End of an Enchiridion

I can’t believe it’s come to this.  It’s been four years, and I cannot even, I literally cannot.  I knew this day would eventually come, as all finite things must come to an end, but I’m confused at the fact that it’s here.  It’s been so slowly coming that I never realized how fast this moment arrived, and I’m…not quite at a loss, but nonplussed all the same.

My Moleskine is full.

This isn’t just any journal, mind you, as Moleskines are hardly ever wont to be.  No, this particular journal is my εγχειριδιον, my vademecum, my Book of Shadow, my spellbook, my grimoire, my personal book of prayers and rituals and seals that I have been writing and maintaining since my first days in Fr. Rufus Opus’ courses.  The cover is worn, and certain pages have all but fallen out, and some already would have if it weren’t for the masking tape holding them in place.  Pages with exceptionally well-used prayers are tissue-soft, and others are dog-eared for quick reference so that I don’t have to flip through a chaotic mish-mash of traditions and systems.  Among pages of my best efforts at Roman and Greek script mixed with my personal shorthand, annotated with origins of each prayer and ritual, I have poured countless hours into keeping track of the words and acts I use in my work as a magician as an aide for ritual, supplementing my memory when my memory alone hasn’t caught up.

And it’s full.  Fuck.

I knew this day would eventually come, and I made plans years ago to digitize it into a more easily accessible format, first copying whatever I wanted from a source to my Moleskine, and from there into LaTeX files to be compiled into a fancy PDF which, for various reasons, I haven’t kept up with lately.  And, while that’s still a good way to go for future use (heck, maybe even dissemination to students?), I’m…not sure that’s what I want to do for myself.  Lord knows I still need to keep track of rituals, and even though this particular book is filled, I question whether a digital format or some other means is the best way to keep an enchiridion.

I’m no stranger to journal-keeping, after all, and I’ve filled a number of them over the years since my first attempts back in elementary school, ranging from the mundane goings-on between classes or meetings to the most arcane theorizing of the cosmos, and this blog is just another manifestation of that; as such, I know the paradoxical heart-wrenching elation that comes with filling a journal.  Still, even this particular one is…jarring.  I’ve carried this book with me around the country, and found myself sometimes going into a minor panic when I realize I may have left it at home.  That book has had oil, water, ash, dirt, spit, and even the occasional blood spilled on it.  That book has grown up and full and worn with me as I’ve grown as a magus.  Even though this all seems rather sentimental for a glorified notepad, and even though I’m unusually attached to such a thing, I’m still somewhat at a crossroads with how to proceed.  Do I get a new one, and retranscribe everything?  Do I go for the binder-and-printout method, so that I can more easily manage and organize the thing on the fly?  Do I just want to use a document I can edit on the fly and get an e-reader or tablet to do the same?

I need to do something, obviously.  Just because this journal is full does not mean my Work is complete, not by any sense.  There will still be prayers to practice, rituals to record, and designs I deign to copy for clarity’s sake, and I will still need somewhere to write them and keep a ready index of.  But…I can no longer do it with this book, which already has so much in it and cannot accept any more.  This is a problem that demands a solution, but…perhaps it’s best to review what I’ve learned from keeping such an artifact first.  What do I know now, after filling up a whole book with my rituals and prayers, that I wouldn’t have expected years ago?  What does such a book become and do for the magus?  Based on my own experience, how should one approach the process of writing in an enchiridion?

  1. It becomes a ritual tool in and of itself, rivaling the importance of any wand or shewstone or oil.
  2. It is a physical object made of paper and thread and cardboard and, if you’re fancy, leather.  Even with careful and delicate use, the book will rip and tear and fall apart, and so should be given all the respect due to any magical tool for as long as it is used.
  3. It gains power in its own right, not only by virtue of the words and seals and patterns inscribed within, but by the constant use and reuse in ritual, as well as by the spirits and powers it comes in contact with.
  4. It offers a way to prototype and practice a ritual without ever performing it first, by recording all words said and motions made, before ever putting them to use.
  5. It provides a useful way to learn what is important and what is not important in ritual, gauging by how little one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  6. Conversely, it provides a way to note what ought to be learned by heart, gauging by how much one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  7. The fact that one is writing, actively putting in words, as opposed to typing gives the book a different feel and different (more) power.  Yes, the information may be the same, but the method makes the difference.
  8. With written words, one has the book indelibly and permanently made in one’s own kind of typographical image, as our handwriting is as much us as any photograph or depiction.
  9. It forms a record of one’s progress by virtue of the order and type of rituals written inside.  Even without records of ritual or proceedings of meditations, the prayers and rituals themselves show the state of the magus when they were first needed, as well as their exploration by the variety of text added over time.
  10. It is a testament to one’s activity and work as a magus, and as such is best kept private and secret lest anyone find it and, thus, find you out as a magus.
  11. Depending on your sources and your teachers, the text inside may be the last time those words are ever written, with you the last magus ever to use them.  As long as those words are around, at least in your own book, the traditions and rituals you use can stand the test of time and survive to be practiced by yet another generation.
  12. Organization from the outset, when keeping track of these things, is overrated.  When you’re still learning, the best order is chronological; by flipping through over and over to find the same things, you get used to the physical location of the text you need within the book.
  13. Presetting certain boundaries, so that this set of pages will be dedicated to conjuration rituals and that set of pages dedicated to Hellenic prayers and so forth, potentially wastes pages since you never know exactly how many or how few pages you need for a given topic, should you even get into that topic, which may not always be determined from the start.
  14. It is a finite object with a limited amount of space.  It will eventually become full, even if you keep only the most important and sacred words in it with nothing extraneous written and no space wasted.
  15. It is a tool and an aide.  It is to be used as much as it can be, so that the paper and ink inside is not wasted on idle copying, but made to work as much as you Work.
  16. When first copying things into it, you will use up a lot of space; only a year or so into my work, I had already filled up over a third of the pages, but it took me another three to fill up the other two thirds.  The rate at which you add things in will almost always decrease over time as you settle into a particular tradition and use the same rituals over and over.
  17. Not everything can be memorized.  While memory can always be improved, there are some things that one will keep forgetting without regular, almost daily use.
  18. A written text is crucial for smooth, repeatable work, so that one can read when memory can fail.  There’s a reason Catholic priests literally focus on the Missal while they perform their ritual, that they don’t slip up and jumble words or forget the order of things.
  19. What you write in the book, you write in your spirit.  The act of transcribing prayers is an important and powerful form of kinetic meditation.  For a similar reason, I find it helpful to say aloud every word that is to be said aloud in prayer or ritual (a la the tradition of soferim in Judaism), and to visualize the action when writing down instructions for actions.
  20. The art of handwriting is not doing too hot nowadays, and I don’t claim to have a good style of penmanship by any means, but it is a crucial aspect of maintaining the book.  Clear handwriting bespeaks a clear, methodical, premeditated mindset, and involves as much art as any skillful orison or profound prayer, not to mention making reading off the paper easier in dim lighting.
  21. It is useful to keep rituals and processes separate from records of using those rituals and processes.  I do not mix the two, and maintain a separate journal for keeping track of spiritual seals, conjuration conversations, and after-effects of ritual.  This is because the same ritual may work at some times and not at others through no fault of the ritual at all, and sometimes a ritual needs to be edited even though it works well-enough so that it can work better.
  22. It is useful to keep practice separate from theory.  Theory and philosophy and theology are nice to know and learn and discuss, but they do not come into play on the ground when the ritual is being done and the only thing that matters is the result.  Save space and keep the theory for another place, and focus only on what is necessary to complete the task at hand.
  23. It is useful to keep practice separate from recipes.  While oils, incenses, and the like may definitely be done in a ritual manner, the ingredients, conditions, and processes may often take up a lot of space that isn’t needed when doing the chanting or other ritual actions involved.
  24. It’s good to get a good-quality journal for this, neither poor nor great.  Something cheap and trashy is easy to fall apart and destroy, and something expensive and rare is too precious to waste a working text with errors, emendations, and errata in.  Settle for sturdiness, not for style, and save the pricey stuff for an heirloom calligraphied masterpiece that will be complete in and of itself.
  25. When there are a series of texts one may wish to transcribe, such as the Orphic Hymns or the Book of Psalms, it’s often better to get a separate text that contains those prayers as a complete set.  Transcribe only the ones you use most frequently, like Psalms 51 and 23 without the other 148 psalms.  An urge for completion is natural in many magi, for whom a perfectionist streak often runs strong, but you’ll ruin your hand with painful cramps and fill your book up faster than you need to.
  26. Be terse in the text for your instructions, and thorough in the text to be said aloud.  Only say what is absolutely necessary for instructions, as that can take up far more space than you need.  Laconic brevity is a virtue in the process of ritual, as is completion and wholeness in the prayers.  So long as you’ve written down enough to perform all steps of the ritual, you’ve written enough, and in the process allow yourself with room to grow and experiment and customize steps of the ritual.
  27. Even if you think they’re demanded of only by the bitchiest of middle-school teachers, get a bookcover or some sort of protection for your book.  You want to keep the book as intact and safe for as long as you possibly can.  Moleskines fit perfectly in a variety of leather car manual three-fold cases, as it turns out, and even includes a little loop for a pen and a pad of paper for quick notes and visions.
  28. Once you’ve started writing, do not stop until you’re done.  Do not leave something unfinished; if it’s part of a whole, write it wholly.  Do not begin writing until you know you can complete it in a single go, but if you need to write it, write it then and there.
  29. Generalize rituals when appropriate; think rubrics for ritual, not specific instances or implementations of ritual, and leave blanks and bracketed spaces for names or other things to be inserted when necessary.  Make a note when a particular prayer may be modified from its original intent or purpose.
  30. Only include tables of correspondence when absolutely necessary, such as when making a reference for how to fill in a ritual rubric.  Times when needing to use a table of correspondence in ritual are few, and usually only serve to take up space.  It’s better to commit the system of correspondence to memory, and that only what is necessary.
  31. Plan for rituals to be as modular as possible.  Build and conduct rituals using multiple prayers and acts, and record each one separately rather than writing the same invocation over and over for multiple rituals.
  32. The word enchiridion literally means “in the hand”, and vademecum “go with me”.  The book itself should be small enough to fit conveniently in a knapsack, but big enough to hold and read from comfortably.  If you use something too small, it’ll fill up too fast and will be hard to read from; if you use something too big, it’ll be hard to hold and hard to carry around.
  33. Never tear anything out of the book.  You will never make a mistake so egregious that you cannot write around it, and all rituals, even if needed just the once, will help you learn.  There will always be spare paper or media available to write on for things that cannot go in the book.  Keep the book intact as much as possible, since it’ll weaken on its own over time without any extra help from you.
  34. Get a good pen, and keep to that same type of pen when you write in the book.  Whether it’s a fountain pen or ball-point pen, you can never have too good a pen.  Carry it around with the book.  Keep it a neutral color, like black or blue, using other colors for specific purposes like corrections or particular symbols or watchwords.  And yes, it has to be a pen, one that isn’t erasable.  The point of the book is to put things in and keep track of what you practice, not to change the past and remove it.
  35. It doesn’t matter how you write in your book, so long as you can read it.  Your book is primarily for you and your eyes; everyone else takes a very, very distant second, although the day will come that someone else will need to use your book.  If you use a shorthand or type of code to write in the book, include a key somewhere hidden just in case you or someone else needs to decode it.
  36. Do not lose the book.  Do not destroy the book.  Do not get rid of the book.  Once finished or rendered to a point where it is unusable through age and wear, keep it somewhere safe, and only if you absolutely cannot keep it with you should you even begin to consider entrusting it to someone you can trust.
  37. It doesn’t matter whether your book is a journal or a sketchbook, i.e. lined or unlined.  I find lines helpful since I’ve never been able to develop a steady baseline for handwriting, and it helps with drawing out patterns and diagrams, but many people prefer an unlined paper to write on.  Go with what’s best for you.
  38. Once you start writing in a book, keep the book and keep using the book until it’s filled or you cannot use it any longer.  Just because you don’t like a ritual you wrote doesn’t mean the whole book is trash.  Just because you’ve changed traditions doesn’t mean you forget your history and past rituals.
  39. Take the book with you and read from it in as many rituals as you need to do.  You may not always need the book, especially if you’ve memorized the rituals and prayers needed, but take it with you just in case.  If nothing else, you help the book build power.

I suppose I had more thoughts on keeping and maintaining such a book than I expected.  I guess I wanted to be thorough, in a kind of “what would you tell a younger version of yourself” kind of way.

I think, at this point, I’ve decided on what I’m going to do.  I may not stick with Moleskine, but I am going to get another blank journal for myself.  I can always digitize the stuff as I need to in case I need a digital copy of my book, but…in all honesty, I can’t bring myself to care as much about that as I will about having a handwritten copy of my rituals with the ability to add in new rituals at a moment’s notice.  For me, and I speak only for myself, I will need to write by hand my enchiridion, and I will do this again, word by every painstaking word, for as many times as I need to.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to the coming weeks as I start this process again, but for me and my practice, it’s absolutely worth it.

A Classification of Magical…Things

I mentioned before that I’m digitizing my personal vademecum (or grimoire, or spellbook, or book of shadows, or what-have-you), which is a really nifty project for me.  For one, it gives me a chance to keep my LaTeX skills in shape, which is something I suggest anyone familiar with HTML or scientific/professional/Linux publishing pick up.  For two, it help keeps all my rituals, prayers, and recipes in a single document.  For three, eventually when my hand-written journal gets full, I plan on printing out a copy of my grimoire through Lulu or something and probably suffumigating it in a holocaust of my old moleskine, just for the magical oomph (I’ll be sure to add in at least as many blank pages for further additions).  For four, if I ever take on an apprentice, I can just print off a copy of this book and give it to them as a starting grimoire, referring to it as necessary.

Well, part of doing this digital vademecum thing right involves organization.  For my handwritten vademecum, there’s no organization involved; simply put in things as I find them.  This leads to Orphic hymns mixed in with Solomonic invocations and pagan apotropaia, which makes finding things more and more obnoxious.  To that end, organizing my spells, prayers, rituals, and whatnot is a fantastic thing, especially with how flexible LaTeX can be.  The downside is that I actually have to go through the process of organization, and that’s where things can get hairy.

I’m deciding on something like a five-fold organization of the different aspects of my practice

  • Prayers: holy words to reach out to cosmic forces.  No ritual, few gestures if any, and no specific intent is ascribed to the individual prayers, though they may be focused on a particular circumstance.
  • Rituals: theurgic practices, high magic, and the like.  Conjurations, consecrations, empowerments, and such easily fit here, though sometimes the difference between Rituals and Prayers can be difficult to discern.
  • Works: thaumaturgic practices, spells, low magic, and the like.  While Rituals focus on cosmic power and celestial or elemental forces, Works focuses on the material, immediate, or quick sides of things.  In a sense, Works is like Rituals Lite; while the latter may involve heavy drama and gear, Works may require maybe a short muttered prayer and a gesture or two.
  • Layouts: the aesthetic, geometric, and philosophical foundation for materials and organizations used in the Work.  Circles of Art, pentacles, altar layouts, sigil creation, and the like go here; permanent tools or intangible processes are what this section focuses on.
  • Recipes: the process and production of materials used.  While Layouts consists of tools or setups, Recipes consists of consumable, perishable, or depletable supplies.  Things like holy water and consecrated candles can either go here or in Rituals, depending on the process used, but Recipes mostly consists of the physical, material, tangible side of things, while Rituals deals with the occult and spiritual side.

To some people, I’m sure this just sounds like organization for the sake of organization.  To me, though, it’s a useful key to figure out the different aspects needed to draw from for a given project.  Say I have an intent, like “I want a new car”; what might I do to obtain it?  I could use prayer to ask for the right circumstances and aid in the matter, a ritual to formally establish my desire and work with the forces of the cosmos to set things up, works or light rituals to keep things active and in my favor throughout the day, a particular layout or method to handle the occult side of things, and a recipe for an oil or powder to make people more amenable to my cause in the process.  It’s not quite a four-level or three-level model of existence, and the different aspects can often be intertwined: a conjuration (ritual) can use a particular invocation (prayer) and consecrated oil (ritual + recipe) using a particular altar format (layout) to obtain a certain goal.

Then again, trying to differentiate out prayers from rituals from works can be a hairy process.  It’s really similar to differentiating religion from magic: what’s legit, what’s not, what’s theurgic, what’s thaumaturgic, what’s official, what’s shady, and so forth.  Consider the Invocations to the Planets from the Picatrix: they’re long-winded prayers, but at the same time, it’s a magical operation.  Do they belong in Prayers, like with the Orphic Hymns to the planets, or do they belong in Rituals?  If the former, what about the ritual or magical side?  If the latter, what about the magical use of other prayers to specific deities or planets?  Sometimes, I go by the source of the text (Picatrix is a magical work, Pythagorean or Orphic literature is more religious or plainly spiritual, etc.), and sometimes I go by how they’re often used.

What are your thoughts on organization?  Do you organize your personal libraries, books of shadows, or rituals?  How do you decide what’s sufficiently theurgic or thaumaturgic for you, if you care to distinguish between them at all?

Sidenote: I’ve been making a lot of blog posts this week, and have a few backed up for a rainy day.  I was really confused at why I was all of a sudden being so productive (at least for my blog), then realized I’ve been working with Mercurial forces for, like, a week straight starting with the Mercury Cazimi election last Monday, plus some nontrivial Mercury transits going on at the moment.  How cute.

Digital Vademecum of the Digital Ambler

Like any competent occultist, magician, sorcerer, or witch, I keep notes, and plenty of them.  I know of at least five notebooks I keep for records, results, divinations, ritual setups, and so forth, and at least as many binders to keep track of texts, lamens, and the like.  It’s efficient, in some ways; I’ve heard a term used by artists and messy officemates, “organized chaos”, that bears some resemblance to my method.  Granted that the most important of one’s rituals and notes should be committed to memory, it’s good to have a backup material copy on hand.

Among the most important of these books of mine is my personal vademecum, the Latin term for enchiridion, the Greek term for handbook.  Pagans might better know it as a Book of Shadows, but it’s the same thing: a collection of prayers, rituals, recipes, and symbols I keep track of for easy and quick reference.  Since I started the Work, I’ve gotten about a third of the way into this book (a fancy lined Moleskine journal, because I’m fancy like that), and often find new things to add every week or so from any number of sources old and new.  It’s convenient in many ways, except for one important one: there is no organization.  I just add stuff as I find it, which makes sense and is an honored tradition in magical writing, which accounts for why things like the PGM, the Munich Manual, and the like are so horribly disjointed, confusing, and utterly unsuitable for light reading.

So, I’ve recently busted out and dusted off my LaTeX skills and started transcribing everything from my material vademecum into a digital one, importing the designs, texts, prayers, and whatnot from there, this blog, and my personal library into a fancy e-book format.  LaTeX, though confusing and with a notorious learning curve, makes things very pretty and, once you get the hang of it, becomes easy to edit and manage large writing projects.  For another, I figure having a digital form of my vademecum would be a good thing, especially once I fill up my hardcopy version or if I lose it at any point.  Plus, if I ever start teaching (and some people can already read this in me,terribile cogitatu), this would be a good start for a textbook I could instruct and teach from.

Though it won’t be for a long while yet, I may decide to make this digital vademecum (eTome? GrimoireOnline?) of the Digital Ambler (Vademecum Polyphanae? Encheiridion Polyphanou?) public and published, maybe in e-book format, maybe in hardcopy through someplace like Lulu.  In some ways, it could be seen as a distilled version of the methods used and seen on this blog; in others, it’s a collection of rituals, some ancient, some modern, and some revealed directly or created and unattested anywhere else.  Since some of the material in my vademecum is taken from modern copyrighted sources, I’d probably want to figure out what I want to do about those (maybe include a references section? be original and come up with my own rituals?).  Out of curiosity, what would people’s opinions be on the matter, whether publishing such a work at all, or the interest of people picking up/downloading a copy?

Also, two notes:

  1. No, Michael, I’m not trying to emulate the name of your very handsome blog.
  2. LaTeX is a bitch to learn, yes, but learn it.  It makes typesetting both a skill and an art that anyone can use; it’s a very good freelance skill, especially if you find yourself in technical writing.  If I could get a technical writing gig employing LaTeX that would also let me work from home, I’d probably devote myself to that position and never look back.  You don’t need to be a masochist and compile TeX in the commandline like I do; there are lots of word-processor-esque fancy-schmancy GUIs that do a lot of the work for you.