Magic is Work

I’m still mulling over my own lack of activity, but I assure you, I am getting off my ass and getting back to the Work.  I’m making to-do lists of multiple types and marking my calendar down with tasks and planning things out, and getting back into the fray so I can patch up the frayed tapestry of my threads.  I’m already daunted by what I need to do, but I’ve put this shit off for long enough.  Enough is enough.  I’m wasting my time if I’m not doing work, and I’m of no use to anyone like this.

It’s interesting, because based on the feedback I’ve been getting and from the mumbles and grumbles across my blogroll, it seems like I’m not the only one who’s been in the doldrums of inactivity.  It’s no excuse for my own laziness and emptiness of agenda, but it is curious to note that many others have been suffering from a lack of spiritual perception, things to do, or otherwise just…not doing the Work.  My colleague and bromancer Pallas Renatus and I were discussing it recently; I assumed everyone who’s tapped into the general Hermetic current is suffering from the same sort of blah-ness, like there was something in the aetherial Water, so to speak.  But then, he brought up that maybe it’s the opposite case; perhaps there was something out there that caused a surge of activity across multiple people and places, which would certainly explain a massive mini-renaissance in Hermetic studies and paths, but it was only a temporary and ephemeral surge.  If such a surge indeed happened, then it could be that the power that’s been luring so many has petered out, causing everyone to come crashing down from the magical high we were all riding.  It’s an interesting idea, definitely, but one beyond my ken to understand.

Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a surge that’s dying out or something in the aether that’s keeping us all down.  I’ve tasted blood, and I want more.  I refuse to let the whimsy of aetheric currents determine my well-being in such a bullshit way.

So, one of the first things I decided to do was to get the benefit and guidance of one of the most respected teachers I have, Saint Cyprian of Antioch.  You know, the patron saint of magicians, sorcerers, necromancers, and occultists?  I’m in the middle of a novena in his honor, and I’m spending time with him in contemplation just going over what he did, what lessons his life has to teach me and others, and how I relate to them.  After all, dude isn’t the patron saint of magoi for nothing; he was raised from birth to be a master magos in every respect, and converted to Christ only after seeing the immense power of God there.  After all, you’d be a fool of a magician to not recognize and go after power, even if that power is just a side-effect of something greater.  Regardless, I thought a bit about what it meant for Cyprian to be a mage, and then what it means for me to be a mage.

In essence, we can say that a common division of magic is two-fold: theurgy and thaumaturgy.  It’s not the best way to divide magic up, but for the purposes of this post, it works.  The former comes from the Greek for “god-working”, θευργεια, and can generally be thought of as “high magic” or divine magic, stuff you do to become closer to God or the gods, whether it be henosis or apotheosis or nirvana or whatever.  The latter, thaumaturgy or θαυματυργεια, literally means “wonder-working”, and can mean the manifestation of miracles or obtaining worldly results, often with a fair bit of flair, through spirits, the elements, the planets, or other occult forces.  The thing is, however, that both words share a common element, “-urgy”, ultimately from Greek εργο, meaning “work”.

Magic, no matter the type or purpose, is work.  Magic is work.  It’s not just The Work, but it’s work, which is why we call the things we do “workings” and that we are sometimes called “workers”.  Magic can be laborious, slow, painful, costly work; it is hardly ever done with a graceful swish-and-flick.  You will pay for magic in tears, sweat, blood, and more in order to obtain the treasures that magic provides.  Magic is work.  As the Greek alphabet oracle has for the letter Mu, “it is necessary to work, but the change will be admirable”.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter how the aetherial currents ebb or flow, nor how the planets course in their heavens, nor the archons dictate from their thrones.  As is often said in astrological circles, “the stars only impel, they do not compel”; no matter what influences are pressed down upon us and no matter how strong those influences are, we are not doomed to be subject to them unless we choose to remain subject to them.  Yes, the system can be hard to fight, both down here as it is up there, but as human beings made in the likeness of the One with the blessing of Nous and Logos, we have the power to overcome any and all obstacles before us.  We can bridge the aetherial currents better than Xerxes could the Hellespont, and we can overcome the planets brighter than any supernova.  That is one of the many powers of magic: to make the world ours to live in and experience for our own ends and according to our true Will.  It’s nothing to scoff at, and no amount of poetic waxing or alchemical metaphorization can do this task justice.

It’s just that…well, while the Great Work is the overall goal, it is not taken in one single step.  It is built up from smaller steps, ranging from the theoretical studies of ritual and theology to the utterly mundane practices of keeping your house in order.  There is nothing that does not contribute to the Work, this is true; there are so many things, however, that it’s easy to get lost in the myriad things to do and get done.  That’s one of my big issues: there are so many things to do, and so many things I can think of to do, that I end up nearly immediately overwhelmed and unclear of where even to focus on my to-do list, much less start doing any particular ritual.

Then again, I had this problem back in college, too, when I was swamped with work from all sides.  That’s the glory of a to-do list: crossing things off one item at a time, one day at a time.  One thing at a time.  It builds up, slowly, sometimes in immeasurably small amounts, but it builds up all the same.

One of the problems I have is that, well, I have a pretty good life going for me.  I’m in a stable, fantastic relationship with the love of my life; we live in a stable, comfortable, safe household where it’s quiet and private and away from the hustle and bustle of the city; I have an excellent job that’s interesting, rigorous, and well-paying; I have good health of mind and body; I’m paying off my debts.  I have an incredibly privileged life, all told.  It’s difficult for me to figure out where to begin with keeping up my own life because it’s already mostly taken care of, whether though my own efforts or the blessings of the gods or some mixture of the two.  Still, that’s no excuse, since my life is not perfect, or as perfect as it could be.  There are tiny things, small adjustments, tweaks here and there that belie deeper issues, and I know I have my own internal issues that definitely need to be resolved sooner or later that have no apparent effect on the external issues of my life.  Plus, there’s always the cruel twists of fate and fortune that could easily smash everything I have into dust and scatter it into the wind; having some protection against that would be good.  Just because I’m comfortable doesn’t mean I should be complacent; it means that, being so comfortable, I’m afforded more opportunities than most for introspection and close, critical evaluation of myself and my surroundings that should afford me more things to Work on.

And after that?  Say I truly run out of things to work and maintain on myself, or that I end up becoming so blind (gods forbid) that I can no longer inspect myself critically and have nobody to do the task for me.  What then?  I know that I’m doing well, but I also know that many, many others aren’t.  As I’ve said before on my blog, and as Kalagni also said recently, the world is a shitty, awful place.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also fundamentally broken in some pretty severe ways, and it’s really up to us to do the change.  Just because I’m doing well and can afford the time to do some introspection doesn’t mean that my Work stops there, far from it!  If I can afford the time and energy, after I’ve made myself well enough to work, I am then capable and responsible to work for the benefit of the world and those around me.  Between everything that is me and everything that is not-me, I truly have a neverending list of things to do, and that becomes even more apparent once the realization is made that there isn’t really a boundary at all between me and not-me.  I may not be ultimately from this world, but I’m sure as hell living in it, and if I don’t like living in a shithole for a house, then I logically shouldn’t like living in a shithole for a world.

Even picking up an empty soda can off the ground, whether from the floor of the kitchen or the sidewalk by the train, is an improvement in my surroundings.  Even a kind word or a small boon, whether to the love of my life or to a complete stranger I may never meet, is enough to help things get better for everyone, including myself.  It may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but it’s still part of the Work.

Now to get back to gathering those threads.

Hail, Alan Turing, Hero!

As part of my new grammatomantic lunar calendar rituals, I’m setting aside three days each lunar month for the veneration of the dead in my life.  The first day is given to my Ancestors of Kin, those to whom I am descended from by blood.  The final day is given to the Ancestors of the Great, culture heroes and other Mighty Dead who shaped the world we all live in.  The second day, however (associated with the letter Qoppa, and held this lunar month on June 16), I give to my Ancestors of Work, famous people to whom I look up to for the things I do in my life.  They’re like my family ancestors, but with ties of labor and field rather than blood and kin, a family linked together by the things we do rather than who we are.  As a magician, I put people like Pythagoras, Orpheus, Cornelius Agrippa, Crowley, and the like in there, but magic isn’t the only thing I do.  My day-job professional and academic career is based in computer science, and today, on the 60th anniversary of his death, I’d like to recognize Alan Turing, one of the greatest computer scientists the world has ever had.

Alan Turing

Born on June 23, 1912, Alan Turing came from Irish, English, and Scottish family, and had a natural inclination towards mathematics from a young age.  This didn’t serve him too well in public schools at the time, when education focused more on classics than what we’d consider hard sciences today; still, even at 16 and not only reading but expanding on the work of none other than Albert Einstein, the dude was pretty cool at the things he was good at.  His work really shone through in the early development of computer science, working on one of the most famous problems of mathematics, the Entscheidungsproblem, or “Decision Problem”, the solution to which was that there was no solution at all.  Not only would this have surprised some of the most famous mathematicians of the time, but it’s become a central topic in computer science taught from the beginning ever since.

Not only was he a brilliant computer scientist and mathematician, but Turing also served the British Army, especially helping during World War II.  With his extensive knowledge of mathematics and science, Turing became one of the foremost codebreakers and leaders in deciphering enemy ciphers.  Not only did he produce general means to break German codes, while other methods used at the time were fragile and relied on too many assumptions, he also provided efficient means of breaking various types of code, helping to critically fight the German war machine (in several senses).  After WWII, he furthered the field of computer science as well as that of artificial intelligence, and pursued several advances in chemistry.

Despite having chatted with the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, occasionally ran the 40 miles from his office to London, and inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George VI, and basically invented modern computer science in an accessible manner, the world at that time effectively condemned him: he was gay.  After having his house robbed by an acquaintance of a lover of his, and noted that fact to the police, he was charged with indecency, since homosexuality was still illegal at that time in Britain.  Charged with this non-crime, he pleaded guilty (despite having no guilt nor shame for being gay, as he damn well shouldn’t’ve), he was given the choice of imprisonment or probation with chemical castration; he chose the latter, which would allow him to continue working, but it rendered him impotent and caused gynaecomastia.  This, combined with reparative treatment to “cure” his homosexuality (which we know nowadays from the “ex-gay” movement never works and only causes further harm), did nothing good.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, June 10 2010

Adding insult to injury, he lost his security clearance and was barred from continuing with cryptographic research with the government (even though he pretty much won WWII for them), and was even barred from entering into the United States.  He died on June 7, 1954, only at 41 years old.  Two years after his conviction and beginning of hormone treatment, with an investigation reporting that he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning with a half-eaten apple near his body, which is thought to be (but never confirmed) to be how he killed himself.  Rumor has it that this is where the original rainbow-colored partially-bitten apple logo came from for the Apple computer company, but that’s not the official story.

Today, I honor Alan Turing especially as a hero in my life.  An incredible amount of the technology I use and work I produce is indebted to him, not only because he helped develop the computer, but also because he helped turn the tides of war that could’ve endlessly shaped the world some 70 years ago.  His brilliance shines as a light for me, as a computer scientist but also as a human being.  Being a gay man myself, my heart breaks every time I recall how the world back then treated him for being the same way, and I pray that neither I nor anyone else has to undergo that sort of blatant bigotry and persecution.  Like Turing himself, though, I bear no guilt nor shame for who I am, and I take only joy in the work I do.  I’ll likely never run 40 miles nor ever care to, but hey, more power to Turing for doing that, too.

Ave, Alan Turing.  May your memory never be forgotten, and may your name and spirit always live on.  Guide our minds to know what can be known, and guide our hearts to love whom we will love, both without fear and without scorn.  Help us and be with us in our work, and may we thank you every time information flows through the fruits of your labors to us.