Heavenly Thoughts

I don’t recall which grade it was, probably late elementary school or sometime in middle school, but I recall one time riding the bus with the rest of my classmates from some field trip or another.  Middle of the day, clear bright weather.  There I am, my usual introverted child self, maybe some age between like 9 and 12, sitting by the window starting outside watching the landscape go past—and there I am, thinking my thoughts as I was, and it struck me:

Gosh, the sky is big.

Which, like…duh.  I asked the kid next to me (I’ve long since forgotten who) if they ever thought about how big the sky was, to which they give a (in hindsight utterly predictable) answer of pure confusion and dismissal, a combined “no” and “duh”.  I shrugged off their reply and went back at staring out the window.  I don’t remember anything else about that trip, or even what grade it was, but I remember the sudden childlike awe that struck me when it dawned on me how immeasurably huge the sky is.

Which is weird, right?  I mean, there hasn’t been a single day in my life that I haven’t seen the sky.  Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s cloudy; sometimes I see the Sun, other times the Moon, other times only stars (and even then, maybe more or fewer depending on light pollution).  Somedays I go outside with the sky directly overhead, other days I stay inside and see it from my window, but there has never been a single day I can recall where I haven’t seen the sky once.  It’s always there, it’s always been there, and it always will be there.  It stretches from east to west and from north to south, a complete 360° circle, forming the illusion of a complete and total dome around the boundary of the horizon.  And yet, for some reason, in this one bizarre moment, I only realized just then how big the sky actually is.

And yet, every now and then, in the intervening years, it’ll dawn on me all over again, with almost the same impact as it did the first time.  As it did earlier today while I was taking an afternoon walk around my neighborhood.

Thinking back on it, and all the times I remember that instance and all the times I get hit with it, I realize now what actually triggered it.  Sometimes I’ll be lying on my back on the ground staring up at the sky, but that isn’t what trigger it (although, if you trick your brain, you can kinda make it feel like you’re stuck to some sort of ceiling facing a bottomless pit, which is neat, too).  What triggered this realization was, sitting on that older kind of school bus with the plain seats and cheap industrial interior, the fact that I was staring at the sky from a window—and realizing that the sky exceeded the frame of the window itself.

Intellectually, of course, I knew that the sky would go past the boundaries of a single small window (it literally exceeds all boundaries!), but I think what I realized in that moment was that the sky could not be bounded, could not be contained, and just staring out the window with a bit of tired-relaxed-eye vision to see both the sky and the window through which I saw it helped me come to that realization.  Whether or not the window is just one of a series and you’re just looking through a single pane, or whether it’s a single window in a wall, the sky will always fill the window, and just keep going past it.  Heck, you could look up outside at the sky between the tops of trees on a street, or the sky between tall buildings in an alleyway, and you’ll see the same thing: there is nothing that could ever actually limit the sky.  It just keeps going, well past the point where you yourself can see it.

It’s like…consider your own eyesight.  You have your field of view, and while some people have better peripheral vision (things outside the direct center of your sight) than others, everyone has limits to their field of view.  Now, dear reader, if you’ll indulge me in a bit of an exercise: consider your own field of view.  Become aware of the limits of your sight, how far you’re able to look from left to right and top to bottom, with one or both eyes.  You don’t need to move your eyes or anything, just relax your eyes slightly and just…become aware of your whole field of vision.

Now try to look past that, say, further to your right than your right eye actually can see.  Don’t try to move your eyes to the right, but just try to look further to the right than what you’re actually seeing in your field of view.  Look to the right into the space where you can’t look anymore.

Feels weird, right?  Almost like a paradox; your eyes aren’t designed for that, even from at the level of your own skin right down to the level of your optical nerves.  How can you see anything when you literally don’t have the field of vision to see?  How can you look  in a direction when there’s nothing there to look?  How can you get input from a source that you are literally unequipped to receive input from?

Try it again.  Don’t move your eyes, don’t try to strain them or give yourself a headache.  Just as you became aware of your field of vision as it is, try to become aware of what is outside your field of vision.  Perhaps just start with the area to the right outside your field of vision like before, or (if you’re bold) the whole area outside your entire field of vision, as if you were looking backwards while facing forwards.

Your brain is probably racing at this point, trying to figure out what sort of image to supply there for something that literally has no image.  For most people, it’ll be whirling around in a confusion, since you’re trying to tell it to do something that it naturally knows what to do normally but it’s operating in an undefined area here.  Should you just perceive an inky blackness, a void devoid of any image at all?  Should you perceive static, like a TV disconnected from any input cable?  Should you perceive what you know is actually outside your field of view, mentally constructing it from memory rather than from sense of sight?  Should you perceive the inside of your own flesh and skull, veins and tendons and all?

That feeling you get from trying to look past your own field of view is the same kind of feeling I get about the sky in general.  Just as with the limitations on your field of view, where you can just turn to see a bit more to the left or right or up or down depending on how you turn, you can just look out the window a bit more from a different angle, or poke your head out and crane your neck to get a bigger view of the sky to see more of it.  But there will always be parts you can’t see, parts you know are there, but the perception of which—the mere feeling of the perception of which—simply exceed your capacity to perceive.

And, again, that makes sense; of course the sky would do that, because it’s the sky.  But I think what stuck with me then, and what continues to stick with me now, is the sheer feeling of Unlimitedness that this is all so intimately bound up with.  Interminability, infinity, immeasurability, boundlessness, endlessness—these are all things that the sky is perhaps one of the best, most physical, and most immediately accessible representations of these notions that we have.  Unlike any building we might inhabit, any land we might tread, any sea we might sail, any road we might walk, any depth we might plumb, there is nothing on this planet that is as unlimited as the sky itself is.  And, when you think about it, that’s just the 2D spatial qualities of it; when you consider that there is nothing on this planet that has lasted as long as the sky has, or will have lasted as long as the sky will, taking any temporal bounds as a “windowframe” of time as it were, then the sky becomes even more daunting.  And, going back to the spatial qualities of it, even if you were to just consider the sky as some sort of 2D dome above the Earth based on its appearance to us, it’s technically just “the whole of the rest of space”, so if you consider it as a 3D domain, then it’s also extends infinitely above you in every direction, too.

There is nothing that can bound, limit, frame, or contain the sky.  Try as you might, you will fail—because the sky is what bounds, limits, frames, and contains all things.

When we talk about things associated with the sky, there are several terms we can use, each of which has a fascinating etymological origin:

  • “sky”, from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kewH- “to cover, to conceal” (cognate with Latin obscurus)
  • “heaven”, from Proto-Germanic *hibin-, perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *kem- “to cover” or from *h₂éḱmō “stone” to refer to the celestial vault generally
  • “celestial”, from Latin caelum “heaven, sky”, with unclear etymological origin, but perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *kaid-slo “bright, clear” or *keh₂i-lom “whole”
  • “天” (the Chinese character for the sky, heaven, or celestial things, including weather or divine entities associated with such realms), is considered as a person with outstretched arms (大) with a level over the head (一), originally representing the round sky (囗) above a person but in addition/alternative to this as an anthropomorphic depiction of heaven as a person with a large head

In three of the examples above, there’s a notion of the sky being something covering us, like a tarp over a pile or a lid on a pot.  The sky is the “lid” of the world we’re familiar with; from our perspective, the sky is what conceals the things above it from us, but by that same token, when seen from above, the sky is what keeps us down here below separated.  In a sense, the sky is the limit of the world, that which contains us and covers us, like a tunic does a body.

But the word “celestial” above is not quite like the other.  It has a different connotation, if you consider the PIE root *keh₂i-lom “whole”, and which would render the word “celestial” indeed related to our word “whole” and thus “holy”.  While the connotations of the English words may well have existed in an earlier time in a different language (emphasis on the word “may”), it’s especially interesting when you consider the Latin word caelum as the opposite of templum “a part” (itself from PIE *temh₁ “to cut”, related to Greek τέμενος).  Sure, this word is generally used to refer to any space dedicated to a deity or to their worship (hence our modern English derivative “temple”), but when it came to the ancient Roman practice of augury, it refers to a demarcated space that an augur would mark out in the sky—a “cut-out part” as it were—in which the augur would observe any omens for interpretation.  The whole sky was not observed, but just a part of it, presumably because the observation of the whole sky was not something possible or feasible to do, especially considering the relatively limited and limiting concerns humans have about things down here.  As a parallel, consider: in ancient Greek thought, one went to a legitimate oracle of the gods for prophecy, but otherwise would piously refrain from trying to determine the events of the future (though one might still seek out advice or guidance regarding it), because only the gods were permitted to know the mind of Zeus and the inner workings of Fate, and even then, such a mind could not be known in full, but only particular thoughts.

There, again, we see a notion of limits—and that makes sense for us as human beings, doesn’t it?  By our very nature, we are finite creatures, and we can’t really deal well with infinity all that well.  I’m reminded of the distinction in Islamic conceptions of infinite time (courtesy of Andrew Chumbley’s Qutub) between azal and abad.  In this context, azal is defined as “eternity a parte ante” or “eternity without a beginning”, and abad as its counterpart of “eternity a parte post” or “eternity without an end”.  As human beings, we naturally have only our own frame of reference to understand abstract concepts, and the most immediate frame of reference for discussing matters of time is the present moment.  In this light, azal is the whole infinity of the past up until this moment, while abad is the whole infinity of time from this moment into the future.  We can look in either direction well enough, but trying to look at both at the same time to consider one infinity unbounded in both directions at once is…challenging.  Sure, we might be able to accept the existence of time as something without beginning and without end, both agenēton and ateleuton, but trying to actually comprehend that is a different matter.  In astrological terms, it’d be like trying to join together the North and South Nodes of the Moon together to see what their conjunction would be like; they are, by definition, opposites of each other.  It’s just the same with azal and abad—and perhaps fittingly so, as they both have conjectured Persian origins meaning “without head (start)” and “without foot (end)”, respectively, just how the North Node is the “head of the dragon” (but without a body, as in Rahu) and how the South Node is the “tail of the dragon” (but without a head, as in Ketu).  It’s only through limitation, because we’re ourselves finite, that we can’t easily approach unlimitedness.

And yet, that very notion of unlimitedness is what so many of us in this mystical stuff seek.  I mean, from the Corpus Hermeticum, consider Hermēs’ vision of Poimandrēs revelation of the “the archetypal form, the preprinciple that exists before a beginning without end” in CH I.7:

After he said this, he looked me in the face for such a long time that I trembled at his appearance. But when he raised his head, I saw in my mind the light of powers beyond number and a boundless cosmos that had come to be. The fire, encompassed by great power and subdued, kept its place fixed. In the vision I had because of the discourse of Poimandrēs, these were my thoughts.

Or again when Nous tells Hermēs how to understand God in CH XI.20:

Thus, unless you make yourself equal to God, you cannot understand God; like is understood by like. Make yourself grow to immeasurable immensity, outleap all body, outstrip all time, become eternity and you will understand God. Having conceived that nothing is impossible to you, consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing. Go higher than every height and lower than every depth. Collect in yourself all the sensations of what has been made, of fire and water, dry and wet; be everywhere at once, on land, in the sea, in heaven; be not yet born, be in the womb, be young, old, dead, beyond death. And when you have understood all these at once—times, places, things, qualities, quantities—then you can understand God.

In these examples, we have Hermēs confronting (or being told to confront) the very notion of divinity in all its unlimitedness, in all its boundlessness.  In the former example, this is the revelation of Divinity itself; in the latter example, this is the way to be understand it.  It is so unlike anything else we might understand, given how we’re so finite—or, rather, are accustomed to finitude and limits, even if our limits are all within this grand infinity.  After all, the sky stops being a sky once you’re no longer on Earth; then it just becomes space, same as everywhere here.  Once you no longer have sky, you no longer have a separation between world and not-world, inner space and outer space.  It all just becomes…well, it doesn’t become anything, doesn’t it?  It’s rather that the barrier just falls down: it’s a revelation, an uncovering, and in this case, the sky itself is the covering.  At that point, you’re no longer gawking at the limitations that unlimitedness breaks, because there’s no limits there to gauge “limit” or “limitless” anymore.  You just…are, as something with and in and of the totality of everything.

I know this post is a little weird and rambly, but as I said earlier, I occasionally turn to that childlike thought in my childhood of being in awe at how big the sky was.  In considering what it meant and exploring that line of thinking a bit, it reminded me of an important aspect of this mystical stuff that I’ve been exploring more as part of my Hermeticism.  Maybe I haven’t been particularly adept at expressing it, but realizing how used we are to limits in general and realizing how limitlessness can be an aspect of Divinity—and, moreover, how easily it is to behold that limitlessness, and how weird it is to actually experience it—is something I think is a crucial reminder of what it is we’re in this for.  After all, as Nous told Hermēs, we need to get on God’s level in order to understand God.

Remember that little experiment from above, about trying to see outside your field of vision?  Maybe I could make up for the rambling of this post with leaving you a little meditative exercise that builds on that, and which also relates to the imagery of the sky.  As with most meditative exercises, get yourself into a good posture, relax yourself, and regulate your breathing however you normally do so.  Once you’re ready, consider: see yourself sitting as I was, on a school bus seat, looking out the window at the sky.  Take a good look out the window—what do you see?  Trees, cars, people walking their dogs, construction crews?  Always find the sky behind and covering them all, and fix your focus on the sky.  Contemplate how it covers, surrounds, and exceeds anything else you see, wherever else you see it.  Mentally extend how big the sky must be in your mind, not just in one direction but in all directions.  Dwell in that feeling of Bigness, letting it wash away and drown out all else that you saw before.

But, later on, once you’re ready after giving the above a few attempts, consider this instead: see yourself as a single point on Earth, wherever you fancy yourself, and look up at the sky above you.  See the limits of your own perception of the sky: is it a window, or the horizon, or the clouds, or your glasses-frames, or the limits of your field of vision?  Slowly take away each limit you come across to behold more and more of the sky, even unto the whole Earth itself if you have to, even your own body if you have to, so that all you observe is a clear sky in a perfect sphere all around you.  Once you get to that, start removing the very sky itself outwards, removing each layer of the atmosphere from your central vantage point, going outwards and outwards and ever outwards, all to see what continues to lie beyond.  Once you get to the point where you’re observing the entire observable universe all as one thing—well, what then?  Work on your own mental “field of vision”; what are you not perceiving yet, what lies outside your field of imagination (just like how you were trying to look to the right of your own field of vision above)?  Strip away your own perceptive and imaginative limits, strip away the thing even doing the perceiving itself, strip away the very thing stripping the notions of limits—and then dwell therein.

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?