On Mistakes in Divination

A few days ago, I was chatting with one of my good Twitter friends in private messages.  He’s a pretty cool guy, and though I met him through a few mutual furry contacts we have online, I also found out he was an occultist, so we have fun things to talk about now and again.  He’s been learning geomancy lately (a highly worthwhile endeavor!), and he posed to me a question:

Consider a reading, where the seer fucks up and their dyslexic ass misreads Albus as Fortuna Maior, or got turned around with the meanings of say, Capricorn and Sagittarius.  Would the reading be wrong, or would it be adequate to take that slip as part of the system that produces the interpretation?  And, if the seer realizes their fuckup, should they make a full redaction and correction, or should they make a “transformation” in the reading like old Yin and old Yang in I Ching readings?

He had already guessed what my answer would be, and he was right, but he still wanted to know what my thoughts were.  It was a pretty fruitful discussion for us both, and I want to share some of the insights from that conversation more publicly.  And no, I’m not upset with him!  It just turns out that I have some Thoughts and Opinions in where we differ, and I think these are good things to talk about here.

I know that there are some diviners who everything that happens in a reading, whether in geomancy or in another system entirely, as omens of significance.  Like, say you’re shuffling a deck of Tarot cards for your usual spread, and a card slips out of the deck and falls face-up.  Some people say that that card is important and should be interpreted like any card in the spread itself; I hope he can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was Gordon White from Rune Soup who said something along the lines of “the only thing that card means is that you’re bad at shuffling”—and that’s a viewpoint I agree with (and if he didn’t say that or doesn’t agree with it, then I guess we disagree).  I don’t take all omens in a divination reading that relies on a divination system (i.e. a process with rules and standards and checks and skill) as significant, but only those that are produced according to the system within the boundaries of the system.  There’s a place and a role for intuition to play in divination, to be sure, but when it comes to mistakes, well…mistakes are just that: mistakes.

Without any exaggeration, I can claim that geomancy is a mathematical form of divination: geomancy relies on binary processes of addition and recursion using the binary structure of the 16 geomantic figures to produce a chart.  And there aren’t an infinite number of charts, nor are there 16! (2.092279 × 1013) different charts, or even more than that.  In fact, there are far fewer charts: only 65,536 (164) possible charts are permitted within the mathematical rules of geomancy.  By definition, any chart that does not fall into one of those 65,536 charts is not a valid chart, and there are multiple ways of checking to make sure a chart is valid.  So, you can’t have a chart where all four Mother figures are all Populus and have any other figure in the chart that isn’t Populus; such a chart just isn’t possible, any more than there could be a Tarot spread with three Empresses in a row or a horoscope where Venus opposes the Sun.  Such impossible charts are inherently invalid, and indicate that there was a mistake in your mathematics when calculating the chart; the proper approach isn’t to inspect the chart as it was drawn, but to go back and fix your error so you have a correct chart to look at.  Heck, although it wasn’t said so bluntly, there are some texts that say that “if the Judge is an odd figure, the chart is cursed and must be thrown out”; in a mathematically valid chart, the Judge must always be an even figure (containing an even number of points, e.g. Fortuna Maior with 6 points), so if you have one with an odd Judge (e.g. Puer with 5 points), that means you made a mistake.

But here’s the thing: you can make a mistake in multiple places in the chart, and a mistake anywhere in the chart means that the whole chart gets messed up.  The only four truly independently-generated figures there are in a geomantic chart, where the four figures have no inherent relationship to each other, are the four Mothers.  The Daughters rely on the Mothers, the Nieces rely on the Mothers and the Daughters, the Witnesses rely on the Nieces (and thus the Mothers and Daughters), the Judge relies on the Witnesses (and thus the Nieces, and thus the Mothers and Daughters), and the Sentence relies on the First Mother as well as the Judge (and thus, ultimately, the Four Mothers).  A mistake in the chart in the Daughters, Nieces, Witnesses, or Court indicates that there’s a break in the calculation that causes the whole chart to become invalid.  In other words, any of the figures from the fifth figure (First Daughter) to the sixteenth (Sentence) relies on all the other figures to be correct; if one figure is calculated wrong, even if it doesn’t impact the rest of the figures in the chart, it still means that the whole chart is off.

Now, on the rare occasion, I have seen some people in the geomancy Facebook group I admin post a chart that has a mistake in it, and generally one of the community will be sharp and fast enough to point out that mistake.  However, there is the rare time now and again that someone will still want to interpret the invalid, erroneous chart, because “well, that’s what they made in the moment”.  Like…I get it, but that’s not how geomancy works.  Geomancy is a system, a body of (more or less) well-defined and well-understood rules that must be applied for it to be considered “geomancy”.  To break those rules is to break the system, and you end up in the realm of “undefined behavior”, which doesn’t give you a lot to stand on besides pure intuition.  And geomancy, while making use of intuition, cannot simply rely on it in favor of the actual rules that keep things grounded in the actual art and practice of geomancy.

Now, to be sure and to be fair, there is absolutely a role for intuition in geomancy!  This is where we can explore our connection to the Divine and plumb its depths in order to come up with true and truly artful interpretations that pull every ounce and gram of nuance and detail out of a chart, even a single figure or a single passation of a figure from one house to another.  But that connection must be solid in order for it to be of use, and you still have to be sure you’re looking at the right things.  I’ve seen people in a variety of settings whose intuitions are strong, but not strong enough to not be swayed by what they’re looking at; it’s often what they’re looking at that kickstarts or unlocks their intuition, so if what they’re looking at is wrong, then while they might be getting messages, it’ll end up being a case of garbage-in garbage-out.  And that gets nobody anywhere good.  Sure, there are times where your intuition or spirit guides or what-have-you will kick in strong and give you ultimately-right answers with a fundamentally wrong chart, essentially covering for your mistakes, but it’s not guaranteed, it’s not trustworthy, it’s not reliable, and it’s still a problem because you made a mistake and didn’t spot or correct it.

So much for the chart, but there is a way for the Mothers to be wrong, too!  Recall that, of all the various ways to generate figures, the oldest and most traditional method is the stick-and-surface method: the geomancer takes some marking instrument (stick, staff, wand, pen, pencil, finger, etc.) and a markable surface (sand, dirt, paper, wax tablet, electronic tablet, etc.) and makes 16 rows of randomly-generated marks from right to left, then counts them off two-by-two until either one or two marks are left in a row.  Those leftover marks, read in succession from the top down and clustered into four groups of four, are what give you your four Mother figures.  The trick is to be able to make those marks clearly and distinctly enough when you’re in the throes of that geomantic diviner’s trance so that, when you’re later counting them, you can clearly count exactly how many marks you made.  The soul is moved to make those marks through the use of the body, but if you can’t read what the soul was actually doing, then there wasn’t enough control over the body to make that connection clear.  So, if you ended up reading two points as one (if the two marks were made too closely together), or if you ended up counting an extra point where there shouldn’t have been, then you got a bad Mother where you might end up with Fortuna Maior instead of Albus or vice versa, and that’s something that’s super hard to check for, and not at all possible based on the chart that uses those Mothers.  You need to carefully inspect the actual marks you made when using the stick-and-surface method to make sure you actually recorded what you were supposed to get.  (It’s because of this difficulty and honing of the use of the body, in addition to practicing that diviner’s trance, that I recommend people to start with the stick-and-surface method and become adept at it before going on to any other method of generating Mothers.)

So what about those who use the stick-and-surface method to generate figures?  Sure, humans may not be perfect dot-making or dot-reading machines, but c’mon.  If you’re not able to make or read dots well enough to avoid mistakes, then you need to get better at making and reading dots.  If you’re a geomancer who has the querent themselves make the dots for making the Mothers (and this is a thing!), well…maybe don’t let them make dots, but have them use another tool or method instead, like throwing dice or drawing cards to generate Mothers.  Or, heck, instead of making dots, I might instead recommend making short vertical notches, which are easier to read and mark rather than dots, which can get pretty sloppy.  Sure, we might not be perfect at making or reading dots, but it’s not about the dots themselves—it’s about trying to understand what the motions of the soul were trying to communicate through making the dots, not what the dots are literally saying themselves.  The dots must be inspected carefully to make sure the motions of the soul that produced them is understood, and any mistake in translating there means that that connection is disrupted, and the omens that follow will be misread.

Basically, what it comes down to is this: if there’s an error in the calculation of the chart or in the generation of the Mothers, then that’s on you to notice and to fix, then start interpreting the correct chart.  Consider a library, where each book is a particular destiny or fate for individual queries put to divination, and you want to find the book for the specific query the querent in front of you is asking; the geomantic chart is the call number for that book.  If you have the right call number, then you have the right book, and all you need to do is read from it; easy enough!  But if you have the wrong call number, then you’ll get the wrong book which won’t speak to the query put to divination by the querent—heck, you may end up with a call number for a book that doesn’t even exist.  This is why it’s crucial to make sure that we calculate the chart correctly, because if we don’t, we’re not going to get a chart that properly responds to the query put to divination: any mistake that occurs in the calculation of the chart will mess with the interpretation of the chart.

And that’s a whole other level to worry about, too!  Even if you have the chart mathematically correct, you can still mess up in the interpretation of the chart, like if you misread Fortuna Maior for Fortuna Minor or if you thought that Amissio was a figure of Mercury instead of Venus.  As a geomancer, you need to make sure that you know your symbols well enough to at least avoid major blunders in their interpretation.  These symbols are a thousand years old and are known across the Old World from Morocco to Mumbai, from Madagascar to Murmansk, and though there are definitely variations in how some geomancers or how some traditions of geomancy interpret them, the core meanings are the same no matter where you turn.  To make an egregious error in thinking that Caput Draconis talks about death or that Amissio talks about great gains in wealth is to show that you’re not getting the right information, and that will mess up the interpretation accordingly.  Just because you say things that are wrong doesn’t mean they become right because you’re “in the zone” and getting lost in the moment of talking; it just means you’re wrong and getting carried away with yourself.

My friend countered that the interpretation of a geomantic chart should embrace our imperfections and slips of reading or memory, but I countered with the metaphor of a doctor measuring someone’s blood pressure.  If their blood pressure meter is broken, the wrong numbers will result; if the blood pressure meter uses the wrong-sized armband, the wrong numbers will result; if the doctor mentally flips the numbers so that the systolic pressure is read on the bottom and the diastolic pressure on the top, the wrong numbers will result.  And wrong numbers means that the doctor is going to get a bad understanding and could gauge the person to be healthy when they’re not, or that they’re in danger when they’re fine.  Let’s not kid ourselves here: this kind of mistake can kill someone, and such a mistake cannot be tolerated or allowed by the doctor, so the doctor must make sure that the blood pressure meter is working and calibrated properly, that they’re using the right equipment for their patient, and that they’re reading and properly understanding the numbers that result.  The doctor cannot afford mistakes in tending to their patient, and neither can we, as diviners, afford mistakes in tending to our querents.  When people come to us for divination, they sometimes come to us to save their lives.  Divination can often be a matter of literal life and death for some people who know it, and more’s the pity, those who aren’t even aware of it yet.  There should be absolutely no expense spared in effort, skill, practice, study, or tools to make sure that everything in our divination readings is absolutely correct as possible, including making our calculations and double-, triple, even quadruple-checking them according to the rules within our system.  The rules of geomancy, when aided (but not replaced) by intuition, are what ensures that it work, so we need to make sure we understand the system at work.

To use another medical metaphor, consider someone coming to you for herbal medicine.  Ideally and hopefully, you can get a good read on the person and their symptoms and you know your herbs well enough to give them a particular kind of herbal concoction to help them improve themselves.  Sometimes, we can rely on intuition or spiritual guidance to pick the herbs for us, passing our hands over our jars and bundles and going “mmm…yes, this one feels right for you”.  But let’s be honest: if you don’t have a good grasp of your patient’s symptoms, or if they’re not telling you all their symptoms, or if you misremember certain properties of herbs or don’t know them to begin with, you can make a mistake in the medicine you give them that could poison them, incapacitate them, or otherwise make their situation worse.  I don’t care how strong someone’s intuition is: if my goal is to help someone, then the least I can do is to do no harm, so I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I can at least hit that bare minimum threshold, which requires me to make sure I don’t make mistakes in what I do.  People come to us diviners for help, and it’s our job as diviners to help them and not hurt them; thus, it’s of paramount importance that everything in my divination work be done as properly and correctly as possible.  Heck, I’ll still pull out my notes and reference books when doing divinations; even if I think I know the figures and rules after ten years of constant use and study, I’ll still double-check and cross-check myself to make sure I’m on a good path with what I’m doing.  Making mistakes, honest or careless or with good intentions or otherwise, is still making mistakes, and that’s not something we can tolerate, nor is it anything I would take a chance with.

Now, sure, if geomancy were a more free-form kind of divination that relies far more on intuition, like bone-throwing or fire-scrying or trance states of remote viewing or possession, then this would all be a moot point, because pure intuition (so long as that connection is strong and clear) doesn’t have rules that can be broken.  Likewise, forms of divination that are developed on-the-spot or that have rules that can be bent or tossed aside in the moment, like some kinds of bone-throwing or nonce Tarot spreads, don’t have this issue, again because there are no rules that keep things correct, because it’s going to be correct by default.  And, of course, there are forms of divination that are strictly omen-based, like Roman augury, where you must inspect everything that happens or everything that is said as being of potential significance!  But geomancy isn’t like those forms of divination; geomancy has rules, and we use those rules and systems to enhance and ground our intuition, not the other way around.

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here: I’m not trying to say that geomancy is just about the rules, because it’s not, nor that there is no role that intuition plays, because there absolutely is.  Technique and intuition go hand-in-hand with geomancy, as I once said long ago with a beautiful metaphor based on Bernadette Brady’s Predictive Astrology: The Eagle and the Lark, and the dumbing-down of geomancy that reduced it only to a rule-based system ended up in the cultural forgetting and setting-aside of geomancy in favor of more intuitive methods of divination like Tarot that we saw in the West.  Intuition helps reach where rules cannot, but let’s be clear here: it really is the rules that do the bulk of the work in geomantic divination, and if you falter in the understanding or application of the rules, your intuition may not be enough to cover the distance that you’re falling short of.  Yes, there are times where intuition can do just that, and I’m not saying that it can’t or doesn’t; there are times when we’re so plugged in to the querent and tuned in to the query that we can clearly see without the use of geomancy, or that we can get at obscure meanings of the figures that don’t normally apply because of the peculiarities of a given situation.  However, if you’re using a system composed of rules like geomancy, and unless you’re a professional medium or clairvoyant or honest-to-gods psychic, you can’t always rely on that helping you out when you make a mistake, nor can you always be certain that your connection is 100% clear and strong enough to do so—and if you do have such a strong intuitive connection, then chances are you don’t need geomancy anyway.  Even so, geomancy is still more technique-based than intuition-based, and although intuition plays a role in refining and aiming the rules of geomancy, it’s still the rules of geomancy themselves that point us in the right direction to begin with, so we need to make sure that we’re facing the right way to see in that way.

Remember: an honest mistake is still a mistake, and mistakes can be costly.

On Banishing, and an Angelic Banishing Ritual

I have to say, Curious Cat is a blast, you guys.  While I’ve been on Twitter since I graduated college in 2010, and though it’s always fun (and sometimes hilariously aggravating) to interact with people on there, there’s not a lot of room for anonymity, and you can’t always send people direct messages if you don’t follow them or if someone’s turned DMs off.  Enter Curious Cat, a platform that syncs up with Twitter and Facebook to let you ask people questions, even (and especially) anonymously.  Since I started using it, I’ve been fielding a lot more questions, ranging from the utterly surreal to bawdily sexual and everything in-between.  Given my focus on magic and the occult, a lot of people ask me questions pertaining to, well, magic and the occult, and it’s been great!  Sometimes I can’t answer due to things that just can’t or shouldn’t be discussed publicly, and other times I can’t answer because I simply don’t know enough about a given topic to give an answer, but at least I can say as much.  Sometimes, though, I might have too much of an answer, and there’s a 3000 character limit for my replies.

One of the recent common things I’ve been asked is on the topic of banishing.  Banishing as a ritual unto itself is a mainstay of many forms of Western magic, especially due to the influence of the Golden Dawn and its Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and its Thelemic variant the Star Ruby.  Quoth Chic and Tabitha Cicero in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition:

This simple yet powerful cleansing ritual can be used as a protection against the impure magnetism of others.  It is also a way to rid oneself of obsessing or disturbing thoughts … we feel that the Neophyte needs to concentrate solely on the banishing form, since s/he has a tendency to light up on the astral and unknowingly attract all manner of Elementals at this early stage of the Work. It is far more important for the Neophyte to know how to banish rather than to invoke. Anyone can attract an Elemental or an energy. Getting rid of the same can be more difficult.

And that’s really what banishing’s about, isn’t it?  It’s a kind of ritual-centric cleansing that gets rid of bad spiritual stuff.  Consider the etymology of the word “banish”:

banish (v.)
late 14c., banischen, “to condemn (someone) by proclamation or edict to leave the country, to outlaw by political or judicial authority,” from banniss-, extended stem of Old French banir “announce, proclaim; levy; forbid; banish, proclaim an outlaw” (12c., Modern French bannir), from a Germanic source (perhaps Frankish *bannjan “to order or prohibit under penalty”), from Proto-Germanic *bannan (see ban (v.)). The French word might be by way of Medieval Latin bannire, also from Germanic (compare bandit). The general sense of “send or drive away, expel” is from c. 1400. Related: Banished; banishing.

To banish is, literally, to put out of a community or country by ban or civil interdict, and indicates a complete removal out of sight, perhaps to a distance. To exile is simply to cause to leave one’s place or country, and is often used reflexively: it emphasizes the idea of leaving home, while banish emphasizes rather that of being forced by some authority to leave it …. [Century Dictionary]

When we banish, we purge a person (e.g. ourselves), an object (e.g. a magical tool or supply), or a space (e.g. a temple or a bedroom) from all malevolent, harmful, or otherwise unwanted spiritual influences, whether they’re entities in their own right (e.g. obsessive spirits or spiritual leeches), spiritual energies that aren’t necessarily conscious on their own (e.g. pollution or miasma), or maleficia that’s been cast upon you (e.g. curses or hexes).  Thus, a banishing ritual is a type of spiritual cleansing or purification that gets rid of all this, or at least helps loosen it to make getting rid of it easier.

The thing about banishing rituals is just that: they’re a ritual, and more often than not, they’re explicitly and only rituals.  They use ritual gestures and words to induce this effect, often without the use of physical cleansing supplies such as holy water, incense, or the like.  Yes, many banishing rituals can incorporate these things, but it might be more helpful to think of banishing rituals as a subset of cleansing practices more generally.  Cleansing can take many forms: ablution with lustral water (e.g. khernimma), taking a spiritual bath (e.g. my Penitential Psalms Bath, bathing in a sacred spring or river, or any other number of spiritual bath mixes like the white bath or another kind of herb bath), “cleaning off” with holy water or Florida Water or eggshell chalk or some other physical substance known to have spiritually purifying properties, suffumigating with incense (or smudging, if you do that sort of thing respectfully), and the like.  Sometimes these processes have ritual involved with prayers or specific motions, and sometimes not, where you just wipe yourself down and call it a day.  In the end, though, all these practices serve fundamentally the same purpose: to get rid of bad spiritual stuff.

What we commonly see in the Western ceremonial magic scene is less of a reliance on physical aids to purification and more of a reliance on ritual approaches to the same that often don’t use physical aids, where we use ritual and ritual alone to cleanse ourselves.  This is especially notable for those who are influenced by the Golden Dawn in one form or another, where the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP, or as my godfather fondly calls it, Le Burp) has spawned any number of variations for any number of pantheons and practices.  However, that doesn’t mean that the LBRP is the only such possible banishing trick we have; there are simpler ones out there, such as Fr. Osiris’ AL-KT Banishing that I’ve incorporated into some of my own works.  Still, the idea is the same: rather than abluting, suffumigating, or other physical approaches to spiritual purification, there are also ritual approaches that don’t use physical means to achieve the same thing.

I agree fully and readily that banishing rituals are useful, because I think spiritual purification is important and necessary for our work as mages and spiritually-inclined people.  When we’re spiritually filthy, it’s harder to think clearly, harder to work well, and harder to keep ourselves hale and whole, while it also makes it easier for us to get distracted, get caught up by life’s problems, and get things messed up easily.  Though spiritual purification, we remove obstacles in our paths or make it easier for us to remove them, but that’s far from being the only benefit!  Purification also prepares us spiritually to become something better and different than we already are, because in purifying ourselves, we not only remove negative spiritual influences that have an external source, but also negative spiritual influences that come from ourselves internally.  In dealing with those, we make ourselves fit and meet to work better and more effectively, sure, but we also prepare ourselves to better accept the powers and blessings of the entities we’re working with.  Purification can be thought of as an aspect of the albedo part of alchemy, where we reduce ourselves to our core essence through removal of all impurities so that we can begin the process of integration from a fresh, clean start.  In this, purification—and thus banishing—are crucial for our work as mages.

But here’s the thing: I don’t like a ritual-focused approach to purification.  Banishing absolutely has its place, but I also claim that physical methods to purity has its place, too.  After all, for all the spiritual stuff we do as magicians and priests and diviners, we’re also incarnate human beings with physical bodies and physical problems.  If we start with the body and work spiritually, we fix the problems we have in the here and now and also loosen and dissolve the problems we have upstream, so to speak.  Not only that, but I find that there are some things that a banishing ritual doesn’t work well to resolve, but which cleansing works done physically do.  And, of course, the reverse applies, too: there are some things that cleansing works done physically don’t resolve, but which banishing rituals do.  Both are needed.  And, moreover, you can do both at the same time, working physical elements into a banishing ritual or ritualizing a cleansing done physically.  You don’t have to do one then the other separately, unless that’s what you want to do.

Personally?  I cleanse (meaning I use physical means to spiritually purify myself, as opposed to “clean”, which is just physical cleaning without a spiritual component) far more often than I banish.  There are times when I will do a proper banishing, sure, but it’s less and less common than a simple dusting with cascarilla or washing myself with holy water, which I do pretty much daily.  Let’s face it: I’m out in the world, dealing with people and their demons, wandering hither and fro through any number of clouds of miasma, and pick up more stuff when I’m out physically in the world than I do in my temple, where, through the protections I have and the safeguards I take, there’s far less that I pick up except that which I try to let in.  I’m not saying I’m impervious to spiritual stuff I attract through the aether, far from it, but I am saying that there’s a lot more that I pick up from just being out in the physical world.  For that reason, I find myself physically cleansing myself far more often than I ritually cleanse myself.  If I were less guarded and less protections up, I’d be banishing more than I am.  But, again, that isn’t to say that I don’t banish.  After all, there’s that whole “purification to readily accept better blessings and good influences” bit I mentioned above, which is one of the reasons why the LBRP is such a mainstay of Golden Dawn practices: it not only keeps you pure, but it prepares you in some pretty profound ways that are utterly necessary for progression within their system of magic.  Those who don’t work Golden Dawn magic or who aren’t in the Golden Dawn system don’t benefit from that, but they can still use it all the same for their own purification needs.

I’m not a Golden Dawn magician, and I’ve never really cared for the LBRP.  While I could use it and get what I needed out of it, it’s not really a thing that I need to do.  Instead, what I use, when I do need a ritual purification that doesn’t rely on physical methods, is something I learned from Fr. Rufus Opus.  Back in the day when he was still teaching his Red Work series of courses (which he’s long since stopped, partially because of his joining the A∴A∴ and partially because he condensed the Green Work section into his book, Seven Spheres), in the very first lesson of the first part of the courses, he introduces a banishing ritual that’s basically a heavily pared-down and modified Trithemian conjuration ritual.  Yes, Johann Trithemius’ Drawing Spirits Into Crystals, that one!  The format is basically the same with many of the same prayers, and calls on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental princes of the world to purify yourself.

I also want to make a note about just that last bit, too.  Fr. RO introduced this ritual as a way to help the beginner purify their sphere, sure, which is great, but he’s using fundamentally the same ritual to banish as we do to conjure the spirits themselves.  More than that, we’re half-conjuring the spirits that are later called upon in the Red Work series of courses to purify the sphere of the magician.  By the use of this ritual, Fr. RO is doing the same thing for his Red Work students as the Golden Dawn did for their initiates with the LBRP: we’re getting used to the fundamental ritual tech that we’ll eventually be expanding upon, and we’re getting slowly acquainted and in tune with the very same angels and spirits that we’ll be working with heavily once we get to that point.  This banishing ritual cleanses the sphere of the magician, sure, but it also prepares the magician for when they start actually working.  Fr. RO never said all this in Black Work 1, nor did he need to; those who would never progress further would still get something useful, and those who would progress further would be slowly prepared for bigger and better results later on far beyond mere purification.

Now, I’m not going to replicate Fr. RO’s original ritual.  Instead, I’m going to share my variant, which I developed slowly over my studies in his Red Work courses years back, and which better matches my own ritual practices; plus, not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the original ritual uses some Christian imagery and language that I don’t much care for anymore, and which I’ve replaced with equivalent deist, Solomonic, or Hermetic language instead.  I’ve also added some visualizations that, though they appeared naturally for me (especially once my spiritual perception became refined and which made sense later on in the course), they can be helpful for those who want them; they’re not necessary, but they can still be useful, especially for beginners.  The only two extra things that might be desired for this ritual are holy water and a wand; both are good to have, but neither are strictly necessary.  The holy water can be used as a preliminary ablution, while the wand is good for tracing a circle and conjuring the presence of the angels generally, but the holy water can be omitted if desired and the wand can be replaced by using the index finger (or the index and middle finger together, if desired) of the dominant hand.  Incense of a purifying and uplifting nature, especially frankincense, may be burned, but it’s absolutely not required for this.  This ritual may be done at any time as necessary or desired, and though it can be done anywhere, it’s best done in a quiet and safe place.

  1. Take a moment to relax and breathe deeply a few times.
  2. Stand to face the East.
  3. If desired, cleanse yourself with some holy water.  You can wipe your forehead and hands, you can make the small three Signs of the Cross on the forehead and lips and heart with the thumb, or you can make one large Sign of the Cross with the thumb and index finger and middle finger on your head, heart, and both shoulders (left to right or right to left, depending on whether you want to go with a Catholic Christian approach, or an Orthodox Christian or qabbalistic approach).
  4. Recite:

    You have cleansed me with hyssop, o Lord; you have washed me whiter than snow.

    O God, author of all good things!  Strengthen me that I may stand fast without fear through this dealing and work.  Enlighten me, oh Lord, so that my spiritual eye may be opened to see and know the works of your hand.

  5. Holding a wand in your dominant hand, or otherwise using the index finger of the dominant hand, trace a circle on the ground around you clockwise starting in the East.  While doing so, recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light, I consecrate this piece of ground for my defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here.  Amen.

  6. Conjure the seven planetary angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the seven heavens above I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the seven planets.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Tzaphqiel of Saturn, Tzadqiel of Jupiter, Kamael of Mars, Michael of the Sun, Haniel of Venus, Raphael of Mercury, and Gabriel of the Moon.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their planets, starting from behind you to your right and appearing counter-clockwise, with Michael directly in front of you to the East.

  7. Conjure the four elemental angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the four corners of the Earth I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the four elements.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Michael of Fire, Uriel of Earth, Raphael of Air, and Gabriel of Water.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their elements, starting in front of you and appearing clockwise, with Michael in the East in front of you, Uriel in the South to your right, Raphael in the West behind you, and Gabriel in the North to your left.  Visualize them a little closer to you and a little below the planetary angels, who stand behind them and a little above them.

  8. Recite:

    Tzaphqiel!  Tzadqiel!  Kamael!  Michael!  Haniel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!
    Michael!  Uriel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!

    Oh you blessed angels gathered, let no spirit nor ill intent nor any scourge of man bring harm to me.  Cleanse now the sphere of this magician; cleanse my body, my soul, my spirit, and my mind of all defilement, all impurity, and all filth.  Let no evil spirit nor pollution nor leech nor any unclean thing here remain.

    Lord, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

    Amen.

  9. Let yourself become purified with the power and presence of the angels conjured around you.  Feel them washing you with their light and their power, permeating you and passing through you in all directions to remove from you all pollution, harm, and any and every baneful influence.  Stay in this state as long as desired.
  10. Release the spirits. Recite:

    O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your angels to appear unto me.

    O you angels of the seven planets and you angels of the four elements, I thank you for your presence.  You have come as I have called, and you have aided me as I have asked.  As you have come in peace, so now go in power.

    Amen.

  11. If desired, untrace the circle drawn on the ground with the same implement as before (wand or finger) in a counterclockwise direction, again starting in the East.  Whether or not the circle is untraced, when ready to leave, simply step out of the circle, preferably stepping forward towards the East.

With that specific arrangement of angels of the planets and elements around you, what you’re doing is essentially recreating the arrangement of angels on the Table of Practice used in the Rufus Opus-specific variant of the Trithemian conjuration ritual.  In this case, the angels present aren’t being used to set up a conjuration of the self or anything like that, but rather instead used as a kind of cosmological arrangement of powers upon the magician and their sphere.  It’s a subtle thing, but an important one; again, this ties into the subtle conditioning of banishing to prepare the magician for bigger and better things to come, as well as training the magician in the tools, arrangements, organization, and ultimate cosmology of the practices they’ll later engage in.

So, that’s it.  A simple and straightforward approach to using the planetary and elemental angels for purifying the sphere of the magician with all their powers at once in a balanced, efficient, and effective way.  Are there variants?  Of course!  For instance, the original format of the ritual called on the four elemental kings of the Earth itself: Oriens of the East, Paimon of the West, Egyn of the North, and Amaymon of the South.  If you’re comfortable working with these entities, then by all means, use them!  For those who prefer an angel-only approach, use the four archangel names instead.  There’s good logic for calling on the kings rather than the archangels, especially in that they’re a lot closer to us as incarnate beings than the angels are or ever have been, and so can be called on instead for a better and more incarnation-specific way to purge the sphere of unhelpful or harmful influences.  However, I still prefer to call on the angels for my own reasons.

In addition to calling on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental angels (or kings), you can also call on the twelve zodiacal angels as well: Malkhidael of Aries, Asmodel of Taurus, Ambriel of Gemini, Muriel of Cancer, Verkhiel of Leo, Hamaliel of Virgo, Zuriel of Libra, Barbiel of Scorpio, Adnokhiel of Sagittarius, Hanael of Capricorn, Kambriel of Aquarius, and Barkhiel of Pisces.  This, again, is a cosmological influence from my own, bigger Table of Practice that I personally use nowadays; you’d arrange them so that Malkhidael is aligned to the East, along with Michael of the Sun and Michael (or Oriens) of Fire, and go counterclockwise from there.  You’d conjure them before the planetary angels, using similar language.  However, this is overkill, in my opinion; what’s really necessary are the seven planetary angels and the four elemental archangels/kings.
And there you have it!  A clean ritual for a clean spirit.  What about you?  What sorts of banishing rituals do you use, dear reader?  Do you stick to more physical cleansings and baths, do you take a ritual-centric approach to ritual and spiritual purity, or do you use both?  What techniques, tips, or tricks might you be willing to share?  Feel free to share in the comments!

The Kybalion is Still Crap, No Matter Who You Think You Are

Last night, I made a tweet, as I periodically do, about how much I dislike the Kybalion:

Longtime readers—and those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter—know that I’m no fan of this text. Published in 1912 by The Yogi Publication Society Masonic Temple in Chicago, Illinois, and supposedly written by the “Three Initiates”, its own introduction plays itself up quite admirably:

We take great pleasure in presenting to the attention of students and investigators of the Secret Doctrines this little work based upon the world-old Hermetic Teachings. There has been so little written upon this subject, not withstanding the countless references to the Teachings in the many works upon occultism, that the many earnest searchers after the Arcane Truths will doubtless welcome the appearance of this present volume.

The purpose of this work is not the enunciation of any special philosophy or doctrine, but rather is to give to the students a statement of the Truth that will serve to reconcile the many bits of occult knowledge that they may have acquired, but which are apparently opposed to each other and which often serve to discourage and disgust the beginner in the study. Our intent is not to erect a new Temple of Knowledge, but rather to place in the hands of the student a Master-Key with which he may open the many inner doors in the Temple of Mystery through the main portals he has already entered.

There is no portion of the occult teachings possessed by the world which have been so closely guarded as the fragments of the Hermetic Teachings which have come down to us over the tens of centuries which have elapsed since the lifetime of its great founder, Hermes Trismegistus, the “scribe of the gods,” who dwelt in old Egypt in the days when the present race of men was in its infancy. Contemporary with Abraham, and, if the legends be true, an instructor of that venerable sage, Hermes was, and is, the Great Central Sun of Occultism, whose rays have served to illumine the countless teachings which have been promulgated since his time. All the fundamental and basic teachings embedded in the esoteric teachings of every race may be traced back to Hermes. Even the most ancient teachings of India undoubtedly have their roots in the original Hermetic Teachings…

It goes on to claim that not only is Hermetic philosophy the origin of Western philosophy, occult and otherwise, but so too is it the origin of Vedic and Hindu philosophy, along with every other philosophy of note. And yet, despite Hermeticism supposedly being the origin of all the world’s philosophies, occultisms and occultures, and religions:

…the original truths taught by him have been kept intact in their original purity by a few men in each age, who, refusing great numbers of half-developed students and followers, followed the Hermetic custom and reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it. From lip to ear the truth has been handed down among the few… These men have never sought popular approval, nor numbers of followers. They are indifferent to these things, for they know how few there are in each generation who are ready for the truth, or who would recognize it if it were presented to them… They reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food…

The text then goes on in short order to describe “The Kybalion”, which it only really describes as “a compilation of certain Basic Hermetic Doctrines, passed on from teacher to student”, with the exact meaning of the word “having been lost for several centuries”. Yet, the book we call the Kybalion is just the interpretation and exegesis of this ancient text that it never actually quotes in full; the Three Initiates just cite a bunch of small quotes that may or may not make up the entirety of its supposed origin text, and that in such a highbrow, supercilious way that only the occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century could achieve.

TL;DR: the Kybalion is a pretentious mess.

Probably my biggest gripe about this blasted thing is that, though the Kybalion claims to be a Hermetic text, it’s just not. I’ll delightfully and happily recommend my readers to take a look at Nicholas E. Chapel’s wonderful essay, The Kybalion’s New Clothes: An Early 20th Century Text’s Dubious Association with Hermeticism, which goes into the history and origins of the Kybalion and that it’s very much a modern product that derives from New Thought, a new age movement that originated in the 19th century spiritual scene of the United States, itself the likely root of Christian Science. From the New Thought crowd, a strong case can be made that the real identity of the “Three Initaites” is William Walker Atkinson, aka Yogi Ramacharaka aka Magus Incognito aka Theron Q. Dumont, who served in a position of honorary leadership of the International New Thought Alliance and who was a prolific writer of many works, many of which have nontrivial overlaps with the material in the Kybalion. Chapel’s essay also goes on at length and in depth about the real and numerous differences between the Kybalion and actual Hermetic philosophy, and it’s definitely an excellent read, but suffice it to say that there’s not a lot of Hermeticism in the Kybalion.

It would also be remiss of me, at this point, to not bring up the good Reverend Erik’s post over at Arnemancy about What to Read Instead of the Kybalion (surprise, it’s actual Hermetic philosophy texts, specifically the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius!) and The Nature of God in the Kybalion and the Hermetica (surprise, there’re major differences in how divinity and God is described between the two texts). Also definitely give those a read, too.

All this was going through my head last night, because I saw yet another post somewhere on one of the magic-related subreddits about, once again, the Kybalion. I’ve gotten tired about voicing my opinion on there, unless it comes up in another thread I’m already involved with, but I rolled my eyes, made a snarky tweet, and got on with my evening. Then someone out of the blue—I’ve never heard of them, they weren’t following me, we have one mutual follower in common who’s someone I only barely know (but what I do know I like)—struck up a short quasi-conversation with me (verbatim below):

Them: Its entry lvl concepts but its still effective if you have discernment, just like every other esoteric projection. Better to have newly awakened read the kybalion then jump straight into solomons lesser key or any of oto ffs

Me: I find the Kybalion’s “principles” to be a waste of time at best and dangerously misleading at worst, and they often require unlearning and serious deconditioning when getting into the real meat and bones. I contend they should get into the Corpus Hermeticism at the start. But even then, taken right, there’s nothing wrong with starting off with the Lemegeton or Thelema if they want to, so long as they take them seriously.

Them: Curpus is not exactly easy digestion. Had to read it twice to fit pieces together. Its all doctrine, so whatever works for the individual to find the path to virtue is correct. But you should already know youre projecting your self into the argument…

Me: “Bitter for the mouth is sweet for the stomach.” Better they read good stuff that’s hard from the start than junk food swill for the mind; after all, nobody promised that obtaining wisdom would be easy. Besides, at least the Corpus is actually Hermetic, unlike the Kybalion.

Them: And how many initiates take any infrastructure as serious as they need to?

Me: If the initiation was done right, and if they needed initiation (otherwise, they shouldn’t have it), then all of them. It’s on the initiator as much as the initiate to ensure that instilling mysteries is done properly, but is also appropriate for the person to have them.

Them: You sure do have a lot of rules to enlightenment. Makes me think you havent found it yet. Ive heard everything I need to from you.

At which point, they blocked me. To be honest, this is the first time in the nine years I’ve been on Twitter that I can recall something like this happening, so I’m pretty proud of myself to have irritated someone to the point of getting blocked because I disagreed with them.

Listen, I have my gripes about the Kybalion, to be sure, and I’ll name three specifically:

  1. It’s not Hermetic, and thus gets people confused about actual, legitimate Hermetic philosophy and practices.
  2. Many of its lessons tend to become hindrances later on that are, at best, worthless and can just be dropped and, at worst, are dangerous and need to be unlearned.
  3. It’s such a basic text that it doesn’t really do much besides say “there are things out there”, focused more on feel-good kinda-truths that maybe encourages people to get off their ass and do something with their lives.

But, really, it’s that first gripe that’s the biggest: the Kybalion is not a Hermetic text, period, full stop. It’s influenced by Hermeticism, I’ll grant it that, but as Reverend Erik said in a comment to one of his posts above, “[d]efinitely Hermeticism influenced the Kybalion, but that doesn’t mean the Kybalion agrees entirely with Hermeticism”. And, if you look at what’s actually written in texts like the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, the Emerald Tablet, the Virgin of the World, the Isis to Horus, and the like, there’s really not a lot that the Kybalion agrees with at all. The Kybalion isn’t so much a rewrite of Hermetic philosophy and ideas into modern language, but an injection of New Thought ideas into Hermeticism. Not that I’m opposed to innovations if they’re useful, and I’ll be the first to happily and readily admit that Hermeticism as we know it from classical writings is absolutely syncretic and synthesized by many authors with related ideas and viewpoints. The problem is that this injection is also a rebranding of New Thought as Hermeticism, and thus confuses the two together, when the two are so distinct that it leads to confusion among many who read it.

I do not and cannot recommend the Kybalion as an introductory text, except unless you’re getting into New Thought and Christian Science—in which case, have at! There’s definitely virtue in New Thought and the like, but don’t call it Hermeticism, because it’s not. Yet, I’m evidently in the minority with that viewpoint that the Kybalion should not be recommended for students of Hermeticism as an introductory text, as I commonly see it lauded and praised and recommended time and time again as being so good. I mean…well, the good Dr Al Cummins said it better than I could on a Facebook post about the Kybalion I made recently: “I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone online stanning the Kybalion who actually had anything remotely interesting or useful to say about it”.

Then here comes along someone whom I don’t know and who doesn’t know me saying that the Kybalion is better than the Lemegeton and the Ordo Templi Orientis. The Lemegeton I can sorta understand; goetia isn’t exactly something to go rushing into for the most part, but let’s be honest, how many generations of magicians have started with that very text and have used it and abused it for wondrous and terrible things? It’s several hundred years older than the Kybalion, for one, and though it’s more Solomonic practical literature than Hermetic, it’s still so tied up into Hermetic practice that its influences cannot be denied. But, come on, dude went out of his way to smear the O.T.O.? For real? Despite that the O.T.O. itself is also older than the Kybalion, is still around and lively to this day, and has greatly influenced modern Western occulture, especially with Crowley’s and Thelema’s influence on the O.T.O., with a supportive community and rigorous lodge-based system, you’re gonna say that the Kybalion’s better than that? As a rule, books are never preferred to teachers when teachers are available, and O.T.O. is full of them.

Is the Kybalion effective? I don’t judge it so, to be honest, and neither have many of my colleagues. We might remember it fondly, but we more often talk about it derisively, and, well, there’s what Dr Cummins said about it, too, which I can’t disagree with. Is it good to help open the mind? Sure! Is it good for getting into new age practices generally? Absolutely, since New Thought’s one such practice! But to say it’s good for getting into Hermeticism isn’t saying much more than saying it can help you move your foot towards the door, when you would probably do that anyway and a lot better, quicker, and easier if you started with actual Hermetic texts. Which is why I always recommend the Corpus Hermeticum as a kind of Hermetic Bible of sorts, along with the other texts as one is ready for them.

“But oh no, the Corpus is so hard to read!” dude said, “it took me two times to understand it!” First, it only took you two times to get it to make sense? I’m reading it for the two hundredth time and I’m still learning more from it. I had to go over it multiple times to get it to sit right in my head, and several more after that to actually begin to grok it. If you’re complaining that it took you two tries to read it, then that says a lot about how much you’re able to stomach actual philosophy, occult studies, and the like; you might have a sharp mind, but little faculty to keep with it. I find complaining about that to be embarrassing, to be honest, because of course something that old and dense on such a cosmically-encompassing huge topic is going to be hard to understand. Yet, with the works of Brian Copenhaver or Clement Salaman, it’s easy to study so long as you let yourself chew on it and digest it. Nobody promised that the occult was easy, and nobody promised that you would be able to understand Cosmic Truths About God And Everything on your first go; to think that you could or should right out of the gate is folly.

Then the dude goes on about how initiates don’t take their stuff seriously. First off, as an initiate in several mystery religions myself? Have you ever met a convert to a religion or someone newly initiated into something? Nine times out of ten, they can’t shut up about it, and are hungry to know whatever they can, do whatever they can, ask whatever they can, and implement whatever they can. Their enthusiasm may run low over time, sure, but unless it’s a matter of life and death (or because it’s a matter of social life and death), you don’t go for initiation into a spiritual path for shits and giggles, you go because you Want it. Those who Want it will take it as seriously as anything in their lives, because for them, it becomes their life.

And, as I noted, there are those who apply for initiation but aren’t ready for it, or don’t have the capacity for it, and so it’s on their initiators to assess, gauge, and test the applicants to make sure they’re able to initiate or progress to higher initiations. (It works the same in the O.T.O. as it does in Freemasonry as it does in traditional Wicca as it does in Ocha.) Heck, recall those quotes from the introduction of the Kybalion above, too! Even the Kybalion states that the old Hermetic masters “reserved their truth for the few who were ready to comprehend and master it” and that they “reserve their pearls of wisdom for the few elect, who recognize their value and who wear them in their crowns, instead of casting them before the materialistic vulgar swine, who would trample them in the mud and mix them with their disgusting mental food”. That this dude would complain about initiation clearly forgot about that part of the Kybalion, and about the role initiation properly serves in spiritual practices generally.

Due to the influence of La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, aka Santería, in my life, I’m increasingly a stickler for oathbound, authorized, and transmission-based forms of initiation, and find it a useful system, not only to gain power or wisdom or what-have-you but also to throttle it and cultivate it in a useful, beneficial, and appropriate manner, controlled by the initiators and community as a whole who have as much a say in the life and works of any given initiate as the initiate does themselves. This isn’t always the case with many spiritual practices—I have plenty that are more auturgic than initiated, and not everyone needs to go the initiation route—but I know and admit that this isn’t a popular stance to take in modern occulture. As it proved to this dude, who then says that my occultism has too many rules for enlightenment and, thus, I must not be enlightened. To which:

  1. I wasn’t talking about enlightenment. I was talking about Hermetic texts and what’s better to read than not.
  2. I never claimed to be enlightened. I’ll be first to claim that I’m not, and that I’m just a rank beginner with a little expertise here and there.
  3. Who on Earth are you to judge someone, on Twitter of all places, whom you don’t know and who doesn’t know you, regarding their spiritual state?

In all honesty, despite that I’m writing such a post about this, I find the whole affair more hilarious than aggravating. He saved me the trouble of having to block him, at least; at least he had the kindness to shut the door behind him when he left.

I bring all this up because, for one, I enjoy taking any opportunity to rail against the Kybalion, and this gives me an excellent time and means to do it on my own terms, and also to flesh out some of my statements last night with more nuance and explanation. But also, let this be an example of how not to engage with someone, especially me, especially on the Internet. I know at least a few people who would take serious umbrage at this to the point of actual retribution instead of just a snarky blog post. Just…come on, guys. Don’t be a haughty asshole to other people. If you want to discuss, then discuss! Don’t just walk in, say some shit, smear someone and a few religions while you’re at it, then strut off thinking you won when all you won is some mockery.

Let’s grow up and discuss things like adults, shall we? It’s the Hermetic thing to do.

On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.