On Want and Work

So much for working on my book over the past month; between ceremony and office work, as well as starting to go to the gym (finally, after far too long), turns out that I didn’t have as much time set aside, even after not working on my blog as much.  Fah.  Ah well, time goes on, and work will continue.  But, of course, writing is just one part of my work; I love to research, to construct rituals, to make connections, and to put them down on paper (physical or electronic).  Writing for this blog, helping others out in figuring out their own ceremonial or magical problems for solutions and workarounds, doing divinations, and writing my book (slowly) are all deeply satisfying for me, because it feels productive and, moreover, makes me feel helpful to others.  There’s also the research aspect of the Work that I love: studying the prayers and songs and chants, planning out ceremonies and rituals down to the individual motions and seconds, and seeing how individual motions and moments connect across a ceremony to produce a single, unified result.  That, too, is valuable and worth our time.

But we don’t call it the Writing, or the Research, or the Lesson, or the Study.  We call it the Work, because without Work, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.  You can study and research and write all you want, but if you never put paper to practice, you don’t get much of anywhere.  And, from time to time, I catch myself slipping back into the comfort of the armchair and realize that, well, one position maintained too long starts to get uncomfortable, and eventually, the whole body becomes sore from sitting down so long, and the only way to stop that soreness is to…well, get out of the chair, stand up, and do some Work.  And yet, once you sit down for too long, it’s easy to forget what, exactly, to do once you stand up again.

One way some astute readers of mine can figure out what sorts of projects I’m doing, if any at all, is to note the rate at which I post stuff, what the focuses and trends are on the things I write about, and how much I say about it.  Looking back over the years, it’s easy to note the slow periods of my writing, and there’s a definite correlation between the things I do and the things I write: if I’m doing a lot, I tend to write a lot, and if I’m not writing a lot, it’s generally because I’m not doing a lot.  It’s not always true, of course, as there are always things I can find to write about (assuming I’m in the mood for writing and have the words to put to paper for it): between managing a geomancy group on Facebook, keeping abreast (sometimes) of conversations on social media, seeing particular issues crop up in people’s lives, and finding neat tidbits to talk about from the PGM or other source texts, there’s plenty to be said in general, but when it comes to an actual impetus for writing, it’s often tied up with having an impetus to Work.

And, lately, I haven’t been Working much.

Sure, I can point to a variety of factors as to why I might not be doing as much of my own experimentation and ritual: my three hours a day commuting, the time I spend on an almost weekly basis working ceremony for the Lukumí/Santería community (and all the study and obligations that go along with that), household upkeep, going to the gym, trying to spend time with friends, staying in the office doing actual work to bring in money while I stay in my manager’s good graces, and so on and so on.  Still, some of this sounds…more like excuses than anything else, because heaven and hell know that I’ve been able to do quite a bit more with as much on my plate as I have now.  And that doesn’t change the fact that, if one were to think that Lukumí is becoming my primary “mode” and Thing now, that I’m not doing much outside of ceremony for myself; sure, I spend time with my orisha, but I’m not really going to them either for much of stuff that I want.

And that’s the crux of it all: I don’t want much.  It’s not that I don’t want much, it’s that I don’t want much.  I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, Want is the drive for Work.  It’s all well and good to practice one’s conjuration skills with the angels or demons of your choice and flavor, but to me, I feel somewhat bad about conjuring them for its own sake without a purpose.  I could practice sigils or candlework, but if it’s just for the fuck of it, how can I really put any intent into it besides half-heartedly, half-assedly saying some prayers and throwing some energy around?  It seems like, without having a goal or purpose or need or…really, a Want to drive my work, everything I could think of doing seems empty and pointless, and so that reduces me to simply studying about things, and even that tends to be scattered and unfocused.

I mean, as far as modes of living go, I lead a pretty good life, and definitely among the most privileged in the world, too.  I’m in good health overall, I’m college-educated, I have a home and a mortgage payment, I have a car of my own that’s paid off, I have clothes and finery aplenty of my own, I’m married to the love of my life, I’m gainfully employed in a stable and well-paying job, I have family and friends and godfamily and colleagues that I care about and who care about me, and I make some good side-cash out of my hobbies of writing, crafting, and occult work.  I’m not shitting on myself by saying this: I’m basically living a middle-class dream, which is rare for US millennials nowadays, and my life is easily the envy of billions of people across the world.  (Many of the lives of my readers, too, as a matter of fact; the fact you have a computer and are educated enough to read my blog attests to having at least a few successes of your own, even if by the grace of luck and birth.)  To put it bluntly, many of my needs are met, as far as the needs of normal human beings go.

But…well, you and I are not normal human beings.  We’re not satisfied merely by being successful in this world, are we?  The usual middle-class dream is definitely nice to live, but that’s not our real dream, is it?  The adventures and situations of sitcoms and television dramas might be enough for some to aspire to, but even I have to admit that they bored me to tears; no, it’s the adventures and mishaps of fantasy and sci-fi novels that would satisfy me.  At heart, I admit that I want to go above and beyond the normal, mundane, humdrum existence of human life, to experience what few to no others experience, see what few to no others see, go where few to no others dream of stepping into, speak what few to no others dare to utter.

It might be said that an ideal life is a buffet: you get your plate, you get what you want from the buffet (if it’s available), you sit back down, you eat, and you continue eating until you’re full.  I suppose that metaphor works well enough for most people, but again, you and I aren’t most people, are we?  For us, we don’t really have a finite stomach that can be filled with a plate or three of simple food you can find at a buffet.  Remember that, etymologically, the word “appetite” comes from Latin “ad + petere”, meaning “to seek out”; for us, life isn’t an appetite we want to simply satisfy, but a longing to seek out, explore, and flush out as much as we can.  Most people are content with a small, finite number of finite types of food, but you and I know better, don’t we?  There is no such thing as a finite set of experiences, a finite set of places, a finite sets of ideas, a finite set of words; all we have is a finite length of time to live, and we better do our damned best to sample shallowly from or dive deeply into whatever we Want out of the infinite patterns and arrangements of Life.

Sure, I can be content with my life; after all, I’m doing pretty well.  But why should I be content with what I have, when I have so much more out there that could be gotten or sampled?  Yes, the things I have are good, but they’re not perfect, and they can always be improved.  Yes, the life I live is sufficient for most people, but it’s only if I shut off the magician-trickster part of my mind that I could stand to consider it “enough”; after all, I have a better idea than “most people” about the depth and breadth and height and width and girth of possible reality and irreality; why be happy confined to this little tiny tower of mine, when there’s a whole world out there to explore?

It’s easy to slip into a mindset of “this is enough” or “I shouldn’t ask for more”; it’s easy to fall into a pattern of commonality, of vulgar banality, by simply accepting things the way they are and making yourself content with it.  True, there are things in the world that we cannot change, for which we must accept them as they are; it’s a good mindset to have where one should think “change this, or change myself”.  However, I don’t think many realize exactly how much there is in the world that we don’t have to simply accept, how much there is in the world that we have the power to change.  And, for the things we cannot necessarily change and which we must accept that happen, there are many things we can change, barter, bargain, or tweak about how it happens.  Yes, the walls of Troy were indeed destined to fall, but the city could have lasted another ten years in safety and prosperity, if only Aphrodite had asked Poseidon who built them.

In any software engineering project, an application isn’t really “finished” once it’s deployed.  Sure, the design may have been implemented to the letter in code and compilation, but just because it’s out being used doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.  There will always be people who have problems using the program, and changes must be made to accommodate them; there will always be bugs lurking in the code, and corrections must be made to eliminate them; there will always be areas of inefficiency in the program, and improvements must be made to optimize them.  So it is with life: no matter how good or complete you might think it is, there are always things to improve on, because there’s always some quirk, some annoyance, some inefficiency, some blindspot that can be found and improved on.  For those who have rough lives, magic is easy to learn and put to practice; for those who have good lives, what few problems they have can still be resolved using magic.  The Work makes the lives of all better, no matter where you start from, so long as you do the Work.  Having dire needs is easy to fire up your Want to fuel your Work, but for those who don’t need much, it’s harder to build that fire of Want.

Summer’s a lovely time for bonfires and to stock up on fuel for the coming, lengthening nights.  So, whether you think you’ll need to keep warm by a rusty trashcan fire or enjoy the light from a gilded fireplace, let’s start gathering while the gathering’s good, eh?

No matter whether you’re a ceremonial magician, neopagan, academic philosopher, or someone who’s just sorta interested in the occult, I’d like all of my readers to try a little exercise with me to figure out what it is we Want out of our pathetic lives.

  1. Get two pieces of paper and a pen (not a pencil, but a pen or some other permanent writing tool).  At the top of one sheet, write “DO”.  At the top of the other sheet, write “HAVE”.
  2. On the “HAVE” sheet, write out all of the things you already currently have, enjoy, and accomplish in your life.  Everything you’re satisfied with, everything you’ve worked to attain and then attained, everything you’re content with, everything you think you should be happy with, write them down, item by item.
  3. On the “DO” sheet, write out all of the things you want to do that you have not yet done, or get that you don’t yet have.  It could be big, it could be small; it could be meaningful, it could be trivial.  It doesn’t matter.  Write them down anyway, so long as it’s not already on the “HAVE” sheet.
  4. Go back to the “HAVE” sheet.  For all the things you already have, branch off each item and add onto it the things that can be improved on.  If you already have a home of your own, what can you do to improve it, or would you instead want a better, nicer home?  If you already have a car, what about trading it in for a better one, or souping it up on your own?  If you already have a job, what about getting a promotion, or moving to a new career, or changing how you get income entirely?  I guarantee you that each and every thing you already have can be improved on in at least some fashion; aim for at least two things to improve on for each and every thing you have, or cross it out entirely if you genuinely cannot think of how to improve on it, if you even have any desire to.
  5. Go back to the “DO” sheet.  For all the things you already want to get, make it more specific; improve on the improvements.  Make the things you want to get more concrete, more actualized, more detailed; think not only of purpose and goal, but of means and method as well.  Be specific.  If you find that something you want to get is already an improvement of something you already have, cross it out.
  6. Once you’re done with the “HAVE” and “DO” sheets, copy all the new items over from the “HAVE” sheet to the “DO” sheet.
  7. Look over each item on the “DO” sheet.  This is the time to judge whether you want to devote the time and energy to something; if you have anything to reconsider about a given item on it, cross it off, but leave the remnant of it there.
  8. Burn the “HAVE” sheet with intent to start off your own fire of Want.
  9. Use the “DO” sheet as your high-living to-do list, and keep it sacred as a special text for you to follow.

It doesn’t matter how good you think your life might be, because your life can always be improved.  The Work isn’t done until your life is done, and I claim with some certainty that we’re not done yet, so why waste our time sitting in an armchair that makes us sore?  Let’s get to Work.

Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 4: Why, Daddy, Why?

Magic burns.  We’ve gone over that enough by now, I think; magic is difficult to do, and even more difficult to do properly.  There are lots of steps one can take (and should take and take and retake again regularly) to help manage the burn, you’re still going to get burnt.  And that’s okay, though it may not seem like it.  Besides, even though one can get burned pretty bad by making mistakes that are, in retrospect, pretty easy to avoid, there’s still going to be burning involved.  One might contrast these two kinds of burning as burning down and burning up, the difference between them being whether one is burning one’s resources for more burnable resources, or burning one’s resources for more rarefied, adamantine treasures.  I keep saying that doing magic and being burnt is worth it, but given the risks associated with it and how one can easily be burned down as one can be burned up, people might not be able to understand why doing magic is worth it.

In the Hermetic view of things, mankind was made in the image of God.  Quoth Hermes Trismegistus from the Divine Poemander:

But the Father of all things, the Mind being Life and Light, brought forth Man like unto himself, whom he loved as his proper Birth; for he was all beauteous, having the image of his Father.  For indeed God was exceedingly enamoured of his own form or shape, and delivered unto it all his own Workmanships. But he, seeing and understanding the Creation of the Workman in the whole, would needs also himself fall to work, and so was separated from the Father, being in the sphere of Generation or Operation.  Having all Power, he considered the Operations or Workmanships of the Seven; but they loved him, and everyone made him partaker of his own order.  And he learning diligently, and understanding their Essence, and partaking their Nature, resolved to pierce and break through the Circumference of the Circles, and to understand the power of him that sits upon the Fire.

This is the big guy up in the highest of all heavens, the Nous, the Great Mind, the Infinite and Almighty Divine Source of All Things, the One Thing, the First Father, but “God” is a convenient word to describe the dude.  In the beginning, God made mankind in his own image and form, which means that we took on pretty much all the qualities of our Father: we were created by the One who creates, so it’s literally in our blood and spirit to create as well.  Creation, then, is a holy and divine act, and when we create our children, our materials, our homes, our lives, our realities, we are ultimately performing a holy act, which can just as easily and conveniently be called “magic”.  Magic is, after all, causing a change in reality to conform to our will, and to cause something to happen is to create the event.

Anyway, so we have the ability to do magic from our divine source, and our license to do it is our birthright.  Once created, we left the nest from whence we were made to go create our own, and in the process encountered the Seven Spheres, other neighborhoods in our divine heavenly hometown; in exploring them, we found the seven planetary governors who happened to be real good friends with our father.  Since they like our father (being, you know, made and employed by him as well), they saw us as their little sibling and really worthy of pretty much everything they had, so they helped us learn how to operate in their own respective spheres and how to work with the things they work with.  Once we learned what we could from them, we said our goodbyes and headed onto the next stop, and so on and so on, and in the process kept learning more about ourselves as we learned more about the Source who created all this.  After all, if the Divine Almighty created all these spheres, then he’s a part of them too, which means we’re a part of them, which means we can work in and with them.

But then, we came across another neighborhood in the hometown:

And having already all power of mortal things, of the Living, and of the unreasonable creatures of the World, stooped down and peeped through the Harmony, and breaking through the strength of the Circles, so showed and made manifest the downward-born Nature, the fair and beautiful Shape or Form of God.  Which, when he saw, having in itself the unsatiable Beauty, and all the operations of the Seven Governors, and the Form or Shape of God, he smiled for love, as if he had seen the shape or likeness in the Water, or the shadow upon the Earth, of the fairest Human form.  And seeing in the Water a Shape, a Shape like unto himself, in himself he loved it, and would cohabit with it, and immediately upon the resolution ensued the operation, and brought forth the unreasonable Image or Shape.  Nature presently laying hold of what it so much loved, did wholly wrap herself about it, and they were mingled, for they loved one another.  And from this cause Man above all things that live upon earth is double: Mortal, because of his body, and Immortal, because of the substantial Man. For being immortal, and having power of all things, he yet suffers mortal things, and such as are subject to Fate or Destiny.  And therefore being above all Harmony, he is made and become a servant to Harmony, he is Hermaphrodite, or Male and Female, and watchful, he is governed by and subjected to a Father, that is both Male and Female, and watchful.

We ended up in the Sphere of the Earth, Malkuth, the Kingdom, the densest and most intriguing stop we’ve made so far in our celestial travels.  We finally saw a form of ourselves in our reflections here, and we thought it looked so cool that we ended up making a body for ourselves in this place which combines the essence of all the other places and spheres we’ve been to so far, and then some.   We ended up making our own body and started willfully inhabiting it, and since our body was made in our form and our form was made in the image of God, our body was also made in the image of God (though a little further removed).  Since everybody loves God, just as God loves everything, just so Nature herself (the power and force of the sphere of the Earth) fell in love with our bodies.  Nature then overwhelmed us in rapture, and we found ourselves in a beautiful love affair with Nature.  The thing is that, just like someone playing hooky from work to fool around all day at home, we ended up getting distracted and forgot about our duties, origins, and purpose in the cosmos.  We became so enamored by Earth that we became earthly instead of heavenly.

This itself isn’t a bad thing, but it does make things weird for us.  We ended up sticking around in our earthly bodies a little too long and forgot where we came from, what we’re capable of, and what we’re supposed to do.  We kept focusing and specializing with earthly, mundane things for so long that we forgot we knew anything else.  We lost sight of our childhood hopes and dreams and settled down in a place we shouldn’t settle down in at a time too early to settle down.  We became more animal than human.  And that’s not good for us.  However, we’ve been used to being here for so long that we’ve gotten comfortable being mundane and strictly material, when we’re really supposed to be more than that and, even if we choose to partake in mundane stuff, we’re not supposed to be utterly reliant on it.  And that’s where the pain of burning up comes in: in order to be heavenly, we have to get used to being heavenly again.  Since what lives up in the heavens are stars, we have to get used to being stars ourselves again.  Since stars are illustrious, powerful, and magnificent because of their burning, so too do we have to burn in order to shine like and outshine the stars themselves.

And that’s why getting burnt by the stars is a good thing, when done properly.  It’s like breaking an addiction: yes, we’re going to have to go through withdrawal, and yes, we may need an intervention or two along the way to make sure we’re on the right track and don’t relapse.  It’s going to suck, but the payoff is worth it, because it brings us back to our senses, it reminds us of who we are, and it helps us see what we can really do and accomplish.  It empowers us to do more spiritually with less materially, and in the process able to do more both spiritually and materially.  As creatures of the Creator, and as creators ourselves, it’s our job to create things that are better for us and the cosmos; this includes the creation of a more perfect, more splendid, and more kick-ass awesome physical reality, but it requires a knowledge of our heavenly, spiritual selves to do that.  In order to shine, we need to strip off the layers of dust and cruft that’ve accumulated long since before we were born; even though the initial polishing might be abrasive, the burnishing and blindingly bright effect will truly be a sight to behold.

Also, there’s a bunch more talk going on around the blogosphere this week about what the Great Work is and why we’re supposed to do it, which you might want to check out from Inominandum, Frater Rufus Opus (who keeps saying things), and Frater MC.  What I put above is my view, which is still in formation and is pretty by-the-book Hermeticism, but it ties in well with what I’m going through and what I’ve experienced, seen, heard, and read.

Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 1: Get In or Get Out

The occult arts are no light thing to just pick up, fiddle with, and set aside.  Sure, some things like energy manipulation, astral travel, and other basic skills that are available to everyone, or mostly everyone given a little bit of training.  Divination is a useful skill and can be picked up from a book and a few weeks’ worth of practice, or more depending on the system to be studied.  Talking with spirits, ghosts, angels, and the like can be fairly easily accomplished given a willingness and openness to perceive and talk with them.  Meditation is something everyone should be doing no matter what their professions or hobbies might be, it’s just that useful and applicable.

No, dear reader, the real heart of magic is way up above us, quite literally in the stars themselves.  The seven planets of the old Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks, starting from our worldly plane of the four elements and rising up through the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, past the final barriers out into the sphere of the fixed stars, and thence outward into the unlimited and unending Source of all the light we see as starlight down here.  That’s the magic I’m talking about, and dealing with the different and higher levels of reality, whether internal consciousness or external planes, is difficult, dangerous, and so very, very worth it.

I mean, all our (human, mundane) lives, we’re used to living down here in this world of matter, laws, money, borders, and machines.  We spend most of our time awake and aware of what’s going on within and outside our physical bodies, and we don’t often have the chance to see beyond the material into the higher levels of things.  For one, it’s an institutionalized de facto law that anything besides what’s materially apparent doesn’t exist, no matter how influential it may be; most modern science and the philosophies of New Atheism and scientism reflect this, that only what’s independently, objectively, numerically, repeatedly verifiable can exist and nothing else.  For two, even the old cosmogonies and creation myths that describe a spiritual human entity and its creation also describe how it came to live and be imprisoned down here: the Abrahamic fall from grace, the dharmic creation of karma, the gnostic archons and demiurge, and so on.

All of these myths and stories have the same fact at their cores: humanity is amphibian, living in worlds material and spiritual, but can be so much more if we tried.  Becoming more than just material is the essence of the Great Work, and can be stated in any number of ways.  Any religious or spiritual path with godhood, apotheosis, or reunion with the Source as its goal fulfills the requirements of the Great Work, so by all means, dear reader, pick and choose which path is most suited for you.  Don’t expect any of the paths to be easy, fast, or simple, though, because the word for “work” in Latin, opus, doesn’t have the other meaning of “burden” for no reason.

Living a magical life and carrying out one’s Great Work is hard work.  It takes practice, it takes time, it takes tolls, and it takes sacrifice.  One cannot simply turn lead, moldy fruit, or buckets of urine (handle and all) into the purest gold without a complete upheaval, extreme heat, profound darkness, and constant cleansing.  It’s like that for one’s life, as well.  It may be easy to go “this looks cool” or “let’s try it, it sounds like fun” from an outside perspective, trying out alchemical phases on inanimate objects, but when you try it on yourself, you probably won’t be thinking that for long.

Magic is hard.  The constant practice, vigilance, dedication, and obligation one has to burden oneself with only gets heavier with time and, though one may get used to it, it doesn’t get any easier.  Worldly pleasures, social interaction, and even common livelihoods may often have to take a back seat, even one’s marriages or families, because magic calls one to things higher than any social, institutional, or worldly order.  Sure, “as above, so below” and all, but when you’re stuck seeing things only from below, you miss the bird’s eye view from above and are going to be ignorant to a lot of higher things that make the entire machine of the cosmos function.  It’s going to suck only because you’re not used to being otherworldly.

Magic burns.  Flying up amongst the stars, immersing oneself in their heavenly lights, and incorporating their celestial rays into one’s sphere is blissful, but you’re also dealing with light of the most rarefied, pure kind.  Light that strong, that bright, that close up will burn, and there’s no way around that.  Some people don’t like having their darkest secrets illuminated to themselves and the world, and some people cling too much to old infested huts to let them burn down so as to build newer and better palaces.  You’re going to have to burn things down so as to burn back up as well; only by setting oneself on fire can one be holy and powerful enough to ascend to the highest reaches of the heavens themselves.  It’s going to suck only because you’re used to not being on fire.

Nobody who wasn’t lying ever said that magic was easy, and those who actually live the magic don’t lie about it.  Not everyone was meant for magic, and even if you were meant for it, you’re going to have to change things around to get used to it.  If you don’t want to pay the cost for magic, don’t do it.  If you want to pay the cost and get a huge return on your money, do it and deal with it.  I’ve been burned by the stars before, and although it sucked, it was one of the best experiences of my life.  It’s worth it.  How did I manage to survive being burnt by the stars?  Stay tuned.

New blog site! Also, a conjuration!

First things first: I got tired and bored with Blogger which, although sufficient, wasn’t as nice as other things I’ve seen.  I’ve instead opted to go for a WordPress page, which (who knows?) may eventually replace my own website and stuff, since this looks much nicer and easier to use than messing with a crappy Kentuckian provider and CPanel.  From now on, this will be the new site of the Digital Ambler and all my rantings and stuff.

So, in my coursework, we’re finally getting to the “real meat” of the Work, where we get to conjure spirits and perform wondrous acts and stuff.  In reality, it’s more like getting into Intro to Physics 101 with instructor permission, only instead of a half-broken web-based course management system, I’m using a crystal ball.

The current goal is to get initiated and acquainted with the four elements both on a spiritual level and a physical level in order to understand how things manifest.  Earth, being the most concrete and final of the elements, is the first to ask for an initiation.  So, after studying the correspondences of things to earth and memorizing the ritual, I carried it out this morning in an hour of the Moon, since the Moon is related to the element of earth.  I donned what I’m using as a robe (a decent galabiyya that I’m fond of but never wear), got the gear set up, and did my thing.

Of course, me being as inexperienced as I am, summoning the angel Auriel to ask for an initiation into his sphere wasn’t as clear as I had hoped.  No clear words coming through, no clear shapes visible in the crystal ball, not much of anything.  I did get a faint form-like-image in the crystal ball that wasn’t there before or after the ritual and a faint but distant heavy presence responding to me, so, even though I had my doubts, I guess Auriel did, in fact, come by.  When I asked to be initiated into his sphere, I got a weird feeling of my own, instead: there was no response that I could sense, but my arms felt cool and I felt drawn in or towards the crystal, as if I was being embraced or something.  I’m hoping that was a “yes”; when I asked the spirit whether that was in fact what he meant, I got a feeling of an impatient affirmation.  And, just for completeness’ sake, I also got my own seal of Auriel to conjure him with when I need to again.  It looks like a stylized mountain, which is kinda cool.

Maybe it’s because I’ve got a lot of earthy dispositions as it is, but I didn’t feel too different after the ritual, though I did note a definite sense of “hereness” or something, as if I felt more concrete and present than before.  Better than feeling melancholy, I suppose.  I’ll keep on the lookout for any changes ahead.  Once I feel grounded in the element of earth (nyuk nyuk), I’ll get started on Gabriel and the element of water.  I’d like to hear or see these spirits a bit clearer, but I suppose that comes with practice and more initiations.