When God Says No: On True Will and the Will of God

Yesterday, we started talking about a number of questions from Curious Cat that focused on the role of angels in magical work, and what happens when they don’t show up or don’t do what we ask, command, or commission them to do for us.  This is a really complex topic, at least so complex that I can’t really answer it in the 3000 character limit that Curious Cat sets for question replies, but I’m trying to flesh it out as best as I can here on my blog.  Again, I’m approaching this from a Hermetic monist-yet-polytheist standpoint that takes in the existence of both angels and gods under God in the same creation that we’re in.  What we ended up with so far is this idea that we can’t really command angels to do anything; all we can do is pray that they do something for us, whether it’s appearing in a crystal for a conjuration or fulfilling some task or teaching us some mystery.  And when we make such prayers, we’re directing those prayers to God, because angels exist solely to fulfill the will of God; that’s their nature.  Angels don’t have free will; their will is the will of God, or they just constantly and forever want the exact same thing God wants in the exact same way, and will act in their capacities to fulfill the will of God.  This means that it’s our prayers to God that matter more than the presence or help of the angels, and there are lots of reasons why prayers might not be answered: sometimes it’s because we’re not asking for what’s possible according to the will of God, and sometimes it’s best we don’t get what we want because it’s not for us or because we’re not ready for it yet.

What it all comes down to is this: we, as human beings, are blessed with quite a lot of power, but it’s not infinite power.  We’re actually quite small and insignificant in the grander scope of the cosmos, but we still have some significance.  That significance plays through our True Will, which is a fancy modern way to describe “our path in life”, the purpose and plan of God that God has established for us as individuals as written in his Book of Life.  Everything we do in life, in order to be successful, has to be either in explicit accordance with our True Will or at least tolerated and permissible within the bounds of what our True Will necessitates; to give a mundane example, it’s necessary that I leave my house at 7:20 am to go get to the train station on time, but that doesn’t mean I have to wake up at 6 am in order to be sufficiently ready, because I have the freedom to wake up earlier or later so long as I’m out the door by 7:20 am.  Likewise, we have to live according to our True Will, whether or not we’re consciously aware of it, but we also have leeway to do things explicitly outside it because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another, so long as we’re not doing things that actively go against our True Will.

When we act in accordance with our True Will, then we’re acting in accordance with the will of God, and we effectively become his angels for as long as our will is his will, and so long as that synchronization is maintained, there is nothing that can stop us; we might be delayed, slowed down, or face other difficulties in accomplishing it according to the usual vicissitudes of life and the struggles we face against the ignorant actions of ourselves or other human beings or the inimical actions of malevolent spirits, but God will not bar us or deny us from it, because it is his will that we should do the thing we’re doing.  When we act within the permissibility of our True Will, then what we’re doing may not be explicitly necessitated or mandated by God, but we have the license to act on it anyway because it doesn’t fundamentally matter one way or another so long as we get the right things done in the right way.  But when we act outside the permissibility of our True Will, then we go against the will of God, and there is nothing we can do that will change that, and we’re off-track from the proper path for ourselves in life.

The topic of True Will is one that I’ve talked about time and again on my blog in the past, and I think I’ve made some really important points on this before:

When we follow and carry out our True Wills, things generally go easier for us, since they’re increasingly tied into the things we’re doing.  We encounter fewer and fewer difficulties, since we’re effectively carrying out our roles to play in the cosmos, and “if God is for us, who can be against us”?  Sure, we might still attract haters (who will, after all, continue to hate on ‘choo), but when we work our Will on the cosmos, people who would interfere with us are either brought over to our side and begin helping us instead, or are drowned out, burned up, or otherwise silenced and made powerless to counteract or contradict us.  Plus, the more we work our True Will, the more we begin to find and associate with those who are also carrying out their Will, and since they’re doing what they must for the cosmos, it’ll naturally fall in line and correlate with what we must do for the cosmos, as two players on opposite sides of an orchestra play harmoniously in the whole.

It’s only when someone else messes up their part and trashes their Will so badly that it ends up careening into yours that can cause problems, like a planet that suddenly shifts out of orbit and collides into other planets, or a player in an orchestra that decides to start playing a march when everyone else is playing a waltz just to confuse others.  Sometimes this is out of earnest confusion and spiritual flailing, sometimes this is out of deliberate spite and (mis- or ab-)use of their power and Will.  This can certainly cause issues, and can even put a cold damper or shut down the flame of one who’s actually working their Will as they should.  All it needs is a bit of correction on both our part and the parts of others to get everything singing harmoniously again, and then we’ll all be aweseome again as we should.

In a way, the idea of True Will is starting to sound a lot like Grace to me: just as Grace is not a reward, neither is True Will, but they’re both the state and result of being doing the highest Good, of becoming properly Godly, and coming to truly know yourself, your origins, and your duty. (January 31, 2013)

So too is the wand of the magician not used as a blasting rod or an offensive weapon, but it’s used as a mark of divine right and being rightly divine.  The wand should be used to remind the magician and guide them to their True Will, not used to enforce their temporary will onto others.  After all, if one is following their True Will, then pretty much all else will fall into place accordingly (except in dire or unusual circumstances when other work must be applied).  The image of control that the wand bestows is just that, an illusory image; it’s the obedience of entities to their proper stations in the cosmos that the wand reminds them of, and helps them fall into place when in the presence of one who is effectively sent from on high.  To use  the wand to simply force or bind something to the whimsy of the magician is to abuse the authority given to the magician, and when abused enough, the magician incurs punishment just as Chinese emperors might lose the Mandate of Heaven. (October 11, 2013)

What do we, as conjurers and magicians and magi, do?  We take our divine birthright as children of the Most High and join with him in the ever-continuing act of creation of the cosmos.  We ask for the blessing of God to do what is Right and to enact our True Wills, thereby rejoining God in his infinite Grace.  We step into the role as agents of the Divine, of the Most Divine, to work with the spirits who are our relatives, who are our brothers and sisters from the same Source, and who endeavor to aid us as they aid the Divine themselves.  We, essentially, become a consciously direct extension of God and join with God.  I’m going to stop this little poetic waxing short of saying “we become God”, because we already are essentially part of the Prime Mover down in this little ass-end of the cosmos, but we come closest to it consciously when we do our Work.

There are points when working with the spirits simply does not work; as Fr. Rufus Opus has said, the general idea is “move  this or move me”, where either a thing desired is changed or made in the world or where we ourselves are changed if nothing else can be changed.  God, clearly, can change everything, since that’s pretty much his thing; nothing disobeys God, since everything is a part of God and works as part of the One, the cohesive Whole.  But, that said, by moving ourselves, we partake in that same action, and bring ourselves closer to becoming what we need to Be and do what we need to Do; in these cases, we bring ourselves closer to attaining and carrying out our True Wills.  This is also the same in all other instances when working with the spirits gets us results in the external world. (November 2, 2013)

This ties in tightly to notions of True Will and divine providence, too, and the ideas are similar.  When we do what God wants us to do, carrying out and serving our divine purpose, that’s our True Will, the will we are meant to fulfill which we ourselves can know once we can see ourselves clearly enough.  To do that, however, we have to carry out the Great Work, which helps us prepare ourselves across the four parts of the world and begin to hear and use Logos.  This allows our sensible, material bodies to better heed and serve our souls, which can then develop properly into a fully-knowledgeable and divine soul with Nous.  With Nous being known to ourselves, we then can carry out what it is we’re supposed to do; at that point, any distinction between what we want and what God wants is meaningless, because our wills have become God’s will and vice versa. (December 8, 2013)

I’ve brought up the idea before that, if we envision the whole grand scheme of things, the Cosmos, as a giant machine, then everyone is a gear in that machine. So long as we keep on doing what we need to do, every part works in harmony with every other part, and the machine works well. If even one part, however, gets out of sync or decides to revolt, then much of the rest of the system we find ourselves in can malfunction or break down, and other parts have to accommodate the malfunction until things get into proper working order again. (This is why life isn’t perfect, I suppose.) Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick once described this to me (in a discussion on True Will) as how a solar system works: the planets don’t need to think or plan or consciously strive towards orbiting the Sun, they just do it naturally as an expression of their selves and their purpose. But imagine, dear reader, if a rogue planet suddenly whipped itself into our solar system, or worse, imagine if one of our own planets suddenly got a wild hare up its axis of rotation and jumped out of its orbit. What happens? The other planets get knocked out of their own orbits, potentially colliding with other planets or celestial bodies, and the whole system gets out of whack until it finds a new equilibrium to settle down in. There’s no guarantee that this equilibrium will be equivalent to the previous one, or that the solar system as a whole will survive such an accident, but hey, shit happens. The Cosmos will do what it needs to do in order to work out its own problems, and its our job to make sure that we do our own Work accordingly to handle our Will, regardless of what the vicissitudes of fate throw at us. (February 12, 2017)

When you seek to work against your True Will, you cause problems, and the only solution is to get back in line with your True Will; there is no other option or alternative, and as I said earlier, no angel, demon, ghost, or god will make what you seek permissible without them going against their own True Wills.  Yes, other entities have their own True Wills.  It stands to reason that if we have a particular purpose in the creation of the Creator, then so does everyone and everything else, too, with the same kinds of boundaries and limits, just on different scales and with different scopes.  I brought this up in my answer to that last question from Curious Cat, since the question referenced other deities as examples of ones one might go to when God himself says “no”, one of which was the orisha Yemaya:

Since you bring up Yemaya, my mother in Ocha who’s extraordinarily dear to my heart (though my father and crown is Ogun), I can phrase this in a more Ocha-centric way. In Ocha theology, there are all these orisha, the divinities of the world, but there’s a hierarchy among them, with Obatala as king of the orisha. But Obatala is not the almighty all-ruler of the cosmos; that role goes to Olodumare (or Olorun or Olofi, they’re all basically the same), the divine creator of the whole cosmos. All things exist to carry out the will of Olodumare, including the orisha; as oloshas, we don’t interact with Olodumare because ey’s so far distant and removed from our day-to-day life, but instead, we interact with eir’s emissaries, stewards, and regents: the orisha. They cannot go against the will of Olodumare, who sets the laws for everything and everyone, but within their own domains, they have the power to work and act. So long as Olodumare grants them license to do so, they can do what they want.

Heck, even in orisha religion, there’s a notion that “no orisha can bless you if your own Ori does not accept it”.  Ori, in this case, is a special kind of head spirit that we all have, initiated or not, and is a kind of notion of “higher self” as well as our own “spirit of destiny”.  In many ways, if I were to translate it in to Western Hermtic terms, it’s essentially the spirit of our True Will.  If we ask for something but our Ori says “nope”, then it’s not part of your destiny to receive it, and no orisha will be able to give it to you, even if they want to give it to you or if you want to get it from them.  But if your Ori says “yup”, then it doesn’t matter whether we want the thing or not, because it’s part of our destiny to have it; we might delay on it or we might speed up towards it, but we can’t avoid it, and no orisha will be able to stop it, no matter how hard they try.  There might be ways to ameliorate or “fix” one’s destiny, but it’s limited, and even then, defaults back to the will of Olodumare (i.e. the will of God).

Even in Hellenic traditional religion, there’s a notion that Zeus is not just the king of Olympos, but the king of truly the entire cosmos whose power and rule is absolute, and whose will must be obeyed by all.  I dimly recall a scene from the Iliad (I forget where) where Zeus proclaims his own power, saying that if all the other gods and goddesses and spirits held on to the end of an unbreakable rope and if Zeus alone had it wrapped around his little finger, he could still yank the rope with such force as to fling all the other deities to the far ends of the world with just a nudge.  The will of Zeus is absolute, and no things can go against that supreme will; though Zeus is not necessarily a creator deity, he is still a cosmocrator all the same; he just happens to go along with his own designs and plans and will when he “obeys” the powers of other deities such as Anankē (Necessity) or the Moirai (Fates), because he does not permit himself to break the rules that he himself has set in conjunction with the other deities that establish the purpose and path of all things.

Consider it this way: in order to get around mental blocks about fighting against God when God says “no”, replace the word “God” (or “Olodumare” or “Zeus” or any other cosmocrator/creator deity) with the phrase “the fundamental nature of the cosmos”.  Thus, when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “yes”, there’s nothing that can stop it from happening, and when the fundamental nature of the cosmos says “no”, there’s nothing that can make it happen.  Likewise, to get around the mental blocks when angels or any particular deity or divinity say “no”, replace the word “angels” or “other gods” with the phrase “the fundamental forces of the cosmos”.  When the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “yes”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos necessitates that those forces act in a certain way in order for the cosmos to maintain its nature; when the fundamental forces of the cosmos say “no”, that’s because the fundamental nature of the cosmos cannot allow those forces to function in that way in accordance with the rules that the fundamental nature of the cosmos set up and plays by.  However, those same fundamental forces of the cosmos may function in ways that produce interesting and perhaps unexpected side effects or which produce emergent properties that arise from particular combinations or edge-cases of forces interacting; these don’t go against the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but are still part of the cosmos because of how those forces work.  A force will do whatever it will do, and given the proper setting and context, it can and will do a lot, especially if there’s nothing stopping it, but it cannot do what it was not designed to do nor can it do anything when it has no power in a particular situation or context.

This is essentially where fate and destiny come into play, because “fate” is essentially “the course that the fundamental nature of the cosmos will take”, and it’s up to us to live our lives in accordance with fate, just as one can’t really go upstream down a torrentially-flowing river.  The thing is that we can go with it or fight against it; whether we’re successful or not is, ultimately, up whether what we’re doing is in accordance with that destiny and whether it plays a role in accomplishing it.  It sounds like, in the debate between fate vs. free will, all the above argues against free will and for the undeniable power of fate.  And yes!  That’s true.  But it’s also true that, from our point of view, we have freedom of choice and freedom of will, to be sure.  We don’t have to go along with the the fundamental nature of the cosmos, but it probably won’t end well, and even within the boundaries of the fundamental nature of the cosmos, we can still do a lot that the fundamental nature of the cosmos hasn’t explicitly mandated, often including how we do what we need to do.  After a certain point in the cosmos, the distinction between fate and free will becomes moot; you just do what you’re supposed to do, not because you don’t have a choice, but because you capital-W Want to.

For as important and wonderful and powerful as we are as human beings, we are still so small and weak.  The cosmos is filled with things far bigger, older, smarter, cleverer, and stronger than us.  Sometimes we can fight against them, and on occasion, we might even win.  In general, though, issues with authority will only cause you problems, and issues with the underlying authority of all of creation itself won’t get you very far at all.  When we appeal to God for help, we might get it, or we might not; it’s not up to us to demand it, because quite frankly, the cosmos owes you nothing at all.  You were made to fulfill some purpose or role; strive for that, because all else is meaningless in the end!  If you want something and you’re both meant to have it and capable of having it, then it will be yours; if you want something and you’re meant to have it but you’re not capable of having it, then start working on being capable of having it so that it can be yours; if you  want something and you’re not meant to have it, then accept it and move on to the things that you’re meant to have.  This is not an easy lesson to learn, because this is fundamentally the lesson of humility before God: “be it done unto me according to your word”.  We might be kings of our spheres and worlds, but there are still higher powers that we, too, must obey in order for our kingdoms to survive.  We are both ruler of that which is below and within and servant to that which is above and without.

This is essentially the whole point of our Great Work, our Magnum Opus, our True Will: we must learn what is appropriate and best for us, then work towards accomplishing it.  It’s not a one-and-done event that you can spend a month studying for then doing a simple ritual one night and going to bed and partying for the rest of your life; it’s literally the constant work of lifetimes, the most important and the most difficult thing we can ever do and ever be doing.  By that very same token, it’s also the most worthy, worthwhile, valuable, and precious thing we can ever hope to accomplish, and there is nothing we can do that is truly worthy of such a blessing and reward except to simply do it.  That we have the means and capability of fulfilling our fate is, in a sense, true grace from God.  We just need to keep our eyes on the target, keep facing towards God, and keep learning about our True Will so that we can fulfill it, day by day, step by step, stone by stone, breath by breath, bite by bite.  One day, we’ll get there.  There is nothing else in all of creation that is as worthy, or as difficult, than for us to fulfill what we were meant to do.

Whether we get what we want doesn’t ultimately matter, regardless whether or not we get it.  It’s whether we get what we Want that matters.

On Pride and Humility

Not that long ago, someone on Curious Cat asked me a pretty good question, and it’s something that’s been sitting with me for a while now:

People constantly complain about ‘baby witches’ and the inefficacy/infantilization of mainstream pop-culture “magic” on Witchblr, but on the other hand, instead of behaving like the mature and levelheaded adults they purport themselves to be, these Super Serious Traditional Ceremonial Magicians tend to be extremely rude, condescending, narcissistic and outright boorish in their treatment of others.

It’s like they’re reenacting outcast goth teen fantasies of being Powerful Darksided Magicians able to kill their enemies in a fingersnap. I mean, is this a prerogative in becoming a devoted and serious practitioner of magick? Because if so, I proudly throw in the towel.

While some questions I can answer on my phone on the go, there are others that I’d rather sit down with at a proper keyboard, think about for a bit, and type up a better thought-out answer than not.  This was one such question, and in reply, I said:

There’s a reason why so many religions prescribe humility as a virtue to be cultivated. And I know that I, myself, can lack it at times, though I try to keep it a focus for myself, too.

No, there’s no prerogative to being a pompous, prideful, supercilious bastard when it comes to magic. But when you have people getting into occult stuff—and it occurs as much with witches as it does with ceremonial magicians, even if ceremonial magicians have a reputation for it—it’s easy to get carried away when we start realizing all the power we now have access to. Fr. Rufus Opus (who at least admits that he’s overly cocky now and then) warns against “Insufferableprickitis” or “Moses-off-the-mount syndrome”, where we finally think that we truly Get It and have all the keys to the power of the Almighty. Even if it’s true, you don’t want that newfound radiance to be so overbearing and annoying that you treat other people like they’re utterly unenlightened and fools for not yet being on their level.

Everyone, no matter what field or hobby or profession or culture, thinks that they’re better than others or that they have a better way of doing something. It’s good to take pride in your accomplishments, whether it’s in software engineering or publishing anthologies of poetry or in plying the forces of the cosmos for theurgy and thaumaturgy, but it’s not okay to disparage or despise others because of those accomplishments.

There’s also an undercurrent of “oh you’re doing this because it’s popular now”, too. Big whoop. Fads come and go. If they’re meant for it, they’ll stick with it, and if not, they won’t, regardless of what mean things are said to them.

Plus, you’re reading stuff on the internet. It’s extraordinarily too common for people to get huffy and enraged and self-aggrandizing on the internet. Relax, take a deep breath and a step back, and don’t let people get to you that way, whether you’re the recipient of that kind of talk or just a witness to it. Let your work, instead, focus on making yourself better, sharing (but not enforcing) the skills you have according to your means and ability and desire, and making the world a better place.

It’s true that many occultists—myself included—can be on the pompous, arrogant, egotistical, and pretentious side, and it’s an especially common accusation lobbed at ceremonial magicians, and not without due cause.  The way I see it, there are two main influences going on here:

  1. Occultists (including witches) in general are liable to feel this way.  When you’re presented with a materialistic world and find a non-materialistic way to bend or break the rules without getting into trouble, i.e. magic, you’re going to feel powerful, and that realization will lead you to get a bit puffed-up, especially when other people say that what you do is impossible or frowned upon.  The thrill of doing stuff that society says you can’t and shouldn’t be doing can be exhilarating.
  2. When we say “ceremonial magicians”, we typically refer to those in Hermetic and Solomonic styles of magic, where we call down immense forces of the cosmos or call up demons and devils of all kinds, often with imperious threats and provocations in order to make sure that the cosmos hears us and, more than that, obeys us.  I mean, just look at the prayers in the Lemegeton Goetia, the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, or the rituals of the Munich Manual.  The modus operandi of browbeating the world to obey us is a common one, even going back to classical mystery traditions and the rituals of the PGM two thousand years ago and more.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, but those are the two big ones that occur to me.  Another thing that I mentioned in my answer above is, simply, that we’re on the Internet, and it’s easy to say a lot of things without repercussions like getting punched in the face or spat on or having a drink thrown at you because there’s an element of anonymity and facelessness that lets us feel more righteous and dignified than we properly have a right to be most of the time.

Being overweeningly proud is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not one that’s necessarily limited to ceremonial magicians, or to occultists in general, but to a lot of people in the world.  Pride is, after all, considered to be one of the seven deadly sins (and by some accounts, the most serious of them all), but I think it’s important to recall what pride is.  A proper kind of pride is akin to greatness of soul and magnanimity, bound up with nobility and goodness of character; it’s possible to take pride in the things we’ve done, placing value and greatness on our accomplishments or abilities, and it’s good to do this within reason.  Taking too much pride, however, tends to vanity, self-worship, vainglory, narcissism, and all-around hubris, and that’s where the danger comes into play.  Hubris, in the classical sense, is having pride beyond what is deserved to be proud of, which leads to ill-treating others for one’s own satisfaction and gratification.  And that’s a real problem which was truly fitting of punishment direct from the gods themselves, a notion that was carried on in Christianity to this day.

Thus, this is where humility comes in.  Though it can be used to mean having a low self-regard or feeling unworthy, it’s also a recognition of our place in the cosmos, how little we are, and that we should be selfless compared to selfish.  Consider the etymology of the word itself:

humility (n.)
early 14c., “quality of being humble,” from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness” (Modern French humilité), from Latin humilitatem (nominative humilitas) “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,” in Church Latin “meekness,” from humilis “lowly, humble,” literally “on the ground,” from humus “earth,” from PIE root *dhghem– “earth.” In the Mercian hymns, Latin humilitatem is glossed by Old English eaðmodnisse.

In other words, to be humble is to be down-to-earth in a way that reminds you that you are of the earth.  Yes, Hermeticism has much to say about us having divine origins and that we’re made in the likeness of God and all that, sure, and all that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: as human beings, part of us is divine, but being human is being human, living on the Earth and living in Heaven.  Heck, the word “human” itself has the same ultimate origin as the word humility:

human (adj.)
mid-15c., humain, humaigne, “human,” from Old French humain, umain (adj.) “of or belonging to man” (12c.), from Latin humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind, gentle, polite; learned, refined, civilized.” This is in part from PIE *(dh)ghomon-, literally “earthling, earthly being,” as opposed to the gods (from root *dhghem- “earth”), but there is no settled explanation of the sound changes involved. Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” Cognate with Old Lithuanian žmuo (accusative žmuni) “man, male person.”

To be properly human is to be humble.  Yes, we all belong to God and it is to God our souls will return, but our bodies are made from dust, and to dust our bodies shall return.  We have to remember and set ourselves apart from the gods and spirits we work with, because we are incarnate, mortal, and finite as opposed to discarnate, immortal, and infinite.  We have to remember that we are humans, and have far more in common with other humans and the human world we live in than with the spirits and their non-human world.  For that reason, we need to remain humble, not only to avoid reaching too far past our proper station as humans, but also to avoid putting ourselves on too high a pedestal above other humans.  We have to take care of ourselves, recognizing that no matter how much we might be capable of, we are only capable of but so much.  As Tzadqiel, the angel of Jupiter, once told me long ago:

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Now, it’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, because the two are vastly different.  As I wrote about back in 2013, humility is more being meek in the facts of a situation, while modesty is more about understating something to the point of reverse exaggeration, and that’s essentially lying against oneself.  But I also brought up that there’s a similarity between (proper) pride and humility: (proper) pride is recognition of all that you are and can be or do, while humility is recognition of all that you are and have done in the grand scheme of things.  Pride is accepting that we have accomplished and learn things, and humility is accepting that we can accomplish and learn yet more.  To be properly proud as well as humble is to be honest and truthful about yourself to the world in the world you live.  Boasting, on the other hand, is having too much pride, the lie we tell to make ourselves seem more than we actually are; modesty, likewise, is the lie we tell to make ourselves seem less than we actually are.

I bring up all this because I want to bring up one of my favorite prayers today, the Litany of Humility.  I think I first brought it up on my blog in another post from 2013, where I meditated on what might make me special, but more importantly, how my being special doesn’t make anyone else less special.  This prayer, as seen in a number of Christian, and especially Catholic, texts, is often attributed to or outright claimed to be written by the 19th/20th century Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, although it doesn’t seem like he actually wrote it.  Instead, the real origin of the Litany seems to be lost to history—a fitting end, I suppose, for one who prayed for no glory of the world, instead giving their work to the world freely.  At any rate, the Litany of Humility isn’t like the usual litanies of the Christian Church, at least, not like those commonly used in the formal liturgies like the Litany of the Saints; while it can be used liturgically, it reads and feels more like a personal plea and a way to remind oneself of the good things we should aim towards and the bad things we should aim away from.

While I originally used the standard modern Christian version in my prayer practice, reciting it at least once a week for a good long while, as my practice has shifted, I’ve been less and less…I don’t want to say “comfortable”, but less inclined to call on explicitly Christian names and phrases when I can avoid it in favor of more general deistic language.  Plus, it’s been a long time since I’ve recited or read it (dropping out of a regular practice will do that to you), so I think it’s time to take another look at it.  While I still think the original Christian version is an excellent one that we should all bear in mind, I also think it’s worthwhile to make it more usable by others who aren’t Christian.  To that end, I sat down with it and amended it somewhat for my own personal use, and thought I might share it for others to consider using in their use, should they so desire.  Below is the variant I use now that basically keeps the same text, with a slightly different opening and a different invocation for each request.  Rather than being Jesus-centric, e.g. “from the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus”, I’ve substituted every invocation of Jesus with simply “o Lord”.  This way, the prayer is more accessible to those within a more broadly Abrahamic, deist, or non-Christian Hermetic practice.  The sentiment is the same: we invoke God and pray that we might begin to possess the virtue of humility while shedding from ourselves the vice of pride.

O Lord, hear my prayer, and grant me, I beg you,
the blessing to be humble of heart,
the power to crush my pride,
and the grace to master myself that I may more fully serve you.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, o Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, o Lord.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being rebuked, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being maligned, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, o Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, o Lord.

That others may be loved more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than me, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may grow and I diminish in the opinion of the world, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than me, provided that I might become as holy as I should, o Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Amen.

I think it’s important to remember all that being proud entails, and what being humble necessitates.  That goes for both ceremonial magicians and witches, both occultists and scientists, and all people, especially myself.  I’ve come a long way since those posts in 2012 and 2013 when I discussed these things before, but I know that I’ve only come but so far, and there’s still so much for me to do, and no matter how far I might reach, there are still yet others who are (properly and well-deservedly) better than me.  It’s all I can do to do all I must do, and that’s for the best.  I’m happy to have recalled this prayer up, because I think it’s high time for me to reincorporate it back into my prayer routine regularly again.  Perhaps there are others who might find it useful, too.

Special Snowflake Syndrome

Whenever I engage in a conjuration of one of the bigger angels, or chat with a god during a special offering, I end up shooting the shit with them about any number of things: things I’d like to see happen or done in my life, various questions about practice and theory in terms of theurgy and thaumaturgy, and gods-know-what-else.  At the end of these little discussions, but before I wrap it up and dismiss or leave the spirit, I ask this:

Is there anything else at this point you would teach me or tell me?  Is there anything else you would have me learn, know, or do?

Such a simple question, but with such a vast effect.  A good third of the total information I’ve ever gotten from conjurations comes from asking this.  The spirits, after all, often know a lot more than we do and how we relate to them.  Getting their feedback in understanding our roles in the spheres they work in and how we stand in relation to them is invaluable advice, and if you’re not asking this when you engage with spirits you’ve built up a relationship with, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I started asking this on my own to the angels when I was first getting really involved with the elemental angels “way back when” (all the way back in 2011, baby, all those two long years ago), mostly out of a desire to know what the fuck it was I was actually doing.  I still feel this way often enough, but back then, I was really feeling like I was just blundering and blustering about blindly in the darkness and then suddenly spirits happen.  So, naturally enough, one of the first questions I wanted to know was “why am I doing this?”, and I haven’t really been able to get a satisfactory answer, neither then nor anytime since then.  In other words, why am I practicing magic?  Why am I called for this, why am I doing this?  Ever since I started asking, nearly every spirit who has the purview and interest enough to answer has replied the same: “to do magic”, like it’s my primary and chosen vocation or something.

Well and good, but it’s not specific enough to my tastes and leaves much to be desired.  And yet, it’s problematic for me in another way.  If I’m chosen to do magic, what are the limits of magic?  If my frameworks and theories of magic indicate that its power is basically unlimited (in its own ways according to certain circumstances and conditions), then doesn’t that give me a huge power over the world, myself, and others?  Doesn’t that make me, well, special?  Being chosen by the spirits to do spiritual work certainly isn’t a common calling; with it still being a necessary calling and a needed role to fill, doesn’t that make me extra-needed by creation?  Doesn’t that make me, in some way, a kind of mini-savior?

Barring the natural difference in people due to talent and genius, I believe that one of the defining attributes of humanity is that we don’t necessarily have fixed roles among ourselves.  Every species has its own role to play in the larger scheme of things: predators control populations of other animals, fungi help dissolve and decompose to recycle materials into the biosphere, and the like.  Humans, according to a Hermetic view, help maintain the sephirah of Malkuth, the sphere of existence that meshes the material universe with the spiritual cosmos; humanity can be seen to be this sphere’s “choir of angels”, so to speak, maintaining and working with this sphere as our job as part of the larger creation of things.  However, this role can be endlessly complex, due to the complexity created from humanity’s interaction with both the universe and the cosmos, or what I call the human world.  Among ourselves, we have different roles to play, different jobs to discharge, and different strengths for which we are uniquely suited that only we can fill, a strong indication of one’s True Will or spiritual purpose, where we fit into the larger machine of creation.

Still, seeing what we’re good at, what we ought to discharge in this sphere, and ultimately who we are can be a dangerous thing, and leads to something I often term “special snowflake syndrome”.  According to Urban Dictionary,

A malady affecting a significant portion of the world’s population wherein the afflicted will demand special treatment, conduct themselves with a ludicrous, unfounded sense of entitlement, and generally make the lives of everyone around them that much more miserable.

The danger of this disease is that the sufferers rarely, if ever, know that they have contracted it, and continue about their merry way under the assumption that EVERYONE ELSE is the problem.

(If you ever look at the social justice or otherkin tumblrs, you’ll know what I mean.  If you haven’t read them, never do this.)

Why do people develop this?  It’s because they begin to see who they are, which is a good thing, but get an unfounded sense of vainglory, pride, and self-importance at who they are, which is a bad thing.  They think that because they’re the only ones who can be them and do the things they do, this makes them special or otherwise rare in the world, and end up developing a persecuted savior mindset because why can’t you treat them like the unique holy thing that they are, bawwwwwwwww.  They don’t need to consult others or get external input on what they’re doing or supposed to be doing, because clearly they already know everything they need to know about their special role.  Like a snowflake, they must be unique, and therefore are to be cherished by the masses.  I see this developing in no small number of magical people who suddenly realize “o hej, I can do magickqzs!” and think that they are the biggest shit ever.  Sadly, in the process, they actually do become the biggest shit ever, but not in the sense they desire.

I like to keep myself well-grounded and humble enough to prevent this from happening to me, bordering on self-depreciation and overmodesty.  In fact, it’s why I make a special prayer of humility fairly often to keep myself from getting too carried off in my own delusions of grandeur.  Even if I’m one of the few chosen to do magic, why should I be necessarily praised for essentially just doing my job?  Even if I’m a holy power chosen by the Almighty, why wouldn’t I recognize that same in every other human and entity alive?  Maybe it’s the weirdness and glamour of magic itself that still strikes me as weird, that fascination with this arcane and maligned yet powerful art that can change the course of nations and individuals alike.  But even so, can’t I say the same thing about my computer science skills and my current workplace, where I work with significant economic data used in thousands upon thousands of contracts and analyses daily across my country and the world?  Can’t I say the same thing about the jobs and work of others, too?  Can’t I say the same thing about others generally, too?  Just because I’m chosen for a particular necessary role doesn’t diminish the necessity of other roles or those chosen for them.  Just because I’m helping out the world in my own small way doesn’t make me a savior for the masses, it makes me a small gear in the great machinery of creation.  Just because I’m told to do magic doesn’t make me special, it makes me understand that my minor job in a world of jobs is the best one for me and I’m the best person in a world of people for it.

Yes, I may be a special snowflake, but there are also a lot of snowflakes out there.  It’s only upon microscopic inspection that any one snowflake can be meaningfully differentiated from the others; at any other larger distance, snow is one large undifferentiated mass (barring contaminants, pollution, or dense packs of ice, of course).  Snow falls and is natural, and each flake contributes to the weather; we enjoy the snow, but we don’t necessarily care about or notice any one particular flake.  One snowflake does not make a blizzard and lasts for no time at all on its own.

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.

Shewstone-side Chats

I conjured the angel of Jupiter, Tzadqiel, last night.  He gave me a brief metaphor I thought I’d share with you all.  I asked him for his advice and teaching in my life, and he seemed to nod and point up and behind me to the stars in the night sky.

You see those stars?  They’re kings, just like the Sun here.  They rule over their parts of the sky, their worlds.  They are small and distant, however, and they are not kings here.  As they travel their light to other places, they cease to become kings and become equals or even less to the places they travel.  They rule only over what they rule, and no more.  Just so do you rule only what you rule, and you do not rule over everything, even though you may think you do.  You will one day become as a star, but even stars are outshone by the ones higher and brighter than them, especially the highest Light.

Humility is a virtue even in the greatest kings.  Humility is the beginning of greatness.

Happily for my tired self, this metaphor doesn’t need much more unpacking.  Leading a full work life and trying to maintain a proper magical practice can be a pain, indeed, but being a magician is all about being a king, and being a king is all about knowing what you have and how to use it.  For now, imma use my bed.