On Blessings

Lately, I’ve been thinking of things going on in my life, or that have happened in my life, and started to call the good ones (like, the really good ones) “blessings”.  It’s something that I’ve heard some of my older or elder friends say, too, about some of the nicer things in life, and…it’s weird.  Before initiation into Santeria, I would never really have used the word “blessing” to describe a good thing that happens.  Awesome, fantastic, or great, perhaps, but “blessing” was weird for me to think of it that way. Now, it seems a lot more natural; perhaps it’s just a shift in the crowd I run with and adopting the terminology, but seeing how I was already running with them before, something must have clicked into place for this sense of the word “blessing” to click for me.

Let’s recap, I suppose. From my Western religious or magical viewpoint that I’d assume is more-or-less common (but I could be wrong!), a blessing is a ritual act where something or someone is blessed.  For instance, a Catholic priest can bless a saint medallion (or any number of other things), and oftentimes perform a light or simple exorcism of a person which can also count as a blessing.  Other priests in other traditions and religions generally follow suit, with the overall goal to instill a force or presence of holiness or divinity in a material vessel, animate or not.  For many of the same reasons, many of the enchanting or consecrating acts magicians do can also be considered blessings; heck, the language we use is often identical to those used in the Church, if not taken directly from their liturgies and rituals, with much the same effect (though issues of apostolic succession and the lack thereof can subtly change or weaken the end result).

We can look at the word “blessing” in two etymological ways: the first, using the Germanic word family of bless, blood, and blót, and the second using the Latin word family of benedicere.  In the former, we have an original word coming from Germanic paganism of “marking with blood”, leading to the term blót, a sacrifice, and blót-hus, “house of worship” or “temple”.  By using the blood of sacrificed animals, the divine figures of worship, the place of worship, and the worshipers themselves would be instilled with the special powers contained within; there are conceptual parallels between this and the Old Testament use of sacrificed oxen and bulls in the Temple, as well as the literal bloodbath Moses gave to the Hebrews as he came down from the Mount.

In the second sense, we have the far more bland Latin term benedicere, literally meaning “to speak well” or “to say good things”.  However, in the Christian sense, consider that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Logos; to speak good things upon someone is to literally cast the power of God upon them for good ends and with good means.  This builds upon the more fundamental Abrahamic understanding of a blessing (all of which ultimately come from God) to the effect that to be blessed is to be favored and approved by God.  This ties into the otherwise unusual statement “Blessed are you, Lord our God” (how almost all Jewish blessings, or berakhot, begin); after all, how could God be blessed, if God gives all blessings?  It’s because being the source of blessings is indistinguishable from the quality of being blessed; both the blessing and the blessor are identical.

So much for etymologies and definitions.  When it comes to using the word, I’ve pretty much limited myself to using it in a ritual or prayerful context.  I would suppose that, as a technical matter, only priests (who have a valid and legitimate connection to their deity and who are licensed and authorized to do so by such a connection) can actually bless an object, person, event, or space.  Laity and other non-priestly clergy who lack that connection can pray for the blessing of something, while magicians can…well, I don’t want to say “consecrate” (literally “to make sacred”, which overlaps heavily with “blessing”), but perhaps “enchant” or (one of my more favorites, thanks Kalagni and Deb et al.) “enwoogify” or “bespooken”.  As a matter of technical correctness, only priests can bless; even if what magicians do is effectively the same thing in result, the mechanics and source of the result is sufficiently different to warrant another term.

But…well, consider what the laity do in this context: they pray for blessings upon someone else.  It’s what I never really put much consideration into before now, but when someone prays for your well-being, your happiness, your prosperity, your safety, your success…those are the blessings they pray for, which are their blessings to you.  Absent any other ritual, divine connection, or other woogity, that act is the lay equivalent of blessing someone, by appealing to the source of blessings to bestow its blessings.  That is their magic, their means of plying their connection, their gift to you.  Again, while them “blessing” you isn’t necessarily a proper use of the term, just as with a magician enchanting for some effect, the effect is ultimately equivalent.

That sort of realization is, in some sense (and in addition to being with people who use that term just as a thing), what led me to start widening my use of the term “blessing”, and why it finally made sense to call good things that happen “blessings”.  When we, as magicians, carry out a ritual for some end, do we not consider ourselves successful when that very thing comes to pass?  Of course we do; we might find ways to improve upon our results for future workings, but we consider the success a validation of our work, our connections to spirits, and ourselves.  Similarly, when we pray for something, do we not consider ourselves having been heard by God or the gods when what we pray for comes to pass?  Heck, we even say that they “answer our prayers”, just as they would a phone call or question.  Thus, if we pray for a blessing, and our prayers are answered, then we would then, logically, say that we have been blessed.

I’ve long held that magicians should pray just as much as anyone else, if not more so; in the types of magic I work, prayer is part and parcel of the whole shebang.  In my own prayers, besides those of adoration of divinity, I pray for guidance, enlightenment, fortitude, progress, compassion, companionship, wisdom, intelligence, understanding, protection, purpose, purity, and so much else.  For myself and for many other people, the most common things we pray for are good health, long life, prosperity, happiness, and peace.  There are hundreds of classifications and categories of blessings out there (just look up the endless kinds of berakhot that Jews are supposed to recite upon basically anything happening), but the big ones are things we all want in our lives, which are fundamental to a universal human notion of “a life well-lived”.

So, when something good happens that furthers me along in a way I’ve prayed for, or that someone else has prayed for me, or that just happen because *gestures vaguely upwards*  I should celebrate it and be grateful for it, just as I’d celebrate myself when something I’ve been magicking for comes to fruition.  Good things that happen (and I mean with a capital G, not just the little g good things) are blessings, whether or not I or anyone else has asked for them.  It’s such a simple concept, really; I’m kind of embarrassed that I never understood it before, but I get it now.  Maybe it’s preconceived notions that Good Things just happen coincidentally (which is otherwise a notion I’ve long since abandoned), or that Good Things happen so rarely (when so much that happens is actually Good, even if it’s not good on a microcosmic level), or something else that kept me from seeing…I dunno, a more profound awe in things.

Of course, recognizing that something is a blessing is only one part of the equation; being grateful for it and not taking it for granted are others to follow through with.  After all, when we get something we ask for from someone as a gift, we graciously and gratefully thank them, if not exchange a new gift for them; when we work with people or spirits whom we commission to do work for us, we pay them for their services.  To simply take without giving is selfish and greedy, and degrades the entity doing something for us into a slave, while taking without appreciation treats them as a machine.  For the Good Things that happen to us, we must be grateful that divinity either heard our prayers and saw fit to grant them, or that divinity for the sake of divinity favored us with the Good Things, but more than that, we must never take such blessings of Good Things for granted.  But then, how do you pay back a god?  In the ways that gods want, of course.  I would fain speak for divinities without them chiming in, but the general ways that I see acceptable across the board would be to make the most of the blessings given to you to further your own development, to help others with their own development, adoration of divinity for its own sake by means of your blessing, and to simply live a good/Good life for the sake of divinity, for the sake of the world, and for your own sake.

A blessing isn’t just a one-time good thing, like a slice of cake.  It’s more than a simple result of spiritual labor or material gift.  It’s a foundation, a building material to continue constructing and instructing our lives in the best ways we’re able to, and with which we can help others build theirs.  We just need the humility to ask for these materials, the knowledge of how to implement them, and the wisdom of when to use them, but even these we can inculcate in ourselves, both as practice we cultivate and blessing we seek.

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Priesthood in the World We Live In

Readers of my blog know that I’m a stickler for proper terminology, sometimes expounding on the subtle and nuanced differences (sometimes even those that I impose) to distinguish between different terms that are largely used the same, even for words that historically were interchangeable with each other.  I like to be extraordinarily precise with my language, if for nothing else than to save words or to have certain concepts ready to go, though even I acknowledge that it can be difficult with overly-precise language to actually, yanno, communicate with others.  I see this problem frequently in discussions many occultists have—even those I myself have—and why I spend so much time first trying to understand exactly what someone is talking about (with or without snarky remarks about their clearly awful use of terminology) before coming up with a response.  I might spend a goodly chunk of time on just clarifying something, but it prevents the even larger waste of time that happens when someone says one thing but I was thinking completely another thing due to a misunderstanding of what they mean.  Getting lost in translation is a serious problem, especially when so many people don’t have the same research, education, training, or standardization as other people.

Up until recently, I would have held a distinction between the words “priest” and “minister”.  This is a distinction I found online from some blogger or another, though the exact source escapes me at the moment.  Under such a distinction, while both priests and ministers can be considered part of a clergy that works with God or a god, their role and focus would differ: priests focus on serving, understanding, and working with their deity, while ministers serve, understand, and work with the people.  In other words, priests primarily work in a ritual context, and ministers primarily work in an activism context.  The priests and ministers, then, work amongst themselves and with each other so that the ministers help the words of the gods reach the people by the instructions and divinations of the priests, and the priests help the words of the people reach the gods by the complaints and needs communicated to them by the ministers.  Consider the various ministries in Christian churches that feed and clothe the poor (when they can actually still be found); they’re not really preaching or performing Mass for the poor, but they’re carrying out the will of their God by being activists for the sake of the people.  Meanwhile, the priests proper tend to the rituals of Mass, absolution, baptism, exorcism, and the like, but relegate themselves (for better or for worse) to their ritual expertise and less to activist tasks that would infringe on their time and energy carrying out their priestly duties.  Priests only work with the people insofar as to carry out spiritual ritual for them, and ministers only work with the gods insofar as to carry out their worldly aims; beyond that, the two offices don’t really mix.

But here’s a question: if we neglect our fellow human beings, our pets, our lands, our trades, our environment, we leave the world to its own self-destructive devices.  If we neglect the world, we do nothing to prevent its eventual breaking-apart and wasting-away.  In that light, what good is a broken, wasted world to a god?  They receive no sacrifices, no respect, no honor, and no priests; just as we have an investment in seeing the world do well so that we can live well in it, the gods have an investment in the world to make sure their children do well so that they can do well towards the gods.

What I’m starting to realize is that a priest has a vested interest in both their gods and their people; to tend to one necessitates tending to the other.  A priest does not become a priest merely by studying and becoming an expert in ritual; anyone with half a semi-functioning brain can do that, since it’s not hard to memorize a dozen or four established speeches, read out of special books, and make particular gestures with particular tools at the right times under the right circumstances (it’s what most office workers do mindlessly for eight hours a day five days a week, just with different sets of words, books, gestures, and tools).  A priest must be an expert in ritual but must also show devotion to their gods, discerning their wills and carrying it out.  It’s that last part, carrying out the will of a god, that often necessitates the external world of persons and people, though, sometimes to the great distaste of the priest.  In order for a god to be pleased, they need their needs met and satisfied; given that the world we live in has so many people in it, and affecting so many things to such a great extent, many times these needs call for the interaction and direct communication with people.  With no people, many needs of the gods cannot be met; it is often better, for example, for a tribe of people to raise their voice together in joy and honor of a god rather than just one person alone.  Sometimes, it helps our gods carry out their work by performing acts of charity; a god of lepers and diseases who was cast out of his kingdom, for instance, quite often smiles upon money given to the homeless in his name, and a goddess of love and beauty can appreciate her priest helping others feel beautiful for their own sake as much as being recited her own hymns of beauty.

Let’s be a little more misanthropic about this, shall we?  For a more Machiavellian take on this, consider people as tools, as means to an end.  Any good craftsman knows that you need to take care of your tools so that they can take care of you.  If your tools are crappy, you’ll need to make up for it with more work on your part, and we have tools for the express purpose of making our lives easier.  If your tools fall apart, you risk botching a work in progress and can no longer make things you need to make, and if something is broken, you can no longer fix what needs to work.  Getting high-quality tools is an investment, but you can get better results with them faster, easier, and more reliably than with crappy tools, but even crappy tools are better than no tools at all.  If people are tools, then they need to be taken care of the same way: they need food to sustain them, homes to protect them, clothing to dress them, medicine to heal them, teachers to instruct them, pastimes to relieve them, and communities to engage them.  If people are not taken care of, they will die, wither away, revolt, or outright destroy; in general, people that are not taken care of take away from a Good World, and without a Good World to live in, our lives become harder, our hearts weaker, our tongues more bitter, our minds more dejected, our prayers more hollow, our Work less focused.  We are, all of us, in this thing together.  We, too, are tools to be used by our higher powers, and we, too, need to be taken care of.  It’s very much a “wrench in the machine” kind of situation; so long as the entire machine works properly, then each individual part does well, but if even one gear is out of place or if something is put where it doesn’t belong, the entire machine will break down and explode.

To that end, even the most people-hating of priests has to admit that other people will, nearly always, play a part in their own tending to their gods.  There are exceptions, of course; sometimes there is something we can do on our own to tend to our gods’ needs, and sometimes a god has no need of dealing with other people, but these are only ever exceptions to the otherwise vastly-normal situation where the gods have plans and aims and needs that deal with other people.  Communal celebration, tending to our own towns, helping those in need, and making donations where they help are as much priestly duties as are the successful and proper execution of ritual, sacrifice, and devotion.  We must build up ourselves as much as we build up those around us; it’s only when everyone is enlightened can the bodhisattvas themselves catch a break, and it’s only when one person is elevated that everyone can be brought up to their level.  Priests must be ministers, because the priest is the intermediary between the other realms and this world we live in; ministers can help, but it’s the priest who really stands at the crossroads of divinity and humanity, of eternal immortality and fatal mortality.  If there is a distinction to be made between priests and ministers, then it’s just that ministers focus on a non-ritual, non-spiritual subset of the duties of a priest but still in the same service to the same powers.  It’s not that they’re mutually exclusive categories, but that the functions of one is a subset of the other.  Of course, you could very well cut yourself off from people in the ritual service of your deity or deities, but then that would make you a hermit or a monk, which I would indeed reckon is a distinct category from priest.

A distinction I’ve held before (and still hold to) is that we live in three realms: the physical universe, the spiritual cosmos, and the world, which is the intersection between the two linked together by humanity and the human experience; after all, the word itself comes from old English literally meaning “the age of man” (Proto-Germanic *wer + *ald).  We cannot live purely in either the universe or the cosmos, but in the human-made human-filled realm between them.  To be a priest in the world means mediating between the two by the necessary means of the third element: people itself.

Data, Information, Knowledge

As an initiate in La Regla de Ocha Lukumi (a.k.a. Santeria), I’m trying to wrap my head around all the different things we do and the proper way to do them.  The most straightforward method for this is to simply show up to ceremonies, watch what’s done, listen to what’s said or sung, and follow along; in this manner, I learn the things we do, how to do them, and why we do them.  I learn primarily from my godfather when I’m in a one-on-one situation, and under his watch and guidance more generally when I’m in the broader community.  This is the simplest way for me to learn, but even then, there are so many complications in this alone.  For one, since we’re all learning, there are things my elders will occasionally shift when they find a better or more proper way to do things, so occasionally the things they show or tell me can change over time, which isn’t even bringing up the matter of things that I can’t formally know yet, based on my own experience or initiations within the religion, without which I formally can’t know about certain things without having undergone the mysteries thereof.  For another, there’s the issue of different houses within a lineage with their small variances, and different lineages within the religion with their larger ones, which becomes more evident when we have people from other communities visiting and participating in our ceremonies or vice versa.  There’s also the issue of the “stuff out there”, books and blogs and personal notes of other people in the religion, which really should be vetted thoroughly before even being given an ounce of credence since some of it may not apply to us and some of which may just be outright wrong.

Trying to take all that in and form a useful body of knowledge that I can use is…daunting, to say the least.  Thank God and the gods for my godfather, but even by his own admission, it can be bewildering and confusing even at the best of times.

The situation is a little different in Western occulture, but many of the same issues still apply.  Consider all the grimoires we have available to us nowadays from the medieval and Renaissance Solomonic traditions; heck, just consider the books Gordon over at Rune Soup goes over in in his grimoire course.  Each book, while still belonging more-or-less to the same overall tradition of magical study, has its own variations of practice, theory, and internal logic; some things are clear inventions that start with one grimoire and continue forward form there, while other things that were present from the beginning slowly fade out over time.  Then, based on all those texts, consider our modern (largely derivative) texts and how those vary both in philosophy and praxis due to the time and location wherein they were written.  Then, for an additional twist, throw in everybody’s UPG that they love to make dogmatic Truth far more often than is good for them (or us).  If one were to study magic, then, how would you go about reconciling all these differences?  Between all the details and variations, between all the similarities and commonalities, where does one even begin to make coherence out of the mess?

Let’s talk about how we come across such facts and tidbits in the world we live in.  I like to draw a threefold distinction here: data, information, and knowledge.  All have their role to play, but all are slightly different in terms of delivery and scope:

  • Data is a Latin word literally meaning “things that are given” (where, yes, the singular of data is datum, but I won’t fault you for using data as a singular noun in English).  Literally anything that exists or that is said, witnessed, or perceived is data.  The world is full of data, but much of it doesn’t make sense or even matter.  Literally the entire world, if you’re receptive to it all, is full of data.  Data is, in many ways, boring and meaningless without some sort of structure or methodology to process it by.  If data is a set of raw materials, then the form of raw materials produces information.
  • Information is, in the words of one of my old computer science professors that stuck with me, “data that makes a difference”.  Differences can only be shown when you have some sort of rule, method, structure, or form to pit two pieces of data against each other with.  Information is another Latin derivative meaning “to educate”, but more literally meaning “to give form to”.  Information is a structure of data that literally informs (builds within) a body of knowledge.
  • Knowledge is synthesized, coherent structures of information.  When we “know” something, we have a context to put information within, and we can link it to other bodies of information to see even bigger trends that connect both within and outside a single system of information.

To use an organic metaphor, consider an animal body, which is composed of organs, which are composed of cells, which are composed of chemicals.  Those individual chemicals at the lowest level are data, and they can occur anywhere both within an animal body and outside them.  When arranged in certain structures (such as nucleotides in a strand of DNA), you start to get cells.  When the cells are organized together according to function and purpose, you get organs.  When your organs are put together in a coherent, symbiotic way, you get a complete animal.  Similarly, our minds are composed of different bodies of knowledge, which are themselves composed of structures of information, which are themselves composed of data.  The data are arranged in certain ways to form information; the information are arranged and structured in certain ways to form knowledge; different bodies of knowledge are linked together to form our intelligible minds.

To give a more concrete example, consider a school of students.  At testing time, each test score of each student gives us a single point of data.  We can point and say that we know that Tom’s score is 74 and Abby’s score is 95, which is nice and all, but individual points of data don’t really mean anything.  We can see that 95 is a higher score than 74, but more than that, we can’t say anything unless we start looking at a broader picture, a structure to fit these data points within.  Consider Tom’s trends of scores across the school year; while 74 may not seem like a particularly great score, if we see that that’s his highest score across the entire year, then we can say that Tom is getting better, while Abby might be having an off day with 95 being her lowest score across the whole year.  We can evaluate how well Tom and Abby are doing amongst their peers by taking the average or median scores of their class, or the whole school, to see whether Tom’s situation is common compared to his classmates or whether he’s underperforming.  We can split the types of test up by subject and see whether these scores are indicative of Tom or Abby excelling in certain subjects but not others.  All these methods to analyze data produce information, which is “data that makes a difference”.  Going one step further, we can take how this given school performs on tests to our bodies of information about education methods generally that we might’ve picked up from our own classes, the psychology of children and adults in learning and performing on evaluations, how obscure the material is on the tests compared to both what is commonly known and what is specialized expertise in a given field, and other things that we’re informed of to come up with a general, broad-view understanding of the performance of the school and the context in which it takes place.  From that knowledge, we can make further judgments that we might not be able to make reliably when we’re focused only on one system of information, because we lack sufficient context or experience in order to extrapolate.

We need to understand two things about data, the things we encounter in the world:

  1. Any given data point is a fact on its own terms.  This doesn’t mean that every bit of data we have is true, but it is a fact in and of itself.  Consider this book on Santeria I have before me; it is a fact that the book says such-and-such about a particular orisha.  That is a data point, and it is a fact that the book says so.  Whether such a fact is true depends on other factors that cannot be validated on its own terms; if I have other bits of data that say the opposite of what the book says (such as what other santeros say, what my godfather says, what my own experience has validated, etc.), then I can consider the data in the book to be false, but the book still says it all the same.
  2. Any given data point may or may not be meaningful.  Consider a generator that produces random numbers or words.  No matter how you pick them, any given item from that random set is just that: random.  Nothing in it makes a particularly big difference either way, since any comparison you use between one item and another will be meaningless.  It’s only when data are structured together and compared can a trend be (possibly) produced; the data that produce that trend are meaningful, and the data that don’t may or may not be meaningful, depending on whether it’s an “exception that proves the rule”, a once-off exception that can be explained contextually, or another random result that doesn’t have any bearing one way or another on the trend.  When we talk about people having “bullshit thresholds”, this is what we mean: it’s a boundary above which we can accept data as meaningful, and below which we can consider it to be no better than random noise.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to amass a large set of data, but it’s correlating that data into information that’s difficult.  In order to produce information, we need some sort of guidance to arrange, compare, and distinguish the data we have available to us.  For this, we use models, structures of data, sets of axioms or rules, and reliable methods of comparisons.  While this sounds numerical and mathematical, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  For me in my education in Santeria, I have the religious, philosophical, and practical models imparted to my godfather which he’s expanded on in his own way, which he has passed down onto me.  For instance, if a particular santero says X and Y (two pieces of data), and the model my godfather has established allows for X and not Y, then I can accept X into my information model but not Y.  By understanding the model, I can often see why X is allowed and not Y, and if I can’t understand the model’s rules well enough to account for those, then there’s something my godfather hasn’t yet told me or there’s some other limitation that hasn’t yet been conceived of yet in the model, whether it’s arbitrary or not.  For a run-of-the-mill Solomonic magician, those models might be produced by a combination of analyzing the commonalities between grimoires over the centuries and the accounts of their uses from other magicians, forming a set of rules of “here’s what’s essential, here’s the expected results, here’s what can be added to good effect, here’s what can be removed without harming the overall results, etc.”; based on this understanding of the grimoires, one can perform a ritual and see how the methods of the ritual impacted the result, what the result was, whether the result can be trusted, and so forth.

Knowledge is a little more difficult to sift through, because it’s more abstract than a single structure of information.  Information structures, moreover, tend to be coherent and consistent within themselves; they each have their own sets of rules that permit some data but not others.  However, when you have more than one structure of information, it can happen that they each have a set of rules that can conflict with other systems of information.  One example I can pick out in my own experience is the role of the planets in my life.  In the system of information I have regarding astrology and Western magic, the planets (and the objects of the celestial world generally) are paramount in effecting certain things in this world.  In Santeria, on the other hand, so far as I can discern (and that’s a big disclaimer!), there’s no such corollary to that; I haven’t yet found any astrological component to the religion, besides some associations of the Sun and the Moon and a few star-based images, but there’s no role for the planets, aspects, houses, signs, and so forth.  Astrology, simply put, doesn’t matter or even have a place in Santeria.  So, then, if in one system of information I can say that Mercury retrograde is a poor time to do ritual, but in another it’s a moot point because “wtf even is Mercury or a retrograde”, what should I do?  This is an example of a conflict between different systems of information within an overall broader body of knowledge.

According to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, you can have a system of understanding based on rules that can be either consistent (anything that is provable by the system is true) or complete (anything that is true is provable by the system), but not both.  If you’re consistent, then you must be incomplete, where whatever you can prove is true, but there are true things that cannot be proved by the system itself.  If, on the other hand, you’re complete, then you must therefore be inconsistent, where the system can prove everything that is true, but will also necessarily prove things that are not true.  I find this a useful model for understanding how things work.  Any given system of information, for us, is almost always going to be consistent, and therefore incomplete.  Thus, we rely on other systems of information that are likewise consistent and incomplete to fill in the gaps left by any one system.  By linking them together by means of context, comparison, metaphor, and allusion, we can have an overall more-or-less (we hope) complete system of knowledge that is based on multiple systems of information.  Just like we have to pick and choose the data we use to create information, we have to sometimes limit ourselves to what information we choose to link together in order to form knowledge.

Eventually, our end goal should be having knowledge.  Data is easy to get, and information is almost as easy, but neither are entirely usable by a complete being such as ourselves.  It is knowledge that declares and defines the contexts of information, but how do we go about getting knowledge?  It’s a lifelong process and largely automatic for human beings, and different traditions and philosophies have written endlessly about this, so it’s probably best for me to not wade into that set of eternal debates here.  Still, there are a few questions that you might want to consider:

  • What are my models for understanding data as information?
  • From where do my information models come from?
  • How do my experiences relate to what I already know, both as information and as knowledge?
  • How do I evaluate data as meaningful for a given system of information?
  • How can I explain data that do not fit a system of information?
  • How can I refine my models of information to weed out more untrue pieces of data while permitting more true pieces?
  • How can I link one system of information to another?
  • What sort of knowledge can I get by linking one system of information to another?
  • In what context should I analyze a system of information as a whole?
  • What system of information is best to take in new data to produce useful knowledge?

I’ve never been one for the whole “nothing is true, everything is permitted” thing.  There are indeed things that are true, if not generally for all people than specifically for individual people or contexts, and those are useful in and of themselves.  It’s the problem of determining the false chaff from the true wheat that’s the problem, and the rules for that can fluctuate at any given moment depending on what system of information is most useful at that moment.  Plus, when dealing with a number of occultists, it’s hard to keep track of who’s reliably honest and useful in their results, who’s good but crazy, and who just exaggerates for the sake of self-aggrandizement; I know I’ve had that problem in figuring out where to set my bullshit thresholds with certain people, and I’m pretty certain most of my readers have, as well.  We filter data through our bullshit thresholds all the time, but it’s always worthwhile to recalibrate that threshold once in a while and analyze why it’s set where it is for us, and whether it’s too high or too low for our own needs.

On Legacy

Legacy, noun, plural legacies.  Law term: gift of property, especially personal property, as money, a bywill; a bequest; anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.

From late 14c., legacie, “body of persons sent on a mission,” from Medieval Latin legatia, from Latin legatus “ambassador, envoy, deputy,” noun use of past participle of legare “send with a commission, appoint as deputy, appoint by a last will” (see legate).  Sense of “property left by will, a gift by will” appeared in Scottish mid-15c.

A few weeks back, my grandmother passed away.  Before you begin with the condolences (which are appreciated and understood but unnecessary), I have to admit that while, yeah, I do have a faint nostalgia-induced sadness, it’s more than countered by a joyous celebration.  I can only mourn her death so much when her life was so long- and well-lived: she lived to the age of 96, only declining in health in the last five years of her life, she married several times, she outlived all her husbands and three of her children, she became a great-great-grandmother, she traveled the world, inherited a small fortune, got a college education, had the opportunity to get involved with the mafia and altruistically turned it down, enjoyed a variety of intoxicants at different stages of her life, and was surrounded by family right up until the end.  In all aspects, she basically won at life.  So, yes, while I am sad to see her go, I can find nothing but joy, luck, and honor at the chance of being her grandson.  Many of her stories and tricks, especially her recipes for her unique coleslaw and spinach stuffing balls, I’ll cherish for the rest of my own days.  I’ll give her a year or so of rest before I start calling on her seriously at my ancestor shrine, but never for a day will I forget her and all that she had done for me.

But, of course, when the day comes, she’ll be called upon like the rest of my ancestors.  Those of my kin, blood, bone, and name; those of my profession, labour, trade, and guild; those of my lineage, religion, practices, and faith; those of my culture, society, myths, and land; those whose names everyone knows, and those whose names are forgotten to time.  It’s because of our ancestors—yours and mine both—that we live today.  We breath the air that they once breathed, we walk the land they once treaded, we say the words they once spoke; their blood flows in our veins, their breath fills our lungs, their hopes fill our hearts, and their plans inspire our own.  Everything we do and know, everything we are able to achieve and learn, is due to them having gone before us and passed on their stories and powers and knowledge, on earth when they lived and across the ether afterwards.  Look around you; all that the world of humanity has been able to achieve is literally built upon the shoulders and backs of our ancestors, directly or indirectly.  Their work and, in a sense, presence is evident in every linear, square, and cubic inch of this world that humanity has affected.

In some sense, not only have they passed their legacy on to us, but we are ourselves their legacy.  This is not just by blood and family lines, of course; just as children carry on the legacy of their parents, so do apprentices their masters, godchildren their godparents, students their teachers, dreamers their role models.  By continuing to live, grow, develop, and become better at whatever it is we do individually, we continue to carry on their legacy in a chain unbroken since the dawn of time.  Two questions, then, arise for us to answer: how exactly can we carry on the legacy passed on to us, and how can we improve it where possible to do so?

For myself, I have been initiated into a lineaged tradition that has, in one form or another, passed on a series of secrets, rituals, practices, wisdom, and knowledge from one generation to the next in an unbroken chain for centuries, across oceans and civilizations and languages.  What has been passed onto me is not some sort of unchanged relic from a bygone era, but a living, breathing, venerable entity that is now my responsibility to learn, keep safe, and pass on.  Me being me, an eternal experimenter, I’d like to see how what I’ve inherited can bend and shift to see what works, whether we’ve lost somethings that are still in living memory or whether such changes have already been done.  Just as the ancient Greek sentiment goes, may I always pass on what I received in at least as good a condition as we received it.  It is enough, but it is better to improve upon it.  I want to see how I can make the living corpus of my inheritance stronger, better, and more beautiful a legacy, to do both my own name honor and to make my spiritual ancestors proud.  The same could be said, of course, for the fields of software engineering, calligraphy, and fine teas and gins, all things that I like and enjoy as well and have thoughts and opinions on.

Consider that, in our time, the world is in upheaval.  While I’m a fan of the philosophy behind the phrase “nothing new under the sun”, we still live in interesting times.  Not to sound all conspiracy-theory-crazy, but from my own first-world perspective (and, likely enough, many of my readers have a similar one), considering that we’re seeing the end of a world empire combined with unprecedented climate change and the rebirth of pandemic diseases, we cannot function under the notion of a status quo for any long period of time that crosses generations.  We will need to deal with the resurgence of plagues, famine, war, turmoil, landmass change, rising sea levels, and the extinction of flora and fauna, all in addition to the usual drama, disputes, and disagreements we have with our fellow humanity even in the best of times.  What I’m saying is that, well…consider everything you learn worthy enough to be passed down as part of your own legacy, whether it’s one you inherited by family, were initiated into by religion, or innovated for the first time.

If you’re a well-experienced, well-traveled magos, how can you pass on what you’re able to onto the next generation of magoi?  If you’re an armchair magician whose expertise lies more in historicity than lived history, how can you pass on your scholarship onto the next generation of researchers?  If you’re a priest initiated into a long line of succession of forebears, how can you pass on your blessings to both your flock and those who study under you?  In all these cases and in every other case, how can you ensure that what needs to survive does, and how can you ensure that you pass on what you received in at least as good a condition as you received it?

Whether it’s for the noble sake of your gods or for the famous remembrance of your own name, how can you carry on the legacy passed on to you?  How can you improve upon what you received?  What will your own legacy be?  Even if you yourself won’t be remembered, how can what you’ve inherited and what you pass on be?