Because it’s part of where I’ve come from in my development, I like to try to systemize things. I like to try to assemble how something looks or try to figure out its shape or try to imagine the overall map of things and get that going before I do a whole lot with something.
Of course, I’m not alone in this predisposition.
Coming out of an academic background, I have been conditioned to believe that I need to immerse myself into a subject and master its shape and content, its meaning and significance, before I can do something with it. Of course, part of that is a credentialing consideration, but that’s an end point concern. In order to get to that point, you have to practice.
And in some cases, you have to take stabs in the dark and see what happens.
Reflections on Practice
It’s something I have to reassure mundane students about: they need to practice, hone their craft, make mistakes, learn, improve. They need to do a particular kind of work. They need to talk about and get some kind of feedback about their work. They need ambition and audacity.
Our culture tacitly acknowledges these things while actively ignoring them most of the time. We “know” that if you want to learn how to sketch and make art, then you must start practicing and suck at it and keep sucking at it until you stop sucking as much. Good tools can matter, but someone who’s practiced can still make wonders with a cheap mechanical pencil and plain copy paper. Similarly, writing is much the same. You have to write write write, and produce dreck or poorly developed arguments or whatever until your finished documents don’t suck.
But you have to keep doing.
I wonder how much paralysis we suffer because of how much art and literature—and I mean images and writing of all kinds—we have constant access to. If you’re working on sketching a horse and you can find thousands of kick ass images, photos, and drawings of horses, then does that dramatically diminish the incentive to continue while you’re producing hideous amateur horses? In comparison, Brother Kevin in a medieval monastery doesn’t have that same kind of pressure from a proliferation of art.
Of course, people overcome these hurdles all the time. But I do wonder how much we let those concerns stop us from doing more.
Along these lines, let me lead you down one of the paths from which I started reflecting on these concerns. I dreamt of the name CHNOUBIS on a dark stone a few nights back, and I recognized it as a decanic name. I checked it on awakening, and Chnoubis is associated with the first decan of Leo and is one of those lion-headed snake beings with solar rays coming from the head (like Yaldabaoth). And as I pondered this and what this meant—I’ve had several busy decan-related dreamings of late—I reflected on what level of art one needs for depicting magical images.
For example, this line art rendering of Chnoubis is reasonably well done. But you can also find versions like this actual, literal magical gem (chalcedony, if you’re curious). And I wind up feeling better about my artistic abilities when it comes to trying to do this kind of stuff. I probably would want to feel satisfied with my result—or, I should at least feel like Chnoubis is paying attention—but a Renaissance master or Disney animator I do not need to be. That said, I should approach it from a serious, intentional mindset: I shouldn’t make an image of some being and laugh at the crappy image I produce. But I shouldn’t agonize over doing some kind of magic because my art skills aren’t professional quality from 2018 standards.
To some degree, this goes back to what I said about pronunciation recently. Some helpful person comes along every once in a while and says, “Oh, so-and-so put together a helpful pronunciation list for ancient Kandarian Sumerian.” Yes, okay. Great! I’ll try to adapt what I’m doing. But I could freak out about “Oh, wait, the i in this PGM thing is [i]—or is it more an [e]?” Or I could own what I’m doing and do it. The folks who insist on memorizing everything before beginning—sure, do that if it’s your jam. Or you can start reading the book like everyone else does and eventually get to where the book just reminds you what you’re doing.
Besides, my book’s also got protective seals and charms in it. So, my book is a magical object, too. But I started doing it with prompt pages before that. And yeah, I notice when I mispronounce something, but unless I totally flub a line—well, the conjuring must go on.
Reflections on Synthesis
I had reason to go back to Jake Stratton-Kent’s Testament of Cyprian the Mage recently because I was looking for information on something (*cough* decans), and I marveled how much more sense it was making after I got a bunch more context on things in 2017. It reminds me now of how, sure, I read Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost for fun back in high school, even though I didn’t understand 90% of what was going on. I remember going back and re-reading the Inferno years later after getting a grounding in Greek and Roman mythology and literature, and the experience was that much richer. So it was that JSK’s book was far more sensible for me than the first time I’d engaged with it.
That said, JSK likes to conflate many figures, names, and such together, and he will array vast legions of mythological beings, spirits, gods, demons, and angels together into panoplies of correspondence. Actually, I don’t know if that’s an accurate description on my part, let alone fair. JSK has done extensive research on an array of topics and several systems—for example, the decan lists in numerous texts going back into ancient Egypt. And he notes the linkages, connections, parallels, and more between different systems. Where, say, the Picatrix will outline the later images associated with the decans (and the planets and lunar mansions), JSK points to different names and treatments and characters for the decans in the earlier traditions. He tries to bridge the decans to later survivals: to what degree are the Four Kings representative of the lead decans for solstitial and equinoctial signs? To what degree did cultures try to map their deities and star spirits and more onto the earlier decans? To what degree are the lunar mansions an alternate take on the decans?
And as I’m reading through much of this information, I can feel my mind trying to synthesize it all into some coherent shape. Is Chnoubis, the Liber Sacer name for the decan of Leo 1, the same being as Zoloais, the Liber Hermetis name for a similarly appearing being? Is Chnoubis also Ariel, the ruling angel of Leo? Is Chnoubis Yaldabaoth because they look very similar? (“That’s the problem with you hominins—always thinking other people all look the same.”)
The Irish Danu is associated with a male tree deity named Bilé—does that make Dana Kybele with Bilé Attis? That’s dangerous to presume. At least, foolhardy. I can no longer ascribe to the Neo-Platonic “stained glass window” metaphor—that is, that it’s all the same divine shining light on the other side, it’s just “window dressing” that distinguishes that One Light into different forms of the same being. I want to try to treat these differently named beings who seem very similar as distinct persons until they tell me otherwise, and I should still consider carefully what they tell me.
But that’s the thing: I can’t just keep reading Testament of Cyprian the Mage or 777 or The Golden Bough and try to resolve all ambiguities into some master synthesis. And I’ve felt my mind trying to do that or trying to juggle all these different systems all together at the same time—trying and failing—and I had to stop. I let my mind try to settle over the waters I’d churned up—you stare at some decanic characteres for a bit, and your dreaming will go weird—and I tried to let my unconscious find what it could within.
Ultimately, you have to dive in. Call up someone. See what develops.
If I try to “figure it all out,” well, firstly, I’ll be doing that and armchairing my way into circles and maps of the cosmos that are mostly my intellectual constructs. I will be talking and writing out my ass. Secondly, I’m doing something rather imperial: I am presuming that I can figure out the reality of these beings better than they can (let alone any of the cultures involved in the transmission of all that lore and information). I’m also presuming to map out reality itself, and that’s a rather constraining way to approach—well—everything. Thirdly, I’m not actually doing anything.
That’s where practice comes in. Dive in, do something, see what happens, then try to figure out what happened and why. Try to avoid making sweeping universal declarations about what happened. Try to remember that there’s more under heaven and earth than you can fit into your magical journal.
Reflections on Writing
That said, I find it hard to talk about many of the things I do. I often feel like I’m constrained to speak in broad generalities here. I don’t want to show you my space, my tools, my altar, my charms, my various little “art projects” that represent me trying to entangle the Otherworld and my daily “physical” experience. I don’t want to show you my corkboard o’ sigils. I don’t want to tell you the various things my allies get at me about.
I’ve been told to tell particular people things on occasion. I did so discretely, and doing so opened up relationships that’ve been fruitful, mutually empowering, and so on. But I’m not going to tell you about them.
In part, it’s a matter of context. I had an apportation event at home recently—something vanished without anything around it being disturbed and without any known physical agency doing the taking. But it’s so seemingly trivial to most folks that it would seem just silly. And it’s also a matter of attention—of you attending and imagining and projecting your ideas onto my business here. I have to weigh the consequences of inviting public attention on to an event that’s seemingly para-normal. Would your questioning or skeptical or even “huh, that’s weird” attention dampen what’s going on here? Would it hamper the return of the item in question? Would the attention feed whatever caused the vanishing in the first place?
In other instances, I find myself wondering what I could tell you about elements of my practice. I was told a particular charm for a candle magic working for a health purpose a while back, and I did it—and while it didn’t have the effect I immediately wanted, it wound up seeming to have far more the long-term benefit I want. But the nature of that charm is rather “simple” and to the point, but I can’t say how much the charm in question worked for me because of my relationship with the allies in question—or if there’s something more adaptable for others.
In other instances, I created and am creating several talismanic, astrological workings, adapting from the usual sources for these kinds of magics, but I don’t want to advertise the astrological conditions I’m trying to curate for myself, nor do I want to presume they work before I feel satisfied they worked.
So, I feel like I often wax lyrically here, wax philosophically and theoretically. I sometimes feel like I write too broadly to be particularly useful. But then, I don’t know if it’s my call here to be “useful” as we usually use that term. I intend my enchantment and magic to be practical as it can. Much of my work entails taking out my psychic and emotional garbage, tending to the garden of my soul, and curating the relationships with the spirits I’ve developed. I feel I’ve moved from the devotional, rather paternal view of my allies I had—that they were my special “parents”—and into something far more filial and partner-like. I’ve been reaching a point recently where some of those relationships are developing further still.
For a long time, I think I’ve just been trying to recuperate my own connection with and awareness of not only my spiritual depths but of the spiritual depths of the world and my allies’ presences in my life. And as other things have begun to click into place, I get the sense that they’re far more willing—or I’m far more able—to negotiate that divide between Here and Nearby to better communicate, better perceive, and better practice. I reflected on how the spirits and demons of the, say, Grimorium Verum can lead someone who develops an appropriate relationship with them to move from them being a spirit list of devil Pokémon to call up to becoming a group of allies who can open up particular workings and charms and practical enchantments that one can deploy in one’s practice. Several living traditions seem to entail similar kinds of relationships, and I wonder at times how much the blue grimoires may be an outgrowth of folks continuing to have worked with the older early modern Solomonic techniques and lists, developing them into something idiosyncratic but efficacious.
But I’ve been drawn to and drawing my own allies for a while. I have so many wingéd, sorcerous, cunning, sovereignty-associated, liminal women/goddesses/demons/angels/saints/faeries—some straddling a few of those lines and each of them nonetheless distinct persons—and shining bishounen trickster-teacher pretty boys and others that I wonder if I’m just moving towards shoring up those relationships into a far more potent practice—I can’t by any stretch of the imagination call it a “tradition” because it’s very much not—that has entailed me getting over many of my own presuppositions and personal and worldview limitations.
But live-blogging all that to the world doesn’t strike me as a wise or useful thing to do.
Featured Image: Northern Inland Fuerteventura, ravine barranco de los enamorados around Lajares by Tamara Kulikova (CC BY-SA 4.0)
 *cough* Doctor Faustus, first scene, for my allusion.
 Yes, yes, Feri folks: Talker talking.