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?

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On Media and the Medium of Media

I sometimes have a fascination with what might be considered by most modern people to be outdated or obsolete technologies; heck, to this day, one of my favorite online libraries to browse is textfiles.com.  I generally don’t catch on to too many techy fads or get swept up in this or that new platform, and instead like to rely on…well, things with less complexity.  As a software engineer, I can affirm that as a system gets more complex, it gets more complicated, and thus less secure as well as less robust.  It’s one of the reasons why I don’t like an Internet of Things for my house: while the idea of remotely setting my thermostat while I’m in another country does sound quite nice, there’s little to assure me that the server used to connect will be reliable in the short term, the platform used to support the server will be supported in ten years from now, that the app/site I’m using to connect to my thermostat will be available whenever I need it, that the system is secure enough to not have a local prankster set my house to 100°F in high summer because he brute-forced my password or hijacked my wifi, and so forth.  Heck, there’s nothing to even guarantee that you won’t piss off the developers themselves and have them remotely brick your garage doors from opening when you want them to or that some savvy jerk won’t have your smart fridge manipulated to show potentially off-putting porn vids of kinks you don’t like.  (For more examples of why I generally dislike smart technology, check out the Internet of Shit twitterfeed.)

Like most Americans, I have a smartphone, a respectable Android phone that’s only a few years old that serves me well.  To be fair, it took me a while to get anything of the sort; for the longest time, I was using those indestructible Nokia phones that had maybe a camera—if I was lucky!—before I finally upgraded to get a touch-screen feature phone, with enough technology to store more than just a few songs at a time, shortly after college.  It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally succumbed to getting a proper smartphone (Android, of course, because I dig open-source and Linux and I’ve long since divorced myself from Apple in general).  I gotta say, while I did take my dear sweet time getting around to getting a smartphone, it actually has helped, and it is worth it.

Mostly, at least.

By far, probably the most useful feature of a smartphone is that it’s less of a phone and more of a general-purpose computer.  I mean, even the old indestructible Nokia candybar phones had quite a few features that could reduce much of a technological burden for someone, but a proper smartphone nowadays generally has at least the following:

  • Calculator, clock, timer
  • Radio
  • Voice recorder
  • Phone (shocking, I know)
  • SMS
  • Compass, accelerometer
  • Memo
  • Fitness tracker, heartbeat monitor
  • GPS
  • Camera, flashlight
  • Music player
  • Internet browser (and any number of apps that are basically site/DB-specific browsers, not just for WWW,  but for other protocols like email, Twitter, banking, etc.)
  • General extensibility for arbitrary applications, including games
  • &c &c &c.

For myself, I use my own smartphone for the following:

  • checking Facebook, including sending messages (major means of communication)
  • checking Twitter, including sending private messages (also a major means of communication)
  • browsing the internet
  • checking email (eh)
  • alarm clock (regrettably important)
  • GPS (pretty vital)
  • camera (useful!)
  • texting and calling people (…I guess)

Lately, I’ve been wanting to scale back down and get something simpler, something like a Nokia brick again, where the battery lasts for more like eight days instead of eight hours and it does just the bare-bones functionality.  I’d still be able to call people (except that I never really do), and I could definitely rework how I consider communication.  I know Facebook and Twitter are both still text-message-friendly to an extent, though it could be a little obnoxious; I could also just wait until I get home or to my office desk (in either case, to a real computer) to do any real or heavy communication.  I’d still have an alarm clock, but I’d lose the GPS, which would actually hurt.  Plus, most of the old-style brick phones either don’t have cameras or don’t have good ones.  So, in exchange for one general-purpose device, I’d have to break down into getting three separate devices, each with their own costs and upkeep.  Not a great deal, in some aspects, especially when it can be hard to get such an older phone integrated into modern infrastructure.

In many ways, it’s much like the Evolution of the Desk, except, well, yanno…mobile.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I don’t think I can reasonably go back to a dumbphone again.  I do like only having one device instead of ten separate devices, most of which are pretty complicated things in their own rights.  Rather than fantasizing about, say, an old hand-cranked washing machine from the 1930s, which is both simple to use and easy to maintain from spare parts, a smartphone isn’t really any more technologically complex (or personally maintainable) than a GPS or modern camera; the only way I could get a net simplification out of going to a dumbphone would be to forsake the GPS or camera functionality entirely, the former of which I’m unwilling to (because getting around in my metropolitan area is hell) and the latter of which I’m unable to (due to hobby/profession needs).

While there’s the definite sting of “but I miss having a Nokia”, it was another thing entirely that put me at peace with being too far along to go back to them, and that’s my recurring fascination with toki pona.  Yes, I’ve talked about it before around here, but last time I mentioned it, I suggested that it’s a good thing to keep things simple; with a lexical inventory of only 120-some words, there’s not a lot of nuance; in fact, there’s barely any nuance at all, and most of the time, what’s understood must be understood from context and other cues.  While, in some ways, viewing things at their core in the simplest terms possible using a restricted vocabulary can be useful, simplicity has its cost, and it’s not something I mentioned back in 2015.  I like to use the Chinese expression “10,000 things” to refer to the (literally) myriads of things in the cosmos, from the smallest hair-split concept to the largest possible intergalactic superstructure; for this, and all the shades of variations of differences of types of kinds of sorts of things, sometimes a single word really does work better than a roundabout explanation, and for that, a language of 120 words puts me at an extreme disadvantage.  I cannot envision rewriting Agrippa’s Three Books, for instance, in toki pona; heck, I’d have a hard enough time in English, when I have the option of using Greek or Latin derivatives for their subtly different meanings (pneuma or spirit?), straight-Latin or French-Latin (destruct or destroy?), Greco-Romance or Germanic (apotheosis or godhood?), all of which offer subtly (but importantly) different meanings or reflections of a single topic.

In other words, while I many use toki pona to verbalize a particular instance of existence into simplicity, I cannot operate in toki pona to construct types of thinking when there are necessarily more things that can be conceived of than exist.  toki pona is too simple to think in when it comes to something so nuanced as deeply-explored theurgy, and as such, would be a burden to use compared to another language.  Likewise, it’d be more of a burden to go from my smartphone to a dumbphone, when I’d have to re-add in otherwise redundant or obsolete devices that bring in more complexity to the overall system.  So, while I’d like to use toki pona as an actual conversational language, I’d also like to use a Nokia brick.  They would be nice, but not worth it in the end except as thought experiments or sandboxes to try certain things out in.

This got me to thinking: what about spirituality?  I mean, heavens and hells know that I’m in the middle of a lengthy initiatory process that is, in its own unique ways, strikingly parallel to Hermetic stuff…at least in one mode of Hermeticism, I suppose.  Between ancient Athenian/Anatolian, early classical Alexandrian, late classical Neoplatonic, and a variety of strains from medieval and Renaissance continental western Europe, there’s a lot of development in my theology, and that’s not even including the more recent injections into my mind.  For me, it’s crucial to be nuanced and delicate and excruciatingly specific so as to better track, organize, and discuss my own thoughts for particular ends, and how they play out and map onto the cosmos, both the modeled one I expect to encounter and the experienced one I actually encounter.  Of course, yes, it is possible to split hairs and make meaningless distinctions, but I’ve started to get enough good sense to begin to avoid doing so or to be able to test/model distinctions for usefulness when possible.  On the whole, trying to ELI5 my philosophy or spiritual perspective on things in an elevator speech would probably be more damaging to both myself, the listener, and the dignity of my thoughts themselves; there’s no “explaining things to a barmaid” in this except by means of nuance and measured complexity.

It’s no shame to have a complex worldview, philosophy, religion, or spiritual practice; after all, the world we live in is inherently complex and complicated.  Being able to take the time to take in that complexity and fully grasp its nuances, ramifications, and gestures is one of the guiding aims we should all have in investigating our lives and actions.  Still, it does neither you nor anyone any good to make things more complicated than they are, nor is it helpful to simplify one aspect of your world at the cost of increasing complexity to other aspects.  Don’t try to paper over complexity by handwaving it into mystical oversimplification, but don’t make yourself to appear more profound or mysterious by spewing arcane gobbledegook, either.  The models, grammar, tools, and vocabulary you use to describe and interact with your world should favorably match the level of complexity of your world.  If your world is simple, be and talk and act simple to match it; if your world is complex, be and talk and act complex to match it.  If you want to simplify or complicate your world, work towards it, and modify your modes and methods and means accordingly.

The Nature of Trust of a Tool

One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, “Elissa” by the Crüxshadows, has a particularly poignant bridge towards the end:

Everyone has a purpose
Hidden within our lives
Something we were meant to do
Or feel before we die

It’s not particularly hard to interpret this in a Hermetic or other occult sense, if you know anything about True Will or, said another way, divine destiny.  Everyone is, in some sense, a tool of the Divine or of the Almighty.  Everyone has something that we Chose and Want to accomplish in this world we find ourselves born in, something that only we can properly accomplish.  It’s not just anything, but a particular something that is the only Thing, the only Point or Cause, of our being incarnated here.  Everything we do in our lives is either essential development and build-up to attaining and maintaining that Thing, or nonessential window-dressing that can add flavor (either sweetness or bitterness) to that goal.  So long as we Work towards that Thing, no matter how roundabout or directly, we’re doing what we need to do; we might make it easier or harder for ourselves in the process, and we may very well get waylaid or misled on our paths, but the point still stands that there is a Thing that we must Do, and all that we Work towards is in service of that Thing.

I’ve brought up the idea before that, if we envision the whole grand scheme of things, the Cosmos, as a giant machine, then everyone is a gear in that machine.  So long as we keep on doing what we need to do, every part works in harmony with every other part, and the machine works well.  If even one part, however, gets out of sync or decides to revolt, then much of the rest of the system we find ourselves in can malfunction or break down, and other parts have to accommodate the malfunction until things get into proper working order again.  (This is why life isn’t perfect, I suppose.)  Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick once described this to me (in a discussion on True Will) as how a solar system works: the planets don’t need to think or plan or consciously strive towards orbiting the Sun, they just do it naturally as an expression of their selves and their purpose.  But imagine, dear reader, if a rogue planet suddenly whipped itself into our solar system, or worse, imagine if one of our own planets suddenly got a wild hare up its axis of rotation and jumped out of its orbit.  What happens?  The other planets get knocked out of their own orbits, potentially colliding with other planets or celestial bodies, and the whole system gets out of whack until it finds a new equilibrium to settle down in.  There’s no guarantee that this equilibrium will be equivalent to the previous one, or that the solar system as a whole will survive such an accident, but hey, shit happens.  The Cosmos will do what it needs to do in order to work out its own problems, and its our job to make sure that we do our own Work accordingly to handle our Will, regardless of what the vicissitudes of fate throw at us.

Rather than just thinking of ourselves as gears in a machine, however, consider this from another perspective: that we are tools in the hands of God.  Same idea, just a slightly different expression, but now we pick up other and different concerns.  Every tool is built so as to fix a particular problem: a hammer pushes things in, a crowbar gets things out, tape holds things together quickly but temporarily, glue holds things together over time but more permanently, and so forth.  Every tool has one particular job that it does well; it’s rare to find a true multipurpose tool, since a tool that tries to do many things equally well doesn’t do any particularly thing exceptionally well, especially when compared to a true single-purpose tool.  We each have a particular purpose, and we are the tool built to Work towards that purpose.  Finding what that purpose is (specifically or generally) can not only tell us what we need to do, but also tell us more about ourselves, what we were meant to do, and why we came into the world to do it.  A sword does not hammer in nails, and trying to use a sword as a hammer can result in chipped blades, bent nails, and an overall terrible job of doing something that probably was meant for someone else.

But there’s more to this metaphor of us being made as cosmic tools.  Tools must be properly maintained in order to do their job, either well or even passably.  Consider the sword (and for this, I suggest taking a short detour and reading Meti’s Sword Manual, a text written in service of my new favorite webcomic, Kill Six Billion Demons, which I think every occultist today should read and follow because it’s wonderful).  A sword must be kept oiled so as to prevent rust, out of extreme heat so that it does not warp, and sharpened so that it can actually cut; a sword is made for cutting, and so everything the sword does must be in service of that purpose, and the sword must be kept in a good condition so as to be able to accomplish that purpose.  Further, even when a sword is used to cut, it must be used in a proper way: trying to cut a hardwood tree or a stone will often yield a nicked, chipped, or broken blade, leaving it in a worse condition than it was before due to improper use; another tool for cutting of that specific type, such as an axe or a chisel, would be better, even though they all “cut” in some sense.  It is a combination of knowing both how to maintain a tool before it is used and when to use a tool that preserves the tool for when it is truly needed to do its job well.

Moreover, all a sword does is cut; it is a tool for cutting, and it does so without thought, leaving thought to the wielder of the sword.  A sword does not second-guess itself, and a sword does not make half-cuts or mock-cuts.  A sword cuts, just as its wielder intends for it to.  In the hands of a skilled swordsman, a sword can cut God; in the hands of an untrained one, a sword will cut everything except the intended target, usually the wielder himself.  The sword does not particularly care, because the sword’s purpose is not to plan how to cut, just to cut.  Happily, when we talk about Divinity, we can generally assume that God and the gods are Platonically capital-G Good, and therefore know what is Good and True, and therefore, as tools in their hands, we can have faith that they will not use us when we are not meant to be used.  It’s when we try to act on our own that we need to either have trust in ourselves to do what is right when it is right, or to abandon the situation entirely and avoid what should be avoided.  It’s when we take matters into our own hands, or leave ourselves to be put into the hands of anything less than Divinity, that we risk putting ourselves in harm’s way more than is absolutely necessary, and risk coming out all the worse for it.

How much trust do you put in yourself to know what is proper for you to do?  How can you trust yourself to do what is right and proper for you when the moment is called for?

I’ve been mulling over these problems over the past few days, and…well, it hasn’t been the most pleasant of self-conversations.  I admit that I enjoy dealing in absolutes as much as the next ceremonial magician (or, for that matter, human being with a finite consciousness that likes using rubrics and models of reality qua reality), and I would like to say that I trust myself to do what is right in all circumstances, that I am trustworthy to all.  To do so, however, would be a lie, and I can feel it singeing my heart whenever I even try to complete the thought of saying it.  I, myself, have done a number of regrettable, unfortunate, downright shitty things that I would like to say that I’ve put behind me, that I’ve learned from, that I’ve become better than.  And…the truth is, I haven’t.  I still beat myself up for some of the things I’ve done and said, as much as I try to forgive myself.  I still worry about slipping up again, about making the same mistakes, about committing the same crimes in the future and hurting those whom I hold dear, or myself, or my opportunities and chances for making myself better.  I fear that I’m going to be no better than I always have been, making the same excuses for the same bullshit that I would pull over and over again even given half a chance at it, even though I know better from my own experience that I should never have done them even once.

So, no, I can’t say that I trust myself as a rule, or that I trust myself in all situations to do what’s right in all cases where it’s called for.  I don’t see myself as trustworthy, and honestly, considering why others might consider me trustworthy makes me feel like an awful liar who’s mislead anyone and everyone who’s even cast an eye towards me.  And yet, I know that I have no immediate reason or way to betray these people, nor do I want to.  With even a little introspection, I know what can mislead me into a bad course of action, and what my triggers and temptations are, and I know that within a certain set of parameters, there’s neither any reason nor way to betray them, so I can be trusted, at least a little bit.  I’ve come to appreciate the saying “I trust them as far as I can throw them” in a more nuanced light; within a certain range of expectations and situations, I can be trustworthy, and I can claim to properly and rightfully hold trust, even for myself without that heart-singe, up to a point.  It’s beyond that point that I worry, because I know that if I were to go beyond such a point where it’s not just possible but probable for me to slip up, it’d be more difficult (not impossible!) to come out the other end without erring.

I can’t say that I absolutely trust myself, but I can say that I trust myself up to a point.  For most people, with whom my interactions are limited to a particular sphere of life or action, the points at which I can’t be trusted fall so far out of that sphere that there’s no need to consider me to be anything but trustworthy.  For others, though, the story changes.  I can be trusted with qualifications, and though I’d like to say I’m trustworthy without them, I can’t honestly say that.

While I accept that—mostly, and without the burn of telling a lie to myself—I’m not satisfied with it.  Far from it; while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I hate myself for not being trustworthy across all cases and situations, I’m certainly not pleased with myself for it, and I want to make myself better.  I want to be able to do my Work without the distractions of regret, fear, worry, self-loathing, and that calls for either papering over the root cause and hoping it never rears its ugly head again (hah!), or actually doing the Work to improve myself to make my overall Work better without such distraction, as much as I am able.  As a sword, I must make sure that I am in the right condition to do my Work, and only limit myself to the range of Work that I am able to do in the form and condition I’m in; more than that, I must hone, tune, and strengthen myself to be able to push my limits, within which I am comfortable enough to work without distraction, and understand the areas into which I push my boundaries and limits.  If I am trustworthy only up to a point, by my own estimation, I need to push that point further so that I can become more trustworthy, and strive to not simply strut past it without care and end up wrecking myself or, worse, those around me.

Self-knowledge, either given to one by oracle or discovered through one’s own life, can hurt in the process of obtaining it.  But they who know more about themselves know how to live differently and better than if they had no such knowledge.  I know the situations in which I risk my own well-being, happiness, and success, and I stride into them at my own peril.  Dealing in absolutes as I do, the nebulous and unpredictable “being at risk of erring and not knowing how I would act” is tantamount to the definite “I will err”, and it’s safer to simply stay out of situations that I’ve been warned away from.  Should the case arise that I find myself in such a situation, it’d behoove me to find my way back out at my earliest convenience while keeping up my guard.  Still, I don’t want to be limited to this; even if the nature of my being is always to be temped by a particular set of things, there’s nothing saying I can’t strengthen myself to resist them all the more while also building myself up to avoid them at the same time.

A tool, in order to accomplish its purpose, must be in the right condition for it to be used; it must be built, maintained, and strengthened well, and having done so, it will serve a lifetime (or more) of wonders.  But a tool is only as useful as the skill of the one who wields it.  When we take ourselves into our own hands, regardless of whether that’s proper and right for us to do so, we must be sure to know how to condition the tool of our Selves as well as the limitations of use thereof, while always striving to increase our skill and reach of using the tool.  There may be upper limits to what we can accomplish, both as tool and wielder, but so long as we always strive to reach them, we’re doing all the Work we can in service of our Will.

Work, Lineage, and Auturgy

I’m going through an interesting development in my life, pursuant to the awesome life choices I made back in October.  It’s the cause for several sets of changes, some of which are more immediately felt than others, some of which are more mental or intellectual than others.  One of those intellectual realizations I’ve made is how stark the difference is between different kinds of Work based on how one obtains access to it, and I think it bears discussing how that plays out within one’s own practice.

For most of my magical practice, I’ve largely worked on my own, sometimes with one or two other people, but it’s largely been an independent process.  I’ve made my own tools and consecrated them, I built my own temple, I learned my prayers and rituals and made up my own in the process, and I’ve built up my own body of knowledge, wisdom, and expertise.  I’m not saying I did this fully on my own; I proudly claim Fr. Rufus Opus as my instructor and mentor, but that’s all he is: an instructor, one who instructs.  He passed nothing onto me that I could not have obtained elsewhere, but he taught me where to look and offered guidance, tips, and advice of the process that he explicitly claims is a series of self-initiations into the spheres of the elements, the planets, and the Self.  No matter how much instruction or mentorship he provides, it doesn’t change the fact that all the Work to be done must be done, developed, and built by one’s own self.  It’s been a long road and highly educational, and extraordinarily worth it to build up your own Power and maintain it for your own ends.

And yet, that’s far from the only way to operate.  Just because that’s one method of Work doesn’t mean that it’s the only kind of Work out there, and the other is a matter of initiation into a lineage.  Consider that, in October, I was initiated by my godparent into a religion that spans centuries across several continents.  I was initiated by my godfather, who was initiated by his godmother, she by her godmother, she by her godfather, and so forth on many more times back to a time when we forget names.  In the duration from the first godparent we all share in common to my own initiation, prayers and songs and protocols have been developed as a type of pact with our divinities, and all the power that my godfather has was shared and passed along to me; what applies to him in the religion largely applies to me, as well, and I follow the precepts and protocols of this religion to obtain the same benefits.  They pre-existed my own initiation, and my initiation is a pact I make with our divinities that I can rely on this huge body of Work that was already done so long as I accept the terms and conditions.  I’m free to build up more power and pacts on my own, of course, but I pass down what was passed onto me, and as a result, keep the lineage going.  I don’t need to independently develop these pacts or these powers or these protocols; all I had to do was accept them.  The Work was done before my time, and now I participate in that same Work of the lineage.

It’s because of this distinction that I want to make explicit a difference between lineaged Work and what I call “αυτουργια” (“auturgy” in a modern spelling), or self-driven, self-sustained, self-begun Work that is without lineage and independent of it.  Most Western Hermetic work nowadays is auturgic in nature; we learn from books with nobody to initiate ourselves and little pre-existing power or pacts to rely on, and instead we must forge our own tools, protocols, and power to accomplish our Work.  Sure, we rely on the work done by our forebears, but they’re only passing on their instructions to us.  They do not hand us power or have their pacts take effect over ourselves, and many of the pacts they made with their spirits do not necessarily work for us the same way; we must make new pacts in the process of our auturgic Work.  This is starkly different from lineaged Work, where such power is already in place, and all you need to do is be given license to interact with it.

To make the distinction clear, take for example a particular tool you might use in ritual, say a crystal shewstone or the very area itself used in the Trithemian conjuration ritual.  The Trithemian ritual does not prescribe a consecration for either of these things to be done ahead of time, as might be done for some of the tools in the Key of Solomon; rather, they are consecrated in the ritual itself for the purposes of that specific instance of the ritual:

…O inanimate creature of God, be sanctified, consecrated, and blessed, so that no evil phantasy may appear in you, and that all spirits within you speak intelligibly, truly, and without the least ambiguity.  Amen.

…In the name of the thrice-holy Tetragrammaton Elohim Tzabaoth, I consecrate this piece of ground for my defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here.  Amen.

Whenever the Trithemian ritual is performed, the shewstone or the ritual area is consecrated for as long as that ritual is performed, and after which the consecration isn’t technically valid anymore.  Every time the ritual is performed, these things must be consecrated again in order for them to be useful in the ritual being performed at that instance.  Over time, with repeated application, the residual power and blessing build up, so that they eventually become powerful tools in their own right.  For example, the original wand I made for conjuration was nothing more than a pine dowel woodburned according to the instructions of the ritual (as Fr. RO taught it); it was not previously consecrated, but its use in conjuration over and over eventually made it a tool of power that gave it the same “oomph” that my ebony Wand of Art, made of ebony and gold and silver and crystal and consecrated over the course of a week, already had from the get-go.  There was a lot of prep involved in the ebony Wand that the pine wand didn’t go through, but over time, the pine wand was conditioned, programmed, and “seasoned” enough to have the same power that the ebony Wand would have had from the get-go.  However, I used that pine wand near-constantly for a full two years before I made my ebony Wand, and it took quite a bit of time for it to attain that same strength.  The ebony Wand, however, already had all that power as soon as I made it, given the use of powerful natural materials and the layers of consecration I put upon it, and it quite easily became even more powerful at a faster rate than the pine wand ever had.  This is why, in many cases, texts like the Key of Solomon have all those elaborate consecration rituals for pretty much everything the magician touches, from quills and paints to knives both utility and spiritual.  By taking the effort of consecrating each of the tools ahead of time, you don’t need to consecrate them on-the-fly each time you use them; simply pick them up and go.  But, to make sure that the consecrations are done right, you too need to be consecrated, purified, and prepared so as to make sure that all the other consecrations are effective.  The Key of Solomon is important in the Western Hermetic tradition because it implies a set of preexisting pacts and processes that one must enter into so as to make the most of the system; Solomon bound the demons, and in some sense the demons are still bound to Solomon’s word, and they will honor whatever Solomon did regardless of who performs it nowadays, and Solomon passed along the pentacles that he received so as to accomplish miraculous works for us to use so long as we make them in the same way he did.  You could make something similar and make a temporary consecration upon it, but you’d need to do the same thing over and over again every time you used it; likewise, you could make a pact with a new spirit that Solomon never contacted, but you wouldn’t be able to rely on the pacts and processes Solomon used because that spirit was never bound by them originally, so you’d need to make a new set of pacts and protocols with that spirit with new, perhaps unpredictable effects or side-effects.

Take that same idea, of on-the-fly consecrations versus pact-based protocols of consecration, and apply it to the idea of whole systems of magic, and you have the auturgia/lineage difference.  On the one hand, you’re building yourself up through new practices that do not rely on preexisting powers or pacts, and on the other hand, you’re being given a set of protocols and pacts that already work and have been worked and have had power put into them.  In the former, you have freedom to do and develop pretty much as you please for your Work, and you get out of it what you put into it.  In the latter, the system is already powerful and stable, and it relies only on your agreements to the terms and conditions in order to do your Work.  As a more modern example, consider the religion I was just initiated into versus the Mathesis practice I’m developing.  In the former, I have been initiated into a godfamily which has maintained practices, protocols, pacts, and powers that they are allowing me access to so long as I continue to work with them and learn with them, and they all received the same from their initiators and godparents, and so forth; our divinities are accustomed to hearing these songs and prayers from us, and know how to act and react accordingly; both the divinities and the initiates know what to expect from each other, so long as we rely on the protocols that have been passed down onto us; we know what works, what doesn’t, what’s approved, what’s disapproved, what’s safe, what’s dangerous.  We all support each other and lend each other our powers and assistance in order to do what we must do, and we all serve as a system of checks and balances on each other to make sure we’re all still doing everything right.  (Note that the word “tradition” literally means “that which is handed down”; if it’s not handed down to you, it’s not a tradition.)  On the other hand, in Mathesis, I’m working directly with the theoi and letters in a novel, experimental way and seeing what works and what doesn’t, what pacts can be made and what pacts should be made, and what practices to develop as useful and what to ignore as useless.  There’s nothing binding me to anything done previously, because nothing has been done previously.  There’s not a lot of power in it yet, because I haven’t yet tapped into what’s powerful, and that’s because I’m still finding out what’s powerful about it.  Mathesis is, as of now, a strictly auturgic practice that relies on no community because there are none others who are initiated into it; it relies on no sacred body of wisdom because there hasn’t been enough wisdom yet to be built up into a body; it relies on no firm protocols because everything is so nebulous and experimental.

However, there’s a way for Mathesis to change itself from being an auturgic practice into a lineaged one.  Once I build it up enough as a system of theurgic exploration and development, once I refine some of the techniques a bit more, once I establish pacts and fail-safes when I work with the spirits, it can be passed onto others.  Once others become initiated into Mathesis, it becomes a lineage, even if it’s just one godparent-godchild step that exists.  At that point, I’ll be able to pass on the powers, pacts, and protocols that have been developed for another to tap into and use, and grant them access to that same power.  Over time, that initiate will be able to initiate others.  With each person that becomes initiated, the fertility of the tradition grows, adding new ideas, powers, and developments to the mix that allow it to grow and develop and mature as a proper tradition.  Will that happen?  Depends on how far I take Mathesis myself; if I never pass it on, then it’d just be something I did by myself for myself, but if I do pass it on, it’ll be passed onto others.  It was an old Greek ideal for a father to pass on his inheritance to his children “in at least the same condition as I received it, if not better”; if an initiate can add to the tradition in a useful, helpful way that grants it more power and stability and maturity, fantastic!  But if not, so long as they can pass on the tradition in the same way they received it without augmentation, and certainly without detriment or loss, then that’s all that’s needed for a tradition or lineage to survive.

From the perspective of a new initiate into a lineage who is accustomed to auturgic Hermetic work, it’s something a relief that most of the heavy Work of pact-building, empowerment, and protocol-development has already been done for me; I just need to be taught the practices, pacts, protocols, and plans that make the tradition work after having gone through them.  In fact, I don’t learn any practice in the religion without it first being done to me; the act of undergoing a ceremony is itself a kind of initiation that grants me access to learning what and how a thing is done.  Compared to auturgic Work, so much is honestly experimental: “I don’t know what this will do to me, but I need to study how to do it in order to accomplish it, and then later I can build upon it”.  It’s one of the reasons why I suggest all newcomers to Hermetic work follow rituals as they are written as closely as possible without innovation first so as to get them accustomed to the baseline practice, and only once they have the baseline set firmly in both the execution of the ritual and the expectation of effects should they innovate, take shortcuts, or change the ritual.  If you’re going to experiment, do so wisely, and only after you know what to expect.

Is there such a thing as a lineaged Hermetic tradition?  Absolutely!  Any initiatory practice done by others, from one generation of initiates to the next, is a lineage: the Golden Dawn and Gardnerian/Alexandrian Wicca are some prime examples that come to mind.  You have a lodge or a temple or a coven that initiates new members and teaches them their practices, protocols, and pacts to new initiates, and then those initiates (if/when ready) go on to initiate their own spiritual godchildren.  Of course, this is more the exception rather than the norm in the Western world; most people choose an auturgic practice, whether because they can’t stand “coven politics”, because they don’t have access to a spiritual family, or because they’re unfit for initiation themselves.  This doesn’t mean they can’t do the Work they need to, but it might be a path that has its own challenges.  Don’t get me wrong, lineaged Work has its own difficulties and problems: politics, policing of character and behavior, agreement to sometimes distasteful practices, and so forth, but it’s a price one must pay.  No such restrictions are there for the auturge, but they have the problems of having nothing to build upon and everything to build.  I suppose it’s a situation where there’s one product and multiple methods of payment available for it.

Are auturgic systems of practice any less worthwhile than lineaged ones?  No, and far from it!  My devotion, love, and respect for the Greek theoi remains unchanged, if not greater than before, but compared to the divinities I was just initiated to, there’s such a stark difference of presence: the divinities I was initiated to are already so powerful when I received them into my life, while I must continuously forge and reforge and strengthen my connection to the theoi in order to achieve the same level of presence.  Both sets of entities can hear me and work with me, but there’s so much less up-front work to do with the initiated divinities that I have to do with the non-initiated theoi because I was not initiated into a tradition of theoi-worship; pacts were not maintained, prayers were not continuously made, and protocols were not remembered, and I must do all the work to dust off whatever I can find and fill in the gaps where necessary so as to “bring the system online” again, as it were.  To continue to use a computer metaphor, it’s much easier for an online gamer to pick a game that already exists and simply get an account and log in, abiding by the terms and conditions and UI-issues and non-intuitive in-game quirks that exist, rather than plan a game idea, code the game, build a server to host the game, and get people to play the game with them.  Same result, different routes and costs to get there.

There’s a difference between simply teaching someone a spiritual/magical system and initiating them into it.  Fr. RO teaches me a kind of magic, but leaves the actual work to me; he did not initiate me into Hermeticism, and this is no fault against him; it never could have been, as it was never his goal to initiate people into a system that he himself was never initiated into, nor needed initiation.  My godfather is teaching me another kind of practice, but he had to initiate me into it so that all the same things that work for him can also work for me, giving me the license and right to work with it that otherwise I would had to pick and guess at.  I see many teachers of Western systems, but few initiators.  There are some Hermetic magicians out there who are, indeed, initiating students into a particular set of practices and pacts, passing on their own license and power onto their students, but this is the uncommon exception to the usual practice.  We don’t often think of Hermetic magic as a kind of initiation-/lineage-based practice, but in many cases, it probably should be.  I know for a fact that some of the powers and blessings we receive from the spheres, such as the Hymns of Silence, can be passed onto others who are ready, but I’ve rarely heard of a magician doing this for their students.

Given the general quietude of the occult blogosphere, and how so much has petered out or calmed down over the past few years (my own blog included!), I wonder if this is a sort of predicament-shift that is facing many people who got into magic around the Great Blogosphere Renaissance, and how many others are wondering this same thing I am now.