On Want and Work

So much for working on my book over the past month; between ceremony and office work, as well as starting to go to the gym (finally, after far too long), turns out that I didn’t have as much time set aside, even after not working on my blog as much.  Fah.  Ah well, time goes on, and work will continue.  But, of course, writing is just one part of my work; I love to research, to construct rituals, to make connections, and to put them down on paper (physical or electronic).  Writing for this blog, helping others out in figuring out their own ceremonial or magical problems for solutions and workarounds, doing divinations, and writing my book (slowly) are all deeply satisfying for me, because it feels productive and, moreover, makes me feel helpful to others.  There’s also the research aspect of the Work that I love: studying the prayers and songs and chants, planning out ceremonies and rituals down to the individual motions and seconds, and seeing how individual motions and moments connect across a ceremony to produce a single, unified result.  That, too, is valuable and worth our time.

But we don’t call it the Writing, or the Research, or the Lesson, or the Study.  We call it the Work, because without Work, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.  You can study and research and write all you want, but if you never put paper to practice, you don’t get much of anywhere.  And, from time to time, I catch myself slipping back into the comfort of the armchair and realize that, well, one position maintained too long starts to get uncomfortable, and eventually, the whole body becomes sore from sitting down so long, and the only way to stop that soreness is to…well, get out of the chair, stand up, and do some Work.  And yet, once you sit down for too long, it’s easy to forget what, exactly, to do once you stand up again.

One way some astute readers of mine can figure out what sorts of projects I’m doing, if any at all, is to note the rate at which I post stuff, what the focuses and trends are on the things I write about, and how much I say about it.  Looking back over the years, it’s easy to note the slow periods of my writing, and there’s a definite correlation between the things I do and the things I write: if I’m doing a lot, I tend to write a lot, and if I’m not writing a lot, it’s generally because I’m not doing a lot.  It’s not always true, of course, as there are always things I can find to write about (assuming I’m in the mood for writing and have the words to put to paper for it): between managing a geomancy group on Facebook, keeping abreast (sometimes) of conversations on social media, seeing particular issues crop up in people’s lives, and finding neat tidbits to talk about from the PGM or other source texts, there’s plenty to be said in general, but when it comes to an actual impetus for writing, it’s often tied up with having an impetus to Work.

And, lately, I haven’t been Working much.

Sure, I can point to a variety of factors as to why I might not be doing as much of my own experimentation and ritual: my three hours a day commuting, the time I spend on an almost weekly basis working ceremony for the Lukumí/Santería community (and all the study and obligations that go along with that), household upkeep, going to the gym, trying to spend time with friends, staying in the office doing actual work to bring in money while I stay in my manager’s good graces, and so on and so on.  Still, some of this sounds…more like excuses than anything else, because heaven and hell know that I’ve been able to do quite a bit more with as much on my plate as I have now.  And that doesn’t change the fact that, if one were to think that Lukumí is becoming my primary “mode” and Thing now, that I’m not doing much outside of ceremony for myself; sure, I spend time with my orisha, but I’m not really going to them either for much of stuff that I want.

And that’s the crux of it all: I don’t want much.  It’s not that I don’t want much, it’s that I don’t want much.  I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, Want is the drive for Work.  It’s all well and good to practice one’s conjuration skills with the angels or demons of your choice and flavor, but to me, I feel somewhat bad about conjuring them for its own sake without a purpose.  I could practice sigils or candlework, but if it’s just for the fuck of it, how can I really put any intent into it besides half-heartedly, half-assedly saying some prayers and throwing some energy around?  It seems like, without having a goal or purpose or need or…really, a Want to drive my work, everything I could think of doing seems empty and pointless, and so that reduces me to simply studying about things, and even that tends to be scattered and unfocused.

I mean, as far as modes of living go, I lead a pretty good life, and definitely among the most privileged in the world, too.  I’m in good health overall, I’m college-educated, I have a home and a mortgage payment, I have a car of my own that’s paid off, I have clothes and finery aplenty of my own, I’m married to the love of my life, I’m gainfully employed in a stable and well-paying job, I have family and friends and godfamily and colleagues that I care about and who care about me, and I make some good side-cash out of my hobbies of writing, crafting, and occult work.  I’m not shitting on myself by saying this: I’m basically living a middle-class dream, which is rare for US millennials nowadays, and my life is easily the envy of billions of people across the world.  (Many of the lives of my readers, too, as a matter of fact; the fact you have a computer and are educated enough to read my blog attests to having at least a few successes of your own, even if by the grace of luck and birth.)  To put it bluntly, many of my needs are met, as far as the needs of normal human beings go.

But…well, you and I are not normal human beings.  We’re not satisfied merely by being successful in this world, are we?  The usual middle-class dream is definitely nice to live, but that’s not our real dream, is it?  The adventures and situations of sitcoms and television dramas might be enough for some to aspire to, but even I have to admit that they bored me to tears; no, it’s the adventures and mishaps of fantasy and sci-fi novels that would satisfy me.  At heart, I admit that I want to go above and beyond the normal, mundane, humdrum existence of human life, to experience what few to no others experience, see what few to no others see, go where few to no others dream of stepping into, speak what few to no others dare to utter.

It might be said that an ideal life is a buffet: you get your plate, you get what you want from the buffet (if it’s available), you sit back down, you eat, and you continue eating until you’re full.  I suppose that metaphor works well enough for most people, but again, you and I aren’t most people, are we?  For us, we don’t really have a finite stomach that can be filled with a plate or three of simple food you can find at a buffet.  Remember that, etymologically, the word “appetite” comes from Latin “ad + petere”, meaning “to seek out”; for us, life isn’t an appetite we want to simply satisfy, but a longing to seek out, explore, and flush out as much as we can.  Most people are content with a small, finite number of finite types of food, but you and I know better, don’t we?  There is no such thing as a finite set of experiences, a finite set of places, a finite sets of ideas, a finite set of words; all we have is a finite length of time to live, and we better do our damned best to sample shallowly from or dive deeply into whatever we Want out of the infinite patterns and arrangements of Life.

Sure, I can be content with my life; after all, I’m doing pretty well.  But why should I be content with what I have, when I have so much more out there that could be gotten or sampled?  Yes, the things I have are good, but they’re not perfect, and they can always be improved.  Yes, the life I live is sufficient for most people, but it’s only if I shut off the magician-trickster part of my mind that I could stand to consider it “enough”; after all, I have a better idea than “most people” about the depth and breadth and height and width and girth of possible reality and irreality; why be happy confined to this little tiny tower of mine, when there’s a whole world out there to explore?

It’s easy to slip into a mindset of “this is enough” or “I shouldn’t ask for more”; it’s easy to fall into a pattern of commonality, of vulgar banality, by simply accepting things the way they are and making yourself content with it.  True, there are things in the world that we cannot change, for which we must accept them as they are; it’s a good mindset to have where one should think “change this, or change myself”.  However, I don’t think many realize exactly how much there is in the world that we don’t have to simply accept, how much there is in the world that we have the power to change.  And, for the things we cannot necessarily change and which we must accept that happen, there are many things we can change, barter, bargain, or tweak about how it happens.  Yes, the walls of Troy were indeed destined to fall, but the city could have lasted another ten years in safety and prosperity, if only Aphrodite had asked Poseidon who built them.

In any software engineering project, an application isn’t really “finished” once it’s deployed.  Sure, the design may have been implemented to the letter in code and compilation, but just because it’s out being used doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.  There will always be people who have problems using the program, and changes must be made to accommodate them; there will always be bugs lurking in the code, and corrections must be made to eliminate them; there will always be areas of inefficiency in the program, and improvements must be made to optimize them.  So it is with life: no matter how good or complete you might think it is, there are always things to improve on, because there’s always some quirk, some annoyance, some inefficiency, some blindspot that can be found and improved on.  For those who have rough lives, magic is easy to learn and put to practice; for those who have good lives, what few problems they have can still be resolved using magic.  The Work makes the lives of all better, no matter where you start from, so long as you do the Work.  Having dire needs is easy to fire up your Want to fuel your Work, but for those who don’t need much, it’s harder to build that fire of Want.

Summer’s a lovely time for bonfires and to stock up on fuel for the coming, lengthening nights.  So, whether you think you’ll need to keep warm by a rusty trashcan fire or enjoy the light from a gilded fireplace, let’s start gathering while the gathering’s good, eh?

No matter whether you’re a ceremonial magician, neopagan, academic philosopher, or someone who’s just sorta interested in the occult, I’d like all of my readers to try a little exercise with me to figure out what it is we Want out of our pathetic lives.

  1. Get two pieces of paper and a pen (not a pencil, but a pen or some other permanent writing tool).  At the top of one sheet, write “DO”.  At the top of the other sheet, write “HAVE”.
  2. On the “HAVE” sheet, write out all of the things you already currently have, enjoy, and accomplish in your life.  Everything you’re satisfied with, everything you’ve worked to attain and then attained, everything you’re content with, everything you think you should be happy with, write them down, item by item.
  3. On the “DO” sheet, write out all of the things you want to do that you have not yet done, or get that you don’t yet have.  It could be big, it could be small; it could be meaningful, it could be trivial.  It doesn’t matter.  Write them down anyway, so long as it’s not already on the “HAVE” sheet.
  4. Go back to the “HAVE” sheet.  For all the things you already have, branch off each item and add onto it the things that can be improved on.  If you already have a home of your own, what can you do to improve it, or would you instead want a better, nicer home?  If you already have a car, what about trading it in for a better one, or souping it up on your own?  If you already have a job, what about getting a promotion, or moving to a new career, or changing how you get income entirely?  I guarantee you that each and every thing you already have can be improved on in at least some fashion; aim for at least two things to improve on for each and every thing you have, or cross it out entirely if you genuinely cannot think of how to improve on it, if you even have any desire to.
  5. Go back to the “DO” sheet.  For all the things you already want to get, make it more specific; improve on the improvements.  Make the things you want to get more concrete, more actualized, more detailed; think not only of purpose and goal, but of means and method as well.  Be specific.  If you find that something you want to get is already an improvement of something you already have, cross it out.
  6. Once you’re done with the “HAVE” and “DO” sheets, copy all the new items over from the “HAVE” sheet to the “DO” sheet.
  7. Look over each item on the “DO” sheet.  This is the time to judge whether you want to devote the time and energy to something; if you have anything to reconsider about a given item on it, cross it off, but leave the remnant of it there.
  8. Burn the “HAVE” sheet with intent to start off your own fire of Want.
  9. Use the “DO” sheet as your high-living to-do list, and keep it sacred as a special text for you to follow.

It doesn’t matter how good you think your life might be, because your life can always be improved.  The Work isn’t done until your life is done, and I claim with some certainty that we’re not done yet, so why waste our time sitting in an armchair that makes us sore?  Let’s get to Work.

My View on the Modern Planets (and Human Nature, Too)

Last night on social media was kinda interesting.  Not too long ago, one of my favorite traditional/Hellenic astrologers Chris Brennan whom I follow on Twitter retweeted the following:

To which I replied publicly that simplicity is the highest form of elegance, with this simple diagram I made for my geomancy book:

Even if I made this specific image, the diagram itself is a traditional one that’s been in use for hundreds of years in Europe and the Middle East as a teaching aide to demonstrate the balance and symmetry of how the planets are assigned to the twelve signs of the Zodiac: the luminaries go to the brightest times of the year (in the Northern hemisphere), then the planets are assigned in their usual solar system order outwards, such that dark Saturn is given to the signs Capricorn and Aquarius, the darkest times of the year (again, in the Northern hemisphere).  All this diagram shows is exactly what @dahlia_anara posted in a graphical format.  Growing up, it was a mystery as to why the planets were given to the signs, but then, this sort of diagram seems to have been all but forgotten in modern texts; had I known about it in my early baby-ccultist days, this would have made everything make a lot more sense a lot earlier on.

For some reason, my sharing this image turned kinda viral, and some people were even put at peace by just seeing it; while it’s nothing more than a teaching diagram, it does reflect an underlying balance of the astrological cosmos, so I can get it.  Of course, with it being shared and favorited by so many, it did spark a few discussions and conversations, one of which was about why Saturn is the planet that gets that last position and not, you know, any of the planets that have since been discovered in modern times past Saturn.  This, of course, touches on an important, lively, and active debate (which doesn’t always remain good-hearted) on the approaches of modern astrology versus traditional astrology, and of course, I know you know that when I have Thoughts and Opinions, I let them be known.

Before I continue, let me preface this with the following disclaimer: what follows is my own personal view of astrology and its symbols that reflect my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, as informed by my studies, experiences, and works in astrology, geomancy, and other subjects.  Because I recognize that my practice is not your practice, and that my views are not necessarily representative of universal truths, you’re still free to hold any well-reasoned, well-researched, informed, and sound opinion, research methods, or approaches to astrology you want.  Understood?  We good?  Good.

Simply put, I don’t think the use of the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) and asteroids (Ceres, Pallas, Chiron, etc.) are necessary to the practice of astrology, and while they may have some use, they’re by no means of large importance to me for several reasons.  The most physics-based of these is that many of these objects move so slowly through the Zodiac that they’re not of incredible importance for individual persons.  While the Moon changes her signs every two or three days, and Saturn just over every two-ish years, the trans-Saturnians shift their degrees and signs so much more slowly that two people born in the same seven- or twenty-year period will have identical or similar locations.  For mundane astrology, this is potentially useful, because these slow-moving planets are more helpful in defining whole generations of people or zeitgeists rather than how individual people form in their own individual lives; once the zeitgeist established by the slow-moving planets is understood, one can inspect the relationships that the planets from Saturn on down with the slow-moving ones to see how one relates to such a zeitgeist.  In both a phyiscal and spiritual sense, the slow-moving trans-Saturnian planets occupy a place between the planets proper and the fixed stars; yes, they still shift like planets do, but slowly enough to be imperceptible on a reasonable timeframe, much like the light of the fixed stars.

Of course, this is all on top of a more fundamental astrological reason why I don’t find the use of these modern planets particularly helpful: astrology was already complete before the formal discovery of Uranus in the late 17th century ce.  In the seven thousand or more years that astrology has been practiced since the earliest foundations of Egypt and Sumer were laid, we’ve had more than a little time to see, plot, experiment, test, and record our observations and theories with the stars, and though refinement and elaboration, astrology became as complete an art of science (in the old sense of “knowing things”) as anything ever could.  The methods of astrology that have been passed on down to us are elegant, balanced, and established on numerological and divine harmonies that together form a complete, interlocking system.  The system already works, so as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Writing this post also reminds me of a similar post I wrote from the very earliest days on this blog, back from when I was still in college.  The points in there are basically the ones I’m raising in the present post, but there’s one bit I wanted to highlight as well:

We’ve had 6,000 years to build up our knowledge of the intra-Saturnians, while we’ve had just over 200 for Uranus, 150 for Neptune, and not even a full century for Pluto. Finding the full meanings for these planets will take a lot more time than we’ve given it, and finding appropriate uses for them will take even longer. I’m not arguing for a static and legalistic school of astrology, but I don’t think that astrologers have been doing the right thing for their art for the past two centuries. We should be using traditional astrology as a stronger foundation than we are, but instead we’re assigning meanings to the planets “because it feels right” or “because it’s intuitive”. What happened the last time you tried to prove an answer on a test, or a fact to a judge, with “because it feels right”?

Bear in mind that these planets are only very recently discovered and, while we can tap into our millennia’s experience of astrology to more quickly divine and refine the significations of these outer planets or asteroids, what we do know about them pales in comparison to what we know of the older symbols we’ve been using from the start.  Again, from my older post:

However, even until the early 20thcentury astrologers had not reached a consensus; Alan Leo wrote in 1909 that “Uranus has been given no sign by astrologers, though Aquarius has often been suggested”. As for Raphael, there is evidence to believe that he may have been writing just to get published: he wasn’t a good astrologer by anybody’s measure, and was more of a magician selling charms than an astrologer. He often didn’t provide reasoning or logic for his claims, and what he argues against is often borne out instead in practice (like the use of terms).

So, even over a century after Uranus’ firm discovery that it was a planet, astrologers still hadn’t figured out what to do with it in its entirety.  Trying to incorporate new symbols into an ancient system is difficult and time-consuming, especially for the first few introductions when the process of incorporation is still poorly understood, but at the same time, it bears remembering that the occult community wanted to keep up-to-date and “scientific” by bringing in whatever theories and discoveries they could from modern science to make their own arts seem more respectable and well-grounded.  Trying to bring in Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the asteroids, and everything else modern science says exists into the art of astrology was an attempt at doing just that, but they ended up shattering some of the symmetries and balances that kept the system in check and functional in the process.

Plus, like I said before, astrology was already a complete system long before what we know as “modern astrology” came onto the scene.  Consider: while modern astrologers often give Uranus the ownership of electricity, computers, astrology, and change, all these things already had ownerships in the old system: Mercury ruled all sciences and arts of the mind, including astrology and alchemy, as well as devices and means of communication, like computers; Mars would have ruled over power generally, and Jupiter (through his mythological connections with thunderbolt-throwing Zeus) would have been a natural fit for electricity generally, with Mercury (again) for circuitry and wiring; the Moon rules over changes in general, along with the flighty nature of Mercury.  To shuffle these things from the old planets to the new doesn’t really do much except introduce duplication into the system generally; at best, we can use the outer planets for very specific needs, like specifically giving Neptune to the seas and to seafaring specifically even if these would have been naturally ruled over by the Moon and Mercury, but at worst, this serves to bring confusion into the system of correspondences and obscures the logic of why certain planets have domains over the things they do.

This points to my last, and most fundamental, complaint about modern astrology, and especially the viewpoints of many who use it (badly).  Many often say that, as humanity has continued in its existence, we have undergone processes of spiritual evolution, and so need more and newer planets to reflect that, being such progressed, evolved beings now than we were.  The only evidence I can see that agrees with that is the development of what John Michael Greer calls the “civic religion of progress”, which is a very modern, very peculiar cultural notion that humanity can only change in one way: onwards, upwards, and strictly for the better, that all change is inherently better than what we had before.  As JMG points out, consider smartphones: they may get more complex and support more functionalities, but they get more costly and damaging to make, often more fragile, with more restrictions and burdens on them than what we had in the past.  This isn’t progress, even if it is change.  I look around at the world generally, and I see that a lot has changed: we have more and more accessible and cheaply-made clothing, more cars and means to move, more weapons and more explosive or damaging types of them, more means of communication, and so forth, but underlying all that?  I see the same humans underneath it all that have been around since the first human could be recognized as such.

Yes, we have developed elegant, complex, and abstract philosophies, governments, civilizations, technologies, but these are all window decorations to the real humans who, after all these countless myriads of years, still need to breathe, eat, sleep, shit, fuck, love, fight, kill, speak, learn, wonder, wander, live, and die.  I read ancient Greek, Chinese, and Mesoamerican philosophers, historians, and graffiti artists who bicker and complain about the same damn things that we bicker and complain about nowadays on the Internet about our fellow man.  The names and places we know, the media and languages we use, the projectiles we use to kill and hunt, the clothes we wear and rip and mend may have all changed over the years, but our underlying understanding of the human condition and what it means to experience humanity has been relatively unchanged the world over.  In short, humanity has remained more-or-less unchanged since we first came around, changing on the whole neither for the better nor worse.  That’s why, even in our modern and “evolved” time, we still turn time and again to the help and wisdom of our ancestors and to traditional, indigenous, and truly ancestral systems of knowledge, because not only have all those who have gone before us experienced everything we do now, they also had more time to process, understand, and correlate everything, and have since joined all the others who have done just that.

Spiritually evolved as a species my sedentary ass; individuals can certainly get to the point of spiritual development where they undergo such fundamental changes, but by that point, they’re no longer human and no longer bound to this mortal coil of humanity (cf. Buddha, Christ, spirit guides, orisha, etc.).  Plus, consider that, biologically speaking, sea sponges are just as evolved as humans are; trying to claim that humans as a whole are now “spiritually evolved” in a way we weren’t before is just forcing the notion of progress onto humanity simply because time has elapsed, ignoring what it is we are, what it is we do, and where it is we live.  But, yanno, if all you do is sit in a classroom all day without paying attention to the teacher or doing the classwork, you’re not going to get better grades by virtue of just sitting at your desk longer than anyone else.  It takes Work to get better, and not everyone does that Work, much less our entire species, and much less than that in an automatic process.

In that light, it makes even more sense how complete the system of astrology really is without having to bring in the modern planets and points in the sky.  If humanity hasn’t appreciably changed, as I claim and see that it hasn’t, then why should we need to change the models and systems of our realities to reflect some misguided sense of progress and evolution that hasn’t happened?  Astrologers have gotten along fine and have gotten accurate results in prediction and understanding people for thousands of years without incorporating them, so I see no reason to change the system, break its balances, and introduce needless confusion into the mix.  There’s plenty that can be innovated, discovered, or invented in the systems of traditional astrology without having to make it “modern”, just as how geomancy can be extended in its techniques and skills and understanding without bringing in new figures or elements into the mix.

Now.  All that said, do I think the modern planets and asteroids have no use at all?  No, I don’t.  I don’t think they’re necessary to practice astrology or magic, since everything they could represent is already represented by the main seven planets, but they can offer insights and specific details that can be helpful.  When I look at a horoscope, I treat the outer planets and the asteroids like I do fixed stars: I give them a very tight orb, and I don’t consider aspects unless they’re exact or approaching an exact degree.  When I interpret them, I first use the main seven planets to get an idea of what the chart as a whole is about, then I look at the outer planets and asteroids (when they matter!) to get a deeper idea of what the seven main planets are talking about.  I don’t look at an aspect between, say, Mars and Neptune and go off about this relationship willy-nilly; I first look at how Mars, Venus, and the Moon act, and see what such a relationship between Mars and Neptune clarifies amongst all that to see what specifically is meant.  That, I feel, is a more responsible way of using the modern planets, but again, the only benefit it affords is a specific insight to a specific detail to other factors already present and more clearly visible in the horoscope.  Helpful?  At times, sure.  Necessary?  By no means.

And, of course, don’t forget that “more evolved” or “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”, and that the more things change, the more too do things stay the same.  Just as Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”