Soapbox Time: Animal Sacrifice and “Black Magic”

I tried to not put a post out about this again.  I really did, you guys, especially since I was fortunate enough to completely miss the recent Internet debacle-argument about this topic, and moreso since I wrote one post on the one topic and another on the other years ago and was hoping to not have to succumb to this particular urge again.  But, then again, it has been like five years since I wrote those posts, and though quite a lot has happened, my views on these two topics hasn’t particularly changed much except for being refined.

So, the other day, I put out my write-up on PGM XII.201—269, which I’ve entitled the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, a consecration of an engraved ring of power that protects the wearer and also ensures their success in magical workings, a sort of forerunner to the Ring of Solomon found in later centuries.  Part of the ceremony calls for the sacrificial offering of seven birds—a pure white goose, three roosters, and three pigeons—but since I’m fully aware that not everyone is willing, trained, or able to perform such a ceremony, I also offered an alternative approach using sacrificial, animal-less cakes made to symbolize the offering of the birds instead.  I think that it’s a wonderful ritual that I’m eager to try at some point in the future, using the cake substitutions instead of bird sacrifices, not because I’m unable or unwilling to use birds here, but because I want to keep things simple for a first honest attempt, along with other personal accommodations for my own circumstances and situations.

Well, shortly after I shared it on one of the social media platforms I use, the ritual got a particular comment that rubbed me the wrong way, which was all of: “Whoa. That’s some serious black magick“, complete with a sadface. Granted, with such a terse comment that gave no justification for saying what it did, I honestly can’t say why that particular person commented that this was “black magic”, but I’m pretty certain I can hone in on it.  And I just…I just can’t, y’all.  I did make a reply to that comment, but since this particular thing set me off sore on two volatile topics at once, I figured if I was gonna get this urge out my system, I may as well get it out in full, in depth, and at length here.

First, let’s get the easy bit out of the way: “black magic” is a ridiculous term that we should have abandoned long ago, right along with “white magic”.  For some, it’s an issue of racism; for others, an issue of not understanding other traditions; for yet others, a shaming mechanism to get people to “evolve” into “higher states of spiritual being” from “backwards” or “primitive” or “dark” places.  Whether for these or other reasons, “black magic” is a deplorable term that’s often used to (a) make someone seem way more spooky than they are (b) market themselves as an edgelord sorcerer a la E.A. Koetting (c) shame the practices, rites, and occulture of others because one is uncomfortable with what they do.  Yes, I know the world is wide and full of awe, things that are both awesome and awful.  At the same time, you generally don’t have the right to judge other practices and cultures, especially those which are foreign to you or those which are from antiquity, unless you can also claim some measure of expertise in the context, development, and reasoning behind those practices of those cultures.

“Black magic” is a phrase that’s often more in line with really spooky witchcraft, devil-working, demon-summoning, cursing, and other outright maleficia in the sense of magic that’s intended to cause harm, pain, suffering, or death to others, generally out of a sense of wrath, greed, malice, or other vice-fueled emotion.  Then again, the term “black magic” is used at best when it “accurately” refers to these things as they are actually done; just as often as not, if not more so, the phrase “black magic” is used to describe any type of magic that one might find transgressive, dangerous, unpalatable, or frightening.  This is ridiculous, to be frank about it; the use of magic in general is transgressive and dangerous, and to anyone who isn’t familiar with anything in magic, it’s all unpalatable and frightening.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve scared off by saying I conjure angels, much less work with ancient subterranean deities, and those are generally the more appealing and “kinder” spirits we work with (though angels are terrifying as shit, too, and we should never forget why the first thing they say in biblical literature is “be not afraid”, nor should we ever forget our place amongst the gods lest we fall into hubris and suffer the extreme penalties for doing so).  If you call something “black magic” because it’s unpalatable or frightening, it’s because it’s unpalatable or frightening to you.  Others, for whom it’s their bread and butter, may find it normal and natural, even holy and sanctified in its own right.  It’s much like how many Christians think of a variety of non-Christian religions as “evil”, “wicked”, “witchcraft”, or even “black magic”; to call the practices of another that you don’t understand “black magic” is just as farcical; consider Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, which would be an example of maleficia that’s otherwise grounded in normalized, culturally-acceptable religion.  Heck, even if you do understand it, call it what it is: is it a curse, or devil-working, or maleficium?  Call it that, and be clear and accurate about it!  But don’t call it “black magic” and think that by being judgmental you’re preserving your pristine ethics and morals, because you’re not, and you end up making yourself look ridiculous.

So, the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual got called “black magic”.  Why might that be?  Considering any of the “accurate” meanings of what “black magic” might mean (and I use the term “accurate” very loosely here), we simply don’t find any of that in this ritual.  In fact, we find a pretty standard, pretty pious hymn to the Agathos Daimōn, the “Good Spirit” of Hellenic influence that became a sort of personalized almighty God figure, much as how many modern Christians conceive of God as not just the God of all the cosmos but also their own personal, private God that watches out for them.  We find the preliminary invocation calling upon all the beneficent gods who rule over the world in all its forms and in all its ways, almost in an animist worldview rather than a polytheistic one, so as to establish the authority of the magician in mythic terms with the right to call upon them.  We find the consecration of the ring to be such that the magician “may wear this power in every place, in every time, without being smitten or afflicted, so as to be preserved intact from every danger while I wear this power”, so that “none of the daimones or spirits will or can oppose” them.  If it weren’t for the explicit Egyptian references and comparatively outdated terminology in the ritual, we might be forgiven for thinking this was something from one iteration or another of the Key of Solomon.  I think we can pretty solidly establish that whatever type or field of magic might be referenced by “black magic”, the Royal Ring of Abrasax doesn’t fall into it.

If you want good PGM examples of maleficia, you don’t have to search hard: PDM xiv.675—694 (the Evil Sleep of Seth; much of PDM xiv has similar recipes and poisons for causing “evil sleep” i.e. catalepsy, as well as blindness or death), PGM IV.2622—2707 (the Slander Spell of Selēnē), PGM IV.3255—3274 (Seth’s curse of punishments), PGM VII.396—404 (for silencing, subjecting, and restraining), PGM XII.365—375 (for inflicting the separation of Seth and Osiris or Seth and Isis on two friends or lovers through strife, war, odiousness, and enmity), and PGM CXXIV.1—43 (to inflict illness), to say nothing of all the other restraining and binding spells, as well as all the love spells which verge on domination, subjection, and inflicting pain so as to make someone love the magician.  Then there are also the curse tablets, also known as defixiones or katadesmoi, which we find across the entire western Old World across many, many centuries (more information available at Ancient Esotericism).  Those are all undoubtedly maleficia of various types and kinds, which may or may not have their justifiable uses; the Royal Ring of Abrasax, however, bears nothing in common with these.

The only objectionable part of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, then, must be the use of animal sacrifice, which is seen as a generally distasteful thing amongst…well, let’s be honest: urbanite or suburbanite, middle-class or upper-class, Western-centric practitioners who are separated from the cycle of life and death present in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as social, religious, and magical practices that go back literal millennia across every culture and continent.  On the other hand, I’m a proponent of animal sacrifice, for the ceremonies that call for them, when there’s a recognizable need to incorporate them in those ceremonies, and when performed by someone who is properly capable of carrying out such an act of sacrifice.

Before I continue, I want to mention a bit about the gravity of animal sacrifice.  While a staple of the religious and magical practices of most (not every) culture at some point on Earth, it’s a pretty big deal to sacrifice an animal; more than fruit or grain, raising animals is an investment.  Sure, agricultural goods are investments, too, but the nature of animal sacrifice is different because they’re expensive and, more importantly, have the blood and breath of life in them.  This is what makes them far more potent than offerings of libations, incense, foodstuffs, or other votive gifts, no matter how rare or intricate.  To sacrifice an animal is truly a sacrifice, because you have to come to terms with the cycle of life and death that enabled you to come into the presence of such a sacrifice as well as the process by which you cease its life for the dedication and offering to a divinity, or using its life force in a directed way for magical ends that cannot (whether easily or at all) be accomplished through the use of non-animal means.  It’s not like setting out a cup of barley grains for Hermēs or a plate of pears for Obatala, then tossing it out the next week; the process of animal sacrifice is not to be taken for granted, and neither is the life of the thing to be sacrificed.

Given that, I recognize that there are a variety of reasons one might choose to abstain from animal sacrifice, many of which were brought up in the comments on my original post on this topic from 2012:

  • One takes an egalitarian animist view of the cosmos: everything has a spirit, nothing is spiritually master or owner of another.  In this light, the notion of “dedication” and “sacrifice” become moot, because there is no point in dedicating a sacrifice to an entity that cannot own anything.
  • One takes a strictly pacifist, nonviolent approach in all their works: no harm done to anything as a result of ritual or as part of it.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • One has a sincere love and care for the well-being of animal life, whether they are people, pets, or livestock.  This may or may not overlap with animal rights activism and vegetarianism/veganism out of concern for the well-being of animals.
  • The rules and restrictions of one’s own practices and religion forbid it (e.g. Orphism).
  • The gods and spirits one works with insist on or mandate bloodless sacrifice for their worship and works.

One common argument I see against animal sacrifice is that “you wouldn’t sacrifice your pet dog or cat, so why would you sacrifice a chicken or goat?”.  You’re right; I wouldn’t sacrifice my pet, because pets aren’t livestock.  Pets are animals we raise for support, companionship, protection, and entertainment; for all intents and purposes, pets are family, and I wouldn’t sacrifice a member of my family.  Livestock, on the other hand, do not fall into that category.  They are raised for food, for breeding, for their hair, for their eggs; livestock are animals for consumption.  To cross the semantic boundary between pet and livestock is…even I find it distasteful, but I also recall myths and stories where such things were done in times of extreme need or revelation (e.g. Baucis and Philemon about to sacrifice their pet goose when they realized that it was truly Zeus and Hermēs visiting them in their hovel).

Heck, even if one is okay with animal sacrifice, there are plenty more reasons why one might not do it:

  • Lack of skill in safely and, as much as possible, humanely slaughtering an animal
  • Lack of funds for animals
  • Lack of appropriate space or privacy to keep animals, whether on a short- or long-term basis, as well as to conduct the ceremony
  • Lack of means or skill to properly process and butcher the animal for ritual or personal consumption, if applicable to the ceremony
  • Lack of means or space to dispose of any non-sacrificial and non-processable parts
  • Lack of knowledge of the proper ritual procedure for conducting such a sacrifice

That said, farms that raise livestock for personal use are often quite skilled in quickly and safely slaughtering animals, and butchery is a time-honored profession that overlaps significantly with slaughtering animals.  So long as one is willing to get their hands and apron bloodied, it’s not hard to learn these skills at least to a rudimentary, acceptable level, and make accommodations where needed for processing, disposal, and the like.  Most humans eat meat to some extent, and for many people, it’s a necessary part of their diet and culinary culture.  (Some might argue that nobody needs to eat animals and that everyone should be vegan, but it’s not a sustainable practice for many parts of the world, and it negates the fact that the human body does not operate on a one-diet-fits-all approach.)  Many people don’t get any sort of glimpse into the process of raising, slaughtering, or processing animals for consumption nowadays, especially in the Western urban world, but we can’t lose sight of the fact of where our sliced deli meats, Thanksgiving turkeys, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, and pork chops come from, especially considering how many people thoughtlessly and mindlessly pick up such animal products from their supermarkets and grocery stores to eat them later.  More people in the past were far more familiar with what it takes to process animals from field to plate; heck, if your grandparents are still alive, ask them what it was like to pluck chickens.  It wasn’t that long ago that many people killed animals on their own properties for their own benefit and sustenance in many Western first-world countries, either, and many still do, especially outside the Western first-world sphere.

When it comes to the religious use of animal sacrifice, we need to think about the role religion plays in our lives.  In some cultures, mainly the Greco-Roman ones I’m thinking of, there was no word for “religion” in the sense of a distinct field of human activity; there were words to describe particular modes of worship, but they struggled with a way to define the role of religion in their lives, because they couldn’t separate it out from the other things they did on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.  More than just religious festivals and rites of passage, religion was intertwined with every breath of every day.  In that sense, if we’re going to kill something that took time and effort to raise, why not honor the gods by it and give them their fair share?  Also consider the Jewish practice of shechita, the kosher-permissible ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, which ties in with the practice of qorban, the acts and regulations of sacrifice permitted within the Temple of the Jews.  Then, bring in the long-standing and vital role that animal sacrifice plays in a variety of African religions, both practiced to this day within Africa as well as in the diaspora in forms such as La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Candomblé, Vodou, and so forth; in these moments, animal sacrifices are often special occasions, celebrating a particular divinity, festival, or other sincere need, and are often communal celebrations where the meat is shared.  Indeed, in many traditional cultures, it’s more often than not that people got a substantial amount of their meat intake from participating in religious ceremonies.  And, more recently, some reconstructionist and revivalist pagan traditions are reincorporating the practices of animal sacrifice in their modern practices as was documented to have been done before Christianity knocked them off the map.

There are lots of schools of thought on the exact, precise role animal sacrifice plays (and, moreover, ought to play) in religious works, and generally these are limited to at most a handful of practices and traditions that involve them; I wouldn’t use Neoplatonic views on the appropriateness of animal sacrifice in Santería, nor would I try to impose Jewish ritual practices in a Hellenic ceremony.  Likewise, I would find it unconscionable for someone to judge the practices of another to which they don’t belong.  The most that I would personally agree with would be, if you have an issue for one reason or another, do your best to neither participate or benefit from it.  That’s fine!  In that case, you don’t need such practices, and they don’t need you.  If it comes to pass that you do, for some reason, need such practices as requires animal sacrifice, on the other hand, follow their rules, because they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have and, simply put, still don’t need you to change, judge, or opine on the appropriateness of their ritual process.  There are a variety of legitimate needs and purposes for animal sacrifice; heck, even in a Neoplatonic setting, Porphyry and Iamblichus are in agreement that it has its place, and for some people, it’s a valuable and useful part of worship and theurgy to make use it in the right circumstances (cf. this excellent paper by Eleonora Zeper on the subject).

Then, on the other hand, we have magical practices.  Rather than following the institutions of religion and their practices that are typically carried on for many generations, magical practices may overlap with religion, take on religion as an independent and asocial activity, or have no overlap whatsoever.  Because of the variety of these practices, it’s hard to say anything about them in general besides the fact that they exist: they’re in the PGM, they’re in the Picatrix, they’re in the Key of Solomon, they’re in the Book of St. Cyprian, they’re in pretty much any and every pre-modern tradition and source text we have (and a number of modern ones, too).  Ranging from frogs to falcons, swine to swans, there are endless purposes for a variety of particular animals, some of which require no more than some hair or a feather plucked from them, some which require blood but without killing the animal, which require their whole burning once sacrificed (as in the Royal Ring of Abrasax), some require torture and deforming (such as a variety of frog-based spells in the Book of St. Cyprian), and so forth.  If you’re able and willing to do such acts for the sake of ritual, do it; if not, don’t do it and move on with your life.

There’s also the case of substituting blood sacrifices with bloodless sacrifices.  I give one example of this in the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual, where instead of sacrificing seven birds, one sacrifices seven specially-made cakes that represent those birds.  Substitution of one ritual process with a similar-enough stand-in is a longstanding practice both ancient and less-ancient; we have records of Egyptian rituals where this was done, we know many folk practices across the world that once relied on animal sacrifices have come to use substitutions instead, and similar substitutions are made in particular traditions of Tibetan and some (but not all) other Vajrayana or Vedic practices, as well.  If done appropriately, done with the right intent, and done in a situation where a bloodless substitute is deemed acceptable by both the magician/priest and the forces they’re working with, then there’s no reason to worry for those who wish to perform a ritual but who are either unable or unwilling to perform the animal sacrifice for it: just use the substitute instead.  However, as Jason Miller points out in his recent post about animal sacrifice and using substitutes, this isn’t always possible: if the use of substitutes is not deemed necessary, whether because there’s a sincere need for a proper animal sacrifice or because the spirits reject bloodless substitutes, then you’re out of luck with substitutes.  I’ve heard stories of at least one modern ATR community that insisted on using bloodless sacrifices for their ceremonies until one of their gods came down in the flesh and demanded it of them, lest he take it from them by force; this type of thing can happen, though hopefully though less extreme measures such as through ceremonial divination and regular check-ins with the spirits you’re working with.

There’s also the possibility of reworking the format and structure of a ritual that calls for animal sacrifice to avoid using it entirely.  Consider that the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual given in PGM XII.201—269 has a parallel, closely-related consecration ceremony of a phylactery later on in PGM XIII.734—1077, where no animal sacrifice is required (though an offering of sweetbreads is called for along with bread, seasonal flowers, and pine-cones).  It is entirely feasible to use this alternate ritual procedure, or adopt and adapt the methodology of one with the prayers and purposes of the other, to come up with a blend of ritual praxis that can (but not necessarily promised to be) as effective as either.  Additionally, consider that one may try to avoid the use of sacrifices entirely and simply use the prayers of the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual in an otherwise usual, normally-conducted consecration ritual according to one’s regular process.  Is this always acceptable?  Not necessarily; the more you change the format or requirements or implements of a ritual, the further you get from being able to claim that you “did” the ritual, and the less likely you’ll end up with the expected results.  However, it is possible to come up with a new version of an old ritual, so long as you know what you’re doing.

This is a lot of digital ink to spill on something, but in short?  Animal sacrifice does not equate to “black magic”, and “black magic” is a ridiculous term that shouldn’t be used anyway.  If you find the practice distasteful, consider your own dietary habits, your own cultural heritage, your own biases about such practices, and whether you really think you know better than both age-old religious institutions and the gods and spirits they work with before you voice such opinions.  Don’t disparage the works and methods of others from a place of privilege, naiveté, and badly-conceived ethics; if you absolutely have to be judgmental about something, judge on the purpose and merits of the ritual.

A PGM-Style Framing Rite for Pretty Much Any Purpose

This past quarter, the splendid Gordon White of Rune Soup held another of his classes, this time on the Greek Magical Papyri, otherwise known famously as the PGM.  It was a great course; rather than being focused on simply presenting rituals and implementations thereof, Gordon went all out on giving the context, development, influences, cosmology, and theory that really fleshes out the PGM.  No, the PGM cannot be considered a single body of texts, because they’re inherently not: they’re a jumble of papyri from multiple authors across multiple centuries.  However, Gordon’s class really pulls so much of it together into something that could, honestly, feel like it could be presented as part of a single text, or at least a single tradition with more-or-less a single mindset.  It’s a tall order, but it’s a great thing to take if you’re a member of his class stuff.  That said, and to be candid about it, I’m kinda left a little hungry by the course: knowing that Gordon’s been doing PGM magic for…quite some time (probably longer than I’ve been a magician at all), I’d’ve liked to see more implementations and descriptions of ritual rather than just the cosmological backgrounds behind what we have in the PGM.  Still, I also know that I’m often left a little (or a lot) disappointed by other books on PGM-style magic that mostly or only list rituals with only a smattering of cosmology behind them; some of them are worthwhile, at least for a while, but I tire of them easily, probably because I’m a spoiled brat and like to chew on things myself rather than simply have them presented to me, so perhaps it’s really for the best that Gordon focused on the background and theory of the PGM rather than the contents themselves.  Of the other well-known books about the PGM, Stephen Skinner’s Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic is a great analysis of the content of the PGM, and is a helpful index and guide to looking at and investigating parts of the PGM (though I differ with him on some accounts as well).

Flatteringly, Gordon referenced me and my work on my blog and website several times throughout his course.  (I admit, I was caught off-guard each time he did so, and it felt like I was being called out in the middle of a college lecture hall each time I listened into his class, and so promptly spat out my wine and/or energy drink of choice at that moment.)  To my credit, I have done quite a bit of PGM work; not as much as I’d like, but I do write about it quite a bit, and have whole groups of pages up both for PGM and PGM-like rituals as well as prayers from the Hermetic and PGM traditions, and about a tenth of the posts and pages on this website reference the PGM in one way or another.  For other splendid websites and bloggers on PGM stuff, I might also recommend Voces Magicae as well as Sublunar Space, who both appear to do quite excellent stuff on their own.

One of the most hilariously common things one might see in the PGM texts is the phrase “add the usual” (even to the point where Gordon was considering naming parts of his course that phrase).  Bear in mind that the PGM is basically a collection of the notes of working, jobbing magicians who kept track of their observations, rituals, recipes, and the like.  Just like how someone wouldn’t write down something in their journal that they did each and every time they got themselves ready in the morning but merely obliquely referenced it, so too did the PGM authors do the same for their own texts; if they had a particular MO, they wouldn’t waste the ink and papyrus on it, but simply said “add the usual”.  What that “usual” might have been, we don’t often know or have the means to find out, but it does indicate that certain rituals took place within a broader framework or ceremonial practice.  A modern term for this is a “framing rite”, where a particular ritual procedure is established to attune, protect, and generally set things up for a magician to do something specific within the overall ritual.  Examples of framing rites abound in modern systems of magic, and for those who have a daily magical practice, those same rituals can often be used both generally each day as well as immediately before/after a ritual to prepare or wind down the magician for the ritual.  With all the instances of “add the usual”, we have evidence that similar practices were done in the era of the PGM authors, as well.

With that in mind, and bringing my own Mathēsis practices and my other temple procedures into the mix, I was wondering if I could codify and establish a PGM-style framing rite for myself.  I adore the PGM stuff, after all, and I definitely incorporate many of its techniques in much that I do, whether it’s whole rituals or just parts I pick and extrapolate from.  Plus, given all the PGM resources I’ve put out on my blog, including implementations of rituals for which we only have the bare bones from the original source, it’s not like I lack for sources of inspiration.  So, I decided to pluck bits and pieces from a variety of PGM, Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and similar sources of magical praxis and slap them together into an overall procedure that works as a framing ritual for…well, anything, honestly, but with a focus on PGM-style magic (though not necessarily the PGM rituals themselves, especially those that provided inspiration for this framing ritual).  Between the lists of names of spirits, invocations for a variety of purposes, implementations of ritual designs, and the other practices I’ve developed in the meantime, it wasn’t hard to form a synthesis of PGM-inspired ritual.  Is it a mish-mash?  Absolutely, and I make no denial or complaint against that!  Is it effective?  As far as I’ve noted, it definitely is, which is why I have no complaints about it (besides my own quibbles in refining it over time).  I don’t mean to say that the PGM can be treated as a single, coherent text, because it’s absolutely not; that said, it’s not hard to pick the individual techniques that can be separated from particular parts of the PGM and synthesize them together into its own more-or-less coherent whole.

What follows is my attempt at such a generalized magical procedure.  Admittedly, this is still an experimental framework, and I’m still in the process of making minor tweaks and edits to it; however, the bulk of it is stable, and any further changes to be made would be minor indeed.  The framing rite, as the ritual proper itself, will benefit from being done in a previously established or consecrated space, but the framing rite itself suffices to establish a working temple in any space or location.  Further, with minor modifications, anything before the ritual proper according to the framing rite schema given here may also be used as a format for a regimen for daily magical practice.  Not all parts are required, but may be done at the magician’s discretion; when something is optional, I’ve said as much.  The general outline of the framing ritual, in full, is as follows:

  1. Send out any non-initiates.  (optional)
  2. Ablute with lustral water.
  3. Illumine the temple and call on the Lord of the Hour.
  4. Call on the Lord of the Day.  (optional)
  5. Call on the Lord of the Stars.  (optional)
  6. Consecrate the Light.
  7. Call on the Guardians of the Directions.
  8. Opening prayer.  (optional)
  9. Cast the circle.  (optional)
  10. Empowerment and fortification.
  11. Initial offering of incense to the spirits. (optional)
  12. The ritual proper.
  13. Closing prayer.  (optional)
  14. Dismissal offering to the spirits.
  15. Uncasting the circle.  (only if a circle was previously cast)
  16. Extinguishing the Light.

The following materials are required for the framing rite itself, in addition to whatever other materials the ritual proper calls for:

  • A head covering, such as a shawl or scarf
  • A clean basin or bowl
  • A clean towel (optional, if desired)
  • Fresh water
  • Salt or natron
  • Bay leaves, or cotton balls along with a tincture of bay laurel and frankincense
  • A lamp or candle, not colored red or black
  • Incendiary tool, such as matches or a lighter
  • Incense, most preferably frankincense
  • White chalk, a wand, or a knife to draw a circle (optional, only if desired)

In the future, once I make any further refinements and hammer out any other inconsistencies in the framing rite, I’ll eventually add it to the Rituals section of pages on my website.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy, and if you’re interested, give it a whirl and see how you feel applying the following framing rite, both around a ritual itself as well as a basis for daily practice!

Note that in the following ritual text, except for the few short Greek phrases used and the names of spirits listed in the tables below, I’ve left what few barbarous words of power are used in the framing rite in Greek.  I tried to use selected portions of the PGM that didn’t rely too heavily on barbarous words of power, but their use is still essential to PGM-style magic in general.  None of what are used below are particularly long or complicated strings of words of power as some parts of the PGM are known for, but are rather some of the shorter and most common ones; I’ve left them in Greek to prevent formatting clutter.  If you’re unsure on how to read them, consult the listed PGM sections in the Betz translation or learn how to read basic Greek.  I might also recommend to check out this page on the phonetic and esoteric associations of the Greek.alphabet as well as this post on a primer on how to meditate on them to get used to their sound and power.

If desired, especially if this is done in a group setting, recite Porphyry’s command from On Images to give a general call to dismiss all unwanted or uninitiated entities, incarnate and otherwise, to leave the space in which the ritual is to be performed:

I speak only to those who lawfully may hear:
Depart all ye profane, and close the doors.

If there is a door to the space in which the ritual is performed, now is the time to close it, unless safety concerns mandate it being open; some sort of barrier should be used instead, such as a bar, board, or stone put across or symbolically blocking the entry to the space.

Prepare the lustral water and ablute with it so as to purify yourself and the temple space. This is essentially the process of making khernips for khernimma:

  1. Fill a basin with clean, fresh water.
  2. Pour or sprinkle a small amount of sea salt or natron into the water.  I recommend doing this in a cross formation above the basin.
  3. Light a whole dried bay leaf or a cotton ball soaked in a tincture of frankincense and bay laurel. Hold it above the basin, and say:

    For the sake of purity and becoming pure…

    Quench the fire into the water, and say:

    …be purified!

  4. Mix the water thoroughly with the right hand.
  5. Wash the left hand with the right, then the right hand with the left, then the face with both hands, reciting:

    Χερνίπτομαι (Kherníptomai)! In purity, I cleanse myself and free myself from defilement.

  6. With the right hand or a bundle of bay leaves, sprinkle the khernips around you in a counterclockwise direction, reciting:

    Begone, begone, you polluting spirits, you evil spirits, begone, begone!
    May all that is profane be cast out, that only holiness may here remain.

  7. If desired, pat the face and hands dry with a clean towel or cloth.
  8. Cover your head with a loose-fitting shawl, scarf, stole, hood, or other headcovering.

If more than one person is present, the lead magician prepares the khernips, washes themselves, and asperges the temple space first.  After that, the other ritual participants wash themselves only (reciting only the “Χερνίπτομαι! In purity…” part).

Illumine the temple with sacred fire that shines forth with the light of Divinity. This is a combination of both a conjuration of the flame of the lamp or candle to be used in the ritual as well as an invocation to the temporal Lord of the Hour.  This lamp or candle should not be colored red or black, given the general proscriptions against it in the PGM for most types of work, and should be kept separate from other lights used in the ritual proper unless it’s a lamp divination or theophany that uses such a light.  Light the lamp or candle, ideally while standing to the west of the lamp and facing east towards it, and recite the following conjuration of the flame based on the spell for fires to continue from PGM XIII.1—343 (the Eighth Book of Moses) and the invocation to the lamp of PDM xiv.1—92 and PDM xiv.489—515, depending on whether the ritual is done during the daytime or the nighttime.

  • Diurnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright face of Hēlios, …,  servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the day, bring your light to me!

  • Nocturnal conjuration of the flame:

    I conjure you, Fire, o daimon of holy Love, the invisible and manifold, the one and everywhere, to remain in this light at this time, shining and not dying out, by the command of Aiōn!
    Be great, o light!  Come forth, o light!  Rise up, o light!  Be high, o light!
    Come forth, o light of God!
    O bright angel of Selēnē, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who belongs to this Xth hour of the night, bring your light to me!

The rulers of the unequal hours of the day and the night, taken from PGM IV.1596—1715 (Consecration of the Twelve Faces of Hēlios) and PGM VII.862—918 (Lunar Spell of Klaudianos):

Hour Diurnal
(PGM IV.1596—1715)
(PGM VII.862—918)

Similarly, though not necessarily required, an invocation to the ruling god of the day may also be made at this time.  This may be done in one of two ways: either by the ruler of the day according to the planet, or according to the ruler of the Pole using the Seven-Zoned method from PGM XIII.1—343/XIII.646—734.

Using the same section from PDM xiv.489—515 as before, invoke the planetary ruler:

  • Using the day ruler method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over this day, bring your light to me!

  • Using the Seven-Zoned (Pole ruler) method:

    O blessed god, …, servant of God, you whose hand is this moment, who rules over the Pole on this day, bring your light to me!

Alternatively, another invocation to the appropriate planet may also be used, such as praying the Orphic Hymn to that planet.

Weekday Ruling Planet
By Day Pole Ruler
Sunday Hēlios Selēnē
Monday Selēnē Hermēs
Tuesday Arēs Aphroditē
Wednesday Hermēs Hēlios
Thursday Zeus Arēs
Friday Aphroditē Zeus
Saturday Kronos Kronos

If further desired, though again not required, an invocation may be made to the Zodiac sign that rules the present time, based on PGM VII.795—845 (Pythagoras’ request for a dream oracle and Demokritos’ dream divination).  Given the lunar and nighttime connections of that ritual, it may be best to call upon the sign of the Zodiac in which the Moon is currently found; however, for more solar-oriented rituals, using the Zodiac sign in which the Sun is currently found may be used instead.  A combined method, which I would recommend, calls upon the two signs of both the Sun and the Moon together:

O blessed heavens, solar … and lunar …, you two asterisms that watch over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

If, however, the Sun and Moon are in the same sign:

O blessed heaven, …, you great asterism who watches over all the works of the world, bring your light to me!

Zodiac Sign Name

With the sacred light lit and the appropriate powers of the present time invoked, uncover your head and recite the Light-Retaining Charm based on PGM IV.930—1114 (Conjuration of Light under Darkness):

I conjure you, holy Light, breadth, depth, length, height, brightness,
remain by me in the present hour, until I have accomplished all I have set out to do!
Now, now, immediately, immediately, quickly, quickly!

Call upon the Guardians of the Directions.  This is essentially using my Invocation of the Solar Guardians, based on PGM II.64—183 and PGM.XII.14—95, to recognize the four spiritual entities who stand guard of the stations of the Sun at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight, as well as the realms and rulers of the heights and the depths, so as to orient and protect both the temple and the magician.  The first guardian to be invoked is the one who controls the quarter of the sky where the Sun currently is: between sunrise and noon, the Guardian of the East should begin the invocations; between noon and sunset, the Guardian of the South; and so forth.

  1. First, face the East or, if preferred, whatever quarter of the sky the Sun happens to be in at the moment of the invocation.
  2. Take a half-step forward with the right foot, raise the right hand forward and out, and raise the hand up and out towards that direction.  Give the salutation to the guardian, lower the hand, bring the right foot back, then turn 90° clockwise to salute the next guardian.  The four salutations for these guardians are, with the order to be changed according to the direction first started with:

    ΙΩ ΕΡΒΗΘ, take thy place in the East!
    ΙΩ ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ, take thy place in the South!
    ΙΩ ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, take thy place in the West!
    ΙΩ ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ, take thy place in the North!

  3. Once all four guardians of the cardinal directions have been saluted, return to the original direction, and stand with both feet together.
  4. Look directly up and extend the right palm outwards and upwards to salute the guardian of the heights:

    ΙΩ ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, take thy place in the Heights!

  5. Look directly down, and extend the right palm outwards and downwards to salute the guardian of the depths:

    ΙΩ ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, take thy place in the Depths!

  6. Extend both arms outward with the right hand turned up and the left hand turned down, and give the concluding call:

    For I am ΜΑΛΠΑΡΤΑΛΧΩ standing in the midst of the All!

At this point, if desired, the magician may enter into a phase of prayer before any further work.  This is not required, but those who take a more liturgical or Hermetic priestly approach may consider reciting such prayers as the Prayer of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Stele of Aiōn from PGM IV.1167—1226, the Hymn of the Hidden Stele from PVM IV.1115—1166, or other such prayers.  This would be to focus the mind of the magician as well as to further sanctify the temple, but these are not strictly required to be performed.

Before further work, some magicians may feel more comfortable working within a cast circle.  Given the purification, illumination, and warding of the temple in the previous steps, a circle may be deemed superfluous and unnecessary, and though researchers like Stephen Skinner suggest that circle-working could have been a common aspect of PGM-style magic, very few rituals in the PGM and similar works explicitly call for a circle, and most have no need for one.  However, should a circle be desired for further working, one may be cast at this point.  Starting from the same direction that the Guardians of the Directions began and proceeding clockwise, trace a circle on the ground (either drawn out in white chalk or natron, or traced with the fingertips of the dominant hand, a wand, or a knife) while reciting the following (adapted from my older preparatory/framing rite the Q.D.Sh. Ritual).  As there are four lines in the chant that follows, draw the circle slowly and thoughtfully enough such that each line can be recited within the tracing of one quarter of the circle.

In the name of the Nous, this circle is consecrated for our defense.
By the power of the Logos, this circle is defended for our perfection.
For the sake of the Sophia, this circle is perfected for our work.
Through the might of the Aiōn, may all that is baneful be cast out, that only Good may here remain.

Empower yourself.  This is a three-step process, combined from one popularly-known modern one and two adapted from the PGM.  The first part is what I call the “Ray of Heaven and Earth”, which is a variant of the first part of Jason Miller’s “Pillar and Spheres” energy work method from The Sorcerer’s Secrets; the visualization is largely the same, but I’ve replaced the chants from Latin/English with appropriate Greek ones.  The second part is a shorter form of the Heptagram Rite from PGM XIII.734—1077; it’s more involved than a simple Calling the Sevenths (which is fine on its own and may be substituted here instead for time), but it’s also not the entire Heptagram Rite, either; this middle-form is what I call the Minor Heptagram Rite.  This is finished with the final declaration of power and protection from the Headless Rite from PGM V.96—172, using the Crowley form of the ritual (though substitutes may be made here as well).

  1. Perform the Ray of Heaven and Earth.
    1. Stand upright with the back straight. Center yourself.
    2. Visualize an infinite, infinitely white light shining directly above you, infinitely distant in the highest heavens.
    3. Intone: Κατάβαινε, ὦ πέλεια! (Katábaine, ō péleia! or, in English, “Descend, o Dove!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of white light shining down from the heavens directly into the crown of the head, down through the spine, through the sacrum, and downwards infinitely below you. Exhale slowly, feeling purifying, soothing, straightening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    4. Maintain the above visualization. In addition to that, Visualize an infinite, infinitely red light shining directly below you, infinitely distant in the lowest reaches of the earth.
    5. Intone: Ἀνάβαινε, ὦ ὄφϊ! (Anábaine, ō óphï! or, in English, “Ascend, o Serpent!”). As you intone this, inhale deeply and visualize a ray of red light shining up from the earth directly into the sacrum, up through the spine, through the crown, and upwards infinitely above you. Exhale slowly, feeling vivifying, heating, hardening power radiate from the ray into the rest of your body.
    6. Visualize both rays, the white descending from heaven though you into the earth and the red ascending from earth through you into heaven, and mixing in your body, connecting it with all the heavens and all the earth with you in the direct center channel between them.
    7. Intone: Ἅφθητι, ὦ πυρ! (Háphthēti, ō pur! or, in English, “Be kindled, o Fire!”) As you intone this, inhale deeply and let both powers suffuse your body in an infinitely bright light, feeling all the powers of heaven and earth connect within you. Exhale slowly, letting the power radiate through you and from you, having connected with heaven and hell equally.
  2. Perform the Minor Heptagram Rite.  If desired, the shorter Calling the Sevenths may be done instead, but for full rituals, the Minor Heptagram Rite is preferred.
    1. Recite the invocation to Aiōn:

      I call on you, eternal and unbegotten Aiōn, who are One, who alone hold together the whole creation of all things, whom none understands, whom the gods worship, whose name not even the gods can utter. Inspire from your breath, o ruler of the Pole, the one who calls on you who is under you! I call on you as the gods call you! I call on you as the goddesses call you! I call on you as the winds call you!

    2. Face the sunrise in the east with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the east: Α ΕΕ ΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ

    3. Face north with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the north: Ε ΗΗ ΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑΑ

    4. Face west with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the west: Η ΙΙ ΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕΕ

    5. Face south with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the south: Ι ΟΟ ΥΥΥ ΩΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗΗ

    6. Face down with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the earth: Ο ΥΥ ΩΩΩ ΑΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

    7. Face forward with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the sky: Υ ΩΩ ΑΑΑ ΕΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟΟ

    8. Face up with arms raised in the orans gesture.

      I call on you as the cosmos: Ω ΑΑ ΕΕΕ ΗΗΗΗ ΙΙΙΙΙ ΟΟΟΟΟΟ ΥΥΥΥΥΥΥ

    9. Recite the second invocation to Aiōn, based on the Eighth Book of Moses (PGM XIII.1—343) and the Headless Rite (PGM V.96—172):

      I call on you, who are greater than all, the creator of all, the self-begotten who see all and are not seen! For you gave to Hēlios glory and all power, and to Selēnē the privilege to wax and wane and have fixed courses, yet you took nothing from the earlier-born darkness, but apportioned all things so that they should be equal! For when you appeared, both Order and Light arose! All things are subject to you, whose true form none of the gods can see, who change into all forms! You are invisible, o Aiōn of Aiōns, and through you arose the celestial pole from the earth! Hear me and help me, o lord, faultless and unflawed, who pollute no place, for I bear witness to your glory! Lord, King, Master, Helper, empower my soul!

  3. Recite the final empowerment of the Headless Rite:

    Come forth and follow, so that every spirit, whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.

    Alternatively or additionally, if another phylactery is to be used for a given ritual, this is the proper time to don it and recite any accompanying prayers or invocations that go along with it.  These include rings, pendants, headwear, anointing with oils, or the use of other charms, spoken or otherwise.

Now, complete the empowerment and establishment of the temple by reciting the following, again from the Crowley version of the Headless Rite:

Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!

At this point, the temple has been prepared and established as a sacred space, and you as the magician have become empowered and placed yourself under the powers of the cosmos and of those who watch over the temple.  If desired, incense may now be lit for its own sake as a means to further purify the temple, as well as an offering for the powers that watch over and already inhabit it, though it is not necessary to do so at this time and is better reserved for the ritual proper that follows.

With all the above done, the ritual proper may then begin in earnest.  Whatever happens here depends on the magician and the ritual itself.

After the ritual proper, prayers of thanksgiving and communion (such as the Prayer of Thanksgiving of Hermes Trismegistus from the Corpus Hermeticum) may be made at this point, especially after purely theurgic or truly divine rituals, but are not required.

Once the ritual proper has come to a close, the temple must also be closed with a general dismissal of spirits and a formal extinguishing of the light:

  1. Light a small amount of incense as a final thanks, general dismissal, and banishing, reciting the following based on the final prayers from PGM I.262—347, PGM IV.154—285, and PGM VII.930—1114.  Frankincense is the best general choice for this, but other types of incense may also be offered based on the nature of the ritual done before.

    I have been attached to your holy form;
    I have been given power by your holy name;
    I have been blessed with your holy emanation of the Good;
    Be gracious unto me, Lord, god of gods, master, daimōn, primal, elder-born one!

    I give thanks to you, o great gods, elder-born, mighty powers!
    Depart, lords, depart into your heavens, into your places, into your courses.
    I adjure by the fire which first shone in the void,
    I adjure by the power which is greatest over all,
    I adjure by him who destroys even in Hadēs
    That all now depart from this place, returning to your abodes,
    And harm me not, but be forever kind.
    Keep me healthy, unharmed, untroubled by ghosts, free from calamity, and without terror.
    Hear me for all the days of my life!

    Thus have I spoken; thus are the words!

  2. If the optional circle was cast earlier, it should be traced counterclockwise starting at the same direction from which it was drawn prior to such prayers.  If the circle was merely traced, e.g. with the fingertips or a wand, trace it in reverse using the same means; if it was drawn in e.g. chalk or natron, make four openings in the circle aligned to the four directions as the circle is otherwise traced with the fingertips.  No invocation or chant is required for this, but a short thanksgiving prayer may be said, such as the following from my own simple thanksgiving practice:

    Nous, Logos, Sophia, Aiōn,
    Thank you very much for everything.
    I have no complaints whatsoever.

  3. Extinguish the light.  With the eyes closed, recite the following over the flame of the lamp or candle using the Dismissal of Light from PGM VII.930—1114 as well as a short form of the method for quenching fire from PGM XIII.1—343, the first to send away the holiness in the flame and the second to put out the physical flame itself:

    ΧΩΩ ΧΩΩ ΩΧΩΩΧ, holy brightness!
    Depart, holy brightness!
    Depart, beautiful and holy light of the highest God Aiōn!

    Hear, o Fire, o work of the works of God, o glory of the Sun!
    Be quenched, become cold, and let your flame be scattered that it may touch no one and nothing!

    Cover your head once more, open your eyes, then put out the fire in one swift motion.

The temple space has now been closed, and the ritual has now come to a complete end.  Follow-up meditation or prayers may be made or a meal may be served, and any clean-up of the temple may now be done.

Practical Arbatel: Conjuration of the Olympic Spirit (Again, but Longer)

A ways back (gosh, has it really been a two and a half years since I posted it?), I made a post about a proposed conjuration of the Olympic Spirits from the Arbatel.  I’ve been looking over my old posts, and I’ve since remembered why I wanted to work with these spirits in the first place: to incorporate the Olympic spirits as a kind of planetary tutelage in my overall work of mathesis.  However, as I’ve been delving more deeply into the aphorisms of the Arbatel and seeing how other magicians have applied it, I’ve since realized more potential in the Arbatel’s system of the Olympic spirits than just that, as well as in how and why it conjures the spirits the way it does.  To that end, in preparation of my own conjuration, I’ve been rethinking how exactly I want to implement an Arbatel-based Western Renaissance-style conjuration of the Olympic spirits, as well as other spirits not explicitly mentioned.  It doesn’t need to be all modern neo-Pythagorean Mathesis-style for me to at least get acquainted, after all, and most of my expertise in conjuration lies in the Trithemian rite, so I may as well stick to the general material that I’m already familiar with.

The issue with the Arbatel is that it’s such a pared-down, incomplete work that it’s intimidating in its simplicity.  I’d wager that most ceremonial magicians are used to all the pomp and presence of a full Solomonic ritual, complete with dress codes and three dozen tools each for their own niche use and exquisite blends of incenses from endangered species of flora and fauna, et caetera ad nauseam.  Heck, even if it’s just a basic Trithemian ritual with simplified tools, we’re used to having something to hold or scry or burn.  Yet we get none of that in the Arbatel, just a small handful of prayers and Bible verses we’re told to recite at the proper time and facing the proper direction.  Add to it that the Arbatel is admittedly incomplete in the form we have it (we only have the first of nine chapters), and we really don’t have a lot to go on; if it feels like the Arbatel is incomplete, it’s because it probably is.  Considering the types of magic in vogue at the time in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany (the three big areas where the Arbatel likely got much of its contemporary influences from in the early-to-mid 16th century), normally replete with astrological talismans and elaborate circles and endless names of God and the heavenly hosts, the Arbatel really sticks out in how little it says to do in order to accomplish what others need so much for.  Plus, consider what the Arbatel has to say about those very methods in aphorism V.34:

All manner of evocation is of the same kinde and form, and this way was familiar of old time to the Sibyls and chief Priests. This in our time, through ignorance and impiety, is totally lost; and that which remaineth, is depraved with infinite lyes and superstitions.

As for the rest of the art of conjuration and evocation, there’s aphorism III.18 (emphasis mine):

There are other names of the Olympick spirits delivered by others; but they onely are effectual, which are delivered to any one, by the Spirit the revealer, visible or invisible: and they are delivered to every one as they are predestinated: therefore they are called Constellations; and they seldome have any efficacie above 140 yeers. Therefore it is most safe for the young practisers of Art, that they work by the offices of the Spirits alone, without their names; and if they are pre-ordained to attain the Art of Magick, the other parts of the Art will offer themselves unto them of their own accord. Pray therefore for a constant faith, and God will bring to pass all things in due season.

Earlier, there’s aphorism II.12 (again, emphasis mine):

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit saith unto Peter after the Vision, Go down, and doubt not but I have sent them, when he was sent for from Cornelius the Centurion. After this maner, in vocal words, are all disciplines delivered, by the holy Angels of God, as it appeareth out of the Monuments of the Ægyptians. And these things afterwards were vitiated and corrupted with humane opinions; and by the instigation of evil spirits, who sow tares amongst the children of disobedience, as it is manifest out of St. Paul, and Hermes Trismegistus. There is no other maner of restoring these Arts then by the doctrine of the holy Spirits of God; because true faith cometh by hearing. But because thou mayst be certain of the truth, and mayst not doubt whether the spirits that speak with thee, do declare things true or false, let it onely depend upon thy faith in God; that thou mayst say with Paul, I know on whom I trust. If no sparrow can fall to the ground without the will of the Father which is in heaven, How much more will not God suffer thee to be deceived, O thou of little faith, if thou dependest wholly upon God, and adherest onely to him?

In other words, for the real magicians to whom God bestows the ability to practice magic, everything you need to conjure spirits will reveal itself by the true actions and teachings of the divine to which the magician must only simply hear and be attentive to.  This implies that, really, even given what little the Arbatel describes for a ritual, even those are suggestions: one only needs faith, and everything else will align itself as according to the need.  This doesn’t exactly offer a firm starting point for people who like to plan ahead meticulously (which, admittedly, the Arbatel itself pooh-poohs in aphorism VII.45 by referencing Jesus’ admonition to Martha), but I understand why; a truly fluent magician, comfortable in their own skin and world, can do anything and everything they need by relying on the powers that be and aligning themselves with their True Will.  However, most of us aren’t at that stage, no matter how blessed we might be, so some guidance is needed.

With that in mind, I’m refining my specific ritual approach to this text.  I can’t properly say “the Arbatel rite” as I might say “the Lemegeton rite” or “Trithemian rite”, because there’s no real rite offered, so I’m instead suggesting an “Arbatel-based” ritual, slightly more fleshed out when possible but pared down when necessary.  Combing through the text for whatever prayers and motions I could find, I’ve come up with the following.  I used a few guiding principles to direct me in this:

  • The Arbatel is already an incomplete text and sparse with what it offers, so use what is explicitly available as much as possible.
  • If not available in the Arbatel explicitly, innovate based on what is implied in the Arbatel.
  • If something cannot be innovated, incorporate only as much as needed from outside sources.
  • When incorporating from outside sources, stick to works likely available or methods common to magicians roughly at the time of the Arbatel’s writing.

As a guiding principle to determine how one should focus or direct a given work, aphorism VI.36 (emphasis mine) admonishes the reader such that each single magical operation should be “simple”, i.e. focused on one and only one purpose:

Care is to be taken, that experiments be not mixed with experiments; but that every one be onely simple and several: for God and Nature have ordained all things to a certain and appointed end: so that for examples sake, they who perform cures with the most simple herbs and roots, do cure the most happily of all. And in this manner, in Constellations, Words and Characters, Stones, and such like, do lie hid the greatest influences or vertues in deed, which are in stead of a miracle.

So also are words, which being pronounced, do forthwith cause creatures both visible and invisible to yield obedience, aswel creatures of this our world, as of the watry, aëry, subterranean, and Olympick supercelestial and infernal, and also the divine.

Therefore simplicity is chiefly to be studied, and the knowledge of such simples is to be sought for from God; otherwise by no other means or experience they can be found out.

Before beginning the work of conjuration, decide from which direction you seek answers to or power from; while technically independent of the planet as all seven planetary powers are present in all the elements (aphorism III.17.4), it would likely be best to match the secret with the planet, such as matching a gold-oriented alchemical working to the first of the medium secrets (transmutation of metals) as well as that of the Sun; thus, one would face the South for this purpose.  Remember that the general kinds of secrets (greater, medium, and lesser, and what those secrets consist of) are given in aphorism IV.24, and the directions given for them in aphorism IV.27:

Secret Set
East Wisdom Greatest
South Tillage Middle
West Strength Lesser
North Harshness Unmentioned

Remember that the conjuration of a single Olympic spirit is to be done in the first planetary hour (beginning at sunrise) of the planetary day of the spirit.  Beyond this, there is no need to observe astrological phenomena for this ritual, but may be done if so desired or if already directed to by the spirits.

In the seven days leading up to the conjuration, begin a light fast, not progressively to total abstinence of food, but simply keep a light, plain diet of moderation and constrain your behavior accordingly, including temptations to intoxication and lust, while keeping to yourself as much as possible.  Ideally, one would live thus each and every day of their lives, but do try to make a turn for the better leading up to the conjuration.  Arise every morning before sunrise and face the direction chosen for the purpose of the conjuration.  Before the sun rises, relax and do some light meditation to quiet the mind and to become aware of yourself (consider aphorism VII.44 exhorting the magician to perform what is essentially awareness meditation, and which reads like something Jason Miller would write).  At sunrise, recite the prayer from aphorism II.14, what I’m calling for the purposes of this post the Preliminary Invocation:

O Lord of Heaven and Earth, maker and creator of all that is visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, call upon you and invoke you, through your only begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that you give your Holy Spirit to me, which may direct me in your truth, for the good of all.  Amen.

Because with true longing I desire to learn fully the skills of this life, and those things which are necessary for us, who are immersed in immense darkness and fouled with unending human beliefs, as I see that I can understand nothing through my own power, unless you teach me.  Grant to me therefore one of your spirits, who will teach me whatever you wish me to learn and understand, for your praise and honor, and the benefit of our neighbors.  Grant to me also a heart that is easily taught, so that I may easily retain in my mind what you have taught, and I will secure them there to be brought forth, as from your inexhaustible treasures, for all necessary uses.

And grant to me your grace, that I may use these great gifts of yours only with humility, fear, and tremblings, through our Lord Jesus Christ with your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Following that, for each of the seven days of the preparation period, recite (either aloud or silently to yourself) one of the verses of the Bible listed in aphorism IV.25 and contemplate upon its words:

  1. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
  2. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luke 21:34)
  3. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalms 55:22)
  4. “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
  5. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalms 32:8)
  6. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
  7. “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

After contemplating upon the verse for the day, recite the verse Luke 10:20 silently to yourself: “Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven”.  Contemplate this as well, then conclude with any prayers or acts you so choose if any, such as the Our Father, lectio divina, going to Mass, meditating on the Seal of Secrets, etc.  Before retiring for the night, read the first septenary of aphorisms of the Arbatel and recite the Preliminary Invocation again before lying down.  For these seven days, pay attention to your dreams and any other spiritual communication for any guidance in the matter you seek or for other things you may need for the upcoming conjuration.

On the morning of the conjuration, before sunrise, prepare yourself and your ritual area as desired, and meditate as before.  Just as the sun rises, invoke your guardian angel.  I’ve adapted the invocation from the Ars Paulina; while definitely an addition to the stuff from the Arbatel, the text does say that “it is a canon that everyone may know their own guardian angel, and that he obeys him as if it were the word of God” (aphorism IV.26); considering the importance the tutelary spirit (HGA, agathodaimon, natal genius, paredos, etc.) generally takes in Hermetic magic going back to truly ancient times, I would find it folly to not incorporate some request to this spirit, so I’ve included it here, even though it is strictly optional.

O NN, my great and blessed angelic guardian, vouchsafe to descend from your heavenly mansion with your holy influence and presence, here at this place and now at this time with me, that I may enjoy your company, aid, and assistance both now and forever hereafter. O you who abide higher than the Sun and know the secrets of the God of gods, you who ride upon the wings of the winds and are mighty and potent in your celestial motion, descend and be present, I humbly beg you, that if I have ever merited your company or if any of my actions and intentions be real, pure, and sanctified before you, then be present and empower and protect me, your submissive pupil.

In the name of God the Father through God the Son with God the Holy Spirit, unto whom the entire choir of heaven sings continuously: Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory. Amen.

NN here stands for the name of your guardian angel, if known; if unknown, simply omit it from the prayer.

Once again recite the Preliminary Invocation as given above, then recite the prayer for the conjuration of the spirit from aphorism III.21:

O God Almighty and Eternal, you who have established all of creation for your praise and honor and the service of mankind, I beg you to send your spirit NN of the XX, to inform and teach me YY, but may your will, not mine, be done, through Jesus Christ your only begotten Son, our Lord. Amen.

Fill in the blanks where NN is the name of the spirit to be conjured, XX the planetary order of the spirit (e.g. “of the solar order” or “of the heaven of the Sun”) or its general office (e.g. “presidency of the land of Rome”), and YY the topic of request for instruction, which can be something specific (e.g. “the cure for edema”) or more general (e.g. “for all the things I pray from God”).  If the name is not known, omit it, and rely only on the office of the spirit instead.

If no spiritual presence is felt, quiet the mind and all the senses, then repeat the prayer of conjuration again until the spirit is present.  When you perceive the spirit present, continue with the following prayers from aphorism VI.40:

Do not take your Holy Spirit from me, but strengthen me with a perfect spirit.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

I beg you, o heavenly Father, not to give power to a lying spirit, as you did Achab that led to his death, but guard me in your truth. Amen.

At this point, address and test the spirit, their real presence, their office, and their nature (consider aphorism VI.40.3).  If the spirit is a lying one, banish them.  Otherwise, if the spirit is real and faithful, then commune with them as desired.  If this is the first time conjuring a particular spirit, be sure to obtain their name and seal from them for your own personal use; these should only be used in the day and hour of the planet of the spirit.  In the future, use these names and seals instead of those given in the text itself, as they will be most effective for you beyond any others (and, further, ineffective for anyone else).

Unless the spirit is specifically a familiar bestowed to the magician or one that has agreed to stay for an extended time, do not detain them past the end of the first planetary hour.  At that point or when the conjuration is concluded, give the dismissal from aphorism III.21:

Because you came peacefully and quietly, and answered my petitions, I give thanks to God in whose name you have come, and may you go now in peace to your order, returning to me when I call you by your name or order or office, which is permitted by the Creator. Amen.

After this, conclude the conjuration by reciting and meditating upon the verse from Ecclesiastes 5:3-4:

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God. For God is in Heaven and thou upon Earth; therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through a multitude of business, and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words.

Finish with any other prayers or acts as desired.

As can be seen, the Arbatel-style ritual format I’ve drawn up is largely stuff explicitly stated in the Arbatel, mixed with some bits which are inspired by the Arbatel, and a small amount pulled in from other (but reasonable) sources entirely outside the Arbatel.  Still, even with the extra bits I threw in or built upon from the Arbatel, there’s still much that many magicians are accustomed to that simply aren’t here:

  • place and setting, whether indoors or outdoors, weather, etc.
  • use of the actual symbol of the spirit in a lamen, pictorial focus, or other medium
  • use and consecration of a Circle of Art or other protective means
  • use and consecration of the usual tools of the Art, e.g. wands, daggers, holy images
  • use and consecration of clothing and amulets, e.g. lamens, rings, crowns, robes
  • use and consecration of a scrying medium or summoning platform, e.g. Triangle of Art or Table of Practice
  • use and consecration of candles or lamps, their colors, inscriptions, and number
  • use and consecration of incense
  • method of ablutions and purification
  • method of testing the spirit
  • method of banishing lying spirits
  • etc.

For these and all the other trappings of ritual, everything you need will present itself to be used, just as discussed above; if you want it or if you strongly feel that it’s needed, go for it, especially if demanded or recommended by the spirit being conjured.  That said, probably the most frustrating thing about all this is that the Arbatel gives us seals for the seven Olympic spirits, but doesn’t say how to use them.  Still, the same thing applies from before, this time reinforced in aphorism IV.27 (emphasis mine, as expected):

…anyone may easily form [the angels’] names in his own language: so that he which will, may ask a physical Angel, mathematical, or philosophical, or an Angel of civil wisdom, or of supernatural or natural wisdom, or for any thing whatsoever; and let him ask seriously, with a great desire of his minde, and with faith and constancy and without doubt, that which he asketh he shall receive from the Father and God of all Spirits. This faith surmounteth all seals, and bringeth them into subjection to the will of man. The Characteristical maner [i.e. the use of seals in rituals] of calling Angels succeedeth this faith, which dependeth onely on divine revelation; But without the said faith preceding it, it lieth in obscurity

Thus, there is no use in characters or seals of spirits without the faith in the divine that allows it to work, and with that faith, nothing else is technically needed, though many avenues exist that branch off from it.  There is no other explicit reference to the use of seals or characters of the spirits in the Arbatel, and it may be a combination of the fact that the Arbatel is incomplete along with how stingy the author is at revealing some of the deeper secrets of the art; quoth the end of aphorism IV.27:

…But he will not that we give holy things to dogs, nor despise and condemn the gifts of his treasury. Therefore diligently and often read over and over the first Septenary of secrets, and guide and direct thy life and all thy thoughts according to those precepts; and all things shall yield to the desires of thy minde in the Lord, to whom thou trustest.

The first septenary of the Arbatel is largely exhortations to live a good, holy, Christ-like life according to the word of God.  However, note that in the very first aphorism of the Arbatel, aphorism I.1, we find that it talks about secrets explicitly in a way none of the other aphorisms in this section do:

Whosoever would know Secrets, let him know how to keep secret things secretly; and to reveal those things that are to be revealed, and to seal those things which are to be sealed: and not to give holy things to dogs, nor cast pearls before swine. Observe this Law, and the eyes of thy understanding shall be opened, to understand secret things; and thou shalt have whatsoever thy minde desireth to be divinely revealed unto thee. Thou shalt have also the Angels and Spirits of God prompt and ready in their nature to minister unto thee, as much as any humane minde can desire.

Where Turner’s English translation has “the eyes of thy understanding”, the original Latin has “oculi mentis”, literally “the eyes of the mind”.  Yes, this does mean that the subtle faculties of the mind and soul will be used, allowing for greater and deeper understanding and mystical works, but note that the Arbatel also references both inward and outward senses (e.g. aphorism VI.40), indicating that the mind’s visualization and other perceptive skills of the imagination are to be used in this work, either instead of or in addition to the more physical implements of magic.

With this as a tentative base, the only immediate need for the seal of a spirit, without further plans or designs, is in visualizing it; with that, the rest of the faculties will be opened for revelation and communion with the spirit.  Thus, at least for the very first conjuration when making contact (after which, it can be assumed that the spirit will give directions on how to use its seal when prompted to), the seal must be visualized clearly and definitively in the mind when the spirit is being conjured.  Whether it is physically present in the ritual is literally immaterial; if it helps the magician to have it present and visible for ease of focus, or if the magician strongly desires to wear it as a lamen to encourage resonance with the spirit, do so!  All that we need (which we can strongly assume) is that the mind’s eye is opened by the seal to the presence and revelations of divinity through the spirit.

So, given all the above as a starting point, bear in mind the fourth of the greatest secrets given in aphorism IV.24: “to be able to discourse with knowledge and understanding of all things visible and invisible, and to understand the power of every thing, and to what it belongeth”.  The first time we conjure a spirit in the Arbatel fashion, we should always face the East for this purpose; we must not only learn the spirit’s true name and seal (at least for our own selves), but we must also learn how to properly converse with the spirit and to what ends they are present and functional in our lives.  Once we gain that first initial contact, we can establish the pacts and contracts to rely on for future conversations under the guidance of the spirit itself, whether or not we stick with the Arbatel-style ritual above, since, as aphorism II.12 says, “[t]here is no other maner of restoring these Arts then by the doctrine of the holy Spirits of God”.

For me?  I’m still finding out how others have implemented their Arbatel experiments for reference, but given my experience with the Trithemian rite of conjuration and other ceremonies I’m accustomed to doing, I know of a few things I’ll likely adapt from that set of actions and tools into the Arbatel-style ritual as described above, including prepwork, purification, protection, and the like.  I may not use lamens and a crystal scrying medium, but I do figure that a Circle and Wand of Art wouldn’t be remiss, and putting the seal of the Olympic spirit upon the Table of Practice with a candle set atop it seems comfortable to me.  Beyond that, though, once that initial contact is made, I’d see what’s actually needed for my own work with the spirits based on their own input, verifying the things I’ve already done and changing what needs doing, if anything.  From there, it’s just doing the Work.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even get around to actually doing the damn thing sometime before the next 30 months pass!  (I will, I swear.)

Problem, Predicament, Crisis

One of my favorite blogs to read is that of the Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, John Michael Greer (also known as JMG), who writes over at the Archdruid Report.  He writes about the slow end of technocratic, industrial civilization, peak oil, and so forth, and though his ideas can be tough to jive with, he’s deeply insightful and a powerful writer.  He’s also an accomplished occultist (and that’s putting it very mildly), and some of my own readers are familiar with his books on geomancy.  He’s a cool dude, basically, and I highly recommend you read his blog.  I can only look forward to a day when I get to meet him and chat with him in person over a few beers!

His blog has been on my mind a lot as of late.  As some of you guys are aware, I am gainfully employed as a federal employee of the United States government.  And, as I’m sure some of you have heard, the United States Congress is facing a bit of an issue at the moment with getting their heads out of their asses and passing a budget.  If there’s no budget (appropriations bill, continuing resolution, something that authorizes and directs how governmental activities are to be funded), then there’s no means to spend money for the government; if the government can’t spend money, I can’t get paid; if I can’t get paid, I’m legally prohibited to do my work, but I’m not fired, either.  This awkward position I’d be put in is called a furlough, and it happened two years ago in 2013 when Congress, in all their infinite asshattery, shut down the government for 16 days in October.  Should the government shut down again this year, and the chances of that are increasing by the day, I’d be again put into a furlough for as long as the brazen right-wing political insurgents in Congress decide to keep us out of work, which means I may not be getting a solid income for gods-only-know-when.  To say that I’m finding more of JMG’s ideas being realized in a very intimate way (I do like getting my paycheck, after all) certainly isn’t wrong, and it’s probably more than just right.

Is this a problem?  For Congress, absolutely.  For me, not at all.  How do I mean this?  I mean, sure, we could say that everything will likely be hunky-dory for me and I’ll be fine through the furlough, but I don’t necessarily mean this.  I like to use a profound and important distinction that JMG himself pointed out a ways back on his blog about problems, because not everything is a problem if it’s an issue.  There are two kinds of issues that we face as human beings: problems and predicaments.

  • Problems are issues that can be fixed, that have solutions, that can be worked out.  The word “problem” comes from Greek, meaning a task to be done or a question to be answered.
  • Predicaments are issues that cannot be fixed and cannot be escaped, but must be lived with and worked with.  The word “predicament” literally means “something that has been asserted or stated before”, something that is essentially fated, an essential fact or situation.

For instance, it is a problem that I do not currently have a glass of wine when I want one.  I can change this situation just fine, either by waiting until I get home and getting a glass of wine then, bringing a bottle of wine with me to the office, or going out to the bar on the way home or before I catch the train.  Problems can be fixed, one way or another.  Now, to use something of a graver example, take the issue of death.  Death is a predicament, not a problem.  After all, we cannot change or “fix” dying; we cannot prevent it, nor can we avoid it.  Death is a fact of life, a necessary part of the human condition that we must learn to live with and deal with as best as we are able.  A predicament must be lived with, not fixed.

If we want to use a metaphor, consider that you’re walking east along a particular road, and you encounter a river that crosses the road.  This is a problem, because you want to continue along the road and the river is blocking your progress.  You can still, eventually, go east; you can find a ferry or a bridge to cross the river, or you can change direction temporarily until you can find a safe crossing around the river without necessarily crossing over it.  This is a problem that you can fix; you can still head east, though you may need to take a somewhat different approach than you were doing.  Now, eventually, this road leads right to the shores of the ocean; the road ends, and you can no longer go east.  Can you build a bridge to cross the ocean?  Can you ferry yourself across it on a raft?  Can you just walk around it?  No, because the ocean is the end of the road.  You simply cannot go further east on the road because there is nothing across the ocean, nor is there any more road to walk.  You’re done.  That’s it.  This is a predicament; you’re done, and need to accept this and move on with your life in a way that doesn’t paralyze you, while accepting the facts of the issues at hand.

So, really, the matter in Congress poses a predicament for me.  The matter of the government closing and putting me into furlough is a predicament, not a problem.  It’s a fact I accept, gladly so (perhaps a little too gladly, as I’ve got parties to plan for in the case of a shutdown).  I’m not able at this point to just up and pick another job, nor would I be able to escape the effects of a shutdown in my industry considering the government’s widespread influence in my field of software development and engineering.  No matter how I cut it, the government shutdown will impact me.  Although this on its own is a predicament, it causes a whole slew of other problems for me.  The big thing for me to do, really, is to decide how to work with this predicament and how to work out these problems.

It’s at this point that I’d like to introduce a third word to that classification above: crisis.  Most people use this word to refer to some hectic, chaotic, or dangerous situation that one is unable to think through, but I prefer the old Greek sense of it being a turning point in a disease, a judgment, a selection, a separation.  Crisis is the notion of a juncture, a fork in the road, where things can radically change direction from really good into really bad or from really bad into really good.  Crisis is the moment when we realize whether we have a problem or a solution on our hands; it is the moment when we realize our course of action for an issue ahead of us.  Crisis is the judgment we make when presented with either a problem or a predicament, and it is crucially important that we judge our options well so that we can manage a situation as best we can lest we bungle it and blow ourselves up.

Problems and predicaments should be handled at the appropriate time, whenever that might be: whenever you get to them, whenever your face is shoved into it by fate, whenever they’re scheduled to be handled regardless of your own state of preparation, and so forth.  Crises, however, should probably be handled as early as possible so as to make everything that follows as smooth and painless as possible; as JMG is fond of saying with regards to the slow decline of industrial civilization, “collapse now and avoid the rush”.  In my case, even though the end of the fiscal year and the first opportunity for shutdown is still half a month off and much can happen in the meantime, I’m trying to get my affairs in order ASAP so as to make any possibility that happens as quick and painless for me as I can, and to make the prospect of recovery as orderly and straightforward as it can be when things get back to “normal” (whatever that word means nowadays).  This is still well in advance of my own agency’s notice, since we haven’t been formally directed or advised yet on what to do in the case of a shutdown, and even against the expectations of many people I work with and higher-up officials and politicians who steadfastly swear against the possibility of a shutdown.  Yes, I may be putting myself through undue work now by calling my creditors and landlord and putting everyone on alert, and if no shutdown happens, I’ll have to reverse my work and tell everyone to stand down.  Still, I’d rather give everyone involved advance warning in case the worst happens instead of rushing to tell them the day of an emergency.  It only makes sense.

So, take my example as a federal employee facing a federal furlough.  Part of my work is to identify the issues I’ll be facing and to decide whether they’re problems or predicaments.  After that, I’ll need to know who else is affected because of my problems or predicaments, and let them know how they might be impacted and come to an appropriate collaboration or compromise that helps us both deal appropriately.

  • Government shutdowns are serious matters that have huge financial and economic impacts on my local area as well as the country at large.  Since a huge number of people in my area are employed by the government, if none of us are getting paid, then shopping/dining out/consuming is going to tank, which impacts businesses across the region.  Plus, all federal “nonessential” services (everything except the bare minimum required to keep my area from turning into a Mad Max zone and to get business back to normal, like federal police and congressional staffers) will be furloughed, so there’s plenty of things that people won’t be able to achieve or obtain since the services that provide them will be unavailable. Everyone is going to hurt, so the earlier we’re prepared, the better.
  • Financially speaking, I won’t be able to go to work.  While this is kinda awesome, since I get more time at home and with friends, it also means I won’t be getting paid.  The money I have going into the shutdown is pretty much the money I’ll have throughout it, so I need to spend it wisely and when needed, since there’s no telling when the shutdown would end.  However, I am eligible for unemployment, which I’d just have to pay back if I get backpay for the time I missed at work.  Additionally, I have other means of making income: ebook sales, crafting and woodworking, divination and ritual consultations, ritual work, and odd jobs with the skills I have.  Plus, I can get support from my partner as well as my other friends if needed.  There are several people who owe me money, besides, and I plan on asking them to help out if they have the means to pay me back.  All told, I have several ways to keep myself financially afloat
  • Because I won’t be getting paid, I won’t be able to pay my bills.  This impacts my credit card company, my loan agencies, my service providers, and my landlord.  I’m in the process of contacting each of them and cancelling automatic payments, deferring payments as long as possible, cutting down on extraneous services I don’t need, making partial payments to be paid fully later on, and so forth.  Some things, like cell phone or internet bills, can’t be decreased much or deferred, so I’ll have to accept those bills and pay for them as I need to.  Other things, like car loans or rent, can be put off with the agreement of the other party until I’m back on financial ground.  Yet other things, like my credit card, can be significantly lessened so that the impact is minor.
  • Know what your other resources are, since money isn’t the only thing that makes the world go round.  There are other things, like food, that are just as important.  I recall from the last shutdown that plenty of businesses and restaurants and bars offered furloughed employees free meals or drinks and other types of non-financial aid to help the sting of furlough less harsh.  I’m going through some of the old tweets and news articles from 2013 to gauge where and what those places might be, just in case I need a pick-me-up somewhere.  Essentially, this is a form of thrift and reliance on social aid, which I’m not devastated to rely on should I need to.  Besides, places that help me out are places I’ll be sure to head back to, building stronger social bonds, anyway.  It’s a healthy cycle.
  • Ask for help, and be aware that it’s a matter of generosity and not something you’re owed.  Unemployment, calling in favors, collecting on debts, and getting hand-outs from awesome bars is one thing, but there’s no shame in asking others for a favor when you’re down on your luck.  For some people, one’s parents can and probably should be the first resort; understanding friends, especially those who are close or extraordinarily trustworthy, are another group of people you should call on.  I’m not suggesting one should outright go begging, but see who can help you out.  If you prefer, barter or trade one’s stockpile of supplies or skill sets to keep yourself busy as well as satisfied, so that everything is an even deal and nobody owes anyone at the end of the day.

That’s just a very brief overview of some of the things I’ve been thinking about and acting on when it comes to this crisis.  You can see how some of these things are just facts of life that have to be lived with, like service bills that can’t be interrupted (predicaments), and how other things have workarounds or solutions or contingencies inherent to the situation (problems).  Plus, by making the most out of the situation, unexpected or serendipitous opportunities can arise that make everything else better, at least a little bit.

Now, bear in mind that all this advice is good for pretty much anyone.  But, dear reader, you’re likely not just anyone.  You’re a fucking magician.  You have the power and knowledge and skill to change shit where others can’t.  It’s times like these (and those that are far worse than these) that people turn to magic, and for those who are already familiar with it, we’re far better off than those who are new or those who are fearful of it.  While mundane acts matter most in this mundane world of ours, magic buffs it up and changes the odds in our favor behind the scenes in a way that makes things work…well, like magic.  For us, a crisis is a time when we have many more things to decide on than just who to talk to, but Who to Talk to.

Again, using my situation as an example:

  • The first thing people lose in any kind of crisis is a cool head and a clear mind, and this often leads to a real disaster instead of a mitigated vexation.  If we don’t think about things properly and thoroughly, we can make a grievous misstep in our haste and confusion.  Banish, cleanse, meditate, bathe, and purify yourself in a way that gives you the spiritual fortitude and stillness to proceed.
  • Gods or spirits of communication and persuasion can be invaluable to call on, since they can make people and stakeholders (credit companies, loan agencies, landlords, banks, etc.) far more amenable to your situation and can help work on your behalf to get what you want done instead of having you be constrained more than you already are.  Honey jars, silver-tongue charms, spells of assertiveness, and the like can be applied for similar ends.
  • This is a financial issue, so financial magic is a must.  Making offerings and requests, as one is able, to spirits of wealth and fortune is one way to go about this; Jupiter and Mercury magic for increase and circulation is another obvious choice.  Money-drawing, however, works only as well as one has a means and a medium to draw money in, so similar things such as “help me get a new side-job” or “inspire me to come up with a new craft/writing topic that I can monetize” or even “small gains through the lotto” are things to consider and apply in equal measure.  Heck, you might even want to enchant the dollar bills and coins you use in consuming things to come back to you with more money.
  • As opposed to simply asking for more money and trying to conjure a good financial situation, it’s also worthy to consider stability and restraint magic on oneself to keep one from being too affected by what’s going on.  Rituals to intentionally take away what doesn’t need to be kept can be dangerous but helpful; increased awareness of one’s budget can help you stick to it better; tweaking the forces in your life with a touch of Saturn to keep expenses away is a good method to use.
  • Pray.  Prayer helps, not just to ask for stuff, but also on its own to keep your head above the murky waters of this world.  Joy, calmness, and satisfaction are things that can be easily delivered through prayer should it be done right, and can help refocus you on things of real importance so you can let the small things slide off easier.
  • Large-scale magical operations to affect the cause of the predicament should be planned in advance, ideally with other people in concert if possible.  While the spiritual forces surrounding Congress are…less than organized, and representative of the people inside Congress, inducing a change for the better should be considered and employed.  For instance, a work to encourage Congress to act justly and give furloughed employees (especially contractors, who are worse off than those directly employed by the federal government) backpay for the time missed, would be especially good.  Works to lessen the overall economic impact of the shutdown, to speed up the resolution of a budget, to kick out the political insurgents in Congress causing this mess, and so forth are all good things to pursue, but as Dr. Frankenfurter says, this will only remove the cause, not the symptoms.
  • Divination.  Holy shit, I cannot tell you how valuable divination can be in this instance.  As Jason Miller and Gordon White agree, however, divination is only one means to learn things, and should be corroborated with other sources of information to collectively form solid intel.  Keep an ear open for gossip, rumors, and legitimate news coming down the pipeline, and use information-gathering spirits to deliver to you whatever they can find out so you can plan ahead and get an edge on whatever happens or whoever is competing against you.  If you’re in a cutthroat environment, use the reverse of that on your enemies and competition: use spells of confusion, murkiness, buzzing, and gossip to disable them while you empower yourself to get ahead.
  • Mars and the Sun, as forces of Fire, are as crucial as maintaining a clear head.  If you make one misstep due to confusion, you can screw yourself over; if you lack the energy or bravery to take up an opportunity, you can miss it entirely and regret it later.  Do not be afraid of what will happen.  You’re going to need to be brave in a sticky situation, and you’re going to need drive and judgment and fortitude and urgency in order to make the most of your problems and predicaments.  Be bold.  Empower yourself accordingly, lest you get sapped, dragged under, and depressed by everything, letting the world act on you instead of acting upon it or with it in unison.

The possibilities I can take here are as endless as the number of stars in the sky, but this should give you a good idea of what can be done with magic in a crisis.  Essentially, this is the kind of approach Jason Miller talks about in his Strategic Sorcery stuff: be strategic, damnit, and back your mundane actions up with magic, and your magic with mundane actions.  Remember, kids: a crisis can turn for the bad, but it can also turn for the good.  It’s up to you how you react to it, and it’s also up to you how to act upon it.  Do your best, because that’s the only way you can get the best.

Now, if you’ve read closely, dear reader, you’ll notice something peculiar.  While most common self-help guides and 101-level entries on strategic magic might say that you need to take control of the situation you find yourself in, I’ve never said that, and have tried to avoid implying that, either.  The whole point of a problem versus a predicament is to point out that, quite often, there are things that are simply not in our control.  We cannot control the laws of physics or thermodynamics; we cannot break the rules of mathematical possibility; we cannot puppeteer multiple people in a complicated situation according to our own personal vision of things down to the minute.  We have our limits of power, and that quite often translates into the cosmos outright telling us “no”.  Trying to take control of the cosmos when the cosmos isn’t something to be controlled amounts to one thing and one thing only: failure.  It’s a fool’s errand to try and do that, and you’ll only make things worse if you do, with a broken sense of pride and capability being the least of your worries.  No, dear reader, trying to take control of the whole thing is not something that is for us.  It may not be easy for some of us to accept that the world is not our bitch, especially with our modern notions of progress and the infallibility of mankind, but it’s necessary to realize it all the same.

Rather than trying to take control of what you can, you manage what you should.  That’s where planning, organizing, and strategizing comes into play.  Rather than trying to constrain the cosmos to follow your whim like a slave, you work with the cosmos as a co-creator and contributor.  Anyone in an office environment is aware of the difference in management styles; a group can get far more done if people’s own inhibitions and limitations are taken into account rather than a leader saying “fuck it and fuck you, get it done”.  Limitations come in the form of predicaments, and obstacles arise in the form of problems; obstacles can be removed or worked around, but limitations must be obeyed and understood.  That’s part of our job in a crisis, too, and how we react to a crisis is as important as how we act upon it.  We need to temper our will and expectations with a hefty dose of realism so we know what is feasible for us to attain given the circumstances.  Once we can see that, or at least approximate it to a good working model, then we can really get to work (and Work).