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.

On Supporting People Spiritually

Note: this post was written a few months ago during a bit of a chaotic period in my life.  I was angry and hurt, as were several others around me, and I don’t consider that to be the best time to write, so I shelved the post.  However, I wanted to get the message out, and I figured I may as well post it now that I’ve cooled off, because this is something I want people to know.

When you become good enough at magic, spirituality, or whatever, you will often get the urge to spread what you’ve learned and done.  Not everyone, granted; not everyone has a parenting instinct, and not everyone is meant to be a parent physically or spiritually.  That’s fine.  But some people are meant to do just that.  Some people are meant to initiate others, to guide others, to teach others, and depending on one’s own spiritual tradition and practice, that urge can be realized into action in different ways.  Some people start online classes while others write books, while still others will spiritually adopt people into a godfamily of sorts, making them part of their spiritual house.

This is not something to be taken lightly.  People who give birth to real children make that relationship for life.  People who initiate people into being their godchildren make a lifetime bond of another kind, one that can’t be reneged upon.

Yes, I’ve heard the arguments that a mother eagle will, once its chicks are old enough, push them out of the nest so that they can fly off and do their own thing.  Eagles, after all, don’t permit freeloaders.  Wolves, too, once they grow old enough will eventually split off from their litter and form their own pack or form part of a small one, but usually leaving to make their own if they’re strong enough.  Many animals need that time on their own to develop and become independent, strong, and fierce to the point of beautifully savage.

We are not birds.
We are not dogs.
We are humans.

Human.  Fucking.  Beings.

Animals might survive on their own in the wild.  Humans do not.  Humans build families, houses, tribes.  We move together.  We fight together.  We watch each other’s backs.  We trust each other.  If everything fails, then we either die together or we split up to make new tribes.  What we don’t do is kick someone out to make them do better on their own.  We do better by being better together.  If we fight, we fight together; if we fight amongst ourselves, we work it out.  The Bedouin, one of the world’s most famous nomadic tribes, encapsulates this all: I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, my cousins and I against strangers.  You uphold the sanctity, power, protection, and preservation of your in-group (house, clan, coven, order, whatever) against all others.  That’s how this shit works.  When you have a follower or godchild, you support them forever unless they leave on their own for their reasons or unless they are directly attacking you; that bond, however strained, cannot be broken.  You do not decide to rescind support for someone you spiritually get involved with like that.  You coach them, you teach them, you instruct them, you chew them out, you bitch them out, you smack them, but you do not forsake them.

If you have a problem with that, then you shouldn’t bother supporting others.  If you can’t uphold that, then you’re not ready to support others.  Be careful and be absolutely sure of yourself when you take on the responsibility of having a follower or godchild.  Once you make that commitment, you can’t go back on it.  If you turn your back on your spiritual family, you have more problems than just earning my ire or losing my respect.

On Self-Initiation into the Mathetic Mysteries

Alright, I’ve been a little stumped about how to begin with my delving into exploring the Tetractys by means of the Gnosis Schema.  I mean, I know the general process of scrying and pathworking, but just starting right with that seemed to rush things to me.  I felt like there should be some preliminary stage, some opening of the ways first to gain permission and access to the mysteries itself: an initiation.  To that end, I devised a fairly simple ritual of self-initiation to lay the groundwork for future pathworking and cyclical ascent on the Tetractys with Hermes as guide and teacher throughout the cycle; although I can say that I devised the thing, I also incorporated many suggestions and edits from Hermes himself.  The intent of the ritual is, no matter where one may already be in the cosmos (consider the uninitiated and those who are unaware to be on the Agnosis Schema), to snap oneself to the gate of the sphaira of Mercury on the Gnosis Schema.  It opens the way and clears the path for one to begin the real journey of mathetic theurgy.  Anyone can do it on their own, though a different ritual would be more appropriate with a proper teacher or mystagogue (mystery-initiator) present.  In lieu of that, this ritual of self-initiation calls upon Hermes himself as mystagogue to initiate one into the Work to be done.  In that sense, it’s hardly self-initiation, but it is a solitary ritual all the same.

I made sure the ritual was alright with Hermes before I attempted it.  Granted it’s a little long and the prayers are a bit much to memorize on short notice, but I wanted to have there be a little ritual drama involved to help one doing the ritual alone get more emotionally present and powerful.  I originally planned to have this ritual only be done on one day with one day of preparatory fasting, but after consulting Hermes on it, he suggested that it be done over multiple days.  I didn’t intend for it to be done over ten days, which I consider a little much for casual practitioners, but then, I try to be more than casual with my Work.  I asked for shorter durations, but Hermes gave the most positive response to it being done over ten.  So there’s that.  It makes sense, considering the holiness of the Decad, but it is what it is.  As I went through the ritual myself, since this was the first time it’s been attempted, I made adjustments and tweaks to the format from how it was originally planned, working with Hermes the whole way through to ensure that it works properly.

I got all the needed supplies and tools, and then proceeded through the ritual for ten days starting at the Noumenia (first day of the lunar month, day after the New Moon), performing the ritual every day at sunrise with an evening meditation.  I made tweaks and adjustments to the ritual as I found things that were incongruous, badly phrased, or weird, and the ritual is now in more-or-less a final form.  I completed the ritual as planned, celebrated with Hermes, broke my fasting (thank the gods), and now…

Well, I was going to share it with you.  I swear I was, and I still have the post saved as a protected draft.  Still, Hermes has suggested otherwise, and despite my usually-obstinate desire to share rituals and knowledge with you, dear reader, I think I agree with him.  Mathesis is still a new system, and I’m the only one who’s exploring it at the moment.  If others want to engage in this, they’re going to need guidance and a space to talk about things, and there’s simply not enough I can do just yet to help such initiates out, and the whole system would likely fall apart because some dumb young idiot upstart (me) thought it’d be a good idea to disseminate a new ritual in an unexplored occult field.  I will publish the ritual of self-initiation eventually once I get enough of these studies under my belt, and I do have other rituals, meditations, and visualizations planned to share with you, dear reader, if you’re still interested in the work of mathesis.  That said, now is not the time for that.

However, just because I can’t share the ritual with you doesn’t mean I can’t share the overall gist of the ritual with you, or why such a ritual is needed.  As mentioned above, before we make the snap to the Gnosis Schema in our occult lives and travels, we’re stuck on the cycles of reincarnation and ignorance of the Agnosis Schema.  In order to begin our evolution and progress in mathesis, we need to first achieve access to the Gnosis Schema, and so we need to get to there from the Agnosis Schema.  If the Gnosis Schema is marked by gnosis, illumination, and light (such as those of the burning fixed stars), then the Agnosis Schema is marked by ignorance, blindness, and darkness (the planets and forces that absorb light or emit it in a lower, more controlling way).  As long as we’re stuck in the Agnosis Schema, we’re stuck in ignorance, blindness, and darkness; it covers our world, it infests our bodies, it blinds our senses, and it diminishes our minds so that we can’t perceive or live truth in our lives.  Thus, we need to do two things to fix that:

  1. Get rid of the darkness that binds us in blindness and ignorance.
  2. Fill ourselves with light that frees us in illumination and gnosis.

Both of these things are required for initiation.  Just getting rid of blindness and ignorance is not enough, since we have no light of our own to preserve ourselves from being blind or ignorant, and can fall right back into the darkness from which we flee.  Just filling ourselves with gnosis and illumination is not enough, either, since as long as we’re in the darkness and ruled by it, gnosis and illumination can have no hold within us and, though we may have flashes of insight, it won’t last and we stand to lose it as soon as we get it.  Thus, the ritual of initiation needs to have two parts to it, one that gets rid of darkness of ignorance and one that fills with light of gnosis.

Moreover, a large part of the ritual focuses on relying on Hermes.  After all, this is a ritual of self-initiation, but as mentioned before, one calls upon Hermes as the one who leads into the mysteries, but it’s more than that.  Hermes is the one who helps us get rid of ignorance and fills us with gnosis: in some regards, he’s almost a figure of salvation, a Hermēs Sotēr who delivers us from the prison we’re stuck in and a Hermēs Mystagōgos who leads us into a new world.  The ritual involves intimately and wholly relying on Hermes until we ourselves are empowered enough to walk with him instead of being carried by him.  We’re not just following him or becoming a student of his; it goes a lot deeper than that.  Partially it’s that Hermes, in his planetary form as Mercury or alchemical form as Quicksilver, is the only force that we can best access from the Agnosis Schema and the one who can connect to most of the others, and acts as the launchpad for reaching the furthest reaches of the Gnosis Schema.  Hermes takes a central role in mathesis in many senses, not just in the sense of being in the middle of the Tetractys.

Something else I want to mention is that the ritual does not actually put us into the sphaira of Mercury on the Tetractys.  Rather, it only drops us off on the road leading to it, setting us onto the path to the gate of the sphaira of Mercury.  If one looks at the Gnosis Schema of the Tetractys, all of the middling sphairai lead to Mercury, so it doesn’t really matter which road we take at first; we can get our bearings straight once we’re in the center of the Tetractys.  This ritual of self-initiation prepares the way, opens the gates, and clears the roads so that one explore the odoi (paths) and sphairai, yet it itself is not an exploration of either.  That comes later, with more ritual, scrying, pathworking, maybe even conjuration or other rituals that I’m working on.

In the future, once I get enough to speak about to guide others in mathesis, I’ll start disseminating the ritual of self-initiation to those who’d be interested and have my approval to do so.  I’ve even got ideas I’ve been hashing out to make a ritual of initiation with a proper mystagogue and candidate with similar themes and taking a different route than repeating the same ritual over ten days, but that’ll come much later if/when I ever get students who’d be interested in learning under me.  I do not forbid you, dear reader, from beginning to explore the Tetractys in your own way, but I’d feel more comfortable knowing that I can help you out first before you running off and potentially screwing yourself or your understanding up.  Initiations are no joke, after all, and I’m treating this with the solemnity and respect it deserves.