On a Diviner’s Code of Ethics

Having this blog isn’t the first time I’ve ran a website, whether hosted by myself or another.  I’ve dealt with buying a domain and server space and setting up everything on my own before, and though sometimes it can make things more flexible, it can also be a big hassle.  It’s one of the reasons I like the convenience of using a service like WordPress to handle the back-end stuff for me, because let’s be honest, I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the nitty-gritty of website management on my own.

Back in college, shortly before I started the first iteration of this blog on Blogspot and before I got focused into actual magical practices, I had a small website of my own I managed.  It wasn’t for blogging or sharing occult information, no; it was a marketing website for my erstwhile spiritual consultation gig to bring in a little extra pocket money during college by doing geomancy readings for people.  I was reminded of it recently because there was something I know I had on it that I don’t have on this website, and I didn’t have the original files any longer (after several computer builds and platform changes, some loss is unfortunately to be expected), and it was something I wish I had at least for a reference for something I’ve been pondering as of late.  Much to my excited surprise, a single snapshot of that old website was available on the Internet Wayback Machine, and what I was looking for was right on that snapshot.

The thing I was looking for was my first attempt at a diviner’s code of ethics.

Without sharing the entire snapshot of my old website (which…while I’m excited I found an archived copy of it, I’m still embarrassed by it like how an accomplished artist might be embarrassed by their older submissions on their long-since-abandoned deviantart), here’s what I had on that old page relating to it:

I make a deep commitment to upholding the highest ethical and moral standards to dispel negative views and myths surrounding divination in our society. To that end, I endeavor to provide answers with clarity and utility, engage my clients in a relationship of trust and confidentiality, and interact with my community in charitable and beneficial ways. I donate a portion of all profit earned from [redacted consulting company name] to a local charity or use it for the betterment of the [redacted city name] Metropolitan Area.

To formally codify these aims, I have drawn up a “seer’s code of ethics” that I pledge to follow. I believe that all professional consultants should follow some ethical code, especially if they do so for profit. Further, it makes clear the intent I have as a psychic consultant: I work for the client’s benefit first, not my own.

  1. I will respect the confidentiality and privacy of the client, and will only release information with his or her explicit permission.
  2. I will respect the faith or the lack thereof of the client.
  3. I will refrain from judging the client on any grounds.
  4. I will inform the client of anything I can see and state from the reading, honestly and without malice, be it good or ill.
  5. I will inform the client of the manner of my technique upon request.
  6. I will inform the client of the meaning of any symbol in the reading to the best of my ability and understanding upon request.
  7. I will provide further resources to aid the client when I can no longer provide adequate or proper advice.
  8. I will make no claims as to knowing anything not knowable by strictly mundane methods with any assured level of precision or accuracy.

While I often agree to answer most types of queries, I reserve the right to refuse to answer any query I find objectionable. Such queries include, but are not limited to, those about death or violence, those violating the privacy of a third party, and those for the purpose of illegal gain. I will judge each query according to its merits once it is posed, and if I find it objectionable I may refuse to answer it.

I also reserve the right to refuse performing any reading for the client if the client acts in a dishonest or insincere way. I strive to help any client that comes my way, but since my time is valuable I choose to help only those clients with a real need and respect for me and my profession.

I warn any prospective or current client: caveat emptor! I do not claim that I provide completely accurate, precise, or correct readings, nor do I believe it possible to do so for many metaphysical reasons. The client should be aware that he or she asks for a reading at his or her own risk and out of his or her own free will; any answer or advice that derives from a reading must be evaluated by the client on the client’s own terms. I will refuse to take credit or blame for any result of a situation inquired about by the client, since it is my duty to inform and not to alter.

As a professional psychic consultant, I do not endorse any religion, spiritual tradition or philosophical school, and all such views I express are mine alone. I cannot be held responsible for any religious or spiritual matter as a result of consultation. If for some reason divination or esoteric arts are prohibited in the client’s locality or community, I cannot be held responsible for any ramification, legal or otherwise, which might result from receiving a reading.

While I haven’t laid eyes on this bit of text in literal years, much of it still stuck with me in one form or another and how I generally guide myself.  But, of course, times have changed, and I would gladly make changes to this to reflect those changes in my outlook, responsibilities, and what I consider ethical.  Since the time that old website was online, I went from a “oh no I just want to See and Predict things I could never be someone who actually meddles with magic I just want to help people figure out their lives” (I had such a phase once!) to…a not-totally-inexperienced magician, a scholar and teacher of geomancy, Hermetic and Neoplatonic theurgist, initiated priest of Ogun in Santería, craftsman, and author.  I’m familiar with quite a bit more than just geomancy nowadays, but divination is still one of the focuses of my Work; if anything, it’s only become more important as time’s gone on, because so much of what I do is guided by it and so many people come to me for that above any other spiritual service (so far).  Of course, there have been some changes in how I approach clients for divination as well as the topics they ask about, both for my own sense of ethics as well as for what I find works better when dealing with people.

The reason why I wanted to find my old website’s code of ethics was because I was thinking about a more modern version for myself to incorporate onto this website.  That, of course, got me to thinking, why don’t we hear about such codes of ethics for spiritual practitioners more often?  Sure, there are a handful of them here and there, but there’s so much variation and all seem tailored for particular practices or situations, or they rely on other ideas of centralization or authority.  While there are definite commonalities to be picked out between them, it’s sometimes hard to correlate them into something approximating a “common code”.

So, that led me to post on my Twitter/Facebook about perhaps writing another diviner’s code of ethics, perhaps getting my colleague’s collaboration and input on them, perhaps even getting other people to sign onto them as a show of solidarity or something to better enhance our art and our behavior when applying it.  On the whole, it seems like many of my colleagues and friends were enthusiastic about such an idea, but a few had their reservations, either about how such a thing might be developed or why such a thing shouldn’t be developed at all.  Upon pressing them for why, I think they have some good reasons that deserve definite thought.

From that discussion, probably the most salient point was that writing or adopting a code of ethics for diviners could easily lead to a form of accreditation or certification for diviners.  The idea goes like this: declaring a standard of any sort of competence, whether in terms of expertise in one’s art or of behavior when dealing with people coming to that art, and trying to get people to adopt or recognize that standard is a slippery slope to creating standards for other fields within one’s art.  With as few as one standard or code, one can create a codified “school” of diviners, which can end up being exclusive to those who are already on the fringes of society, difficult for people who have trouble adopting or studying such a standard, and even dangerous to those who commit themselves to a standard for the purposes of privacy, decentralization, and being hard to track by authorities in areas where it’s still necessary to do so.  While I was at first confused as to where this particular colleague of mine was coming from, I now completely understand his concerns, and I can easily agree with them as they are.

So, that point raises a question: why should I want to see a diviner’s code of ethics, anyway?  I know that I should hold myself to a standard of behavior for many reasons: ensuring my clients’ confidence in my skills as well as my trustworthiness, acting in an exemplary way for my community both mundane and spiritual, behaving right in the eyes of my gods and spirits to do them honor, and so forth.  Would I like to see others do the same?  Absolutely!  I think the world could definitely use more people of good moral character and ethical behavior, and to see people of righteousness carry out the office of diviner for their communities would do us all good in the end, I think, both in terms of visibility, eradicating stereotypes about us and our work, and helping people out as we can through our skills and arts.  This is especially important when we come across stories of particular occultists, priests, or other workers who abuse their powers or offices and end up as thieves, cheats, frauds, sexual offenders, or worse.

But…I also recognize that my way of right behavior is not the only way.  My ethics are informed by the way I was raised by my family, my studies of Hellenic tradition, Hermetic theurgy, and more recently Lukumí notions of iwa pele as well as more modern notions such as True Will; the path I walk is, truly, a path that only I can walk, no matter how similar it may be to other people’s paths.  What might seem abhorrent to me might be called for regularly by another; such a topic was brought up on that same discussion from earlier, and while I can see the reasons why someone might need to take such a stance, it’s definitely not a stance for me, as it runs antithetical to so much of what I believe and try to act upon.  And while I recognize the utility in breaking rules to achieve a particular end, I would rather have that rule to rely on and be known than otherwise.  Transgressive behavior only works when you’re going against expectations, so if you end up with a particular expectation as a standard, it no longer becomes transgressive.

I mean, my friends and follows lists, to say nothing of my friends and colleagues generally, are on the whole highly educated and technologically adept; I have many friends who are academics, many of whom hold advanced degrees, and no few number of other friends who are priests or deacons trained in seminaries or other formal settings.  It wouldn’t be a stretch by any means to call ourselves elite, Apollonian, or ivory-tower occultists, but at the end of the day, that’s still what we are: occultists.  Occultists, witches, herbalists, and the like have always been pariahs and outcasts in our culture going back centuries and millennia, and no matter how lofty and highbrow we take things, we’re still going to be at the knife’s edge of acceptable behavior (at best). Only good academics who report on magical practices while disavowing any sort of involvement in them get a pass, and even then, those who dwell too long on discussions about it get talked about behind closed doors.  While those of us living the good life in a first-world setting and culture like the conveniences and comforts of standards and rules, we necessarily deal with forces that not only bend and break those very things, but we still must be aware of how Weird we live our lives in the world.  Being still outcasts, fringefolk, or pariahs forces us to be aware of how much the rules of society don’t apply to us, not just for our benefit but also to our detriment, and how, in the end, the only rule we truly have is that there are no rules when it’s a matter of our survival and self-protection.

So where does that leave me?

I think it’s a good practice for people to consider their ethics and what their guiding rules should be in general; after all, these are rules to live by, but aren’t absolute moral commandments held on high (unless they are, but you’d know about them better than I would for yourself).  Not being moral commandments (unless they are), rules can be bent or broken in times of need, but limiting those times to truly matters of expedient means where the destination really does justify the road you take to get there.  And even then, there are always ways of evaluating ethical rules to give a higher-level view of what the rule is supposed to accomplish, and whether or not that goal is even worthy of being held.  Sometimes, the rules you want to live by are getting you to a place that you really don’t want to go to.  Consider, also, whether your rules are more method-focused or goal-focused; are you instituting a rule to conduct your behavior by, or are you instituting a rule to guide you to a particular outcome and steer you away from other ones?  That sort of ethics vs. morals distinction is crucial for this sort of thing.

I also think it would be good for people who do client work in a public way to put up a code of ethics, just for themselves in their public practice, because they’re trying to put on a public face and want business.  This may not be the case for truly back-alley, in-the-shadows workers who prefer anonymity and secrecy, which are also valuable things in their own rights.  Plus, depending on the methods used, not only would most ethical or moral codes fail to be held to, but any public knowledge at all about such methods would probably be as harmful for the client as it might be for the practitioner.  After all, while I would prefer to avoid acts of murder, I find poison a perfectly valid tool to be used when such a thing is called for, but you won’t see me hawking that service publicly, nor will you see me write a poisoner’s code of ethics.  No, codes of ethics are for people who are trying to keep a pretty face on their business and work, and if that’s one of your goals, then I think you’d be better off than not at least suggesting to your clients that you have some ethical bones that support your interactions.

As for the terms of such a code of ethics, I think it would be best to follow two principles: keep it simple, and keep it high-level.  You don’t need to go into detail about how you’re going to conduct every single reading or client interaction in a series of if-then-else conditions, nor do you need to expound on your magnum opus of morality and philosophy.  Do you value truth in your work?  Say so, simply and plainly.  Do you value correctness in beliefs?  Say that you’ll act as a mentor and guide when needed, and depending on how far you want to take it, you may want to avoid saying that you’ll judge the client for their own beliefs, because if you think yours are correct and theirs are different, you’re probably gonna come into an internal conflict.  It’s up to you to decide the actual ethical bones that make up your body of behavior, both in terms of how and what you need for your own conduct, as well as how and what is needed by your clients and community for your office and how you fill it.

I would like to see more occultists who do public work or take on client cases show their code of ethics, but it’s not something I’m going to expect or demand.  As in so many other things, putting up posters about how awesome we are falls far short of actual interactions and personal evaluations we make; no code of ethics we write for ourselves, after all, can be enforced by anyone but ourselves, and if someone’s not the type of person to act right when they need to, then perhaps that code of ethics they have plastered on their website may not be anything else but a waste of bits and bytes.  After all, codes of ethics and whatnot are there to help us become good people, at least in some public notion of it, but if you’re not going to be a good person, it’s going to show, and no amount of electronic make-up can fix it.

Temporarily suspending all services

So, I know I haven’t exactly been the most active with blogging lately for a number of reasons, but lately things are gearing up and other mundane (yet crucially important) things have to take priority for me.  While I regret this, I’m temporarily suspending all crafting, divination, and consultation services until I’m able to take care of other matters.  Don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s just that the stress of paperwork and moving demands quite a lot of me for the time being.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to resume my services and commissions again starting late May or early June.

Here’s hoping you’re doing well, dear reader, and that I’ll see you on the other side sooner rather than later!

Magical Practice and Mental Health

It’s no secret that those of us who are into alternative religions, spiritual practices, magic, witchcraft, and the like aren’t exactly “normal”, according to the definitions of contemporary Western society.  Sure, we may put on nice masks and clean suits to at least quell any suspicion that we’re anything out of the ordinary, but we’re not the type of people whom most people would call sane or safe.  Heck, even among different types or traditions of magicians and pagans, we have people saying “I don’t do that weird stuff” or “this is too crazy for me”.  Eh, it happens.

I think, however, that most of us aren’t actually clinically unsound.  Sure, we’re not exactly the most conventional of people, but we’re not off-our-rockers unstable; we might be crazy, but we’re not insane.  If anything, we’re pushing the boundaries of what sanity means, but still able to operate in sound ways that relate theory and faith to experiences and actions down here in the world of matter and flesh, and even then, that’s only for a subset of the more exploratory, experimental magicians out there.  Many of us are content with getting that little extra boost towards achieving our goals, not world-shattering enlightenment and gods-gifted godhood (although I think everyone should reach for those latter two goals, it being our Hermetic birthright, and all).

Then again, the foregoing only goes for most of us.  As with any group of people, there are going to be a subset of people who aren’t as mentally sound, who aren’t as sane, who aren’t as stable as the rest.  And, like with any group of people, the hotter a mess you are, the louder and more visible you get.  And that’s a problem.

I’m sure you, dear reader, have heard of the stories that Enochian magic drives people insane, or that so-and-so got into this particular tradition and came out a complete loon, or other such anecdotal stories.  I don’t really believe any of them; it’s exceedingly rare that it’s a particular tradition or spirit or prophecy or what-have-you that drives people insane.  It’s much more frequent, not to mention plausible, that those problems were always already there, more latent in some than others, and that their experiences (intentionally or unintentionally, malefically or beneficially) exploited those small cracks into full-blown chasms.  This makes sense, after all; if you have anger problems but are generally well-composed enough to not let them show in the office, working with a lot of Fire or Mars will make it harder to keep your cool; if you have depression but get by on a day-to-day basis, working with Saturn or Water will make it harder to keep afloat; if you have issues with being overly prideful, working with the Sun will make it harder to recognize the achievements and contributions of others.  It’s not a hard stretch to see how working with particular forces can easily knock us off balance with our temperaments, emotions, thoughts, and actions, which is why part of the job is to healthfully and properly incorporate these powers in ourselves, regulating them instead of being overridden by them.

But for those who already have mental issues, magic can be outright dangerous, more than it is for most people.  If you’re emotionally unstable, adding emotionally powerful things to your life can wreck you.  If you’re impulsive, working with spirits who demand contracts (and often much more) can ruin your life by leaping before you look into a deep, deep pit.  Sure, magic can help lives, but it can just as easily hurt lives.  That’s why it’s often so important to have a community or a teacher with you, if for nothing else than to act as a magical spotter or as someone to point out “hey, you’re not acting right, when was the last time you cleaned off?”.  Teachers guide and help us through our mistakes or help us avoid them altogether; communities develop conventions and practices as a whole that keep everyone up and running in a healthful relationship.  That’s why, even in the more popular stories about witches and wizards, it’s always the loner that causes problems.  Not to pass moral judgment on loners out there or to say that the community is always right, but when it comes to the sanity and health of magicians, having people around you as contacts and support is usually a plus.

It doesn’t help that our contemporary Western society isn’t the greatest when it comes to dealing with mental health.  Sure, we’ve come a long, long way in the past few hundred years, but it’s still not adaptive, responsive, or holistic enough to go beyond “you have this syndrome, take this pill” for the vast majority of people.  There are lots of people out there whose problems intertwine the spiritual and mental, and since modern scientific approaches outright deny the spiritual, we end up with an institution that cannot well serve those who suffer.  As a result, many magical and spiritual practitioners find themselves to be the care providers for people, and this is…pretty shitty, to be honest.  So few of us have the proper training, expertise, or background knowledge to accurately assess or describe unsafe mental conditions, and yet we find people on our doorstep with “spiritual issues” that are making people literally insane.  We’re not qualified to help, but we’re the only ones in a position to even recognize some of the issues at hand.  It’s a terrible situation.

Guys, be warned, and take a few things to heart from this:

  • If you’re just getting into magical practices, make a critical self-assessment of your health in all respects, and be aware of any problems that might arise when developing yourself.  You may not be able to practice mental health like a doctor would, but at least you can recognize when mental issues arise in the people around you and work with them to get them the help they need.
  • If you’re generally sound of mind and body, consider augmenting your magical practice with psychology and mental health studies, especially if you plan to work with or on behalf of clients.
  • Everyone could use an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and a hand to hold.  Everyone needs a therapist at some point, whether they’re an official and licensed one or just a friend to guide them through a tough period.
  • If you have problems, get help.  There are many resources available to you, both spiritual and otherwise.  Don’t assume your problems are purely spiritual or purely mental until proven otherwise; explore all avenues, and seek out help no matter the source.
  • If you need help, don’t delay getting help.  There is no shame in reaching out for help, even if it’s just to a friend.  Don’t think that you need to improve on yourself first to be more responsive to getting help; don’t think that you’re so advanced that other people can’t give you a leg up.
  • If you notice other people trying and then giving up trying to help you, especially if this forms a pattern, notice it and realize that you might actually have a problem.  It’s like the inverse of the situation where if you find yourself having to curse all these assholes around you, maybe it’s not them who’s the asshole, but you.  If you find that all these magical practitioners and spiritual guides can’t or are unwilling to help you, it might not be that they’re useless or spiteful of you, but that you have problems that they’re not able to tackle because you need more serious help than they’re able to provide.