Mythos and Stories as Models of Practice

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with Python and LaTeX scripts again.  For those who aren’t as inclined to computers, the former is a very flexible, extensible programming language of no small fame, while the latter is a type of language used to format, typeset, and compile documents (sorta like what HTML and CSS are for webpages).  I use Python for all my short, little, experimental research things, like calculating certain astronomical/astrological phenomena or doing a brute-force search of all 65,536 possible geomantic charts for particular patterns, minimums, or maximums of certain qualities.  Meanwhile, I use LaTeX for all my document needs, mostly for ebooks but also for letters, résumés, and other things in lieu of a normal word processor like OpenOffice or Microsoft Word (because I’m a crazy fool who loves the commandline and raw power over convenience and ease).

The main impetus for this bout of hobby programming that’s been going on this week is so I can make a full calendar in LaTeX that spans from June 23, 2009 through June 23, 2047, complete with dates of eclipses, lunar phase changes, seasonal start and midpoint dates, and zodiacal ingresses of the Sun.  It’s hard to find that sort of data over such a wide span of time, and much more difficult than that to find it in an easily-obtainable format that I can use for LaTeX compilation.  To that end, I wrote the scripts to calculate all the astronomical information from scratch (Jean Meeus’ “Astronomical Algorithms” is a godsend of a book for this, so do get yourself a copy for reference) and formatted the output just the way I needed it.  It’s not exactly an exciting feeling to realize that it’s easier to just code and test all the algorithms yourself than trying to find the data you need online, but after two long days of coding, the profound feeling of accomplishment can’t be easily described (except, of course, as “fucking awesome and thank god that’s over”).

For what end would I take on this crazy project, you might ask?  Because this unusual span of time is the 69th cycle of 38 years of the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar I devised that associates the days of the lunar months, the lunar months themselves, and the lunisolar years with the letters of the Greek alphabet for use in ritual grammatomancy and, more broadly, my nascent theurgic practice of mathesis, a new kind of Hermetic theurgy I’m developing that refocuses on Pythagorean, Platonic, and Neoplatonic influences before introduction of qabbalah.  It’s been a bit since I’ve done any mathetic work, given the whole house-buying/house-moving of 2016 and the Year in White of iyaworaje that went on through most of 2017, but I’m preparing slowly to pick it up again.  Since a daily observation of the letter of the day is a practice I found great use with, I wanted to have an actual calendar to reference instead of having another one of my scripts calculate it for me each and every morning.  (This also means I’ll be getting back to my Daily Grammatomancy posts I was doing for a while over on my Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it yet, please head on over and do so!)  So, yanno, it’s the little gains that help give a sturdy foundation for this sort of work.

The thing is, though, that I’m not setting out to develop this whole new practice and system for its own sake, or for the sake of being able to say “look at me, mister high muckety-muck of my own sandcastle!”.  I want a way to explore the Neoplatonic and Hermetic cosmos without having to rely on the procrustean bed of qabbalah that we can’t seem to escape from, purge, or ignore; Hermeticism and Neoplatonism existed before and did fine without it, and even if qabbalah brought in excellent insights and models and frameworks for the two philosophies to expand with (and it most certainly did!), after a certain point, those same models and frameworks can become a hindrance.  If nothing else, taking another look with another system can breathe a breath of fresh air into these things, and allow for opening up new doors and avenues to cosmic exploration, theurgy, and spiritual development.

Going through my old posts and notes on what I’ve already set up is incredibly useful, but I see something clearly now that I didn’t before (time is great for providing experience, after all, no matter how much we might think we have some at the time).  Consider one of my favorite quick rituals, the Blessing of the Vessel, first discussed in this 2015 post, which I use as a way for generating a sacred elixir to partake of the blessing of the Divine.  This ritual works quite well on its own, though it uses some pretty arcane Judaeo-Coptic symbolism.  However, if I were to make a mathetic variant…I ran into a mental wall trying to figure that one out.  Sure, I could just replace the names of the angels or godforms, but…that seems hollow to me.  While swapping out related concepts from one system to automagically transform it into a new system is definitely a thing, like using a Celtic or Hellenic deities instead of the four archangels to make more pagan forms of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, I personally find the practice distasteful and it never seems to work as fully, as cleanly, or as effectively as the original ritual in its own context with its own appropriate entities and names.  Moreover, I couldn’t think of anything comparable to the symbols and metaphors used in the Blessing of the Vessel that could be seen in Hellenic mythology off the top of my head, which…

That reminded me of that post I wrote not too long ago about how the rituals we use are means of reliving myths.  La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, more commonly known as Santería, is a perfect example of this.  All the ceremonies we participate in, all the things we wear, all the offerings we make, all the songs we sing, and so forth are established not just by tradition, but by the precedents laid out for us in the mythological stories that undergird the entire religion.  In this case, as in many religions and systems of faith, “myth” here doesn’t just mean a fairy-tale, but a narrative that explains how things become into the world and why we do certain things in a certain way.  The mythos of a religion, then, is the collective story of the cosmos from the point of view of that religion; to participate in the religion is to participate in the eternal telling-retelling of that mythos, where we are both a member of the audience as well as an actor on the stage.  Every religion is like this: Christianity retells the story of Christ’s sacrifice through the Eucharist, which is an eternal event that is played out in discrete instances that participate in the eternal truth of Jesus’ sacrifice; Judaism retells the story of the covenants of God with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron and the Exodus through the Passover Seder and the various mitzvot they maintain; Buddhism describes the paths to nirvana through the practices of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and how we are to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as well as all the discrete, different practices that can more quickly help us achieve our goal; Santeria tells through all the odu and all the pataki about the exploits of the orishas and how they impact our lives and what we can do about the problems through the rites and rituals that the orisha laid down so long ago, and so on.  Even in magic, we use stories that undergird our work: Solomonic magicians take on the role of Solomon as primordial gōes, reiki masters take on the role of their initiators going back to Usui-sensi to ply their work, Greek necromancers take on the role of those heroes like Odysseus who went down to the land of the dead and came back alive, and so forth.  These aren’t just simple stories we tell to children; these are the archetypal foundations of ideology, worldview, culture, faith, and interaction that our societies and civilizations are built upon and grow around.

So, what then of mathesis?  I realized that, though I have the basic ideas of Hermetic theurgy within a Pythagoreansim-centered Neoplatonic framework down and a handful of basic tools and methods at my disposal, I lack a story, a myth that explains what the whole goal is and how spiritual practices and methods should be established.  It’s these stories that not only provide inspiration for new methods to grow and develop, but also point to some of the dangers I might face and flaws I might find in myself along the way, as well as the remedies and precautions to take for when I do face them.  Without such a story, all I’m really doing is bumbling around in the dark repeating the same acts over and over with no purpose.  I can liken this to an actor on a stage reciting the same soliloquy extemporaneously with neither context nor play; no matter how excellently they might recite it, it has no meaning or purpose except to practice the ability of recitation for its own sake.  It’s only when such a soliloquy takes place in the proper context of a play that it has meaning.  All these practices of purification, meditation, contemplation, initiation, and whatnot don’t mean anything if they don’t have an overall story to fit into.  Like a collection of pieces to build furniture from IKEA, if you don’t know what you’re doing and have no instructions to fit everything together, that collection is going to remain nothing more than a pile of bits and odds and ends that don’t do anything except allow for someone to play at a frustrating adult version of Legos.

Now, I should say that I’m not trying to distill mathesis down to any one myth, any one story that we know of from ancient Greece.  I’m not suggesting that I’m doing that, or that I should do that.  I’m really talking about something more archetypal and fundamental than any one story, something that takes place time and time again in individual stories.  Consider what Leo Tolstoy (or Dostoyevsky, or John Gardner, or others) once said: “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town”.  This is the kind of archetype I’m talking about: a fundamental action that takes place.  Just how the Iliad is an example of the classical “war epic” while the Odyssey is one of the “journey epic”, and how the Aeneid is an example of both, and all of which take place in greater and larger cycles of epics and sagas, each with their own stories and subplots that collectively describe how things come to be, what is the sort of high-level framework “saga” that mathesis might adopt as its underlying mythos?  That’s an interesting thing for me to ponder as a model for mathesis.

After all, consider that we can use the word “model” in terms of “framework”, but also in the sense of “role model”.  What sort of character am I playing out by working in this way?  What sort of tribulations, conflicts, issues, problems, predicaments, and crises might I face?  Where might I look towards for help and succor?  To what end do I play out this role, and how does this role pick up and start again (reincarnate, rebirth, renew) in another iteration of the story?  After all, the idea of “role model” is played out quite heavily in occult and spiritual work in terms of godforms; the Catholic priest takes on the role of Jesus when he lifts up the host and say “this is my body”, the Vajrayana Buddhist takes on the role of their yidam in meditation, the Golden Dawn initiate takes on the role of any number of Egyptian gods for a given ritual, and so forth.  In adopting a role, we take on the strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and powers of that form we take; consider the Headless Rite, where the primary mechanism is to become Akephalos, the Headless One, to command the forces of the cosmos for exorcism or banishing or conjuration.  Not only do models inform us what our views of the cosmos will be like, but models also inform us how we act within that cosmos and what our abilities and limitations are.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t live by our own stories; of course we can, and we must!  While there’s definitely truth to Ecclesiastes 1:9—”what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—there’s a difference between the fundamental archetype which is mythos and the discrete, concrete instantiation of a a story that falls under that mythos.  Like with the whole “two stories, journey or arrival” quote from above, consider that, at least under the “journey” header, we have such disparate and varied stories such as that of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pokémon, and the Odyssey are all such stories.  Under the broader notion of Proto-Indo-European religion, which formed the basis for many of the pagan religions across Europe and some parts of Asia and the Near East, there are high-level archetype stories of divine horse twins, a sky father, a dawn goddess, and a hero slaying a dragon; take a look, dear reader, at Celtic, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic, Nordic, and other Indo-European myths and you’ll find countless stories that relate to them, oftentimes many iterations of a single story with different variations.  We each have our own story, each of which is unique, and all of which play into the archetypes of the cosmos both as processes and actors.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things that I think we as occultists tend to neglect.  It’s…it’s at least an issue, but I’m unsure whether it’s a full-blown problem, that so many of us lack contexts for the things we do.  Like the actor reciting a preset soliloquy extemporaneously without context, many of the practices we have are so distanced and removed from the theologies, cosmologies, and philosophies that gave birth to them, and we’re at a loss without understanding that collective context.  I mean, sure, the Headless Rite will still work for you whether or not you understand the currents of Egyptian, Christian, Jewish, Greek, gnostic, academic, priestly, and folk influences that collectively gave rise to that ritual and its place in the broader understanding of Greco-Egyptian magical praxis and theory, but knowing all the rest of that does significantly help attune oneself better to the ritual, not just by understanding where it came from, but also the role of the ritual, the magician who invokes Akephalos, and Akephalos itself.  To put it in modern terms, consider chaos magic with its notion of paradigm shifting.  You can pick up any ritual and make it work, sure, but if you can’t paradigm shift between them, you can’t get the most out of any given ritual you perform because you aren’t immersed in the fundamental contexts (the mythos) that allow for that ritual to work.

This is most dangerous for eclectic practitioners that don’t belong to any one tradition or practice except “what they feel like, a bit of this and a bit of that”; without a coherent, cohesive, connective mythos that undergirds their worldviews, philosophies, cosmologies, and so on, I find it extremely rare that anything of what they do even comes close to the power and efficacy of someone who has a mythos and has truly integrated themselves and everything they do into that mythos.  A mythos as model, then, provides both a skeleton and a skin for one’s practices: a skeleton to arrange and structure one’s practices together, and a skin to separate out what belongs to it and what does not, filtering things in to and out from one’s system of practices.  Without a mythos, you’re just a jumble of things that you do, some of which may have an immediate use but no overarching purpose; a set of practices without a mythos is no more than a jumble of IKEA parts without instructions that may or may not combine together to form a useful bit of furniture, and even then only if you stumble upon the right combination and order of doing so.  If you’re just interested in performing and knowing how to perform individual acts for individual needs, more power to you, but if you’re looking for purpose and direction and how all these things you do can lead to you it, then you’re going to need a mythos to understand how all these things you do play into it.

It’s because of this that I’m so interested in setting up a new kind of Hermetic theurgy with Neoplatonic philosophy divested from qabbalah.  The central mythos is the same both with and without qabbalah, sure, but the stories that play out would be different.  A different story means different actors, different problems, different predicaments, different crises, different climaxes, different resolutions, different conclusions, even if it all fits into the same mythic pattern.  With each new difference comes new insights, new abilities, new techniques, new practices that can be developed, refined, and applied, yielding new ways to understand the cosmos and ourselves.  Mathesis and qabbalah might both be mirrors made of the same stuff that reflect reality, but they’d present it from different angles, with different views, colors, shadows, and understandings of the thing to be reflected.

Qabbalah works for Hermeticism, to be sure, but almost all that we do is part of the same Hermetic story.  I want to tell a new story, and see where else I might end up.  What story will mathesis tell, I wonder?

Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.

Foundations of Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you hear this one about Hermes?

So, in addition to it being my birthday, it’s also Hermes’ birthday, the fourth day of the lunar month, on which I celebrate his monthly festival, or Hermaia.  Unlike other people on the interwebs who do some sort of regular monthly practice to some god or other for the masses, I haven’t really done this yet, even though I probably ought.  Last month I did free divination readings from sunup until sundown, and that went by pretty well actually (forty divinations in a day without getting tired or a headache is no fluke).  So, today, I asked Hermes what he’d like me to do; being the changeable mercurial thing he is, he’d rather decide each Hermaia what he’d like especially done above and beyond the normal incense, wine, barley, and prayer offerings.  Today, he asked me to write a new story about him, and gave me this single prompt to start it: “what did I do after I gave the herb moly to Odysseus?”

For those who aren’t aware, the Greek soldier Odysseus left his western Greek island of Ithaca for the Trojan War, but afterward (due to him fucking things up for Poseidon), ended up losing all his Ithacan comrades and got lost for another ten years after that decade-long war.  At one point, in book X of the Odyssey, he recounts his story of his travels, including a part where his shipmates are all turned to pigs by the witch Circe due to her charms with magic and herbs.  Hermes comes out of the woods on the island, bearing the herb moly, which he gives to Odysseus to keep him safe from her magic.  After telling Odysseus how things will go down (lady’ll try to enchant you, it won’t work, she’ll wanna bang you, do it, GTFO), Hermes speeds back off to Olympos.  And then…

(Muses help me with silver words and smooth speech, my readers forgive my shitty impromptu story, and Hermes accept this drivel as an offering to him on his Hermaia)

Hermes arrived back at Olympos’ step, flying fast on his golden sandals, his usual mischievous smirk on his face.  As he wiped off his mortal disguise he used for Odysseus as he would dust from the road, Hermes regained his godly composure and stepped back into Zeus’ kingdom.  His major errand for today was done, sent by Athena with their father’s approval.  Athena, always the worry-wart, had had her eye on Odysseus for years now, and tried to offer the man any help she could.  And help she did, repeatedly; from strategizing on the campus to feigning insanity, Athena nearly rivaled Hermes in his bag of tricks, though she was more a stickler for “fate” and “righteousness” than he ever could stand.  This time, after getting her usual daily update from her own messengers and intel, even the residents on the far side of Olympos could feel her throwing her shield and helmet on her marble floors in frustration.  She shrieked for, you guessed it, her half-brother Hermes and told him what to do, but not before complaining to Zeus about one of Apollo’s own children, Circe.  No matter; Zeus knew what was going on long before word got to Athena, and gave his thunderous nod along with a shrug and waved Hermes off on towards Aiaia, Circe’s exile island.  The task was short: stop Odysseus from making any hasty moves and give him what he needs to keep himself safe.  Done, and Hermes guessed that by this time Odysseus was already in Circe’s bed.  “Lucky guy,” he thought, “I wouldn’t mind eating off her table anytime.”

The god walked briskly through the avenues and halls of Olympos, and considered to stop by Aphrodite’s dwelling for what Odysseus was enjoying then anyway.  Upon hearing Hephaistos’ grunting up the stairs a block away from his and Aphrodite’s door, though, Hermes thought again and decided to find other entertainment.  Hermes went to one of Olympos’ watchtowers to see what else was happening in the world below besides the usual war or eight.  He didn’t expect to find Apollo doing the same thing at the same place, though, and on seeing his brother, Hermes became more silent than a winter breeze and crept up on Apollo.  The bigger god, caught unawares but feeling something approach, turned around, but not before Hermes sprang up onto Apollo’s back, giving him a playful headlock.

“Alright, alright, you pest!  You got me, now get off!”  The son of Leto tried to shrug off the son of Maia, but even as a babe Hermes’ strength was something to behold.  With a laugh, Hermes sprang off and gave a gentle punch to Apollo on the arm.  “As you will, o glorious god, you.  What’re you doing here?  What’s for the sulking this time?” Hermes inquired of the other.

“I’m not sulking, Hermes, and you know well enough that I’ve no cause to mope.”

“This time.”

“…yes, this time.  So?”

“Well, what’re you doing up here?  It must be an easy day if you’re not wrestling with your sun-chariot horses.”

“In a way.  I’m trying to scope out a new city, if you have to know.”

“I’m thrilled to know!  Why the scoping?  With you riding so high so often, you generally have a good view of things as it is.  What, is my big bro trying to use that pretty head of his for once?”

Hermes grinned and dodged Apollo swiping at him in one motion, but not before Apollo was smiling himself at Hermes’ stupid jokes.  They walked off  as gods from the watchtower together to head off into the west, soaring across the seas.  Along the way, Apollo related the story of what he was looking for: Apollo wanted a new city to look after for himself, as hard to get to as one might endure to get to Delphi, but across sea and not up mountains. However, Zeus had forbidden any more cities to the god until he had another taken from him.  Understandably, Apollo was at pains to figure out any of his already prized peoples to give up, but still wanted to scope out a new place anyway.  Eventually, the two gods came to a peninsula with a bay out in the middle of the sea, as yet untouched by man or horse, with pristine rivers leading to the sea.  Hermes, enjoying the look of the place, noticed that Apollo approved similarly; the speedy god came up with a quick plan to help both himself and his divine brother out, but kept it a secret.  Instead, Hermes suggested that they wander around the seaside forests until they found a band of nymphs or spirits of the place to learn about it.

Eventually, around dusk, the two gods came across a band of nymphs and fauns playing about in a lake, with some of them singing beautifully, and the gods were invited to join in and celebrate with them.  After asking about the cause for the party, the leader of the nymphs told Apollo and Hermes about the death of the old siren Parthenope, who died after her own song was surpassed by a human singer.  Since then, each year, the spirits hold a contest to see who could further surpass or expand on the song that caused Parthenope’s demise, both for their own protection and satisfaction of the late siren.  Apollo and Hermes, both musicians in their own rights, joined in, and it wasn’t long before their talents amazed the other spirits.  Knowing that they had all been surpassed by these two newcomers, they decided to up the ante between them: whoever could sing the most beautiful song would have the right to build on the land any type of city they want.  Apollo, knowing that this opportunity couldn’t be passed up, immediately agreed to the terms; Hermes, guessing that that was the case with Apollo, did the same.  The two gods went back and forth, Apollo on his lyre and Hermes on his shepherd’s pipes, each trying to outdo the other.  The combined influences of music had awe-inspiring effects on their audience: some were in tears, some in laughter, some in rage, some in grief.  The songs of Apollo and Hermes were beautiful as none had ever heard before, and their skill eventually outdid their instruments, with Hermes cracking his pipes and Apollo breaking his lyrestrings.

Seeing the contest obviously come to a close, the leaders of the nymphs and the fauns decided to hold a conference to decide which of the two gods was winner.  They bid Apollo and Hermes goodnight, and told them to come back at sunrise to find the winner.  The two gods went back to Olympos and shared some wine, with Apollo being the heavier drinker and passing out in his golden bed of down.  Hermes, however, skillfully tricked Apollo into overdrinking, while having not a drop for himself, waiting to enact his plan.  Hermes snuck back to the peninsula in the middle of the sea, and spied on the fauns and nymphs.  The spirits there agreed that, although the two gods were matched in skill and beauty in their song, Hermes had “quit” first since his pipes had cracked before Apollo’s lyrestrings broke, and so accorded the victory to Apollo.  They inscribed this on a golden tablet and set it out on the bay shore to await the dawn, then they themselves went to rest, having spent their time and energy in such an amazing party.  Hermes, seeing that this was his chance, wiped off the name of Apollo from the golden tablet and inscribed his own in its place, as if the spirits there had never even considered his brother for the winner.  To add hilarious insult to injury, Hermes made sure his plan was flawless by wandering over the spirits with his wand, giving them deep and luscious sleep, except for the leaders of the nymphs and the fauns, whom he made have a bit more rowdy fun throughout the night.

Hermes returned to Olympos, slick as silk, and on seeing Dawn’s rosy fingertips touching the sky, he awoke his brother Apollo and reminded him (groggy as the bright god was) about their contest from the previous night.  Hermes led Apollo back to that distant shore, and they saw that, although no spirit was awake or present to greet them (though Apollo did think he heard some interesting grunts from within the forest), a resplendent gold tablet stood on the store of the bay.  Still wiping his eyes from last night’s wine, Apollo walked up to it and, half-expecting to find his own name, stared at it waiting for his eyes to focus.  When they did, and after a brief moment’s confusion at seeing the result, he spotted a wide-winged bird above spinning around, and he knew what had happened.  The son of Leto spun around fully awake and fully enraged at Hermes, rightly suspecting that this was some trickery of his.  Hermes just stood there, mischievously grinning as always, and began his damage control.  “Chill, Apollo.  Looks like I won this round, but don’t worry, you’ll get the next.”

“What on earth are you saying?  Little runt, you little thief of cities and dominion!  This was your fault!”

“Yup.  For a god of prophecy, you sure catch on late.”

Of course, that final jest made the sun god leap for Hermes’ own throat, fast enough that even Hermes couldn’t dodge out of the way fast enough.  After tumbling about and wrestling so furiously that the very sand they had stood upon become firm stone and all the nearby trees were felled from the fallout, Hermes rolled Apollo off him and told him what he had planned.

“Bro, relax.  Like I said, looks like this new city is mine, but it won’t be forever.  Remember what Zeus said, about you not having a new city until one was taken from you?”

Huffing, Apollo caught his breath and caught the gleam in Hermes’ eye.  “I do, as a matter of fact.  What of it…?”

“Well, who just took a city from you?”

“…smooth.  And what city do I get in return?  Do I have to go back to Olympos and do some more scouting?  I do have a job to do, you know.”

“Don’t worry about it.  This new city I’ve got now?  Let me have it for now and make it a place for me.  Once I’m done with building it up, I’ll return it to you.  A place of my trade in glorious trade for a place of your glory.  Just between you and me, eh?”

Apollo heard the words of Hermes, now clear-headed enough to get a handle on Hermes’ occluded speech, and understood the god.  Grinning, Apollo nodded and took Hermes’ arm in agreement: Hermes would take the city for now to build it up as a place of commerce and trade, and would eventually give it to Apollo as a place for glory and art.  On the groggy awakenings of the local nymphs and fauns (or their coming-to after a long night of even more debauchery than they had anticipated), the spirits learned what had happened to transpire between the gods, and left the creation of the city and its introduction of men to them.  For them, this “new city” was no longer in their business, while the men who settled there only ever called it the “new city”, known to the Greeks as Neapolis and to us as Naples, a wealthy port city for trade, summering vacation spot for kings and emperors, tombs of poets, and center of art across the Mediterranean.

Hail to you, Hermes, thief and deceiver, planner and leader in the night!  Through underhandedness, you make great works, confusing even those who know the very will of Zeus and the immortal gods!  ΙΩ ΕΡΜΗΣ!