Getting Burnt by the Stars, part 3: Causes, Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Gnosis

Getting burnt by the stars, or by magic in general, is an inherent risk in working with magic.  That doesn’t mean nobody should do it; it’s risky like a gamble is risky, or construction is risky, or cooking is risky.  Magic is a profession, something one has to constantly apply themselves to and gain expertise in, making their work their Great Work.  It’s tricky, though, and there’s always more ground to cover; one’s life’s work lasts as long as their life does, after all, and no matter how thoroughly one may think they know something, there’s always something more.

One of the things I mentioned last time was that, once you have your foot in the gate of magic, you leave enough room for yourself to slip into the world of magic and for magic to slip into your own world.  Magic isn’t always a benevolent, cheerful, happy, peaceful thing; there are demons, malevolent forces, sociopathic trickster spirits, and powers inimical to the survival of humanity out there.  There are things that would love nothing more than to see everyone and everything you come in contact to burn, shrivel, rot, and crumble just for the hell of it.  That shit’s bad, and you need to watch yourself when you get anywhere near them or connected to them.  You need to erect defenses to keep that stuff out and keep yourself safe.  But even that’s not enough, because even the good forces out there can suck, too.  If only the universe were convenient enough to have such a plain dichotomy as to simply be “good stuff helps, bad stuff hurts” without any further nuance, then I wouldn’t be writing this post.  Then again, I’m writing this post, so there’s more to it. 

There’s this notion that anything terrestrial or chthonic is bad and anything celestial or heavenly is good.  Since this series of posts is about getting burnt by the stars, let’s focus on and refute the latter idea.  The more astral dirt you accrue by tracking it in from the higher spheres, or the more dust you bring in from inviting higher ups down into your house, the more confused and imbalanced things get down here and up there alike.  When you work in any plane higher (or lower) from our current one, we track in critters and particles of stardust that, frankly, don’t belong down here and cause more harm than help.  It’s like wandering around the world and returning home: the further out you go, the stranger dust you accrue back when you’re home again, the more potential you have to bring in bedbugs, unusual toxins or pollen, or contraband that could easily get you arrested.  These innocuous things, belonging properly to their home areas, don’t belong in your home.  You may get good use out of what you went abroad for, and may have learned a lot besides, but sometimes you don’t just leave tracks and take pictures.

In a similar manner, when you work among the stars, you’re working with the raw forces of creation itself, along with their attendant gods, angels, spirits, and armies.  While generally beneficial, their notion of celestial benefice is not often correlated with humane benefice.  They have their own concerns, cares, needs, and tasks to carry out that can just as easily correlate with human needs and concerns as it can cross them.  Going to those spheres, getting the forces you need, and learning about yourself from those spheres is good, but the more you work in a certain sphere or with a certain kind of spirit, the more like that sphere and the more like those spirits you and your own sphere become.  In moderation, as in everything else, this is a good thing, but no more.  And while you may think you know exactly what you’re taking, you may not exactly be careful with what you wish for, and get just a little more than you bargained for.  In small doses, the stardust and astral grime you accrue will wash off on its own, usually, but over time the dust accrues more and more and starts causing serious issues.

Say I want to work with the forces of Mercury more, so I do weekly invocations of the god Hermes, weekly conjurations of Raphael, wear orange, meditate on the symbols of Hod, and so forth.  Sure, I end up becoming more Mercurial, but there can be a point where it gets too much.  Sure, I think faster, but I end up thinking too much and become wrapped up in possibilities and what ifs more than practical considerations.  Sure, I’m more conversational with people, but I end up getting too inquisitive, talkative, and debate-oriented for people to comfortably deal with.  Sure, I can pick out more details and issues in things to better them, but I also become more hypercritical, micromanaging, and obnoxiously nearsighted with every plan I come across.  Sure, I can do more tricks of the hand and can start playing tricks on others, but I end up trying my hand at playful theft and get in major trouble for it at work.  Without a proper balance of forces, or without clearing out all the Mercurial dust that’s been accrued from overdoing the work, I end up becoming too Mercurial to a degree that I was never meant to be.

Another issue that comes from working amongst the stars is that they’re not always good.  There’s a notion in qabbalah of the qlippoth, the empty “shells” or “husks” of the sepiroth that show the negative polarities of their respective sepirah’s qualities, or conceal the true holiness of that sephirah as a distraction to lead people astray from their true paths.  It’s easy to flip from the Tree of Life to the Tree of Death, especially in Geburah (“Strength”) where strength without being tempered by mercy, justice, or magnanimity becomes mere destruction for its own sake.  Without balancing oneself on that fine ledge between too much of the good and falling over into the bad, one working amongst the stars will find themselves either burnt by falling into too much light or getting lost in the sphere without any light at all. 

Going back to the metaphor of working with the forces of Mercury, whose associated sephirah is Hod or “Splendor”, the qlippah or husk of Mercury is “Desolation”, as in fallen or failed creations in opposition to splendorous, complete ones.  Creations require complex, logical, and interdependent plans in order to succeed; plans that insist on independence from others, untested and bad theories, or without the proper planning or foresight are doomed to fail, no matter the amount of thinking that goes into it.  Splendor without effort becomes desolation, and the desolation of things that failed in the past hide the possibility of splendor of things as yet untried in the future.  Then again, dwelling too much in splendor keeps us at too high a level to deal with the day-to-day unsplendorous reality we actually live in.

Yet another cause of getting burnt by the stars is, well, they’re stars.  Stars are big, old, and powerful; they’re gods, or so close to gods that the distinction is superficial.  Stars and gods both are blindingly bright, scaldingly hot, and wholly dangerous.  Coming face-to-face with gods is a dangerous thing, because they don’t have or deal with human needs, frailty, or faults.  They’re gods, and they do what they want.  That said, they care for humanity, but being higher than us and immortal, they operate in completely different ways that, frankly, humanity doesn’t and can’t .  Bearing in mind that the whole point of the Great Work is to wholly rejoin the Divine as wholly divine ourselves, we’re still human with flesh and souls that can be burnt.  Coming face-to-face with a god is seen effectively as a death sentence, driving people mad in Lovecraftian stories or outright burning them up in the ancient Greek myths (cf. Zeus and Semele).  Gods revealing themselves in mundane form to mundane humans is okay, but when we go up to their level and see their true forms, we risk getting burnt due to the sheer power that we’re facing.  The more divine we become, the more of their real face we can stand to look at without burning, but until we reach that point, it’ll be a slow and gradual process of revelation.  Trying to skip ahead is deadly, like trying to bust into a mystery cult without going through the proper initiations.

Coming to know ourselves through magic, gnosis of the self, is our real goal here, but it turns out that the way to and through the stars is fraught with dangers.  There are four ways we can primarily get burnt: inadvertently tracking in excess effects from the star, intentionally overworking with a star, working misguidedly with a star, and coming too close to the star without the proper apotheosis.  Burning is essential to our growth, but it helps to learn how to triage the pain and deal with healing from it. How do we deal with these problems?  Respectively,

  1. Banish and cleanse.  When you go to work for something intensive, you go home and take a shower to refresh and keep yourself clean.  Just so, when you work with the stars, keep up a regular banishing practice for yourself, your working area, and your home.  You don’t have to banish immediately after every ritual, depending on the force in question, but you want to make sure you have all the forces and power you need and know about and no more.
  2. Moderate and ground.  Don’t overwork yourself, and don’t become addicted to any one force.  Throttle how much you work with a given force, and be sure to balance it out with other forces that work with it and direct that raw force elsewhere in your life.  Don’t forget to keep yourself grounded, because humans are meant to live in the sphere of Earth and not wholly in the sphere of something else.  Without grounding, we try to live like we’re part of another sphere down here, which hardly ever works well unless you really know how to handle the juice.
  3. Reflect and practice.  Once you bring your lessons and newfound power back to earth, be sure to figure out the best use for the things you’ve gained.  Going crazy over something just because you have the ability to do it doesn’t mean you should; just because people own guns doesn’t mean they should be using them to solve sales disputes in stores.  Recall why you needed that power and teaching in the first place, figure out the best uses for it, the ethics behind using it and when it’s proper and improper to do so.  Practice using the lessons and power you gained to prepare yourself for more, making sure you’re capable and responsible enough to use them before you attempt anything more dangerous to yourself or others.
  4. Pray and grow.  The only way to become divine enough to handle divinity in its pure, pristine, distilled form is to become divine ourselves.  That requires doing the entire rest of the Work, and aspiring to become divine ourselves through prayer, meditation, growing up as humans, and growing Up as gods.  Getting the help of the gods to bring us up to their level is something they’re often willing to do, but we need to have them allow us to do so first and go through the practice of actually building ourselves up first.

Working with the stars is a dangerous thing.  Still, it shouldn’t deter us from doing it, because the payoff is worth the risk.  The dangers inherent in working with the stars require a certain kind of fortitude, reflection, and maturity that grow with us over time, which help us deal with even more later on.  It’s often said that God doesn’t try us with what we can’t handle, but sometimes the price we pay for making a mistake is high just to teach us a lesson we won’t forget.  Being careful about what we step in, ensuring our steps are slow enough, watching our step in dangerous places, and being powerful enough to step up to Power Itself are things we need to be constantly vigilant of as magicians; messing up will result in getting burnt in one way or another, and triaging the burn afterwards is more painful than making sure we’re never burnt in the first place.  Magic is esoteric for a reason: it takes lots of practice to be competent enough to chat with the Divine Source itself, but it can be done.  It just takes Work, is all.

Everything In Moderation

Greece and Rome and the rest of the Hellenic world back then was big on drinking parties (not like much has changed since).  These would be called symposia (sing. symposion or symposium) or convivia (sing. convivium), overseen by a symposiarch who would lead the drinking and make sure things didn’t get too out of hand.  One of the duties of the symposiarch would be to make sure the wine was appropriately mixed; unlike current wine, which is all roughly the same proof, straight wine was damn potent back in the day and required mixing with water to make it properly drinkable in moderation.  To drink unmixed wine was seen as a mark of barbarism, but symposiarchs who diluted the wine too much were made fun of for being weak and wusses when it came to quaffing the fruit of the vine.  After all, moderation in Greek society, and later Stoic Roman society, was a big thing.

Plus, a long time ago (375 BC), in a galaxy far, far away (Greece), the god of the wine and vine Dionysus said this, according to Eubulus:

For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more – it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

Basically, three servings of wine (the krater was the large mixing bowl) was the recommended amount, any more beyond which was just too much.  Of course, plenty of art, stories, and writings exist that show that this three krater limit was hardly ever observed, but it goes to show that moderation in what people do, especially those of command, was key to maintaining a good time to make sure you don’t have too much party in you.  It was the symposiarch’s job to make sure things didn’t get out of hand, and if he himself got too drunk, everyone else likely would, too, and then things kinda get messy in every sense of the word.

If the leader of the drinking party had this much responsibility, and had as much to risk as Dionysus had warned from too much indulgence, imagine how much worse it is for the leader of one’s world, life, sphere, and surroundings.  Imagine how much worse than that it can be for a magician who taps into the forces determining one’s world, life, sphere, and surroundings.  I’m not saying that entheogens or indulgence or ritual intoxication are bad, and far from it.  But moderation in luxuries is something that’s pretty much mandated for someone involved with forces as volatile as we manipulate.  People can be denied security clearances for being alcoholics or drug-addicts due to the sensitive nature of their work, and that’s just on a worldly level.  When you get involved with mundane and supramundane levels all at once, even more care and caution needs to be exercised.

I’m not trying to be a killjoy (I am a dirty, dirty whore for sangria, after all), but I’m noticing that not only can I not party as hearty as I used to even a few years ago, but when I do overindulge and end up on some bathroom floor or other, the consequences are becoming ever more annoying for me, physically and spiritually.  This might just be my experience, and I’m only talking about the few parties or bar outings a year that just so happen with me having a few too many drinks with a few too many shots each in them, but when one is trying to lead a holy or magical life and get out to view the other spheres, it’s hard when the body and mind are drunk with mistakes.

Even Hermes Trismegistus said as much, in the Divine Poemander:

O ye people, earth-born folk, ye who have given yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of God, be sober now, cease from your surfeit, cease to be glamoured by irrational sleep…[ye] earth-born folk, why have ye given up yourselves to Death, while yet ye have the power of sharing Deathlessness? Repent, O ye, who walk with Error arm in arm and make of Ignorance the sharer of your board; get ye from out the light of Darkness, and take your part in Deathlessness, forsake Destruction!

Next time you’re out enjoying yourself, be sure that you’re the one making the decisions and enjoying them, and not the alcohol doing it for you.

De Abstinentia

This past weekend was fantastic.  It started on Friday when, after getting home from work, I went to the supermarket to get a few bottles of sangria.  I ended up coming home with a crate of wine, a crate of hard liquors, mixers, some frozen pizzas, and Chinese takeout.  Admittedly, I got a little distracted, but after my Jupiter conjuration on Thursday I was feeling mighty good.  I hung out and drank with a friend on Saturday, and then did the same with another friend plus plenty of Asian food plus plenty of various and sundry other activities, some of which resulted in well-defined circular bruises on my neck.

Don’t judge.  The Bible says not to.

Well, after that, I was feeling bloated, ill-equipped to deal with normal activities that didn’t involve more eating (and even then, ohgodbluuugh), and just generally salty (yay high-sodium dumplings and pizza).  Plus, the added weight gain was unwelcome, especially since I’ve picked up a few more pounds since March than I care to, and it makes it hard to stay focused on much when it comes to the Work and Art.  So, I decided it was finally time to call myself to a fast and just get it done with.

I had been meaning to do a fast for a while now, but it’s hard.  Between being social and eating out or with friends, working at home with delicious temptation all around me, and coping with the occasional allergy or cold, maintaining a fast is not the most simple thing, and that’s without getting to the more internal things like hunger.  I originally, long ago, tried to see how it’d be like doing a weekly fast, like on each quarter of the moon; it worked for a brief time, and then people kept scheduling dates or wanting to get lunch on those very days; after putting the fast off for one day, I ended up putting them off for two, then just canceling them altogether.  You know how these things go: give the demon an inch and it’ll take a mile.  It’s not hard to work up to a fast, either, even for a day thing; according to Frater MC, one good way to work up to a full fast is by a progressive fast.  Variations on this abound, and some may not apply based on how one already eats.  For me, a progressive fast looks something like:

  • Day 1: no meat, no alcohol, no sodas
  • Day 2: no meat, alcohol, or bread/noodles.  Clear liquids only to drink.
  • Day 3: fresh fruits and water only.
  • Day 4 and onward: water only.

Anyway, after reading the Scribbler’s four day fast regimen, I decided to cut the bullshit and go full-on into a seven day water-only fast.  Technically, I started it last night when I ate my last meal of a handful of frozen dumplings, but I officially began it this morning when I made my statement of intent; I’m counting forward from this morning, then.  Did I warm up for this?  No.  Was that stupid?  Yup.  Is fasting in general stupid?  Often enough, yeah.  That said, I have my reasons: it’s been too long since my last proper fast, I need to start going through some proper ordeals in my life beyond the daily grind, I could do with shedding some extra weight, it’s supposedly good for detoxing the body, it’s a good exercise in self-control and self-restraint, and I want to see the effect food deprivation has on my practice and ability to see things astrally.  Granted, this isn’t for everyone; I’m in good enough health with no interfering preexisting conditions that would give me serious pause for doing a fast like this, and I’m not engaged in such an active lifestyle that this would pose a danger to me.

Ordeal?  Why on earth would I put myself through that?  Honestly, I don’t feel like my life is, well, troubled enough.  Things go well, and I don’t have much to cope with besides tolerating people, and I’m sociable and affable enough to do that fairly easily.  I know that, based on my own self-knowledge and an analysis of my natal horoscope, self-control is definitely among my weakest powers; this will be an opportunity for me to confront that demon of myself and give it the equivalent of a smackdown, especially in preparation for finally getting around to binding the Evil Genius.  Plus, given the multitude of resources extolling the benefits of fasting, I figure it can’t be that bad for my practice.

Since this upcoming week I have conjurations with the angels of Mars, Fire, and the Sun, I figure I’ll have energy and drive enough to get through this fine, though I’m already looking forward to eating (at least gingerly) on Wednesday morning next week.  After that, I doubt a full seven-day fast will be called for anytime soon, though I do like the Scribbler’s idea of fasting once a quarter (say, the beginning of every season, or cross-quarter day?), but we’ll see.  Regular fasting, or at least in the form of calorie restriction and increased moderation, has been shown to be very healthy and helpful in even a normal person’s health; how much more so it might benefit me!

For now, I’m going to get back to my water and Enya to get rid of this headache, which should be gone by tomorrow.  I hope.

UPDATE (5/31/2012): Alright, I’m gonna have to cut the fast down to four days, ending Saturday morning.  After conferring with some medical friends of mine and reading up a bit more, seven days is a bit overzealous without training for fasting (who knew?) and preparing for it by doing a progressive fast (no duh).  Plus, after some family issues came up, I’ll be headed out of town this weekend, which involves the close scrutiny of family gatherings at which it’ll be impossible to maintain a fast in serenity.  Plus, I don’t want to have to endure all those folk on an empty stomach.  I’ll make up for the missed days by doing another four day fast in the coming month, this time by prepping for it.  Even though I’m very certain I can go longer than four days (will is no longer an issue, but the risk of severe hypoglycemia might be), it’s not going to be proper for me to continue this at this stage.  Feh.