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.

Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.