On Fasting (and All the Various Ways You Can Fast)

Another wonderful question from Curious Cat:

What alternative recommendations would suggest to someone who cannot fast due to health issues? I already eat relatively clean … I’d like to re-start my system, but can’t entirely forgo food due to a compromised immune system. Any suggestions?

This is a surprisingly deep question, and one with plenty of alternatives.  I answered it on Curious Cat, but I want to go into more depth about it here, because it turns out there’s a lot to say.  Also, it just so happens that I’ve written about fasting long ago in two posts from 2012, here and here, which I only remembered after writing most of this current post.  Still, I think it’s time for a refresher and see what new information I might be able to put to paper here, now that I’m a little older and maybe a little bit wiser, too.

First, what exactly is fasting?  Fasting is fundamentally a practice of abstinence that typically focuses on one’s diet and which is composed of three main things:

  • A set of prohibitions on food, drink, and other substances we take into our bodies
  • A set of prohibitions on how we take food, drink, and other substances into our bodies
  • A duration of time for which above prohibitions are to be observed

The most common sorts of fasting is an absolute fast (absolutely no food or liquid) or a water fast (no food but water is permitted), and this is typically what we think of when we hear about fasting.  There are plenty of reasons for this—diagnostic fasting to achieve a baseline for medical testing or hunger strikes for the sake of political or humanitarian protests come to mind—but one of the most common reasons for fasting is for religious or spiritual purposes, and is seen in many religions across the world for an equally wide number of reasons:

  • Cultivate and maintain discipline
  • Develop spiritual powers or blessings
  • Atonement and repentance for sins or lawlessness
  • Purification of the body and spirit
  • Devotion to higher powers
  • Mourning
  • Following the example of a saint, prophet, or holy exemplar of the religion
  • Preparation for a ritual or feast

Basically, in general, when we fast for a religious or spiritual purpose, we’re essentially engaging in a form of asceticism, putting our body under an ordeal of abstinence from things that please us our our senses, holding back our taste for worldly sustenance so that we can instead feast on heavenly delights.  Asceticism and some forms of drastic fasting can also include self-mortification, but we’re not interested in that here; we don’t want to harm or destroy the body, but we do want to control and purify it through abstinence.

The thing is that absolute fasting or water fasting can be dangerous for many people: those with autoimmune disorders, blood sugar disorders (especially diabetes), hormonal imbalances (e.g. thyroid or adrenaline issues), and the like can and will suffer harm to their bodies up to and including death if they go without food for too long.  Moreover, there are also a number of religions where fasting just isn’t a thing or which is actively discouraged.  Heck, for myself, I have a specific spiritual prohibition from La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (a.k.a. Santería) where I can’t skip lunch, which I interpret a little more broadly to mean “no absolute/water fasts”, so I can’t engage in that kind of practice anymore, either.  To that end, I engage in intermittent fasting, where I don’t eat from sunrise to sunset, a la Muslim Ramaḍān or the Bahá’í Nineteen Day Fast, though I do permit myself to have water at all times and only permit other drinks during eating-time, if I don’t set a prohibition on those as well.  In the end, though, it’s important to remember that fasting isn’t the be-all end-all of spiritual practices, or even of ways to purify and refine the body and spirit.  If you’re part of a religion or tradition that recommends or requires it, or if you feel like you should engage in it, then do so, and do so safely and reasonably without causing harm or torment to yourself; otherwise, you should feel no obligation to do so, since there are plenty of other practices you can engage in towards the same ends.

But, let’s say you want to do some sort of fast or fasting-like practice, but you can’t do an absolute or water fast for health reasons, and you’re not discouraged from a fasting practice in general.  What can you do?  Quite a lot, actually.  If we interpret “fasting” to mean “abstinence” more broadly, and consider the three parts of fasting (prohibitions on food/liquid/etc., prohibitions on how we eat/drink/etc., and durations), then there are plenty of things we can hone in on, whether taken as a single thing to abstain from or taken as a cluster of rules to be observed simultaneously.  In short, rather than an absolute fast or a water fast, we engage in a so-called partial fast, where we only abstain from particular things in our diet.  The following lists of prohibitions are by no means exhaustive, but they’re intended as examples for further inspiration, and are pulled from a variety of traditions, cultures, practices, religions, and the like for consideration.

Restrictions on what food or drink is permissible :

  • No processed grains
  • No grains at all
  • No leavened bread
  • No bread or flour-based products at all (e.g. noodles, porridge, crackers).
  • No grain-, starch-, pulse-, bean-, tuber-, or nut-based staple foods
  • No meat of mammals or birds (essentially a pescatarian diet)
  • No meat at all (essentially a vegetarian diet)
  • No dairy
  • No animal products generally (essentially a vegan diet)
  • No gritty foods
  • No solid foods (i.e. broths and soups only)
  • No oils added to food or drink
  • No sweeteners added to food or drink
  • No spices added to food or drink
  • No salt added to food or drink
  • No sweet food eaten or drink drunk for the reason of being sweet
  • No carbonated drinks
  • No drinks that are not plain water
  • No drinking clear alcohols (e.g. white rum or vodka, but excluding creme liqueurs or red wines)
  • No drinking alcohol at all
  • No drinking more than a set amount of liquid each day
  • No food prepared with sauce, gravy, or dressing of any kind
  • No food or drink of a particular color (e.g. red food, brown food, white food)
  • No food or drink that are root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, onions, carrots)
  • No food or drink that are not root vegetables
  • No food or drink that contain caffeine of any kind (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate)
  • No food or drink that contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. pumpkin, eggs, wheat, corn)
  • No food or drink that doesn’t contain a specific kind of ingredient (e.g. tree nuts, legumes, potatoes, beans)
  • No vitamins, dietary supplements, or medicines that are not strictly necessary for medical reasons
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how food or drink is cooked or processed:

  • No cooked food or drink
  • No cooked food or drink older than 24 hours (i.e. no leftovers)
  • No preserved food or drink
  • No prepackaged food or drink
  • No food or drinks that are colder than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing ice-cold or chilled)
  • No food or drinks that are hotter than ambient room temperature (e.g. nothing warm or hot)
  • No food or drink that has been touched by fire
  • No food or drink that has been cooked with or come in contact with metal
  • No food or drink that is fermented
  • No food or drink that was not cooked or prepared by your own hands
  • No food or drink that was not freely given to you by another person
  • No food or drink that was not prepared using a specially-dedicated, consecrated, or otherwise set-apart set of cookware or dishes
  • Etc.

Restrictions on when we eat or drink:

  • No eating between sunset and sunrise
  • No eating or drinking between sunset and sunrise
  • No dining more than once a day
  • No dining before a particular task or set of tasks have been done
  • Etc.

Restrictions on how we eat or drink:

  • No engaging in talking, writing, or any other activity when eating
  • No dining at restaurants, at other people’s homes, or anywhere outside your own home
  • No dining with other people
  • No dining unless in the company of other people
  • No dining with metal implements
  • No dining while seated at a table (i.e. only while sitting on the ground)
  • Etc.

Besides just focusing on dietary prohibitions, though, there are also behavioral prohibitions that we can incorporate, either instead of dietary prohibitions or in addition to them.  Again, if we engage in fasting as a means of restraining ourselves by means of abstaining from things that give us sensual pleasures and distractions from spiritual development, then we can also include a bunch of behaviors, habits, addictions, or other things we like doing (rather than just eating or drinking) that can be at least as spiritually distracting or impure as any kind of food or drink.  After all, consider that the original questioner from Curious Cat already eats pretty clean and sparingly, so trying to restrict or further inhibit or prohibit their food/drink intake might just be a case of diminishing returns, so it might not be a bad idea to expand our scope of prohibitions to behaviors.  Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • No sexual activity, whether with someone else or by oneself
  • No playing games or sports, listening to music, watching movies or TV, or any other activity for the sole purpose of entertainment
  • No social media
  • No computer or mobile use between sunset and sunrise
  • No smoking of tobacco, cannabis, salvia, or any other inhaled drug
  • No recreational or psychotropic drugs except those for explicitly medical or required spiritual purposes
  • No sleeping on a bed or any surface higher than the width of two fingers
  • No wearing makeup, nail polish, or any other cosmetics for the purpose of embellishing or hiding the natural form of the body
  • No using perfumes, colognes, scented oils, fragrances, or any other odoriferous substance outside of purely religious or spiritual reasons
  • No wearing jewelry, fine clothes, immodest clothes, or any other articles for the purpose of ostentation or displaying appeal
  • No wearing clothes of a particular color (e.g. black clothes, red clothes)
  • No bathing or washing any part of the body with hot water
  • No being in direct sunlight or moonlight
  • No being in complete darkness
  • No lying, exaggerating, undue modesty, deceit, or misleading of any kind
  • No cursing, arguing, yelling, raising one’s voice, gossiping, or using any kind of heated or improper language
  • No violence to any living being
  • No using or carrying of weapons of any kind
  • No using, lighting, carrying, or being around fire
  • No sleeping in late or taking naps
  • No cutting any of the hair on the head or the body
  • No capitalizing the first-person singular pronoun “I” (i.e. always write it as “i went to the store”)
  • Etc.

(I admit that a bunch of those behavioral rules are those that are common-enough prohibitions from the initiatory year of Lukumí, the Year in White, which I had to observe for…quite some time, and some I still have to observe for other reasons, but are general enough and smart enough rules to be used by plenty of people.)

With all the options above we have for abstaining from particular foods and drinks, how they’re prepared, how we can abstain from them, and other behaviors, I think it’s important to remember that fasting is an ordeal, and should be taken seriously as such.  Yes, you could do a fast from all pork products, but if you never or only rarely eat pork, then you’re not really abstaining from something that you weren’t already abstaining from.  Fasting, whether absolute or partial or whether total or intermittent, should be a time when we give up and abstain from things that we actively enjoy or find ourselves relying on or addicted to; when you fast, take away the things that give you a sense of pleasure and which distract you from focusing on spiritual stuff.  If you eat a lot of candy, give that up; if you don’t eat candy, give something else up instead.  If you don’t have the ability to sleep in (e.g. if you live on a regimented, scheduled military base or if you have a farm), then you’re already de facto abstaining from that, so give something else up instead.  Of the things that you don’t strictly need for medical or health-related reasons, pick the things you dread or fear to give up yet which you’re able to, and then you’ll be properly fasting.

Then, finally, then there’s one last thing to consider: how long do we observe all the above prohibitions, and when should we do it?  While all of the above is really up to you in how seriously (or not) you want to engage in your own personalized kind of fasting, this is where it can get really customized.  This is where you should really focus on what your traditions or religions say, because those are the guiding principles here along with whatever your priests or mentors or gurus or godparents might prescribe or recommend, but there are some guiding rules that I like to follow for my own practices and traditions.  Some examples of fasting durations include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • One day every week on a day set aside for the worship, veneration, or devotion of a particular spirit or deity
  • The day of the New Moon (technically, the day of the first sighting of the Moon rather than the day of syzygy between the Moon and the Sun)
  • The three days before, the day of, and the day after the Full Moon
  • Three, four, seven, or sixteen days leading up to any feast or regular celebration
  • Three days leading up to any minor ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Seven days leading up to any major ritual, whether for yourself or another
  • Three, four, seven, sixteen, or more days after any major initiation, according to that tradition’s rules
  • The two days before and of religious communion or communal worship
  • The forty days of Lent (for Christians)
  • The thirty(ish) days of Ramaḍān (for Muslims)
  • The nineteen days of the Nineteen Day Fast (for Bahá’í)
  • The forty-nine days after the death of a close family member
  • Throughout spiritual retreats or prolonged holy festivals or gatherings
  • The three or more days after one has committed a particularly bad spiritual offense
  • Once a week on a particular weekday for a set number of weeks (e.g. every Sunday from sunrise to sunset for six weeks straight)
  • Whenever vows or rules are adopted in devotion to a spirit or as part of a pact or payment

When fasting for a prolonged period of time more than a single day, there’s also the notion of progressive fasting, where as time goes by, you bring on more and more prohibitions.  For instance, in one of the posts from 2012 I mentioned, there’s the four-day progressive fast from the Scribbler (whose blog is no longer active) where, for example, on the first day I would abstain from meat, alcohol, and soda; on the second, all the above plus abstinence from breads and noodles as well as all non-clear liquid drinks; on the third day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t fresh fruits and water; on the fourth and final day, all the above plus abstinence from anything that wasn’t just water, i.e. a water fast.  Progressive fasts can be useful for those who need time for their body to adjust to heavier and heavier kinds of fasting, especially if a particular substance is one we habitually eat and which we might rely on as a staple, and which can be a way for the body to acclimate for more severe or austere fasting practices so that they won’t cause a total shock to the body which could result in medical harm.

What happens when we violate one or more of the prohibitions we have set for us?  Honestly, that depends on your tradition’s or practice’s rules on fasting or how you set up the rule or agreement of fasting, but it’s probably most important how you violated it.  If you started running into severe medical issues from a particular prohibition, then it’s best to get rid of that prohibition entirely so that you can fast more safely; it’s not an indulgence if it’s absolutely necessary for your health!  Likewise, if even a partial fast or if even intermittent fasting is causing you problems at all, then stop fasting.  It’s better you live and find other ways to hone and temper the body without suffering and putting yourself at major risk for health problems or death.  What if you were forced to fast, like if you were incarcerated or imprisoned and forced to eat things you wouldn’t against your will?  Honestly, nobody would blame you for getting by, and you’re already in a bad and potentially ascetic situation; better to survive under duress and save your strength than suffer righteously with the risk of death.

All of those could be considered accidental or unintentional violations, but what about if you just decided “eh, fuck it, let’s have a cheat day” or if you thought nobody was looking?  Tough luck, pal; you intentionally and willfully committed a violation of your prohibitions when you had no reason not to, and that’s where you should own up to your violation and make amends.  How you do that is up to you, your tradition, and your spirits; you might add on another day (or week, or month, etc.) of fasting for every willful violation you committed, add on another prohibition in addition to the ones you already had pay a “fine” through donating or caring for others out of your own pocket, put yourself through another spiritual ordeal such as intense purifications or heightened prayers, or make formal amends through heavy offerings to God, the gods, or other spirits to make up for your violation.  Or, you could just eat it (heh) and accept that you were weak and carry on as normal, being more mindful as time goes on, perhaps with letting someone know as a kind of confession.  Sometimes, it’s okay to perform a fast with built-in cheat days or days of leniency, but these should be limited; remember, the whole point of a fast is to not indulge.

However, note that all of the above are almost all focused on prohibitions, rules that take things away from ourselves.  That’s entirely a workable and practical way to do fasting, but consider: instead of taking things away, why not add things?  If we consider a fast to be a duration of time to cultivate and refine the spirit, then there are plenty of other things we can do, whether instead of piling on prohibitions or to be done along with them.  This is an idea that I got from Catholic writings a few years back, specifically for Lent; rather than just take things away, incorporate new things to fill the gaps left behind or just for the sake of upping our spiritual practices and devotions generally. Some examples include (again, not a definitive or exhaustive list):

  • Say a prayer to formally begin a fast, whenever you break the fast, and when you formally end the fast.
  • When you sit down to eat, pray over and bless the meal before you do so.
  • Engage in daily prayer, or add more prayers to your daily practice
  • Participate in daily communal worship (e.g. going to daily mass, having a daily circle with a coven)
  • Read and contemplate scripture daily
  • Commit to doing works of charity frequently (e.g. giving to the poor, working at a kitchen, setting aside income as donations for noble causes)
  • Commit to creating a devotional work of art every day (e.g. poetry, drawing, sculpture)
  • Commit to environmental works (e.g. picking up litter, tending to a communal garden)
  • Commit to helping or organizing religious works (e.g. signing up to be an altar-server, assisting with setting up circle devotions, providing guidance to students)
  • Commit to daily offerings, whether dedicated to a particular spirit or deity specifically or more generally for the benefit of all sentient beings
  • Perform a daily purification (e.g. ablution, spiritual bath, banishing)
  • Etc.

In the end, when it comes to abstinence for spiritual purposes, we can do a lot better than just simply cutting out food, and we can focus on a number of different aspects of the practice of fasting that can provide for a well-rounded period of intense spiritual work that can work for anyone, regardless of their health conditions, so that we can all derive benefit by focusing on the higher while tempering (but not utterly neglecting) the lower:

  • Prohibitions on what food and drink one takes in
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is prepared
  • Prohibitions on when one can eat or drink
  • Prohibitions on how food or drink is consumed
  • Prohibitions on behaviors and activities outside eating and drinking
  • Mandates on behaviors to include spiritual or spiritually-oriented activities
  • The duration for which prohibitions and mandates are to be observed

Now, what about me?  There are times when I’ll fast for my own practices (like for those Sixteen Days of Cultivation leading up to the spring equinox I did not too long ago), or before receiving or participating in ceremony for Lukumí purposes, sure.  But, lest we all forget, I’m a Hermeticist, and there’s some useful stuff in the Corpus Hermeticum and other Hermetic texts that touch on this same topic, too. There’s this almost-universal, quasi-gnostic notion that you can’t really engage in a spiritually pure practice without somehow abstaining from physical pleasures or indulgences, and that abstaining from food and drink, whether entirely or from particular kinds or from particular ways of having it, is one of the most common ways to do that.  Food and drink is what sustains the body, yes, and we should care for the body since it’s our vessel for living in this world.  But since we’re spiritual entities ourselves that just so happen to have a body, and since we’re all always trying to become better spiritual entities, we need to care for the body only as much as we need to, and focus on the spirit at least as much as we care for the body, if not much more than that.  To focus overmuch on the body is to neglect the spirit; just as in the Buddha’s method of taking the Middle Path, we should care for the body just enough that it’s healthy and can stay healthy, and give the rest of our time, energy, and attention to spiritual works.  That’s really the whole purpose of fasting: to cut back on indulging the body so that we can indulge the spirit, instead.  We don’t need to completely neglect or harm the body; otherwise, you may as well just kill yourself off quickly and painlessly than starve yourself to death painfully!  We need our body to host our spirit for as long as our spirit needs the body, and until the point when our spirit is ready to go, we need to care for the body.  But we only need to care for it, not indulge it.  And even then, remember: fasting is not the be-all end-all of ways to accomplish spiritual evolution.  Do it if you want to or if your tradition requires you to, and if you do engage in fasting, do so safely.  If you don’t engage in it, there still so many ways to indulge the spirit and encourage its cultivation rather than just tempering the body.

What about you, dear reader?  Do you fast, and if so, how do you fast?  Do you engage in total fasting, partial fasting, or intermittent fasting?  Do you abstain from only certain things or practices?  What else do you do when you fast?  Let me know in the comments!

On the Mathetic Rule of Observance

I mentioned in the ritual of self-initiation that one should carry out the 10 days of ritual, plus the day immediately preceding these, by observing a type of fasting and behavioral restrictions.  I call this the Mathetic Rule of Observance, which consists of six rules to restrict one’s actions and intake of food during mathetic rituals.  They’re based on Pythagorean and other spiritual practices; although the rules can be added onto and be made more strict or modified in special cases to accommodate certain situations, the minimum rules to follow are six in number:

  1. No harm to any being.
  2. No sexual activity.
  3. No lying or speaking ill of anything or anyone.
  4. No consumption of meat or beans.
  5. No intake of stimulants.
  6. Wine may be drunk in moderation.

Essentially, these are rules to help with rules of purity for rituals.  Many magical traditions and rituals have their own rules of purity, usually stopping at “fast from everything for at least half a day” or “no sexual activity for three days” for a certain period of time; other spiritual traditions and paths, like Buddhism, have precepts that one should follow to prevent oneself from committing impure actions that’d come back to bite them in the ass afterward.  I often don’t make use of these restrictions, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to try out more in my own work.  Generally, unless it’s mandatory I do so, I simply try not to eat, have sex, or masturbate for at least an hour before ritual, but there are exceptions, and I want to make mathetic exploration and ritual such an exception.

So why purity?  There’s a lot of confusion around purity, and many rituals have no need for it at all; some tantric, ecstatic, or LHP traditions almost necessitate the use of indulgence in many ways, if not outright amorality and antinomia.  This even applies to some ancient Mediterranean traditions, especially those honoring Bacchus, Orpheus, and other ecstatic mystery cults.  That’s less the case, however, for Pythagoreanism and Neoplatonism, which were focused more on controlling the body to better free the spirit within.  By keeping the body operational and focusing on it just so that it can survive healthily, keeping it satiated without indulging it, one can better focus on elevating the spirit and ascending to the higher realms in a way both easier and worthier of the objects of adoration and exploration, like the Good, the Monad, or what have you.  Plus, keeping rules of purity like this can prevent the body, soul, spirit, and mind from being contaminated by things that would continue to bring them down.

Pythagoreanism had a litany of rules one had to follow in order to remain in the Pythagorean community, the rules for which far surpasses most non-monastic rules of asceticism I’ve ever seen.  Some of them were pretty big: strict vegetarianism, wearing white clothes, and the like.  Others were trivial and detailed, like:

  • Do not touch a white cock.
  • Do not pick up what has fallen.
  • Do not cut fire with a sword.
  • Do not look in a mirror beside a light.
  • Do not step over a yoke.

Some philosophers have explained these rules as being strictly metaphorical; for instance, one rule says “do not eat the heart”, which would literally mean not to eat the heart of any creature (which would have been redundant, considering one’s vow of vegetarianism), but is sometimes explained as not to be consumed by envy or malice, but to share with others sympathy and love.  That kind of thing, you know?  Many of the rules were likely intended to have a double meaning, such as “decline walking in the public ways, and walk in unfrequented paths”; it’d be hard, especially if one is to live a life free from violence and worldly concern, to maintain that kind of mindset when walking in large public byways with the chaos and bustle of towns going on around you; likewise, it’s hard to focus on the philosophical and eternal truth of the cosmos when you’re stuck thinking about the things everyone else thinks about.  I mean, as magicians, how many times have we rolled our eyes seeing the trash that’s being hawked on magazine counters and at the aisles of supermarkets about the latest celebrity’s latest breakup with their latest husband, especially after we just do a ritual pondering the powers of the stars or elements?

While one can have as many extra rules and restrictions one would like, the minimum rules I’m establishing for mathetic practice are six.  Each one is important, and each has profound effects on the body and spirit alike to help one with ritual.  While these are definitely more Apollonian than Dionysian, and while I fully recognize and respect the need for balance between the two, the system of mathesis as a whole leans more towards the former than the latter.  To that end, here’re some short explanations why each rule is in the Mathetic Rule of Observance.

  1. No harm to any being.  This pretty much goes without saying.  Everything in the cosmos is born for a purpose, and everything in the cosmos has a bit of the divine within them.  Yes, fighting happens, and sometimes war is inevitable; conflict is a part of the world.  However, unless one is a soldier (in which case, on active duty, one probably doesn’t have much time for deep philosophical and theurgic works generally), it helps to refrain from causing harm to others.  Causing harm can lead to one being caused harm, not to mention that causing harm can distract one from a holy purpose and disrupt their thoughts and internal balance, which only sets one back.  If conflict is inevitable, there is almost always a way to resolve it without causing harm; aikido is something that focuses on this.  Yes, joint locks and throws are a thing, but this method of martial arts focuses on ending fights without causing harm.  For people of a philosophical and theurgic mindset generally, chances are that fighting is not on the day-to-day to-do list.  Besides, not all harm is physical; emotional and spiritual harm can also be exacted upon others, such as through manipulation, guilt tripping, deception, cursework, or having others do harm on your behalf.  All of that should be refrained from as much as possible.
  2. No sexual activity.  Honestly, I do not consider sex to be an inhibitor in and of itself to spiritual practice; nor, for that matter, did Pythagoras, though he too had some restrictions on it.  I personally find sex to scratch a really good itch, and I know many people use sex for magical purposes.  However, mathesis isn’t that kind of magic, and if we want to ascend spiritually, then denying the body this is a better thing than not.  By denying the body sex, we build up more power inside and prevent ourselves from getting distracted by worldly needs.  Sexual power, when contained, is fantastic to reroute and use for some powerful experiences, and by using it in sex (especially for procreation or mere enjoyment), we use it and get rid of that power for another purpose and cannot reclaim it.  Emissions from sex are on the same level as that of spit or blood; they’re not impure or waste products of the body, but they belong to the body and not to the spirit.  Let the body be empowered through sexual denial, and it can be repurposed for the spirit in mathesis.  Besides, sex with others during a mathetic ritual can potentially contaminate the body from the other person, which would then spiritually inhibit you from a purer working style.
  3. No lying or speaking ill of anything or anyone.  In some ways, this is a clarification of rule #1, no harm to any being.  While rule #1 focuses on physical and emotional harm, this rule focuses on logical and communicative harm.  By misleading others, we encourage falsity and deception in the world, and when we’re focused on trying to better ourselves with the power of truth, we end up undoing the work for others that we’re trying to do for ourselves.  Add to it, by speaking ill against others, we engage in “walking in the public ways”, getting involved with gossip, rumors, and other sundry matters that we have no business engaging in, especially when the less we’re involved generally, the better.  Lying, by the way, includes all forms of exaggeration and diminution: boasting pridefully about one’s accomplishments or modestly trying to conceal them are both negative things to do that would break this rule.  After all, humility is not modesty; being modest is to diminish yourself (reverse exaggeration), while humility is saying things as they are without embellishment.
  4. No consumption of meat or beans.  Our bodies need to survive for as long as we live in this world; without our bodies, we cannot live.  It’s that simple.  To live, we need to eat.  It’s that simple.  However, we are what we eat, and if we kill animals to feed ourselves, we become more animal than human and require death to live.  While I love me a bacon cheeseburger or a KFC Double Down sandwich, for the purposes of mathesis, we want to avoid anything that would harm the transmigration of souls.  If we kill something to eat, we kill the life of a body with a soul in it, and since we could very well be the next soul to inhabit a cow for slaughter, we probably don’t want to be eaten when we would rather live instead.  Likewise, for a similar reason, Pythagoras taught that beans should never be eaten or touched, and even walking through a field of beans was taboo.  This is due to the appearance of the bean to resemble a human body: Pythagoras taught (probably) that beans and humans shared the same source or material, so to eat a bean was akin to eating human.  Add to it, beans contained the souls of the dead, and to this day bean dishes are usually called for in most funerary rites across the world.  To be surrounded by souls of the dead is counter to our goal of attaining a soul of life in imperishable truth.  From a more practical standpoint, meat and beans are exceptionally heavy foods that weigh down the body and soul alike.  For deeper spiritual practice, we need to have the body be sated enough without becoming heavy and world-bound.
  5. No intake of stimulants.  That’s right: abstinence, as far as possible, from caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and any kind of stimulant.  For caffiends like me who complain about there being too much blood in my caffeine system, this rule is pretty much the worst possible punishment, but there’s a point to it.  By stimulating the body chemically, we try to pull as much energy out of it artificially as we can, and that only temporarily.  Oftentimes, while a good jolt might be just what the doctor ordered, overreliance on them is extraordinarily common.  Further, by getting the body overpowered, it can also dominate the faculties of the mind; rather than having the body heavy with food into lethargy, it gets heavy with heat into physical action.  Both inhibit the spirit from working properly within the body; add to it, the spirit can best function off the body’s natural energy without having it altered through chemical stimulants.  Besides, if I can go a few days without energy drinks and cigarettes for an initiation, you can, too.  That said, Hermes is definitely a god of stimulants, so this is probably the least important of these rules, especially considering the late-to-bed and early-to-rise nature of the ritual.
  6. Wine may be drunk in moderation.  Just as stimulants can be damaging to the natural flow and processes of the body, intoxication can do the same in reverse.  Any drug, drink, or substance that dulls the senses is as damaging to those that oversharpen them or demand more out of them than one could normally provide.  Wine, however, is a staple of ritual, and is important in many Hellenic and Mediterranean rituals; it’s infeasible to except wine from this, only because it has its uses.  Yes, it can dull the senses, but it can also soothe one into relaxation.  Further, it is proper to offer and share wine with the gods and among ourselves, both as sacrifice and as a gift.  Thus, wine may be drunk, but only in moderation; it should not be consumed to get drunk.  When drinking, alternate glasses of wine with twice as much water, and neither drink too quickly nor greedily when you do so.  Moreover, this rule exhorts one to moderation generally: extending this rule, we can say that one should eat only enough to be sated but never full, sleep enough to be rested but never lethargic, and internet enough to be informed but never distracted.

Now that the rules have been explained, I’m not limiting the Mathetic Rule to just these six rules.  You can add on whatever you wish

  • Do not wear black clothing.  This would be difficult for me, but I can pull it off all the same through a judicious use of my wardrobe.  However, consider the color black.  We see things as particular colors because light reflects off them in a particular way based on what light is absorbed by the material; things that appear red absorb light that is not red, for instance.  Things that appear white reflect all colors at once, absorbing nothing; white is a symbol of not only purity but of purification.  Black, on the other hand, absorbs all colors; it takes in all things and holds them there.  Black does not reflect, but sticks to things.  When in mathetic practice, wearing black should be avoided generally, since it absorbs things like negativity and filth and holds onto them, causing them to better contaminate you.  After all, you can’t generally see the stains on your clothes when you’re wearing black, and you have no idea how filthy you get until you finally take them off.
  • Do not eat root vegetables.  This is an extension of two major rules above, not eating beans and not causing harm.  Beans bear a specific resemblance, according to Pythagoras, to human beings and the potential for life itself, especially due to their growth in the ground where the dead live underneath.   However, this rule is an influence from Buddhist monastic restrictions, where one cannot dig holes.  This is because animals, even insects and small creatures, live in the earth, and by digging holes for planting or for setting posts or beams, one risks injuring and killing them.  Digging up root vegetables to eat not only risks killing the plant, but also all insects around the dirt and soil where the plant is buried.  Further, the ground is where we put our dead; it is, quite literally, dirty.  Root vegetables are tied to the earth, and by eating the earth we keep ourselves earthy.  This is less than helpful if we want to ascend and rise up out of our world.
  • Do not eat cooked food.  This is an extreme dietary restriction, seeing how much of our food needs to be cooked either thermically or chemically, in order to be safe and edible.  Mind you, this includes cooking by heat as well as by chemical application.  In other words, one can only eat fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked grains, stews, and even processed sugars cannot be eaten with this rule.  By eating only fresh, live vegetables, you inculcate a desire for life within you and subsist on only that which helps keep the body satisfied without bringing it down in any way.  The only more extreme dietary restriction I can think of is to simply fast from all food entirely, but that’s often not helpful, either.  In fact, I think this rule should only be done for a maximum of ten days unless you can specifically train yourself to subsist healthily on this, especially with the restrictions on meat and beans or (perhaps) all root vegetables.
  • Do not steal.  I think this goes without saying.  Don’t take what’s not yours, since that can bring harm to others and cause harm to yourself, spiritually or physically.  Besides, without something being officially yours, you don’t know where it came from, what kind of contagion it might have, or whether you need it.  Indulging one’s avarice and greed is not something good for mathetic practice.
  • Do not accept things directly handed to you.  This rule is from Santeria practice of the so-called “iyawo year”.  When Santeros make ocha, or are accepted into the priesthood, they must undergo a year of initiation where they can only wear white and have a number of restrictions placed upon them.  This one means that you cannot accept things that are directly handed to you; they must be placed down before you can pick it up.  (There are exceptions, of course, but those don’t have to apply here.)  If you’re trying to remain pure, then you need to keep away from impurity.  If other people are impure, they can give you their impurity and contaminate you.  Passing you something is a way to transmit that contagion by means of the object being passed over.  This can make shopping exceptionally awkward, admittedly, but this is just an example of what kinds of practices you can add on to enforce and encourage purity.
  • Do not be completely in the dark.  This is based on some rules of ceremonial magic where one should never pray in the dark, but always with a fire or light present; the Pythagoreans themselves had a similar rule involving their mysteries.  Light encourages truth, while darkness conceals it; further, in darkness, you never know whether there’s someone around you to harm you or eavesdrop.  If you want to remain in the light, then you need to always remain in the light; never be in a completely darkened room or space.  Always carry a light or candle with you, sleep with a candle or nightlight on, and similar acts can be done to ensure that there’s always some light around you.

So, what happens if we break one of these rules?  Does that invalidate our efforts or negate the power of the ritual?  It can, but it doesn’t have to.  These rules of observance are only intended to encourage one to focus on spiritual work; they’re precepts, not obligations or commandments, and are meant as a rough guide to help us manage our physical actions while we attempt some really powerful spiritual actions.  Should we break a rule, go back and admit your fault to anyone who was affected by it, and offer to help clarify or fix any problems that result from them.  Otherwise, if nobody external to ourselves was affected by our fault, accept what you did and move on.  Dwelling on our “transgressions” is potentially worse than having committed them in the first place; we did what we did, it’s in the past, accept it, and don’t let it happen again.  Fearing what we may have done affecting us negatively in the future distracts us from the work at hand.  There’s no prescribed ritual or prayer to forgive or confess breaking any of the rules above; if you want to, admit fault in your private prayers, either to some savior god or to Hermes or whatever, and ask for help and guidance to keep you from doing it again.

What about exceptions to the rules?  No set of rules is one-size-fits-all unless it’s a set of universally applicable platitudes that don’t actually say much.  For instance, consider the no stimulants rule.  Some medication for conditions like ADHD are by their nature stimulants, and allow people to focus better in a way that is constructive to spiritual activity, even actually sleep properly.  Some people require animal protein in order to digest other foods properly, though these are a very small minority of people.  The overall meta-rule here is that, as much as you can, you should stick to these minimum rules as best as you feasibly can given your circumstances and situation; the more you can stick to them, especially if you can stick to all of them, the better.  If you can’t stick to one rule for a necessary reason, find a new rule similar enough to substitute it with.  For instance, if you require stimulants in order to maintain regular mental functions, try a “no refined sugar” rule instead.  If you’re required to work in a field where harm is a very high possible outcome, minimize it as much as you can and substitute it with “no idle talk”.  Other rules, however, are pretty much universal: don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, don’t diminish, don’t condemn, don’t indulge.

Again, this Rule isn’t a set of commandments.  There’s no community to shun you, no authority to excommunicate you (at least, not yet).  They’re there to help you in the spiritual work, not to establish a set of negative commandments (“thou shalt not”) to prevent you from living or exploring the work.  Given the focus of mathesis, it helps to restrain the body so as to let the spirit soar, but if you can successfully balance a physical and spiritual life while striving for the spiritual, then chances are you already live by a sufficient set of rules on your own without having to adopt these.

De Abstinentia

This past weekend was fantastic.  It started on Friday when, after getting home from work, I went to the supermarket to get a few bottles of sangria.  I ended up coming home with a crate of wine, a crate of hard liquors, mixers, some frozen pizzas, and Chinese takeout.  Admittedly, I got a little distracted, but after my Jupiter conjuration on Thursday I was feeling mighty good.  I hung out and drank with a friend on Saturday, and then did the same with another friend plus plenty of Asian food plus plenty of various and sundry other activities, some of which resulted in well-defined circular bruises on my neck.

Don’t judge.  The Bible says not to.

Well, after that, I was feeling bloated, ill-equipped to deal with normal activities that didn’t involve more eating (and even then, ohgodbluuugh), and just generally salty (yay high-sodium dumplings and pizza).  Plus, the added weight gain was unwelcome, especially since I’ve picked up a few more pounds since March than I care to, and it makes it hard to stay focused on much when it comes to the Work and Art.  So, I decided it was finally time to call myself to a fast and just get it done with.

I had been meaning to do a fast for a while now, but it’s hard.  Between being social and eating out or with friends, working at home with delicious temptation all around me, and coping with the occasional allergy or cold, maintaining a fast is not the most simple thing, and that’s without getting to the more internal things like hunger.  I originally, long ago, tried to see how it’d be like doing a weekly fast, like on each quarter of the moon; it worked for a brief time, and then people kept scheduling dates or wanting to get lunch on those very days; after putting the fast off for one day, I ended up putting them off for two, then just canceling them altogether.  You know how these things go: give the demon an inch and it’ll take a mile.  It’s not hard to work up to a fast, either, even for a day thing; according to Frater MC, one good way to work up to a full fast is by a progressive fast.  Variations on this abound, and some may not apply based on how one already eats.  For me, a progressive fast looks something like:

  • Day 1: no meat, no alcohol, no sodas
  • Day 2: no meat, alcohol, or bread/noodles.  Clear liquids only to drink.
  • Day 3: fresh fruits and water only.
  • Day 4 and onward: water only.

Anyway, after reading the Scribbler’s four day fast regimen, I decided to cut the bullshit and go full-on into a seven day water-only fast.  Technically, I started it last night when I ate my last meal of a handful of frozen dumplings, but I officially began it this morning when I made my statement of intent; I’m counting forward from this morning, then.  Did I warm up for this?  No.  Was that stupid?  Yup.  Is fasting in general stupid?  Often enough, yeah.  That said, I have my reasons: it’s been too long since my last proper fast, I need to start going through some proper ordeals in my life beyond the daily grind, I could do with shedding some extra weight, it’s supposedly good for detoxing the body, it’s a good exercise in self-control and self-restraint, and I want to see the effect food deprivation has on my practice and ability to see things astrally.  Granted, this isn’t for everyone; I’m in good enough health with no interfering preexisting conditions that would give me serious pause for doing a fast like this, and I’m not engaged in such an active lifestyle that this would pose a danger to me.

Ordeal?  Why on earth would I put myself through that?  Honestly, I don’t feel like my life is, well, troubled enough.  Things go well, and I don’t have much to cope with besides tolerating people, and I’m sociable and affable enough to do that fairly easily.  I know that, based on my own self-knowledge and an analysis of my natal horoscope, self-control is definitely among my weakest powers; this will be an opportunity for me to confront that demon of myself and give it the equivalent of a smackdown, especially in preparation for finally getting around to binding the Evil Genius.  Plus, given the multitude of resources extolling the benefits of fasting, I figure it can’t be that bad for my practice.

Since this upcoming week I have conjurations with the angels of Mars, Fire, and the Sun, I figure I’ll have energy and drive enough to get through this fine, though I’m already looking forward to eating (at least gingerly) on Wednesday morning next week.  After that, I doubt a full seven-day fast will be called for anytime soon, though I do like the Scribbler’s idea of fasting once a quarter (say, the beginning of every season, or cross-quarter day?), but we’ll see.  Regular fasting, or at least in the form of calorie restriction and increased moderation, has been shown to be very healthy and helpful in even a normal person’s health; how much more so it might benefit me!

For now, I’m going to get back to my water and Enya to get rid of this headache, which should be gone by tomorrow.  I hope.

UPDATE (5/31/2012): Alright, I’m gonna have to cut the fast down to four days, ending Saturday morning.  After conferring with some medical friends of mine and reading up a bit more, seven days is a bit overzealous without training for fasting (who knew?) and preparing for it by doing a progressive fast (no duh).  Plus, after some family issues came up, I’ll be headed out of town this weekend, which involves the close scrutiny of family gatherings at which it’ll be impossible to maintain a fast in serenity.  Plus, I don’t want to have to endure all those folk on an empty stomach.  I’ll make up for the missed days by doing another four day fast in the coming month, this time by prepping for it.  Even though I’m very certain I can go longer than four days (will is no longer an issue, but the risk of severe hypoglycemia might be), it’s not going to be proper for me to continue this at this stage.  Feh.