A Break in the Threads

So, I had a few thoughts to myself lately on what I’ve been doing, where I stand, and the like, especially with regards to the whole lot of nothing I can account for these past…what, seven? ten? months.  I figure that I can use this, too, as a learning experience and gain from it, and if I can learn from it, I can write about it.  Besides, it’s not like I’ve been wearing you, dear reader, out with an endless stream of posts these past few moons.  I apologize that this is something of a navel-gazing whinefest, but it’s something that, perhaps, some of my readers could use.  While the burnt hand teaches best for some (e.g. myself), I’d rather those who can learn from the examples of others do so from me.

I don’t know where to really begin or even how to really discuss it, but I suppose I could always start with a list and give a rough chronological order of things.  Mind you, I plan on being vague about a few events, but it should give you an outline of the magnitude of things.

  1. Back in October 2014, despite a few of the good things that happen, there were other things happening beneath the surface.  Things for me and mine got really rough and there was a massive falling-out.  There was isolation, there was drama, and there were tears.  I personally got really knocked off-balance, and even to this day am still trying to get my bearings back.
  2. In early November, some of the problems of the preceding month had been cleared up; perhaps fittingly, everything in October happened during a Mercury retrograde, and as soon as Mercury went direct again, things started picking up and being picked up and put back together.  Some of the breaks were mended, but only some; mutual animosity, as well as righteous indignation and asshattery, had permanently assured me that some breaks were permanent.  Good for that.
  3. In late November, I performed what was intended to be an empowerment ritual using a well-known, lengthy psalm which had some massive and unanticipated side-effects.  This opened my life up to amazing and awesome new people, but at the same time, dredged up a sealed Pandora’s box of emotional what-the-fuckery I thought I had sealed and buried for good a long time ago.  Still, if even King Solomon couldn’t permanently seal the demons of the Lemegeton Goetia in a brass vessel under the sea, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected any differently.  Some of those personal demons are still hanging around and lingering at the corners of my eyes, and the only way I can face them now is head-on; how is still yet to be determined.
  4. In December, my partner and I took two steps towards being together in the eyes of God, gods, and men: not only did we exchange our rings in our engagement, but I started playing Final Fantasy XIV, a massively multiplayer online RPG which is frickin’ awesome.
  5. In February 2015, I undertook my first major initiation in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which significantly changed my outlook on more than a few topics personal and magical, not to mention completely thrashed my energetic and spiritual state of being for at least one solid weekend and, to a lesser extent, several weeks afterward.
  6. In early July, between visits from a good magical colleague of mine, an upcoming party, and a rather busy week at work, out of whimsy, I remembered one of the holiest acts I as a human and magos can do: the Hymns of Silence.  Even briefly, standing outside on my patio smoking a cigarette in the work week on a humid summer night, that little shadow of an echo of a resonance caught me off-guard and…broke something in me, something that really needed to be broken, something that needed to be snapped.  It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t sharp, it wasn’t painful; it was like taking out an extraneous support beam that didn’t need to be there.  I’m not even sure “broke” is the right word.  Starting about this point, I abruptly put a hold on playing FFXIV, feeling burnt out due to repetition in the game as well as personal drama with the group I play with.
  7. In the transition between late July and early August, I accepted a new job position within my current office, one which has great potential for my career, personal development, and (most awesome and utilitarian) income.  This is causing some changes in my routine and how I approach people, as having to start a new job (even in a familiar environment) is going to cause me to be hyperaware of certain elements in myself and around me.  Plus, now that I won’t be able to work from home for several months at minimum, I’ll need to develop a better routine to keep me in shape and in line.

So that’s about where I stand.  Not exactly the most epic of journeys, but every road has its flat and boring stretches, I suppose.

What I want to focus on here is the effect that playing FFXIV was having on me, especially now that I’ve been divorced of it for a few weeks now.  I admit, I enjoy the company and interaction of the people I play with, and the world of Eorzea that Square-Enix built up for us to play in is beautifully crafted and exceedingly well-done, and I miss hanging out with my free company and our antics.  That said, what’s been interesting, and something that I’ve noticed more and more as of late, is that I can pretty solidly say that I was relying on FFXIV for more things than just entertainment for…pretty much eight months of my life.  To be fair, I think I needed it; shit was getting too heavy even for me to healthily deal with, and I needed an escape.

So escape I did, and took a break from the rest of the shit that was going on around me.  In those eight months, I’ve done fuck-all.  Sure, I’ve kept up with commissions for crafts and divination readings, taught my students as I’ve agreed to do, and led or undergone a few rituals here and there, but I can’t say with any level of honesty that I’ve been active in my magical life.  I haven’t bothered with pretty much any of the tasks I set for myself to accomplish at the start of 2015, I haven’t kept up with my prayers or offerings, and when I have gone into my temple room, it’s usually to get something for myself instead of actually doing Work.  I’ve ended up putting on a few more pounds than I had, and the Quimbanda tronco I built on my own based on ley-person guidance has been shut and more-or-less ignored only right after I built it.  I’ve barely even kept up with blogs on my RSS feed and haven’t really been active with other magicians besides the occasional theory or theology discussion with friends, and as you may have noticed, I’ve barely had anything to say on my own blog.

I’ve completely wasted my time pursuing simple antics of fun and relaxation, which even sometimes produced problems on its own accord, in a made-up world not of my own creation, obeying its own sets of rules that I have willingly submitted myself to. Dear reader, take note: if you have even a barest glimmer of Hermetic or Gnostic cosmology and anthropogony, or if you’ve read some of my metaphors for human existence in the Hermetic worldview before, you can see the conundrum.  This world is beautiful, but also incredibly seductive; our true origin is not here, but Elsewhere, in the All.  And yet, not only have I forgotten that much on an intellectual level, I’ve even gone so far as to forget myself in this world and get lost in a tinier, even more beautiful and seductive world, forgetting even my incarnate origin and work in this world.  But hey, at least I can see that now, and I can treat the world of Eorzea in the archonic grip of Square-Enix as the fun side-show it really is.

What’s peculiar is that I still haven’t gotten my bearings straight yet after several weeks.  Rather, instead of just replacing my work in FFXIV with my Work in the cosmos, which is what I’d like to claim and what would intellectually make sense to do, I’ve just kinda been…adrift.  I’ve been experiencing what might be seen as symptoms of addiction withdrawal (as MMORPGs tend to cause in certain people), or what might be seen as depression: lack of energy to do things, general thoughtlessness, increased sleep (which would normally be a blessed thing), unwillingness to focus on the tasks before me, yada yada.  It’s almost embarrassing, but now I’m starting to see my situation with clearer eyes than I’ve had in months: I lost the threads of my Work and haven’t picked them up again.  I’ve picked up other threads to fill the gap in time, but now that I’ve dropped those, I haven’t yet picked up the new threads of my Work.  Call it a lull, or a change in direction where the mere act itself of looking in another direction is taking a long time.  The fact is that I have not yet given myself anything to substantially and substantively Do to fill this void of time and energy, and it’s taking its toll on me and driving me into another, different unhealthy place.

I lost the threads I once wove, and I’ve been struggling to find a new one to pick up and start weaving again.  But, in a tapestry, there are countless threads with which to work, even if it’s just tying a few of them them up for good.

Recently, I picked up one thread I had lost a ways back.  Some of you may remember that I developed an interest in astragalomancy, or Greek knucklebone divination, late last year after I finally got a book on the subject.  Yes, it still is an interest of mine, but memorizing all 56 oracular verses proved more difficult than I had anticipated, and given the knockings-around I’ve had, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I wasn’t going to memorize them anytime soon.  Still, I didn’t want to lug the book around with me just for reference, so I got myself a tiny little black journal, about the size of my palm, that I wanted to copy all the verses into so I could have an enchiridion, a handbook of sorts, I could consult at will.  I planned on copying verses into it during the downtimes I had in the office, but either found myself too busy or just too lazy to do so.  Recently, I decided (while working at home, no less!) to finally copy down those last…gosh, more than half of the verses that I hadn’t touched in months.  And, even though it’s such a minor task of copying down words from one medium into another, it…it was good.  Even the most basic and elementary of activities, picking up a book and just copying notes out of it, made me feel a little satisfied with things.

Even the smallest thread can act as a sturdy rope, if it’s all you’ve got.  And you need something to hold onto and climb up in order to get out of a pit, however deep.

I have many shelves of books on astrology, divination, magic, religion, and cult.  I have a temple room filled with idols and offering cups and magical tools of great power.  I live on a land filled to bursting with life and spirits.  I have friends, colleagues, and teachers both in the physical and online who surround me, showing me countless possibilities of work and the rich rewards thereof.  Shit, I have my own destiny and path to walk, and sitting on a bench beside the road playing chess is not getting me anywhere, especially when I haven’t set up a tent to keep me out of the rain or a fire to cook food.  Me neglecting my Work is not only disrespectful to the spirits, angels, gods, and saints that I’ve called on before, it’s disrespectful to my friends and students and others who look to me and check up on me, and it’s disrespectful to myself and my own well-being.  I know I have shit to do, and I know I have projects waiting for me, and I know I have places to go and things to do.

It’s time I’ve picked up a few of those dangling threads again.  Who knows?  Maybe, in the mess I left for myself, I’ll find a few of those that I dropped.

On Confusing Geomantic Charts and Geomantic Competency

I started studying geomancy in college, and I was blessed to go to a university with a huge library and good connections.  I’ll always fondly remember hauling my ass to the Old Stacks on grounds, and walking up the claustrophobic submarine-esque stairwell to get to the parapsychology and occult aisles, and finding tomes of occult knowledge from a variety of traditions across the world, including geomancy (which was often mixed up with feng shui manuals written in Classical Chinese and Korean as well as African divination that was only tangentially related).  Of these books, I have to credit Stephen Skinner and his out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy with really getting me started in my research.  His up-to-date version of the book Geomancy in Theory and Practice is something every geomancer should have in their library; it’s a wealth of knowledge on the historical development and context of geomancy, as well as some of the major names in geomantic history dating back to its earliest mythological Arabic roots.

However, as I’ve come to learn and practice geomancy over the years, I’ve realized that Skinner’s book on geomancy has its major shortcomings.  The book is far better a history on geomancy than it is a guide to practicing it, and what little there is on actual practice is focused on a very late Golden Dawn-style of geomancy.  This isn’t bad per se, but it doesn’t draw on all the research Skinner has done in Arabic and European geomancy, especially all the new texts that have come to light since the publication of Terrestrial Astrology in 1980.  It’s one technique in particular that Skinner describes that I take major issue with, and it’s based on a fundamental issue with geomantic practice that I find to really hinder geomantic practice.  Skinner says that the Sentence, also known as the 16th figure or the Reconciler or superjudge, should only be used as a last resort if the Judge and the rest of the chart is unclear:

Who could ask for greater clarity?  If the answer were ambiguous, don’t forget that you could always resort to that back-stop, the Reconciler (figure XVI), which is formed by ‘adding’ together figures I and XV, that is, the first Mother and the Judge.  However, don’t form a Reconciler if you have already got a satisfactory answer, as this is rude persistence in the face of a perfectly adequate reply by the oracle!

The idea behind this is that the Sentence is “extra” and not needed by a geomancer except when the chart is confusing, and shouldn’t be part of the normal reading process.  As I’ve come to practice the art, I find the Sentence is always something to examine and is crucial to forming a complete answer.  In Arabic traditions, the Sentence is called “the result of the result”; if the Judge is the result of the query and how the situation resolves itself, then the Sentence is the effect of the resolution on the querent and how things go from there.  In other words, I treat the Sentence as a long-term post-mortem retrospective view on the situation and see how the querent will be effected by everything that happens, and it completes the chart by giving us a final sixteenth figure to round everything out from beginning to the end and afterwards.

The notion of using the Sentence to clarify the Judge does the role of the Sentence a severe injustice, since it belittles this noble figure way too much.  While the Judge does, of course, take precedence in giving an answer to the query, the Sentence is vital in seeing how things continue even after the situation comes to a close and gives us a final view on how the querent will be personally affected by the situation.  This differs from the rest of the chart, which describes what happens or how things happen.  To say that the Sentence is to be used as a “back-stop” doesn’t accurately describe the role of this figure, and to say that it should only be used in the case of a confusing chart is to insult it when it’s far more useful than that in every chart.

It gets worse, though.  Behind this technique of using the Sentence as a last-resort clarification to the Judge in the case of a confusing chart is the underlying notion that a geomantic chart can be too confusing to interpret with the usual methods and one must use “extra” figures in order to make sense of the thing.  I cannot overstate my disagreement with this notion, so let me make my point clear:

In a well-constructed geomantic reading, the symbols are always correct.  It is up to the geomancer to make sense of the symbols and soundly interpret the chart.  The chart in a geomantic reading is not wrong on its own, but the interpretation of the geomancer will be correct or incorrect depending on their own competency.  If a chart in a geomantic reading cannot be interpreted, the fault lies with the geomancer and not the chart.

When I say “well-constructed”, I don’t mean a chart that is drawn up correctly (though that is a necessary condition of a reading that is constructed properly).  I also mean that the reading is performed in a proper mindset: a clear, detached mind that isn’t afflicted by taxing concerns or worries.  The reading should also be performed when the geomancer isn’t physically afflicted with illness that would cause distraction, and other distractions to the geomantic process should also be minimized: the reading should be done when the weather isn’t violent or otherwise bad, in a place that is not moving (i.e. don’t do a reading in a moving vehicle), in a place that is relatively calm and peaceful, without obstruction from outside influences including spiritual adversaries or an unethical reader that stacks the deck or manipulates the generation of the Mothers or a person working maleficia against you to mess with your divinatory skill, and so forth.  This also includes heeding the usual warnings of Rubeus or Cauda Draconis appearing as the First Mother, though how one takes that warning is dependent on tradition.  These are all crucial things to be aware of, and while mental clarity and stability can neutralize many of these concerns ranging from a raging storm to raging emotions, they should all be heeded to construct a reading in the best possible way.

Assuming you’ve heeded the weather and your own well-being, the chart is going to have all the information you need to answer the query.  However, while the chart gives you the figures to interpret, it’s still going to be the geomancer alone who develops the interpretation.  This is where geomancy turns from a mathematically-rigorous technical practice into a spiritually-refined oracular art, and this is where things like intuition, emotional understanding, and perspective come into play.  If what the geomancer says is wrong, then it’s not the chart’s fault that the reading went wrong; the blame for an incorrect interpretation lies solely with the geomancer.  It’s up to the geomancer to give a proper interpretation of the figures; and that requires the geomancer to be competent in their knowledge of the figures and the techniques of geomancy.  You do not need to relegate certain figures to be last-resort interpretive methods, nor do you need to add the Sentence to the four Mothers to get another set of Mothers to draw up a new chart that can potentially be clearer than the first; you don’t need any other figures besides the first set you got.

This notion of a chart being too confusing to read is, as I understand it, an excuse for an incompetent geomancer who lacks the finesse to put together the pieces of the geomantic puzzle before them into a coherent interpretation.  Sometimes charts will be hard to read, and this is to be expected when we have only 16 figures to represent all of the myriad myriad things in the cosmos; however, I can solidly say that there has never been a chart constructed properly that was wrong in my own practice.  I’ve had a number of readings go awry with incorrect interpretations abound, but hindsight is 20/20 and I can always point out what went wrong after the fact and see how I could have interpreted the chart better.  It might take me five minutes to develop an interpretation for a chart or it might take me five hours, but there is no such thing as a chart that is too confusing to read.

As a result, I find this notion of having techniques to resolve a confusing chart to come from a very bad understanding of geomancy, since it pushes the blame of not being able to read a chart from the geomancer to geomancy itself.  This is not the case, and never has been!  If you’re not competent enough to properly read a chart, then become competent with more practice and trial-and-error.  It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to go well every single time.  That’s why we practice and build up our knowledge of the figures and techniques of geomancy, and while geomancy is an art that can take a week to pick up and start practicing with good results, it can take years and years to actually become competent at it.

Consider this from the point of view of an alchemist.  In their art, they deal with the subtle forces and changes in material components to drive spiritual changes in the world, and it’s an excruciatingly fine art and science to practice.  Some alchemical processes can take months to complete and must be performed time and time again, and not all these attempts come to success.  If an alchemist’s experiment comes to failure, it’s not alchemy that was at fault, but the alchemist; they didn’t perform their calculations or their processes correctly, or they used the wrong set of materials, or they did things at the wrong time or in the wrong state.  To say that it’s alchemy itself that doesn’t work is, quite simply, wrong, and no alchemist would say such a thing of their art.  For us to say that about geomancy is misguided at best and hypocritical at worst.  Don’t do it.

If the chart is confusing, it’s because you’re the one confused.  While it’s lamentable, it’s not irreparable; there are plenty of things you can do to resolve a “confusing” chart that don’t involve these problematic techniques.  Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try looking at the chart from another perspective.  Think more deeply about the query put to the chart, and see if there’s something you missed in an assumption you made or if there’s something you aren’t aware of when the query was asked.  See if you missed something in your understanding of the techniques or the symbols in geomancy, if you misapplied a particular technique, or if you’re using the wrong set of meanings for a particular symbol.  Consider your own state of being and that of the land and area around you to see if there are negative influences surrounding the reading.  If you need to, take a nap and sleep on the chart for a bit (literally or otherwise) and come back to it later.  If, even after looking at the chart from every angle, you still can’t come to a satisfactory answer, wait at least a day and draw up a new chart for the same query, but save the old one for reference to compare results later.

Over time, competency will come, but it’s up to you to work on it.  There are no shortcuts and there are no substitutes for this.  Trying to make your life easier by geomantically begging the question with “clarification” techniques does neither you nor geomancy any favors.  Research the techniques; meditate on the meanings; practice the process.  That’s the real way to resolve confusing charts.

On Maintaining Tradition

Not too long ago, I read on one of my friends’ Facebook walls a particular quote that I find profound and worthy of committing to memory:

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.  All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.  Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

After the past few posts about how to downsize magic on a budget to what you can manage, it’s probably easy to think that I’m cheering for doing away with tradition and institutionalized forms of magic in occulture in favor of an easier, cheaper route.  Don’t think that I’m supporting this; I mentioned throughout these same posts that, when possible, doing things by the book is important and worth the effort and cost, and if you can afford to do something fancier, you should.  If you can’t but really still need to do something, and if you know the logic and framework of the system you’re trying to change well enough, then doing things in a faster, cheaper, or more streamlined way can also work to more-or-less the same ends, especially if you’re willing to make up for the difference in cost with more ritual work or if you can rely on already-established spiritual contacts.

Not too long ago, I was recently initiated into a religion that places a huge amount of emphasis on tradition.  Not just ritual protocols and songs, though those are hugely important, but even the small things like how to ask questions, how to treat certain ritual objects on a weekly basis, and the like.  Even the smallest details are often the hinge upon which something is done, and changing these things wantonly is a huge no-no against the people and household who initiated me.  While eventually I might be able to experiment and listen to the spirits with whom we work and find ways that work better for me, those times are yet far off and I have much to learn, and there’s no guarantee I can or should find my own way to work.

However, our tradition is just that, our own, and even closely-associated houses within the same overarching religion might have vastly different ways of doing particular things.  Does this make them wrong?  No!  As with most cultures and religions, there is no centralized or centrally-managed “correct” way to do things.  Variations are to be expected based on location, time period, and evolution within those contexts, and it’s natural to assume that what I consider right, another might consider wrong.  Is that alright?  Of course!  Just because I do something differently doesn’t make either of us wrong, so long as we’re following the traditions and working within them as we should.  That our traditions differ doesn’t mean one tradition has to be changed to suit the other.  It just means that our traditions are different and that we respect our own traditions’ validity, and respect the power of other people to maintain their own traditions.

There’s a big push in occulture, and there has been a while, based on postmodernism, Discordianism, and chaos magic theory that we can do anything we want to do and change anything we want because it’s us who’s doing the work and all that’s really powering our magic is, ultimately, us.  I find that notion half-cute and half-obscene.  For one, no, we’re not alone in the cosmos; that kind of solipsistic thinking is insulting to the others who do, in fact, exist regardless of what we think of them, be they spirit or man, alive or dead.  For another, thinking that we can do whatever the hell we want and being right in how we’re doing it regardless disregards the logic, framework, and methodology that has been built up in the traditions passed down to us, and to disregard that or, worse, to cherrypick from them

The word “tradition” literally means “that which is handed down to us”.  We call a lot of things “traditions” when, in reality, they’re no such thing; it was “tradition” at my university to streak the libraries during finals, when it was really just a meme done by one or two generations of students and people wanted to show how edgy or ballsy they were.  That’s not a tradition.  A tradition is something that has been handed down to you as a whole unit from another person, who themselves received it from another person, and so forth until a particular person had a particular revelation that needed to be passed on.  The person who gives that tradition to you is, essentially, an initiator, and you are their initiate in that tradition.  In maintaining that tradition that was given to you, you show your initiator and all their initiators respect for continuing that work, the contracts they made, the sacrifices they paid for, and living their own lives to pass that tradition on.  Thus, what Chesterton said above about tradition makes this poignantly clear to me: regardless of heeding what innovations we ourselves or others make, tradition is heeding the innovations of our ancestors and those who came before us.

Now, I’m not always a stickler for tradition.  It can on occasion be a good move to break from tradition and do things differently, and not everything that’s been passed down is always a good thing.  Sometimes our morals dictate that times have changed and so too should the things we do; sometimes changing climates, famine, war, migration, and the like prevent us from doing things the way things have been done in the past.  Sometimes our ancestors operated on inexact or incomplete knowledge and we honestly have better ways to do things now that couldn’t be done in the past.  A particular story comes to mind about how certain things are passed on that no longer need to be heeded:

A young woman is preparing a pot roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know”, she replies.  “My mother always did it that way and I learned how to cook it from her”.

Her friend’s question made her curious about her pot roast preparation.  During her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven”.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation.  When she next visited her mother in the nursing home, she asked, “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”  The mother slowly answered, thinking between sentences.  “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot”.  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”  The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.  “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned.”

Just because a tradition declares a certain method to be valid within that tradition doesn’t mean that tradition is infallible.  It just means that that’s how the tradition has codified something; should the code need to change for a good reason while keeping the tradition intact, then there’s no reason that the tradition shouldn’t be changed, though the original method and new way should both be kept in mind.  After all, the original method was made for a reason.

When learning magic or any sort of old art, it behooves us to learn the traditional way of doing things first.  I’m no fan of reading a ritual in a book and changing it outright to suit our own needs, especially without taking the time to see why that particular ritual was written that particular way in that particular book.  This is especially true when we consider a book to be a compendium of traditions with dozens, maybe hundreds of initiators’ teachings present within it, and all their cumulative experience in a particular act present in a codified, static form; the ritual is written that way for a reason, and we should strive to follow that ritual as it is presented to us before we go changing it around because we feel like we’re in the right to so do.  Hint: you’re not.  You might be in the right if you try the ritual and can change parts of it without changing the result or the effect, all while maintaining the integrity of the tradition you’re essentially buying into by following the book, but you’re not in the right to disregard parts of it outright and cherrypick the parts you like because you feel you’re important like that.

If you like, consider a tradition a “canonical” form of a particular body of knowledge and actions against which other acts can be compared.  If something follows the tradition closely or to the letter, we can call that thing traditional.  If that something changes a few things without changing the overall flow, feel, or structure, then we might call that thing an innovation within the tradition.  If that thing changes much to affect the flow and structure, even it reaches towards the same ends, then it’s no longer traditional nor does it belong in that tradition.  While none of these three things are “wrong” when trying to accomplish a particular goal, if we’re initiated into a particular tradition, we need to be very careful about what we show to others as part of that tradition.

Ultimately, in our lives and especially in our Work, we need to be concerned with what works and with what works best, but we also need to be mindful of what’s worked for those who have gone before us and what is known to work for others.  What works best for us might work only for us based on our own work, and this sort of thing inherently cannot become traditional though it may fit within an overall tradition.  What can be passed on should be passed on, generally speaking, and what’s been passed down to us should be passed down to others whenever possible, even if we no longer use it.  Even if it’s just for memory’s and veneration’s sake, tradition is valuable and can help others innovate on their own.

This is one of the reasons why I wrote those posts on doing magic cheaply on a budget.  Sure, anyone can whip up a ritual with a candle or a stick and get magic accomplished; that’s not the point.  Many people are used to working within traditions with access to rare, obscure, or precious items, and depending on where we are in our lives or what’s going on around us, we may not have the ability to carry out those traditions with the resources and tools we have available to us.  This doesn’t mean we can’t do our work that we’re used to, but it means we have to work within those traditions we’ve been taught in a way that maintains faithfulness to them while being aware of our limitations and own context.  Traditions aren’t necessarily fixed things, though it’s nice to keep them as fixed as we can.  Thus, within the Solomonic tradition, if we live in a place where hazel doesn’t grow, we can’t rightly make our wands from a wood we can’t obtain, so we need to find a wood that is available that works as well as hazel might.  If we’re too poor to make lamens from gold, we need to find another material that we can obtain.  We can still be traditional even if we’re unable to do as we were taught.

Advice for Learning a Totally Foreign System

I try to be an avid reader in my copious spare time, and I don’t mean with my ever-expanding RSS feed that aggregates occult, religious, pagan, current event, and the occasional comic blog.  My living room at home could always use more bookshelves, and of the three people in my house, I’m the one supplying over 95% of the books, because of course magicians have books.  Not all of them are on astrology, divination, conjuration, Hermeticism, or goetia, though.  I have a strong penchant for works of the realm of pure imagination, which is to say fiction books.

One of my favorite fiction books ever, and one I highly recommend anyone interested in the brand of magic I pursue, is Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle.  It appears to be out of print, but you can still find plenty of good used copies anywhere online.  Basically, the premise of the book is this: what if the world we lived in obeyed Aristotelian physics, the cosmos was geocentric with actual crystalline spheres of the planets nesting around us, and history took a drastically different turn during the reign of Alexander the Great that continued the supremacy of Athens and Sparta across the Western world for another millennium?  It’s a fantastic exercise in exploring an alternative reality and an alternative history all at once, told in the style of a first-person Homeric epic.  Besides its good story and good world-building (of which Richard Garfinkle is an expert, I claim), this is one of the essential books any Hermeticist should read at least once.

However, it’s not all about alchemy and astrology and celestial navigation, since the empire of the Delian League isn’t the only contender for world domination.  There’s also the Middle Kingdom, which some of you may recognize as a translation of 中國, referring to China, and they have their own notions of how the world works that doesn’t obey the laws of Aristotle and the alchemists.  The Delian League can’t for the life of them figure out how Middler technology works with its weird energy flows, nor can the Middle Kingdom figure out the senselessness of Delian alchemy and science.  This goes right down to some of their fundamental notions of science and philosophy that shape their entire worldview, such as the connection between science and medicine.  The Athenian Academic Aias, at one point, interrogates the rural Middler Dr. Zi about what Aias perceives to be highly advanced Middler spy communication technology:

“Why does an ordinary doctor know about this?” I asked.

“Medicine is the foundation of science.” he said in the same mechanical way I might recite Aristotle’s laws of motion.

I had seen that sentence in several texts on Taoist science but had never believed they meant it.  To our science, medicine was an offshoot of zeology, the study of life, and anthropology, the study of man.  No Academic could believe that such a minor offshoot subject could be the cornerstone from which an understanding of the world could be built. (page 158)

Later, after some fairly big conflict in the story, Aias interrogates the Taoist scientist Phan, sent on a death mission to kill Aias and sabotage his mission, about how Phan can know so much about medicine:

“Are you a doctor?” I said, recalling Dr. Zi’s peculiar claim of a connection between the whole of Middler science and their medicine.

Phan’s face wrinkled in contempt. “Certainly not.”

“Then how will you cure him?”

He switched to ‘Ellenic. “I know medicine.”

“But you said you weren’t a doctor,” I said in ‘Unan.

Phan’s black eyes lit with a sudden understanding. “A doctor only knows medicine.  A scientist must go beyond that simple beginning.  Medicine is the foundation stone of alchemy, and alchemy the foundation stone of science.” (page 256)

I see this kind of fundamental difficulty in trying to understand different occult systems replete throughout modern occulture.  We take certain fundamental axioms as truly universal and, worse, for granted based on the system we find our intellectual “home” in, and when we try to apply them to other systems that don’t share those axioms, we run into wall after wall after insurmountable wall.  Trying to apply a Celtic understanding of the world, for instance, to Egyptian metaphysics tries to combine two radically different systems that are based upon different rules and develop them differently into two radically different cosmologies.  It’s not impossible to truly learn a different system, as I’ve mentioned before several times over, but it’s hard, because we essentially have to unlearn everything and start from the ground up in a totally new land that we’re unfamiliar with.  It’s especially hard because we’re always tempted to bring a little of what we’re used to to this new land, and it often has no place right out of the box.

That said, I’ve found an easier way to go about learning a new system, and Aias describes how he became the first Academic from the Delian League to ever understand Middler science:

“We seem to be having a language problem,” I said to Phan.  “Let us start from first principles.  You know the atomic theory, of course.”

“I have seen that phrase in your books, but I have never understood it.”

“Atomic theory says that everything in the terrestrial world is made of minute pieces of earth, air, fire, and water. The material properties of an object can be changed by modifying the amount of each element it contains.”

Phan shook is head. “Anything can be in a state of earth, air, fire, water, or wood,” he said. “The ten thousand things are changed into one another by the natural flow of transformation.”

We continued to argue about basics for half an hour.  I explained that matter and form were fundamental to the behavior of objects.  He declared them to be accidents, saying that the flow and transformation of things lay at the heart of all science.  At the end of that time we had found no common ground, but we were both very thirsty… (page 250)

“I need to know more about your science,” I said to Phan.

“Tell me how to teach you,” he said.  There was a quiet glow in his dark eyes and something lay on his shoulders that made his seventy-year-old frame look younger and stronger. “If you can learn to learn, then perhaps I can as well.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I need to know your science, also,” he said, and his eyes grew brighter. “But where do we begin?”

“At the weakest point in the barrier between us,” I said.  “The walls of theory are too high; let us start with practice.  Show me your equipment.  Pretend that I am not a scientist. Pretend that I am some ignorant bureaucrat who wants an explanation of your work so he can make out reports.”

The old man smiled and bowed. “Will you do the same for me?”

“Of course.”

Over the next week, Phan and I gave each other basic introductions to the paraphernalia of our sciences.  I showed him how we used rare and dense air to create forced motion, and he showed me how gold, silver, and cinnabar placed along Xi flow could modify or control natural motion. Slowly, the dark cavern in my heart began to grow bright with a second vision of the universe, one of change and flow instead of matter and form. And as the light of practical work grew from a flickering candle to a solar beacon, it illuminated the bewildering Taoist texts I had studied over the years but had gained nothing from. (page 299)

We don’t call it the Study.

We don’t call it the Theory.

We don’t call it the Lesson.

We call it the Work, because we have to make it work.  Theory, study, and lessons aren’t enough; they’re all well and good in the abstract, but unless you can pull those things down and apply them in the real world, they get locked up in an isolated ivory tower, and they lock you up with it.

In my experience, the best way to understand how a different tradition works is to go out and see what it does.  Not what it believes or what it claims to exist, but actually what it does.  It’s the Work, the hands-on practical use and application of the tradition, that shows what it does and how it does it.  I mean, consider what the ancestors of our ancestors were doing when they first stumbled upon this stuff.  They had no preexisting theories, no cosmologies; they had the land around them and shit happening because of unseen forces.  They acted in a certain way, and the unseen forces and the land reacted in a certain manner.  It was only after they started codifying and assembling what they learned did the theories come around, and based on what each tribe of ancestors thought was most important (warmth from snow, harvesting enough fish, protection from tornadoes, warding off plague, etc.), they would have focused on different things to do, and thus the theories they developed would have been different.

Thus far in my occult life, I’ve come in contact with Santería, Palo, Quimbanda, Aztec and Mayan stuff, Celtic stuff (both neopagan and reconstructionist), Ásatrú, Thelema, esoteric Judaism, and so many other traditions both modern and ancestral.  No, they’re not all compatible to practice side-by-side.  No, they don’t agree on why the world works or what a particular entity is or whether a particular thing is ruled by a class of spirits.  No, they don’t all think the same things are important.  And you know what?  That’s all entirely okay, because what they all do is manage the bullshit we have in life.  They all manage to achieve particular ends using a particular set of techniques, and that’s what we see first and that’s what we continue with when we learn a new system.  Just because they have different and often-conflicting ways to describe the cosmos doesn’t mean they’re not internally coherent within their own individual traditions.

Forget the theory and cosmology and cosmogony; all that will come with time.  If you never saw something fall to the ground, why would you believe gravity to exist?  If you never had to undergo a shortage of healthy and safe food, why would you believe food poisoning or famine in another country to exist?  Humans have to see to believe, and we like hands-on stuff the best to drive the strongest points home.  Once we figure out what can happen, we can eventually puzzle out why it happens based on what we know and the hypotheses and explanations we devise that we can put to further testing.

But even then, it all comes down to Work, and when explaining your work, never start with “why”.  Ask “what” or “how”.  What are the tools you use?  How would you describe the effect a particular tool has when used in a particular way?  What are the forces you call upon?  What are their names?  How do they interrelate and interact?  How do you gain confirmation that something works?  How do you gain information about something you don’t know yet?  What do you need to achieve a particular end?

Remember: without work, you’re not doing the Work.  See the work that others do to understand their Work.

On Rulership and Life’s Bullshit

For some reason, Fr. Rufus Opus (who, I might add, is still not me) claims that I’m his best student.  I don’t really agree with him, since I think I just write more than the rest of his students, but he claims that I’m one of the minority of his students who took his courses and ran with it, not only developing my own style of magic but also implementing them in the way he envisioned his students to do so: to rule your life like a King.  No, I’m not going to wax poetically and jovially about how awesome it is to do conjurations of the planetary angels, rise through the seven spheres, or scarlet women.  He does that enough on his own.

I’m going to make explicit something he doesn’t always say: rulership sucks ass.

It’s not that being king (or queen, or gender-unspecific ruler) of your life is a bad thing.  Far from it, really!  It’s one of the best things you can do, and I’d argue something that every capable human being should attempt at all points in their lives.  He makes it clear, especially in his most recent book, that it really is up to you to make your life how you best can make it.  He’s not rehashing The Secret or new age tripe like that, either.  He’s not saying that if you put out positive vibes you’ll get positive returns; he’s not saying that you should be pious and chaste and virtuous like a meek and mild lamb.  He tells you to get off your ass, find your problems, and deal with them as a ruler does their kingdom.  In the process, you understand more about yourself; you understand more about what makes you, your environment, your enemies, your allies, and your world tick; you understand more about God and the gods and the heavens and the hells; you understand how to work with spirits and powers and forces beyond imagination.  With this knowledge, you get power; with this power, you get results.  That’s it in a nutshell, but it encapsulates everything.

The problem is, however, that not everything is going to agree with you or accept you.  Not everything is easy.  Not everything is kind.  Kingdoms have problems.  The world has problems.  Human life has problems.  You have problems, dear reader, and trying to lie about that fact is shameful.  The first step to overcoming your problems is to admit you have them.

That’s one of the most painful parts about this whole magic and theurgy business.  You have to not only confront your problems, but work with them in a way that resolves them.  You are forced to shove your nose into your own shit time and time again, perhaps realizing that, yes, this is indeed some shit, and that you really should try better or fix things so that there’s less shit next time around (and yes, there will be a next time).  You have to conjure up your own demons, not just the elemental demonic princes or the kings of Hell, but the ones lodged inside your own psyche, and debate with them, wrestle with them, sometimes get pinned down by them in the hopes of kicking them out of the conjuration circle once and for all.  You have to contend with the fact that, sometimes, life is not going to give you what you think you need in order to succeed, and you have to make do with your own lack of preparedness and readiness in order to progress.  You have to deal with your problems any way you can, and often enough, your problems aren’t easy to deal with.

Rulership is about choices.  Every (and I do mean every) choice you make, even avoidance of making choices, changes everything.  Sometimes you make a choice without thinking, either due to instinctive habit or conditioning from birth.  Sometimes you make a choice with incomplete knowledge.  Sometimes you make a choice with all the best knowledge and hopes in the world and everything still turns to shit.  Every choice you make results in a benefit you obtain, a cost you pay for, and accountability that you must be responsible for.  While all of us like the benefits, and a few of us are okay with paying the costs, it’s rare for people to willingly take responsibility for their actions, reactions, emotions, thoughts, and words.

That, however, is the crux of rulership: taking responsibility for yourself, both in the choices you’ve made and those you are going to make.  It truly is the cross that the ruler bears, because when you’re a ruler of your kingdom, everything that happens is going to be traced back to you in some way, shape, or form.

A king (or queen, ruler, tigron, whatever) manages their kingdom.  They manage the defenses and the boundaries, the laws and the public welfare, the discipline and strength, the identity and the pride, the harvest and the wealth, the communication and the transport, the security and the love of the whole kingdom.  Yes, they often don’t do it alone, and have guards, patrols, magistrates, legislature, generals, captains, overseers, messengers, and community leaders help take that burden off their shoulders somewhat, but all authority is derived from the king, and so all decisions made in the name of the king are made, effectively, by the king.  Thus, all choices are traced back to the king, and if there’s a problem anywhere in this chain of manifestation from king to pleb, it’s the king’s fault for not managing things properly.  If there’s a problem with the land, water, air, travelers, traders, or invaders, then it’s not necessarily the king’s fault for those, but however the king reacts to them and manages them as they pop up in his kingdom will be.

In the system of Hermetic magic that Fr. RO teaches, he gives you all the tools, education, and experiences you need to know what the chains of manifestation are, who to contact for help, who manages what, where things come from, and how to put your own plans into action.  He prepares you, effectively, for becoming king of your own life.  He does not take responsibility for you, however, and he can only help so much if you have problems of your own.  His real help lies in teaching you how to solve your own problems, as well as solving those that crop up in your life without your agreement, because this shit happens and it’s up to us to learn how to deal with them the best way we can with the best means we have available to us.  It is this education that surpasses any ritual, any tool construction, any talisman consecration; it is this that is the real meat and bones of Hermeticism.  Everything else is garnish or flatware.

Fr. RO may call it kingship.  I call it true humanity.  Same diff, really, I just don’t like to sugarcoat (whiskeysoak?) things as much as he does.

Life has shitty problems of many kinds.  We may be born into shitty circumstances.  We may have shitty bodies.  We may have shitty emotional imbalances.  We may have shitty job opportunities.  We may live during a time of shitty politics and shittier warfare.  We may have shitty plagues infesting and killing off our already shitty cities.  We make shitty choices.  We make (not have) shitty reactions.  We make shitty comments.  We make shitty alliances.  We make shitty food and drink selections.  Some of this shit that happens to us is not our fault.  Some of it is.  Regardless, we are not the first generation to have to deal with all this shit.  We’re the most recent, which means that every generation before us has had to deal with this same shit over and over and over again.  And you know what’s awesome?  Humanity has lived through it all, and now it’s our turn.  What makes us magicians and kings and true humans different, however, is that we can make the best of it instead of just enduring it all.  That’s the big thing that few people recognize: a magician’s job isn’t just to live through all this shit, but to adjust to it, fix it, and make this shit less shitty for ourselves and, if you’re up to it, those who come after us

One of the upshots to all this is that you don’t have to go it alone.  You know that one new age greeting, “the light in me recognizes the light in you”? That’s actually a thing, people.  Kings recognize each other.  We see other rulers, and other potential rulers, in the people around us.  We understand what they’re going through, because we’ve already done the work that they’re doing or are about to do.  We know what they go through.  They know what we go through.  We help each other out.  Just as any smart-minded kings, we make alliances, coalitions, treaties, and agreements with other kings.  We build networks of support, even just as friends who do their own things individually but who come together in a time of need.  When problems get too big for any one king, other kings step in to shoulder the burden.  It’s part of that whole chain of manifestation thing, but on a broader level.  It’s okay to ask for help.  If you need it, ask.  It’s better to be humble and ask for help than proud and dead when it comes to rulership, because people can’t depend on a dead king.  Your life can’t be excellent when you’re dead, because you by definition have no life.

Every tool, every ritual, every seal, every tincture, every spirit you make use of should always be used to help you rule your own kingdom.  Every magical implementation and technique should be geared for your own use to solve your own problems.  It’s rarely easy, of course, but that’s why we do this.  If it were easy, we wouldn’t be talking about this, RO wouldn’t have put a book out on it, and we’d all be already in Heaven.

Life sucks.  Rulership sucks.  But rulership, done rightly, can make life suck a lot less, and that’s what makes rulership worth it.  It’s what makes theurgy worth it.  It’s what makes magic worth it.  It’s what makes life worth it.  Nobody promised you an easy life; nobody promised Obama an easy nation; nobody promised Octavian an easy empire.  It may be hard to be a ruler over your own life, but it sure beats the hell out of being subject to your own life.

A Division of Studies in Mathesis

Based on the revamp of the Tetractys of Life with all its newly relettered paths, I had a thought about what the differentiation of forces between the Gnosis Schema (paths associated with the zodiac signs) and the Agnosis Schema (paths associated with the elements and planets) would mean.  From the post redoing the lettering of the paths, I commented that:

Thus, while we’re trapped in this world, we cycle chaotically and confusedly around the cosmos without real understanding of how it works, no matter how much we jive with the planetary and elemental forces.  It’s only once we recognize them for the powers that they are that we break free of them, traveling among the fixed stars themselves.  Even in agnosis, there is learning; we need to be aware of what the elements and planets do to us before we can truly break free of them and shed ourselves of their influence.  Once we know how to work them and how to get rid of their influence while remaining in control of them, we then proceed to rise above them to gnosis and understand what the whole cosmos is really about.  Planetary and elemental magic can only get us so far; they cannot get us to the most extreme parts of the cosmos (or, in this model, the outermost spheres of the Tetractys) nor can they get us to a point where we’re balanced and able to go in any direction we want (the sphere of Mercury).  It’s only by making the leap from agnosis to gnosis that we can do that, but even then, we must be on our guard; we can slip and fall back into agnosis by dwelling too much on any one energetic force, allowing it to entrap us once more.

In other words, we should only make the leap from Agnosis to Gnosis once we understand what it is we’re dealing with.  In order to fully be able to reap the benefits of the powers of the zodiacal paths and make the trips from sphaira to sphaira, we need to already have the powers of the elements and planets supporting us in a way that we control them and not the other way around, or at least on such a level where we’re at least equals with their forces.  This is no easy task; it took me several years of conjuration of the elements and planets, scrying and harmonizing and understanding the forces, before I even dared attempt a conjuration of the angel of the fixed stars to gain a glimpse into that sphere.  Without the planetary and elemental work behind me, I could not have been able to successfully parse together the new information and power I received, as well as understanding how it manifests through all the lower forces.

In that sense, perhaps this jump into scrying the odoi (paths) and sphairai (spheres) on the Tetractys isn’t meant as an introductory or novice activity.  In fact, if I were to teach mathesis as a lineage or as a school of occultism, the division between the powers of the Agnosis Schema and those of the Gnosis Schema suggest an outer circle and inner circle of students.  The outer circle would be those who have not yet made the jump from Agnosis to Gnosis, still remaining in the paths of the elements and planets.  They would be focusing on rudimentary magical skills, understanding the basics of divination and conjuration, understanding the spirits of this world in all their forms, education on the various forces of the cosmos and how to work with them, and the like.  All this would prepare them for the real work of the Gnosis Schema, the theurgy and ascension and subtle powers that they can only really understand after they have all the basics down.

In some ways, it’s a lot like martial art training.  Sure, you start with a white belt and proceed up the ranks to a black belt, and from the perception of non-black-belted people, getting your black belt is like a crowning achievement.  It is huge and a notable thing to obtain, don’t get me wrong, but it’s certainly not the be-all-end-all of the work.  In fact, all the training and testing leading up to the black belt is mere preparation; with the black belt, you finally become a real student and the real education begins, but only once you get that first rank in being a black belt.  In a similar way, being in the outer circle focused on the powers of the Agnosis Schema is a lot like working towards your black belt, just trying to learn the basic moves and motions that allow you to do more complex and natural motions and forms later on.  The initiation into the Gnosis Schema is like being presented with the black belt, but only the first degree of it; the real meat of mathesis lies in the Gnosis Schema, where the more profound power and knowledge lies.

Sure, you might have that black belt, but how good of a black belt are you?  As a black belt in a martial art, there’s always more training to do, more perfection of techniques, more refinement of motion, more fluidity and grace to be developed.  There truly is no end, and even the founder of a martial art themselves will constantly practice.  Hell, even the Buddha Shakyamuni was constantly in meditation after he achieved nirvana; yes, he was enlightened completely and utterly, but he still felt the need to meditate.  Even though he had attained the end of samsara and dependent arising, he still meditated.  Why?  Because there’s always more Work to do; he still needed better ways to teach, more things to delve into, more things to know beyond knowing or not knowing.  Even in his death and passing into paranirvana, the Buddha is thought of to have gone past all going-past into a state of gods-know-what.  It’s not an ending.  There’s never an ending.

Likewise, the process of going through the Gnosis Schema is cyclical.  You might have made one complete circuit around the Gnosis Schema, or you might have made a hundred; that hundred-first time can still get you more power, more knowledge, more gnosis that you didn’t get the first hundred times around.  And this isn’t limited to the schemata of mathetic theurgy, either; even in qabbalah with the Tree of Life, once you attained Ipsissimus and reached the sephirah of Kether, you could either keep going up into the Infinite Light and discovering more of the Infinite, or you could bring that light back down to Malkuth and start the process all over again.  It’s cyclical.  There is never truly an ending, neither in qabbalah nor in mathesis, neither in martial arts nor spiritual arts.  Trying to ascend to the gods or to the Divine Source itself is the most important and gravest undertaking, and to try to attempt it while alive is even more difficult.

So, if (on the off, distant, and unlikely chance) I were to start up a school that could teach people magic and the occult, let’s say I call it the Disciples of Hermes, or simply the Mathetai (from the Greek phrase οι Μαθηται του Ερμου, hoi Mathetai tou Hermou).  The mathetai, collectively, are those who study the occult science and philosophy under the overarching framework of mathesis.  I might actually divide it into three circles, not just two, based on the topic of study and where they are in relation to the schemata of the Tetractys, along with an extra division for people who aren’t involved at all:

  • The Agnostai (οι Αγνωσται, lit. “the unknowing”, sing. agnostes) are those who aren’t involved in mathesis, the occult, religion, or spirituality generally.  They’re on their own and are outside the reach and teachings of the Mathetai, either willingly or circumstantially, and are not initiated or educated in any sense of mathesis.
  • The Hypognostai (οι Υπογνωσται, lit. “those who are under knowledge”, sing. hypognostes) are those who have begun studying magic and the occult generally.  The focus here would be on an understanding of basic occult philosophy, the forces, spirits, and how to work with all of the above.  This covers all the basics, from conjuration of spirits and proper worship of gods to talismany and divination.  Basic meditation and prayer work would be taught as well, but only as a simple practice in simple ways to help the development of the Hypognostai in their other studies.  In this stage, one is still on the Agnosis Schema, but they begin their awareness of being caught up in it despite being prohibited from being taught about the schemata or deeper mysteries of the Tetractys.  Most of the material here can be taught from books, prepared documents, and demonstrations, usually under the direction of a teacher or more advanced student.
  • The Epignostai (οι Επιγνωσται, lit. “those who are approaching knowledge”, sing. epignostes) are those who have shown enough skill with the skills of the Hypognostai and have begun the process of synthesis and analysis (putting together and taking apart) in order to reform themselves into a proper stage of purity and self-awareness.  The focus here is on developing the skills of meditation and prayer and using them to continue the mastery of the skills of the Hypognostai, as well as developing them for their own sake to develop a firmer mastery of the mind and body itself.  Although still on the Agnosis Schema, the stage of epignosis is the process of forming the bridge from the middling sphairai around that of Mercury so as to begin the process of gnosis itself.  At the end of this stage, when the epignostes is ready, they are prepared for initiation into the Gnostai and the process of traveling the Gnosis Schema.  This stage is marked by more intense oral and practical teaching and less on books, although some research may be required for more difficult refinement of the skills of the Hypognostai.
  • The Gnostai (οι Γνωσται, lit. “the knowing”, sing. gnostes) are the ones who have entered into the mysteries of the Gnosis, having demonstrated enough mastery of the skills of the Hypognostai and Epignostai to be fit to travel along the Gnosis Schema with or without guidance.  A special connection between them and the gods, as well as of the Monad, is forged and they are allowed to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of the Tetractys.  Deeper meditation, theurgic rituals, and astral travel and inhabitation of the gods within the body is explored as well as to begin teaching other mathetai, as well as other mysteries that would never be told to anyone who hadn’t already attained a particular level of spiritual development and growth.

In a sense, the three circles are modeled after the “three parts of wisdom” as described by Hermes Trismegistus in the Emerald Tablet: the three sciences of alchemy, astrology, and theurgy.  In this instance, the science of alchemy would be given to the Hypognostai through the transformation of lower materials into higher ones, either metaphorically or actively; the science of astrology would be given to the Epignostai, who must understand the connections between above and below in order to ascend between and around the worlds while harnessing their power; the science of theurgy would be given to the Gnostai, who work towards the Source and Divinity itself by building upon both astrology and alchemy.  In a sense, though, alchemy is also given to the Gnostai, since the twelve signs of the zodiac (and, correspondingly, the twelve paths on the Gnosis Schema) are associated with twelve common processes of alchemy, and thus the cycle begins anew.  Being inducted into the Gnostai, after all, is by no means the end of the journey, but truly the start; everything before that is just preparation.

While there’d be no formal levels beyond that of the Gnostai (though a fifth and hypothetical circle could be proposed, the Metagnostai, those who are beyond knowledge, could be set up for divine or heroic entities who guide and nurture the school as a whole akin to the Secret Chiefs of the Golden Dawn), I’m sure it might arise that there’d be an Archegnostes (ο Αρχεγνωστης), a “first gnostes” or teacher of teachers in the Mathetai, or the Aristognostai (οι Αριστογνωσται), the “best gnostai” or council of senior gnostai who govern and instruct the school as a whole, both in terms of judging the capabilities of particular students as well as organizing teaching and management for the school.  Of course, parts of these responsibilities might be delegated to the Epignostai, but the teachers (bless their hearts) have to both manage spiritual and worldly responsibilities with this.

Of course, I’m letting my imagination run freer than a tabletop RPG gamer drawing up a new character sheet just before a campaign.  Mathesis is still brand new and largely unexplored as a magical system, I’m still barely into my own practice generally and mathetically, and here I am already planning on not just taking a few students but setting up a whole school for it.  I have plenty on my plate before I even try to attempt any of this sort of dissemination of wisdom to the world who so badly needs it, but at the same time, who can say what’ll happen but the gods?  Maybe in another ten or twenty years or so, secret societies and orders will be a thing again, and maybe I’ll have just enough under my belt to actually start helping others in studying this.

Pondering the Dyad

I think that, of all the numbers I’ve encountered in the occult, and especially lately with my meditations on the Tetractys, the Dyad has to be the most confusing and hard to understand for me.  I mean, what’s so hard about it?  It’s just one more than the Monad, two, isn’t it?  Well…no.  Two Monads does not a Dyad make; two Monads are necessary, it’s true, but they are not sufficient to make the Dyad.  The Dyad is more than just a combination of two things, it’s a unity or union between two things.  You can’t analyze (take apart) the union without synthesizing (putting together) the ends, though it’s easy to see the two ends as separate and distinct from each other and, crucially though incorrectly, understand them as whole entities in and of themselves.  But consider:

  • What is music?  Music is a sequence of notes, yes?  But it’s also the rhythm, the timing, and the harmony produced between successive or concurrent notes that produces the music.  Music is not a just a sequence of notes, but it’s something more than that.
  • What is a fight?  A fight is the interaction between two fighters, yes?  But it’s also the flow, the connection, the respect or lack thereof between them where the fight itself takes place.  An individual fighter fights nobody on their own.
  • What is a sephirah?  A sephirah is an emanation of God that reflects one of His many attributes, yes?  But it’s also the connection and flow from God.  Without a connection, a sephirah has no means to be filled with God and becomes a husk.
  • What is love?  Love is the relationship and harmony between two individuals, yes?  But it’s not possible to have love without something to love, nor is it possible to love someone without reciprocity or knowledge and having love both around and in the recipient.  Without the connection, love devolves into lust or limerence.

The Dyad represents something that is not itself able to exist; it requires two, and the Dyad is the representation of the two co-existing.  That union is the Unit, the Monad present in a lower register, but the Monad is no longer in existence as soon as it makes existence, because then there is something that exists as Creator and something that exists as Creature.  The emptiness (and I’m using this in a Buddhist “interexistence” or “dependant existence” sense) that is formed between the two monads in the Dyad is the true Dyad, without which you just have a collection of monads.  I mean, consider the human body: the human body is a collection of organs, bones, and humours; going deeper, it’s a collection of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles.  Yes, we are all just a collection of these things, but clearly there’s more to it than that to produce a cohesive unit, a complete whole.

Trying to comprehend the numbers on the Tetractys is different than simply counting how many spheres are in a rank, or the number One through Ten each dot represents.  If you do that, you’re just understanding each number as a collection of monads when there’s so much at work within each number.  It’s like, if you study energy work, if all you study is the seven chakras of the body, you neglect the fact that energy cycles throughout the body; focusing on the chakras alone treats the body as just the seven chakras when the body is a collection of major and minor chakras and all the medians and channels that connect them all.  Having a blockage of energy in the lower leg cannot itself be healed by focusing on any one of the chakras, but if you’re not trained to focus on the body holistically, then you aren’t going to be able to make much of an impact on the body.

I’ve noticed parallels between my lack of knowledge on the Dyad and one of the issues I currently have in learning aikido.  In my martial art, I’m starting to get the hang of the actual moves themselves, how to move my one-point around, how to roll the arm for a pin, how to step properly to allow myself enough safe space in attacking or being attacked.  Still, none of this is useful if I can’t apply the moves in practice against an opponent, and that’s where the matter of timing and connection comes in.  I can sense my own ki, and I can sense the ki of my opponent, but connecting the two together when the opponent is approaching to grab me is an issue.  Timing, the flow and blending of myself and the opponent, is something I’m still having to work on and it’s not clicking yet.  It’s not a matter of counting seconds or recognizing a limit of distance after which I can move my own body; I have to blend with the motions and ki of my opponent in order to make the technique work.  This timing, this connection between me and the other, is the “presence” of the Dyad in aikido; there is no such thing as attacker and attackee if I can’t properly engage or be engaged in attack.  It is only through the fluid and completely connected actions of myself and the other that aikido works, without which it’s just two people trying to put each other into pins and joint locks fruitlessly.

In the Tetractys, the rank of the Dyad is the first time we see a connection formed between two Monads.  It is the first time we have the opportunity for comparison or change between two otherwise indistinct and undifferentiated Monads; by the power of this connection, we can say that “this is and that isn’t” or “this changes into that”.  None of this is possible in the rank of the Monad, since there is by definition only ever One thing to compare or be compared to, and comparing something to itself is a tautology that makes anything and nothing true.  I mean, even the figure of the Monad itself, the circle with a point in its center, cannot itself be made by one thing alone.  It was made by an old-style geometer’s compass, making use of both its legs; one to stabilize it in the center, and one to give form around it.  With only one leg, it could only produce one point, but with two, it can make a shape, a circle, a neverending line enclosing an area.  It gives definition and the first possible comparison: what is in the circle and what is outside.  A point cannot be meaningfully compared to any other point without other notions of length or measure, but with a circle or a line (either being made from a connection between two points) we can do just that.

Aikido, at least in my style of Shin-Shin Toitsu Aikido (Aikido with Mind and Body Unified), there’re four principles of mind and body unification and five for the practice of aikido itself.  The last principle of the first set and the first principle of the last set are the same: “ki is extending”, meaning that ki flows constantly through ourselves and through the universe.  If we get in line with the flow of ki, aikido works; if we try to force things, aikido doesn’t work.  After this, to make aikido work, you need to know your opponent’s mind and respect their own flow of ki; you need to understand what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it, and act accordingly to respect their actions and make them go where you want them to go.  If you know how to move around their ki, you know how they’re going to move their ki, so you know their mind; if you know their mind, you’re connected with them and letting ki extend properly.  This is the essence of timing, and is moreover the essence of all connections: knowledge.  Dyad is knowledge.

Even in the Hermetic text of the Poemander, it makes sense.  In the beginning, there was only Nous, the Mind, single and simple.  Literally everything only began when the Nous produced the Logos, the Word.  The Word is Thought, which is produced in the Mind.  Prior to the Logos (if there can conceivably be a “prior” in a world that does not experience time), there was only Mind without Thought.  Once Mind produces Thought, the Mind has something to think about, something other.  Even if the Logos is the Nous, the two are still separate and, thus, the Monad becomes a Dyad.  It is by relation can we think, can we ponder, can we consider, can we reflect, can we know.  Knowledge of the Other leads to a union, and in union things can happen.  In union we become a unity, reuniting the Logos with the Nous once more.  Music is the knowledge of  how different notes strung together form a pleasing melody, or when played at once form a harmony.  A fight is the knowledge of how two people interact to blend together in action.  A sephirah is the knowledge of how the light of God flows from the Source through different channels into yet other channels, transforming from some one thing raw into some one thing manifest.  Love is the knowledge of two hearts and minds acting as one.

Knowledge is the root of all action.  Knowledge is the root of all transformation.  Knowledge is the root of separation.  Knowledge is the key to union.  It’s the things to be known that change from situation to situation, but in knowledge all situations become different manifestations of the same cause.  I may not yet have a solid knowledge (heh) of the Dyad just yet, but at least something’s been opened.