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.

Hail, Alan Turing, Hero!

As part of my new grammatomantic lunar calendar rituals, I’m setting aside three days each lunar month for the veneration of the dead in my life.  The first day is given to my Ancestors of Kin, those to whom I am descended from by blood.  The final day is given to the Ancestors of the Great, culture heroes and other Mighty Dead who shaped the world we all live in.  The second day, however (associated with the letter Qoppa, and held this lunar month on June 16), I give to my Ancestors of Work, famous people to whom I look up to for the things I do in my life.  They’re like my family ancestors, but with ties of labor and field rather than blood and kin, a family linked together by the things we do rather than who we are.  As a magician, I put people like Pythagoras, Orpheus, Cornelius Agrippa, Crowley, and the like in there, but magic isn’t the only thing I do.  My day-job professional and academic career is based in computer science, and today, on the 60th anniversary of his death, I’d like to recognize Alan Turing, one of the greatest computer scientists the world has ever had.

Alan Turing

Born on June 23, 1912, Alan Turing came from Irish, English, and Scottish family, and had a natural inclination towards mathematics from a young age.  This didn’t serve him too well in public schools at the time, when education focused more on classics than what we’d consider hard sciences today; still, even at 16 and not only reading but expanding on the work of none other than Albert Einstein, the dude was pretty cool at the things he was good at.  His work really shone through in the early development of computer science, working on one of the most famous problems of mathematics, the Entscheidungsproblem, or “Decision Problem”, the solution to which was that there was no solution at all.  Not only would this have surprised some of the most famous mathematicians of the time, but it’s become a central topic in computer science taught from the beginning ever since.

Not only was he a brilliant computer scientist and mathematician, but Turing also served the British Army, especially helping during World War II.  With his extensive knowledge of mathematics and science, Turing became one of the foremost codebreakers and leaders in deciphering enemy ciphers.  Not only did he produce general means to break German codes, while other methods used at the time were fragile and relied on too many assumptions, he also provided efficient means of breaking various types of code, helping to critically fight the German war machine (in several senses).  After WWII, he furthered the field of computer science as well as that of artificial intelligence, and pursued several advances in chemistry.

Despite having chatted with the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, occasionally ran the 40 miles from his office to London, and inducted into the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George VI, and basically invented modern computer science in an accessible manner, the world at that time effectively condemned him: he was gay.  After having his house robbed by an acquaintance of a lover of his, and noted that fact to the police, he was charged with indecency, since homosexuality was still illegal at that time in Britain.  Charged with this non-crime, he pleaded guilty (despite having no guilt nor shame for being gay, as he damn well shouldn’t’ve), he was given the choice of imprisonment or probation with chemical castration; he chose the latter, which would allow him to continue working, but it rendered him impotent and caused gynaecomastia.  This, combined with reparative treatment to “cure” his homosexuality (which we know nowadays from the “ex-gay” movement never works and only causes further harm), did nothing good.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, June 10 2010

Adding insult to injury, he lost his security clearance and was barred from continuing with cryptographic research with the government (even though he pretty much won WWII for them), and was even barred from entering into the United States.  He died on June 7, 1954, only at 41 years old.  Two years after his conviction and beginning of hormone treatment, with an investigation reporting that he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning with a half-eaten apple near his body, which is thought to be (but never confirmed) to be how he killed himself.  Rumor has it that this is where the original rainbow-colored partially-bitten apple logo came from for the Apple computer company, but that’s not the official story.

Today, I honor Alan Turing especially as a hero in my life.  An incredible amount of the technology I use and work I produce is indebted to him, not only because he helped develop the computer, but also because he helped turn the tides of war that could’ve endlessly shaped the world some 70 years ago.  His brilliance shines as a light for me, as a computer scientist but also as a human being.  Being a gay man myself, my heart breaks every time I recall how the world back then treated him for being the same way, and I pray that neither I nor anyone else has to undergo that sort of blatant bigotry and persecution.  Like Turing himself, though, I bear no guilt nor shame for who I am, and I take only joy in the work I do.  I’ll likely never run 40 miles nor ever care to, but hey, more power to Turing for doing that, too.

Ave, Alan Turing.  May your memory never be forgotten, and may your name and spirit always live on.  Guide our minds to know what can be known, and guide our hearts to love whom we will love, both without fear and without scorn.  Help us and be with us in our work, and may we thank you every time information flows through the fruits of your labors to us.