On Geomantic Education

To those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, this will come as no surprise.  I’m finally working on my book on geomancy again.  It’s something that people have been dogging me about for years, and it’s been an on-again-off-again project since 2013.  However, since recently rebuilding my computer and getting all my files back together, I got the bug again to write that book, and good progress is being made again.  At this rate, it’ll be the size of a proper textbook, and my aim is to make it thorough and complete on a level not rivaled since Fludd or az-Zanati.  I’m not going to discount the extremely valuable books put out by John Michael Greer or Stephen Skinner, as I stand on the shoulders of those two living giants with regards to this art, but I aim to put out a text of a different kind.

And yet, despite that this book is (currently) estimated to come out at around 300pp., I can already hear a complaint off in the distance.  My goal is for this book to present a fundamental and thorough exploration of the art of geomancy in such a way that it will start from first principles (what is divination, what are the elements and planets and stars, what are the relationships between these forces and the figures, what are the relationships amongst the figures, how is geomantic “mathematical”, etc.) and go through every major technique I can document in Western geomancy, including variations and specifics of detailed things along the way.  In this sense, I’m following in the same steps as the geomantic authors of yore.  However, there is one major thing that my book does not and will not have that virtually every other book on geomancy has, and while it may frustrate people used to it, I find that it’s something that should never have been written by anyone ever to begin with.

If you haven’t guessed yet, dear reader, it’s lookup tables, those lists of premade answers to particular arrangements of Court figures, figures in the houses, and the like.  It’s these lookup tables (cf. Hartmann, Skinner’s “Oracle of Geomancy”, the Golden Dawn primer on geomancy, etc.) that I believe are a bane to the proper study of geomancy, and I refuse to include them in my work.

Now, I understand why they were written.  For the sake of completion, many authors have endeavored to provide a clear explanation and guide to interpreting each figure in each of the houses; since there are only 16 figures and 12 houses, this is only about 192 small entries.  After all, astrologers have done the same for the planets and parts in the houses for centuries, and they have a lot more to worry about in their texts.  And, for the sake of being reeeaaallly complete, many authors have also included premade interpretations for the different possible combinations of Witnesses and Judge; after all, if the Judge must be an even figure, then that cuts down all pairwise combinations of Witnesses to just 128 different combinations.  Again, not terrible.  For completeness’ sake, and to offer an illustrative guide to the gist of what figures mean for a query, sure, I can see why this was done.

The problem, however, is that many people are not as dedicated to the art when they claim to be its students, and would rather be lazy.  Mass-market publishers, additionally, want things that sell, and will happily cater to the many who would spend a few pence on a text that appeals to them rather than the extraordinary few who would spend more on a text that they need.  I mean, consider how much trash there is out there with the neopagan or pop magic literature; sure, it sells well, and it may very well be a good starting point for those who are serious about their studies.  Hell, even I admit to having a few of Scott Cunningham’s fluffier books somewhere in my library, and it did help me get started back in middle school with learning what magic is and how it works.  That said, if I were to stop there, I’d be putting myself at a great disservice and would never have gotten to where I am today; moreover, if I thought that Cunningham’s style of pop magic spells done on a beach or in the snow was all there was to magic, I’d insult all the magicians and occultists who came before him, not to say the field of magic as a whole.

The problem is that, as time went on in the Renaissance and more and more books were published on geomancy, all they really focused on was the lookup tables.  The techniques were discussed only inasmuch as they enabled you to use the lookup tables; for this, see Franz Hartmann’s book on geomancy as a prime example.  Geomancy became whittled down from this elaborate, profound system of divination that could elegantly answer any subject with extraordinary detail into this…well, the phrase “parlor game” comes to mind, something like Chi-Chi sticks or those little folded paper fortune-teller doodads we all used to make in elementary school.  Even though geomancy was more popular in Europe than Tarot is now, imagine if Tarot were reduced only to using its numbers and suits; it’s effectively playing cards, ignoring different spreads and the qabbalistic symbolism inherent in the art and structure of the Tarot.  That’s what basically became of geomancy towards the end of the Renaissance, and was one of the main contributors to geomancy effectively being lost once the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution came around.  No, geomancy was not completely forgotten, but it was all but regarded as useless and overly complicated for an answer that usually amounted to little more than “evil, except for bloodletting”.

So much for how the publishing and spread of lookup tables influenced the general perception of geomancy.  However, there’s another part of the problem with relying on these: lookup tables are inherently limited.  Sure, the small number of combinations of figures in houses or Witnesses and Judge is sufficiently limited to offer a good high-level summary in a single text; it’s not the fact that there are only so many combinations in geomancy, but it’s that these summaries cannot be helpful in all circumstances and for all queries.  These interpretations are very general, but also very isolated from other factors in a geomantic chart.  Yes, Fortuna Maior in house IV is a good thing for one’s personal life, but what if we’re asking a query about having an ex-lover move out of our house, and this figure is aspected by opposition, and it’s in company with a negative figure, and the querent has indicated that health issues may be at play?  Fortuna Maior, although a good figure, is sufficiently negated that it becomes stressful and harmful to the querent.  Yet, what can a lookup table say?  Not much, except that the querent will do well and strong in their personal life and home.  That’s all well and good, but the geomancer still has to link that to every other factor present to actually give a useful answer.  Without indicating how, books that stress the importance of lookup tables without teaching how to synthesize these factors gimp the geomancer.

Lookup tables, in effect, cheapen the art of geomancy; it reduces a synthetic, holistic, detailed divination system to a copy-and-paste, abbreviated, vague system of terse and snippy answers.  Because of this, geomancers who rely primarily on lookup tables aren’t really learning how to actually use geomancy beyond following page numbers like a “choose your path” story book.

That’s why my book will not have these lookup tables.  Tables of correspondence that indicate what figures mean in specific contexts?  Absolutely! Detailed interpretations of each figure as they are and how they relate to other figures to explore their own worlds?  You got ’em!  Case studies of geomantic readings that explore each individual factor and technique used for a particular chart, then synthesized together to form a coherent, cohesive narrative?  But of course!  These are all parts of understanding the principles of geomancy from a ground-up approach, so that lookup tables become useless anyway.  By enabling the geomancer to develop their own interpretations through a deep knowledge of each figure, understanding how the figures interact with each other ideally and in particular charts, and giving them the tools to synthesize different parts of a reading, the geomancer will never need to use lookup tables for answers on “will he obtain his love” or “how will the undertaking end”; at a glance, the geomancer will be able to answer these on their own anyway based on their own skill and intuition.

So, if the fact that my book is gonna be around 300 pages and remind you of college, dear reader, don’t worry.  This is not a book to flip through because you want to be lazy.  This is a book to absorb thoroughly because you want to be excellent.

Geomancy and Quintessence

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write a post on this particular topic, as I thought it was so obvious as to go without explanation.  However, as usual, the good people of the Internet have proved me wrong, and I’ve noticed a trend in my search hits that have prompted this post.  Uncharacteristically, it’ll be a short post, since there’s really not much to explain, but here goes:

The system of geomancy is incompatible with the notion of a fifth element, also called the quintessence or the force of Spirit.

That’s all.

It’s evident from the get-go that geomancy uses and relies on the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The structure of the geomantic figures themselves lend themselves well to this: a geomantic figure has four rows of either one or two dots, each row associated with a particular element, with one dot signifying that element as active or present and two dots signifying that it’s passive or absent.  The binary structure of geomancy, in addition, relies upon the exponentials of two, so 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.  This allows for four elements, not five, as five has no place in this system.  Going further, if you want to bring astrology into this, astrology likewise relies on four, not five, elements, just as it relies on twelve, not thirteen, signs of the Zodiac.  (No, Ophiuchus is not a zodiac sign.  Get over it.)

I’ve seen a trend of Tarot decks that have five suits instead of the traditional four, with the fifth suit dedicated to the force of Spirit.  I’ve also seen people try to incorporate a fifth element into systems that have no room or need for one, and geomancy is one such system.  It does not belong, especially as Spirit is not an element by nearly all forms of Hermetic reckoning, Golden Dawn material and derivatives notwithstanding.

I will certainly agree that Spirit is a force, absolutely, in the same sense that the elements and planets are forces, but I will not go further than that.  Spirit is something that is either or underlying all the other forces, a kind of ideal form of a force, or it is something that is lower than a planetary force and higher than an elemental force, something that separates the Spheres of the Elements from the Spheres of the Planets and Stars.  Yes, one can work with the force of the quintessence directly, although it is a different type of working than an elemental or planetary one, and its effects are realized through other forces that are already present; I’ve found that workings involving pure quintessential force magnify the other forces pertinent to a talisman, conjuration, or the like, but is nothing on its own in isolation from others.  This is a mystery that leads to very divine workings, yes, but in terms of manifestation magic or most Hermetic workings, Spirit isn’t a thing.  It’s not mentioned in Solomonic writings or the PGM or any number of other texts, including astrological and geomantic ones, because it’s not a thing like the other forces.

Okay, ending my curmudgeonly rant for the day.  Carry on.

Get Off Your Ass and Work: Magic and Politics

One of my colleagues on Twitter, Joseph Magnuson of Candlesmoke Chapel, made a few tweets over the past few hours that struck a nerve with me describing a general reluctance for magicians and spiritually-minded people to get involved with politics, legal affairs, and current events:

  • “I wish you’d just tweet about magic.” Well, laws are Big Magic/rights are Big Magic. Invisible ideas everyone follows. Words made manifest.
  • Magic isn’t just reading a book and collecting Supernatural DVDs. It’s all around us in most all movement. Do you not see this?
  • Magic shouldn’t be safe and silent/not seen and not heard…especially by “witches” and “magicians.” It is not a special effect.
  • So tired of this: “Politics? Not for me. They never got political on The Craft or Charmed. Besides I don’t want to hurt my witchy brand.”

I mean, it’s kinda true.  Spiritual people, especially those of a new age bent, tend to be reluctant to watch televised news or read news articles (excepting things like the Wild Hunt or a variety of Patheos blogs), and even more reluctant to even get involved with politics or current events.  They see it as beneath them, considering the news to be “a set up to keep us from manifesting the best reality for us”, and that “spiritual people know better than to get caught up in the illusions” (courtesy of Ernesto Mercer for that quote from one of his own conversations with someone he didn’t think highly of).  And you know what?  Some people aren’t meant to be worldly or get involved in worldly affairs.  Some people are meant to be hermits or monks or recluses that shut themselves out from the world, whose arms are no longer fit for the work of the world, who are here for purely spiritual experiences.  That’s okay.

You, dear reader, aren’t one of them.

Chances are good that you’re of a spiritual bent, dear reader, and chances are also good that you’re a magician in some regard.  You’ve read me talk about rituals for this and that, sometimes on thaumaturgy and sometimes on theurgy, sometimes on conjuration and sometimes on oils.  You have the whole internet at your disposal, and a cascade of links, even on this very blog, to direct you to awesome resources for magic and supplies beyond your dreams.  You’re educated enough and powerful enough to do some magic.  The only thing you really lack is awareness of the world around you, because if you were that spiritual enough to have the capacity for magic, you’d have the compassion to use it for the betterment of the world.  So read the fucking news and do some fucking magic, dear reader, because the world around you needs it.

I’ve been chatting more and more with my gnostic friends lately, learning more about the Apostolic Johannite Church and Gnostic Christianity.  I come from my Neoplatonic and Hermetic background, but my background philosophies and those of Gnosticism share much in common.  One thing that we kinda agree-disagree on is the nature of the world around us.  In some ways, the world we live in is the crowning pinnacle of all creation, the final and most glorious stage where everything is brought into completion and can play out the mind of God in all its finery and accoutrement.  On the other hand, the world we live in is also the Auschwitz ass-end of the garbage heap tossed unceremoniously into the night outside the walls of the real Kingdom; we’re just the refuse that couldn’t make it any better.  The Hermeticist view balances the two viewpoints, though modern Hermeticists tend to be biased towards the former; the Gnostic view has always been solidly focused the latter argument.  Both are true, really; the world is an amazing place, a place that feels good, a place where we get to learn and experience so much.  It’s a lot like going to college, really, and there are good points and bad points to the world here.  That said, we’re here for a purpose, a worldly purpose.  If we didn’t have a worldly purpose for being born into the world, we wouldn’t be born here at all.  And if the world is broken and requires us to act our parts and make the world a better place, bringing the kingdom of Christ into existence in the here and now or opening the 32nd path or what-have-you, then what excuse do you have to not do this?

People are dying from being oppressed and discriminated against.  Whole governments are broken and corrupt.  Countries die of famine and plague and war.  Families are torn apart and grieve and tremble in fear because of murder and intimidation.  There is a litany of things wrong with the world.  Surely you must be aware that these things happen literally all the time across the entire world.  Or do you feel nothing?  Are you so apathetic that all you can do is shrug and say “we have to rise above it” because your new age spiritual avoidance of current events prevents you from getting your hands dirty?  Are you imprisoning yourself into a hermitage of your own making where you can wash your hands of interacting with the world while still being delivered its goods for as long as you’re here?  Are you so numb to the pain of others who allow you to benefit from the world while keeping yourself from being a benefit to the world?  Are you so wrapped up in your own white-light illusions that you’d rather commit spiritual suicide to avoid any responsibility or call to action in the world?

Please tell me that I’m wrong.

Better yet, show me that I’m wrong.

We’re fucking magicians, the successors to the priest-astrologer-philosopher-kings of the ancients.  We wield celestial and infernal powers; the gods hear our calls and walk with us; we name the ineffable itself; we understand the mechanics of cosmic systems; we light candles, lay tricks, wave a stick in the air, spin in a circle, splash some rum on a rock, mumble some incomprehensible moonspeak and shit just happens.  We have known for millennia what hackers have known for only a few decades, that any complex system can be broken into and manipulated.  The archonic owners of those systems do the same every day those systems have been around, every day the mere ideas of those systems have been around.  And we, better than anyone, have known that when the systems have exiled us, made us powerless, and stripped us of all legitimate access, we will always be able to act upon the system itself and topple it down from the outside and from the inside-out.  We only let the archons win when we let them strip us of our will to get up and fight back and succeed.  We only let the archons win when we let them make us resign ourselves to spiritual impotency and kill ourselves.  We cannot afford to do that; humanity cannot afford to let them do that.

Magic has always been regarded as the means of last resort by the respectable communities of the world and all its systems.  The world is the last part of the cosmos.  We are the last thing created.  There has never been a last war, last plague, last famine, last death; these things are lasting.  Magic is not the means of last resort to action, it is the lasting means of action that has enabled us to cope with, fix, and make better the world.  You have better things to do than claim you’re better than the people down on the ground fighting; you’re already down here with us, and we’d really appreciate it if you got off your ass and gave us a hand with the burden.  We’ve asked too long what we can get out of the world; ask now what we can do for the world and for each other.

Read the news.  Fix the world.  Do some fucking magic.

Gaza and Palestine.  Syria.  Greece.  Turkey.  Iraq.  Ferguson, Missouri.  Los Angeles, California.  Gang wars.  Police brutality.  ISIS.  Hamas.  Chrysi Augi.  Racial oppression.  Sexual oppression.  LGBT oppression.  Political oppression.  Religious oppression.  Ebola.  Measles.  HIV/AIDS.  Floods.  Earthquakes.  Fukushima Daiichi.  Fracking.  The list is long and getting longer, and every time someone says that they want to abstain from the political aspect of these things it gets harder for everyone else in the world.

Everything is politics; it’s a system.  You can’t just decide to abstain from it, because you’re already in it.  It’s your duty to do your part either as part of the system or as an infiltrator into it.  Do not be idle; you have work to do.

Lovecraft and I Don’t Get Along

I’m going to make a terrible, terrible admission to you all that may ruin my oh-so-high and noble standing in occulture: I don’t like H.P. Lovecraft or his universes, and it’s not for a lack of trying, either.  At least half of my friends online and offline love the dude and his works, and all the works and worlds that he’s inspired, many of which actually working with the gods and entities from the Lovecraftian universe in an occult setting or dedicating some of their art and crafts to his world.  I’ve even taken a Vacation Necronomicon School a few years ago, a structured introduction to Lovecraft and his universe and how to write Lovecraftian horror and fiction.  I see Chthulhu this and Nyarlathotep that and Azazoth that other thing frequently and often.  And despite all that, I cannot stand the dude and his works.  I’ve known this for years now, but as my own spiritual life and practices have developed, I have a more solid understanding why.

The basic gist of his cosmos, as I understand it, is that the world is full of things.  Especially people, and especially white people.  And we as the logical, rational, material human race is responsible enough to abandon all but the most scientific of approaches to understanding the cosmos, especially white people.  But there are also other things in the cosmos that are bigger, stronger, and older than people, and especially white people.  And these things operate in a way that people cannot understand, especially white people.  This is obviously grounds for going insane or causing mass chaos and hysteria, because people are supposed to be the best, especially white people.

Please tell me you see where I’m going with this.

Now, I credit the fact to Lovecraft that he grew up in a late Victorian/early modern society and was enamored of what we nowadays call “hard science”, disregarding anything superstitious or religious as BS.  His family had a history of mental and psychosomatic illnesses.  He was brought up sheltered and lived as a recluse.  He held views that we’d consider racist in modern times, holding highest the Anglo-Norman people (from which he was descended), wanting to keep races distinct for the purpose of preserving cultural identity.  He was a man of his times, and especially the nighttime, and I understand that.

But the whole premise of his universe and drama just clashes so directly and fundamentally that I derive no enjoyment nor satisfaction from his works.  The way I see it, Lovecraft starts with the premise of a material cosmos and throws in the supernatural (magic, deities, etc.) almost as an afterthought, as if the metaphysical came from the physical and not the other way around.  In this light, the “gods” of Lovecraft’s universe are no more than beings that have had longer and more resources to evolve than humanity has, with abilities and knowledge that they’ve had more time and practice to develop than we have.  This makes them terrible, frightful, and deserving of crude and vulgar cults set up by the superstitious and unrespectable outcasts of the world.  Just as the poor become sycophants to the rich to eke out an existence by using some of the rich’s power, these low and vulnerable people turn to entities of cosmic power and fright against the more civilized and structured world of civilization.  But, because these mega-entities are so powerful, they stand to destroy all that civilization has made through the progress fueled by scientific advancement and industrialism.  We can’t have that, now, can we?

Basically, Lovecraft started with the basic ideas of social Darwinism and human (especially white human) supremacy over the world and showed how vulnerable we are.  This I agree with: there are things older than us and bigger than us and stronger than us in the cosmos.  I call them theoi, angels, gods, ancestors, totems, whatever; he calls them the Old Ones and Outer Gods and Elder Gods.  Where we split ways is that he finds the existence of these mega-entities incompatible with human understanding and outside our capacity to understand, inducing insanity, madness, and destruction.  I basically read his works as saying “But we’re humans! We’re supposed to be the best! HOW CAN SOMETHING BE BETTER THAN US I CANNOT HANDLE THIS KNOWLEDGE AAAAAAH.”  Note that this is what happens to the more civilized people, often scientists, while the lower classes of people tend to devolve and debase themselves into crude worship of these entities because they just don’t know any better.  But then, they not only don’t know better, but if they knew any better they’d go crazy, so they’re surviving where the civilized scientists can’t and becoming more powerful than civilization, which makes them a constant threat to the existence of humanity’s progress and civilized future.

Lovecraft, in spite of the cultural, scientific, philosophical, and spiritual heritage of humanity that actually exists, disregards all that we’ve actually done and posits it all as worthless in the long run.  Every story we’ve told, every building we’ve built, every discovery we’ve made, everything we’ve done and everything we’ve become is pointless and worthless in the cosmos, imprisoned as we are to this tiny rock in space, bound by our own limitations both physical and intellectual.  This is especially in contrast to beings who transcend spacial limitations (physical or metaphysical), whose power and knowledge vastly exceeds our own, who have their own aims and ends that either don’t take humanity into account at all or uses us for their own ends without regard for our well-being or survival.  All this boils down to, when we really think about it, everything we know and do is basically meaningless and there’s no point to anything.  The man himself even admits that his works are all about the futility and nihilistic pseudo-existence of humanity in the grand scheme of things:

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.

If your worldview puts the material, physical world first and the spiritual, metaphysical world as second, or that the spiritual developed from the material, then you’re assuming that there’s nothing really distinct from the physical, since all things ultimately come from it, and all spiritual stuff is just a physical process we haven’t understood yet.  Everything that lives, going by Darwin’s theory of evolution, is merely accident and happenstance, and nothing is in control of anything except by sheer power alone.  One human may control thousands with enough power, but no power of humanity can ever dominate the world we find ourselves locked into and trapped upon, especially the existence of other and more powerful (though by no means “higher”) entities whom we can only cravenly worship in the hope of having other powers not being used over us.  The only thing that differentiates humanity from the Old/Outer/Elder Gods is the shitty and inexorable luck that we weren’t here first and weren’t strong enough to evolve fast enough.

But if your worldview puts the spiritual, metaphysical world first and the material, physical world second, or that the material developed from the spiritual, everything changes.  Instead of humanity happening at the same time or by the same processes of other mega-entities, we developed after them or by their involvement.  If the spiritual comes before the material, then no material process can begin to describe how the spiritual works, since it cannot apply; science is useless there, but only because science (as Lovecraft would have thought of it) operates only on the physical.  In that case, we need other tools of humanity: religion, superstition, spirituality, the occult.  These things, reserved for the poor and uncivilized in Lovecraft’s works, become the true tools of power and knowledge that can not only preserve our minds but expand them.  Yes, we can go crazy, too (too much knowledge does that to anyone in any field), but it’s not because we’re incapable of knowing these things, only because we get too used to operating on a spiritual level and not on a material one.  Insanity caused by knowledge isn’t a fundamental breaking down of comprehension, it’s expansion in a way that doesn’t mesh well with human custom and civilization.  Even if there are other and bigger entities in the cosmos, and even if humanity is stuck on this little blue speck in the infinite black, we still hold the keys to our own gates to infinity and aether and power that can put us on the level of any Old One, if not far higher.  Am I saying that spiritual entities always love and care for us?  Nope; demons, angry spirits, hell-beings, and the like from any number of cultures would love nothing more than to see us burn.  Am I saying that happenstance and accident didn’t create the cosmos, both spiritual and material?  It’s impossible to know without being God, and even then, when you’re God, there’s really nothing you can do that can be completely understood by a lower being because of God’s infinite nature.  And even if everything were an accident of creation, this doesn’t mean that a purely Epicurean, atomic-materialist cosmos is the only possible result where everything is random and nothing is ordered.  The possibility of order, however temporary, and to reflect on the nature of order and chaos is an indication that, if the universe isn’t strictly ordered, then order (and, therefore, meaning) is an essential component of it.

Humans, even in my worldview and spiritual learning, are not the top of the foodchain.  We may be powerful, but of course there are more powerful entities than us.  We may be smart, but of course there are smarter entities than us.  We don’t know everything, nor can we do everything.  The only course of action we have available to us is to learn and do as much as we can and then more, growing in our own power and wisdom.  We don’t need to get off this rock for that, nor do we need to understand the entirety of the physical cosmos, especially when power and origins lie in the metaphysical that physical laws cannot begin to describe.  Not all spiritual entities may care for us, but we must have come from some of them, and some of them are by no means indifferent to us.  Everything I describe is what Lovecraft refuted, and everything I believe is what Lovecraft denied.  While I won’t go so far as to say he’s wrong in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter to him either way if I did; his universe and worldview is less than helpful and more of an impediment to anything I do and study.

Nihilism and meaninglessness may make for an entertaining read, but it’s no more than the flip side of the “catch-penny romanticism” Lovecraft himself decries.

Special Snowflake Syndrome

Whenever I engage in a conjuration of one of the bigger angels, or chat with a god during a special offering, I end up shooting the shit with them about any number of things: things I’d like to see happen or done in my life, various questions about practice and theory in terms of theurgy and thaumaturgy, and gods-know-what-else.  At the end of these little discussions, but before I wrap it up and dismiss or leave the spirit, I ask this:

Is there anything else at this point you would teach me or tell me?  Is there anything else you would have me learn, know, or do?

Such a simple question, but with such a vast effect.  A good third of the total information I’ve ever gotten from conjurations comes from asking this.  The spirits, after all, often know a lot more than we do and how we relate to them.  Getting their feedback in understanding our roles in the spheres they work in and how we stand in relation to them is invaluable advice, and if you’re not asking this when you engage with spirits you’ve built up a relationship with, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I started asking this on my own to the angels when I was first getting really involved with the elemental angels “way back when” (all the way back in 2011, baby, all those two long years ago), mostly out of a desire to know what the fuck it was I was actually doing.  I still feel this way often enough, but back then, I was really feeling like I was just blundering and blustering about blindly in the darkness and then suddenly spirits happen.  So, naturally enough, one of the first questions I wanted to know was “why am I doing this?”, and I haven’t really been able to get a satisfactory answer, neither then nor anytime since then.  In other words, why am I practicing magic?  Why am I called for this, why am I doing this?  Ever since I started asking, nearly every spirit who has the purview and interest enough to answer has replied the same: “to do magic”, like it’s my primary and chosen vocation or something.

Well and good, but it’s not specific enough to my tastes and leaves much to be desired.  And yet, it’s problematic for me in another way.  If I’m chosen to do magic, what are the limits of magic?  If my frameworks and theories of magic indicate that its power is basically unlimited (in its own ways according to certain circumstances and conditions), then doesn’t that give me a huge power over the world, myself, and others?  Doesn’t that make me, well, special?  Being chosen by the spirits to do spiritual work certainly isn’t a common calling; with it still being a necessary calling and a needed role to fill, doesn’t that make me extra-needed by creation?  Doesn’t that make me, in some way, a kind of mini-savior?

Barring the natural difference in people due to talent and genius, I believe that one of the defining attributes of humanity is that we don’t necessarily have fixed roles among ourselves.  Every species has its own role to play in the larger scheme of things: predators control populations of other animals, fungi help dissolve and decompose to recycle materials into the biosphere, and the like.  Humans, according to a Hermetic view, help maintain the sephirah of Malkuth, the sphere of existence that meshes the material universe with the spiritual cosmos; humanity can be seen to be this sphere’s “choir of angels”, so to speak, maintaining and working with this sphere as our job as part of the larger creation of things.  However, this role can be endlessly complex, due to the complexity created from humanity’s interaction with both the universe and the cosmos, or what I call the human world.  Among ourselves, we have different roles to play, different jobs to discharge, and different strengths for which we are uniquely suited that only we can fill, a strong indication of one’s True Will or spiritual purpose, where we fit into the larger machine of creation.

Still, seeing what we’re good at, what we ought to discharge in this sphere, and ultimately who we are can be a dangerous thing, and leads to something I often term “special snowflake syndrome”.  According to Urban Dictionary,

A malady affecting a significant portion of the world’s population wherein the afflicted will demand special treatment, conduct themselves with a ludicrous, unfounded sense of entitlement, and generally make the lives of everyone around them that much more miserable.

The danger of this disease is that the sufferers rarely, if ever, know that they have contracted it, and continue about their merry way under the assumption that EVERYONE ELSE is the problem.

(If you ever look at the social justice or otherkin tumblrs, you’ll know what I mean.  If you haven’t read them, never do this.)

Why do people develop this?  It’s because they begin to see who they are, which is a good thing, but get an unfounded sense of vainglory, pride, and self-importance at who they are, which is a bad thing.  They think that because they’re the only ones who can be them and do the things they do, this makes them special or otherwise rare in the world, and end up developing a persecuted savior mindset because why can’t you treat them like the unique holy thing that they are, bawwwwwwwww.  They don’t need to consult others or get external input on what they’re doing or supposed to be doing, because clearly they already know everything they need to know about their special role.  Like a snowflake, they must be unique, and therefore are to be cherished by the masses.  I see this developing in no small number of magical people who suddenly realize “o hej, I can do magickqzs!” and think that they are the biggest shit ever.  Sadly, in the process, they actually do become the biggest shit ever, but not in the sense they desire.

I like to keep myself well-grounded and humble enough to prevent this from happening to me, bordering on self-depreciation and overmodesty.  In fact, it’s why I make a special prayer of humility fairly often to keep myself from getting too carried off in my own delusions of grandeur.  Even if I’m one of the few chosen to do magic, why should I be necessarily praised for essentially just doing my job?  Even if I’m a holy power chosen by the Almighty, why wouldn’t I recognize that same in every other human and entity alive?  Maybe it’s the weirdness and glamour of magic itself that still strikes me as weird, that fascination with this arcane and maligned yet powerful art that can change the course of nations and individuals alike.  But even so, can’t I say the same thing about my computer science skills and my current workplace, where I work with significant economic data used in thousands upon thousands of contracts and analyses daily across my country and the world?  Can’t I say the same thing about the jobs and work of others, too?  Can’t I say the same thing about others generally, too?  Just because I’m chosen for a particular necessary role doesn’t diminish the necessity of other roles or those chosen for them.  Just because I’m helping out the world in my own small way doesn’t make me a savior for the masses, it makes me a small gear in the great machinery of creation.  Just because I’m told to do magic doesn’t make me special, it makes me understand that my minor job in a world of jobs is the best one for me and I’m the best person in a world of people for it.

Yes, I may be a special snowflake, but there are also a lot of snowflakes out there.  It’s only upon microscopic inspection that any one snowflake can be meaningfully differentiated from the others; at any other larger distance, snow is one large undifferentiated mass (barring contaminants, pollution, or dense packs of ice, of course).  Snow falls and is natural, and each flake contributes to the weather; we enjoy the snow, but we don’t necessarily care about or notice any one particular flake.  One snowflake does not make a blizzard and lasts for no time at all on its own.

Problems with “-mancy”

I have no shame in admitting that I’m a stickler for being correct, whether it’s understanding the full import or something or getting something right on a technicality (no better lie than a half-truth, after all).  This is especially prominent when it comes to the precise meanings of words, where I go by a combination of looking at a word’s meaning, both prescriptive (what it’s authoritatively supposed to mean), descriptive (how people actually mean it in usage), and historical (how the word developed through etymology).  Past posts of mine have used this technique, especially involving different names for rituals.  After all, if you’re going to wax authoritatively on what something should be called, you should at least have the decency of both doing it right and being right.

Probably the most ill-understood suffix or root in modern magic usage is the word “manteia”, from Greek meaning “sight”.  Manteia referred to, historically, any method of obtaining knowledge or communication via occult means, or divination.  Because Greek shares a trait of agglutinating words onto other words to make a more nuanced concept, the word “manteia” was affixed onto any other word that indicated the method of divination.  Many of these words survive in English or are easily Anglicized: pyromancy for “divination with fire”, geomancy for “divination with earth”, grammatomancy for “divination with letters”, necromancy (originally nekuomancy) with “divination with the dead”.  The prefix to “-mancy” here just denoted the vague notion of how the divination was performed; consider geomancy, which though literally might imply crystals or scrying using patterns of dirt or earth, actually indicates the use of a particular set of figures that were originally drawn in earth or sand.  A more nuanced word isn’t necessary, since words are just labels after all, although I’m sure 15-part words could easily be constructed that would clearly delineate the method of divination within that very word.  For reasons of convenience, this just isn’t done, except for comedic relief.

Of course, the suffix “-mancy” nowadays refers to any number of things that simply aren’t divination.  I consider this partially the fault of a lot of role playing games that try to be fancy with their names, calling the ability to set fire with the mind “pyromancy” or conjuring water elementals “hydromancy”.  This type of naming (which might more appropriately use “-magy” or “-kinesis) is still wrong, though I can’t blame modern gamers alone in this.  Consider that ancient art of necromancy, the ability to commune with the dead.  In order to do such a thing and get knowledge from the dead, one has to first find ways of opening up a channel of communication with the dead and “raise” them, so to speak.  This was recognized in ancient times as it was in medieval, Renaissance, and modern times, and requires no small skill in other magical practices to get started.  Indeed, necromancy was one of the explicitly proscribed arts in the Inquisition and by the Church for centuries (still is, even), but the art as a whole was practiced with the intent and goal of obtaining information from the dead.  The rest of the show was mere gimmickry and ritual for the sake of obtaining information, holy or infernal as it might be.

In fact, a lot of misattribution of magic to “-mancy” can be lead at the feet of people in medieval/Renaissance Europe who didn’t fully grasp the meaning or point of having a divination system named using “-mancy” (or “-mantia” if they were writing in Latin).  Consider my biggest pet peeve with geomancy, which is when people confuse it with feng shui.  The distinction between a divination system using earth-originating symbols and propitious interior/landscape designing is pretty damn big, especially considering the massive theological, philosophical, and cultural gulfs between the two arts.  However, when European missionaries and tourists went to China and Korea and found local holy men or teachers practicing feng shui, they thought they were doing some kind of funky earth magic, and since the missionaries were (at least officially) forbidden from learning actual magic or the distinctions between different magical practices, they thought “geomancy” was a proper word to translate as feng shui because “why not, they sound similar, let’s just go with that”.  And, from that standpoint, modern New Agers thought “geomancy” could also be applied to the study of sacred geography and ley lines, which is also wrong and even more different from the original divinatory art than feng shui was.

If, dear reader, you insist on either using a “-mancy” word to describe a magical practice, make sure it follows these two simple rules: you’re actually referring to a method of divination and not some other kind of magical, sacred, or philosophical practice, and that you’re prefixing “-mancy” with the core tool or method by which you plan to do that divination.  For instance, if you want to use a fancy word to describe Tarot divination, say “cartomancy”, meaning “divination by cards” (which is what Tarot essentially is).  As a rule, the more generic the word you’re using to describe the method, the better; you don’t need to say “taromancy” because that’s stupid and sounds like you’re divining using taro roots instead, especially when people who use other oracle decks or even do old-fashioned playing card divination fit into the same general field and method that you do.  Similarly, if you’re reading runes, you might go with “grammatomancy”, which is broad enough to cover any method of divination that reads letters; if you’re using whole words (in one way or another), you might use “logomancy”; if using books, “bibliomancy”, and so forth.  If there’s another word entirely that better describes your divination system (such as “haruspicy” for reading intestines, or another culturally-appropriate term for a different system like ifa), use that instead.  Also, try to stick to using Greek prefixes or Latinate prefixes with clear Greek origins: say “arithmancy” for divination using numerology instead of “numbermancy” or “digitomancy”.  And be sure the word you’re using actually means something; using “alphamancy” to refer to a method of divination involving the random generation of words from alphabetic tiles is cute but doesn’t actually mean anything, lest you want to use varying positions of the letter A to indicate meaning.

In the end, just be right about what you want to label your shit, because don’t nobody wanna get confused anymore.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Things I Don’t Believe

Inspired by the wonderful Patrick Dunn over at Postmodern Magic, I’ve been interested in doing a similar post (though not quite a series of posts) on various subjects in spirituality, the occult, and magic that I don’t believe in or have no basis for believing.  I mean, there’s a lot of BS out there, and even though I deal with BS quite seriously on a daily basis, I have to set my BS tolerance threshold somewhere.  To be fair, part of this list might just be due to the fact that I’m still fairly young and may not have as much experience with some of the things below as others may, but those are reasonably few and fair between.  After all, young as I am, I’ve still seen and done a fair amount in my life that a good number of others haven’t.

And with that bit of mysterious nostalgia out of the way, let’s begin:

Some upcoming mass spiritual revolution, dawning of the Age of Aquarius, galactic realignment, whatever.  This ties in right well with any apocalyptic or end-of-the-world theory (hopefully you all haven’t forgotten that 2012 was just last year), none of which I believe in.  Rather, I’m a proponent of the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun.  Consider that humanity has only been around for about 200,000 years as a biologically distinct species, 50,000 years as a culturally self-aware race, and 10,000 years as a race that works with agriculture and cities.  Evolutionarily speaking, this is not a long time (we normally see evolution taking place over the span of millions of years).  To think that we’re due for some new mass spiritual awakening because the biases and structures of the past millennia or two haven’t been too friendly towards a specific generation or countergenerational revolution is folly.  Do I think humanity doesn’t evolve, ever?  No!  We’ve been changing and (I like to think) getting better, inch by inch, mile by mile, man by man, but it’s not going to happen all at once in a year or two.  Maybe over a handful of millennia, if we’re disciplined and adept about it, but I’m not holding my breath.  Much as John Michael Greer has been saying on his blog The Archdruid Report, people want such apocalyptic change not because they’re too lazy to have it done by themselves or to work for it over a span of time.  On the other hand, I’m not saying that there isn’t some kind of storm in the offing metaphysically, but it’s not some kind of 2012-esque mass enlightenment nonsense.

Orgonite.  I’m not talking about orgone energy or technology in general, but specifically orgonite.  Maybe a year or so ago before I started the MaGOS project, I’d’ve dissed and tossed orgone tech from here to Kathmandu, but the tech does generally seem to work, and shares similarities with Franz Bardon’s stuff.  However, that cannot be said for orgonite, which (for those blissfully ignorant) is a congealed mass of resin mixed with metal shavings and, optionally, bits of crystal and decorative material (glitter, dyes, etc.).  Their intended effect is to purify local areas of “deadly orgone” or bad energy into “positive orgone” or good energy, given the basic hypothesis of how orgone energy works (ambient vital essence attracted to organic materials and repelled by inorganic materials).  Still, if the original orgone tech was unable to differentiate between the two, orgonite (a more portable extension of the tech) won’t either.  Add to it the fact that some of the crazier of the hippies out there like to “gift” or throw the chunks (often poured into and hardened in muffin tins or martini glasses for the shape) at cell phone towers, in Indian burial grounds, or in African reservoirs, and you have a recipe for utter stupidity.  Plus, in my experience, it oftentimes comes out looking like jagged congealed robot vomit.

Karma (the popular conception of it, aka The Rule of Three).  I understand karma from a Hindu or Buddhist perspective, with a bias towards the Buddhist interpretation of the idea.  In short, karma is an action arising from an intention of an unenlightened or conditioned being that has an effect.  Once enlightened (or, perhaps in a more Western phrasing, acting in accordance with one’s True Will), one acts without karma.  This is how the thing works, people, not this “rule of three” or “what goes around comes around” nonsense.  The modern use and meaning of karma is just another example of both horrible cultural appropriation and a way to isolate a basic human need to see retribution done on others.  Try as we might to remain altruistic and detached, humanity has an instinctual taste for revenge and justice that likes seeing itself effected, especially on others for whom we may not know the whole story.  On the flip side of this, though?  No matter what religion, philosophy, or path you fall into, if you need the threat of punishment to keep you in line and keep you from harming others, you’re doing it wrong.  Besides, this stolen idea of karma completely throws out the (also Buddhist) notion of expedient means, or the ability to use normally unfruitful or harmful methods to arrive at a better state of the cosmos.  Examples are using white lies to lure distracted children out of a dangerous situation, or killing one person to save a million others.  In other words, the ends justify the means much more than the means do on their own.  For those with a more Hindu bent to their cultural appropriation, you’re also neglecting the fact that karma can often be “atoned” for and, through the proper offerings and rituals, washed away completely, similar to Christian confession and absolution of sins.

Claims of unbroken lineage from time immemorial for modern pagan or magical movements.  Yes, humanity has always had a spiritual bent to it.  Yes, spirits/gods/whatever have always existed.  Yes, magic has always been done in some form or another.  Yes, every generation of humanity has its fair share of witches and magicians.  No, you cannot make claims that your modern reconstructionist orthodox tradition of whatever has been passed down in secret family lines for thousands of years intact, especially if you don’t have the pedigree or diplomas to prove it.  I’ve seen this claim been made of several branches of occult work, and especially those of (Dianic) Wicca and other “families” of witchcraft.  Witchcraft, especially done nowadays, is not a “surviving pre-Christian tradition”.  While some ancient godnames and the like might still be in use in extraordinarily rural areas of the world, if only in utterly derived or devolved forms, a lot of the modern reconstructed stuff you see nowadays is just that: modern (i.e. not of the past) and reconstructed (i.e. built according to assumptions from extant historical sources).  Believe me, if you actually did practice a “pure pre-Christian pagan path”, you’d be using a lot more animal and blood-based sacrifice than you are.  Purity in spirituality is a fairly stupid concept to my eyes (there’s value in learning a complete system as-is, but whole systems often have multiple parents).  On a related note, the belief that the Burning Times was as bad as many people claim it was is also bogus to my eyes and ears. Nine million people killed?  Weren’t there, like, nine million people in Europe to begin with during those times?  C’mon.

There’s no need for animal sacrifices.  I’ve gone over this before after bringing up a ritual from the PGM that involves a donkey’s head and blood, but honestly, this is a simple matter for me.  Life energy is powerful, and when it’s appropriate (and it’s not always appropriate), it’s a good idea to use a sacrifice of life.  Modern traditions, especially those from the African Diaspora, still use them, and every ancient culture practiced them.  Ritualists collectively stopped doing them with the advent of Christianity, which wiped out most forms of animal sacrifice along with most other religious traditions to replace it with the transubstantiation of Communion (which, theologically speaking, is pretty freaky when you think about it and just as awesome).  Not all gods desire blood or life sacrifices, sure, but a lot of them sure do.  While cultural norms may evolve and change over time, the gods don’t have to (being immortal and whatnot); after all, if you’re serious about worshipping your gods, you listen to them and not some fluffy Llewellyn-addicted white-lighter.  If you want to worship the gods, you do what they ask or tell you to, not what others judge you by.

Now, there are a few things out there that I’m inclined against believing outside of dogma and mythology, but I’m open to the idea of it having some chance, and convincable with demonstrative proof of their existence.  So, wanna try fielding something with an example and seeing whether it passes my BS threshold?  Let me know in the comments!