Frater RO says about working with Goetia: “you get everything you asked for, and nothing you want”.  That’s because Fire doesn’t want to move down, it wants to go up; this is why it always reaches skyward towards the Sun and the Stars, and why some groups like the Zoroastrians consider Fire to be holy.  When Fire is aimed and forced downward, it’s forced into more fuel than it would need to achieve something higher, which then causes the Fire to consume everything nearby.  In other words, it’s a lot of effort with not a lot of payoff, if there’s any appreciable payoff to be had.  In this sense, this is the kind of Fire associated with Mars, which discriminates between the useful and useless, the worthy and the worthless, and cuts out anything that is not absolutely necessary in the cosmos.  However, this kind of burning is controlled by a strategist; when used by a berserker, there isn’t any discrimination to be had, and all things are up for destruction.

The difference between burning up and burning down is really a matter of purpose.  Each element is associated with a certain direction of motion (in addition to a cardinal direction): Fire goes up, Air moves around or expands, Water goes down, and Earth stays put or contracts.  When an element is moved or made to move in a direction according to its nature, things go well; when not, things suck.  One wouldn’t use Water to dry something out or use Earth to heat something up; these are things not proper to their natures.  Likewise, when using Fire for low ends, one is going to have to face the kind of burning associated with a chaotic war; when using Fire for high ends, one gives up the fuel that’s most readily burned and illuminated before the Fire can do much at all.  The most ready fuel for Fire is the dark matter that it tried to escape from, much as in the cosmogony that Poemander showed Hermes Trismegistus; only by using what we can give up as fuel for Fire can we ascend, but when using Fire for low ends, one has to deal with the chaotic and destructive nature of unnatural Fire.

Birthday Weekend Wrap-Up

I probably tricked you all into thinking I’ve been fairly active lately with the blog, given the large number of posts that’ve gone up recently ranging from orgone to magic circles to philosophy in magic.  Truth be told, I was working out a huge input of Mercurial force in my life from the cazimi election last month, and hot damn did it make me active with minor projects and writing, not to mention social.  I had some posts scheduled for the past week or so, mostly so I could enjoy a pleasantly long birthday weekend.  (God bless my mother for ejecting me from her loins on a federal holiday weekend.)  Yes, dear reader, I am now one year older and undergoing my fantastic second Jupiter return, along with a Solar and Cytherean return!  Astrologers in the crowd, you have my permission to feel old now.

Between getting drunk on presidential debate drinking games, going to a spa with friends, catching up on a few conjurations and trips to other places both physically and astrally, it’s been a blast these past few days.  The big highlight of the weekend was going to Crucible Convention, a yearly conference of mages, magicians, pagans, occultists, and other workers in the Ars Arcanorum.  It was fantastic to meet people that I’ve only read or met online through chats or the blogosphere: Pallas Renatus and his beautiful lady, Frater Rufus Opus and his glorious seeress-cum-partner, Tolderoll’s erudite and classy swank, Jason Miller’s awesomeness, and others.  Part of what made me feel so happy to go was the sublime discovery that these people I read, look up to, and follow on the Internets drink, cuss, and fuck around just as much as I do (God bless the world and all its wonders).  Plus, there was enjoying about twelve hours of panels, workshops, and discussions, helped out by caffeine and gin:

  1. “Space/Time Magic 101” by Taylor Ellwood.  This was a telepresentation, done over Skype, which was fitting for the topic.  However, the hotel wireless in the convention area was spotty at best, which led to a very disjointed presentation (also, perhaps, fitting).  However, despite the name and technical difficulties, I thought it was more appropriately focused on probability magic, which is something I’m interested in that not many people seem to know how to do or explain appropriately.  Mr. Ellwood went over a few sigil-based techniques to enhance probabilities of certain events over others, chaining sigils together to bring several unconnected events into manifestation together, and how to work with alternate realities in subtle but useful ways.
  2. A panel on “Balancing and Polarity in Modern Magic”.  This was hosted by a variety of people, two of whom I follow on the blogosphere somewhere and one I got to meet at the convention.  This wandered all over the place, and was less on polarity as it was different methods to achieving a goal; in a sense, the talk seemed to focus on largely between right-handedness and left-handedness (occult chirality?  occhirality?) in getting shit done with tangents on male/female, sex/gender, purity/eclecticism, and other kinds of balances than what some people might’ve meant.  Really cool talk, and it showed off how different people are in their approaches and styles of talking, which helped for the rest of the convention.
  3. “Magic and Anthropology” by George Hansen.  A real academic treat!  Mr. Hansen went over lots of topics in anthropology, mostly focusing on the power magicians get socially from their marginal, “between and betwixt” state.  Between the poles of religion and science, God and man, man and beast, and life and death, we find magic everywhere in all kinds of society.  It’s this between-state in which magic can be found, but also cryptozoology (Bigfoot, yetis, Loch Ness monster), ufology (flying saucers, alien abductions), poltergeist and ghost activity, and other kinds of paranormal activities which can often appear to be interrelated.  I wish I got a set of his handouts, but the dude was a fantastic presenter.
  4. “Financial Sorcery: The Lightning Glyphs” by Inominanum (Jason Miller).  Although “Extreme Lightning Sorcery” was deemed too pompous even by this fantastic sorcerer, Mr. Miller went through part of his new Financial Sorcery material with lightning speed and precision.  The Sixteen Lightning Glyphs were revealed to him by the god Jupiter to help bring more good, Jovial things into the world, and range from money-drawing to pure luck symbols.  Really cool stuff, and he ended the presentation with a simple-but-potent ritual to Jupiter.  The place was buzzing and damn near electrical with the woo, which was fantastic.
  5. “Angels, Demons, and Magicians (Oh My!): Hermetic Hijinks on the Emerald Road” by Fr. Rufus Opus.  RO’s Pentacostal past has done him good; he was fully taking on the persona of kickass priest-king of the world and preaching the good word of Hermetic philosophy and theurgy.  He recapped his experiences, the Neoplatonic cosmology, the place of man in the cosmos, and any number of anecdotes from his life.  While the last presentation created a jolt of Jupiter in the air, this really rarefied it and cemented it.  Seeing and hearing what RO’s done is a real inspiration, especially for one who’s taking his classes and studying this stuff on his own.  Sitting with other members of his courses was fun, too!
  6. “Magick, Language, and Numbers” by Shawn Knight.  I…actually didn’t go to this one, though I expected to.  I was getting more shots of gin with Rufus Opus, Pallas Renatus,  and their ladies.  Lovely chats all around, though.

After this, a few cigarettes, and some wandering about, there was the party and the rest of the night.  Leaving early the next morning was a shame, since I’d’ve loved to stay longer and get breakfast with the folks there, but now I know.  Next year, perhaps…?  Anyhow, beyond the above panels and discussions, I also learned a few other interesting things:

  • Furries and occultists effect similar fashions and act similarly at conventions.  Must be a geek thing.
  • It’s really amusing to overhear a conversation between one’s HGA and one’s patron god in their head while they’re having drinks.  Sometimes one’d be dismissive and uninterested while the other was all engaged and excited about something going on around them, and other times they’d be debating something and making the other drink more.
  • Conventions go much better drunk.  Duh.  I should have recalled this from my other con trips.
  • Everyone likes gin, just maybe not straight.
  • Everyone lines more gin with their gin.
  • If anyone ever offers you a drink named “the Balrog”, especially offered in an empty jug and labeled with blue painter’s tape, DO NOT ACCEPT THE OFFER.  Holy mother of fuck.
  • The Omnimancers, the group that hosts Crucible, are a fantastic and tightly close-knit gang.  Might I have any Omnis in the audience?  Speak up, because I may have questions for you in the future.

And now I need to start heading to bed and rejoin the world again.  This was a fantastic vacation and break from the usual, and to all those who helped me out, who made me laugh, who’s now a friend or a better one than before, thank you!  You’re ringing in this 24th year for me quite fantastically already!  Now I need to get back to crafting and reading my new gobs of books, shucks.