On a Diviner’s Code of Ethics

Having this blog isn’t the first time I’ve ran a website, whether hosted by myself or another.  I’ve dealt with buying a domain and server space and setting up everything on my own before, and though sometimes it can make things more flexible, it can also be a big hassle.  It’s one of the reasons I like the convenience of using a service like WordPress to handle the back-end stuff for me, because let’s be honest, I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the nitty-gritty of website management on my own.

Back in college, shortly before I started the first iteration of this blog on Blogspot and before I got focused into actual magical practices, I had a small website of my own I managed.  It wasn’t for blogging or sharing occult information, no; it was a marketing website for my erstwhile spiritual consultation gig to bring in a little extra pocket money during college by doing geomancy readings for people.  I was reminded of it recently because there was something I know I had on it that I don’t have on this website, and I didn’t have the original files any longer (after several computer builds and platform changes, some loss is unfortunately to be expected), and it was something I wish I had at least for a reference for something I’ve been pondering as of late.  Much to my excited surprise, a single snapshot of that old website was available on the Internet Wayback Machine, and what I was looking for was right on that snapshot.

The thing I was looking for was my first attempt at a diviner’s code of ethics.

Without sharing the entire snapshot of my old website (which…while I’m excited I found an archived copy of it, I’m still embarrassed by it like how an accomplished artist might be embarrassed by their older submissions on their long-since-abandoned deviantart), here’s what I had on that old page relating to it:

I make a deep commitment to upholding the highest ethical and moral standards to dispel negative views and myths surrounding divination in our society. To that end, I endeavor to provide answers with clarity and utility, engage my clients in a relationship of trust and confidentiality, and interact with my community in charitable and beneficial ways. I donate a portion of all profit earned from [redacted consulting company name] to a local charity or use it for the betterment of the [redacted city name] Metropolitan Area.

To formally codify these aims, I have drawn up a “seer’s code of ethics” that I pledge to follow. I believe that all professional consultants should follow some ethical code, especially if they do so for profit. Further, it makes clear the intent I have as a psychic consultant: I work for the client’s benefit first, not my own.

  1. I will respect the confidentiality and privacy of the client, and will only release information with his or her explicit permission.
  2. I will respect the faith or the lack thereof of the client.
  3. I will refrain from judging the client on any grounds.
  4. I will inform the client of anything I can see and state from the reading, honestly and without malice, be it good or ill.
  5. I will inform the client of the manner of my technique upon request.
  6. I will inform the client of the meaning of any symbol in the reading to the best of my ability and understanding upon request.
  7. I will provide further resources to aid the client when I can no longer provide adequate or proper advice.
  8. I will make no claims as to knowing anything not knowable by strictly mundane methods with any assured level of precision or accuracy.

While I often agree to answer most types of queries, I reserve the right to refuse to answer any query I find objectionable. Such queries include, but are not limited to, those about death or violence, those violating the privacy of a third party, and those for the purpose of illegal gain. I will judge each query according to its merits once it is posed, and if I find it objectionable I may refuse to answer it.

I also reserve the right to refuse performing any reading for the client if the client acts in a dishonest or insincere way. I strive to help any client that comes my way, but since my time is valuable I choose to help only those clients with a real need and respect for me and my profession.

I warn any prospective or current client: caveat emptor! I do not claim that I provide completely accurate, precise, or correct readings, nor do I believe it possible to do so for many metaphysical reasons. The client should be aware that he or she asks for a reading at his or her own risk and out of his or her own free will; any answer or advice that derives from a reading must be evaluated by the client on the client’s own terms. I will refuse to take credit or blame for any result of a situation inquired about by the client, since it is my duty to inform and not to alter.

As a professional psychic consultant, I do not endorse any religion, spiritual tradition or philosophical school, and all such views I express are mine alone. I cannot be held responsible for any religious or spiritual matter as a result of consultation. If for some reason divination or esoteric arts are prohibited in the client’s locality or community, I cannot be held responsible for any ramification, legal or otherwise, which might result from receiving a reading.

While I haven’t laid eyes on this bit of text in literal years, much of it still stuck with me in one form or another and how I generally guide myself.  But, of course, times have changed, and I would gladly make changes to this to reflect those changes in my outlook, responsibilities, and what I consider ethical.  Since the time that old website was online, I went from a “oh no I just want to See and Predict things I could never be someone who actually meddles with magic I just want to help people figure out their lives” (I had such a phase once!) to…a not-totally-inexperienced magician, a scholar and teacher of geomancy, Hermetic and Neoplatonic theurgist, initiated priest of Ogun in Santería, craftsman, and author.  I’m familiar with quite a bit more than just geomancy nowadays, but divination is still one of the focuses of my Work; if anything, it’s only become more important as time’s gone on, because so much of what I do is guided by it and so many people come to me for that above any other spiritual service (so far).  Of course, there have been some changes in how I approach clients for divination as well as the topics they ask about, both for my own sense of ethics as well as for what I find works better when dealing with people.

The reason why I wanted to find my old website’s code of ethics was because I was thinking about a more modern version for myself to incorporate onto this website.  That, of course, got me to thinking, why don’t we hear about such codes of ethics for spiritual practitioners more often?  Sure, there are a handful of them here and there, but there’s so much variation and all seem tailored for particular practices or situations, or they rely on other ideas of centralization or authority.  While there are definite commonalities to be picked out between them, it’s sometimes hard to correlate them into something approximating a “common code”.

So, that led me to post on my Twitter/Facebook about perhaps writing another diviner’s code of ethics, perhaps getting my colleague’s collaboration and input on them, perhaps even getting other people to sign onto them as a show of solidarity or something to better enhance our art and our behavior when applying it.  On the whole, it seems like many of my colleagues and friends were enthusiastic about such an idea, but a few had their reservations, either about how such a thing might be developed or why such a thing shouldn’t be developed at all.  Upon pressing them for why, I think they have some good reasons that deserve definite thought.

From that discussion, probably the most salient point was that writing or adopting a code of ethics for diviners could easily lead to a form of accreditation or certification for diviners.  The idea goes like this: declaring a standard of any sort of competence, whether in terms of expertise in one’s art or of behavior when dealing with people coming to that art, and trying to get people to adopt or recognize that standard is a slippery slope to creating standards for other fields within one’s art.  With as few as one standard or code, one can create a codified “school” of diviners, which can end up being exclusive to those who are already on the fringes of society, difficult for people who have trouble adopting or studying such a standard, and even dangerous to those who commit themselves to a standard for the purposes of privacy, decentralization, and being hard to track by authorities in areas where it’s still necessary to do so.  While I was at first confused as to where this particular colleague of mine was coming from, I now completely understand his concerns, and I can easily agree with them as they are.

So, that point raises a question: why should I want to see a diviner’s code of ethics, anyway?  I know that I should hold myself to a standard of behavior for many reasons: ensuring my clients’ confidence in my skills as well as my trustworthiness, acting in an exemplary way for my community both mundane and spiritual, behaving right in the eyes of my gods and spirits to do them honor, and so forth.  Would I like to see others do the same?  Absolutely!  I think the world could definitely use more people of good moral character and ethical behavior, and to see people of righteousness carry out the office of diviner for their communities would do us all good in the end, I think, both in terms of visibility, eradicating stereotypes about us and our work, and helping people out as we can through our skills and arts.  This is especially important when we come across stories of particular occultists, priests, or other workers who abuse their powers or offices and end up as thieves, cheats, frauds, sexual offenders, or worse.

But…I also recognize that my way of right behavior is not the only way.  My ethics are informed by the way I was raised by my family, my studies of Hellenic tradition, Hermetic theurgy, and more recently Lukumí notions of iwa pele as well as more modern notions such as True Will; the path I walk is, truly, a path that only I can walk, no matter how similar it may be to other people’s paths.  What might seem abhorrent to me might be called for regularly by another; such a topic was brought up on that same discussion from earlier, and while I can see the reasons why someone might need to take such a stance, it’s definitely not a stance for me, as it runs antithetical to so much of what I believe and try to act upon.  And while I recognize the utility in breaking rules to achieve a particular end, I would rather have that rule to rely on and be known than otherwise.  Transgressive behavior only works when you’re going against expectations, so if you end up with a particular expectation as a standard, it no longer becomes transgressive.

I mean, my friends and follows lists, to say nothing of my friends and colleagues generally, are on the whole highly educated and technologically adept; I have many friends who are academics, many of whom hold advanced degrees, and no few number of other friends who are priests or deacons trained in seminaries or other formal settings.  It wouldn’t be a stretch by any means to call ourselves elite, Apollonian, or ivory-tower occultists, but at the end of the day, that’s still what we are: occultists.  Occultists, witches, herbalists, and the like have always been pariahs and outcasts in our culture going back centuries and millennia, and no matter how lofty and highbrow we take things, we’re still going to be at the knife’s edge of acceptable behavior (at best). Only good academics who report on magical practices while disavowing any sort of involvement in them get a pass, and even then, those who dwell too long on discussions about it get talked about behind closed doors.  While those of us living the good life in a first-world setting and culture like the conveniences and comforts of standards and rules, we necessarily deal with forces that not only bend and break those very things, but we still must be aware of how Weird we live our lives in the world.  Being still outcasts, fringefolk, or pariahs forces us to be aware of how much the rules of society don’t apply to us, not just for our benefit but also to our detriment, and how, in the end, the only rule we truly have is that there are no rules when it’s a matter of our survival and self-protection.

So where does that leave me?

I think it’s a good practice for people to consider their ethics and what their guiding rules should be in general; after all, these are rules to live by, but aren’t absolute moral commandments held on high (unless they are, but you’d know about them better than I would for yourself).  Not being moral commandments (unless they are), rules can be bent or broken in times of need, but limiting those times to truly matters of expedient means where the destination really does justify the road you take to get there.  And even then, there are always ways of evaluating ethical rules to give a higher-level view of what the rule is supposed to accomplish, and whether or not that goal is even worthy of being held.  Sometimes, the rules you want to live by are getting you to a place that you really don’t want to go to.  Consider, also, whether your rules are more method-focused or goal-focused; are you instituting a rule to conduct your behavior by, or are you instituting a rule to guide you to a particular outcome and steer you away from other ones?  That sort of ethics vs. morals distinction is crucial for this sort of thing.

I also think it would be good for people who do client work in a public way to put up a code of ethics, just for themselves in their public practice, because they’re trying to put on a public face and want business.  This may not be the case for truly back-alley, in-the-shadows workers who prefer anonymity and secrecy, which are also valuable things in their own rights.  Plus, depending on the methods used, not only would most ethical or moral codes fail to be held to, but any public knowledge at all about such methods would probably be as harmful for the client as it might be for the practitioner.  After all, while I would prefer to avoid acts of murder, I find poison a perfectly valid tool to be used when such a thing is called for, but you won’t see me hawking that service publicly, nor will you see me write a poisoner’s code of ethics.  No, codes of ethics are for people who are trying to keep a pretty face on their business and work, and if that’s one of your goals, then I think you’d be better off than not at least suggesting to your clients that you have some ethical bones that support your interactions.

As for the terms of such a code of ethics, I think it would be best to follow two principles: keep it simple, and keep it high-level.  You don’t need to go into detail about how you’re going to conduct every single reading or client interaction in a series of if-then-else conditions, nor do you need to expound on your magnum opus of morality and philosophy.  Do you value truth in your work?  Say so, simply and plainly.  Do you value correctness in beliefs?  Say that you’ll act as a mentor and guide when needed, and depending on how far you want to take it, you may want to avoid saying that you’ll judge the client for their own beliefs, because if you think yours are correct and theirs are different, you’re probably gonna come into an internal conflict.  It’s up to you to decide the actual ethical bones that make up your body of behavior, both in terms of how and what you need for your own conduct, as well as how and what is needed by your clients and community for your office and how you fill it.

I would like to see more occultists who do public work or take on client cases show their code of ethics, but it’s not something I’m going to expect or demand.  As in so many other things, putting up posters about how awesome we are falls far short of actual interactions and personal evaluations we make; no code of ethics we write for ourselves, after all, can be enforced by anyone but ourselves, and if someone’s not the type of person to act right when they need to, then perhaps that code of ethics they have plastered on their website may not be anything else but a waste of bits and bytes.  After all, codes of ethics and whatnot are there to help us become good people, at least in some public notion of it, but if you’re not going to be a good person, it’s going to show, and no amount of electronic make-up can fix it.

On Using Apps for Generating Randomness

Not too long ago, someone commented on my blog who’s learning geomancy about what methods can be used for generating the figures.  Personally, after getting my bearings with the traditional stick-and-surface method (which I recommend everyone beginning geomancy to use until they get the “feel” of the system down, as if it were a type of initiatory practice on its own), I either use cards or dice.  Dice divination, especially, is flexible and polyvalent, and I use it for both geomancy, grammatomancy, and other systems of divination as the need strikes me, and not only are they easy to use, they’re also highly portable and compact as a tool.

The issue (well, not “issue” per se) came up in this conversation when the commenter mentioned using an app to generate the Mothers as a whole, or a random number generator to generate numbers with which to reduce into the Mothers.  This particular commenter isn’t alone in using an app for this; I know of other geomancers who use apps to generate Mothers, either as whole figures or as numbers for the rows of the figures.  A feeling of guilt was mentioned, since the commenter hasn’t read accounts of geomancers using apps or seen videos with such apps being used, but I dismissed that feeling because it’s definitely a thing for some geomancers.

Of course, it should be emphasized that it’s only some geomancers who do that, with “some” being the operative word.  It’s not a common thing; most geomancers I know use some sort of tools, with few just using raw numbers pulled from some source or other.  I know it can be a thing for Arabic geomancers to use the Dairah-e-Abdah enumeration of the figures and tell their querents to give them four random numbers from 1 to 16 and using the figures associated with those numbers for the Mothers, but that’s not really a thing in Western geomancy because we don’t really have an equivalent enumeration system for the figures.  Instead, when Western geomancers use automatic Mother generators at all, it’s often with dice-rolling apps or similar random number applications.

Personally, I don’t like using them.  I’m a tangible person, and I prefer tangible tools I can hold, wield, throw, and manipulate with my hands.  For me, I am as physical a person as I am a spiritual one; my body is a tool unto itself, and by using my body to interact with physical things, I can just as easily interact with their spiritual counterparts and ethereal symbol-referents.  Plus, the use of tools helps me get into the right headspace, that light trance state where I can focus purely on the query and act of divination, which I find is essential to getting good results in my readings.  That’s one of the reasons why I can’t exhort new students to use the stick-and-surface method of divination enough, because it helps inculcate the ability to enter that trance state and allows them to tap into it at a moment’s need using any sort of tool or trigger.

Is such a state necessary for all diviners?  I suppose not, though it certainly doesn’t hurt.  I know that I like doing it, and I’ve found that my focus is weakened, my interpretations more vague, my ability to tap into a situation less refined, and my understanding of the symbols in a reading gets a little slower without sufficient mental preparation which, for me, is aided by the manipulation of physical tools.  For that reason, I don’t use apps or other tools to generate figures for me, because it doesn’t do anything for me to help with entering that divinatory headspace.  Pressing a button and reading figures off a screen, or clicking something and then reducing a bunch of numbers off a web page into dots just…it lacks that connection that I find helpful.

When I generate figures, it’s me who’s the one doing that generation; these figures are “falling from my own hand”, so to speak.  I have that connection with the figures of the reading that allows me to tap into the reading and swim in its currents, dredging up whatever treasures and traps I can from it.  For a similar reason, when someone wants my help with a chart, I don’t just read the chart details they give me; I actually spend the time generating the entire chart from scratch with all the details I need, not only to make sure that the chart was calculated correctly, but also to help me integrate the chart into my own sphere.  Even if I’m not in a trance state for that act (after all, the divination was already done by someone else), the mere act of drawing out the Mothers and the entire rest of the chart helps bring those details to life.  It’s like reciting a litany of prayers; sure, you could just skip to the end or anywhere in the middle you feel is necessary, but the recitation of the entire process from start to end makes everything more potent once you get there.

Plus, as a software engineer, there’s something I’d like to clue you in on.  Most random number generators you use tend to actually be what are called pseudorandom number generators, algorithmic methods that approximate true randomness within acceptable boundaries but which aren’t truly random.  The reason why pseudorandom generators are used is that, for most purposes, they’re random enough to be useful, and are generally easier to develop and faster to produce output than true random generators.  For me, though, I’d rather a true random number generator, which can be harder to find or manipulate.  For that, I might recommend the excellent site RANDOM.ORG, which produces truly random results sequences for many purposes.

Now, that said, if you find that using an app to generate random (or pseudorandom) Mothers, or numbers for reducing into odd or even rows for the Mothers, works for you, then keep using it!  I would still recommend learning a set of tools for geomancy or whatever preferred divination system it is you use, because there may be times you don’t have access to a phone or a computer.  Geomancy benefits from this especially in that all you really need is a pen and paper or a stick and some dirt; even if I don’t like the method, it still works, and it can truly be taken anywhere without having to carry tools of various and sundry types that can set off security gates or the paranoid eyes of watchful passers-by.  Still, if using an app works for you, don’t fix what ain’t broken.  It’s not my preference to use it, but I can’t rightly knock it if it works.

Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.

On Halted Geomancy Charts

Originally, I was calling these PITA charts, and no, I’m not talking about the flatbread.  However, after seeing the term “halted charts” used more online, I think it’s a far more elegant term to use to describe the concept of a geomancy chart that shouldn’t or can’t be interpreted.  What would cause such a chart to be halted?  Read on, dear reader, because we’re gonna talk about a set of rules from the geomantic tradition that even I don’t really bother with.

In addition to the group on geomancy that I admin on Facebook, I’m also a member of the group Ilm-e-Ramal (Geomancy) and its associated WhatsApp convo in an attempt to better understand the practices of Arabic geomancy.  From what I’ve seen, there are far more similarities than there are differences, but the differences astound me, especially those that come from a cultural or philosophical view in addition to the details of different interpretation methods.  It can be hard to learn, especially since I don’t speak Arabic, Persian, Urdu, or Balochi, but by slowly following the conversations and reading their examples of charts, small insights are revealed, which can be fascinating.  (Probably the best thing I have to show for it so far is the post I wrote a few weeks back on actually formalizing a mapping between the Arabic/Persian and Latin names of the figures.)

One issue that may arise in Arabic geomancy is when the chart is “locked”.  A chart becomes locked when the Judge is Populus or, to a lesser extent, Via.  In these cases, the chart cannot be interpreted, because of how the Judge plays with the reading and the diviner.  In the case of Populus, where there are no elements active and thus no Via Puncti can be formed, Arabic geomancers say that Populus is dumb and cannot speak to the matter.  For Via, where all elements are active, instead of having a dumb Judge, we have a deaf Judge, who cannot hear the querent or the query properly and so cannot give a useful answer.  To resolve a locked chart in Arabic geomancy, if one can’t wait a few hours to retry the query, one can instead take four figures from the chart to act as new Mothers for a new chart to be drawn up on the spot.  Which houses are used depends on the specific lineage; I’ve heard that houses I, IV, VII, and X should be used, or the Right Witness, Left Witness, Judge, and Sentence, or houses III, V, XI, and the Judge, or houses I, III, VI, and the Judge.  Whatever set of houses one uses, the idea is the same: if the chart itself cannot answer because it’s deaf or dumb, shake it up a bit to slap some sense into it and derive a new chart.  If the new chart is also locked, probably best to just wait it out until a later time.

Unusual though such a rule may sound to Western geomancers (taking our precious few 128 Court combinations of figures down to 112 or 98, depending on whether you consider just Populus or both Populus and Via to lock the chart), the literature of Western geomancy is replete with similar rules for such halted charts.  The most commonly-known such rule is that if Rubeus or Cauda Draconis appear as the First Mother, the chart should be destroyed and abandoned, if not the matter entirely, since both of these figures are pretty negative and disastrous on their own, and to have them represent the beginning of the matter to be investigated as well as the querent themselves is a pretty bad omen.  Going past this, though, there are so many other rules you can find in the older European texts:

  • If there are no figures in common or only one figure in common between the Mothers and Daughters, the chart is untrustworthy and should not be read.
  • If Rubeus appears in two or more angular houses, the reading cannot continue due to malefic influences in the reading.
  • If the same figure appears in both houses I and II, the reading is obscured due to an ill omen.
  • If Carcer or Tristitia appear in house I with a negative figure making a negative aspect to it, the matter is past all hope.
  • If the Witnesses are equal and the Judge (Populus in this case) does not own the query, the chart must wait for another time (this is one of Heydon’s rules, which echoes the idea behind Arabic geomancy “locking”).

Plus, in Western geomancy, I’ve seen a number of rules about how to determine whether the querent is lying to the geomancer:

  • If Carcer or Tristitia appear in house I with a negative figure making a negative aspect to it
  • If the figures in houses I and VII pass in the chart to make squares or oppositions to each other
  • If Amissio is in house I
  • If Populus is in house I and Rubeus in house XI
  • Etc.

Many of these rules go hand-in-hand with methods to spiritually authenticate the chart.  Just like how we mathematically verify that the chart is valid before we even start looking at the actual contents of the chart, there are a number of ways geomancers determine whether a chart is fit to be judged beyond “destroy it due to ill omens”.  In some cases, this parallels the practice in horary astrology of determining whether a chart is radical based on a match between the ascendant and planetary hour or other considerations, or as English geomancers like Robert Fludd and John Case like to use, inspect certain physical marks and moles associated with the figure in house I to the querent to see if the chart is actually talking about the person who’s asking the query.

Now, I will say that there is some (not a lot, but some) value in these rules.  Consider the matter of radicality in horary astrology; according to far better astrologers and scholars than I am, you don’t strictly need a chart to be radical to interpret it.  If a chart isn’t radical, that doesn’t mean it’s not correct, but that there may be issues in interpreting it, such as the querent lying or omitting something to the diviner, the situation may be about to change from what’s being read or interpreted, something being overlooked in the reading, or so forth.  If a chart is to be interpreted and it’s not radical, extra care should be taken, because the chart can still be (and often is) correct regardless of other factors, it’s just that it may not be the best time to have asked the question.  C’est la vie, of course.

But as far as geomancy goes, especially in my own experience with it, I…really just don’t bother with the rules above.  In most cases, I keep the rules that have been handed down through the traditions, because I’ve seen them work, but these rules about not reading a chart because it won’t answer or because it’s obscured don’t fall in that same category.  Rather, they kinda smack of superstition and fear and cover-your-ass measures to prevent the charts becoming pains in the ass.  I understand that for those who are unfamiliar with or fearful of divination, the line between “interpreting omens that foretell how the future will go” and “speaking the future into existence and enforcing that it must be so” is hazy or absent, and it was a commonly-alleged crime that gypsies “cursed” their clients with bad readings, even if all they were doing was saying that things may not look so good for the client.  On the other hand, diviners may fear getting involved in a bad situation that they may be seen as liable for even on an honest-to-God spiritual level, and so if things look sketchy or disastrous, they’d rather wash their hands of the matter entirely instead of actually getting involved and having to deal with those spiritual influences as well as the querent.  There’s also the much more mundane issue of “this looks confusing but I don’t feel creative enough to spout cliché mystic mumbo-jumbo, so I’m just gonna try again later”.

If I’m reading for someone else and a rule like the above happens (mostly if Rubeus or Cauda Draconis appear), after having generated and calculated all the parts of the chart I find necessary, I’ll first bring the querent’s attention to the rule and what’s happening in the chart, along with a quick explanation of what the old geomancers say and what I say.  I give them the option of asking a different question, trying the reading after a few days, getting a refund and canceling the reading entirely, or just continuing on as I otherwise would; I leave the choice up to them, based on their wishes.  In many cases, the reason for the offending rule comes out in that very choice, which we can then discuss to get closer to the heart of the matter, but sometimes, it simply doesn’t match up; still, as a matter of protocol, I state the rule to the querent and let them decide how we should proceed, if at all.  If I’m reading to myself, I’ll take a pause before continuing the reading, maybe do a bit of meditation or introspection, and see if there’s any cause I wasn’t previously aware of that might be affecting me.

For a handful of such rules, here’s how I take a modern look at them, based on authors such as John Michael Greer and my own experience:

  • If Rubeus is in house I, the querent is in a state of frenzy, confusion, or mental turbulence that makes the question ill-founded.  They may have asked a query without actually thinking it through, accepting the possible results, or otherwise having a lack of foresight.  Rubeus can indicate not taking the process of divination seriously.
  • If Cauda Draconis is in house I, the querent is already thinking of the matter as closed and done, and is unwilling or unable to accept any new information or advice on the subject.  This is often the case when the querent is just looking for a confirmation of what they already think.
  • If the figures in houses I and VII pass in the chart such that they form a direct/indirect square or indirect opposition, there’s going to be difficulty in communicating the information in the reading, and either the querent is lying to the geomancer or the geomancer won’t be believed by the querent.
  • If Via is the Judge and does not own the query, the situation is in a state of rapid change and may be difficult to specifically examine what’s happening.

In general, I find it increasingly unlikely for querents to lie to the geomancer, in the sense that they’re asking about something to test the geomancer as a kind of game or to show up the geomancer that their art is pointless.  Most people don’t have the time to waste on such a futile thing, and moreover, most people don’t have the money to waste on such a thing, either.  (There’s one good reason to start charging, if you don’t already.)  Instead, when the old texts say “lie” (without also calling such a person a knave, etc.), what it means is that the querent is asking something in a highly roundabout way to save face or to keep from admitting aloud something they fear.  For instance, it’s a common trope in divination that a woman who asks “will I ever have children” is really asking “did I just get pregnant”; what they asked isn’t what they’re really asking, even if one kinda does answer the other.  For these situations, something in the chart will…not add up.  Maybe it’ll be a weird placement of the Part of Spirit, maybe the Witnesses will suggest something, maybe the Via Puncti will lead somewhere, but something in the chart will just seem off that indicates that not all is whole, hale, or complete with the query being asked.  It could also be something about body language and subliminal cues given off in wording that also ties in, but it depends.

So, if I don’t follow the rules given by older geomancers in this instance for charts that shouldn’t or can’t be read, what are my own rules?  Honestly, not many.  In general, before setting down to a divination, I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Am I physically sound enough to perform divination?  If I’m sick, hungover, coughing, sore, fatigued, intoxicated, in pain, or otherwise in any physical state that would act as a distraction and hindrance to the process of divination, I’ll put it off until such a time when I’m more together.  I’ll also try to make sure I’m clean, dressed cleanly, and don’t smell offensive to further limit any distractions.
  2. Am I mentally and spiritually sound enough to perform divination?  If I’m excessively worried about the situation, extraordinarily biased towards or against a particular outcome, overly elated or whimsical, angry, upset, or in any other mental state where I cannot maintain a clear, objective focus of the reading, I’ll put it off until later.  Meditation, cleansing, banishing, prayer, and other mind/spirit-sharpening acts may also come into play for this.
  3. Am I in a safe, calm, quiet place to perform divination?  If the place where I’m doing divination is chaotic, loud, overly busy, in transition or turmoil, dangerous, dark, or in any other way unsafe or distracting to divination, I’ll do it somewhere else.  This also includes the weather: one of the only traditional rules I follow is that the weather should not be “bad” (thunderstorms, violent winds, flooding, bitterly sharp cold, etc.), so I’ll try to wait for a mild time and weather appropriate to the season and climate where I’m at.

If I’m physically and mentally well enough to do divination, and the time and place is good to go for divination, then we’re all clear for the work, and everything else is up to my own skill, intuition, and attentiveness to the reading and the querent.  I don’t bother with trying to reconcile a difficult chart or make a new one based on picking certain figures from one chart and deriving a second one, nor do I see much point in drawing up a new chart entirely after a few hours or days if the first one didn’t make sense at the time.  Rather, if I’m having a hard time delving into a chart, I’ll put it aside, take a break, come back, draw it out afresh (I find that the actual act of drawing a chart is excellent for attuning into one, whether it’s one of my own or somebody else’s), and try interpreting it again; I claim that the symbols were as valid the first time as they are the second time, and sometimes a quick rest is all that’s needed.

Divination requires calm within and calm without; unless you have those, you probably can’t and most likely shouldn’t be doing divination.  Spiritual traditions and religious rules may institute other obligations and considerations, but beyond those, the core issue is whether you yourself are able to divine and be divine.  If you can, you’re good to go.  If you’re not, no number of tricks or techniques will get you there.

What about you?  Do you have any other rules in geomancy, from the Western or Arabic kinds, where certain charts shouldn’t be investigated?  If so, what are those rules, and how might you explain the logic behind them?  Do you stick to them to the letter, or do you take a more interpretive approach?  I’d love to hear from you about this in the comments!