End of a Decade

So, here we are at the end of 2019, all of us headed into a new decade in less than thirty days. It seems to be all the rage on Twitter and Facebook to do an end-of-decade recap, so I figured I may as well pitch in with mine. This was originally going to be a tweet thread over on my Twitter, but it turns out that Twitter won’t allow threads over a certain maximum number, and 2010—2019 was…well, quite the decade for me, and I wanted to do it justice as some of the most formative years of my life to this point. So, let’s try this over here on this, my beloved website and blog, that has seen me through all these years and, God and gods willing, many more years to come. Now that I’ve written all this, it’s…kind of astounding everything that’s happened to me, for me, by me, and with me over just the span of ten years, how much I’ve changed, how so much has happened that I would never have dreamed of happening.

Ten years ago, at the end of 2009, I was wrapping up my penultimate semester in undergrad at UVa. (I still have old photos from my old laptop, long since sold off, of me in the 24-hour library studying and partying with friends.) That semester was the most difficult and credit-intense of them all; the semester after that was the easiest and most fun of them all. I wrote my undergraduate thesis for my B.S. in computer science on using software metrics and variable name uniqueness to predict bugs, and how software engineers are awful at using metrics for actually engineering their products.

There was an unfortunate issue with an unofficial subletter we had in my apartment who, while the rest of us were out of town for winter break 2009—2010, ended up exploding the fireplace (and damn near destroying the rest of the apartment) while drunk and drugged up. He and one of his friends thought it would be a good idea to have a fire in the fireplace and start throwing shit into it: potatoes, bottles of cleaning products, rolls of toilet paper, cans of food…and one can of chickpeas was built exceptionally sturdy, and failed spectacularly. None of us, especially our landlady, were thrilled about that. We were finding bits of charred potato, melted bottles, and ash across the place for weeks. He dropped off the face of the map, but we were able to track down his family’s contact information and pass it along to our landlady for restitution.

While I had begun my blog, “The Digital Ambler”, early in 2010, I didn’t really do much with it. It was originally a devotional space for XaTuring, the Great Worm, god of the Internet. It fell stagnant and quiet for a while. I got Twitter and deleted Facebook in the spring of 2010, around the time when I graduated college. Cesspool that it is, I’ve met some amazing people on Twitter since that time, many of whom have become lifelong friends in the process.

I was living with my then-boyfriend (who graduated one year earlier) at the time. We were together for less than a year after this; we moved in together upstate after I graduated, then we broke up and he went to be with someone else. He moved out, and I had the place all to myself for about a year—while he was still paying, no less, for his share, which was great for me, and gave me the space I needed to eventually begin my magical and spiritual practices. (It also gave me the wonderful time to just be home naked all the time without a concern in the world.)  We met about two years earlier at our rival college through the furry community, ultimately through my ex, who was on-and-off-again president of the furry club; through them, I met the local furs upstate where I moved and made friends with them, too, even after my breakup.

It was in the final weeks of my last semester at college, literally during the study period before finals, that I got my job acceptance call with the federal government. I was skipping down the hallway to my Proto-Indo-European Linguistics study session in joy. The job was slow-going, but eventually the work picked up for me. It was quiet and enjoyable.

By this time, I was already good with geomancy, having studied and practiced it for about two or three years by this point. The Geomantic Campus Yahoo! group was alive and well at this point. For a long while, I had only wanted to just be a diviner, keeping magic well out of it, but…well, in 2011, after finally settling down into the idea of Actually Doing Magic, I had the choice between one of three alternatives. After doing a reading for myself, I got into Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Red Work” course, and I restarted my blog as a place for my Hermetic research and rambling. I didn’t stop writing or let the blog stagnate this time—or, at least, not for as long.

Through my furry friends in the area, I met a particularly fascinating magical practitioner and priestess. She put me in contact with others, and by them through others, and by them through others. Abundant adventures ensued, as well as a few visits to some tattoo and piercing parlors: I got a caduceus on my left forearm, a Rod of Asclepius on my right forearm, the Golden Chain of Homer on my spine, and several piercings in my ears and one under my lip. I’ve yet to get any more, but I’m looking forward to it when I can; I’ve only had to take out my labret piercing (it was wearing down the gum on my lower teeth), and while I later got nipple piercings, I took those out too and never bothered putting them back in.

My mother’s mother passed away in late spring 2012. The worst part of it all was the long trip to my ancestral state for her funeral—and watching my brother blab on in his eulogy about her lung cancer, which she had kept secret from others all this time (hilariously enraging my mom in the process). My mother still has yet to go through all her records and files, but she’s making progress again.

Looking back on it and given how complete it was (though never as complete as he set out for it to be), I would say that Fr. Rufus Opus’ “Red Work” course has two main objectives: contact with your holy guardian angel/supernatural assistant, and induction into the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. I accomplished the first objective in early summer 2012.

Lots of adventures with furries and magicians and pagans in this time. I miss a lot of it, debauched and dramatic as it sometimes was. I still get to hang out periodically with some of those friends, but it’s a lot less common nowadays. Those adventures, stupid as they sometimes were, were at least memorable enough to provide some much-needed learning experiences, not just about magic, but also myself. Through some of my magical contacts, I began doing readings and teaching an occasional class at a local new age/occult shop.

After a weird amount of online dating and hooking up, I met a new boy towards the latter half of 2012; we met through OkCupid after rating each other highly, and we commented on the weird grammar used in the automatically-generated message it sent out. I was attracted to his profile because of his impressive back tattoos (large arachnidian-demonic wings). He later admitted that he did a bit of a candle spell to find someone—he got a candle from the same new age store I did readings at, on a day when I was teaching a class. He recognized my voice when we went out for the first time and got drunk at an Irish pub down the street from me. It’s also because of the boy that I got a Facebook again, to prove to his friends that I actually exist. It’s been useful in other ways since, too, especially for creating and maintaining the Geomantic Study-Group I admin. Lots of other social connections, too, as it turns out.

Through my branching internet and magical friends, I learned of a mages’ convention a few states north. Great antics were had, even if I don’t remember them all; I learned that drunken prophecy was a Thing for me (who knew?). It was at this convention that I not only got to meet Fr. Rufus Opus in person (as well as Jason Miller and a bunch of others), but I also got to meet the man who would become my bromancer, my partner-in-crime in the occult, with whom I’m still excellent friends. (At one point I even shoved God into his head, which was fun. Neither of us remember that event clearly.)

It was around this time, in 2013-ish, that I began working on a draft for a textbook on geomancy. Also this year, the husband and I spent a lot of time with our first godfamily and spiritual community in another state, people I met through my earlier contacts. Lots of fun times were had and lots of learning. I also learned that I look pretty good with a buzzcut.

In the autumn of 2013, there was a lengthy government shutdown, which put me on temporary enforced vacation. I used that time wisely, constructed a fantastic ebony Wand of Art (the wood itself a gift from a friend), and, after more than a week straight of heavy conjurations, achieved the second objective of the “Red Work” course: induction into the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. It changed everything for me.

The boy and I moved in together in early 2014 with another friend. I still miss that house with its abundant fields, problematic though it was in the long term. Because of the distance involved and how much further I moved away, I had to stop going to the new age store I was doing readings at; I want to visit again, but the time never seems to be there. The housemate eventually moved out when she got into a relationship of her own, and though she and the boy are good friends, she doesn’t come around much anymore. In fact, many of the friends we had in the area in common we haven’t seen much; they were all really tight when they lived together, but I guess time is an amazingly busy knife for so many people.

In the summer of 2014, I made a trip back down to my alma mater for an academic conference, “Tracking Hermes/Mercury”. I was probably the only non-academic attendee, but that was fine. It was great to be back, even just for a short while.

The pleasant times the boy and I had with our out-of-state godfamily all blew up horrifically in our faces in late 2014; I’m still bitter about it, honestly, so it’ll be for the best if I never have to cross paths with them again. That blowup with the erstwhile godfamily really started at that year’s mages’ convention in the autumn. I never went back after that, and the convention itself fell apart not a few years later. Oh well. Memories are memories, sweet and hollow as they are.

Towards the end of 2014, I did a month-long magical working, in which I made the most rookie mistake ever: I didn’t actually read the full ritual text in detail that I was going to work from. It was…a harsh learning lesson, and it brought up and opened up a lot of things for me that I thought I had locked, chained, and cast down to the bottom of the ocean. Some things you just can’t escape or hide your head in the sand from; it’s a lesson I’m still learning. I suppose it was still a successful operation, though I question whether I would have done it if I actually had read the text itself beforehand.

I took my first step (well, a lot of them, really) into Lukumí (Afro-Cuban orisha religion, aka “Santería”) in 2015, receiving my Warriors, Hand of Orunmila, ilekes, and Olokun throughout the year. My godfather turned out to be one of the people I had met through that magical practitioner from before; his godsister, the boy’s godmother. I still find it hilarious how the furry community ultimately got me into this religion.

In summer 2015, I took a new job offer to be a team lead in a different program, same building and agency, right down the hall. It was a year of suffering; I developed panic attacks in an utterly horrific office that I could not fix. It was a mess of micromanagement, poor coordination, and a terrorized staff. It was awful.

In autumn 2015, the boy became the husband. We had already been headed that way for some time, but plans fell through, we couldn’t get the money scrounged up in time, and we just decided to leave it be. But then the gods themselves intervened and brought everyone and everything together at the right time, on the very day we wanted in the exact context we wanted, for us to get married anyway. I had no intention of visiting my (not-yet) godmother’s house to get married, but it happened anyway.

At the end of 2015, our landlord told us he was going to sell the place we were living in, so we had four months to GTFO. Thus began months of house-searching and freaking out. We were pushing right up into the limit—and over it. But we made it, and me, my husband, and our new housemate bought a house together at the start of summer 2016. After months of chaos and anxiety, this worked out exceedingly well and in our favor in so many ways—sometimes as if it were by magic or divine intervention. (Imagine that.) Now we just need to keep improving it, fixing what was leftover from the previous owners, and making it more livable and sturdy for as long as we’ll be here for it.

In summer 2016, after exactly one year in that horrible team lead job, I left it and went back to my old job. I’ll always be grateful to my supervisor for helping me get back there; I’m perfectly happy with my team, my work, my workload, and my position where I am, and though it was helpful to get that team lead experience (and a pay bump), I’m glad it’s over with. I’m happy being at the top of the career ladder and quite content with my position where I am; sure, the money from being a team lead or supervisor might be nice, but it’s not worth the stress of the position, nor is it worth giving up the work I already enjoy so much. Looking back, it seems like my work life has been the most stable thing about my life, which is frankly surprising.

In autumn 2016 (coinciding with his and my Saturn Return), my husband and I went to Cuba to be initiated fully into La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, him as a priest of Oshún and me a priest of Ogún. Everyone got giardia in the process, but I was the only one who didn’t have to take Cipro to get over it. (I also learned that dairy and intestinal parasites don’t mix too well. At least I didn’t have to worry about caloric blowback from those milkshakes on the way back.) I lost 15 pounds from our Cuba diet and our gastro-intestinal affliction, but I also gained a new life, a battery of orisha, and such divine guidance and support that I cannot but be honored and humbled by it all every day.

That began one year and one week of wearing only pure white clothing, every day, all day, inside and outside, publicly and privately. Not a lot else happened publicly or otherwise due to religious restrictions for our initiatory year; mostly just quiet processing. It was rough, but it was also worth it. I understand now what other priests say when they say they’d go through the entire process all over again, hard though it is to believe. There was some nasty drama during the year, however; our house didn’t explode, but our household nearly did. The Year in White is never easy, and it’s never the same for any two given priests. We made it, by the grace of God and the gods. I gained those 15 pounds back over the course of the year.

My father’s mother passed away in 2017. I can’t be sad about it; the woman basically won at life in every regard. She had a quiet and easy death in her 90s surrounded by family, after living through World War II, being married three times, inheriting a business fortune, traveling the world, and even having a short stint with the Jewish mafia. She’s earned not just a good rest but a whole throne and pavilion just for herself in the afterlife.

Since coming out of my Year in White in autumn 2017, it’s just been a lot of learning, studying, practicing, writing, experimenting, divining, casting, praying, meditating, and on and on. Routines get set up, fall apart, and set up again. Projects come up again and again, and some even get worked on enough to actually make it somewhere. The Work never really ends, thank God and the gods. There’s never a dull moment, even in the downtime.

Our husband’s cat Isis, which he had for over a decade, whom we took in from his grandmother’s in 2016, fell ill and died in early 2018. It was…hard, especially for him. She’s in a decorated resin canopic jar now, watching over us and the house. We got a new cat later that summer. Well, I should say, he wanted to get a cat, and I ended up getting one. Nephthys is…well, she’s a cat. And, more recently, thanks to the husband’s mother, she has a new brother now, Set, whom she is not yet a fan of. (At all.) It’s a process. My husband recently pointed out that Nephthys is much like him in personality, while Set is more like me. And Set is very much his cat. (Funny how that works. And yes, the husband picked all three names for the cats.)

I took on students this past year in 2019; it’s not my first time having a student, but this is the longest and most thorough arrangement I’ve ever had, and helps me as much as it helps them. It also gives me a good way to experiment and check in on some of the stuff I myself do. Not to make them my guinea pigs, of course, but it does point out to me better ways to teach and instruct some of the things that I myself have been taught, or that I’ve had to teach myself.

I was invited to speak at another magical conference up north this past summer; it was a great time, and I already look forward to this next year’s. I just need to figure out what the hell I want to propose to talk about this time! In fact, this whole summer was weirdly high-profile for me, getting to meet a bunch of big names from across the country.

After being in credit debt since 2013, the husband and I finally finished paying all of it off this year. We’re finally able to start saving money—and up our monthly allowances. Still need to keep a tight rein on our spending, but that shouldn’t be too difficult at this point. Besides, our credit scores are high enough that we can get most anywhere we need. (And sure, I’ve taken out a loan or two since then, but those are household expenses, so I’m not half as worried about them.)

Over the past decade, I’ve gained a bit of weight and I smoke more than I did in college, and though I don’t drink as much as I did, I’m not as physically active as I was, either. I’ve done things that I would have thought impossible for me, and though I didn’t set out of college with some big overarching plan or design for how I wanted my life to be, if you had told me that this would be my life as I took off my graduation gown, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve met countless people, some of whom I’ll probably never meet again and others with whom I look forward to meeting again time and time again. I’ve traveled to places that I thought were only stories, and I’ve done things that I would have considered to belong in the realm of fables. Heck, somehow, after writing more words than are in all the Harry Potter books put together, I’ve even ended up making a small name for myself in the occulture, which is as shocking to me as anything else. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve stepped on toes, and I’ve fucked up, yes, but I’ve also grown a bit, or at least I think I have. All told, I look forward to everything this next decade has to bring. If this past decade has been any indication, then things should only get better from here. When I raise my glass for this upcoming New Year, I’ll be sure to raise it, my voice, and my spirit for all that has gotten me here and all those who walked this road with me, whether or not they’re still at my side.

And yes, the geomancy book is still in progress.

Recollection in its Proper Time

Tonight begins the third Mercury retrograde period of 2016.  It entered its shadow on August 10, and entered into retrograde tonight on August 30; it will pause again to go direct on September 22, and will be back to its proper speed on October 6.  All this happens within its own domicile sign of Virgo.  The next time Mercury goes retrograde is after entering into its shadow on December 1, then hitting its retrograde station on December 19, going direct again on January 8, 2017, and getting out of its shadow on January 27; this begins when Mercury is in Capricorn, and ends when Mercury is back in Sagittarius.  As many of my readers already know, when a planet goes into retrograde motion, the things associated with that planet tend to go backwards, awry, or wonky in some way.  Given that Mercury governs all things associated with travel, commuting, divination, communication, study, memory, speech, trade, technology, and planning, expect difficulties, delays, repeats, and do-overs aplenty during this time.  Because this specific Mercury retrograde period is all within the mercurial sign of Virgo, expect this to be a double whammy for many people.  It’s not all that bad; for most people, you just need to do your three-point tap before you leave the house, leave ample time to get to work, and always read through any and all documentation twice before making a decision and you’ll be fine.  For Hermetic magicians and those who work closely with Hermes, or for those who have Mercury as a particular strong planet in their natal horoscope, you may want to step more carefully, given our strong connections to this kind of energy.  Take this time to review your life, trace your steps, and reflect on all the things that compose you and your life before the retrograde period is over; use this time well, and don’t freak out about it.

For the nights that Mercury goes retrograde, I prescribe an offering to Hermes much as the usual: candles, incense, libation, and prayer, preceded by the usual honors to Hestia and Zeus.  I do this because I recognize the physical planet of Mercury, or Stilb­­­­­ōn, as the body of the god, however distinct or connected as it may be from his divine presence, and because I recognize the change in motion of the planet as a change in energy and action of the god.  However, I do things a little differently for these particular nights to mark the occasion.  For this, instead of using the usual Orphic Hymn for Hermes (number 27), I recite the one for Hermes Chthonios, the terrestrial and underworld aspect (number 56), which goes like this:

Hermes I call, whom Fate decrees to dwell
In the dire path which leads to deepest hell;
O Bacchic Hermes, progeny divine
Of Dionysius, parent of the vine
And of celestial Venus, Paphian queen,
Dark eye-lashed Goddess of a lovely mien;
Who constant wanderest through the sacred feats
Where hell’s dread empress, Proserpine, retreats;
To wretched souls the leader of the way
When Fate decrees to regions void of day;
Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly,
Or lulls to slumberous rest the weary eye;
For Proserpine through Tartarus dark and wide
Gave thee forever flowing souls to guide.
Come, blessed power, the sacrifice attend,
And grant our mystic works a happy end.

For the libation, instead of my usual wine mixed with olive oil, I only offer clean, pure water, and that only after thoroughly cleaning and polishing out his offering vessel.  Normally, I’d give it a good rinse to get any of the remains from the previous offering and wipe out any remaining residue, but I take this opportunity to thoroughly clean and polish the whole thing until it shines like new.  Similarly, I also remove all old offerings and clean his shrine.

Additionally, and most distinctly, I wrap my image of Hermes in a black shroud, so that the entire body and form is occluded.  The shroud remains until the planet leaves retrograde, at which point I remove the shroud and make the usual offerings of wine and ouranic prayer.  Between these two dates, however, I make no further offerings or direct interaction with the god.

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Why the unusual ritual offering of water, chthonic prayers, and the shroud?  This is all because Mercury goes into retrograde.  In a sense, this is the unusual time where Hermes is a little more trickstery, a little more baneful than at other times, and…honestly, while it’s not a bad thing, I don’t want that influence in my life more than is absolutely necessary.  To that end, I cover Hermes in a shroud to insulate him from the outside world so that he can focus on his own work, and in a way, insulate me from him so that I’m not affected by his backwards-looking gaze.  This ritual period is where I work with Hermes in an apotropaic manner only, turning away the difficulties posed by Mercury retrograde and keeping me insulated and blocked off from them.  For a similar reason, I only offer water that is clean and pure, rather than dark wine.  I want to give Hermes that which is clean and clear so that I can obtain the same, keeping my eyes and my ears clean and clear from confusion, my path and my travels from obstacles, my mind and my heart from illusion, my hands and my feet from difficulty.  Offering only water to clean the ways helps me and helps Hermes to help me keep my life open and free during the retrograde; wine would obscure it in too dark a way during too dark a time, oil beslickens it in too unpredictable a way during too unpredictable a time.  To me and for my work with the god, when Mercury goes retrograde, Hermes stops flying across the skies and seas and travels primarily between our world and the underworld.  Previously, Hermes instructed me to only recite his chthonic hymn during nighttime, while the ouranic one could be done at any time; during retrograde periods, if I ever feel a need to use a hymn, it will only ever be the chthonic one.

When a planet goes retrograde, it is only an apparent illusion that the planet goes backwards through the skies and the stars.  In reality, due to the mechanics of our heliocentric solar system, retrograde periods are caused when the planet in question is closest to our own planet.  In a sense, that’s what causes all these weird happenings involving the things that planet governs; rather than being at a healthy objective distance for us to interact with, the energies of that planet suddenly become too close for comfort, hidden right under our nose, and befuddled all up in our mind as subjective rather than objective and distant.  Mercury is no exception, and in fact is the poster child for retrograde energies, even if only because it’s the planet that goes into retrograde motion the most often.  It’s the time when all these energies and influences turn inward instead of outward, which would be fine if we didn’t have all these pesky civilized things we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, like jobs and commuting and business and whatnot.  Rather than posting melodramatic memes on Facebook fuming about Mercury retrograde, I try to go with the flow, respecting it and accepting it in a way that helps me deal with the resulting chaos, and changing my habits and works accordingly.

So, for someone like me who’s so entrenched in mercurial energies in both the religious sense (priest of Hermes), the magical sense (Hermetic magician), and the career sense (software engineer), and for someone whose own natal Mercury is already retrograde and dignified, what’s the best way for me to spend this retrograde period?  For that matter, what’s the best way we can all spend this time?  Mercury, the planet of thought and memory and learning, is going backwards, so it behooves us all to go backwards in the same way: spend this month in a time of reflection, reminding, recollection, and remembrance.  Think of your whole life and how you got here, even to the physical place you are.  Think of all the people, from teachers and parents to friends and enemies, who had even the smallest influence on your character.  Think of all the lessons you’ve learned, sitting down at a desk or running around in your life, which helped shape how you think and how you act.  Think of all your ancestors, from those who passed away in your lifetime to the countless generations back before you, who lived and fought and rejoiced and died so that you too can share in this incarnation of flesh and blood and breath and bone.

Reflect on yourself, and see who you are both inside and out.  Remind yourself, and re-mind yourself. Recollect yourself, and re-collect yourself.  Remember yourself, and re-member yourself.  By these, you will come to know yourself, and that’s really the whole goal here for any of us, isn’t it?

For myself…gods, how did I get here?  Back in middle school, I dabbled with my brother’s hand-me-downs from his short voyage into neopaganism, and learned the basics of divination from my Tarot-reading sister.  In high school, I kept alive a healthy imagination for new worlds and poetry and the power of the written word in personal journals to explore my own internal landscape.  In college, I began my studies of geomancy and medieval astrology, and started this blog on Blogspot as a devotional for XaTuring, the Great Worm of the Internet.  I met so many people, so few of whom I have in my life anymore because I was only barely developing a social life after intense bullying in elementary school, and I recently turned down the invitation for my high school’s ten-year reunion because screw those people and the awkwardness and the lack of connections I never care to suffer through again.  I dated and fucked up and made it better and repeated the process so many times, and showed me my own capabilities, my own culpabilities, and my own tendencies to virtue and to vice.

After college, I pined and loathed and laughed and fucked around and fucked with others and fucked others and been fucked by others.  I began my own Great Work, and built up my own geomantic practice and social presence both online and offline.  I developed my own style of working under Fr. Rufus Opus, and met people of varying paths both light and dark, both right-handed and left-handed, both brilliantly alive and gloriously dead.  I met the love of my life through magic on both our ends, and we began to build ourselves together, only to get cut down together by misplaced trust and found it again with allies and colleagues.  We married, on accident for us and by divine provenance from the gods.  We bought a house.  I changed jobs to one that I was encouraged by multiple spirits to take, only to suffer and discover my own limits but which allowed me the means to grow privately even more.  I changed jobs back once more, solidifying my career path into one that I am fundamentally comfortable and safe within among colleagues and coworkers I know and trust and love.

I have gone from having neither shrines nor altars to one, then two, then four, all the way to having a house full of them and beginning what is truly a temple to recognize all the powers, and moreover, all our powers and deities.  I have gone from having a journal to a notebook to a blog to several ebooks and a full book on the way.  I have gone from school to college to federal job, within each from hell to heaven and back and again.  I have gone from single to committed to broken down to broken up and back again, and now to marriage and partnership on all levels of human existence.  I have gone from having friends to enemies, and enemies to friends.  I have gone from one computer to the next, one operating system to the next, shifting data and programs around and finding new and better ways to do what I need to do.  I have gone from no debt to student debt to low debt to car debt to credit debt to mortgage.  I have gone from hair to skinhead and back.  I have gone from pristine to consecrated tattoos, from whole to pierced to whole again.  I have gone from spiritually fearful to excited to exasperated, both towards people and to spirit alike.  I have gone from repulsed by even the notion of rot to almost enjoying the smell as it passes by me in the forest or in the basement.  I have gone from despising emotion to recognizing it to manifesting it to using it and being used by it.  I have gone from one place to another in every way and in every sense.  Just as all motion is change, then truly, in so many ways, as I have gone, so have I changed.

And yet, underlying all that, there’s so much that has never changed.  I still hunger, like a crazed man starved for years, for knowledge and power and glory and wisdom.  I still rejoice with friends around me.  I still love, and I still love to create and to build and to fortify and to defend.  I still make mistakes.  I still make successes.  I still write, privately for myself and publicly for others, sometimes for free and sometimes for pay.  I still code and woodburn and bead and craft and cook.  I still love the wind through my hair and the rain on my palms.  No matter how much I change from past-me to present-me, I am still me.  I still move with the world, and that when I move the world, the world moves me.  No matter how much I move, I am still.  Just as all motion is change, then truly, in so many ways, as I have remained still, so have I remained the same.

I see my hands, and how they have maintained the same bone structure, and yet have grown and have touched and used so many things.  I see my eyes, and how the irises still have their intricate patterns, and yet gleam differently than they ever did, both brighter and dimmer than ever before.  I see my body, and how the flesh is still recognizably mine, and yet have so many scars and additions and subtractions.  By remembering all the things I have done, I re-member myself, and make my body whole from parts.  By reflecting my emotions I have felt, I re-flex myself, and make my soul whole from parts.  By recollecting all the things I have said, I re-collect myself, and make my spirit whole from parts.  By reminding all my thoughts I have thought, I re-mind myself, and make my mind whole from parts.  And, in doing so, by remembering and reflecting and recollecting and reminding, I am become a sum of the parts, and become a whole, and become greater than the sum of the parts.  There is no one thing of, in, or about me that is me, and yet it all comes together to make me.

Retrogression is for retrospection; we go backwards to look backwards.  Use this time well; as Hermes descends among us and below us, he goes to find the lost and bring them to their proper place.  Whether these are lost items, lost tasks, lost souls, or lost goals, it serves us well to go back and find ourselves in this chaos so that we can once more bring order to ourselves and, thus, to our worlds.  This is not a time for tools, except for the pen and paper in the study; this is not a time for communication, except for our own thoughts echoing in our heads; this is not a time for action, except for acting within ourselves in our own internal spaces; this is not a time for learning, except to relearn what we already forgot.  Turn back, dear reader, not for fear for your life to stop, but for faith for your life to continue.

Learning the Astragalomantic Oracular Verses

The way that astragalomancy works is pretty simple; Kostas Dervenis in his Oracle Bones Divination calls it the “Greek I Ching”, noting the similarity of the method.  Basically, what you do is you roll five knucklebones, or astragaloi, and you note the sides that come up.  The astragaloi act like four-sided dice, and each of the 56 different rolls you get (the order doesn’t matter) indicates a different outcome.  Each roll is associated with a particular godname and a matching oracular verse, not unlike grammatomancy (the methods are basically the same).  So, really, there’s little room for interpretation: roll the astragaloi, read the corresponding verse, and that’s your answer.  Expanding and meditating on the verse as it relates to the situation or the query is often necessary, but there’s little other inspiration to be had here, which is just as well.  I’m sure I can fit some more mystical aspects into it later, of course, but that’s later once I learn all the verses.

It’s learning the verses, however, that’s proving something of a struggle for me.  Each verse is four or five lines long, and there are 56 different verses.  Learning the one-line verses associated with the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet took a bit of time on its own, but that’s child’s play in comparison to this.  My memory may be good, but it’s not that good to just up and memorize a book’s worth of divination.  I want to be able, eventually, to pull out my astragaloi whenever needed and on the spot do a reading with them, which may mean that I won’t have a book of verses with me at any given moment, so I want to memorize them and know them by heart.  Getting there is hard, so I’m trying out different ways of learning them and comparing what I’ve done with other methods.

Geomancy, for instance, was easy because each set of meanings could be tied to a graphical form, the geomantic figure composed of four lines of one or two dots in each line.  Grammatomancy was easy because I had the 24 Greek letters as graphical forms to link their meanings and verses to, as well as the fact that the alphabet itself formed an index and acronym for the verses themselves (at least in Greek).  And, while I don’t know Tarot half as well as I probably should as a Hermetic magician, learning the symbolism could easily be done by association with the pretty pictures of the cards themselves (if I even bother to go that route, since the pictures lend themselves well to impromptu interpretation as they already are).    These all use some sort of graphical image as a symbol to which can be linked a referent, the verse or meaning; my mind plays well with these instead of just straight-up words or numbers.

Astragalomancy, however, is different; I’m just getting a set of numbers, a numeric ID, that gives me a particular verse and meaning.  It’s a different beast, and the lack of a distinct symbol bothers me.  The ID doesn’t register to my mind as a graphical image or a symbol in the same way a geomantic figure does, especially given the different forms it can take.  Consider the throw where you get two khion (1) throws, a hyption (3), a pranēs (4), and a kōon (6).  While I might write this down as 11346, there are 60 different permutations of this ID.  Add to it, the original sources don’t tend to list the numbers in a simple manner, so the actual ID of this is 43611 in the book!  While each verse begins with a description of the throw (in this case, “one four, one three, one six, and two ones: …”), that’s not helpful without me just up and memorizing all the verses by heart and running through them one by one until I get to the one I need, or until I get to the point where automatic recital of each verse is possible just from the start of each one (and, moreover, how each first line starts).  That takes time, and I’m trying to get up to speed as fast as possible with this.

Flashcards help, though, and I was able to link the sums of the throws to the Greek letters (one of the ways to do grammatomancy with astragaloi) in a day with this method.  For this, the online service Quizlet is amazing, and if you’re so interested, you can check out the sets of flashcards I’ve made for your own study.  Linking the throws to the letters involves summing up the sides of the astragaloi, however, and just observing the throws themselves isn’t a link I can make directly to the Greek letter just yet.  Over time, perhaps, as I regularly use the astragaloi it can happen, but I need that intermediate step first that detaches the throw to the Greek letter directly.  However, the way Quizlet works, you need to type in the answer to a given prompt more-or-less directly, and while it may be a useful activity for me to go through all the oracles themselves and make a one- or two-word summation of every verse, I haven’t gotten around to doing that just yet.  So, for me, the first step is to learn the throws of the astragaloi and how they associate with the different gods associated with each throw.

Still, that alone is difficult without some sort of pattern or method, and then I realized that I have a method for this.  Every software engineer is taught this method of “divide and conquer” (or, in Greek, διαίρει καὶ βασίλευε, diairei kai basileue), where you take a large problem and divide it up into smaller chunks that can more easily be solved, linking them all together in the end once they’re all good to go.  Looking at the astragalomantic throws, I realized that I can reorder the throws into a pattern that’s more numerically pleasing where there are 18 groups of 3 or 4 throws each, based partially on the Roman game of tali or knucklebones.  I group some of the smaller groups into larger ones based on the abstract number pattern linking them together:

  • Dogs and Vultures (all throws the same number, four possible throws)  e.g. 11111, 33333
  • Iacti Veneris + 1 (all four sides represented, four possible throws) e.g. 11346, 13446
  • 4X 1Y (four throws one side and last throw another, 12 possible throws with four groups of three based on X) e.g. 11113, 46666
  • 3X 2Y (three throws one side and two throws another, 12 possible throws with four groups of three based on X) e.g. 33444, 33666
  • 3X 1Y 1Z (three throws one side and two throws different, 12 possible throws with four groups of three based on X) e.g. 11134, 34446
  • 2X 2Y 1Z (two throws one side and two throws another and last throw another, 12 possible throws with four groups of three based on Z) e.g. 34466, 13344

Sure, it’s not exactly a traditional arrangement of the throws or a traditional way of enumerating them, but it works for me.  Every day I’ll study one or two more groups, learning what the pattern is and the throws of a similar pattern with different numbers, adding in the new rows to a Quizlet flashcard quiz and practicing it every hour or so until I build myself up enough to tackle the whole lot of 56 throws.  All in all, this isn’t a bad way to learn the basic associations of throws with the gods, and given my normal speed of memorization and learning, it’ll take about two or three weeks to learn all the associations of throws and gods comfortably enough that I can identify them at a glance.

Once I get the memorization of throws and gods down, and (if I deem it worthwhile) the memorization of the canonical order of the gods, then it’ll be time to link the association of throws and oracles down.  However, I plan on using the god-associations as a halfway point, so that I’ll actually be linking the oracle to the god and the god to the throw.  Thus, by recalling the god as a symbol, I can recall the oracle to which the symbol refers.  Learning each oracle will take more time than learning the god, since each verse also has to be memorized.  That said, I can speed up the process by learning the gist of each oracle first, then going back to learning the verses themselves, but we’ll see how I feel about that.  Given this, I expect it to take me two months or so of study and practice to memorize the verses, both by Quizlet and by constant use of the oracle to get me used to throwing the bones literally instead of just looking at flashcards.

How about you?  How do you learn a large block of information in a short period of time?  Are there any tips or tricks for memorization or recalling large amounts of information at once?

49 Days of Definitions: Part IX, Definition 5

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy. These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff. It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text. The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon. While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the fortieth definition, part IX, number 5 of 7:

Who(ever) behaves well towards his body, behaves badly towards himself.  Just as the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert.  Once a soul has entered the body, it (soul) will acquire Nous.  That which does not require (it), goes out such as it had entered.  For every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous; then Nous joins it from the body, so that eventually the soul becomes endowed with Nous.  That (soul) which has gone out of the human body has (got) an ill memory: for soul, (even) covered with the body, is forced to remember its (soul’s) unforgetfulness.  One change is unforgetful and (another) change brings about forgetfulness.

We know that humans are constituted out of many things, and what makes us essentially human is really just that: the essence of being human.  This is an idea, a form that we realize through our bodies, souls, spirits, and minds.  Our bodies are born, live, increase, decrease, and die in the material world and the material world alone; our souls are sent into our bodies so they can be perfected through the life of the body; spirit is the medium between the soul and the body; the mind is what is able to use reason and the ability to know God.  This idea has been developed over the course of the Definitions, and this ninth set of definitions helps us understand how we can perfect the body by saying something a little more descriptive than “know yourself” or “know God”.

Although the soul lives within the body, what happens to the body is not always good for soul; the last definition talked about the illnesses and passions of the soul, which can prevent the soul from properly acting and developing or can sway it into acting in a manner that is unhelpful to its development.  We also know that actions, opinions, and speech that is unreasonable, i.e. it does not serve the goals of Nous/the Good, basically limits itself to the material world we live in (V.1, V.2), and to limit ourselves to this world causes ignorance and is thus evil (VII.5, VIII.6).  Thus, if we place the body over the soul, we do our souls damage, which then does ourselves damage (VI.3).  Thus, “whoever behaves well towards the body, behaves badly toward himself”.  If we treat our bodies as first and foremost, lavishing it in luxury and simply “treating it well”, then we neglect our souls, which should deserve that same or better treatment.  This isn’t to say that we should totally neglect the body, of course; if the body isn’t well maintained, then the soul doesn’t have a chance to perfect within it.  Rather, we should strive to perfect the soul and maintaining our bodies as necessary along the way.  It’s similar to how happiness and sadness happen to us when we interact with the world; we don’t strive to be happy for the sake of being happy, but we should strive for something good which makes us happy as a result.  Likewise, we shouldn’t treat the body well for the sake of treating it well, but we should strive for Nous which makes our body well as a result.

After all, “the body, without a soul, is a corpse, likewise soul, without Nous, is inert”.  The two rely on each other in order to live, and so they need to support each other.  If we neglect the soul, the body dies; if we neglect the body, the soul remains imperfect.  Neither of these are good, though it’s worse for the soul to remain imperfect than the body dying.  Again, though death is generally a bad thing, that only affects our bodies, which is not the entirety of us.  We are more than dying bodies; we are both mortal and immortal (I.5), and we have the power of choosing immortality and making ourselves the gods we ought to be (VIII.7).  All told, while we should neglect neither the body nor the soul in our lives, we should focus on the development of the soul as our primary task and the development of the body as a secondary (but still as necessary) task, or as a co-equal task in the process of perfecting the soul.

Going back a bit, “soul, without Nous, is inert”, meaning it has no motion, no impetus, no drive.  After all, just as God has no means to sense since there is nothing outside God to sense (VIII.2), the soul without body has no means to move since there is nothing to move.  Thus, it is motionless, incapable of doing anything.  “Once a soul has entered [a human] body, [the soul] will acquire Nous”; once the soul gains a body, it gains the ability to move and a source from which motion is derived.  This is the soul-Nous that comes with soul, not the divine Nous that we have to strive for with Logos (VIII.4).  So, before a soul ever gets to a body, it has no Nous, though it still exists within Nous; then, once it joins with a body, it is given Nous.  But if a soul already has Nous before entering the body, then it has already acquired it and does not get an “extra portion” of Nous: “[the soul] which does not require [Nous], goes out such as it had entered”.  This means that the soul has already been joined to a body before, and has already been given Nous, yet the soul is going to another body; thus, the soul has left one body and goes to another.  This statement implies reincarnation or transmigration of souls, which fits with hints from before about souls perfecting themselves through bodies.

To begin with, however, “every soul, before entering the body, is deprived of Nous”.  Then, “Nous joins it from the body”; note that soul-Nous is not simply given to the soul from Nous, but from the body.  The body is crucial to the soul’s development, and is the basis for soul-Nous to even be present.  Just as the world is in God and Man is in the world (VII.5), so too is God in the world, since “everything is within man” (IX.4).  God is in itself, too, but the soul is only intelligible and not sensible, though still lacking God in itself.  The soul must be mixed with the body in the essence of Man in order to be given soul-Nous; only then can it “eventually [become] endowed with Nous”.  There doesn’t appear to be any difference between different disembodied or unembodied souls, though once a soul has been mixed with the essence of Man, it gains the capacity for Nous in a way that other souls do not; the soul undergoes a fundamental difference.  To use alchemical terms, this makes the material world and the body the crucible within which the actions and reactions of spiritual “materials” interact with each other to refine themselves, using the body as the base stratum of material.  Through refinement and perfection, incorporating true knowledge of the world, ourselves, and God, the prima materia of the alchemists is transformed into the purest gold and leaves the Caput Mortum behind, the end result and Great Work of the alchemists, the Magnum Opus of the magician.

Still, this process isn’t easy, and can be easily set back. “That soul which has gone out of the human body has got an ill memory”; we know from before that the soul “will not know the beings outside the body” (VI.2), but now we see that there’s more at stake here.  “Soul, even covered with the body, is forced to remember its unforgetfulness”.  This is a little unclear, but keep in mind that memory is the retaining of knowledge and the ability to access it later on in time.  Knowledge is God; by remaining in knowledge, we remain in God.  By forgetting knowledge, we leave God.  Thus, by remembering our unforgetfulness, we remember our tendency to always be in knowledge/God, and so remember who and what we truly are as Man.  While we may not yet be unforgetful, we still have unforgetfulness.  This is what our immortality (at least in part) consists of.

Of course, that’s not all we are.  As Man, we have two natures, the immortal and mortal, and also the unforgetful and the forgetful.  Our eternal knowledge and union with God is our immortality and also our unforgetfulness; thus, our mortality and forgetfulness is our live and death as a living bodily creature.  Neither of these things is either the body’s or the soul’s pristine form, however: “one change is unforgetful and another change brings about forgetfulness”.  The bestowing of Nous upon the soul gives it unforgetfulness; the death of the body around the soul brings about forgetfulness.  We must choose immortality and Nous to never forget who we are; to choose mortality and the body, “to treat the body well [over the soul”, brings about forgetfulness, a lack of knowledge, and the “perdition” of V.2.

“Never revel in recovery mode”

One of my favorite songs of all time is “Not that Big” by Temposhark featuring Imogen Heap, specifically the Metronomy mix.

I was first acquainted with it a few years ago when I was in my first real relationship, which had its definite high and abysmal points.  It brings up a good number of memories; rather, it has a lot of memories, feelings, thoughts, and sensations that it picked up as I listened to it back then.  I’m sure everyone knows the feeling of a particular song associated with a stage or part of their life, and I’m the same way.  Some songs are associated with happy times, others with sad times, and others with really important or pivotal stages in my life that really got me to where I am today.

One specific memory that this song brings up is walking past the front of one of the major academic/administrative buildings at my college (before they went and had another delayed construction project nearby, so there was still a massive parking lot in front of the building across the road and the sidewalk was a ribbon of asphalt).  It was at night, probably sometime in the late winter or early spring since I was dressed a little warmly.  The streetlamps were shining, giving everything up the hill where the building sat a dull underglow and everything below in the parking lot a bright orange glare.  The stars were out, and not many people were, so it was probably a weeknight and around 11 or something.  I remember walking past the building listening to this song on my third-gen iPod (before Apple got all touchscreeny) and not much else save for the distant hums of cars driving a few blocks away towards the town’s medical center and Main Street.

It was on that sidewalk that night that I was thinking about the relationship I was in with this one boy, who had also introduced me to the song.  Things were going mighty shittily, and I had started to make up my mind that it really wasn’t a great relationship to stay in.  We had already broken up once (with significant amounts of drama) then gotten back together (with yet more drama and much eye-rolling from all the people who knew what was going on).  There wasn’t much good in sticking around, and he was a good guy but it was doing much more against me than for me.  The song, I felt, was applicable.  Still is, in a lot of ways, so it’s taught me a fair lesson or two since I first listened to it.

For me at least, you can see how something as simple as a song can bring up a fair bit of memory and sensation.  Sometimes, especially when it’s from a pivotal or important part of my life, these memories can be completely immersive, with everything being reseen, reexperienced, and refelt.  Songs like this afford a pretty good opportunity to talk to yourself from the past and see what was going on, or what the hell you were thinking.  The more immserive the sensations from the song are, the better, and it’s easy to see why.

Being able to visualize clearly and really put yourself back in that spot helps you relive that time and experience what was going on, from the chilled breeze on your face to the stress in your heart.  With that experience, you can put yourself back into the timeline of things and know what’s happened and what is going to happen, something not afforded you at that point in time unless you’re mad prophetic.  With that sort of “foreknowledge” at the time, and a bit of detachment, you can really see a little clearly in what was going to happen and what should have happened with a bit more thinking or planning.  With a bit of detachment, knowing that this is really only a memory, you can analyze what was going on and what was going wrong, and give yourself a chance at consoling yourself meaningfully.  It can kinda be a means of healing or lesson-learning for events or situations that weren’t great, and it can be a powerful tool when used as a kind of pathworking or scrying during meditation.  (I realize that better situations in life don’t have as much negativity associated with them, but I’m sure things could always be reigned in or learned from again).

Besides, as the song says, “I’m gonna pick myself up and put myself together, never revel in recovery mode”.  Life, as it always has and always will, goes on.  Move on.  You’ve lived that, and now it’s time to live this.  Pick up any stray pieces, put back together any broken ones, and get to Work.