Magic is Work

I’m still mulling over my own lack of activity, but I assure you, I am getting off my ass and getting back to the Work.  I’m making to-do lists of multiple types and marking my calendar down with tasks and planning things out, and getting back into the fray so I can patch up the frayed tapestry of my threads.  I’m already daunted by what I need to do, but I’ve put this shit off for long enough.  Enough is enough.  I’m wasting my time if I’m not doing work, and I’m of no use to anyone like this.

It’s interesting, because based on the feedback I’ve been getting and from the mumbles and grumbles across my blogroll, it seems like I’m not the only one who’s been in the doldrums of inactivity.  It’s no excuse for my own laziness and emptiness of agenda, but it is curious to note that many others have been suffering from a lack of spiritual perception, things to do, or otherwise just…not doing the Work.  My colleague and bromancer Pallas Renatus and I were discussing it recently; I assumed everyone who’s tapped into the general Hermetic current is suffering from the same sort of blah-ness, like there was something in the aetherial Water, so to speak.  But then, he brought up that maybe it’s the opposite case; perhaps there was something out there that caused a surge of activity across multiple people and places, which would certainly explain a massive mini-renaissance in Hermetic studies and paths, but it was only a temporary and ephemeral surge.  If such a surge indeed happened, then it could be that the power that’s been luring so many has petered out, causing everyone to come crashing down from the magical high we were all riding.  It’s an interesting idea, definitely, but one beyond my ken to understand.

Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a surge that’s dying out or something in the aether that’s keeping us all down.  I’ve tasted blood, and I want more.  I refuse to let the whimsy of aetheric currents determine my well-being in such a bullshit way.

So, one of the first things I decided to do was to get the benefit and guidance of one of the most respected teachers I have, Saint Cyprian of Antioch.  You know, the patron saint of magicians, sorcerers, necromancers, and occultists?  I’m in the middle of a novena in his honor, and I’m spending time with him in contemplation just going over what he did, what lessons his life has to teach me and others, and how I relate to them.  After all, dude isn’t the patron saint of magoi for nothing; he was raised from birth to be a master magos in every respect, and converted to Christ only after seeing the immense power of God there.  After all, you’d be a fool of a magician to not recognize and go after power, even if that power is just a side-effect of something greater.  Regardless, I thought a bit about what it meant for Cyprian to be a mage, and then what it means for me to be a mage.

In essence, we can say that a common division of magic is two-fold: theurgy and thaumaturgy.  It’s not the best way to divide magic up, but for the purposes of this post, it works.  The former comes from the Greek for “god-working”, θευργεια, and can generally be thought of as “high magic” or divine magic, stuff you do to become closer to God or the gods, whether it be henosis or apotheosis or nirvana or whatever.  The latter, thaumaturgy or θαυματυργεια, literally means “wonder-working”, and can mean the manifestation of miracles or obtaining worldly results, often with a fair bit of flair, through spirits, the elements, the planets, or other occult forces.  The thing is, however, that both words share a common element, “-urgy”, ultimately from Greek εργο, meaning “work”.

Magic, no matter the type or purpose, is work.  Magic is work.  It’s not just The Work, but it’s work, which is why we call the things we do “workings” and that we are sometimes called “workers”.  Magic can be laborious, slow, painful, costly work; it is hardly ever done with a graceful swish-and-flick.  You will pay for magic in tears, sweat, blood, and more in order to obtain the treasures that magic provides.  Magic is work.  As the Greek alphabet oracle has for the letter Mu, “it is necessary to work, but the change will be admirable”.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter how the aetherial currents ebb or flow, nor how the planets course in their heavens, nor the archons dictate from their thrones.  As is often said in astrological circles, “the stars only impel, they do not compel”; no matter what influences are pressed down upon us and no matter how strong those influences are, we are not doomed to be subject to them unless we choose to remain subject to them.  Yes, the system can be hard to fight, both down here as it is up there, but as human beings made in the likeness of the One with the blessing of Nous and Logos, we have the power to overcome any and all obstacles before us.  We can bridge the aetherial currents better than Xerxes could the Hellespont, and we can overcome the planets brighter than any supernova.  That is one of the many powers of magic: to make the world ours to live in and experience for our own ends and according to our true Will.  It’s nothing to scoff at, and no amount of poetic waxing or alchemical metaphorization can do this task justice.

It’s just that…well, while the Great Work is the overall goal, it is not taken in one single step.  It is built up from smaller steps, ranging from the theoretical studies of ritual and theology to the utterly mundane practices of keeping your house in order.  There is nothing that does not contribute to the Work, this is true; there are so many things, however, that it’s easy to get lost in the myriad things to do and get done.  That’s one of my big issues: there are so many things to do, and so many things I can think of to do, that I end up nearly immediately overwhelmed and unclear of where even to focus on my to-do list, much less start doing any particular ritual.

Then again, I had this problem back in college, too, when I was swamped with work from all sides.  That’s the glory of a to-do list: crossing things off one item at a time, one day at a time.  One thing at a time.  It builds up, slowly, sometimes in immeasurably small amounts, but it builds up all the same.

One of the problems I have is that, well, I have a pretty good life going for me.  I’m in a stable, fantastic relationship with the love of my life; we live in a stable, comfortable, safe household where it’s quiet and private and away from the hustle and bustle of the city; I have an excellent job that’s interesting, rigorous, and well-paying; I have good health of mind and body; I’m paying off my debts.  I have an incredibly privileged life, all told.  It’s difficult for me to figure out where to begin with keeping up my own life because it’s already mostly taken care of, whether though my own efforts or the blessings of the gods or some mixture of the two.  Still, that’s no excuse, since my life is not perfect, or as perfect as it could be.  There are tiny things, small adjustments, tweaks here and there that belie deeper issues, and I know I have my own internal issues that definitely need to be resolved sooner or later that have no apparent effect on the external issues of my life.  Plus, there’s always the cruel twists of fate and fortune that could easily smash everything I have into dust and scatter it into the wind; having some protection against that would be good.  Just because I’m comfortable doesn’t mean I should be complacent; it means that, being so comfortable, I’m afforded more opportunities than most for introspection and close, critical evaluation of myself and my surroundings that should afford me more things to Work on.

And after that?  Say I truly run out of things to work and maintain on myself, or that I end up becoming so blind (gods forbid) that I can no longer inspect myself critically and have nobody to do the task for me.  What then?  I know that I’m doing well, but I also know that many, many others aren’t.  As I’ve said before on my blog, and as Kalagni also said recently, the world is a shitty, awful place.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also fundamentally broken in some pretty severe ways, and it’s really up to us to do the change.  Just because I’m doing well and can afford the time to do some introspection doesn’t mean that my Work stops there, far from it!  If I can afford the time and energy, after I’ve made myself well enough to work, I am then capable and responsible to work for the benefit of the world and those around me.  Between everything that is me and everything that is not-me, I truly have a neverending list of things to do, and that becomes even more apparent once the realization is made that there isn’t really a boundary at all between me and not-me.  I may not be ultimately from this world, but I’m sure as hell living in it, and if I don’t like living in a shithole for a house, then I logically shouldn’t like living in a shithole for a world.

Even picking up an empty soda can off the ground, whether from the floor of the kitchen or the sidewalk by the train, is an improvement in my surroundings.  Even a kind word or a small boon, whether to the love of my life or to a complete stranger I may never meet, is enough to help things get better for everyone, including myself.  It may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but it’s still part of the Work.

Now to get back to gathering those threads.

Give for what you get.

No, friends, I’m not dead, nor have I hung up my robes.  Metaphorically speaking, I mean; I hang them up after every ritual, and even on occasion get them dry-cleaned.  But no, I’m still here.  I haven’t been writing much on magic because I haven’t been doing much with magic, and from what I gather, that seems to be a fairly common thing these past few months with a lot of the magicians I know.  Whether it’s a matter of collective and communal burnout or fatigue or just something in the stars affecting large swathes of occultists is beyond me, but I do feel bad all the same.  I feel disrespectful towards my spirits, towards my practices and traditions, and towards my teachers that I’ve been doing so little this year.  I am making an effort, however, to get back up and running; baby steps first, though, and slow work is in the foreseeable future for the time being.

That said, I haven’t been completely inactive.

A while back, about two months tops (time doesn’t really register between awake-time and sleep-time during the summer), a new job opening was posted in my office.  I applied, since it’s an increase of pay and rank, and I figured I had nothing to lose.  A few weeks later, I interviewed with three managers, one of them being my current manager; I had thought before that it was just an opening in the current office and branch where I currently work, but it turns out that it was similar openings in three different offices handling completely different programs.  Last week, I was offered the job I applied for, and I accepted it earlier this week.  Thing was, the job I got wasn’t the one I expected; I expected it to be in my branch, but the one I got was in a different branch.  Funnily enough, it’s the other branch and manager that interviewed me five years ago when I got my current job, and I turned her down then in favor of my current manager.

I asked my spirits to help out along this whole thing, and I reminded myself of a very important aspect in working with spirits directly.  I’m used to simply calling on favors after making regular offerings and building a relationship, but not all spirits (especially ones you only introduced to your household earlier this year) operate on that kind of practice.  I called on some of my spirits to open the ways and help me out through this job application process, and they did, right up through the time I got the job offer.  However, because I got a job offer from a source I didn’t expect, I held off on accepting it until I ascertained whether it was really the one they had helped with.  To that end, I had three divination readings done: one directly consulting the spirits who were helping, one with geomancy on whether I should take the job, and one done by a friend.

The first reading I did was with the spirits, and the interchange went something like this:

  • Should I take the job offer I was extended?  “Nope.”
  • …uh…just to make sure I got that clear, should I not take the job offer? “That’s correct.”
  • …this is the job you guys helped me out with in the application and interview, right? “Yup!”
  • And this is the job I asked for?  “Mmhm!”
  • And I should not take the job offer?  “You got it.”
  • …okay, then.  Anything else I should be aware of?  “Nah, you got it.”

Admittedly, I didn’t feel like the reading was complete when I closed it after that final question, and there was an air of…sarcasm, an aura of a smirking child hiding something politely over the place where I consulted the spirit.  Needless to say, I was confused, since my gut and my intellect were both telling me to take the job.  Additionally, my geomancy reading strongly and favorably confirmed that I should take the job; to check that reading, I did an inverse reading (“should I not take the job offer”) which was thoroughly denied with geomancy.  And, add to it all, the reading my friend graciously performed for me again verified that I should take the job I was extended.

So here I was, faced with conflicting and confusing information.  Happily, I wasn’t embarrassed as a diviner when it came to these answers, since the readings were all completely correct and valid.  It wasn’t a problem with the divination, but with how I approached the spirits themselves; it was another friend who pointed out to me that, yes, this particular kind of spirit can be very sarcastic when he replies; there was definitely more to the story than I was guessing at.  Worse, I realized that throughout the whole process of this, I asked for help but never extended anything in return for getting the spirit’s help.

Herp derp.  That’d’ve been my issue right there: you can’t get something for nothing, after all.  Regular offerings are good because the spirits and gods deserve them as spirits and gods, but a bit of rum or wine here and there doesn’t always translate to payment when it comes to real work being done.  For some spirits, that method works, but not so with this one.  I went back and consulted the spirit again, and confirmed that, yeah, they gave me all this help that I asked for, but weren’t about to give me the all-clear until I had promised at least something in return.  I checked out what they wanted (nothing much, nothing unexpected, but all worth it in the end), confirmed that they wanted it in exchange for this, and that in doing so they gave me the all-clear I was after and much more favorably than before.  No lingering smirks in the air this time, but broad smiles.  So I went ahead, finally accepted the offer, made a beeline for the local store, and got exactly what the spirits asked for.  Everybody’s content, especially me.

So what’s the moral of the story here?  Simple: you can’t get something for nothing.  Building up a relationship is one thing, and if you get to the point with a spirit where you can call on them for favors without promising or vowing anything, awesome!  That’s the exception to the rule, however, and the rule is that for everything you ask, you make a payment.  If the spirit doesn’t come through, don’t pay them, and figure out what happened along the way; if the spirit comes through, you should, too, and fulfill your end of the bargain.  Even if it’s something innocuous, if you want the spirits’ help, you give them something in return for it.  It could be just for their mere pleasure, or it could be to sustain them throughout the work, but something should be given regardless.  If a car can’t drive on an empty tank, or if a man can’t work on an empty wallet, then a spirit can’t work on an empty plate, either.

Apologia

Being a WordPress user, I’m fond of the sometimes silly and sweet things it does for me like any overdesigned fun information system should.  Today, it told me that this is my four-year anniversary of joining WordPress.  Before that, I was using Blogger, and was envious of some of the bloggers who had fancier features than I did.  About that time, too, I was still getting my bearings in the magical world and was only just starting to practice conjuration.

What a wild ride it’s been in just a measly four years.  I went from talking about my mistakes in making natron to giving talks on theory at conferences, from showing off my first-ever woodburning projects to making them commercially, from reading about geomancy to teaching it to others.  It really has been a wild ride, and I’d like to thank you, especially, for sticking with me through all these times, no matter when you stepped in to pay attention to lil’ ol’ me.

To those who have stuck around longer than a few months, you’ll note that I haven’t been posting as much lately as I’m known to do usually.  I don’t apologize for that; after all, this is my blog, and I post when I want, what I want, and how I want.  That’s a good bit of advice for those who have blogs of their own or who want to start one; you’re beholden to nobody by blogging alone, and it is your platform, after all, so use it however and whenever you feel like you should.

The thing is, things have been slow lately.  My writing is tied to my activities, my Word to my Work as it were, and since I’m not doing much Work, I don’t have many Words.

My life is good.  There are always things to improve upon, and those are getting knocked out in slow but steady order.  I’m working towards my goals for this year day by day, but some days, just not a lot is happening.  I’m definitely on a plateau, but it’s not a bad one, and that’s okay; taking it slow is something I’m fond of, and things are going well.  The gods and spirits treat me well, and I try to uphold my bargains and offerings and honor to them; I have few pressing problems to worry about, and can spend my time in leisure and work without stress or concern.  I am blessed with good health, good friends, and good money, and I can’t complain for want of that.  I could always use more, of course, but that’s a matter for my own work.

But what work would that be, though?  I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve hit a slow spot, just as I’m not afraid to defiantly not post for longer than a few days at a time, but surely there’s work to be done, and there certainly is.  I’m a far cry from a master in any way of any art, despite how far I’ve come; after all, to someone still at home, a mile is a far ways to walk, but there’s a world of difference between walking across town and walking across the world.

Basically, I’ve been slow lately to the point of laziness.  For that, the self-made cause to the symptom of having little to write about, I apologize.  So let me get back on the ball, get back to working, get back to writing, and get back to the world I’m meant to create.  After all, that shit won’t do itself.

Workplace Magic

Most people spend their time in two places: at home or at work.  Not everyone, of course; some of us aren’t employed, and some of us work out of our own homes.  Sadly, the number of people in unemployment is rising and will likely continue to rise for quite some time, and I personally hope to see more and more people working home-based jobs for crafting, machining, and engineering as time goes on, but in our society it’s still common and the norm for people to work outside of their home in some sort of environment like an office, a factory, a restaurant, a store, or some other place that provides goods or services to our larger society.  Add to it, many people who are employed tend to work long hours, not including commuting to and from work which itself might be nontrivial.

Of the people who work outside the home, a smaller number of people do magic.  Myself, for instance: I’m fortunate enough to be employed in a sit-down office environment (which is still a surprise to me and my family), and I’m also a Hermetic magician (which may come as a surprise to some of you).  The problem for magicians like you and me is that the things we do typically takes a fair bit of time, and when considered alongside time commitments for work, we typically have to compromise our practices or overlap certain things to maintain both our spiritual development as well as our regularly-scheduled income.  For instance, for myself, my commute is about an hour and a half one way, plus seven to eight hours in the office; that’s ten hours out of my day that I’m not at home, and sometimes I work longer than just eight hours, though sometimes I work less, and sometimes I work for longer hours at home so I don’t have to work as long at the office.  That’s just my situation, too; I know some people with longer commutes and who also work longer hours on a more frequent basis than I do, so while my situation might seem icky, I know for a fact I don’t have it that bad.

Then again, a good amount of magic is in discretion, secrecy, and hiding things in plain sight.  Sure, we might be in a public space, perhaps surrounded by people, but that’s no reason to say that we can’t use our time out of the house to do magic or keep up our practice.  Of course, depending on where you work, not all types of practices will be available to you; performing meditation throughout the day at a desk won’t be possible if you’re working on a standing factory line, for instance, nor could you chant mantras repeatedly if you’ve got to do customer service throughout the day.  That said, there’s still plenty of opportunity to keep up your practices during the workday with good success and good secrecy.

That last bit is important: you want to be discreet and secret about this.  Many places across the US and the world generally frown on magical practices, and you may be subject to no small amount of discrimination if you’re found out to be one who does magic.  You might be ridiculed, barred from promotion, demoted, fired, or worse, depending on the type of people around you and their own beliefs, so any way you can keep your practice on the down low is a good way.  That is, of course, if you choose to do magic at all in the workplace; given how easy it can be, however, it’s not that hard to do.

I won’t be elaborate and give you details on conjuring angels or demons in the broom closet, but here are some things you might consider:

  • Any place where you have a modicum of privacy and time can be used for magic.  If you drive to work, use your car on your breaks.  Use empty conference rooms or neglected spaces, but nothing too suspicious like a broom closet.
  • If you get a break of any substantial length, take a walk to a nearby park.  Explore your surroundings for abandoned buildings or other desolate (but reasonably safe) places.
  • If you have a desk, set up one of the corners as a modest and incognito shrine; if you’re bold, go ahead and use statues or other explicit representations of your gods, but stick to the more innocuous things like attributes or abstract images.
  • If you want to tie your magic closer to your work without having much of your magic in your workplace, use things like business cards, dirt or dust or rocks from your office, and the like at home to do workings there from afar.  Similarly, take a bit of dirt, stone, or other part of where you live/do your Work to where you work and make that link from the other side.  Even better, do both!
  • If you have someone you want to lay a trick on, use whatever you can discreetly in the office or workplace to do so.  Any leftover pairs of shoes, cups or drinking-bottles, doorknob handles to offices, the threshold of their cubicles, their keyboards and pens, and all the like are fair game so long as it’s not suspicious for you to be hovering or touching these things without them present.
  • Protection in the office is huge; given all the politics and backstabbing and gossip, you want to keep yourself safe magically.  Use a protective oil on your desk or office walls to block out things, and reanoint these surfaces every month or season.  Set out a glass of water weekly to “collect” the ick passing around you in the office, and clean yourself off every morning into the glass.  Set out a Rose of Jericho to keep the spiritual airs clean and to also bring prosperity.  Lay out a line of salt leading into your cubicle or office.  Wear protective charms under your clothing when possible/safe to do so.
  • Set out a small mirror where you can to act as a means of communication or scrying with spirits.  Similarly, those ornate blown-glass paperweights can do the same.
  • If you’re more of a technologically-minded mage and have access to a computer, don’t forget that using hard disk or server space can be a fascinating and subtle way to spread magical influence.  I’ve done this by storing a massive text file consisting of prayers on several server arrays; as the had drives spin, they generate those prayers an unimaginably huge number of times not unlike Buddhist prayer wheels.
  • If you’re not bound to a particular uniform, try to color some of your clothes according to the planetary colors on different days of the week to align yourself to different overall workings or bring those planets’ influences into your office.  In my informal clothes, I wear a bandanna of a particular color in my back pocket (purple for Monday, red for Tuesday, etc.); on more formal days, I’ll wear a tie of that color.  Bonus: consider using Kalagni’s correspondence of tie knots with planets!
  • Most workplaces don’t let you have fire, but consider using an essential oil diffuser instead to spread particular smells around a place for a given effect.  If you move around a lot, consider wearing them (safely) on your own person or anointing a particular bit of fabric with them.
  • If you insist on having a set of magical tools in your office, keep them innocuous.  For instance, for the elemental weapons, you might consider a shaved pencil, a letter-opener, a coffee mug, and a CD your wand, sword, cup, and coin.  Use small coins consecrated to different gods or planets as their token talismans.  Use printouts as altar cloths, if you insist.
  • Never forget the importance of astral magic.  If you have the ability to doze off, you have the ability to go astral even for a short while (or do a half-projection using the mental faculties).
  • If you have downtime and aren’t using it for ritual or doing activity, always see if you can read and study, instead.  Hell, I’ve done more than half my occult research in my office between projects and on breaks, to say nothing of my occult writing and planning!

Got any other ideas you’d care to share?  Feel free to post them in the comments!

Broke but not Cheap: Works and Operations

So, in the last two posts, I’ve described how to get by on the cheap stuff and the free stuff in order to set yourself up as a magician.  The important thing to remember is to make do with what you have, which sounds daunting for some of us who have grown up in a magical culture or occulture that insists on having gold-plated wands or elaborate temple spaces in order to forge strong connections with the gods or saints or what-have-you.  It’s all bullshit, of course; you can ask any kitchen witch or folk healer who lives out in dismal poverty, especially considered by urban first-world standards, and they can show you worlds of power stronger and more palpable than the most elaborately-decorated churchlike temple space.  Sure, the goods and finery do help, and I’m not saying they’re worthless (far from it!), but do you need any of the fine stuff in order to get your shit done?  Hell no.  Historically speaking, magic as a whole has been done by the outcasts, the impoverished, the traitors, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and because of those people magic has been given a bad place in the minds of people as something evil, against the order of things, and subversive.  Well, of course it is, if you push people out of the normal modes of power and empowerment, but what else would you expect?

Many people find themselves turning to magic when nothing else works.  This includes people who have run out of unemployment benefits, those who have been cast out of hearth and home, those who have racked up unimaginable amounts of debt, those whose health prevents them from working outside the home, and the like.  In these and in many other cases, we find people whose resources are constrained to pretty much what they have to survive on and little else, with anything else being considered a luxury item.  Hoodoo, most PGM stuff, and endless traditions of folk magic come out of these situations, and though they’re romanticized nowadays, they have always retained an air of the gritty, the gruesome, and the grounded because it reflects the people and the circumstances that these traditions have come out of.  Most of the fancy shit comes with institutionalization and adoption of magical methods by the well-off and powerful, and isn’t strictly necessary since the magic itself works with a lot less than is tacked on over time.

Bearing that in mind, how do we actually implement magical ritual on a tight budget?  Again, use what you have, and what you don’t have, remember that saying from your grandmother: “use it up and wear it out, make it do or do without”.  That applies as well to household activities as it does to magical ones, and considering that household activities were often inseparable from magical ones in nearly every culture but our modern materialist one, it makes sense.  Consider the house as your kosmos, your own personal microcosm where everything you are is represented by where you live and what you have in it in order to live.  Seen in that light, there is nothing in your house that doesn’t have a spiritual significance.  Plateware and eating utensils, for instance, can be used as mere tools or as symbols of nourishment, as well as staples like bread or rice or beans or meat.  Towels and soap represent cleanliness, scissors and knives separation and cutting things off, candles and lightbulbs as sources of enlightenment, clothes as “skins” or context-setters, insect repellents as demonifuges or exorcist tools, and the like.  Everything is both a tool and a symbol, and should be viewed as such.  You don’t need to have a separate set of ritual knives if all you have is your Cutco knife set you got on discount from a high school friend, though you may want to clean them off both before and after ritual use.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to talk about doing work and ritual on a budget because the types of works and rituals you might do are as varied as you can think of, and no two people will downsize and be resourceful on a budget in the same way.  Generally, do what works best for you with what you have.  Say you want to conjure an angel in the way I and Fr. Rufus Opus or Fr. Ashen Chassan do it.  For that, you need a few things for the ritual: a Table of Practice, a wand, a scrying medium, a lamen of the spirit, and candles; incense, altar cloth, decorations, drink offerings, robes, and the like are nonessential but help.  Let’s say we can’t afford the nonessential stuff, and we don’t have the money for buying a Table of Practice or woodburning one, much less getting a good crystal ball.  What can we do?  Draw out the Table of Practice in marker on a piece of cardboard or paper; that’s your summoning circle.  Get a glass of water or a small stand-up mirror; that’s your scrying medium.  Get a wooden stick from outside, a clean (un)sharpened pencil, and a matchstick for your wand, or just use your index finger of your dominant hand.  Draw out the lamen design on a piece of paper and hang it from your neck with a bit of thread or a shoestring.  Boom, you have everything you need for an angelic summoning ritual.  Hell, once you make contact, you might save the lamen and save it as a portable shrine-talisman all on its own for future contact if the angel agrees to it.

You can use the same sort of simplification to most rituals for similar contact, if you still know the ritual and the ritual setup; the materials help, and the finer the materials the smoother (not necessarily finer) the connection, but the materials are there to help you, not to do the work for you.  If you can’t afford the ritual supplies and the regalia and the finery, that does not mean you can’t do the magic.  It just means you can’t use them, and you’re not worse off for it.  What you put into the ritual will come back to help you, and the more you put into it the more you’ll get back out, but if you can’t drop thousands of dollars on supplies, that doesn’t mean you’re up Styx creek without a paddle.  It just means you’re going to need to be absolutely earnest in what you are trying to ritual up and making contact with the spirit you want to talk with.

Don’t have pure essential oils to consecrate a talisman?  Use a bit of Crisco melted and heated with kitchen spices that smell about right.  Don’t have eight orange candles with wicks spun by a virgin?  Use some tealights you’ve colored after you’ve taken a shower and haven’t had sex for a day.  Don’t have ritual cakes made with frankincense and pure eggs laid by a pure white hen?  Use simple bits of white bread rolled up into balls with an intent of offering them.  Don’t have the space or privacy to make a full offering shrine that has to remain set up for a week?  Use a corner of a room that isn’t entered except by you, or use a drawer you empty out and keep it shut when not in use.  Don’t have a full set of linen robes embroidered with red silk?  Get a set of clean white scrubs or white undergarments drawn on with red ballpoint pen.  Can’t afford to get the blood of a white gosling in winter?  Use feathers from a white goose found on the ground soaked in cheap red wine, or a bottle of red wine or beer with a goose on the label.  Can’t find the herbs to make holy water?  Get an empty plastic bottle and get some from your local church.  Can’t afford to keep fresh flowers on an altar?  Get cheap fake ones and keep them on an altar until you can afford real ones.  Can’t scrounge up the cash to get a knife made and engraved at the right time with holy names and symbols?  Take a butterknife and scratch in the symbols with another knife at the right time.

If you make the effort of doing the ritual as close as you can to what’s prescribed with what you have, you’ll be fine.  You might need to make up for certain things with more earnesty, more focus, more concentration, more meditation, more singing, or more motion, but you’ll be able to get your work done without necessarily having to spend much on it.  Remember that you have plenty of cheap and free resources to make do with what you have or getting by on just a little.

When doing your own ritual work that doesn’t come from a book, let your intuition, spiritual contact, and resourcefulness guide you.  This is where magic really shines and develops on its own; the best magic is done in a time of need with what you have, even if all you have is a few words, some tablesalt, and only enough space to move your arms around a bit.  The traditions of magic we have (Hermetic grimoire, hoodoo, Daoist, Eastern Europe folk, grannymagic, etc.) are inherently incomplete, just as our encyclopedias and how-to guides; they provide a snapshot of things that can be done, but they are not complete systems in and of themselves.  Studying a tradition of magic inculcates a methodology to making things work in an occult manner; it does not provide you with all the answers to all possible situations, but it provides a framework to approach them and work with and within them.  Once you know how things are done generally within a system, you can extrapolate based on what you’ve learned to make rituals for things that have never before been written about or conceived.  If you can read between the lines and see why the system works the way it does, you can “hack” into the system, simplify it or substitute within it to make the same effects happen with different or fewer materials, and start developing new approaches using the same underlying logic.

Magic works when we need it.  When we need it, there is nothing that can stop us.  Money, materials, regalia, and the like are ultimately, well, immaterial to the function of magic so long as we know how to use what we have.  That, however, comes with experience, but so long as you keep trying your hand at this stuff, that experience will come one way or another.  Experience, intelligence, and wisdom come before all else, and if you have those, you have the richest and rarest resources of all.

Advice for Learning a Totally Foreign System

I try to be an avid reader in my copious spare time, and I don’t mean with my ever-expanding RSS feed that aggregates occult, religious, pagan, current event, and the occasional comic blog.  My living room at home could always use more bookshelves, and of the three people in my house, I’m the one supplying over 95% of the books, because of course magicians have books.  Not all of them are on astrology, divination, conjuration, Hermeticism, or goetia, though.  I have a strong penchant for works of the realm of pure imagination, which is to say fiction books.

One of my favorite fiction books ever, and one I highly recommend anyone interested in the brand of magic I pursue, is Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle.  It appears to be out of print, but you can still find plenty of good used copies anywhere online.  Basically, the premise of the book is this: what if the world we lived in obeyed Aristotelian physics, the cosmos was geocentric with actual crystalline spheres of the planets nesting around us, and history took a drastically different turn during the reign of Alexander the Great that continued the supremacy of Athens and Sparta across the Western world for another millennium?  It’s a fantastic exercise in exploring an alternative reality and an alternative history all at once, told in the style of a first-person Homeric epic.  Besides its good story and good world-building (of which Richard Garfinkle is an expert, I claim), this is one of the essential books any Hermeticist should read at least once.

However, it’s not all about alchemy and astrology and celestial navigation, since the empire of the Delian League isn’t the only contender for world domination.  There’s also the Middle Kingdom, which some of you may recognize as a translation of 中國, referring to China, and they have their own notions of how the world works that doesn’t obey the laws of Aristotle and the alchemists.  The Delian League can’t for the life of them figure out how Middler technology works with its weird energy flows, nor can the Middle Kingdom figure out the senselessness of Delian alchemy and science.  This goes right down to some of their fundamental notions of science and philosophy that shape their entire worldview, such as the connection between science and medicine.  The Athenian Academic Aias, at one point, interrogates the rural Middler Dr. Zi about what Aias perceives to be highly advanced Middler spy communication technology:

“Why does an ordinary doctor know about this?” I asked.

“Medicine is the foundation of science.” he said in the same mechanical way I might recite Aristotle’s laws of motion.

I had seen that sentence in several texts on Taoist science but had never believed they meant it.  To our science, medicine was an offshoot of zeology, the study of life, and anthropology, the study of man.  No Academic could believe that such a minor offshoot subject could be the cornerstone from which an understanding of the world could be built. (page 158)

Later, after some fairly big conflict in the story, Aias interrogates the Taoist scientist Phan, sent on a death mission to kill Aias and sabotage his mission, about how Phan can know so much about medicine:

“Are you a doctor?” I said, recalling Dr. Zi’s peculiar claim of a connection between the whole of Middler science and their medicine.

Phan’s face wrinkled in contempt. “Certainly not.”

“Then how will you cure him?”

He switched to ‘Ellenic. “I know medicine.”

“But you said you weren’t a doctor,” I said in ‘Unan.

Phan’s black eyes lit with a sudden understanding. “A doctor only knows medicine.  A scientist must go beyond that simple beginning.  Medicine is the foundation stone of alchemy, and alchemy the foundation stone of science.” (page 256)

I see this kind of fundamental difficulty in trying to understand different occult systems replete throughout modern occulture.  We take certain fundamental axioms as truly universal and, worse, for granted based on the system we find our intellectual “home” in, and when we try to apply them to other systems that don’t share those axioms, we run into wall after wall after insurmountable wall.  Trying to apply a Celtic understanding of the world, for instance, to Egyptian metaphysics tries to combine two radically different systems that are based upon different rules and develop them differently into two radically different cosmologies.  It’s not impossible to truly learn a different system, as I’ve mentioned before several times over, but it’s hard, because we essentially have to unlearn everything and start from the ground up in a totally new land that we’re unfamiliar with.  It’s especially hard because we’re always tempted to bring a little of what we’re used to to this new land, and it often has no place right out of the box.

That said, I’ve found an easier way to go about learning a new system, and Aias describes how he became the first Academic from the Delian League to ever understand Middler science:

“We seem to be having a language problem,” I said to Phan.  “Let us start from first principles.  You know the atomic theory, of course.”

“I have seen that phrase in your books, but I have never understood it.”

“Atomic theory says that everything in the terrestrial world is made of minute pieces of earth, air, fire, and water. The material properties of an object can be changed by modifying the amount of each element it contains.”

Phan shook is head. “Anything can be in a state of earth, air, fire, water, or wood,” he said. “The ten thousand things are changed into one another by the natural flow of transformation.”

We continued to argue about basics for half an hour.  I explained that matter and form were fundamental to the behavior of objects.  He declared them to be accidents, saying that the flow and transformation of things lay at the heart of all science.  At the end of that time we had found no common ground, but we were both very thirsty… (page 250)

“I need to know more about your science,” I said to Phan.

“Tell me how to teach you,” he said.  There was a quiet glow in his dark eyes and something lay on his shoulders that made his seventy-year-old frame look younger and stronger. “If you can learn to learn, then perhaps I can as well.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I need to know your science, also,” he said, and his eyes grew brighter. “But where do we begin?”

“At the weakest point in the barrier between us,” I said.  “The walls of theory are too high; let us start with practice.  Show me your equipment.  Pretend that I am not a scientist. Pretend that I am some ignorant bureaucrat who wants an explanation of your work so he can make out reports.”

The old man smiled and bowed. “Will you do the same for me?”

“Of course.”

Over the next week, Phan and I gave each other basic introductions to the paraphernalia of our sciences.  I showed him how we used rare and dense air to create forced motion, and he showed me how gold, silver, and cinnabar placed along Xi flow could modify or control natural motion. Slowly, the dark cavern in my heart began to grow bright with a second vision of the universe, one of change and flow instead of matter and form. And as the light of practical work grew from a flickering candle to a solar beacon, it illuminated the bewildering Taoist texts I had studied over the years but had gained nothing from. (page 299)

We don’t call it the Study.

We don’t call it the Theory.

We don’t call it the Lesson.

We call it the Work, because we have to make it work.  Theory, study, and lessons aren’t enough; they’re all well and good in the abstract, but unless you can pull those things down and apply them in the real world, they get locked up in an isolated ivory tower, and they lock you up with it.

In my experience, the best way to understand how a different tradition works is to go out and see what it does.  Not what it believes or what it claims to exist, but actually what it does.  It’s the Work, the hands-on practical use and application of the tradition, that shows what it does and how it does it.  I mean, consider what the ancestors of our ancestors were doing when they first stumbled upon this stuff.  They had no preexisting theories, no cosmologies; they had the land around them and shit happening because of unseen forces.  They acted in a certain way, and the unseen forces and the land reacted in a certain manner.  It was only after they started codifying and assembling what they learned did the theories come around, and based on what each tribe of ancestors thought was most important (warmth from snow, harvesting enough fish, protection from tornadoes, warding off plague, etc.), they would have focused on different things to do, and thus the theories they developed would have been different.

Thus far in my occult life, I’ve come in contact with Santería, Palo, Quimbanda, Aztec and Mayan stuff, Celtic stuff (both neopagan and reconstructionist), Ásatrú, Thelema, esoteric Judaism, and so many other traditions both modern and ancestral.  No, they’re not all compatible to practice side-by-side.  No, they don’t agree on why the world works or what a particular entity is or whether a particular thing is ruled by a class of spirits.  No, they don’t all think the same things are important.  And you know what?  That’s all entirely okay, because what they all do is manage the bullshit we have in life.  They all manage to achieve particular ends using a particular set of techniques, and that’s what we see first and that’s what we continue with when we learn a new system.  Just because they have different and often-conflicting ways to describe the cosmos doesn’t mean they’re not internally coherent within their own individual traditions.

Forget the theory and cosmology and cosmogony; all that will come with time.  If you never saw something fall to the ground, why would you believe gravity to exist?  If you never had to undergo a shortage of healthy and safe food, why would you believe food poisoning or famine in another country to exist?  Humans have to see to believe, and we like hands-on stuff the best to drive the strongest points home.  Once we figure out what can happen, we can eventually puzzle out why it happens based on what we know and the hypotheses and explanations we devise that we can put to further testing.

But even then, it all comes down to Work, and when explaining your work, never start with “why”.  Ask “what” or “how”.  What are the tools you use?  How would you describe the effect a particular tool has when used in a particular way?  What are the forces you call upon?  What are their names?  How do they interrelate and interact?  How do you gain confirmation that something works?  How do you gain information about something you don’t know yet?  What do you need to achieve a particular end?

Remember: without work, you’re not doing the Work.  See the work that others do to understand their Work.

Get Off Your Ass and Work: Magic and Politics

One of my colleagues on Twitter, Joseph Magnuson of Candlesmoke Chapel, made a few tweets over the past few hours that struck a nerve with me describing a general reluctance for magicians and spiritually-minded people to get involved with politics, legal affairs, and current events:

  • “I wish you’d just tweet about magic.” Well, laws are Big Magic/rights are Big Magic. Invisible ideas everyone follows. Words made manifest.
  • Magic isn’t just reading a book and collecting Supernatural DVDs. It’s all around us in most all movement. Do you not see this?
  • Magic shouldn’t be safe and silent/not seen and not heard…especially by “witches” and “magicians.” It is not a special effect.
  • So tired of this: “Politics? Not for me. They never got political on The Craft or Charmed. Besides I don’t want to hurt my witchy brand.”

I mean, it’s kinda true.  Spiritual people, especially those of a new age bent, tend to be reluctant to watch televised news or read news articles (excepting things like the Wild Hunt or a variety of Patheos blogs), and even more reluctant to even get involved with politics or current events.  They see it as beneath them, considering the news to be “a set up to keep us from manifesting the best reality for us”, and that “spiritual people know better than to get caught up in the illusions” (courtesy of Ernesto Mercer for that quote from one of his own conversations with someone he didn’t think highly of).  And you know what?  Some people aren’t meant to be worldly or get involved in worldly affairs.  Some people are meant to be hermits or monks or recluses that shut themselves out from the world, whose arms are no longer fit for the work of the world, who are here for purely spiritual experiences.  That’s okay.

You, dear reader, aren’t one of them.

Chances are good that you’re of a spiritual bent, dear reader, and chances are also good that you’re a magician in some regard.  You’ve read me talk about rituals for this and that, sometimes on thaumaturgy and sometimes on theurgy, sometimes on conjuration and sometimes on oils.  You have the whole internet at your disposal, and a cascade of links, even on this very blog, to direct you to awesome resources for magic and supplies beyond your dreams.  You’re educated enough and powerful enough to do some magic.  The only thing you really lack is awareness of the world around you, because if you were that spiritual enough to have the capacity for magic, you’d have the compassion to use it for the betterment of the world.  So read the fucking news and do some fucking magic, dear reader, because the world around you needs it.

I’ve been chatting more and more with my gnostic friends lately, learning more about the Apostolic Johannite Church and Gnostic Christianity.  I come from my Neoplatonic and Hermetic background, but my background philosophies and those of Gnosticism share much in common.  One thing that we kinda agree-disagree on is the nature of the world around us.  In some ways, the world we live in is the crowning pinnacle of all creation, the final and most glorious stage where everything is brought into completion and can play out the mind of God in all its finery and accoutrement.  On the other hand, the world we live in is also the Auschwitz ass-end of the garbage heap tossed unceremoniously into the night outside the walls of the real Kingdom; we’re just the refuse that couldn’t make it any better.  The Hermeticist view balances the two viewpoints, though modern Hermeticists tend to be biased towards the former; the Gnostic view has always been solidly focused the latter argument.  Both are true, really; the world is an amazing place, a place that feels good, a place where we get to learn and experience so much.  It’s a lot like going to college, really, and there are good points and bad points to the world here.  That said, we’re here for a purpose, a worldly purpose.  If we didn’t have a worldly purpose for being born into the world, we wouldn’t be born here at all.  And if the world is broken and requires us to act our parts and make the world a better place, bringing the kingdom of Christ into existence in the here and now or opening the 32nd path or what-have-you, then what excuse do you have to not do this?

People are dying from being oppressed and discriminated against.  Whole governments are broken and corrupt.  Countries die of famine and plague and war.  Families are torn apart and grieve and tremble in fear because of murder and intimidation.  There is a litany of things wrong with the world.  Surely you must be aware that these things happen literally all the time across the entire world.  Or do you feel nothing?  Are you so apathetic that all you can do is shrug and say “we have to rise above it” because your new age spiritual avoidance of current events prevents you from getting your hands dirty?  Are you imprisoning yourself into a hermitage of your own making where you can wash your hands of interacting with the world while still being delivered its goods for as long as you’re here?  Are you so numb to the pain of others who allow you to benefit from the world while keeping yourself from being a benefit to the world?  Are you so wrapped up in your own white-light illusions that you’d rather commit spiritual suicide to avoid any responsibility or call to action in the world?

Please tell me that I’m wrong.

Better yet, show me that I’m wrong.

We’re fucking magicians, the successors to the priest-astrologer-philosopher-kings of the ancients.  We wield celestial and infernal powers; the gods hear our calls and walk with us; we name the ineffable itself; we understand the mechanics of cosmic systems; we light candles, lay tricks, wave a stick in the air, spin in a circle, splash some rum on a rock, mumble some incomprehensible moonspeak and shit just happens.  We have known for millennia what hackers have known for only a few decades, that any complex system can be broken into and manipulated.  The archonic owners of those systems do the same every day those systems have been around, every day the mere ideas of those systems have been around.  And we, better than anyone, have known that when the systems have exiled us, made us powerless, and stripped us of all legitimate access, we will always be able to act upon the system itself and topple it down from the outside and from the inside-out.  We only let the archons win when we let them strip us of our will to get up and fight back and succeed.  We only let the archons win when we let them make us resign ourselves to spiritual impotency and kill ourselves.  We cannot afford to do that; humanity cannot afford to let them do that.

Magic has always been regarded as the means of last resort by the respectable communities of the world and all its systems.  The world is the last part of the cosmos.  We are the last thing created.  There has never been a last war, last plague, last famine, last death; these things are lasting.  Magic is not the means of last resort to action, it is the lasting means of action that has enabled us to cope with, fix, and make better the world.  You have better things to do than claim you’re better than the people down on the ground fighting; you’re already down here with us, and we’d really appreciate it if you got off your ass and gave us a hand with the burden.  We’ve asked too long what we can get out of the world; ask now what we can do for the world and for each other.

Read the news.  Fix the world.  Do some fucking magic.

Gaza and Palestine.  Syria.  Greece.  Turkey.  Iraq.  Ferguson, Missouri.  Los Angeles, California.  Gang wars.  Police brutality.  ISIS.  Hamas.  Chrysi Augi.  Racial oppression.  Sexual oppression.  LGBT oppression.  Political oppression.  Religious oppression.  Ebola.  Measles.  HIV/AIDS.  Floods.  Earthquakes.  Fukushima Daiichi.  Fracking.  The list is long and getting longer, and every time someone says that they want to abstain from the political aspect of these things it gets harder for everyone else in the world.

Everything is politics; it’s a system.  You can’t just decide to abstain from it, because you’re already in it.  It’s your duty to do your part either as part of the system or as an infiltrator into it.  Do not be idle; you have work to do.