Unlocking the Observatory: The Spiritual Practice of Zoroaster’s Telescope

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about how ZT constructs its notions of divinity and the cosmos, leading to a spiritual theory of sorts replete throughout ZT. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), the relevant chapters from ZT are the “Epistle”, “Second Supplement”, “Third Supplement”, and “Epilogue”.

It’s far from uncommon for authors to puff themselves up and make their works seem more groundbreaking and significant than they generally have any reasonable right to be (and I should know).  This can be explained any number of ways ranging from it being a marketing technique to merely getting people hooked on this Cool New Thing you’re excited about, or it may just be that the author has bought into their own hype and think that they’ve come across the Only Thing that Matters.  This is especially common in the world of occult book publishing, and to an extent, I think it’s always been that way to one degree or another; after all, the whole bit about mystical or magical historiolae explaining the discovery of some long-lost text is as much part of the occult genre as is lists of demons or elaborate instructions on tool-making.  It’s something of a cliché unto itself, really, and—at least for me—it can be almost disappointing when a text lacks such a bit of good entertainment.

Sure enough, we see a this puffing-up of itself happening in ZT, too.  This is most evident right in its very title (“The Telescope of Zoroaster, or, the Key to the Grand Divinatory Cabala of the Magi”) that calls on a whole number of occultural tropes, which are only expanded upon in the text itself, but there’s more to it than that, and I don’t think ZT is just trying to puff itself up for the sake of selling itself out.  ZT makes frequent reference to how it’s “only a key, not a treatise”, which immediately suggests that the author of ZT is holding stuff back from the reader.  While some people might be inclined to read this as a sure sign that the author is putting a blind on us, this isn’t the case here; rather, ZT does present what is necessary to learn, but only that which is necessary and not anything more, leaving what does not strictly need to be said as an exercise for the reader.  In that light, we need to consider everything that ZT does give us.  While the main purpose of ZT is ostensibly to teach about a particular form of numerological sortilege with an astrological flair, there is so much in ZT that isn’t directly about that that it leaves us to wonder: what else is it teaching us?

There’s a tantalizing statement in the Epilogue:

…willing to put ourselves in such a position, we have advocated for indicating how the operator will be able to recognize certain cases where (by a complicated contest of triangular relationships) an intimate communication and sometimes a Vision would be promised—in vain. The author of The Telescope of Zoroaster did not change course in the reply he divulged:

The Candidate must wait to be surprised by this superhuman opportunity, sooner or later infallible for them, if they are truly Called. This opportunity will fully compensate them for his work when, sooner or later, they will have reached the point of aptitude where the Pure Spirit desires them to be.

Consider the implications of this admission.  Despite the divinatory method that ZT teaches of analyzing the various tiles that might appear in any given pattern or arrangement within the Great Mirror, it suggests that this is not the ultimate (or at least the underlying) goal of the divinatory system of ZT.  Sure, the system as presented will work to predict the future, treating it fundamentally as a tile-based variation on cartomancy making use of a densely-packed spread, and the vast majority of the content of ZT discusses this very method and its variations in order to explain such a divinatory system. However, the implication of this line in the Epilogue, as well as the several mystical sections of the “Second Supplement” and “Third Supplement” that discuss more than mere angels and natal stars, suggest that this is just part of the use of such a Mirror.  Rather than merely arriving at interpretations, the real purpose is to obtain visions.

I mean, consider this line from the “First Step”, when the notion of mirrors are introduced:

These combinations are called “mirrors” when, instead of speaking only to the eye as paintings do, they offer the Cabalist a meaning which can only exist for them alone. Such combinations deserve the name “mirror” because they reflect the truth that saturates combinations. Thus, by combining the hexagons—whether we call them pieces or parts—into the triangles, diamonds, or hexagons that are composed from such hexagons, we obtain paintings, or “mirrors”. Now, the mirror being the final object of the cabalistic process, it is the quality of the mirror that prevails, and this word is principally in use.

Remember how I mentioned before that reflecting telescopes were still relatively new at the time of FZT’s publication?  Dating only to the 1660s, reflecting telescopes provided technical advantages over the older lens-based refracting telescopes.  In this light, especially when combined with how ZT says that modern astronomy has such “fruitful and no less indispensable utility”, it would suggest that the metaphor of these tile-spreads being “mirrors” was taken from astronomical tools: using mirrors in a metaphorical telescope (the divinatory system of ZT itself) to gaze into the spiritual Heavens much as an astronomer’s telescope makes use of mirrors to gaze into the physical skies. Thus, when a figure is composed for the purpose of performing divination, it takes on the name of a “mirror” as something that one gazes at as if it were a picture to contemplate.  We can certainly inspect parts of the telescope to determine how the different parts come together, but we’re not supposed to be looking at the telescope or at the mirror, but rather in the telescope or in the mirror to see what it reveals.  I mean, heck, ZT even brings up Nostradamus in the “First Supplement”, whom ZT claims also relied on the Great Cabala to determine matters of great spiritual importance and world-changing significance.  In this, by looking at the Great Mirror, we learn its parts and see individual things coming to pass, but by looking in the Great Mirror, we come to actually See things as a whole coming together—something far greater than the sum of its parts.

I mean, consider what we said last time about the spiritual cosmos as construed by ZT.  Yes, there is the Supreme Being and the Pure Spirit and the Principles and Spirits and Intelligences, but ZT says that there’s still so much more than all of this.  While the “Second Supplement” is primarily important for students of ZT to teach about the 28 angels and their natal stars (i.e. lunar mansions), that’s really only half the chapter; the other half talks about all these various means by which humans come to know things by means of spiritual intervention through visions, messages, and communion with spirits.  The author of ZT brings up Moses and the burning bush, Saul seeing the ghost of Samuel, Brutus seeing the ghost of Julius Caesar, Belshazzar seeing the hand writing on the wall and it being clarified by the divine inspiration of Daniel, the Three Wise Men being given a vision about where to go find the Infant God, the Pharaoh having his dreams interpreted through the divine inspiration of Joseph, the daimōn of Socrates, Numa Pompilius and the nymph Egeria, and so forth and so on.  ZT emphasizes the point that all true knowledge that matters for us doesn’t come from mere human inventions of cardgames or whatnot, but from our interactions with the spiritual world which guides us and leads us to live our lives properly in accordance with the will of the Supreme Being.

It is to that end that the author of ZT presents the Great Mirror (and, by extension, all the rest of the mirrors in ZT) as a means of not just predicting the future but as a means of communing with spirits.  This is why ZT gives us Plate VI (the diagram of the Great Mirror with the angels and lunar mansions), which only makes sense by bringing up the angels first, which only makes sense by bringing up the role of spirits generally: to guide and instruct humanity in the well-ordering and proper-functioning of the cosmos.  And, heck, given the extreme detail ZT gives in the “Second Supplement” regarding all the parts and bits of Plate VI (some of which don’t even actually appear in Plate VI as given), it leads me to wonder whether Plate VI is really just a reference sheet to be used like the Table of Numbers from Plate II, or if it was meant as a meditative focus not unlike a mandala expressly for coming into communion with those very angels themselves.

In that light, the Great Mirror serves three purposes simultaneously:

  1. A means of sortilege by which we can predict the future
  2. A means of coming into visions of things that are meaningful, i.e. a scrying surface
  3. A means of communicating with spirits who speak through the tiles, i.e. a conjuration locus

Incidentally, it’s the use of the Great Mirror as a medium for scrying that I think the use of hexagonal tiles is important, not because of any mystical symbolism inherent in the shape but because they completely tile a plane without gaps.  While circular tiles would also work for the purposes of divination, since they pack in a hexagonal manner, they leave gaps between them, which hexagonal tiles don’t leave behind.  Having a smooth, complete surface would work much better in this regard to afford the diviner something cohesive and coherent to gaze at for the purposes of scrying rather than mere sortilege.

This is, in a sense, what the Epistle told us about almost right from the get-go:

To read into the future is a much higher faculty still, and is less willingly granted from above. It is nevertheless obtained by means of one who knows that most ancient Pact—by means of an Advocate (but no one else) who finds in the signs and numbers of various tables the truth dictated by the intelligences concerning all that is the reasonable object of anticipation that one proposes to make in a more or less remote future. These signs, these numbers, these tables—this is what the Telescope of Zoroaster is about. […]

By means of the booklet through which I dare to pay you respectful homage, my Lord, we shall know how one might establish for oneself, so to speak, a place of rendezvous, where the Advocate enjoys the favor of being in the presence with superhuman beings and can there receive their benefit.

Recall the whole pyramid metaphor from last time that ZT gives about itself at the beginning of the “Second Supplement”:

As these approved eyes look upward along the faces of this mysterious edifice, it will happen—should the Pure Spirit allow it—that the clouds, at first reaching down to the ground to hide everything from the profane eye, will rise so slowly as to barely be noticed at once. Stone is succeeded by marble, marble by crystal, crystal by diamond, and diamond finally by a heavenly brilliance—but the Elect are not like to be dazzled with damage.

To lay it out bare: that the pyramid is revealed at all through the foggy mists is the work of the text of ZT, while the divinatory system of astrologically-flavored numerology provides just the rough-hewn stone base of the pyramid, but this is just the foundation of what comes next, which is heavily suggested in ZT to be obtaining visions and communing with spirits.  But even these, after all, would just be the next layers of the pyramid, upon which even higher and even more precious levels are built.  All ZT does is show us to the door of this pyramid-temple, and beyond that, so long as we have a light provided to us by the Pure Spirit, how far we ascend is up to us and our own determination and dedication.  All of this is nothing less than reclaiming the ancient spiritual heritage that the Epistle ascribes to the ancient Magi:

A similar order of things once existed wherever the Magi breathed, those revered priests, the most enlightened, the best of mortals. In their religious palaces consecrated to the Pure Spirit, these sacred servants, inaccessible to the curiosity of the vulgar, gave themselves up without distraction to the sublime intercourse which was their mission to maintain with the agents of Heaven. These dictated to their favored caste all that celestial and terrestrial nature has of secrets that can be brought within reach of human understanding, always infinitely limited to whatever degree of penetration one supposes those most perfectly organized priests, endowed with the greatest genius, were to have.

What are these secrets, exactly?  ZT doesn’t say; either the author of ZT was not privy to them, or the author found it improper to state such secrets to those whom they neither knew nor trusted, and for my part, I’d be charitable enough to accept the latter.  All the great questions we have about humanity’s origins and destinations, our questions about salvation and damnation, our questions about afterlives or reincarnation—ZT simply doesn’t say, and in many cases, doesn’t even hint at them.  All we have is this method by which we can begin to refine ourselves and build up a practice that will, so long as we keep to it, reach into the heavens themselves where all the secrets of Creation and the Creator might be revealed to us in time.

This is why, in the “Second Supplement”, the author tells us to keep ourselves in “a moral conduct and physical regimen” that keeps us relatively pure.  This isn’t about divination—well, not just about divination—but rather about us being able to accurately and consciously come into contact with spirits:

  • By avoiding heavy food, we free up our body and its senses to more easily allow the subtle perception of and communication with spirits.
  • By avoiding stimulating food, we keep our mind clear from the fog of perturbation so that we can accurately understand spirits without the message becoming biased or unclear.
  • By avoiding heatedness of sexual or emotional passion, we keep ourselves noble and worthy of entering into relationships with spirits and receiving their guidance and messages.

In the midst of the dietary restrictions ZT suggests, it brings up how so much spiritual communication occurs to us in dreams, and why ensuring that we dream well (especially in that liminal state of us rising from dream in the morning at dawn) is so important for spiritual communication:

The Elect, whom no embarrassment of the head or stomach has afflicted at the moment when sleep overtakes them, has consumed their digestion in a few hours, and then their whole being is fully at rest; this is the proper moment to catch the Spirit who deigns to communicate to this privileged mortal, and it is up to such a mortal to know how to take advantage of this sign of favor granted to them, and to not confuse with phantasy that which can be revelation, inspiration, and even sometimes apparition. Science, which is indeed the Great Cabala, is the touchstone par excellence where any accident of dream or vision can be tried and appraised at fair value. It is, we say, for the ordinary person, in the morning at the coming of the dawn, that the heavenly Agents descend and manifest themselves to the Elect.

This follows up on what the author said at the beginning of the “Second Supplement” regarding sleep and dreams:

What do we know? Nothing, perhaps, of what happens to the soul during this leisurely likeness of death called “sleep”; it is nothing but a superhuman apperception, whether helpful or harmful, sometimes pretending at ordinary facts, sometimes something disguised in supernatural forms—dreams, we say, are perhaps just favors granted by benevolent Intelligences or vexations and ambushes prepared by malevolent Intelligences, but are all too often too-fleeting impressions that vanish nearly in an instant, or symbols that are too oblique and so remain silent for ordinary mortals because they do not know the language necessary to understand them well. What one wants, what one is advised to avoid or do, even superstitious notions that have been adopted to generalize for all people the meaning that each material object can have in a dream all oppose a stupid, extravagant prejudice against natural inspiration itself, which therefore has failed in its effects.

In this light, especially considering the angelic focus of the “Second Supplement”, we build upon the divinatory practice to become introduced to communing with spirits, but we actually do the work of engaging with them primarily (it’d seem here) through the function of dreams—and not just any spirits, but primarily the angel of our own natal star.  This is best done at the coming of the dawn since, as the light of the Sun begins to enter into the world, so too do “the heavenly Agents [who] descend and manifest themselves to the Elect”.  We come into contact with the spirits, and especially our own angel, in order to better know ourselves and our natures, and thereby come to know more about the world around us, and by extension the whole Creation and the one Creator.  All of this comes about through the honest and earnest communion we might have with spirits, those celestial intelligences and heavenly agents, with whom such communion and communication is “the most beautiful privilege that humanity might enjoy”, because it is by our thoughts led on by things higher than us (the “super” to the “human”) what we might reach “to spaces that can and must be populated by a hierarchy of sublime beings”.

But, like…isn’t this a bit much?  In a book about sortilege, it’s super weird to have such an extended discussion about the virtues of a restrained diet to facilitate spiritual communication in dreams and how the greatest things we might aspire to is such spiritual communication and direction, right?  But then, that’s because ZT isn’t just a book about sortilege.  Among all the various lessons of the mechanics and components of its divinatory system and how to approach matters of querent and query, it’s clear that ZT gives us a much broader spiritual approach to understanding matters of truth on scales that go far beyond the mere individual human. Even though only the barest outlines of such a spiritual discipline is sketched out by ZT, it’s clear that it aspires to be the gateway through which one can eventually access the highest secrets of divinity and to live a holy life in continuous communion with heavenly beings.  We should remember, after all, that what ZT gives us is “a master key which will open not just the main doors but all the side doors, all the cupboards, all the drawers, and even the smallest secrets”.

Of course, such access to divinity and divine secrets isn’t given to everyone, nor is it even promised to everyone.  Success in this sort of spiritual work depends on many factors, not least of which is one’s own spiritual education (which ZT is meant to facilitate at an introductory level), but also one’s faith: faith in the Supreme Being (“Without this faith, there is no connection between the Supreme Being and humanity, and without such a connection, there can be no Great Cabala”) and confidence in the Pure Spirit (” confidence in the Pure Spirit—which is the indispensable trait of vocation which the Candidate must find themselves to possess”).  As the Epistle repeatedly emphasizes in its hypothetical rebuttals to imagined detractors of spirituality generally and ZT specifically, there is nothing in the Great Cabala for those who would dismiss it or its claims out of hand, or who would stringently favor human reason over superhuman gnōsis.  In this light, I’m reminded of part of the dialogue between Hermēs Trismegistos and Asklēpios from book IX, section 10 of the Corpus Hermeticum:

If you are mindful, Asklēpios, these things should seem true to you, but they will be beyond belief if you have no knowledge. To understand is to believe, and not to believe is not to understand. Reasoned discourse does not get to the truth, but mind is powerful, and, when it has been guided by reason up to a point, it has the means to get as far as the truth. After mind had considered all this carefully and had discovered that all of it is in harmony with the discoveries of reason, it came to believe, and in this beautiful belief it found rest. By an act of god, then, those who have understood find what I have been saying believable, but those who have not understood do not find it believable.

Returning one last time to the Epistle, we were not only introduced to the subject matter of ZT but also to a defense and explanation for its development and dissemination.  The “Baron de N…..” notes that such a discipline as this is only in its infancy, given how much work we have to do to salvage and reclaim the grand spiritual inheritance of the Magi, but reminds us even the grandest temple starts with but a simple hut to serve as an erstwhile tabernacle for the humblest of altars.  Those who dedicate themselves to such a spiritual endeavor would find themselves to be planting a sacred grove, keeping out those who would only disturb them—and, indeed, the author of ZT fully expects that this work would remain unpopular, maligned, and chastised by the many, and even many people today still scratch their heads at the incomplete, obtuse, or seemingly needlessly complicated system of ZT.  But, for those who would strive to make use of such a system, the author simultaneously hopes that, even should it take centuries, the “moral gold” that is produced from the crucibles of the dedicated would be used to reforge the bonds of true wisdom once broken long ago.

It’s my hope that all of this exploration over the past several weeks has helped attain at least some measure of that, instead of letting this fascinating system languish forgotten on old shelves.  At this point, I’ve basically said everything I have to say on it, so we’ll wrap up this series in the next and final post to summarize everything and bring it all together.

Not Everyone Needs to be Spiritual

It’s not often that I partake in Twitter or Facebook memes of the “let me divulge trivia about myself!” type, but recently, I found one that was actually kind of fun:

After all, as I see it, there’s no better way to get to know each other than by your shared dislikes or hatreds or by the things that really set you apart from others.  Anyway, I got a fair number of likes, and so I shared a fair number of strongly-held opinions, ranging from how I prefer the dishwasher to be set up to musing on spiritual practices.

One of the things I mentioned as part of this memes I actually had to expand on, because it’s actually a pretty important topic for me in general to consider as a magician and priest who takes on client work and who works with others for their own spiritual benefit, either for them to build up their own practices or to handle the load for them so that they can focus on their lives better.  I broke it down into two separate tweets:

I don’t think everyone has the capacity to live a spiritual life, nor is everyone meant to. Some people should (or must) focus on being worldly without incorporating spirituality, magic, or religion. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.

To build on this: not everyone is meant to be a priest/magician/shaman/etc. Some need religion just to have religion in their lives without becoming a master of it, just like how some people need to know just enough math to shop for groceries without becoming a mathematician.

I touched on this same topic tangentially in my recent post about divination versus counseling, when the notion of getting frustrated with clients who don’t use divination for their spiritual evolution came up and my annoyance that this frustration would be a thing for some people:

Why do I feel so negatively about this stance?  Simply put, you’re not God.  You don’t get to establish the morals, ethics, and goals of other people according to your own, no more than you get to say what divinities I worship or what practices I perform.  If you think all spiritual work should be done in the name of elevation, development, and growth, then I would say that you’re wrong; people have been using magic for getting laid and getting paid since the first days of our awareness of spiritual dimensions of the cosmos and of human existence, and I find nothing wrong with doing so.  I don’t disagree one jot that spiritual development is a good thing, but I’m not going to knock the physical pleasures of the world, either, which are also good to have and to strive for.  And, quite simply, not everyone is going to be playing on the same playing field as you are, nor will they be playing the same games you play.  You don’t know the purpose of why someone acts the way they do, nor do you know their reasoning for it, nor do you know whether it’s fate or divinely ordained for them to do so.  All you know is that they’re coming to you for help with their purposes; if you find that you react so negatively to their aims, then you should simply decline the to do the reading and move on.

After all, there are indeed people whose jobs and roles in this incarnation aren’t to be spiritual, but still recognize that there’s power in it and want to employ those who interact with spiritual forces.  That’s pretty reasonable to me; while I’d like more people to be magicians or spirit-workers, some people have no interest in doing so, or some don’t care about it or just want me to handle the dirty work for them.  I cannot bring myself to judge others for where they are in their lives or what they’re doing with their life; as another commenter on Facebook said, “we all have our hoe to row”.  I’d recommend staying in your lane on this one; give your advice on being more respectful, worshipful, spiritual, or magical, but at the same time, don’t expect it of or force it onto your clients or querents.

I think you all can see where I’m going with this.

Let us assume, at least for the sake of argument, that God (or whatever sort of ultimate-divinity fate-issuing word you want to use for such a concept) has in mind for each incarnate human a path, a plan, a destination.  You might call this your fate, you might call this your True Will, whatever, the idea still stands.  Such a path is unique for each person in this lifetime of theirs, and fulfills a particular goal of God.  It’s a lot like what one of my favorite bands, the Crüxshadows, expresses in their song Elissa:

Everyone has a purpose
Hidden within our lives
Something we were meant to do
Or feel before we die

I don’t think I’m saying anything offensive here by proclaiming that this could be (and, in my opinion, is) correct.  But let us continue!  There’s a purpose for everyone, and that all depends on the person for whom the purpose has been established.  Such a purpose is, in general, known to the mind of God and, on very rare occasions, to the person themselves mediated by their guardian angel or priests who deal directly in describing to people their fate.  It is up for that person to work with their fate, and hopefully to rely on the aid of others who can and are willing to give it to them to accomplish it.  That’s about it, right?  Besides being incidentals towards helping another towards their fate, nobody has any kind of right to tell them that their fate is wrong, mislead, or misguided in any sense.  To say so is to be judgmental of that person and for the path that God has laid out for them, which means being judgmental of God, which typically ends poorly for all those involved.

It doesn’t take that big a jump to say that, if everyone has a purpose, some of those purposes may not lie in the spiritual realm or in working with reality in a spiritual way.  Consider some of the greatest academic and scientific minds of the past several centuries or before who, for all their accomplishments, were atheists or had only nominal ties to a given religion.  Having attained their works, would you feel comfortable in saying that they wasted their time?  Would you say that their revolutionary ideas, theories, and inventions which give us today health and wealth weren’t enough and that, nice as they were, they should have instead focused on other things of a more spiritual nature?  Divinity is as much present in matter as it is in spirit, at least in the Hermetic view of things, but you don’t have to call it “God” to be respectful and inquisitive about it.  There are other mysteries in the world than just those kept for initiates in temples, after all.

To phrase it another way, I’m sure that some of us have noted people in our spiritual communities that just don’t seem to “get it”, whether “it” is a particular method of divination, a particular vibe from sensing objects, a particular insight from dreams or omens, or whatever.  Some people don’t seem to click with a variety of spiritual practices, and, to me, it’s not unreasonable that there are people who don’t click with any spiritual practices at all.  It’s not necessarily that they’re having a hard time finding “the right system” of divination or worship or sacrifice or magic; it could very well be that there is no system for them to find, because they’re not meant to be a spiritual person.  No matter how much pressure we might put on them because we feel it might do them good, no matter how many alternatives we present to them for them to try out, it could simply be the fact that they’re not suited for any of them, because their talents, strengths, and abilities lie elsewhere.  Sure, training and practicing something might get them somewhere, and faking it ’til you make it can help a little, but let’s be honest: just like some people are naturally terrible cooks or authors, some people just aren’t cut out to be spiritual practitioners.

And that’s fine.  And you don’t get to judge them negatively for it.

Before people misconstrue some of the nuances here, let me clarify a few points.  For one, one main thing I can see being a major impediment to people being spiritual practitioners of some kind is conditioning.  Conditioning is a real thing that goes on for many people in many cultures, and there are people who, even if they should be spiritual practitioners, have been conditioned out of any such inclination.  If it’s part of their path that they should be spiritual people, then the conditioning will be broken one way or another, and it’s just a matter of time and dedication for them.  Don’t judge them for where they are on their path; give them the time they need, and welcome them when they get to where they need to be.  Sometimes, they just need to know that the door is left open for them, because they got held up in the commute.

Another thing to be aware of is, simply, life circumstances.  I would love to dedicate my entire life to spiritual endeavors and pursuits, but let’s be real: I have a mortgage, credit card bills, and a distinct reliance on food that I can’t seem to break myself of, and I need to work to pay my bills.  While I’d love to spend my days in meditation and astral travel and client work and tending to the spiritual needs of myself and people, I don’t have the time or energy for it on top of my full-time job with a nontrivial commute, dealing with my family, keeping my household in order, and so forth.  And, despite my complaints, I know that I have it damned easy compared to others I know who are bogged down with overtime all the damn time, have children with their own after-school activities, stressful marriages or family situations, chronic health conditions, and the like where they have, maybe, at best, an hour a week to practice that they could still better dedicate to tending to their worldly needs.  It sucks, it absolutely does, and I feel bad for these people who want to get deeper into practice but simply don’t have the time for it.  Still, I can’t judge these people for, perhaps, falling short of some sort of spiritual benchmark I’ve artificially and arbitrarily established for them.  They’ll get to it when they can get to it, and in the meantime, they should focus on what keeps them living and breathing.  After all, it’s hard to do breathing exercises if you’ve already expired.

Beyond those, what about the people who can be spiritual and want to be, but aren’t up for being actual practitioners or priests?  I mean, for me, that’s fine, too!  Just as not everyone can be spiritual, not everyone can be a priest.  After all, what is a priest?  Setting aside tradition- or religion-specific classifications for a moment, a good general definition of a priest is someone who is an expert in ceremonial and spiritual needs.  Not everyone who cooks needs to be a chef; not everyone who writes needs to be a critically-acclaimed author or a calligrapher or a court-ready stenographer; you don’t need professional training to do something good enough for yourself, or maybe even for a few people who trust you within your limits of ability.  Likewise, you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy good food, you don’t need to be an author to enjoy a good book, you don’t need to be an artist to appreciate art; you don’t need to be a plumber to poop in a toilet.  You can derive satisfaction and fulfillment from something without being able to do it yourself; that’s why we have and hire experts to do work and labor for us.  Sure, there are some things that you must be able to do for yourself, but if your needs within a particular domain can be met by the expertise of someone else, and if it’s more convenient and logical for you to hire them for that rather than for you to spend the time, money, and effort in attaining that same level of expertise, then why not simply outsource it?  That’s why we have experts, after all.

In a spiritual sense, this is why priests have congregations to tend to: not everyone out there is cut out for learning liturgy, ceremony, ritual, and spiritual practices, but they still want or need to derive benefit from them.  That’s why we have priests: to be experts in a domain where not everyone is cut out to be an expert.  Many people out there may not be spiritual practitioners but are still, in some sense, spiritual; they just need someone else to do the ceremonial lifting for them, and that’s fine!  They have their reasons for it, and they know that this is the best option for them.  Good for them!  Not everyone needs to be a priest, after all, whether that’s because of their life path or their life situations.  As I’m coming to terms with more and more, being a priest isn’t just about one’s devotion to the gods, but also about one’s devotion to the people who worship them as well.

Then I look around at occulture, and it seems like you can’t swing a cat without hitting a priest of this or a priest of that.  I mean, it’s not like this is a new or recent issue (it most certainly isn’t), but I do notice something of a trend for many people trying to become a priest in this tradition or that practice when it may not be the best choice for them.  After all, when everyone around you seems to be a priest, what’s your deal that you aren’t?  Sometimes people take the title of “priest” too whimsically when it really does have a factor of experience, education, training, and sometimes initiated lineage playing into it that, about as often as not, they tend to lack.  Then there’s also the social component of being a priest: you can’t be a priest if nobody accepts you as one or turns to you as one.  Priesthood is necessarily about involving people, whether that’s a community of non-priests or another community of priests who turn to you as their priest (like a bishop to priests, or a high priest to lower priests).  Of course, at this point, this is where my own internal definitions of priesthood conflict with others in a variety of contexts, so I’m getting off-track here.

My point is that, if you’re spiritually-inclined, do your best to explore it and see how far it takes you.  If you’re not, don’t worry!  If you think you’re not spiritual but feel some sort of tug towards it, explore it both ways: it might be a matter of conditioning that has rendered you spiritually incapable of working, or it might be a matter of peer pressure that you feel you ought to be spiritual when you’re not supposed to be.  If you’re not spiritual, then revel in worldliness and material, manifest reality, and explore the mysteries and wonders and pleasures thereof!  If you are spiritual, then revel in both, or at least the realm of spirit!  And, if you are spiritual, don’t worry if you can’t dedicate the time to being an expert magician or high priest or other grand muckety-muck; if all you need is some light sermon-serenading or some meditation, maybe alone or maybe in a group of like-minded spiritual people, then enjoy and use what you can do as far as you can take it!  If you are spiritually-inclined and have the time, energy, and desire to plumb the depths of spiritual reality and practices, then by all means, be an expert magician or priest!

Just know that your path isn’t the same as others, nor are your capabilities.  Do what you need; do what you Want.  Don’t judge others for living their lives as they need to or as they Want to, but support them all the same as best you can and as best you should.

Diviner’s Syndromes: Prometheus, Tithonos, Teireisias

Recently in the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, there were a few discussions about how long one should study and practice before charging for their services.  As always, these conversations are enlightening, and occasionally entertaining; I’m also pleased to note that such conversations never seem to get overheated or rage-inducing anymore, neither for myself nor others.  This conversation did take an interesting turn, however; someone brought up an interesting view, apparently common in some Asian worldviews, which is another argument for why diviners ought to charge at all:

…diviners tend to have “shortened” lifespans due to their profession of revealing the heavenly secrets to others. Therefore, it’s only right to charge a fee, in return for revealing the heavenly secrets. This resulted in people charging, regardless in the level of skills…

…There’s often a belief that diviners often suffer some sort of disability or misfortune, as a result of being in a profession that goes against the Will of the Heavens.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint, and I immediately chimed in with two points from ancient Greece as a sort of circumlocuitous approach to my answers and thoughts:

  1. There’s a division of these arts between the gods Apollo and Hermes, according to that fun classical read the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. They both deal with foresight, sure, but they do so in different ways: Apollo is, properly speaking, the divinity of prophecy, while Hermes is the god of divination. The two are not the same. Prophecy is actually knowing the mind and will of Zeus (i.e. true and unadulterated knowledge of fate), while divination is simply reading and extrapolating from patterns in natural things or randomly generated patterns aided and assisted by the gods, which may or may not necessarily match up with the will of Zeus. Only Apollo could grant prophecy, but Hermes was given divination because Apollo (the previous “owner” of the art) had no need for it once he had prophecy as his Thing. Going to Apollo was a hard time indeed, but anyone could easily approach Hermes.
  2. It was commonly known that the Pythia, the sacred oracle and prophetess of Delphi under Apollo, would tend to lead shorter lives than other women of the same area due to her sacred work. Whether this can be attributed to the potentially psychotropic gases that inhabited her sacred cave or to the nature of her spiritual work is unknown, but it was believed to be the latter, not as retribution for speaking the will of heaven but because of how hard it is on a mortal body to contain the spirit of an immortal, especially repeatedly as a kind of career.

Eventually, after a bunch of other people put in their excellent points and I had some time to actually think and write out my thoughts, this is what I replied with:

… [regarding how money is passed from client to diviner in] divination in Santeria, there’s a lot more going on than just an exchange of money for getting the tools familiarized with the energy of the client; there’s a whole process to sanctify the area for the divination, and there are protocols involved for if the reading gets too “hot”, or energetically excited to the point of danger, or just to ward off negative omens so that they can be more effectively dealt with and so that nothing “sticks” to the diviner. Plus, for some priests, they need to undergo a light purification ahead of the reading to make sure they’re clean and focused enough to do the reading properly, and it’s almost always considered good practice to do a cleansing afterwards of the space and reader themselves to make sure no “ick” was left behind. In other words, we clean up after ourselves.

Plus, in the first year of being initiated in Santeria, there’s generally a blanket ban on…quite a lot, but that also includes spiritual works such as divination for oneself or others. This is because the new initiate requires a year of isolation from anything that could pose physical or spiritual danger, and this includes tapping into the energies, lives, and minds of others, which may not be always so pure or kind as we’d otherwise like them to be. When we perform divination for someone, we get at least a little mixed up in their life, a little entangled in their energies, which can rub off on us or leave us “stained” with their spiritual activities. If other spiritual hygiene isn’t implemented, those effects build up over time into a spiritual miasma that can really put us under.

There’s also the idea that, when we do divination, we’re using a little of our own spiritual power to fuel the act, even if it’s not “us” doing the real Talking. Just how a day of investigating papers and books to do research can leave us with a headache and eyesores, prolonged divination or doing lots of successive divinations in short order can leave us drained, which is a state of weakness, which can make us more vulnerable to spiritual miasma or other negative afflictions, which can lead very well to encountering physical dangers.

Do I think we’re revealing some cosmic secrets which are not to be known by mere mortals and which which the gods jealously guard? Not necessarily. Do I think there are other risks and dangers inherent to the act of divination? Absolutely! Having an active spiritual practice that includes proper rest, recharging, cleansing, hygiene, and spiritual upkeep is important for everyone, but especially so for diviners, who can often end up facing some real pieces of work out there which can really leave us a mess as we try to help others with theirs.

For the supplies we consume and the time we take preparing and maintaining our own well-being, I think that alone deserves compensation, for sure! And that’s not including the cost of tapping into and expending our spiritual power for the reading, the years of training and expertise we’re calling on, travel expenses, and so on, all of which deserve at least an attempt to pay for.

This led me to think of three “diviner’s syndromes” to tack onto my older notions of divinaddiction and divinaversion, the latter two affecting the person receiving divination and the new three affecting the person doing divination.  For the sake of art and whimsy, I’m naming these three diviner’s syndromes after three figures from Greek mythology:

  • Prometheus (Προμηθεύς) was the Titan god of forethought who, after sculpting humanity out of clay, wanted to make their lives better and thus tricked the gods out of meat for their sacrifices and stole the secret of fire from the gods, both for the sake of humanity.  As punishment for this, the theoi bound him to Mount Kaukasos, condemned to have his ever-regenerating liver plucked out by an eagle for the rest of time…at least until Herakles rescued him.
  • Tithonos (Τιθωνός) was a prince of Troy, and beloved of the goddess of dawn Eos.  Eos wanted to take Tithonos as her lover, and wanted to make him immortal.  However, she could not do this herself, and so asked Zeus to do this.  Zeus did so, but it only became apparent later that Eos made a critical misstep and forgot to ask for eternal youth along with immortality.  Tithonos grew old and older, never dying, but losing all his strength and sense and sanity.
  • Teireisias (Τειρεσίας) was one of the most famous seers in ancient Greece.  Having lived life as both a man and woman due to some incidents involving snakes, Zeus and Hera decided to use him as a judge in one of their debates regarding who had more pleasure during sex, the man or the woman; Zeus said that the woman did, and Hera argued that the man did.  Teireisias agreed with Zeus, giving him victory; Hera, in her rage, blinded Teireisias.  Zeus, unable to undo another god’s actions, gave Teireisias the power of perfect foresight to make up for his being deprived of eyesight.

I think you can see where I’m going with this, dear reader, if you’re at all familiar with how adopting the signs and symbols of myth can play out in our real lived lives.

  • Prometheus syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that comes about as an honest-to-god theft of secrets and revealing of information that cannot be known, causing offense to the gods or other spirits and which causes them to act upon you offensively.
  • Tithonos syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that results in decreased vitality, strength, intellect, health, and overall well-being due to being neglectful of one’s own physical and spiritual hygiene and maintenance.
  • Teireisias syndrome doesn’t really fit in with either of the two above; it indicates that a physical handicap of some sort allows for a greater spiritual strength, sort of how like those who are blind often have increased senses of hearing.  Like Teireisias, who gave up physical sight for spiritual foresight, those who are often outcast make the best of their situation and rise above their mundane problems through spiritual development.

Of these three, I think Tithonos syndrome is probably the most hazardous, and also the most likely we as diviners encounter.  I know that from my own experience and from the reported experience of others, doing a string of divination readings in a row can often tire me out and wear me down, causing me headaches, fatigue, light-headedness, or just making me more predisposed to being hangry.  And that’s the ideal case, too; if I do readings for people who have some really heavy shit going on, or who are being meddled with on a spiritual level by people throwing curses at them or by spirits obsessing over them, or if mental illness comes out in the reading or in their behaviors that play out on a spiritual level, then the problems ramp up real quickly.  And that’s all on top of the actual personal interactions I have to work with to act, not just as seer, but as counselor to make sure the person can integrate my advice in a healthy, productive way that isn’t threatened by fear, jealousy, anxiety, mental illness, or the like.  Between the energy I’m putting out, the energy I have to put up with, and the constant personal investment I have to make to accomplish the reading, it’s truly no small matter.

So, to prepare myself for a divination (and especially any string of divinations, like for a psychic fair or if I have multiple appointments lined up on the same day), I’ll be sure to take a special bath to protect myself while enhancing my sight and quickening my tongue, warding the reading space to make sure the information comes out clear without spiritual interference, and wear my preferred diviner’s charms and recite my prayers to make sure all goes well; to wrap things up, even if I’m dead tired from doing everything above, I’ll make myself cleanse the area of the divinations along with myself, lock everything down, cut all loose threads that didn’t want to be tied up earlier, and then get a good meal and a good night’s rest.  It’s a lot to handle, but it’s absolutely necessary, because without such precautions and postactions, it’s almost laughably easy to get so tired you get vertigo, faint, pass out, fall sick, or come to some other bad end that results in physical illness or injury.  It’s not worth it to ignore these ameliorating actions, because the cost will always be higher in the end.  Over time, with practice, your spiritual stamina can be lengthened, your focus sharpened, your defenses strengthened, and so forth through routine meditation, warding, energy work, prayer, and so forth, but this only lessens the harm because you can deflect more of it at a time; it doesn’t eliminate the threat or effects of it entirely.  Tithonos syndrome is no joke, dear reader; if you engage with divination, this is a real risk you bring upon yourself.  Take care of yourself.

Then there’s Prometheus syndrome, which…I’ll be honest, I don’t think it plays out like this.  If the gods didn’t want us to speak about the future, they wouldn’t let us know it to begin with.  Consider what Apollo says in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, where Hermes tries to strike a bargain with Apollo so that he could get in on the sweet, sweet gift of prophecy (emphasis mine):

But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand, bid me tell those decrees which all-seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men. Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take.

In other words, Apollo cannot give prophecy to Hermes because Zeus has ordained that prophecy belongs only to Apollo, and that all those who seek to trespass on prophetic powers or augury or other omens without the proper license do so in vain, no matter what they try to bribe or tempt Apollo with.  Only those who are true and truly guided by the proper channels can obtain such truth from Apollo; all others will fail in the attempt.  In this light, I find it less likely that one suffers the fate of Prometheus in stealing fire from the gods for speaking what ought not be spoken, and more likely that one just says wrong things; at best, such a bad prediction is useless and without effect, but at worst, it can truly mislead someone into ruin of their own doing for paying heed to the wrong people.

That said, I think that there are three cases where Prometheus syndrome could actually take place:

  1. One has a pact with a particular spirit who acts as a familiar or tutelary divinity of divination, and that pact allows the diviner to rely on that entity for divination in exchange for honoring that spirit through sacrifice and payment, and relying on that entity only as much as that entity agrees to share.  To press that entity further than what they agree to can end up angering that spirit to the point of causing punishment, just as neglecting one’s own end of the deal by ignoring or foregoing sacrifice and payment to them.  Still, this would less be a case of “speaking what ought not be spoken” and more a matter of “violating spiritual vows”.  If you rely on such a spirit for aid in divination, work such boundaries out for yourself, then stick to them; if you have a taboo or prohibition on divining for a particular topic (e.g. one’s eventual date of death), don’t try to pry into those secrets.
  2. While all the above makes sense to me from my Western perspective, I can’t discount that there may very well be cultures and traditions where divination is truly seen as a means of theft from the gods, and the methods they use actually work out in that way.  I can’t speak to this, but it may well be that any such form of divination is truly like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympos, which would them open them up to punishment.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s not something I can discount.  To avoid this, try a different system of divination and cosmological worldview that doesn’t see it this way, I guess?
  3. The last case would technically be considered an inverted Prometheus syndrome; rather than suffering punishment for speaking what ought not be spoken, I find it a very real threat to not speak what ought to be spoken.  In other words, if you see something in a divination, you as the diviner are obliged to inform the client about it, especially if it’s about a danger or risk to their well-being.  The idea goes that whatever you don’t inform the client of comes back to hurt you instead; it’s thus in your best interest to speak everything that you see and can correlate into a cohesive story (and the once-off “just popped into my mind” bits, too) to the client.  That way, the client has as complete and thorough understanding as can be given to them at the time, and the diviner can say that they did their best to help the client.  After all, knowing is half the battle, but if the diviner withholds knowledge that they’re privy to from a client that the client is paying for, not only is it dishonest, it also opens up the diviner to either punishment or “taking the hit” for the client simply from whatever is coming for the client.  Of these three cases, it’s this inverted Prometheus syndrome I’m most concerned about, but that can be resolved pretty easily: don’t lie in divination, don’t hide in divination, don’t mislead in divination.  If you speak what you see and all that you see as best as you can, then not only do you uphold your own professionalism in divination, you also hold yourself clean and free from the repercussions of problems that you’d otherwise stand in the way of.

So much for Prometheus syndrome and Tithonos syndrome.  Then there’s Teireisias syndrome, which…I dunno.  Like, I know plenty of diviners of all kinds: male, female, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, queer, old, young, abled, disabled, of every race and every socioeconomic class and every attractive quality (or lack thereof).  I haven’t really noticed much of a pattern in seeing whether “disabled people make better diviners” or “gay men make better prophets” or whatnot, so for me, I’d probably chalk Teireisias syndrome up to more of a myth than something to actually consider as a thing.  I suppose it’s more like self-selection or selection bias; consider, after all, that many people who get involved in the occult arts and sciences tend to already be outcasts, and being different in some way (queer, nonbinary, disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, etc.) is a big cause of being considered outcasts.  I guess it’s like how many men think women talk more than they do; if they see queer/nonbinary/otherwise-different people doing divination, then it’d be a matter of overrepresentation becoming rumour becoming fable rather than something mystically inherent in different people.  But, hey, if it helps us with getting more business, you can bet I’ll play my asthma, bad knee, and gayness up for as much as it’d be worth, and I’d encourage everyone else to do the same with whatever makes them different (so long as they’re also, yanno, competent enough to be worth it).

Those are my thoughts on diviner’s syndromes that we might encounter, along with some of the dangers and problems we face and how we might begin to rectify them.  What about you, dear reader?  If you’re a diviner yourself, have you noticed any problems that you encounter with divination that affect you on a spiritual or physical level?  Do you know of any tales, cultures, or myths where divination is taken as a last resort out of fear of divine punishment (besides the whole Witch of Endor thing from the Book of Samuel)?  How do you try to keep yourself in as good a condition as you can before, during, and after divination?  Let us know down in the comments!

On Keeping the Occult Occulted

I’m extraordinarily lucky in my occult practice that I live as a free adult in my ostensibly secular country, without the control or necessarily involvement of my family, coworkers, or even roommates.  I have my own apartment where I do what I want, I have my own income that I spend how I want, I have my own schedule that I set how I want, and I have my own practice that I effect how I want, largely without the supervision or interference of outside parties.  My family, though aware of and amused by my occult works, don’t have any say in what I do, nor will they disown me for living my life the way I find best.  My job is independent of my occult work and I am legally protected from incurring any punishment for my activities outside the workplace, especially as they pertain to my religious and spiritual beliefs and practices.  I live in a country whose laws protect me, my beliefs, and my free exercise (or lack of exercise) thereof, and where there’s a large and healthy occult interest where I can find many people to share my beliefs and discussions with openly or semi-openly.  And I count myself as among the extraordinarily lucky and fortunate that my boyfriend (and many of our friends, shared and otherwise) isn’t just permissive of the occult but is an active participant in it, studying and training in his own ways for his own purposes, and who mutually aids me as I aid him in our spiritual lives and growth.

Not everyone can be so lucky, however.  Many who want to study and practice magic, the occult, or religious lifestyles often cannot do so nearly as openly, if at all, given their living situations.  Sometimes it’s because their culture won’t permit it, finding occult studies and practices harmful or dangerous, and punishing those who engage in the occult with imprisonment, torture, or death.  Sometimes it’s because of their resources, where they simply can’t afford the space, tools, or supplies that many magicians use (and the temple’s worth of ceremonial regalia my type of magic is known for).  Sometimes it’s because they live with others in close quarters and don’t wish to disturb them or rouse their ire at engaging with this stuff, either out of respect for their housemates or out of fear of their reactions.  Many reasons abound for this, but I’d wager that the fear of religious persecution and oppression is a big one.  I mean, look at how religions like Santeria and Palo Mayombe developed under the slave trade in the Caribbean from their ancestral African forms; depending on the culture, occult and spiritual practices might be blended and merged with those of the slavers and colonialists, or they might be hidden away and kept furtive and secretive when the colonialists punish them.

And this is why magic, spirituality, spirit-working, and the like is called the occult.  The occult is called the “occult” because it’s literally a hidden, secretive, and unrevealed thing to most of the world.  It’s, quite literally, an esoteric study and practice, and though many magicians and occultists (including myself, obviously) have no qualms about talking about it in public, it’s ultimately an intensely personal and internal practice that cannot and can never be shared with others on a fundamental level; each person must develop themselves in their own way according to their own personality and internal self.  Whether it’s out of fear of persecution or merely misunderstanding, many occult topics simply can’t be shared or revealed to the public.  The fourth power of the Sphinx, “to keep silent”, is a development of this; by keeping silent about one’s work, not only will you prevent the world from fucking it up or fucking you up, but you’ll also keep the mysteries a mystery in the classical and original sense.  The occult truly thrives when it’s done privately, personally, and internally, and practicing it in such a manner will give the practitioner a true power that otherwise they might lack.

I was recently emailed by a young man nearing the age of majority who was living with his atheist parents yet wanted to study and practice magic in a way that wouldn’t disturb them or arouse their suspicions.  He couldn’t set up any kind of altar, nor can he perform any kind of advanced ritual; the most he’s been able to do are little amulets and charms and some invocation.  He wanted my thoughts and advice on how he might further his spiritual practice in this situation.  I can completely sympathize with him, too; when I first moved up to the DC metro region four years ago, I was living with my then-ex-boyfriend who wasn’t very spiritual, and though my spiritual work was just starting then, I didn’t want to do much when he was around, much less intoning arcane words of power or making holy water on Wednesdays when we both might be working at home and he needed the kitchen.  Still, I was able to at least start my spiritual practice regardless of his presence, and though it truly blossomed out after he left and I had the apartment to myself for a few months (and got over any apprehension about practicing magic with a future housemate), it was those initial months of practicing in a private and internal way that helped me the most.

First, never forget that no matter what the external world controls in your life, it can only ever control the external things in your life.  The people around you, the resources available to you, the places you find yourself in, and the like all only ever affect the external well-being and state of your life, like your body’s health, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the parties you go to or are made to go to, and so forth.  None of these things, however, are you, and none of these things can truly affect your internal self.  No matter what happens to you, you are the only one who can ever decide how you react to them and act based on them.  To draw a comparison with aikido, no matter where someone grabs you or attacks you on your body, they can never get your one-point, or center of balance; you can give them your center of balance and let them pin you to the ground, or you can maintain it and move them around no matter how they grab onto you.  It’s the same with the mind and the spirit; no matter what someone tells you to think or how to act, you are the only one who can determine what you think or how you act.  Once you’ve established this primacy and independence of mind from the world, you’ve unrepentantly and irrevocably opened the door to a new way of life, your own way of life.  With that done, everything else is just details.

So what are these details in terms of a spiritual and magical practice?  It’s the simple basics of stuff, really, that I keep harping on about when it comes to magical practice.  The most important resources you need for this are privacy and time, which you likely if you have the capacity to email me or read my blog from a first-world country.  If you have your own bedroom where you sleep at night, or if you have a bit of regular free time in an empty park or office room, you have all you absolutely need to engage in the occult.  If you live with others and if you have the time and privacy (and maybe the occasional excuse or cover-up) for masturbating or playing video games, you have the time and privacy for the occult.  If you absolutely don’t have the capacity for privacy even for sleep (and this is surprisingly common), ask those around you to give you a bit of privacy or seek it on your own; abandoned parks or buildings, empty rooms not your own, even the bathroom will work.  And, no matter how much you might argue, you will always have the time you need to do the occult.  It may not be as much time as you think you need, but if your life is so busy and jam-packed that you truly have no time for the occult, then you need to reconsider what it is you’re doing so you can make time for the occult.

With privacy and time, what can you do?  Plenty, especially if nobody’s going to peek in after you’re done or if you have the ability to leave things as they are after you’re finished.  Even if you can’t, though, there are four big things that you can do: meditate, pray, energy work, trance work, and visualization practice.  I won’t talk about any of these here, because you can find plenty of resources across the Internet and in books about these practices, but suffice to say that any and all of these things, which don’t depend on any physical tools except your own body and breath, are necessary and fundamental to occult practice.  Hell, even if you can dedicate 20 minutes a day every day for private prayer and meditation, you’ve already got 75% of magical practice down right there.  I cannot understate the importance of these few disciplines; everything else in magic, the occult, spirituality, and religion is based off these things.

Besides that, what else can you do?  Study!  Read and absorb as much as you can and whatever you care to.  Nobody (with the exception of the NSA and especially nosy parents) is going to be looking at your browsing history on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and you can always clear the cache and history when you’re done (and if you ever grew up using a family computer as an adolescent male at nighttime when everyone else was asleep, this should be second nature to you).  If you don’t want people to see your library, get an e-reader and download copies of texts.  We live in a time when an unimaginable wealth of occult and spiritual lore and information is freely and instantly available to ourselves at the speed of thought; by all means, use it!  Study correspondence tables, sacred geometry, the history and development of religious sects, the seals and sigils of spirits, and the like.  Practice drawing out the Tree of Life with a compass and straightedge, and learn how to write in Hebrew and Greek and the magical variants of their writing systems.  Keep a private journal where you note important connections you make, dreams you have, odd happenstance circumstances, how deep your last meditation was, important prayers you have a fancy for, and the like.  Just because you aren’t able to have a blog with oh-so-many devoted readers and shelves upon shelves of magical texts and tools doesn’t mean you can’t keep your own record, notes, and doodles that an untrained eye would think is no more than a student exploring simple art or playful ciphers.

Anything else?  With altars and offerings, you may not be able to erect a permanent shrine to a particular deity, nor might you be able to set up a permanent altar with an array of magical tools synced up in a particular way.  You might not be able to light candles or incense and leave them burning for long periods of time.  You might not be able to make offerings of wine, water, or food.  All of this is entirely okay, and aren’t strictly necessary.  If you absolutely need a working space, clear off a small side table or a reasonably-sized area on the floor.  Pack up your tools when you’re done, and be simple and minimal with your tools if you even need them at all: use a paper printout of a Table of Practice or draw one out on a whiteboard or chalkboard, use a sharpened pencil or a single matchstick (or even your index finger!) as your wand, use a pocketknife as a ritual blade, use a shotglass as a chalice, use a cup of water as a scrying medium, use a colorful bandanna as an altar cloth.  Leave offerings out only for as long as you have privacy and time, and dispose of them in the trash, the drain, the compost, or out the window when you’re done.  Use electric candles, scented candles, an oil diffuser, or a wax melter instead of traditional candles or incense.  Or, rather, don’t do any of this at all, and keep everything internal and personal in an astral temple with visualization and minor trancework.

The only thing that you’re really impeded from in tough circumstances are prolonged and involved ritual, such as a multi-day consecration of a talisman or a full Solomonic evocation of a spirit.  Admittedly, these can be difficult, especially when you need a material embodiment of something to act as a vessel for power.  What can you do?  Be subtle and minimal, as always!  When consecrating a talisman, do the major work in the astral first to build up the power being as elaborate as you want or can, then transfer that power from the astral into a simple object down here: a wooden plank, a wax mold, a cheap ring, whatever.  When doing evocation or conjuration, do it in the astral, and meet up with your spiritual allies and friends there frequently to keep tabs on what you send them out to do down here in the material world.  In fact, the majority of the stuff you can do in a physical temple you can do as well in an astral one, and building up your own astral space is an important aspect of much of modern magic and spirituality.

I won’t lie to you: having the physical space, time, privacy, and resources to engage in the occult is an awesome thing, and it does help immensely to have all this stuff, and I look forward to the day when the dude who emailed me can move out on his own and explore his own spirituality as thoroughly as he desires.  That said, it’s by no means necessary for the practice and study of the occult.  Humanity has always been able to practice the occult and spirituality in even the most dire of circumstances, with the harshest conditions, under penalty of death and worse; this shit is our birthright, and the spirits of the cosmos want us to engage with them and with the cosmos in whatever way is most appropriate and suitable for us.  To that end, they’ll be more than glad and ready to help us in whatever way we can, and they’ll try to communicate with us in whatever way we are able to.  Whether we use the spiritual equivalent of a next-gen cellphone with the clearest call quality ever or a tin-can phone across the cul-de-sac, the spirits will respond; whether we use the Golden Dawn-style or John Dee’s style of pronouncing Enochian, the Enochian angels will still catch our drift; the connection may not be as clear or as easy to understand, but the connection will still be there.  So long as you make the effort to work the magic you want and need to work, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.