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I sometimes have a fascination with what might be considered by most modern people to be outdated or obsolete technologies; heck, to this day, one of my favorite online libraries to browse is textfiles.com.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.

Foundations of Ritual

I’ve gotten a few requests from people for me to teach them magic and ritual.  This is fantastic;  I’m glad people are eager to learn more about themselves, their place in the cosmos, their innate godhood, and everything like that.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I started writing this blog, not just to vent and show people the things I do and how easy(?) putting Hermetics to use is.  That said, I’m hesitant to teach, not only because I find myself as-yet unworthy of having students, but also because I don’t consider it possible to teach anyone magic as an isolated subject; one doesn’t “just learn” magic, just as one cannot “just learn” how to build a spaceship or “just learn” protein synthesis.  Before I even consider taking up anyone as a student of mine, I insist that they have the proper foundations that provide the context in which ritual magic can be done.

For anyone to learn anything, they need to have a strong foundation upon which they can build.  For ritual magic, indeed, any life that involves ritual, those foundations are myth, technology, and reason.  Above the others, however, myth is the single-most important factor in any magician’s knowledge.

It’s important to understand what I mean when I say “myth”.  I don’t mean a set of fanciful stories about primitive worldviews or pre-scientific notions of how things work.  I mean “myth” in the classical sense: the overarching backstory to the world, the legends that fuel our lives, and the causes for things.  Myth has been described as “ideology in narrative form” and, to a large extent, I agree with this.  Instead of understanding it as a collection of stories, you might interpret myth as “theory” or “philosophy”; myth provides the reason for us to live our lives in the world we happen to live in.  If your worldview includes gods, then the mythos you should learn will involve those gods, their natures, their stories, their likes and dislikes, and their adventures and pleasures and wraths.  If your worldview is atheistic and focused on energies, then the mythos you should learn will involve the background of energy, how it works, how it flows, and how it affects and is affected by other things in the cosmos.  If your worldview is based around emanationist Qabbalah, then the mythos you should learn will involve the sephiroth, the planets, the elements, the angels, God and his different names and forms, and how events in any sphere of existence are reflected, affected, and effected by other spheres.  Myth provides the theoretical framework upon which myth is based upon; it can be as terse as tables of correspondences, or it can be as flowery as ancient histories and stories passed down by mouth from one generation to the next.

Technology, on the other hand, might be considered the opposite of myth.  Technology is the study of useful skills, arts, and crafts.  Knowing how things should be in the ideal world is one thing, but knowing how to accomplish things in the real world is quite another.  While technology can involve any sort of tool usage, it can also include methodologies such as procedures to make something, from food to clothing to houses to jewelry.  Anything you do down in this world involves technology in some way; learning how to use technology efficiently and powerfully is important in being successful in the world.  Something doesn’t have to be hi-tech to be considered technology here; writing systems, calendars, proper usage of heat to cook food, and eloquent speaking can all be considered technologies, as can building windmills, solar panels, computers, jewelry, or orgone accelerators.  Technology uses the world around us to make or change something for a particular end with a particular method and process.  If you’re a computer scientist, then your technology should consist of programming languages, setting up computers, managing RAID storage systems, and the like.  If you’re a chef, then your technology should consist of knives and other implements, cutting foodstuffs for preparation, using ovens and stoves and grills, and presentation of food for aesthetic pleasure, and the like.  If you’re a masseuse, then your technology should consist of strong hands and arms, energy manipulation, proper oils for lubrication and sensuality, and the like.  Technology is what we do down here to do stuff.

Reason is the bridge that combines mythos with technology for a higher aim.  This is essentially logic, but not necessarily the formal logic of mathematicians and legalists.  Logic here can consist of that, but it can also consist of emotions (how to feel better), survival (how to keep living), economics (how to become wealthier), or philosophy (how to live better), and other styles.  Reason uses myth as its values and axioms, upon which all arguments and actions can be based; everything else that follows is either a logical derivative of myth (e.g. if Aphrodite dislikes Helios for revealing her tryst with Ares, it follows that involving the powers of Venus and the Sun in the same place may not end up well) or an application of mythos with technology (e.g. if Aphrodite likes apples due to the whole Paris-Helen thing, one should probably sacrifice apples to Aphrodite).  Reason is what allows myths, tables of correspondences, divine preferences, and stories to be effected in the world using technology, as well as being what allows technological results to form more myths.  Understanding the causes and effects of things in a strictly material sense, strictly spiritual sense, and some combination of material and spiritual senses involves reason all around.  Figuring out “how things work” in a technological sense within a mythological framework involves reason every step of the way.

So, consider the case where someone wants to build a spaceship.  First, they need to understand the mythos of spaceships: the physical theory behind flight both in air and in space, the mathematical knowledge of arithmetic and calculus, the material properties of steel and aluminum, the theoretical programming of spaceship software, gravity, meteorology, and the like.  They also need to have a solid technological footing to build spaceships: how to cut metal apart and rivet it back together, how to wire computers together, how to set up an air ventilation and water filtration system, where to purchase fuel from, where and when to launch from, and the like.  They also need to have reason: how will the dynamics of space travel affect the integrity of the ship, how will high-acceleration and low-gravity environments affect the human body, where it might be legal to build and launch a spaceship, whether it’s a good idea given one’s finances and health to build and launch a spaceship, and the like.  No matter what, though, the theoretical knowledge (the “myth”) behind building spaceships is most important, because one cannot figure out whether a spaceship will work without knowing the mathematics and physics behind spaceships.

All these same things come into play when working with magic, just with different mythos, technology, and reason.  This is why I insist that, for people who want to learn my style of magic and Hermetics, someone have an exceptionally strong footing in the classical stories of European literature, such as the Homeric Cycle, the Bible, apocryphal and philosophical texts from different European and Mediterranean religions, tables of correspondences and qualities of the elements and planets and zodiac signs and lunar mansions, astrology and astrological timing, etc. Beyond the others, myth is the single most important foundation someone can and must have in order to learn magic and ritual.  All ritual takes place within mythology, whether it’s building a spaceship within the mythos of physics, making a talisman within the mythos of astrology, or making sacrifices within the mythos of a particular deity.  The technology can be picked up as one learns and grows, and the reason to link mythos with technology can be cultivated over time to produce new and hitherto-unknown ritual, but myth is that which guides and directs us to pick up either the needed technologies to implement it or the reason to bind it and bridge the gap between technology and myth.

Myth should never be dismissed as something that is merely primitive.  Myth is the foundation for our lives, and if all ritual is an extrapolation or extension of life itself, then ritual is even more based on myth than our lives.  Ritual brings myth into our lives and makes our lives into living myths; if one has no myth, one will necessarily have no ritual.