Foundations of Ritual

I’ve gotten a few requests from people for me to teach them magic and ritual.  This is fantastic;  I’m glad people are eager to learn more about themselves, their place in the cosmos, their innate godhood, and everything like that.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I started writing this blog, not just to vent and show people the things I do and how easy(?) putting Hermetics to use is.  That said, I’m hesitant to teach, not only because I find myself as-yet unworthy of having students, but also because I don’t consider it possible to teach anyone magic as an isolated subject; one doesn’t “just learn” magic, just as one cannot “just learn” how to build a spaceship or “just learn” protein synthesis.  Before I even consider taking up anyone as a student of mine, I insist that they have the proper foundations that provide the context in which ritual magic can be done.

For anyone to learn anything, they need to have a strong foundation upon which they can build.  For ritual magic, indeed, any life that involves ritual, those foundations are myth, technology, and reason.  Above the others, however, myth is the single-most important factor in any magician’s knowledge.

It’s important to understand what I mean when I say “myth”.  I don’t mean a set of fanciful stories about primitive worldviews or pre-scientific notions of how things work.  I mean “myth” in the classical sense: the overarching backstory to the world, the legends that fuel our lives, and the causes for things.  Myth has been described as “ideology in narrative form” and, to a large extent, I agree with this.  Instead of understanding it as a collection of stories, you might interpret myth as “theory” or “philosophy”; myth provides the reason for us to live our lives in the world we happen to live in.  If your worldview includes gods, then the mythos you should learn will involve those gods, their natures, their stories, their likes and dislikes, and their adventures and pleasures and wraths.  If your worldview is atheistic and focused on energies, then the mythos you should learn will involve the background of energy, how it works, how it flows, and how it affects and is affected by other things in the cosmos.  If your worldview is based around emanationist Qabbalah, then the mythos you should learn will involve the sephiroth, the planets, the elements, the angels, God and his different names and forms, and how events in any sphere of existence are reflected, affected, and effected by other spheres.  Myth provides the theoretical framework upon which myth is based upon; it can be as terse as tables of correspondences, or it can be as flowery as ancient histories and stories passed down by mouth from one generation to the next.

Technology, on the other hand, might be considered the opposite of myth.  Technology is the study of useful skills, arts, and crafts.  Knowing how things should be in the ideal world is one thing, but knowing how to accomplish things in the real world is quite another.  While technology can involve any sort of tool usage, it can also include methodologies such as procedures to make something, from food to clothing to houses to jewelry.  Anything you do down in this world involves technology in some way; learning how to use technology efficiently and powerfully is important in being successful in the world.  Something doesn’t have to be hi-tech to be considered technology here; writing systems, calendars, proper usage of heat to cook food, and eloquent speaking can all be considered technologies, as can building windmills, solar panels, computers, jewelry, or orgone accelerators.  Technology uses the world around us to make or change something for a particular end with a particular method and process.  If you’re a computer scientist, then your technology should consist of programming languages, setting up computers, managing RAID storage systems, and the like.  If you’re a chef, then your technology should consist of knives and other implements, cutting foodstuffs for preparation, using ovens and stoves and grills, and presentation of food for aesthetic pleasure, and the like.  If you’re a masseuse, then your technology should consist of strong hands and arms, energy manipulation, proper oils for lubrication and sensuality, and the like.  Technology is what we do down here to do stuff.

Reason is the bridge that combines mythos with technology for a higher aim.  This is essentially logic, but not necessarily the formal logic of mathematicians and legalists.  Logic here can consist of that, but it can also consist of emotions (how to feel better), survival (how to keep living), economics (how to become wealthier), or philosophy (how to live better), and other styles.  Reason uses myth as its values and axioms, upon which all arguments and actions can be based; everything else that follows is either a logical derivative of myth (e.g. if Aphrodite dislikes Helios for revealing her tryst with Ares, it follows that involving the powers of Venus and the Sun in the same place may not end up well) or an application of mythos with technology (e.g. if Aphrodite likes apples due to the whole Paris-Helen thing, one should probably sacrifice apples to Aphrodite).  Reason is what allows myths, tables of correspondences, divine preferences, and stories to be effected in the world using technology, as well as being what allows technological results to form more myths.  Understanding the causes and effects of things in a strictly material sense, strictly spiritual sense, and some combination of material and spiritual senses involves reason all around.  Figuring out “how things work” in a technological sense within a mythological framework involves reason every step of the way.

So, consider the case where someone wants to build a spaceship.  First, they need to understand the mythos of spaceships: the physical theory behind flight both in air and in space, the mathematical knowledge of arithmetic and calculus, the material properties of steel and aluminum, the theoretical programming of spaceship software, gravity, meteorology, and the like.  They also need to have a solid technological footing to build spaceships: how to cut metal apart and rivet it back together, how to wire computers together, how to set up an air ventilation and water filtration system, where to purchase fuel from, where and when to launch from, and the like.  They also need to have reason: how will the dynamics of space travel affect the integrity of the ship, how will high-acceleration and low-gravity environments affect the human body, where it might be legal to build and launch a spaceship, whether it’s a good idea given one’s finances and health to build and launch a spaceship, and the like.  No matter what, though, the theoretical knowledge (the “myth”) behind building spaceships is most important, because one cannot figure out whether a spaceship will work without knowing the mathematics and physics behind spaceships.

All these same things come into play when working with magic, just with different mythos, technology, and reason.  This is why I insist that, for people who want to learn my style of magic and Hermetics, someone have an exceptionally strong footing in the classical stories of European literature, such as the Homeric Cycle, the Bible, apocryphal and philosophical texts from different European and Mediterranean religions, tables of correspondences and qualities of the elements and planets and zodiac signs and lunar mansions, astrology and astrological timing, etc. Beyond the others, myth is the single most important foundation someone can and must have in order to learn magic and ritual.  All ritual takes place within mythology, whether it’s building a spaceship within the mythos of physics, making a talisman within the mythos of astrology, or making sacrifices within the mythos of a particular deity.  The technology can be picked up as one learns and grows, and the reason to link mythos with technology can be cultivated over time to produce new and hitherto-unknown ritual, but myth is that which guides and directs us to pick up either the needed technologies to implement it or the reason to bind it and bridge the gap between technology and myth.

Myth should never be dismissed as something that is merely primitive.  Myth is the foundation for our lives, and if all ritual is an extrapolation or extension of life itself, then ritual is even more based on myth than our lives.  Ritual brings myth into our lives and makes our lives into living myths; if one has no myth, one will necessarily have no ritual.

The Geomantic Emblems and their Rulerships

Last time I brought up the geomantic emblems (previously called geomantic superfigures, 256 16-line “figures” that each contain all 16 geomantic figures within themselves), I described a few bits about the elemental representation and force within each figure.  In the process, I described a method where each geomantic emblem can be elementally analyzed and given an “elemental essential” rulership, by taking the “pure elemental” lines, and also how to split up the emblems into four figures to give them an entire geomantic chart as background.  However, I also mentioned that all 256 emblems could be reduced to a set of 16 by rotating them around; in other words, there are 16 sets of 16 topologically equivalent geomantic emblems.  16 is a significant number in geomancy, as my astute readers may have noticed, and I brought up how tempting and tantalizing it would be to assign a set of rulerships that correspond these 16 sets of geomantic emblems to the 16 figures of geomancy.  I didn’t have the method done just then, but I’ve finally come up with a way to link the two sets of symbols.  The correspondences are, using the list from last time:

  1. Laetitia: 1000010011010111
  2. Carcer: 1000010011110101
  3. Fortuna Minor: 1000010100110111
  4. Puer: 1000010100111101
  5. Acquisitio: 1000010110011110
  6. Populus: 1000010110100111
  7. Coniunctio: 1000010111100110
  8. Albus: 1000010111101001
  9. Tristitia: 1000011001011110
  10. Rubeus: 1000011010010111
  11. Amissio: 1000011010111100
  12. Puella: 1000011011110010
  13. Fortuna Maior: 1000011110010110
  14. Caput Draconis: 1000011110100101
  15. Cauda Draconis: 1000011110101100
  16. Via: 1000011110110010

How did I go about finding these correspondences?  A lot of math, hand-wringing, and sangria, that’s for sure.  If, dear reader, you’re interested in finding out how I corresponded the figures to the emblems, please continue after the break, but I’m going to warn you.  This post is long and at times tedious, and is full of binary mathematics and lots of 1s and 0s.  This post is only for the hardcore geomancy geeks like me out there, and it helps to have a solid footing in computer science, basic/low-level programming exercises, and binary/discrete mathematics.  Even I’m kinda shocked by how lengthy and pointlessly in-depth this post is, if that’s any indication of what you’re in for.  If you want to stop reading now, I forgive you and completely understand.  If you want to find out why I allocated the above emblems and their rotated variants to the figures like I did above, read on.  Either way, expect another post in the near future on how to use these emblems, their geomantic rulership, and elemental analyses in magic and divination!

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In Terms of Another

A computer is a mechanical and/or electronic device.  It takes in electricity and input from a device like a keyboard or a mouse or a touchscreen, and uses electricity to perform logical operations on input.  The output is redirected and is used as further input or is used to display information on a device like a monitor or printer.  There are lots of models to show how computers work, from the mathematical (why input becomes particular output), physical (how supplied electricity is transformed into motion, light, or sound), and logical (how input and stored data is manipulated in an abstraction of a machine).  It does not, however, make sense to describe how computers work in terms of biology with cells, protein folding, evolution, and so forth.  The two are completely separate systems of knowledge and use different abstractions, terminologies, definitions, and assumptions.  Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to describe the involuntary actions and processes of a human body in terms of formal types, data representation, or logical operators.

Languages rely on complex rules of word formation, ordering, and meaning, collectively termed grammar and semantics.  An English sentence, such as the one you’re currently reading, is made intelligible through the rules of English grammar and the meanings of English words according to an agreed-upon dictionary.  It doesn’t make sense for an English sentence to be analyzed according to the grammar or lexicon of another language, like French or Chinese, because the rules and definitions don’t apply.  Comparisons can be drawn, and translations can be performed, but you can’t simply drop an English sentence into a Chinese input terminal and expect to get any processing done.  Further, you can’t analyze or make sense of an English sentence if you’re trying to describe it in terms of multivariate calculus.  The two are just radically different systems of knowledge with different purposes, uses, languages, and so forth.  They’re both useful and necessary, sure, but not in the same way, and can’t be used in place of each other.

So, given this, it annoys me when people try to make me explain, justify, or validate magic or the occult in terms of the laws of physics or other physical sciences.  It’s like trying to explain a computer in terms of biology, or English in terms of calculus.  You’re asking me to explain something spiritual and inherently non-physical in terms of the non-spiritual and physical?  I can’t do anything with that.  I don’t have the tools, the rules, the definitions, the terms, the background for what I need.  I can use philosophy to illustrate some of these things, sure, and religion to make sense of other things, but that’s like the English sentence/Chinese grammar situation above.

Am I saying that magic is completely detached from the physical world?  No. Am I saying that magic has no effect in the physical world, nor any measurable metrics?  No.  Magic does affect and can effect the physical world, but doing so can’t be described in an entirely physical model, because magic doesn’t directly affect the physical world like how observable physical processes do.  Magic assumes the backdrop of a chain of manifestation, it assumes things that aren’t physical and can’t (always?) be detected physically.  If you’re asking me to explain something spiritual and non-physical, and only allowing me physical explanations to do so, you’re setting me up for failure.  If you want to discuss spiritual matters, then let’s use spiritual methods, languages, and definitions; we can draw parallels or comparisons between the spiritual and nonspiritual, physical and nonphysical, and that’s awesome.  But I can’t explain something in terms of what it’s not and what it can’t be.  If you want to talk to me about spirituality, let’s talk in spiritual terms, or at least allow for the possibility of spirituality.

I understand that atheism is a growing worldview and mindset of modern people, and there’s a good reason why: it makes sense.  It makes do with the tools and observations we have at our disposal and starts from there to make sense of the world.  If there’s no evidence for something, it doesn’t make sense to believe it if there’s a simpler explanation out there that, even if it’s theoretical, if it’s plausible, it can be accepted (Occam’s razor).  However, just because there’s no evidence in the Universe for a particular thing doesn’t mean that it’s evidence against that particular thing, either; just because there’s no meaning supplied by the cosmos doesn’t mean that meaning is completely denied, either.  Plus, modern science is not the be-all-and-end-all of all knowledge: we are constantly discovering new things all the time, and we are constantly revamping or reconstructing our current models of understanding to make sense of more stuff.  Further, we try to use a consistent system of logic to prove that something is true, “consistent” meaning that a well-structured proof with true hypotheses will yield a true conclusion.  It is impossible that a consistent system of logic can prove all provable things; in other words, I know something that’s true and you can’t show that it’s true (Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem).  In order to prove that something-unprovably-true, you need to use another system of logic, another kind of science.

It even gets me more riled up when people say “let’s establish empirical reality here” and try to dismiss my point of view out of hand.  First, “empirical” means “known through experience or experimentation”.  In my experience, magic works, nonphysical entities exist in some nonphysical form and can be interacted with in nonphysical (and sometimes physical!) ways, and there are worlds and phenomena that exist and can be interacted with nonphysically.  In my repeated experiments, under a particular setting and environment, I can call up angels or demons and chat with them or achieve some goal or desired end.  This is my experience, this is my reality that I work with.  If you want to disregard my reality, fine, but don’t try to argue with me about it.  My experience is not your own, and your experience is not my own.  If you want to try to convince me that something doesn’t work, try doing the same experiments I have and obtaining the same experiences I have, and then get back to me.  Trying to use “objective reality” to dismiss my experiences doesn’t really work: (a) everything has to be perceived in some way or another, leading to a subjective experience of reality (b) “objective numbers” obtained by tools made by mankind also have to be interpreted, and are obtained by machines that return numbers geared for a specific physical phenomena that doesn’t capture all known or experienced knowledge, but only a highly-specific subset of desired (subjective) knowledge (c) the models of “objective reality” don’t reliably account for the experiences that I and countless other people have.

Don’t try to ask me about my worldview if you’re just going to dismiss it.  It’s apparent from how you refer to me and my hobbies, that don’t influence or affect you, how you feel about them.  Feel what you want, please!  But if you don’t know about occultism, if you don’t want to know about occultism, and if you’re dead set against the possibility of occultism, don’t try to have me waste my breath or keystrokes to explain myself.  If you’re just going to call me crazy, save all of us the time and do so, and let me ignore you in peace.  If you don’t want to listen to me, ignore me!  I’m not going to be offended.  Magic isn’t for everyone.  Neither is any given religion, neither is art, neither is philosophy, neither is any given sport, neither is any given field of science.  But they all have worth, they all have meaning, and they’ve all been around for thousands of years for a reason.  Don’t try to discredit any one of them just because it doesn’t make sense in another one.

I don’t believe and work with this stuff for the hell of it.  What I do isn’t random and it isn’t haphazard.  What I do is researched, contemplated, discussed, planned, worked out, described, and analyzed.  The results I get are compared to my expectations, previous results I’ve obtained, and the results of others.  If I were crazy, I sure as hell wouldn’t be putting in as much effort or documentation into what I do.  If I had multiple personality disorder, I must be unique in being able to control when I talk to a particular alt-Polyphanes under certain circumstances.  If I were just deceiving myself, it’s gotta be a pretty damn big deception on a NWO-conspiracy-scale to be documented and discussed for as long as there’s been writing, and longer.  What I do isn’t physical and isn’t geared towards the physical or mathematical.  I wouldn’t use algebra to generate a change in consciousness; I wouldn’t use a computer to explain to me how to be happy.  Why ask me to explain spiritual things with physical processes?  It doesn’t work. I use physical and material processes to affect the world in terms of energy and matter; I use spiritual and mental processes to affect the world in terms of thought and spirit.  The two don’t mix.

It largely comes down to an issue of worldview and values.  If you believe that the ultimate expression and mode of reality is material reality, and that only material reality is the only thing of value and worth, awesome.  That’s not my philosophy, and I don’t expect my own philosophy to be yours.  My philosophy is that material reality is only one part of a grander part of reality, with each part being interactive and interactable.  If that’s not your philosophy, awesome.  But don’t try to say, explicitly or implicitly, that your worldview or philosophy is better than mine, because you don’t have the grounds to do that.  Logic doesn’t work in terms of things of worth or value, and I would hate to see someone supposedly so rational and logical to be so illogical in their approach and discussions when they continue to claim to be even more logical and rational than I am.  Hell, even more than logic, what I want is open-mindedness.  You don’t have to accept that what I do is sensible, you don’t have to accept the background or frameworks I’m working with, but please accept that it’s not baseless, not without cause, and not without effect.  Ascribe whatever physical explanation you want to it, be it psychological or pathological or whatever, but know that in doing so you’re trying to compare, not just apples and oranges, but apples and anvils.

In the words of the archdruid John Michael Greer:

The apotheosis of this sort of thinking is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Clarke, who was among the best of SF authors; it’s hardly blameworthy that he shared misunderstandings of magic that were all but universal in his culture. The point remains that since magic does not do what technology does, and vice versa, the Third Law should properly be renamed Clarke’s Fallacy; no matter how advanced a technology may be, it does the kind of thing technologies do—that is to say, it manipulates matter and energy directly, which again is what magic does not do. I’d like to propose, in fact, an alternative rule, which I’ve modestly titled Greer’s Law: “Anyone who is unable to distinguish between magic and any technology, however advanced, doesn’t know much about magic.”

There.  My obligatory occultist’s rant on being accosted by hardline atheists.  I’m allowed to rant on my own blog, after all.  If you want to talk to me about the possibility of magic in a spiritual setting, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I’d be up for that.  But let’s keep stuff within the same discipline and language, alright?  Thanks.