Experiencing Eternity in a Moment

It’s been just under a week since I stopped smoking (again).  This time, I’m gonna try to make it for good.  I’ve been smoking more-or-less since college, though before 2012 it was really just in social situations like parties or for magical purposes, much like how I use alcohol.  Since 2012, however, I actually picked it up as a habit, and have basically been smoking habitually since.  I’ve stopped for a few times before, especially before big ceremonies, but at this point, it really does behoove me to kick the habit of smoking.  For me, it’s not the nicotine addiction that kept me going (the nicfits passed in the first three days), but the actual habit: the socialization and quality time with friends, the going out to the porch or down to the garage, the flicking-on of flame and fire, the residual smell of tobacco in the air.  The buzz is nice and all, but it’s really the motion and action of smoking that I enjoy, and without it, I admit, it’s kinda boring.  In a few weeks, that’ll pass, too.

For me, though, the worst thing about quitting smoking by far is that my sense of smell returns in full force.  My smell is, after six-ish years of constant smoking, still my most sensitive physical sense, and it extends into spiritual sense, as well; where some people see auras, I taste and mouthfeel them.  The last time I quit smoking for a sustained duration of time, I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t smelling until I went on a walk around town one early autumn morning for some fresh air.  I was relieved to get back inside, because there were too many smells in the air.  I could smell the individual spices someone was using to make fried chicken three houses away; I could smell the exact brand of carwash soap someone was using a block down the road at the intersection over there; I could smell individual types of pollen and differences between diesel and regular car exhaust and the differences in mold and rot between different kinds of grass or leaf clippings and so much else.  There were too many smells in the air, enough that there was no chance for me to get “fresh air” to clear out my poor beleaguered olfactory senses.

Well, that’s starting to come back again, and now that I know what to expect, I’m more prepared for it this time around, so at the very least I’m not caught off-guard by it, pay more attention to it coming back, and enjoy it this time instead of being accosted by it.  I still would like to smoke, but I guess that’s just habit-whining talking.  Of course, other parts of the habit haven’t gone away just yet: I still carry around a lighter with me, just in case I need a source of fire, and I still drive with my windows down, which, of course, brings in more air and more smells into my car when I drive.  With the windows down, at least in the mornings on the way to the train station when the Sun is barely risen and everything’s still dewy and cool, it’s a rather pleasant experience.

Earlier this week, the pleasance of it all hit me in a different way.  Driving with the windows down on a cool, dewy morning with a light breeze outside, the yellow-golden Sun no higher than my own eyes off to the side, all the trees and fields lush with that late-summer, dense, heavy green, some mildly peppy music from an old playlist playing in my car, my arm out the window feeling the wet air slide past my skin and through my fingers…and the smells.  That vibrant, fresh, sweet, teeth-windy smell of such a morning.  The overwhelming power of olfactory memory, combined with all of that, slammed into me harder than anything, and brought back pretty much every single glorious moment of Joy I’ve had…many of which share this same setting.  While the act of it has decreased with age, driving with wind whipping around me has always been a source of soul-satisfying pleasure; driving in twilight, especially that of the dawn, in cool airs laden with humidity of ocean and river and fresh-fallen rain.  It was like, this one morning driving to work, I got to experience every joyful moment I’ve ever been in any similar situation all at once.

And yet, it went so far beyond that, too.  Something…slipped, it felt like, and instead of it being “I love driving in weather like this”, it became something much grander, more profound.  It went from “I enjoy this” to “I rejoice”; this moment of driving-joy touched every instance, every experience, every moment of Joy I’ve ever had in my life, and brought it all to bear right then, and hard.  It was like time stopped having meaning, and there was no difference between me-driving-to-work-at-29 and me-driving-after-work-at-17 and me-driving-to-my-boyfriends-at-20 and me-moving-into-my-dorm-at-19 and me-leaving-my-graduation-party-at-20 and me-visiting-friends-at-an-anime-convention-at-16 and so many other events and memories and times; it was like they were all happening simultaneously, like they continued to happen.  They weren’t distinct, discrete events in some temporal flow, but like my perspective of them changed, like how you can’t see something around a corner if you walk too far down the block.  It’s still there, object permanence tells us that it is, we just can’t see it anymore—you can still hear the echoes of the sounds it makes, you can still smell it, you can still feel it.  It’s still there, you just can’t see it anymore.

In that moment of unbridled Joy, a prayer of praise bubbled up unbidden through my lips:  “Glory to the Eternal Moment”.

Every moment of joy I had experienced—hell, each and every moment itself—collapsed into a single Moment, a single instance, a singularity of Life that seemed to be both forever, yet completely atemporal.  I guess this is why it came out as “Eternal Moment”.  After all, eternity, commonly understood, refers to an infinitely long period of time, something with no beginning and with no end.  However, in classical philosophy, this is not entirely true: that concept, of something that exists throughout time, is properly called sempiternity.  Eternity refers to something that exists outside time, something that transcends time, while sempiternity is immanent within time (it just so happens to be immanent within all of it).

What I saw was a brief, divine glimpse of my life as how we might see every side of a square while a two-dimensional being might only see one side at a time.  What I saw about my life was not a series of moments that changed from one moment to the next, where one thing happened then the next thing then the next as distinct events, but the whole collection of my life happening—always happening—as a single unit, a single Moment, happening all together like how different things can go on in the same town all at the same time, all occupying the same town.  I felt like I was both immanent in and transcendent of this view of my life, where I was able to experience all this happening all at once where I was (am) there, as well as able to look at it from outside myself like how a person watches a movie, like how we watch our own memories.

And just like that, the profundity, the immensity of that sensation passed away, and there I simply was, driving on my usual route to the train station on a regular weekday morning with the usual music playing in the background.  But, I tell you, such an experience couldn’t not have an effect on me, and the afterglow of it has stuck around ever since.  It’s almost like getting to experience the first time I heard and sang the Hymns of Silence again, except…so different, yet still the same glory.  And, in that awful, awesome, awe-inspiring light of glory shining forth from within and without, a realization: truly, just how inifinitely many events can happen at the same time at different places, likewise infinitely many events can happen outside time together at different times.  They might be distinct, sequential moments, but they are all part of the same Eternal Moment within which all things happen—not will happen, not happened, but do happen.

There’s much placed on the notion of interconnectedness, or Buddhist emptiness (cf. the core teaching of the Heart Sutra), where all things exist because of all other things, so in a sense, there is no independent existence because everything relies on everything else to exist.  Likewise, there’s another kind of interconnectedness, except instead of it being entities, it’s events: all events are tied up together, all events depend on each other, all events happen with and because of each other.  It’s not interbeing, it’s interhappening.  All events of the past have an influence on the present, and without the present, none of those events could have happened; likewise, all events of the future depend on this very moment in time, and without them to happen, neither could the present time.  Just like how I cannot be an author without you being the reader, then I cannot live now if I never lived before, and I cannot live now if I never live in the future.  Time, too, is interconnected just as places and entities are.

I’m not sure why such a realization, such a revelation happened.  Could be my brain adjusting to not having a constant supply of nicotine, plus the power of olfactory memory hitting me in an already good mood in a comfortable, receptive state.  I’m not sure what I did to experience or receive such a thing, if anything at all.  All I know is that it Made Sense, and it’s given me a new way to praise divinity and all its works of the cosmos.

Glory to the Eternal Moment.

 

Giving Blessings

I really need to learn to keep more cash on me.  I’m normally a card-type of guy, but in the right circumstances (and in increasingly more ones every day), cash goes a lot farther a lot faster than credit.

One of the main reasons for me to keep more cash on me, or at least staying in the habit of having a few bills on me at all times, is religion.  In La Regla de Ocha Lukumí (aka Santería—I wonder when I’ll stop feeling obliged to give the alternate, perhaps more common name), cash is customary for donations for any number of reasons, not least because it’s legal tender and proof of payment in itself.  When we establish the celebratory throne for an orisha, when we set up the drummers’ seats for a dance, even when we visit a priest’s house for their anniversary of initiation, it’s quite acceptable to leave a few dollars as a respectful donation (often in conjunction with an offering of fruit, flowers, candles, and so forth).  My checklist for going to an event now consists of making sure my whites are clean, I’ve got my offerings ready to go, and stopping by the ATM for a few extra bills.

One of the unusual things, however, is that there is a process for giving cash in the religion (always processes for everything, after all).  This one isn’t difficult; simply cross yourself with the money before dropping it into the basket/basin/jícara/etc.  Making the Sign of the Cross is a natural motion for many people in the religion, and it helps in sanctifying the donation with a holy reverence and respect.

Well, I didn’t realize how ingrained in me that habit had become until I went to a winery this past weekend.  The husband and I went to see one of his good friends play a gig there, and we got a bottle of fruit wine while we were at it.  It was a lovely, cloudy, pleasantly mild Saturday in early May, and we enjoyed ourselves (even through all the pollen).  Our friend, a guitarist and singer, had his guitar case opened up before his station, and a few people had already dropped some cash in there.  I followed suit to support our friend, so I reached into my wallet and—well, my first instinct was to cross myself with the money.  I laughed about it with my husband, and had to remind myself that this wasn’t a religious function and there’s no need to do that here, so I didn’t, and just dropped the cash in his case anyway.  I made a joke about it on Twitter, too (along with a few others).

But…well, I realized after the fact that maybe that wasn’t a habit I should suppress, and a few replies on Twitter had really brought that conversation to the forefront of my mind.  After all, we cross ourselves with the donation in a religious setting to sanctify the donation and show our respect to the ashé of the orisha or drummer or priest or whoever-else.  As an initiated priest in this religion, not only do I show my respect with this act, but I’m also blessing that offering on-the-fly with my action and intent for the sake of whoever-it-is.  It’s not just a show of support or well-wishing at that point, but a spiritual act to lend my grace, support, succor, and help to whoever-it-is, as well as a physical prayer made to express my hope for their grace, support, succor, and help in my own life, as well.  Such is the nature of blessings.

Could I have donated money as a spiritual act before initiation?  Absolutely!  That wasn’t something that was held off for me, especially given all my other practices going on.  But here’s the thing that’s slowly dawning on me in truly profound ways: I can never stop being a priest.  Yeah, intellectually I understood that; orisha live on my head now, and they see what I see and hear what I hear, not to mention seeing and hearing me at all times.  That’s one of the reasons why good conduct is paramount for initiates.  Yet, even in the little things, I don’t stop being a priest.  Why, then, should I not bless something when it’s already a habit for me to do so in an innocuous way?  Why would I not do what is essentially my job at a perfect opportunity just because the context is different from what I’d expect for my job?  I don’t have to be in the Ocha Room in order to work Ocha; Ocha is in me, Ocha is around me, Ocha is part of me wherever I go, whenever I go.  I do not stop being a priest, so why not act accordingly?

This isn’t, of course, about proselytizing or trying to force initiations onto others or try to sell orisha out on discount.  Priesthood is still something I’m coming to terms with and figuring out in all its emanations, but there are a few things I do know, and one of them is that I want to make the world better.  For myself, to be sure, but also for my loved ones, my family, my godfamily, my colleagues, my friends, my coworkers, my teachers, my students…everyone.  In a very real sense of Buddhist emptiness, we’re all in this together, because I can’t exist without you nor can you exist without me, so if I’m to truly do well, I need to make sure that you’re also doing well, as well, because, at its core, I can’t really cease suffering myself until all suffering is ceased.  Sure, there are ways I can prosper at others’ dire expense, but even an ounce of shame would keep me from really enjoying such wealth because it’s not justly earned; only if that wealth is justly earned, the exchange is fair, and everyone has at minimum what they need without worry is it a state I can enjoy.  Extend that notion, then, to everything, everywhere, and everywhen.  It is not true that everyone needs to be a priest to make the world a better place, but it damn well sure helps me in that undertaking.  I have the tools and, slowly, the techniques and the knowledge to work what I can for myself and for those in my world to make the world a better place, and I don’t have a reason to not do that, so there’s only one real choice: do it.  In a sense, it’s a kind of theurgy, no matter how small the individual acts are.  The Great Work isn’t done in a day, after all.

For anyone involved in spiritual practices, there is no reason to separate out the mundane from the spiritual.  Context and consent matters, absolutely, but if you have the chance to infuse a mundane act with a spiritual force in it, why not do it?  If nothing else, it’s practice, and can ensure your own success later down the line.  Ideally, doing so would make things better for the entire world with a simple act that sets of a chain reaction, even if it’s just a minor set of coincidences.  But for those who can give their blessing—and you don’t, strictly speaking, need to be a priest for that—why not give it freely at every opportunity?  If you can call upon the power of the dead, the gods, the elements, the angels, or whatever else it is you work with, why not back up your hopes and well-wishes for the well-being of others with the power that you can direct and work with, especially if it’s in the moment of a trivial action you were going to do anyway?

I have to admit, now I wish I had crossed myself with that money before I dropped it in our friend’s guitar case.  Lesson learned, then.  There are some habits that really should be kept up.

Mythos and Stories as Models of Practice

Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with Python and LaTeX scripts again.  For those who aren’t as inclined to computers, the former is a very flexible, extensible programming language of no small fame, while the latter is a type of language used to format, typeset, and compile documents (sorta like what HTML and CSS are for webpages).  I use Python for all my short, little, experimental research things, like calculating certain astronomical/astrological phenomena or doing a brute-force search of all 65,536 possible geomantic charts for particular patterns, minimums, or maximums of certain qualities.  Meanwhile, I use LaTeX for all my document needs, mostly for ebooks but also for letters, résumés, and other things in lieu of a normal word processor like OpenOffice or Microsoft Word (because I’m a crazy fool who loves the commandline and raw power over convenience and ease).

The main impetus for this bout of hobby programming that’s been going on this week is so I can make a full calendar in LaTeX that spans from June 23, 2009 through June 23, 2047, complete with dates of eclipses, lunar phase changes, seasonal start and midpoint dates, and zodiacal ingresses of the Sun.  It’s hard to find that sort of data over such a wide span of time, and much more difficult than that to find it in an easily-obtainable format that I can use for LaTeX compilation.  To that end, I wrote the scripts to calculate all the astronomical information from scratch (Jean Meeus’ “Astronomical Algorithms” is a godsend of a book for this, so do get yourself a copy for reference) and formatted the output just the way I needed it.  It’s not exactly an exciting feeling to realize that it’s easier to just code and test all the algorithms yourself than trying to find the data you need online, but after two long days of coding, the profound feeling of accomplishment can’t be easily described (except, of course, as “fucking awesome and thank god that’s over”).

For what end would I take on this crazy project, you might ask?  Because this unusual span of time is the 69th cycle of 38 years of the Grammatēmerologion, the lunisolar grammatomantic calendar I devised that associates the days of the lunar months, the lunar months themselves, and the lunisolar years with the letters of the Greek alphabet for use in ritual grammatomancy and, more broadly, my nascent theurgic practice of mathesis, a new kind of Hermetic theurgy I’m developing that refocuses on Pythagorean, Platonic, and Neoplatonic influences before introduction of qabbalah.  It’s been a bit since I’ve done any mathetic work, given the whole house-buying/house-moving of 2016 and the Year in White of iyaworaje that went on through most of 2017, but I’m preparing slowly to pick it up again.  Since a daily observation of the letter of the day is a practice I found great use with, I wanted to have an actual calendar to reference instead of having another one of my scripts calculate it for me each and every morning.  (This also means I’ll be getting back to my Daily Grammatomancy posts I was doing for a while over on my Facebook page, so if you haven’t liked it yet, please head on over and do so!)  So, yanno, it’s the little gains that help give a sturdy foundation for this sort of work.

The thing is, though, that I’m not setting out to develop this whole new practice and system for its own sake, or for the sake of being able to say “look at me, mister high muckety-muck of my own sandcastle!”.  I want a way to explore the Neoplatonic and Hermetic cosmos without having to rely on the procrustean bed of qabbalah that we can’t seem to escape from, purge, or ignore; Hermeticism and Neoplatonism existed before and did fine without it, and even if qabbalah brought in excellent insights and models and frameworks for the two philosophies to expand with (and it most certainly did!), after a certain point, those same models and frameworks can become a hindrance.  If nothing else, taking another look with another system can breathe a breath of fresh air into these things, and allow for opening up new doors and avenues to cosmic exploration, theurgy, and spiritual development.

Going through my old posts and notes on what I’ve already set up is incredibly useful, but I see something clearly now that I didn’t before (time is great for providing experience, after all, no matter how much we might think we have some at the time).  Consider one of my favorite quick rituals, the Blessing of the Vessel, first discussed in this 2015 post, which I use as a way for generating a sacred elixir to partake of the blessing of the Divine.  This ritual works quite well on its own, though it uses some pretty arcane Judaeo-Coptic symbolism.  However, if I were to make a mathetic variant…I ran into a mental wall trying to figure that one out.  Sure, I could just replace the names of the angels or godforms, but…that seems hollow to me.  While swapping out related concepts from one system to automagically transform it into a new system is definitely a thing, like using a Celtic or Hellenic deities instead of the four archangels to make more pagan forms of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, I personally find the practice distasteful and it never seems to work as fully, as cleanly, or as effectively as the original ritual in its own context with its own appropriate entities and names.  Moreover, I couldn’t think of anything comparable to the symbols and metaphors used in the Blessing of the Vessel that could be seen in Hellenic mythology off the top of my head, which…

That reminded me of that post I wrote not too long ago about how the rituals we use are means of reliving myths.  La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, more commonly known as Santería, is a perfect example of this.  All the ceremonies we participate in, all the things we wear, all the offerings we make, all the songs we sing, and so forth are established not just by tradition, but by the precedents laid out for us in the mythological stories that undergird the entire religion.  In this case, as in many religions and systems of faith, “myth” here doesn’t just mean a fairy-tale, but a narrative that explains how things become into the world and why we do certain things in a certain way.  The mythos of a religion, then, is the collective story of the cosmos from the point of view of that religion; to participate in the religion is to participate in the eternal telling-retelling of that mythos, where we are both a member of the audience as well as an actor on the stage.  Every religion is like this: Christianity retells the story of Christ’s sacrifice through the Eucharist, which is an eternal event that is played out in discrete instances that participate in the eternal truth of Jesus’ sacrifice; Judaism retells the story of the covenants of God with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron and the Exodus through the Passover Seder and the various mitzvot they maintain; Buddhism describes the paths to nirvana through the practices of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and how we are to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as well as all the discrete, different practices that can more quickly help us achieve our goal; Santeria tells through all the odu and all the pataki about the exploits of the orishas and how they impact our lives and what we can do about the problems through the rites and rituals that the orisha laid down so long ago, and so on.  Even in magic, we use stories that undergird our work: Solomonic magicians take on the role of Solomon as primordial gōes, reiki masters take on the role of their initiators going back to Usui-sensi to ply their work, Greek necromancers take on the role of those heroes like Odysseus who went down to the land of the dead and came back alive, and so forth.  These aren’t just simple stories we tell to children; these are the archetypal foundations of ideology, worldview, culture, faith, and interaction that our societies and civilizations are built upon and grow around.

So, what then of mathesis?  I realized that, though I have the basic ideas of Hermetic theurgy within a Pythagoreansim-centered Neoplatonic framework down and a handful of basic tools and methods at my disposal, I lack a story, a myth that explains what the whole goal is and how spiritual practices and methods should be established.  It’s these stories that not only provide inspiration for new methods to grow and develop, but also point to some of the dangers I might face and flaws I might find in myself along the way, as well as the remedies and precautions to take for when I do face them.  Without such a story, all I’m really doing is bumbling around in the dark repeating the same acts over and over with no purpose.  I can liken this to an actor on a stage reciting the same soliloquy extemporaneously with neither context nor play; no matter how excellently they might recite it, it has no meaning or purpose except to practice the ability of recitation for its own sake.  It’s only when such a soliloquy takes place in the proper context of a play that it has meaning.  All these practices of purification, meditation, contemplation, initiation, and whatnot don’t mean anything if they don’t have an overall story to fit into.  Like a collection of pieces to build furniture from IKEA, if you don’t know what you’re doing and have no instructions to fit everything together, that collection is going to remain nothing more than a pile of bits and odds and ends that don’t do anything except allow for someone to play at a frustrating adult version of Legos.

Now, I should say that I’m not trying to distill mathesis down to any one myth, any one story that we know of from ancient Greece.  I’m not suggesting that I’m doing that, or that I should do that.  I’m really talking about something more archetypal and fundamental than any one story, something that takes place time and time again in individual stories.  Consider what Leo Tolstoy (or Dostoyevsky, or John Gardner, or others) once said: “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town”.  This is the kind of archetype I’m talking about: a fundamental action that takes place.  Just how the Iliad is an example of the classical “war epic” while the Odyssey is one of the “journey epic”, and how the Aeneid is an example of both, and all of which take place in greater and larger cycles of epics and sagas, each with their own stories and subplots that collectively describe how things come to be, what is the sort of high-level framework “saga” that mathesis might adopt as its underlying mythos?  That’s an interesting thing for me to ponder as a model for mathesis.

After all, consider that we can use the word “model” in terms of “framework”, but also in the sense of “role model”.  What sort of character am I playing out by working in this way?  What sort of tribulations, conflicts, issues, problems, predicaments, and crises might I face?  Where might I look towards for help and succor?  To what end do I play out this role, and how does this role pick up and start again (reincarnate, rebirth, renew) in another iteration of the story?  After all, the idea of “role model” is played out quite heavily in occult and spiritual work in terms of godforms; the Catholic priest takes on the role of Jesus when he lifts up the host and say “this is my body”, the Vajrayana Buddhist takes on the role of their yidam in meditation, the Golden Dawn initiate takes on the role of any number of Egyptian gods for a given ritual, and so forth.  In adopting a role, we take on the strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and powers of that form we take; consider the Headless Rite, where the primary mechanism is to become Akephalos, the Headless One, to command the forces of the cosmos for exorcism or banishing or conjuration.  Not only do models inform us what our views of the cosmos will be like, but models also inform us how we act within that cosmos and what our abilities and limitations are.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t live by our own stories; of course we can, and we must!  While there’s definitely truth to Ecclesiastes 1:9—”what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”—there’s a difference between the fundamental archetype which is mythos and the discrete, concrete instantiation of a a story that falls under that mythos.  Like with the whole “two stories, journey or arrival” quote from above, consider that, at least under the “journey” header, we have such disparate and varied stories such as that of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Pokémon, and the Odyssey are all such stories.  Under the broader notion of Proto-Indo-European religion, which formed the basis for many of the pagan religions across Europe and some parts of Asia and the Near East, there are high-level archetype stories of divine horse twins, a sky father, a dawn goddess, and a hero slaying a dragon; take a look, dear reader, at Celtic, Greek, Roman, Slavic, Vedic, Nordic, and other Indo-European myths and you’ll find countless stories that relate to them, oftentimes many iterations of a single story with different variations.  We each have our own story, each of which is unique, and all of which play into the archetypes of the cosmos both as processes and actors.

Come to think of it, that’s one of the things that I think we as occultists tend to neglect.  It’s…it’s at least an issue, but I’m unsure whether it’s a full-blown problem, that so many of us lack contexts for the things we do.  Like the actor reciting a preset soliloquy extemporaneously without context, many of the practices we have are so distanced and removed from the theologies, cosmologies, and philosophies that gave birth to them, and we’re at a loss without understanding that collective context.  I mean, sure, the Headless Rite will still work for you whether or not you understand the currents of Egyptian, Christian, Jewish, Greek, gnostic, academic, priestly, and folk influences that collectively gave rise to that ritual and its place in the broader understanding of Greco-Egyptian magical praxis and theory, but knowing all the rest of that does significantly help attune oneself better to the ritual, not just by understanding where it came from, but also the role of the ritual, the magician who invokes Akephalos, and Akephalos itself.  To put it in modern terms, consider chaos magic with its notion of paradigm shifting.  You can pick up any ritual and make it work, sure, but if you can’t paradigm shift between them, you can’t get the most out of any given ritual you perform because you aren’t immersed in the fundamental contexts (the mythos) that allow for that ritual to work.

This is most dangerous for eclectic practitioners that don’t belong to any one tradition or practice except “what they feel like, a bit of this and a bit of that”; without a coherent, cohesive, connective mythos that undergirds their worldviews, philosophies, cosmologies, and so on, I find it extremely rare that anything of what they do even comes close to the power and efficacy of someone who has a mythos and has truly integrated themselves and everything they do into that mythos.  A mythos as model, then, provides both a skeleton and a skin for one’s practices: a skeleton to arrange and structure one’s practices together, and a skin to separate out what belongs to it and what does not, filtering things in to and out from one’s system of practices.  Without a mythos, you’re just a jumble of things that you do, some of which may have an immediate use but no overarching purpose; a set of practices without a mythos is no more than a jumble of IKEA parts without instructions that may or may not combine together to form a useful bit of furniture, and even then only if you stumble upon the right combination and order of doing so.  If you’re just interested in performing and knowing how to perform individual acts for individual needs, more power to you, but if you’re looking for purpose and direction and how all these things you do can lead to you it, then you’re going to need a mythos to understand how all these things you do play into it.

It’s because of this that I’m so interested in setting up a new kind of Hermetic theurgy with Neoplatonic philosophy divested from qabbalah.  The central mythos is the same both with and without qabbalah, sure, but the stories that play out would be different.  A different story means different actors, different problems, different predicaments, different crises, different climaxes, different resolutions, different conclusions, even if it all fits into the same mythic pattern.  With each new difference comes new insights, new abilities, new techniques, new practices that can be developed, refined, and applied, yielding new ways to understand the cosmos and ourselves.  Mathesis and qabbalah might both be mirrors made of the same stuff that reflect reality, but they’d present it from different angles, with different views, colors, shadows, and understandings of the thing to be reflected.

Qabbalah works for Hermeticism, to be sure, but almost all that we do is part of the same Hermetic story.  I want to tell a new story, and see where else I might end up.  What story will mathesis tell, I wonder?

Fairness

Selected entries from the Enchiridion of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus which are on my mind as of late:

7.  Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored; if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board; you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.

11.  Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

14.  If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave.

16.  When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, “It’s not the accident that distresses this person., because it doesn’t distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes about it.” As far as words go, however, don’t reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.

And a Stoic…well, not quite a prayer, but I use it as one, compiled and rewritten from several sources including Cleanthes and Euripides:

Lead me, o Zeus, and holy Destiny,
T’wherever my post in life’s battle be.
Willing I follow; were it not my will,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
Fate guides the willing but drags the unwilling.

Futile though it might be, I bring this up as an exercise to myself and as a reminder to my readers, because I’m going through a bit of a tough time.  I’m not writing this to ply sympathies or condolences, but rather as just an exploration of my own thoughts and feelings, recorded more for myself than anyone else.  Recently, my husband’s and my cat died.  Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.

My husband grew up at his grandparents’ house, and about…twelve? thirteen? years ago, there was a particular cat that was hunting and haunting the backyard and forest of their house.  They would entice this cat with food, and she’d come up and eat from them, and would even hop into my husband’s lap for pets and brushing.  She must have been a stray, since she obviously knew the touch of humans and had been spayed, but she seemed to adapt quite well to being taken care of, such as it was.  Eventually, after a year or so, on his way home from a party, my husband saw the cat at the back door with a giant bloody gash on her face; apparently she got in a nasty fight and wanted some help.  He asked her if she was ready to be indoors again.  She looked at him, huffed, and strutted right inside, and didn’t go back outside again.  He named her Isis, a large black Maine coon mix with a white tuft of fur on the front of her lower neck; he didn’t know exactly how old she was, but definitely around four years old at that point.  She gave my husband many years of support and emotional connection in the times when he had nobody else but her.

She lived in his grandmother’s house for a good long while, and while I was dating my husband before we married, I would occasionally catch glimpses of her, but she was always so skittish and not at all sociable.  She’d occasionally stare out the front window or prowl around the house, but she was far from a sociable animal.  When my husband and I moved into our current house, we decided to bring her over to live with us; by this point, she was already like 14 years old, and she had feline leukemia virus all her life, though it never bothered her any.  We did this because he wanted her to live with us, sure, but knowing she was getting on in years, we wanted to make sure the last part of her life was comfortable, easy, and peaceful, away from the stress of being at his grandparents’ house.  After the initial acclimation period, Isis changed dramatically towards both him and me; she was an adorable little attention whore, chirped and chatted, started playing with catnip and feather toys for the first time, and couldn’t get enough of sleeping with us in bed.  Even my husband was caught off-guard by how much she had changed, as if she finally got to be a pampered little kitten again, and hand to God did she enjoy it for all it was worth, as did we.  She was adorable in every way, even if she did piss on some of the rugs now and again or drank from our offering glasses on some of the shrines around the house.

Over the past few weeks, I noticed I haven’t had to refill her food bowl with kibble up as much as I thought I should.  I didn’t pay it any mind, but towards the end of the month, my husband and I realized that we haven’t had to replenish it at all.  She really cut back on eating to eating nothing, and we weren’t able to entice her to eat much of fresh tuna or turkey.  She had been lying around the house in places we didn’t often see her.  She didn’t come up to bed with us when it was bedtime.  She was even more lethargic and less playful and chatty than we were accustomed to her being.  It dawned on us; she was getting to the last stages of her life.  That realization was not easy; on a weekend when everything else was going sideways, this was the last thing we wanted to have to face.  Neither my husband nor I got much sleep.  We mostly stayed awake evaluating her condition, trying to get her to eat or drink at least a little, and just pet and brushed her as much as we could in between having our bouts of tears.  She was getting bonier, and her breath was getting to have a new and unpleasant odor.  We took her to the emergency vet (by the time we were able to get anywhere with her, most vets had already closed for the weekend), and they ran some tests on her; we couldn’t get a clear diagnosis, but we did get a prescription for an appetite stimulant.

She still wouldn’t eat more than a nibble of tuna.

Against every fiber in his body, my husband made the decision that it was time.  I made the arrangements to take her back to the emergency vet on my way back home from working ceremony, and…I needed some time in the car alone before I could get face going inside my house.  I wasn’t aware I could even make some of those sounds.

I won’t recount the whole process of her passing.  Suffice it to say that she went quietly and peacefully, bundled in her tortilla blanket, being pet and loved and hugged and brushed.  She went out with a soft purr, knowing and feeling that she was loved.

We found out afterwards that it was the cancer catching up to her in force, and there wouldn’t’ve been much we could’ve done anyway besides just making her passing as easy as possible.  We did what we had to.

I bundled up her dishes, toys, and blankets and put them in a box, placed under the table in our office where she liked to lie down.

I haven’t been around much death in my life.  Bones, rot, mold, and the effects of death, sure; I mean, it’s a natural part of life, if not the most expected, inevitable, and boring part about the entire thing.  We may not know what happens afterward with complete certainty, but we know that it happens to everything that lives.  But as for actual living creatures dying that I’m aware of, that I care for?  It’s different.  Last year, my grandmother passed away, but it was hard to feel too sad about it.  Sure, there was a touch of grief, but I was far happier than anything for her.  Passing away at the age of 96, becoming a great-great-grandmother in her own life, having outlived three of her husbands, having inherited a small fortune from one of them, having traveled the world, having gotten a college education for a woman in a time when that was difficult, living wherever she wanted, enjoying being as sharp and quick as Olenna Tyrell herself, being surrounded by family and comfort all her life, having passed away quietly and peacefully and painlessly…in short?  My Nana Jane won at life.  It’s hard to not celebrate a life and death such as hers.

Isis basically had that same equivalent status for cats when she went, but…it’s so much harder.  I suppose that’s just the nature of it when she’s effectively your baby that you watch out for, care for, nurture, and nourish.  It’s not as difficult now as in the days and hours leading up to her passing, but it’s still not easy, especially when you keep seeing motions out of the corner of your eye you expect to be her, hearing creaks in the floorboards you expect to be her, a pair of black boots sitting in a sunbeam you expect to be her, a ruffle in the blankets on the bed you expect to be her.

I’ve been trying to revisit some of my earlier Stoic learning and practices, before I really committed myself to Neoplatonism and Hermetic philosophies.  Stoicism isn’t a perfect philosophy, but for dealing with much of the bullshit of life, it affords a fantastic worldview and helps to cool the heart and head from the heat of passion and drama.  For myself, I admit that I had Isis in my life a lot less than my husband had her in his, but her death still hurts.  We brought her into our home with the understanding and expectation that she wouldn’t have much longer to live no matter what, and we made the choice to give her an easy, good death with the understanding and expectation that there’s nothing else that could be done no matter what, but…it’s so hard to make the leap from an intellectual understanding of something and the emotional acceptance of it.  Like SMBC’s The Falling Problem, I could go on for hours about the nature of the situation, the diagnosis and prognosis, what the expected social, emotional, and physical effects would be upon me and my husband, and all the rest…but it doesn’t impact the actual experience of the same thing.  Worse, if not outright embarrassingly, all that mental preparation does exceedingly little to absolutely nothing for emotional preparation.

At that point, I suppose it’s less a job for rationalization and more of one for faith.  I can’t even really say “trust”, because trust in…what?  Isis, for all her love and adorability, is still a cat, and as Wittgenstein once wrote, if a lion could speak, we could not understand him.  There’s only so much I can figure out or know about cats and their behavior, so I have to have faith that she knew she was loved and taken care of to the best of our ability until and through her very last heartbeat and breath.  I have to have faith in my spirits that they heard my pleas to watch over her, guide her, accompany her, entertain her, and protect her as she uses up the last of her nine lives to go…wherever it is cats go, and that once she gets her spiritual bearings, that maybe she’ll choose to stick around for us.  I have to have faith in my gods that they can and do support me to point out to me the strength I have and to give me the help I need to get through this as best as I’m able.  I have to have faith that everything really will be alright, even if it doesn’t yet feel like it is.  I have to have faith in myself that I’ll be alright, even if I don’t yet feel like I am.

And even then, faith feels like a bandage over a gushing wound; triage is no substitute for actual healing, and there’s no real regimen to heal this sort of pain besides taking my time.  I suppose that’s inevitable, too.

I could waste words on how to live your own lives better, spending more time with the ones you love, being more forgiving and compassionate, not taking things for granted, blah blah blah.  There’s no point to that here; I’m not in a great state to give advice, and there are more than enough others who have given that same advice in better ways and in more appropriate venues.  This is just…a reflection, I suppose, a processing of grief over loss.  I suppose I could rewrite that in geomantic terms, by saying Tristitia plus Amissio yields…well, Puella: the compassionate Maiden who takes all in under her roof, the pleasant Hostess who heals and nurtures, the all-accepting Lady of Fortune who shares her love for all until it’s time to move on.  Fitting, I suppose.  Puella is often described as fickle, but I find that an uncharitable description; it’s only because that fortune must pass over everyone equally, that all things must have balance, and that everyone gets their fair share of time and love before that time and love passes away.  It may never feel fair, especially in the heat of the moment or in the cold of the withdrawal, but Puella is the fairest and the Fairest force there is.

It’ll take time, but it won’t take too long.  It may be bad, but it’s not the worst thing.  It may hurt, but I’ve had worse.  Even through the tears and the wailing and the jaw-clenching-so-hard-I-might-shatter-my-teeth, there’s still that glimmer of love and appreciation in the muck and the rot and the ash.  I still have, at least a little bit, that happiness we were able to have Isis in our lives for at least a little bit, to love her and be loved by her, and to see things through to the end for her.

Her name is Isis, and she has always been, and always will be, a Very Good Cat.