Temporarily suspending all services

So, I know I haven’t exactly been the most active with blogging lately for a number of reasons, but lately things are gearing up and other mundane (yet crucially important) things have to take priority for me.  While I regret this, I’m temporarily suspending all crafting, divination, and consultation services until I’m able to take care of other matters.  Don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s just that the stress of paperwork and moving demands quite a lot of me for the time being.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to resume my services and commissions again starting late May or early June.

Here’s hoping you’re doing well, dear reader, and that I’ll see you on the other side sooner rather than later!

Let it be enough.

Looking back, the years 2014 and 2015 were kinda awful.  I can only remember everyone saying that they’re glad those years are over and that, while surely some good stuff happened during them, we’re all better for having left them behind.  I think it’s fair to say that they were, by and large, years of stagnation and suffocation for many, if not outright sorrow.  I’m not just idly reminiscing and self-pitying here; what caught my attention is that this sort of feeling seems to be so widespread amongst my friends, both in-person and online.

2016 is shaping up to be a very different kind of year, but in the sense of the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”.  This is a year of change, but change is rarely peaceful or easy.  “Growing pains” is a phrase that doesn’t even do this sort of pain justice.  For me especially, this has already been and will continue to be a major year in my life full of huge events that will forever change certain aspects of my paths.  (More on that in later posts, if I choose to be generous.)

But…honestly, it’s tiring.  Yes, I’m glad that these things are happening; after all that stagnation, this sort of break-out year is much-needed, but it hurts.  It’ll be a year that even my bones will remember, to quote the God-Emperor of Dune, but that sort of lesson is one hard-won and harder-learned.  It feels like I’m living through a phase of Cauda Draconis, where everything seems to be ending by falling apart, like the meat from the bones of an overly-cooked fish or siding from a dilapidated house.  I’m glad to be shedding myself of all the gunk, cruft, and needless hangers-on from the past few years, but it’s stressful, painful, and outright damaging at times in the process.  It’s all for the better; thus do I keep reminding myself, because it’s easy to lose sight and perspective when you’re down in the trenches like this.

For myself, I’m grateful that I’m able to withstand all the crap going on right now in my life, videlicet: I hate my new job and am waiting for someone somewhere else to retire so I can get a different place, I’m having to move out of my place within a month and a half, I’m undergoing the house-buying rigmarole for the first time, I’m headed out of the country later this year for an intensive week-long initiation, I need to save up more money than I can budget for in order to make all the foregoing happen, and I’m preparing for multiple lengthy and hardcore rituals throughout this spring and summer.  Yet, all told, I’m able to stand on my own two feet and take each thing day by day, breath by breath, bite by bite and work towards it all done.  If God has given me any grace or charisma, it’s that of patience and stability to weather these sorts of storms.

With sorrow, I cannot say the same for many of my friends, including those closest to me who are undergoing many of the same things I am.  They’re falling apart at the seams, on the verge of breakdowns, and it’s all I can do to simply stand there for them.  I’ve never been afflicted with serious mental illness, so I can’t truly empathize with the dark depths they’re going through; it’s all I can do to stand there, hold them, and reassure them that things will get better.  If I could, I would swallow every anxious breath, every suicidal tear, every stressed headache, every sleepless night and take it all on myself so that they wouldn’t have to.  I can’t, because the human condition can’t be alleviated in such a fairy-tale way, but I’d do it in a heartbeat all the same.

Yet, simply being there is all I can do, and what I can do has to be enough.  It has to be enough for both me and for them, and especially for me.  I can only take on so much before I start breaking down, too, and I can’t afford that.  Not for myself, and especially not for those for whom I stand.  They need me as much as I need them, and if I’m the only support left for us, then I’ve no choice but to be the support.  I will do this.

I know that many of you are going through similar stages in your life, either on the part of being the support or needing support.  What you do, whatever you can do, is enough.  Sit satis; let that be sufficient.  I know it’s hard; to know what you can do is sufficient is the hardest part about knowing and loving yourselves.  All the same, it’s true.  It is enough, and I love you for it.  I love that you have taken on this most difficult of incarnations, in this most “interesting” of times, in this most trying of trials, in this most blighted of storms, and have survived thus far.  I love that you haven’t given up and realize that you can’t give up, not now, not yet, not until it’s done.  I love that you know, at least in some small way, that you have support and recourse to help, even if it’s no more than a message sent in the quiet hours of the early morning when only that one friend across the world is online.  We will get through this together, because we’re all in this together.

If you are the support for others, don’t neglect yourself.  Know your limits; don’t push yourself more than you absolutely must, and know when it gets too much before you start needing support yourself.  Know what’s possible, and know what’s achievable; set your expectations accordingly, and aim for what is best.  Keep your perspective, no matter how hard it is, and always keep one eye on your targets, with the other on your friends and allies.  Breathe.  Drink enough water.  And, yes, for you too, know that what you do is enough.

Sit satis.  Let it be enough.

Divination Methods and Programming Languages

A few years back, I made a post about a theory of divination, where methods of divination can range from the purely intuitive (e.g. clairvoyance) to the purely technical (e.g. meteorological forecasting as seen on the Weather Channel).  Most forms of divination fall somewhere in-between, that combine some aspect of intuition with some aspect of technique or technology (e.g. Tarot, runes, geomancy).  Anyway, in that post, I brought up a few points that I think all people involved in divination should bear in mind, but also a bit about how divination methods are like programming languages.  Being educated as a computer scientist and laboring as a software engineer, I’m prone to using metaphors about the things I’m most knowledgeable in, but I think it can be expanded about how I view divination methods and what they can overall achieve for us.

So, how are methods of divination like programming languages?  Well, what is a programming language?  It’s a system of symbols and a grammar that are used as input to a computer to make it do something.  Punching in numbers and symbols into a calculator, for instance, can be considered a very simple form of programming language: you tell the computer to add these two numbers, divided by this other number, save it to memory, start a new calculation, involve the value stored in memory, and display the output.  Most programming languages (PLs, for short) are much more complicated than this, but the idea is the same: you’re giving the computer a set of instructions that maybe take some input, do something, and maybe give some output.  Computers of any and all kinds exist to interpret some sort of PL, whether it’s just pure binary telling it to turn on or off some set of flashing lights, or whether it’s something elaborate and arcane to simulate intelligence; computers are essentially machines that take in PLs to do other things.  The study of PLs is, in effect, the study of cause and effect: tell the computer to do something, and the computer will do exactly that.  If the computer fails to do the thing, then either the commands given were incorrect (the computer understood them but you didn’t give it the right commands) or invalid (the computer couldn’t understand what you told it to do).

In computer science, there’s a thing called Turing completeness.  If we consider an idealized abstract computer stripped down to its most basic parts (a universal Turing machine), it can compute anything that is, well, computable; by definition, a universal Turing machine can simulate any computable algorithm, any computable programming language, and any computer.  Any computer you see or interact with, including your smartphone or laptop or video game console, is a concrete implementation of a Turing machine.  Turing completeness is a property that applies to computers and, by extension, PLs: if a concrete computer or programming language (let’s call it A) can simulate a universal Turing machine, then because a universal Turing machine can simulate any other type of computation or computation method , then the computer/programming language A can simulate any other computer/programming language.  This is called Turing completeness.

What this boils down to is saying that any Turing-complete programming language can do anything that any other Turing-complete language can do: C is functionally equivalent to ML, which is functionally equivalent to Lua, which is functionally equivalent to lambda calculus.  What this does not say, however, is that any given Turing-complete PL is as easy to use as any other Turing-complete PL.  Thus, what is easy to do in C is problematic in Lisp, which might be outright unwieldy and frightening in some other language.  It may not be impossible, just different; each PL is a different tool, and different tools are good for different ends.  It is totally possible to fix pipe plumbing issues with a hammer, but it’s easier with a wrench; it’s totally possible to just build a house with a wrench, but it’s easier with a hammer.

This is what brings me to divination methods.  I claim that, barring the direct influences of gods or cultural notions thereof, any divination method can answer the same questions that any other divination method can.  Call it a divinatory Turing-completeness if you will; if a divination method can account for and describe some set of circumstances, situations, events, and results, then other divination methods can, as well.  This is why you can go to a geomancer, a Tarot reader, a bone reader, a clairvoyant, or other types of readers and still walk away satisfied with good information despite the radical differences in style and method.  That said, each method is better at different types of queries or better at different types of answer deliveries than others.  Geomancy, for instance, excels at binary queries (“yes” or “no”), while Tarot is good for descriptions and feelings.  Geomancy answers exactly the question you ask, while Tarot answers the question you should be asking.  Geomancy gives you the answer up front and the details later, while Tarot gives you the details first and leaves the overall answer to be judged from them.  I’m not trying to shill for geomancy, I’m just giving examples of how geomancy does divination differently than Tarot; after all, I can answer with geomancy anything a Tarot reader can, but I may phrase certain queries differently, or develop an answer differently.  The overall result is the same, when all is said and done.

However, this metaphor of divination methods and PLs can show other things, too.  A geomancy student of mine recently came to me with an interesting question about a detail of a technique that I don’t personally use, but is documented in an old manuscript.  I don’t put any faith in that technique, so I won’t describe it here, but he wanted to know why I didn’t use it, and how we might find out more about it.  He asked me whether I’ve ever asked geomancy about itself before, like to do a reading to confirm or deny certain techniques.  I…honestly can’t see the point of doing so, but to explain why, it’s time to go back to computer science.

In addition to Turing completeness, there’s this other notion in mathematics that applies to computer science and PLs called Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.  It’s a little heady and obtuse, but here’s the gist: say you have some system of describing information, like arithmetic or physics.  This system has a logic that allows certain things to be proved true (“if P, then Q; P, therefore Q”), and can disprove things that are false (“if P, then Q; P, therefore not Q”).  Given any such system, you might want it to be the best possible system that can prove everything that is true while simultaneously disproving anything that is false.  However, there’s an issue with that: you can either have consistency or completeness, but not both.

  • Consistency is showing that your logic is always sound; you never end up proving something that is false.  Thus, we can only prove true things.  However, this is too restrictive; if you have perfect consistency, you end up with things that are true that you cannot prove.  Your logic, if consistent, can never be complete.
  • Completeness is showing that your logic is always full; you always end up proving everything that is true can be proved true.  The problem with this, however, is that it’s too permissive; sure, everything that is true can be proved true, but there are also things that are false that end up being proved even though they’re contradictions.  Your logic, if complete, can never be consistent.

When it comes to logical systems, of which there are many, we tend to strive for consistency over completeness.  While we’d love a system where everything that could be true is shown as true, we also lose faith in it if we have no means to differentiate the true stuff from the false stuff.  Thus, we sacrifice the totality of completeness in favor of the rigor of consistency.  After all, if such a system were inconsistent, you’d never be sure if 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2 != 3, a computer would work one second or start an AI uprising the next, or whether browsing your favorite porn site would actually give you porn or videocall your mother on Skype.  Instead, with a consistent system, we can rest assured that 2 + 2 can never equal 3, that a computer will behave exactly as told, and that porn websites will only give you porn and not an awkward conversation with your mom.  However, the cost to this is that I have this thing that is true, but it can’t be proven to be true using that system you like.  Unfortunate, but we can make do.

As it turns out, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem applies to any system described in terms of itself; you cannot prove (which is a stronger, logical thing to do than simply giving examples) that a given computer, PL, or system of mathematics is consistent by using that selfsame system.  If you attempt to do so and end up with such a proof, you end up proving a contradiction; thus, your system of logic has an inconsistency within that system of logic.  In order to prove something on the system itself, then, you need something more expressive than that system itself.  For instance, to describe actions, you need sounds; in order to describe sounds, you need language, and in order to describe language, you need thought.  Each of these is less expressive than the next, and while you can describe things of less expressiveness, you cannot describe it in terms of itself.  So, if I have this thing that is true and you can’t prove it to be true using that system you like, then you need something more powerful than that system you like.

Okay, that’s enough heady stuff.  How does this apply to divination methods, again?  My student wanted to know why I didn’t ask geomancy about itself; the answer is that geomancy can’t answer about itself in terms of itself.  Like programming languages’ problem from Gödel, I don’t think a system of knowledge—any system, whether it’s Peano arithmetic or lambda calculus or geomancy—can accurately answer questions about its own internal mechanism and algorithms.  And, moreover, because whatever is divinable by one divination method is divinable by any of them, and whatever is not divinable by one isn’t divinable by any of them, if we can’t ask about how methods of divination work by means of a particular divination method (Tarot with Tarot, geomancy with geomancy, Tarot with geomancy, geomancy with Tarot), the question about how divinatory methods work cannot be divined.

So how do you learn more about techniques for a divination method?  Well, as above, if you have a particular system of knowledge and you want to describe it, you need something more powerful than that system.  What’s more powerful than, say, geomancy?  Something more inclusive and expressive than geomancy; like, say, human language.  If you have a question about geomantic techniques, you can’t really go to geomancy to ask about it; you go to a teacher, a mentor, an ancestor, a discussion group to figure it out by means of logic, rationality, and “looking out above” the system itself.  You have to inspect the system from the outside in order to see how it works inside, and generally, we need something to show us where to look.  That something is usually someone.

Programming languages are not, of course, divination methods.  Yes, dear reader who happens to know more about mathematics and the philosophy thereof than I do, I know I’m uncomfortably mixing different types of concepts in this post; divination methods are not instructions, nor are programming languages able to predict the future, barring some new innovation in quantum computing.  The point stands, and the concepts introduced in this post hold well and are generalizable enough for my ends here.  There are enough parallels between the two that give me a working theory of how divination works, and also of the limits of divination.  Just as with the relationship between regular expressions and context-free grammars, where the latter is strictly more expressive and powerful than the former, we need something more expressive and powerful than a divination system to learn how to divine with it.  Humans, for instance, fill that role quite nicely; all divination can do is “simulate” human situations, but it cannot simulate every possible situation uniquely.  There are human situations that cannot be accurately simulated by divination.  Divination, too, is inherently incomplete if we want to place certain faith in our techniques; if we allow, on the other hand, for divination to be complete, then we have to scrap the techniques which then become inconsistent and be more intuitive instead.  In that case, sure, you might be able to get insight on techniques, but it’s not by means of the techniques of the divination system itself; you sidestepped that matter completely.

On Geomantic Education

To those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, this will come as no surprise.  I’m finally working on my book on geomancy again.  It’s something that people have been dogging me about for years, and it’s been an on-again-off-again project since 2013.  However, since recently rebuilding my computer and getting all my files back together, I got the bug again to write that book, and good progress is being made again.  At this rate, it’ll be the size of a proper textbook, and my aim is to make it thorough and complete on a level not rivaled since Fludd or az-Zanati.  I’m not going to discount the extremely valuable books put out by John Michael Greer or Stephen Skinner, as I stand on the shoulders of those two living giants with regards to this art, but I aim to put out a text of a different kind.

And yet, despite that this book is (currently) estimated to come out at around 300pp., I can already hear a complaint off in the distance.  My goal is for this book to present a fundamental and thorough exploration of the art of geomancy in such a way that it will start from first principles (what is divination, what are the elements and planets and stars, what are the relationships between these forces and the figures, what are the relationships amongst the figures, how is geomantic “mathematical”, etc.) and go through every major technique I can document in Western geomancy, including variations and specifics of detailed things along the way.  In this sense, I’m following in the same steps as the geomantic authors of yore.  However, there is one major thing that my book does not and will not have that virtually every other book on geomancy has, and while it may frustrate people used to it, I find that it’s something that should never have been written by anyone ever to begin with.

If you haven’t guessed yet, dear reader, it’s lookup tables, those lists of premade answers to particular arrangements of Court figures, figures in the houses, and the like.  It’s these lookup tables (cf. Hartmann, Skinner’s “Oracle of Geomancy”, the Golden Dawn primer on geomancy, etc.) that I believe are a bane to the proper study of geomancy, and I refuse to include them in my work.

Now, I understand why they were written.  For the sake of completion, many authors have endeavored to provide a clear explanation and guide to interpreting each figure in each of the houses; since there are only 16 figures and 12 houses, this is only about 192 small entries.  After all, astrologers have done the same for the planets and parts in the houses for centuries, and they have a lot more to worry about in their texts.  And, for the sake of being reeeaaallly complete, many authors have also included premade interpretations for the different possible combinations of Witnesses and Judge; after all, if the Judge must be an even figure, then that cuts down all pairwise combinations of Witnesses to just 128 different combinations.  Again, not terrible.  For completeness’ sake, and to offer an illustrative guide to the gist of what figures mean for a query, sure, I can see why this was done.

The problem, however, is that many people are not as dedicated to the art when they claim to be its students, and would rather be lazy.  Mass-market publishers, additionally, want things that sell, and will happily cater to the many who would spend a few pence on a text that appeals to them rather than the extraordinary few who would spend more on a text that they need.  I mean, consider how much trash there is out there with the neopagan or pop magic literature; sure, it sells well, and it may very well be a good starting point for those who are serious about their studies.  Hell, even I admit to having a few of Scott Cunningham’s fluffier books somewhere in my library, and it did help me get started back in middle school with learning what magic is and how it works.  That said, if I were to stop there, I’d be putting myself at a great disservice and would never have gotten to where I am today; moreover, if I thought that Cunningham’s style of pop magic spells done on a beach or in the snow was all there was to magic, I’d insult all the magicians and occultists who came before him, not to say the field of magic as a whole.

The problem is that, as time went on in the Renaissance and more and more books were published on geomancy, all they really focused on was the lookup tables.  The techniques were discussed only inasmuch as they enabled you to use the lookup tables; for this, see Franz Hartmann’s book on geomancy as a prime example.  Geomancy became whittled down from this elaborate, profound system of divination that could elegantly answer any subject with extraordinary detail into this…well, the phrase “parlor game” comes to mind, something like Chi-Chi sticks or those little folded paper fortune-teller doodads we all used to make in elementary school.  Even though geomancy was more popular in Europe than Tarot is now, imagine if Tarot were reduced only to using its numbers and suits; it’s effectively playing cards, ignoring different spreads and the qabbalistic symbolism inherent in the art and structure of the Tarot.  That’s what basically became of geomancy towards the end of the Renaissance, and was one of the main contributors to geomancy effectively being lost once the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution came around.  No, geomancy was not completely forgotten, but it was all but regarded as useless and overly complicated for an answer that usually amounted to little more than “evil, except for bloodletting”.

So much for how the publishing and spread of lookup tables influenced the general perception of geomancy.  However, there’s another part of the problem with relying on these: lookup tables are inherently limited.  Sure, the small number of combinations of figures in houses or Witnesses and Judge is sufficiently limited to offer a good high-level summary in a single text; it’s not the fact that there are only so many combinations in geomancy, but it’s that these summaries cannot be helpful in all circumstances and for all queries.  These interpretations are very general, but also very isolated from other factors in a geomantic chart.  Yes, Fortuna Maior in house IV is a good thing for one’s personal life, but what if we’re asking a query about having an ex-lover move out of our house, and this figure is aspected by opposition, and it’s in company with a negative figure, and the querent has indicated that health issues may be at play?  Fortuna Maior, although a good figure, is sufficiently negated that it becomes stressful and harmful to the querent.  Yet, what can a lookup table say?  Not much, except that the querent will do well and strong in their personal life and home.  That’s all well and good, but the geomancer still has to link that to every other factor present to actually give a useful answer.  Without indicating how, books that stress the importance of lookup tables without teaching how to synthesize these factors gimp the geomancer.

Lookup tables, in effect, cheapen the art of geomancy; it reduces a synthetic, holistic, detailed divination system to a copy-and-paste, abbreviated, vague system of terse and snippy answers.  Because of this, geomancers who rely primarily on lookup tables aren’t really learning how to actually use geomancy beyond following page numbers like a “choose your path” story book.

That’s why my book will not have these lookup tables.  Tables of correspondence that indicate what figures mean in specific contexts?  Absolutely! Detailed interpretations of each figure as they are and how they relate to other figures to explore their own worlds?  You got ’em!  Case studies of geomantic readings that explore each individual factor and technique used for a particular chart, then synthesized together to form a coherent, cohesive narrative?  But of course!  These are all parts of understanding the principles of geomancy from a ground-up approach, so that lookup tables become useless anyway.  By enabling the geomancer to develop their own interpretations through a deep knowledge of each figure, understanding how the figures interact with each other ideally and in particular charts, and giving them the tools to synthesize different parts of a reading, the geomancer will never need to use lookup tables for answers on “will he obtain his love” or “how will the undertaking end”; at a glance, the geomancer will be able to answer these on their own anyway based on their own skill and intuition.

So, if the fact that my book is gonna be around 300 pages and remind you of college, dear reader, don’t worry.  This is not a book to flip through because you want to be lazy.  This is a book to absorb thoroughly because you want to be excellent.