Humility versus Modesty

One of the areas where I catch flak as a ceremonial magician is that people constantly assume I’m some kind of spiritual control-freak.  It’s true, lots of Solomonic literature makes use of perilous heavy-handed conjurations against demons and the like, but that’s not the kind of work I often find myself faced with.  I mean, far be it from me to grab Astaroth or some Old One by the tentacles and whip them around the planes to get me a lil’ more coin in my purse.  I’d rather go the route of respect and honor, which is just as much an exchange of effort as anything else and even more effective in the long-term.  Working in a framework of respect involves being humble when needed, but the notion of humility is something that not a lot of people understand.  I suppose magicians have this problem extra-bad, and it’s not unwarranted that I hear tell of haughty magicians whose photos are in the dictionary under “hubris”.

As in many religions, humility is seen as a virtue, usually meaning a recognition of oneself, one’s talents, one’s skills, and one’s accomplishments, with nothing (good or bad) added and nothing (good or bad) removed.  Similar definitions exist across cultures, but that’s the general idea.  I like to use its etymology (as always) to help me clarify what it means; in this case, the word has its origins in the Latin word humus, meaning “earth”.  Humility is the state achieved by being brought low, down to the earth, or with your feet on the ground.  It’s often seen as diametrically opposed to pride, which I don’t quite agree with, because pride is often needed to drive one on to act.  There are also times when I find some expressions of humility to be ungainly debasing or badly humiliating that achieve nothing but hurt or harm, so it might be helpful to break these two words out into four: humility and modesty, pride and boastfulness.

To me, pride and humility are very similar concepts.  Pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do; humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  In other words, these things are statements of truth.  Boastfulness or hubris, on the other hand, and its inverse of modesty are essentially lies we tell to ourselves or others.  Boastfulness is the lie we tell to make ourselves to be more than we actually are; modesty is the lie we tell to make ourselves less than we actually are.  I ended up with this four-way distinction by combining my two favorite sources of religious and spiritual philosophy, Buddhism and Hermeticism.

In my early days in studying religion, I was really into Theravada Buddhism.  It’s a simple, elegant, and effective tradition of Buddhism that was easy enough for a middle schooler to read into and understand the basic tenets of.  I recall reading somewhere (but I can’t seem to find it anymore) that, once upon a time, Buddha was confronted by someone who thought he wasn’t being humble at all.  The Buddha in the old sutras did often expound on how difficult, how rare, how unfathomable the thing he did (complete and total enlightenment) was in the grand scheme of things, even though he frequently told his students to give up exaggerating and lying and boasting of all kinds.  After all, if the Buddha could obtain enlightenment, everyone could, so it couldn’t be as rare as he said so!

Not so, replied the Buddha.  If enlightenment were as common as his prosecutor was suggesting, then other people would be following those teachers and the Buddha would just be another arhat.  The Buddha was recounting a fact that there hadn’t been anyone like him in quite some time, that there wouldn’t be anyone like him for another stretch of time, that the road he took to get to his point was not easy, that he had in fact accomplished a miraculous release from samsara.  He was also recounting that anyone could, in theory, accomplish this, and he was teaching a method that other people could accomplish to attain the same states.  After all, the Buddha was human, too, and as such indicates that all humanity can obtain enlightenment.  Whatever the Buddha did, anyone else can do; that they haven’t indicates how difficult it was.  What the Buddha was not doing was lying about his attainment, neither overstating what he was doing or making himself out to be some cosmic savior and redeemer of all things that exist (though he would have liked to, I’m sure), nor was he making the path out to be easy or kind to people and making himself seem like a weak or intellectually simple person.

In other words, he was humble about his attainment, but he wasn’t being modest about it.  Lying goes against the Five Precepts of Buddhism, which includes exaggeration of any kind, be it for one’s own sake (boasting) or against one’s own sake (modesty).

Granted, modesty does mean “to keep due measure” or “freedom from self-exaggeration”, or a synonym of humility, but often enough it’s used to belittle oneself and make one seem less than they are.  Consider a woman’s beauty, which is often kept regulated in many cultures: I’m against head-coverings, face-veils, and the like because it turns a beautiful form into a shapeless blob so that they won’t tempt men with their sultry ways and sex-radiating hair.  Less severely, consider a servant before his king.  Let’s say that this servant is an expert in several fields of engineering, but due to his stature before the regent, he can’t discuss his accomplishments or expertise without being directly prompted, and even then he has to defer to the excellence of the king.  He’s making himself to be less than he is for the sake of modesty, which reduces his worth instead of increasing it unless the king is somehow made to know of the servant’s actual expertise.

As for pride?  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  It’s something that keeps us going and something that helps us establish our value and rank in the world.  As opposed to Buddhism, Hermeticism informs my notion of pride.  It’s bad to be prideful, or literally “full of it”, but it’s no bad thing to be proud of oneself.  After all, humanity has an important role to play in the world, both for the spirits and for our fellow mankind, and it’s just as important to realize that we’re awesome.  In the Hermetic view, we’re considered the children of God/the gods and, as such, given permission and ability to interact with and communicate with our older sibling spirits, if not outright granted authority to act over them and the world around us.  It’s bad to lord it over other spirits (a la boastful Solomonic invocations), but as children of the gods, it’s also our job to manifest, create, order, and reckon the cosmos according to our roles in it.  And, as the angel Michael once told me, when something in the cosmos does not do their job and their job needs to be done, we need to make them do it.  Qabbalistically, humankind is seen as the angelic choir of Malkuth, meaning that it’s our job to maintain and uphold the order and functionality of this material world of ours and its connections to the worlds and cosmos around us.

It’s a fine line to walk between pride/humility and boasting/modesty.  Often enough, I err on the side of caution and go into modest-mode, since the lying incurred by that rings a little less harmful than the lying incurred by boasting.  Still, I often get on some of my friends’ nerves by being humble to the point of modesty, but that could just be the culture I find myself in which finds more value in pride than humility.  I frequently comment on how awesome and fantastic (in the senses of awe and fantasy) the things I do are, but I always back it up with how little I feel I’m actually doing, coupled with how little I’ve been studying and practicing this stuff.  As of this writing, I’ve only been at my Hermetic stuff for just over two years, and my geomancy stuff at six or so.  These are not long periods of time, and even though I had a head start and good resources to work with, I know that other people with less than me in any sense can make just as good progress just as fast as me.  People trust me with the messages and forecasts I deliver with divination, and I try my hardest to get it right with them, despite that the techniques I use are barely occult or arcane at all.  The stuff I do as a service for the world is important and needed, which I’ll do when there are no others to do the work, which I’ll help when there are, and which I’ll teach when there aren’t any yet but there are those willing to learn.

That’s both my humility and my pride.

Ancient Words of Power for the Directions

(Update 1/9/2018: Interested in more about these entities?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

After all this time, I’m finally getting around to reading Michael Cecchetelli’s excellent text the Book of Abrasax, however slowly that might be.  I’m still just getting into the material, but it’s already off to a good start, especially since he starts off with a ritual I already use frequently: the Calling of the Sevenths, also called the heptagram or heptasphere rite.  I use this daily in my morning ritual schema, as well as whenever I need a quick rebalancing and recharging.  What’s interesting is that Cecchetelli adds in a bit after the intonation of the vowels by calling on four barbarous words of power in a manner reminiscent of the LBRP.  It’s interesting, and I like the effect.  It also reminded me of Stephen Flowers’ Hermetic Magic, where he also introduces the heptagram ritual along with a calling of the quarters, but using different words of power and introducing divine images or godforms to associate with the words.  It’s interesting stuff, and I don’t know why I wasn’t using this before.  (Flowers also used these same words to form the working circle of the magus, as shown on the book’s cover).

Flowers’ work is based on the Greek Magical Papyri (specifically here II.104ff, XII.87ff), which forms the basis for the associations of the names and images with the cardinal directions.  Cecchetelli uses a different set of names for the cardinal directions but doesn’t include the images, and I don’t know off the top of my head where he got his associations of the names with the directions from.  Neither text offers associations of names with the depths, the heights, or the center, even though both authors incorporate the names into the heptagram/heptasphere ritual which make use of these three directions.  In my own experiments, I combined these two sets of names by using Flowers’ attribution of the names to the cardinal directions and used the two other names from Cecchetelli’s list for the vertical dimension (with the spelling corrected to conform with the most commonly seen forms of the words).

With all that in mind, my resulting list of associations between names, directions, planets, vowels, and images becomes this:

  1. East: ΕΡΒΗΘ (ERBĒTH).  A winged dragon with a crown of clouds rising above the horizon.
  2. North: ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ (SESENGENBARPHARANGĒS).  An infant child sitting atop a blossoming lotus.
  3. West: ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ (ABLANATHANALBA).  A crocodile with the tail of a snake arising from the waters.
  4. South: ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ (LERTHEXANAX).  A falcon with its wings stretching out to their full wingspan.
  5. Down: ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ (DAMNAMENEUS).  A young maiden looking forward with a torch in her left hand and a spear in her right.
  6. Up: ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ (AKRAMMAKHAMAREI).  An old man looking downward with a ring of keys in his right hand and a staff in his left.

Although the divine images for the cardinal directions came from the PGM via Flowers, no images were given for ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ or ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ; these I came up with based on what was revealed to be after asking the names and the spiritual entities associated with them.  They seem to work well for me, though admittedly aren’t traditional and are influenced by their planetary associations.  I prefer Flowers’ attributions of the names to the directions over Cecchetelli’s mostly because I can find more extant texts with the same or similar words and directions.

Though there are six names given above, there are seven points of the heptagram ritual; the point missing from the above list is the center point.  I reserve this point for my own HGA, using his name as a word of power in its own right and focusing on his appearance as he appears to me.  You might do the same, or reserve it for your patron/matron deity, other agathodaimonic entity, or your own divine Self using your craft name (a la the Headless Rite‘s “I am thy prophet Moses/Ankh-Af-Na-Khonsu…”).

When used with the heptagram ritual, the words of power essentially correspond to calling the quarters or the Watchtowers, but in a non-angelic or early Hermetic manner.  Although Flowers and Cecchetelli both keep themselves to the four cardinal directions, I like the added use of the third dimension plus my own HGA being with me (once that connection is forged, any method to keep that connection open or make it stronger helps).  So, to call the respective directions using these names, I’d probably go with a structure like the following, visualizing the proper divine image for each name:

ΕΡΒΗΘ, take thy place before me!
ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, take thy place behind me!
ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ, take thy place at my right!
ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ, take thy place at my left!
ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, take thy place in the heights!
ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, take thy place in the depths!
(name of HGA), take thy place with me, now and at all times, here and in all places!

Of course, I wanted to do a bit of research in what these names mean, if they mean anything at all.  In a lot of cases when it comes to these barbarous words of power, there is no etymology to be found, though interesting conjectures might be made or results found through gematria and isopsephy.  ΕΡΒΗΘ is part of a frequently-seen Setian formula in the PGM, usually in damaging or harmful contexts; ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ and ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ are very common words used all throughout the PGM though with no known origin besides a possible Hebrew or Aramaic etymology, but often used for beneficial purposes.  ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ is part of a much longer word known as the Aberamen formula, itself a palindrome which contains the name of Thoth.  ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ is known to be one of the six Ephesia Grammata, hypothesized to refer to the Sun since ancient times, but has also been seen in the PGM for love and luck.  ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ is a word I’ve come to know as a Semitic phrase translated to “cast off the nets”, as in any boundaries or bindings that would prevent a ritual from working.  Beyond this, unfortunately, my research skills don’t turn up much.

As for the images, those are a bit easier, given that we know already to look at Greco-Egyptian symbolism.  Serpents are often seen as forces of great power, especially that of vital or creative essence; being both of the earth (crawling) and of the sky (flying), the flying serpent is not unlike the image of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, with whom ΕΡΒΗΘ shares some similarities.  Falcons are solar symbols, and is known to be the countenance of the Egyptian god Horus or Ra, depending on the timeframe.  Crocodiles are seen as gateways to the underworld and an animal of Set, countering the lighter images of the winged serpent and falcon.  The lotus is, much as in Eastern symbolism, an image of purity and eternity, and combined with the image of the infant symbolizes divinity being born into the world (the North is the Egyptian direction of holiness and immortality).  The images of the keyring and staff as well as of the torch and spear are a little more modern, to me, since they were things I “tuned into”, and so don’t have clear Egyptian correspondences.  The keyring and staff suggest the power over freedom (unlocking and locking as well as barring from and supporting one), while the torch and spear suggest active force (illumination, flammability, battle, direction).

Regardless of their occult meaning, the words work, which is the important thing.  For those who already do or have experience with the LBRP or calling the quarters/Watchtowers, you already know more or less what to expect with this.  When I use the calls of the names after the heptagram rite, I end up feeling distinct presences at the directions, kinda like guardians or gatekeepers, neither wrathful nor peaceful.  I like it, and it makes me feel safer and more powerful all at once.  It’s probably something I should’ve been doing in some form by this point, but I’ll also probably tweak and change it as needed until I come up with something a little more stable and fixed.  Using all six names isn’t strictly necessary; the four cardinal directions alone will suffice, using either Flowers’ or Cecchetelli’s associations of the names to the directions, but I prefer to use all six.  Using that extra third dimension helps me establish a magical zone or operant field, much as using the Qabbalistic Cross, “parting of the veil”, L(B/I)R(P/H), or what-have-you.

Genius, Skill, Talent, Technique

Between the sufferings of both modern public school education and psychological neuroses, a lot of people fall into one of two camps of belief:

  1. I can be anything I want and be good at everything I do.
  2. I can’t do anything no matter how hard I try.

Both of these beliefs are false, as I reckon them.  In a way, they’re two sides of the same coin, with each influenced by and growing upon the other.  The first belief (that of supercapability) is overly positive to combat any self-doubt, but when taken to its extreme, it fails the holder of that belief and leads one into the second belief (that of incapability).  That second belief is borne out of sorrow and doubt, but is also easily refuted in at least one action which can cycle back into the first belief.  Some people never cycle between the two, getting stuck in one belief or the other, but either way these beliefs are simply wrong.

According to the doctrine of astrology and Hermetic philosophy, we’re all born with several things, such as a purpose, a history, a goal, and a set of things we’re good at and a set of things we’re bad at.  Taken together, plus a little extra, this might all be construed as one’s True Will, the thing we’re supposed to be carrying out in order to fulfill our role in the cosmos as children of the Divine.  After all, the whole point of Hermeticism and Neoplatonism is to reclaim our true heritage and value as children of gods and co-creators of the cosmos, and we can’t know what we’re supposed to create without knowing what we’re good at and where we’re supposed to be.  Knowledge of our True Will helps us focus our efforts on the things we should be doing, which is almost always correlated with what we’re good at.

In addition to knowledge of our True Will, there are several spirits among the heavens that can help us find out what we’re supposed to be doing.  Among those, there are the threefold keepers of Man: the angel of the nativity, the Holy Guardian Angel, and the angel of the profession.  The angel of the nativity is the guy whose name is derived from the natal horoscope based on the five hylegical places, and is a guiding spirit who helps us out in this life for this incarnation.  While the HGA is more for our Selves across incarnations and the heavens, the angel of the nativity is a spirit specific to this life for what we need to do now.  In a way, it’s like the good angel on the shoulder of cartoon characters, but is more knowledgable about what we’re supposed to be doing and how we’re supposed to be doing it.  The other name for this spirit is the natal genius, or the birth-spirit, that helps us do what we need to do for ourselves and our Selves in this life.  In other words, it tells us what’s Right for us to do.  And, like I said before, when we do something proper and Right for us, it tends to be easy or flawless. 

We often call people “genius” when they’re really adept or smart at something, but it wasn’t originally a title of intelligence or mastery.  Instead, “genius” referred to the guiding spirit who helps us be good at certain things because that’s the role we’re supposed to fill; it’s kinda like a cosmic version of Huxley’s “Brave New World”.  Knowing what we’re good at via our genius helps us figure out our talents, the things we’re innately good at in the cosmos.  This could be anything from simple skills such as memorization or a good eye for measurement to whole fields like mathematics or biology or counseling.  Whatever we’ve got a talent in, we should probably explore and make use of. 

Still, just because one has talent in something doesn’t mean one has mastery.  Mastery in something can be called proper technique, the totality of knowledge in how, why, and what methods to use for a particular goal or end result.  Talent helps with building technique, but talent alone doesn’t cut it.  Talent needs refining through building skill, which can be thought of as learned technique as opposed to inborn technique through talent.  Skill helps refine talent to be used for specific, fine things in a regular, repeated manner that talent alone may not be able to do.  It’s like the difference between having a vague subconscious understanding of something and a total comprehension and coherent knowledge of it.

Other people, however, have little to no talent in a given technique, but still want to learn that technique.  In this case, skill is all they have to go on.  They’ll need to become more skillful to make up for the lack of talent, but this doesn’t mean they can’t learn technique or master something.  It just means they’ll have to learn and focus more on building up the skill that people with talent may already be good at.  However, spending time to build up skill in something in which one has little talent often takes time away from building up skill in something one does have talent for.  Keep in mind that talent implies that we’re supposed to be good at something and that we’re supposed to do it; if one shows talent in something but is wasting one’s skill on something else, they’re probably being misguided.

A lot of modern society treats all people the same, which is usually a good thing.  After all, I enjoy and favor equality of rights and opportunity for all, because we’re all still human and capable of basic humanity with human needs.  However, things go awry when society treats us all as having the same talents, skills, capabilities, and inclinations for things.  This kind of social conditioning does real damage, because it assumes everyone has the same basic drive and same basic talents, when this assumption doesn’t hold up.  Some people are very good at written language but awful at mathematics, some good at art and some good at sports, and so forth; we should afford people the chance to explore everything if they so choose, but we shouldn’t force them to pass standardized tests that assume everyone’s at an arbitrary level of technique for an arbitrary number of subjects.

Not everyone is going to be good at everything.  That’s just a fact of life, and that’s quite alright.  There are going to be subjects, fields, and tasks at which we aren’t suited but that others are.  This isn’t to say that we should settle for mediocrity and laziness for ourselves instead of striving to know and become more than we are, but we shouldn’t try to become a jack of all trades when we’re really only good and supposed to be good in a handful of them.  There are so many roles to fill in the world that requires dedication, single-mindedness, and talent in addition to skill, any number of which might be considered taboo or dangerous or outré, even though they’re just as necessary as any other.  Society may say it knows what’s best for itself, but it doesn’t.  We’ve all got a purpose, indicated by our talent and genius, and we need skill to make ourselves perfect.  Only with genius, skill, talent, and technique will we be able to know and carry out our True Will, and make progress on the path to becoming full-fledged co-creators of the cosmos once again.

Upcoming Classes at Sticks and Stones!

So Gwen and I were sitting down at Sticks and Stones, the store I do readings and classes at, and talked about our schedules for the first half of 2013, through the end of June.  Once we figured out what I wanted to blab endlessly about, we settled on the following set of courses from now until the end of June.  After all, being one of the few ceremonial magicians and geomancers on the East Coast, I’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge under my belt (though by no means enough) to share around with folks willing enough to hear me out and pay a small-but-reasonable fee, about $30 per class.  With that in mind, here’s my teaching schedule for the first half of 2013.  All the classes will be on Sunday afternoons.

Written 2000 years ago in Egypt, the powerful ritual known as the Headless Rite has been used for exorcism by mages in the Mediterranean, knowledge and conversation of the higher Self by Samuel MacGregor Mathers and Aleister Crowley, and empowerment over harmful forces by countless other magicians.  Join yours truly in discussing the origins, development, and use of this ritual as he shows participants how and where to use the ritual to get the most out of it, both in the physical and the astral.  No prior knowledge is necessary, but a desire for ultimate cosmic power would be appreciated.

  • Geomancy I and II (March 3 and 10, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., $50)

Tired of Tarot?  Pained by pendulums?  Weary of runes?  Want something new and fun, or just a system of divination that makes sense?  Learn geomancy!  This ancient art was second only to astrology for centuries, and known across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East for its ease and accuracy of getting answers.  Join a seasoned geomancer, yours truly, as he introduces geomancy back into the occult scene once more.  Learn about its history from desert sands of the Sahara to its modern revival across the world, the sixteen geomantic figures and their meanings, and how to answer any kind of question with geomancy using basic and advanced techniques.

Note that this class is not about feng shui, the I Ching, ley lines, or sacred geography, all of which may be called “geomancy” in other contexts.  Due to the amount of material, this class is broken up into two sessions; attending the first is a requirement for attending the second!  A basic knowledge of astrology and mathematics is suggested but not required.

Ancient Alexandria during the Roman Empire was a melting pot of Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Roman, and other influences as far west as Morocco and as far east as India and China.  With those cultures came their gods and goddesses, spiritual beliefs, and magic rituals.  Many of these were preserved in the Greek Magical Papyri, considered to be occult’s version of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Join yours truly as he goes over Hermetic beliefs, practices, and rituals used by magicians from the early Roman Empire in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  No previous experience necessary; come on by and learn these ready-to-use rituals!

The Western Mystery Tradition is often seen as dry and boring, barren of the vibrant multitude of spirits, fey, and familiars that many forms of paganism and rural religion have.  Not true!  In fact, this system of occult philosophy is teeming with huge numbers of spirits, many of whom are more than happy to lend a hand.  Join yours truly in learning about the two major kinds of spirits worked with and called upon in the Hermetic tradition, who’s who in the seven planetary families and the four elemental families, how to call upon them, and what they can do for you in your own practice and life.  No prior knowledge is necessary, but a desire for getting chatty with the spirit world would be appreciated.

When you hear about “conjuration”, do you think of pompous magicians in ruined castles wielding swords and hurling imperious threats at misunderstood spirits bound in arcane circles?  Then stop by with yours truly and learn the truth about ceremonial magic’s most famous type of ritual!  Yours truly will go over how conjuration really works, its history and roots in shamanic practices, proper conjuration etiquette, and a complete and easy introduction to conjuring and chatting with angels.  With little more than a circle and a glass of water, you too can start a magical practice with some of the most powerful and easily accessible forces in the cosmos!  Some knowledge of spirits in the Western Mystery Tradition would be appreciated.

Creating magical items of arcane power have always been a high art in magical traditions, ranging from hoodoo-style mojo bags enchanted with oils and herbs to silver discs inscribed with astrological symbols to pull power from the stars.  Although different traditions have different concepts of creating, maintaining, and decommissioning magical items, also called talismans, the process in creating them is often the same.  Join Sam Block as he describes different styles of talismans, how to use them, how to make them, and how to maintain them.  No prior knowledge or experience necessary, though a familiarity with astrology, geomancy, or elemental forces might come in use.

Besides the above, are there any other classes you might want to see me teach?  After all, dear readers, you probably know specific things you’d like to see me blog about more, and helping to teach others helps teach myself as well.  Possibly a class on Hermetic cosmology, magical timing, or similar, but what might you like to see for the latter half of 2013 and years beyond?

Animal Sacrifice: a bloody mess of a topic

Based on the comments from Ancient Cans of Whoop-Ass, I figured I may as well compile some of my own thoughts on the topic of animal sacrifice.  The topic came up because, in the process of bringing up a ritual from the PGM, it was noted that the use of the blood and head of a donkey (an animal sacred to Set-Typhon) or any animal was abhorrent to some people.  I have my own points of view on the matter, as surely we all do, and it’s definitely a touchy or messy subject for a lot of us to think clearly about.  To be blunt, I don’t have an issue with it.  For some people and paths, it’s not only a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.  For others, it’s the wrong thing to do and can cause more harm.  Like everything else, there’s no clear-cut answer, and the acceptability of animal sacrifice depends on the context in which it occurs.

First, let’s clear up a few terms:

  • Sacrifice is the ritual offering of something to a god or spirit.  It literally means “to make holy”, and refers to the dedication of some act, object, or intent to a higher purpose.  A material object, a physical action, an emotion, invention, or discovery of thought or resource can all be sacrificed and made holy to a god.
  • Animal sacrifice, then, is the ritual offering of an animal to a god or spirit.  This can take two forms: giving a live animal to a god, such as the Asclepian snakes living in the temples to Asclepius back in the day, or killing an animal to dedicate its life and blood to the god.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll be referring to the latter method of killing an animal.
  • Animal sacrifice is not the same thing as the use of animals, animal parts, or animal life in magical rituals, especially “low magic” that doesn’t involve the gods but relies on the animal’s own occult virtues.  Of course, things always get hairy when discussing the differences between magic and religion, but I hope the difference is clear.

There’s a lot of drama between people who support animal sacrifice and those who don’t, and even those who aren’t against animal sacrifice and don’t properly belong in either group (but for some reason or another often get thrown into one side by the other).  Emotions run high and a lot of assumptions remain hidden, and it’s often these basic philosophical ideas and assumptions that are at the real root of the matter.  Here’s a rough sketch of the Hermetic and Western philosophical background I’m coming from:

  • All things descend from the divine Source.  This means that humans, animals, plants, metals, stones, angels, demons, and everything from the lowest hell to the highest heaven share the same spark of holiness.  This does not, however, mean that all things are on the same level of holiness or that all things share equally in consciousness or power.
  • Animals have spirit and intelligence and consciousness; nobody’s debating that.  What would the point of animal sacrifice be of something without spirit, intelligence, or consciousness?
  • Animals are connected into the cosmos as humans are; we all have our part to play.  Just as animals fight and kill other animals for their survival and betterment, humans fight and kill animals for their survival and betterment.  Let’s assume that we’re not talking about intra-species killing, e.g. wolves against wolves or humans against humans.
  • Even though (individual?) animals have spirit and intelligence and consciousness, they’re on the same level of spirit, intelligence, or consciousness as humans.  In terms of activity, spirituality, and food acquisition, humans are higher on the food chain and have been for most of our evolution.  We don’t interact with them in the same ways as humans, even humans whose languages and cultures are utterly different from our own.  Likewise, some animals treat predators on their level in similar ways or fight them for dominance, and predators treat prey further below them as, well, prey.
  • Humans are higher than animals, and as humans made in the image of God and act as an intermediary between the physical and metaphysical realms, we are entrusted with the care and use of the world and things around us in the cosmos.  If something works for us in a way that brings us what we desire, we’re enabled to go ahead and do it according to our means and power, which we should be increasing anyway.
  • Just as humans are higher than animals, the gods are higher than humans; so, the gods will make use of humans for their power just as humans will animals.  However, because we’re higher than animals and operate in different ways, this means that the gods have the option to make use of us in different ways than animals, and may appreciate the slaughtering of animals and not that of humans, accepting the worship and service of humans instead.

Am I saying that animal sacrifice is kick-ass awesome and everyone should get in on it?  No.  For one, there are other means to achieve the same ends that animal sacrifice obtains; it’s far from the only method of raising energy or empowering devotional or magical acts, though it’s certainly a powerful one.  For two, not all sacrifices have to be made with animal life, and sometimes an offering of plant life or symbols of prosperity will suffice.  Not everyone should kill, or even can; Pythagoreans were prohibited from killing or eating animals, and Buddhist and Jain monks are prevented from killing any living thing, though other devotees may make use of killing in trantric paths.  People involved in African diasporic religions make frequent use of the ritual killing of animals, and those involved with seriously reconstructing any number of ancient pagan paths from the Hellenic to Nordic to Semitic will eventually have to come to terms with the fact that the gods accepted, approved, and desired animal sacrifice.  This has happened across almost every culture, especially Indo-European and Abrahamic ones, for thousands of years, and for thousands of years into prehistory before or as cultures were coming together into civilizations.

Not all gods will want this to happen: some gods have begun to accept other sacrifices despite being accustomed to animal sacrifices over the centuries, while others are too young to ever have developed a taste for it.  However, to assume that all gods in every path and pantheon have “evolved” with humanity (a gross misuse of the term) to live without animal sacrifice is both short-sighted and hubristic.  Evolution does not suggest improvement, but only change and adaptation; the gods, being eternal and (usually) immortal, don’t have to evolve if they don’t want to., and the gods don’t have to change along with humanity if they don’t want to.  If anything, humans are changing faster and more than the gods ever will, and it may very well be that humans are changing in ways disagreeable to the gods rather than the gods ever having done disagreeable things.  Further, if you’re assuming anything on the part of the gods, you may have to answer for it if you happen to assume differently than how they actually think, and historically as well as mythologically this has ended poorly.  Consider Abel and Cain: they each made their offerings to the Lord, one of meat and one of grain, and Abel’s offering of meat was accepted while Cain’s wasn’t.  Cain thought that sucked, and so killed Abel; he assumed that this would be okay, and it wasn’t.  Consider, also, the siblings Antigone and Creon: Antigone wanted to obey the gods’ injunction to bury their deceased brother who had unfortunately committed treason, while king Creon threatened death against anyone who would dare it.  Antigone buried their brother; Creon had her buried alive as punishment.  Since it was the will of the gods that their brother should be buried as due to him, and since Creon hubristically decided otherwise, Creon got smacked and hard by the gods.

As for respecting animals and their spirits, that’s to go without saying.  Being the caretakers of the cosmos, born into it both as natives and visitors from the Source, we can’t just say “take it, rape it, it’s yours”.  That’s ascribing too much to ourselves and is dangerously prideful, and denies the holiness of everything else in the cosmos.  Animals are to be respected, honored, and cherished, but (based on the above cosmological framework), not put on the same level as humans.  I’m not saying you should grab any old cat or dog or raccoon off the roads, break their backs or skin them alive or douse them in lighter fluid, and drop them whole onto an altar; that’s disrespectful and needlessly painful.  When an animal sacrifice is to be done, it should be done to respect the humanity of the officiant, the divinity of the divine, and the holiness of the animal sacrificed/made sacred.  This is how we developed ritual acts of killing to begin with, done in prescribed ways to provide as clean and painless a death to the animal as needed, from which we have laws of kosher and halal butchery (which are known for being among the most sanitary, efficient, and respectful ways to kill animals for food and sacrifice).  Even then, some gods and practices require extreme forms of sacrifice, such as the tearing apart of goats in the Dionysian mysteries or the aspersion of blood in ancient Judaism, but these are also acceptable in their own contexts, because they’re allowed and supported by the gods that ask for them.*

Nothing’s stopping you or anyone else from respecting animals as humanity’s equals, if that’s your philosophy or cosmology, but by doing so in the Western framework you may be elevating animals to a position they may not have earned or lowering humans to a level they may be beyond.  Some (many?) humans are indeed on or below the level of animals, and some animals are indeed on or above the level of humans; these entities are exceptions to the rule, and again have their own context to consider.  Just as one wouldn’t be casting pearls before swine, one may want to think twice before sacrificing a certain animal that’s exhibited far and beyond normal animal qualities.

One more thing: karma.  Though a useful concept in the contexts in which it arose (with different definitions for different dharmic paths), karma doesn’t have a place in Western traditions.  It’s an import, it doesn’t make sense when used by a lot of poorly-understanding laypeople, and it doesn’t quite fit with a lot of other things even when well-understood.  In Western philosophies and paths, we often have the notion of a divine, infinite Source, and when you throw anything infinite into the mix, all notions of balance and zero-sum games get thrown out of the window.  The physical universe and metaphysical cosmos is not limited, in the Western framework in which I operate, and so there is no need for ancient actions to have to have effects except for those allowed by those involved, though it may be difficult to escape them.  When you have infinity on your side, you really can do anything, and it’s hinted at that devas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas in dharmic paths are enabled to act without generating karma.  Even in Vedic Hinduism in which the notion of karma first arose, there were common thoughts of karma being dispensed by the gods themselves which could be placated into dealing less punishment or more blessings.  Hinduism, too, also allows and supports animal sacrifice in some contexts (primarily those worshipping Shakti, the divine feminine), and if they with their notions of karma can get by with it, I don’t see why others can’t.  Saying that animal sacrifice is “karmically bad” or “continuing suffering” is short-sighted; this ignores the past karma of the animal that led it there to be sacrificed, whether its karma warranted a more severe or painful death than the one given to it, whether the combined karma of animal and officiant was overall a good or bad thing, whether the animal sacrifice was an expedient means to solve bigger problems, and so forth.  Again, generalized and myopic use of misunderstood terms won’t help here.

You’ll notice that I keep using the word “context”, and it’s important you recognize what I mean when I use it.  I refer to the culture in which something occurs, the reasons and circumstances for something, and the people and entities involved with it.  Cultural appropriation is the act of taking something from one context and using it in a radically different one, dogmatic purity is the restriction of allowing any externally-derived innovation in a certain context, and so forth.  When I say “context”, I’m really saying “it depends”, because a lot depends on how, when, where, why, for what, and by whom something occurs.  Calling something “barbaric” or “abhorrent” disregards the notion of context, and is a kind of appropriation and judgment that often cannot be reasonably or reliably made from outside the relevant context; it’s a different story if you’re operating within that context.  Blanket statements cannot be made except at the highest, most general level, and at that level you can’t get much more specific than “it is” or “shit happens”; when you get any more specific or specialized than the cosmos taken as a complete whole in which everything occurs as it should, you’re going to run into different paths with different notions of acceptability.  Just as I wouldn’t use Solomonic conjurations to get the Greek gods to do something for me, so too would I not use animal sacrifice for a god that didn’t want it.  Different people have different views of divinity, and have different relationships with their gods than you may have; telling them that their practices are wrong when they’ve got it on good authority (assumingly) that they’re right is, simply, disrespectful and ignorant of their context.

As for my own practice, I do not make use of animal sacrifice, but am generally not against it.  I offer praise, wine, food, candles, incense, and the occasional flowers to the gods and spirits I work with, and while sufficient, I also don’t work with gods or spirits that I know demand animal or blood sacrifices (that I know of).  The god Hermes, with whom I’m starting a much closer relationship than I had expected to, has said that he would appreciate the sacrifice of small birds or larger animals, but understands that I am not in a place or position to do so; this may change when I move out of an apartment into a place with my own land and yard, and when I learn the proper procedures and handling involved.  The use of animal blood, organs, or other body parts are well-attested in Solomonic, ceremonial, and Western magic generally, and are not always some “witch’s code” or blind that swapped out names of herbs or bodily fluids with exotic names of animal parts.  Sometimes substitutions can be made, like this nasty mixture I’m setting for consecrating the Solomonic black-handled knife to stand in for the blood of a black cat; sometimes, the use of animal fluids, parts, or life cannot be substituted without a much greater cost.

I understand that even a position as mild(?) as mine will get some people riled up, angry, vitriolic, and downright spiteful of my very existence.  Some people, like militant vegans or extreme PETA activists, will vociferously argue against the use of any animal life for personal gain in any way; that’s okay, though I find their arguments against killing animals in any case to be more emotionally than logically or philosophically driven, not to mention ideologically oppressive.  Honestly, if a topic like animal sacrifice is all it takes to set someone off and think less of me, I’m sure they’d find more unsavory and disagreeable things to hate me over.  If you’d like to discuss this further, privately or publicly in the comments, feel free to, but keep it respectful, reasonable, and rational.

*  Remind me to work out my own notion of holiness and fix Socrates’ issues with piety later.

There’s learning, and then there’s Learning.

“Study hard, party hard.”  That’s one good way to interpret Hermeticism from our point of view as incarnate humans in our material reality.  It also describes my entire college career.

I went to a party school, not gonna lie, but it was a damned good party school.  Highly accredited, good marks, good programs, good location; hell, it’s been put into the so-called Kudzu League, being one step under Ivy League colleges.  I applied knowing that a good number of my friends were going to the same college, moved into the dorms my first year, met a bunch of people, drank a lot of booze, hooked up with a lot of boys, coded a lot of programs, passed and failed countless assignments, and learned a fuckton about computer science, linguistics, Asian culture, and ethics.  It was an awesome time, and I loved it.

I went to college in the first place because, well, it was the proper thing for me to do.  I’ve always had an academic streak, I wanted to get out of the house, my family brought me up to go to college, and a lot of the things I wanted to do could be accessible only through college.  All things considered, it was the thing I should have done, so I did it.  When I applied, I got in with nary a hitch or delay (though FAFSA and student aid forms were and always will be a bitch).  I was accepted and was given a student ID and email which I then promptly linked up to my Facebook account; this gave me a kind of “body” to come in contact with the world, both academic and social, at college.  I moved in, did my work, did my play, graduated, and moved out of my last college apartment.  Now that college is passed and in the past, I’ve stopped using my student ID and email, and my Facebook is now deleted; my “body” I used to interact with the world is effectively dead, but I still keep in contact with my friends and professors.  In other words, I’m still me, but I’ve got a new place and “body” now, and new things to do and learn.

College was awesome, but sometimes I had to remind myself why I was there.  Some weeks, I’d do too much partying, drinking, staying out late, and hooking up.  It took a toll on my grades and ability to function properly, and sometimes affected my ability to stay out and party later on.  Other weeks, I’d do too much studying, staying up late in libraries, and focusing on coding and cramming.  It kept me a shut-in, I’d drop off the face of the earth to my friends, and eventually burned me out from doing much of anything besides sleep.  I came to college to do both: I came to college to learn about computer science and other things, and also to learn about people and how to interact with them (sober or otherwise).  If I stayed up all night every night partying, I’d’ve gotten nowhere, and I’d’ve forgetten that I came to college to learn.  If I stayed up all night every night studying, I’d’ve gotten nowhere, and I’d’ve forgotten than I came to college to learn.  I had to do both, because both were part of the college experience, the experience that I wanted for myself.

In a sense, the desire to learn and experience life in college in a fantastic part of Virginia with awesome people studying amazing subjects?  That could be called a kind of love.  A love for the place I was in, a love for the things I was doing, a love for the world I found myself in.  I went there for a purpose, and Lord knows I enjoyed myself while accomplishing that purpose.  That said, I still did my work and graduated on time, accomplished my purpose and ended my time at college.  I went home, told a bunch of great stories to my parents (who gave me incessant and unending amounts of aid, financially and otherwise), and then moved out again to start a new life with a new purpose.  My love is shifted for another experience and another world.

Some people, though, don’t do the same thing I did.  Some people’s love leads them to other paths that don’t include college.  Some people get hooked on the partying and drinking and fucking, which leads them to failing classes and spending more time than they should at a four-year university, or flunk out entirely.  Some people get hooked on the studying and learning and research, which leads them to pursue more degrees than they intended or than they have money for.  Some people just get dealt a bad hand and get caught up in issues not of their own creation, and something happens to their four-year term that expands, contracts, or stops it entirely.  Some people get sent to college for their own good instead of out of their own goodwills, That’s just life, after all, and different people get caught up in different things.

Now, all that above?  That’s one giant metaphor for human existence, according to some versions of Hermetic philosophy.

According to the Divine Poemander, the text describing the experience that really started Hermes Trismegistus off on his huge godly kick, mankind was made in the image of the Nous, the Mind, the First Father who thought up all of existence in all its forms on all its levels, from the highest and most ethereal to the lowest and most vulgar.  The Nous is all-knowing and ubiquitous, since that’s just its job.  We’re children of the Nous, so we take after our parent in that we want to know and want to be everywhere, but being only parts of the All, we can’t simply do that by simply knowing and being.  To that end, we have to go out into the cosmos from our parent’s wing, we have to explore new places, we have to learn new things, so that we can keep exploring and learning later on.

When we, as ethereal forms fresh from our parent’s house, came upon the district of the cosmos known as Material Reality, we peeked our heads in and wondered what the hell was going on here.  The boss of the place, Nature, saw us peeking in and welcomed us onto her turf, giving us material bodies to move around in and get used to her place.  While here, Nature played the good hostess and offered us whatever we can take grasp of.  “You asked for it.”  After all, we came here to explore and figure out what this place was all about, and while we’re here, we’re getting everything we want.  That’s pretty damn awesome.  We love it here.  It’s, literally, love that brought us here, love that created all this for us.  It’s the same love that brought mankind here that it was which brought me to college: I wanted to go, I was meant to go, it was good for me to go, so I went.

Of course, we can’t stay here forever.  The cosmos in its infinity is big, and Material Reality is only one part of it.  We can’t take our bodies with us after we die, and that’s probably a good thing: although having a body helps us in getting around this place, it might just be extra luggage in other places, if not a dead weight that hurts more than helps.  Even though this is an awesome place with all manner of fun and games, that’s all it is, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re here to learn and get our Work done.  If we dawdle too much enjoying the drinking, partying, and fucking, then we forget that we came here to learn.  If we try to get out without actually experiencing this place and getting to know what Material Reality is all about, then we forget that we came here to learn.  The whole point of Hermeticism is to learn, do your work, and GTFO, but the thing about your work is that it involves all kinds of learning and in proper amounts.  Do that, leave, let your trappings of Material Reality die, and move on to more and different places of the cosmos to keep learning.  How else can we figure out what else there is if we don’t explore?

Interim Notes

So, after the hurly-burly of the past few weeks, I’ve decided to take it a little easier on myself than I have been for a bit, at least until my birthday weekend in early October.  Once that’s passed, I’m going to adopt a regular five-week cycle of conjurations, going through each of the planetary angels, each of the elemental kings, and my natal genius every so often.  It’ll keep me in shape and good practice, to be sure, though I’ll be needing quite a bit more incense.  Good thing that frankincense is a good all-purpose offering.

Ever since I called up Gabriel, archangel of the Moon, two weeks ago, my dream recall has shot up.  I’ve never been much for dream recall, interpretation, or lucidity, to my occasional lament.  I’ve done better with getting hints through more direct means, though it’s not for lack of trying that I say this.  However, since meeting with Gabriel and having his influence begin to grow in my life, my suddenly and greatly improved dream recall is definitely one of the noticeable changes I’ve noticed.  To be fair, my dreams are more active and hectic than my day-to-day life and not some ephemeral, Enya-like menagerie of imagery, so that’s interesting.

In other news, the amazing fantabulous spledid A Bad Witch is starting a series of courses at the Open Path Sanctuary blog, including an introductory course on Hermeticism which you should TOTALLY get involved with.  It’s free, applicable to pretty much everyone interested in Western occultism, and yours truly is going to help out with mentoring and guiding people who need it.  (Dunno why she thinks me qualified to help with mentoring, but I’ll try to help all the same.)  The first course on the qualities of the elements and how they reflect in ourselves is online at this link.