Learning Cartomancy: the Sixes

When I originally wrote this reflection I was seated comfortably in a coffee shop overlooking the Olympic Peninsula, with the mountains clearly visible on the horizon, and cold waters wrapping around the fjords which likely made this place attractive to the Scandinavian settlers who colonized what the indigenous Suquamish peoples called tcu-tcu-lats, or, “place of maples”. Time here moves slowly, much like the sap of the trees, and gives a sense of completion to the previous year as midnight that night I would find myself in a whole new year full of potential and opportunity. This in many ways seems an appropriate time to discuss the Sixes, a set associated with movement and passages, as well as completion and growth.

In number theory, once described as the “Queen of Mathematics”, the six is acknowledged as the first perfect number – a positive integer that is equal to the sum of its proper positive divisors designated by Nicomachus as “[the] form of form, the only number adapted to the Soul, the distinct union of the parts of the universe, the fabricator of the Soul, also Harmony,” and it is properly “Venus” herself. In the Sixes we find complimentary, completion, and union of opposites in motion. In the creation narrative of Genesis, the Earth is created over a period of six days in which God reveals himself to humanity and also sets in motion the cycles of the covenant as a contract or protocol between opposites for dynamic interaction. In the Sixes we find the experience of “Beingness” in the Fives revealing closer connectivity while also revealing a hint of illusion of differentiation between opposites.

The Six of Diamonds takes the initial “spark” of the Five of Diamonds transforming it into a measurable charge the most ubiquitous regulatory signal of metabolism in living beings or, perhaps more metaphorically, the palpable energy of communication. This card can be said to represent active communication and exchanges where the stakes may feel high or worthwhile – if untenable. Here information is exchanged at a faster pace than usual and as such, the Six of Diamonds can also be said to represent digital communication or transactions or receiving items ordered online or letters that have been expedited. On a more material level, it can also represent a promotion or unexpected raise or promotion, even receiving a share in profits.

In the Six of Hearts we take the hieros gamos metaphor from the Fives one step further and find two individuals or ideas wedded together “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8) This suggests on one level that the division of reality into two opposites with a covenant between them is ultimately an illusion. The overall feeling of the Six of Hearts is one of comfort, trust, and intimate connection. The image of “beauty” is also realized in the Six of Hearts as the beautiful joining of artistic and creative ideal or abstraction into a tangible form such as a painting, a piece of music, or evocative literary piece.

With the Six of Clubs matters concerning business, communication, negotiations, contracts, and the like are finally hammered out into something that is presentable and will be understandable without any ambiguity. It can also be representative of learning or gaining further training in professional or academic spheres – supplemental learning or taking required educational modules in order to work one’s way up or stay on top of the competition. The Six of Clubs can also be a reminder to not forget the basics in life such as exemplified in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs – this is often indicated when the Six of Clubs is ill-defined with another club or any of the Spades.

The Six of Spades is the ultimate card of letting go and putting aside that which no longer serves the individual personally. The sense of finality with the Six of Spades is that a situation has finally run its course and there’s nothing left to do about the matter. While this can be ominous at first sight, it is more often something that the querent has already recognized needs to be laid to rest. This most often can be in the form of a friendship that has gone sour for some time, reaching acceptance after a process of grieving, or sometimes even putting a beloved pet to sleep. In some situations the Six of Hearts can also represent undergoing surgery – cutting apart that which is not useful or even harmful and stitching the body together.

As mentioned, one of the overall themes of the Sixes is one of completion. For this reason, instead of the expecting Seven to represent the concept of the “week”, traditional cartomancy uses the six – the end of the week as a period of measurable time before enjoying the Sabbath Day in rest and refreshment. Depending on the placement of cards it can also be a call to not let the sun set on an argument or disagreement, especially when Spades and Clubs or Spades and Hearts are in close proximity to one another. We also find in the Six of Hearts indicators for the warming heat of June and summertime, and with the rest periods of sixes: six hours, days, weeks, months, et cetera.

Combined, the Sixes indicate tying up loose matters, putting to rest situations and relationships, finding comfort or satisfaction, and joining things together in an orderly manner. Four Sixes together represent finalizing situations before moving onto something else, completing tasks before moving onward to others, and making final preparations before starting a new endeavor. Three Sixes together can indicate large scale organizations and gatherings, family gatherings, unexpected visitors (think of Bilbo Baggins’ reaction when he was visited unexpectedly by a troop of dwarves in the middle of the night), and coordinating events. Two Sixes typically represent resolutions between two different groups or individuals or at least clarifying misunderstandings when these have been preventing people from reaching an agreement or consensus.

With the Sixes we find the union of opposites and putting together things in an organized manner. Here we find process of both building, growing, stabilizing and finalizing. Whether it’s putting individuals, people and situations together in such a way that brings benefit to everyone or putting the final touches on a long term project, the Sixes help us to understand that opposites are not always opposed but can also be profoundly complementary and constantly changing – that change that is beautiful if we correctly understand even in situations that seem difficult, even putting things to rest allows us to see the bigger picture of how things are interconnected.

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Useful Necromantic Tools: Candles

Few tools in traditional necromantic practices have such a humble, yet important, position as the common candle. The light of fire, penetrating darkness, has long been a symbol of the divine in nearly every world religious practice to the point that even the origins of the first candles has been lost in the sands of time. It is often written that the first candles were developed by the Ancient Egyptians, who used rushlights or torches made by soaking the cores of reeds in rendered animal fat. The Chinese also used melted fats rolled in tubes with a wick at least since the fourth and third centuries before Common Era, possibly longer. Whatever their origins, the use of candles in necromantic practices are at least as old as the origins of candles themselves.

In the Argonautica, written in the third century BCE, we are introduced to a scene in which the hero Jason performs a necromantic sacrifice under the auspices of Hecate to draw forth the shades of the dead:

“During the day he had prepared himself, and so had everything he needed with him; Argos had fetched him some milk and a ewe from a farm; the rest he had taken from the ship itself. When he had found an unfrequented spot in a clear meadow under the open sky, he began by bathing his naked body reverently in the sacred river, and then put on a dark mantle which Hypsipyle of Lemnos had given him to remind him of their passionate embraces. Then he dug a pit a cubit deep, piled up billets, and laid the sheep on top of them after cutting its throat. He kindled the wood from underneath and poured mingled libations on the sacrifice, calling on Brimo to help him in the coming test. This done, he withdrew; and the dread goddess, hearing his words from the abyss, came up to accept the offering of Aeson’s son. She was garlanded by fearsome snakes that coiled themselves round twigs of oak; the twinkle of a thousand torches lit the scene; and hounds of the underworld barked shrilly all around her. The whole meadow trembled under her feet, and the Nymphs of marsh and river who haunt the fens by Amarantian Phasis cried out in fear. Jason was terrified; but even so, as he retreated, he did not once turn round. And so he found himself among his friends once more, and Dawn arrived.”

The rite performed by Jason shows the interplay between the concepts of fire, light, and life alongside darkness and death.

By the Christian era, candles came to represent the fire of God’s love, illuminating, warming, and purging us, like the fire which manifested to Moses in the burning bush and at the Pentecost when tongues of flame appeared over the Apostles’ heads. Evidence that lit candles or oil lamps connected with devotion to the dead were burned at the tombs of saints, particularly martyrs and before sacred images and relics date back at least to the third century CE. St. Jerome (d. 420) in his Contra Vigilantium attests:

“As to the question of tapers, however, we do not, as you in vain misrepresent us, light them in the daytime, but by their solace we would cheer the darkness of the night, and watch for the dawn, lest we should be blind like you and sleep in darkness… throughout the whole Eastern Church, even when there are no relics of the martyrs, whenever the Gospel is to be read the candles are lighted, although the dawn may be reddening the sky, not of course to scatter the darkness, but by way of evidencing our joy.”

As in early Christian times, thousands of Catholics to this day will frequently light a candle before a statue or sacred image of Christ or of a saint outside of Mass (before or after, or during simple visits to a church) – usually for a specific intention. While not viewed as a magical act by Catholic faithful, it doesn’t take much of a leap to the use of candles in conjunction with practices associated with calling upon the dead either in the form of saints of blessed departed to affect a particular end. One such example, from a relatively orthodox perspective to the miraculous use of candles in intercessory healing comes to us from the eleventh century as accounted in Bartlett’s Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?:

“Another distinctive and noteworthy method of creating a bond with the saint was the measuring of a sick person. The thread used for this purpose would then be incorporated into the healing ritual, usually by providing the wick for a votive candle, or at least serving as a guide for its dimensions. A characteristic example can be found in the account of a miracle attributed to Godehard, bishop of Hildesheim (d. 1038). Folcward, a priest in charge of the administration of the estates of the bishopric of Hildesheim, was making a tour of the manors under his authority and, coming to the village of Eschershausen, was offered hospitality by a poor woman. He found that the woman’s child was lying sick in bed and was generally thought to be at death’s door. Folcward suggested that she have recourse to the help of the saintly Godehard, who had died only recently and whose body lay in the cathedral church:

‘He persuaded the weeping mother to promise candles of the same dimensions as the boy at the tomb of the holy bishop … but because the poor woman did not have the wax for such a thing, he himself ordered a wick from flax to be prepared and had the boy measured along every limb, so that he might take away an accurate measurement with him, and offer at the saint’s shrine candles, made from wax he had himself procured, on behalf of the sick child.’

The boy was cured even before the woman and the priest had finished their meal.”

The use of candles in traditional grimoire literature is fairly commonplace and treated in a manner consistent with the more sacerdotal treatment of candles within the Church. In the Greater Key of Solomon (II, 12) the manufacturing and blessing of the candles are described as follows:

“It hath been ever the custom among all nations to use fire and light in sacred things. For this reason the master of the art should also employ them in sacred rites, and besides those for reading the conjurations by, and for the incense, in all operations lights are necessary in the circle.

For this reason he should make candles of virgin wax in the day and hour of Mercury; the wicks should have been made by a young girl; and the candles should be made when the moon is in her increase, of the weight of half a pound each, and on them thou shalt engrave these characters with the iron pen (stylus) of the art.”

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Following this, Psalms are recited and a following prayer given to imbue the candles with a power acceptable for the magician to use as a form of illumination during magical rites as well as well as offerings to spirits. Similar lights are also described in Barret’s Magus, the Heptameron of (pseudo) D’Abano, and the Hygromanteia. In the latter text the following ritual is described utilizing four candles to demarcate the space where a spirit is supposed to appear, allowing the magician to trap the ghost or spirit in a bottle:

“Take a bottle and put it on a table. Then, place underneath a new piece of cloth, clove, musk and galbanum. Light four candles and let a virgin boy be with you. Let the possessed person be nearby and the bottle in a convenient distance. The boy must stare into the bottle. Then, recite this conjuration at the left and at the right ear of the possessed person.

‘I conjure you, evil and impure spirit, by the great name of God Sabaoth, by the revelation of God which He revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai, by the Holy of Holies, by the names of the holy angels Mikhael, Gabriel, Ourouel and Rhaphael, and by the names of the seven angels who are stirring the winds. Let them stir you and draw you out of the three hundred and sixty five joints and marrows of this person, so that you will be removed from him. I will send you to another place. I conjure you, evil demon, by the dreadful God, by the grace and presence of the Holy Ghost, and by the lamentations under the cross of my Christ, go out of this person and enter this bottle, and I will send you to a such and such place. Again I conjure you by the miracles of the angels and the saints, by their prayers and by the grace they gained. I conjure you by God, whom the whole creation, visible and invisible, fears, go out of this person and enter this bottle, so that I will send you to a such and such place.’

Then ask the boy if he sees a man in flesh within the bottle. If the boy says: “Yes, he is inside,” take wax and seal the mouth of the bottle, and tell the boy to order him not to move from there.”

With some ingenuity, the candles used for this rite can be fleshed out using the Greater Key consecrations and allow the magician the ability to constrain inimical spirits as well as gain familiar spirits. A variation of this rite is also described in Julio Ody’s  Magister Officiorum which I can’t recommend highly enough as a complete text for contemporary goetia informed by the author’s experiences in both Solomonic magic as well as New World strains of African Diaspora Religions and Spiritism.

In closing, the use of candles in necromantic practice is indispensable and open to a wide range of practices. The symbolism reminding us that the invocations recited is a “coming into light” of those things which have been occulted and allow our spirits to be filled with the light of divine providence, thus being able to command and commend the spirits to our desires, letting that light burn in our souls and in the blackness of our hearts as we ourselves may return to our own daily lives.
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Keeping Clean: Beta Soul

One of the frequently avoided conversations in discussion of spiritual hygiene is the discussion on psychological and ethical purification. This is understandable, especially since there’s a lot of baggage in our culture surrounding confusion between ethics and morality as well as confusion between psychology itself as a process and the diagnosis of mental health disorders. To unpack this, let’s first look at psychology not as a field of mental health but quite literally the ‘study of the soul’. ‘Psyche’ denotes the spiritual element of our existences, which is in unity with the bodily and emotional self and constitutes a fundamental reality that supports our lives. While mental health management is important, the purification of the mental self acknowledges the reality of the body and the soul working in unity or, perhaps more accurately, in synergy.

Purity, inclusive of the physical but more importantly the mental, is believed to come from an honest mind. By developing a sense of awareness and compassion we start to understand the ethical and interpersonal dimensions of purity. As one of the primary concerns of miasma is separation from that which is healthy and unhealthy, confusion in the mental processes between ourselves and others can create conflicts or confusion in boundaries which allow for the possibility of miasma or contamination to take place. Just as a biohazard symbol indicates the possibility of physical contamination by harmful materials, developing a constant state of mindfulness that is not overwhelmed by over-vigilance allows us to remain aware of our own personal states in relation to interacting with the divine while remaining uncontaminated by disruptive thoughts and thought processes.

Understanding thoughts and thought processes, especially assaulting ones, and how to manage them is vitally important in the process of ritual purity. When discussing thoughts and thought processes, I do not mean simple thoughts, but the images and representations behind which there are always appropriate thoughts. This can open a can of worms because what thoughts are ‘appropriate’ is very subjective and can vary not only situational, but also contextually. For example, thinking about sex is in and of itself normative and healthy, however thinking about sex in the context desiring an individual whom you know is in a committed and monogamous relationship is very questionable at the most benign, and unless you’re engaging in a ritual act that involves sex between consenting partners (human or divine) can be intrusive to the ritual practice because you’re not giving your full focus to the powers with whom you are working.

The β soul is in charge of categorizing and managing the impressions received from the α soul and arranging them in a manner that helps communication between the α and γ souls. When the β soul is focused, the line of communication is said to be ‘straight’ and ‘aligned’, or ‘kala’, when the β is conflicted or overwhelmed, miscommunications happen not only between the soul complexes, but also inter-personally in our waking lives. For this reason, one method of maintaining purity in the β soul is to develop and maintain a regular meditation practice – both insight meditation as well as basic mindfulness meditation is very useful here. The β soul also enjoys a degree of freedom in expression and dialogue, for this reason learning Socratic methods of dialogue are very useful in developing the ethical levels of inquiry which maintain purity in the soul complexes.

Viewed from this angle we can start to recognize thoughts which are useful and beneficial and thoughts which ‘cut’ us from our connection with our personal complexes and thoughts which can also ‘cut off’ or ‘disrupt’ other thoughts. Using the previous example of thinking about sex: thinking about sex is normative and healthy, thoughts about sex come from our innate desires for connection with others as well as ecstasis; thinking about sex during a ritual where thinking about sex would be a distraction would indicate that certain individual needs are not being met and ‘cut’ our intended connection with the divine; taking a step back however, we can either use reasoning gained from insight meditation and ‘cut off’ the thoughts and focus on generating acceptance that this thought process is temporary or resolve to remedy the deficiency we’re experiencing later.

As with the α soul, there are a number of methods of managing and purifying the β soul, through which we can start integrating our somatic and emotional beings with our rational and ethical beings:

Outer: Outer purification of the β soul involves mindfulness and the generation of equanimity. As this soul is rational in nature, it reacts most readily to processes that involve communication and symbols. For this reason, I find that engaging in practices such as reading, writing, and allowing myself to daydream regularly allow this part of my soul the ability to express itself in its preferred natural state. Integrating complex symbolic attributions to ritual processes performed with the α soul helps to create a space where these two souls are able to communicate more readily with minimal communication problems.

Inner: The inner forms of purification of the β soul involve regular meditation practices and recognizing the generation, rising, and cessation of thoughts. Pure thought is both rational and emotive and by recognizing these states and learning to direct thoughts in such a manner that facilitates equanimity allows us to more effectively communicate our needs and desires with others and recognize the relationality between ourselves and others in a compassionate manner.

Secret: The secret forms of purification of the β soul involve rituals of expression, particularly narrative and poetic ritual invocations. The β soul is the soul which most readily projects charismatic enchantments, allowing the flow of our desires to be expressed to the universe and draw power from the divine. When engaged ethically – being able to express the communicative power of relationality between yourself and desires – this becomes pure enchantment.

By engaging with the practices of purification of the mind, we become more capable of expressing and impressing our desires on the world as well as communicate more freely with the divine powers around us. Combining the purification of the body and the α soul with the mental and ethical purification of the β soul, we begin to realize not only are emotions part of the process of thought, but are indeed inseparable and expressed through the mental soul. This also allows us the ability to know ourselves more fully in all our parts, but also create boundaries between ourselves and other bodies, which function as a magical sphere of influence.

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Learning Cartomancy: the Fives

With the Fours being form and bodies in motion, the message of the Fives is primarily that of doing and being. Borrowing a concept form continental philosophy, the Fives can be said to represent the experience of Dasein, “being there” or “presence” most often translated into English as “existence”. This experience is peculiar in that it is not only self-aware but also aware of the experience of its relationship with other beings. For this reason, the Fives can indicate an extension of the self or a product of bodies/embodiment such as something created or generated; the experience of internally arising emotions or emotions in reaction to external stimuli, feelings of belonging or ownership, effort and loss. The Fives are being and doing, the efforts of making for ourselves a sense of meaning: the hand that holding the hammer to repair a worn shoe, the hand holding a torch to light the way through the darkness, the hand offering companionship to a friend, and even the hand that is shaking and holding a bloody knife.

The Five of Diamonds is one of the more “electric” of cards in this suit or, perhaps more appropriate “magnetic” card of the suit. The Five of Diamonds immediately draws parties and objects together, whether they are gatherings of people meeting for a proposed goal, a ritzy soirée where people can exchange cards and make future plans while socializing, a creative collective in a fast-paced digital start up, or even a summons to court. Spatially, the Five of Diamonds indicates places that are personal or at least a little intimate such as living room, an open door office, a table at a coffee shop, or public space. As with the other Diamond cards, there’s a lot of kinetic energy surrounding the situations but all of these are mostly in the background while the individual experience is deeply front and center.

In the Five of Hearts we find the awareness of intimacy between two bodies. Continuing the existential analysis of “beingness” that pervades the Fives, here we find the classical example given by Martin Buber as “I/Thou” versus the “I/It” we find in the Fours. In the Five of Hearts, we experience a shift from the world of experience and sensation toward the world of relations. For this reason the Four of Hearts is often associated with gentleness, compassion, tenderness, femininity, and affection. It can also represent beauty and nature, especially the beauty of everything being in balance. As with the Diamonds, the Five of Hearts represents intimate enclosure though of a more romantic or erotic nature – the two becoming one standing together under the chuppah or by the altar of a church when exchanging vows or even in bed, joined together enacting the eternal Hieros Gamos or Great Rite.

The Five of Clubs is a card of a card of seizing the best out of a situation or making things into something better. It is the card of innovation, of finding that firm place on which to stand and setting things into motion. It can relate to changes in work situations, shaking hands during an interview process, as well as making formal agreements toward something better. It can also refer to the luck of the draw, and as such can represent a bit of a gamble that typically turns out for the better with minimal losses. Like the Diamond and Hearts, the Five of Clubs can also represent a place of informal, intimate gatherings such as a cocktail hour after work with colleagues, a small party where the querent might meet someone who could help them get a foot up in their employment or creative pursuits, or lunch meeting.

With the Five of Spades things that were once thought to be solid, connections that were once useful, relationships we valued, change dramatically or are severed entirely. Traditionally the Five of Spades could be said to represent a hand holding a knife – the metaphorical stab in the back – however in a positive spin, it could also be the scalpel in the hands of a well-trained physician cutting out tumors or growths that could threaten the well-“beingness” of an individual. All losses are deeply personal, especially between individuals, but sometimes losses are necessary for better and fuller growth to be made possible. Spatially it’s the existential realization that while we do in fact exist in part of a constellation with others, we must confront such issues as person-hood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with ourselves.

In queries concerning periods of time, the Fives can represent any period of “fives”: five minutes, hours, days, months, years, and so forth. More specifically, the fives relate to Thursday with the Clubs representing the morning, the Hearts representing midday, the Diamonds the afternoon, and Spades representing evening. The Five of Clubs specifically represents the month of May in some systems but can also be broadened to represent the period of Spring where animals are newly born and when planting can be started in earnest. The Fives can also represent adulthood, especially the periods following the rites of passage into adulthood where the young adult finally is establishing themselves in the world on their own and starting to set up their own nest.

Combined, the Fives tend to represent situations or events where things start moving along, “it’s all downhill from here” type situations or moving things along at a predictable pace. Four fives in a reading, especially when in close proximity to one another, indicate following a direction where previously things may have left one stuck at the crossroads – they can also represent getting out of a rut or lending a hand to someone in difficulty. Three Fives together can represent charitable situations, donor’s banquets or events where money is raised for good causes. Two Fives is the quintessential indication of opportunity and reaching out or putting your best foot forward into a new venture: “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The dynamism of the Fives from “being” to “doing”, from “existing” to “acting” represents is a process of realization and moving forward, being the middle point of the numbered cards before we encounter the Court Cards. It’s at this stage that we are able to see more clearly how our own awareness relates to other objects and why in many traditional methods of cartomancy the most basic drawings are not done from the simple three card spread rather with spreads in multiple of fives in order to paint a more dynamic process of trying to understand the concerns of the querent, the object of their concerns, as well as their own underlying or unconscious concerns and those surrounding them as the reader helps navigate the complexities of the temporary I/Thou moment between the body, mind, and spirit of the person for whom they are reading.

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Rock.Stars: An Unexpected Party

If someone were to ask me a year ago if I work with crystals or gems, chances are pretty good that I would have responded with some dismissal about not being into New Age mumbo jumbo. Sure, I knew that crystals have a long and hallowed history in the chronicles of magical synthemata and even contemporary correspondences, but until very recently, I had very little interest in the use of stones in my magical practice. While I would begrudgingly go out of my way (and sometimes wallet) to ‘procure of a lapidary good clear pellucid crystal’ or purchase natural ground minerals for the production of icons, I was content to leave my knowledge of stones to the copious lists of correspondences I’d been committed to memorizing and leaving it at that. This, I’ve come to realize, had been a very egregious error on my part as my avoidance of wanting to uphold the image of being a serious-looking practitioner in light of the fact that many of my peers have found value in employing stones in magic.

To be fair, I still think there’s a lot of ridiculous literature and beliefs out there surrounding the use of crystals and, in fairness, there’s a lot of good anecdotal evidence surrounding the uses of stones in various forms of therapy even if the underlying affect is due to a placebo effect. That said, there is a not insignificant amount of historic literature surrounding crystals and semi-precious stones in magical practice dating back at least to the first century CE recorded by Greek historians Pliny, Plutarch, and through the Renaissance with demonstrable connections to older sources as well as systems of Chaldean and Egyptian astrological magic as well as the beliefs of Arab astrologers writing during their renaissance from the 8th to 14th centuries CE. So, what made me convert to working with crystals? A few things, really.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending an afternoon of Dark Arts & Crafts at the home of the geeky, queer, feminist Faery witch and sorcerer Misha Magdalene where I had the opportunity to meet Shadowplay contributor and editor Rhea Shemayazi and was introduced to her system of divination called Dreamstones. Never heard of Dreamstones? Well, don’t be surprised. The original book was published in 1991 and hasn’t been back in print yet but if you can find a copy, I highly recommend it. Being a collector of different forms of divination, what first appealed to me was the way she described how her methodology unfolded and how highly customizable it is. So, I’m giving it a shot and finding it to be a really fun system that combines solid correspondences, holistic intuitive development, and if you read it for no other reason, her chapter on ethics in divination is among the best I’ve ever read. But, those pesky crystals, though.

So, I started out the exercises collecting three stones and working with them for my exploration. Sure, yes, no, and maybe are standards that can be done with any three objects from coins to coconut shells but that challenged me at first was the process of attuning and relating to stones. In our post-Enlightenment society, we’re very content believing that anything that doesn’t breath, isn’t manufactured, or somehow ceremonially enlivened is, well, dead matter. While stones are frequently categorized as inorganic materials, I found working with the stones awakened a certain energy that I couldn’t explain. They were alive. And this is where I find one of the biggest flaws in post-Enlightenment magic – everything is either dead or in your head. While there’s plenty to complain about the effects of commercialism and the New Age on working with stones and Capitalism on the various ethics of the stone trade, feeling a stone come to life in your hands is quite the experience.

Naturally, wanting to find a way to rationalize my experience, I defaulted to my unapologetically Neoplatonic background and decided to see what I could use to justify working with stones. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot that I had forgotten about because I’m a bad student when it comes to images and tokens that insult my very post-modern, reason-based consciousness. This brings us back to the Dreamstones. One of the key epistemological concepts in Neoplatonic thought is that of anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις), which is the idea that humans possess knowledge from past incarnations or previous states of being and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge within us. What I found fascinating in Dreamstones was that in the process of learning the Oracle, one is led through a process of ‘emergent anamnesis’[1] through the dreaming of the Earth in relation to ourselves.

Iamblichus writes in On the Mysteries, divine symbols are all around us in the generative realm – that is to say in the material world. These consist of signatures, tokens, and signs – symbola, synthemata, and semeia. In traditional Neoplatonic thought, these signatures and tokens exist to remind us of our supra-celestial origins. Dreamstones, and my belief in Emergent Neoplatonism, reverse this somewhat by reminding us of our origins as material beings coming from a long and holy line of lesser materials, going back to the finest which is the dark enclosure of space before the cosmic explosion commonly referred to as the Big Bang when God made love to Hirself. What better reminder of our divine origins, then, than the very bones of the Mother on whose surface we are born, live, and will likely die to be reabsorbed in helping us recover some sense of the world.

So, having been awakened to the wisdom of the earth through a rather curious but very complex divination system I’ve started the process of exploring stones and their use in magic. I highly doubt that I’ll become the caricature I was afraid of being perceived as, however my mind being opened to another angle of working magic as well as relating to the world around me I’m very thankful for the opportunities that lay before me. Chances are, then, I’ll likely write occasionally on this blog about my findings and musings on working with stones as well as my exploration of the Dreamstones system which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite forms of divination. How this will look is anyone’s guess, but if this is something of interest, I hope that whatever I produce will be relevant to your own explorations, practice, and maybe you’ll share with me some of your own observations as well.

 

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[1] While the overwhelming majority of NP texts treat our origins as hierarchical, descending from a wholly unrelatable and abstract “ONE”, I posit that there is possible a process of “Emergent Neoplatonism” which inverses our origins as coming from matter first (which Iamblichus suggests is itself whole unto itself) and toward a more holistic sanctification of matter through experience, positing that energy and thus spirit must themselves also be material. I’m also a heretic among heretics.

Keeping Clean: The Alpha Soul

In my previous essay Keeping Clean, I introduced the ancient Greek concept of miasma in relation to spiritual cleanliness as well as a three part model of the soul as described by the founders of the Feri tradition of American traditional witchcraft. Spiritual cleanliness is a difficult enough concept to discuss, especially with a lot of the misconceptions (and very strong feelings) surrounding miasma. The three part model of the soul is arguably even more difficult so to start bringing things a little closer to home, let’s discuss the concept of spiritual cleanliness on a bodily level.

Nearly every religion has some kind of concept of ritual purity and methods of purification ranging from simple bathing while reciting certain prayers to ornate and arduous rituals demanding pilgrimages to sacred sites while bathing under icy waters, week-long periods of fasting and prayer in addition to frequent bathing, to complete and total abstinence from certain food groups and intoxicants. Individually, many of these rituals reflect the social and spiritual values of particular groups of peoples; collectively however, they seem to point to complex points of relationality between these peoples and how they interface with their conceptions of the divine.

The most common ritual of purification encountered by many in the West is the Christian sacrament of Baptism. The underlying belief among Christians (consolations to my readers averse to Saint Augustine) regarding baptism is that it is a remedial rite to atone for the disobedience of the Biblical patriarch and progenitor of humanity Adam which is transmitted by concupiscence, or “hurtful desire”, sexual desire and all sensual feelings resulting in humanity becoming a massa damnata (mass of perdition, condemned crowd), with much enfeebled, though not destroyed, freedom of will. By undergoing the ritual of baptism which involves immersion or partial immersion in water and the recitation of certain formulaic invocations of the Holy Trinity, it is believed the person undergoing baptism becomes dead to Adam’s original sin and is born anew in Christ – more or less tabula rasa (a clean slate).

The Christian rite of baptism is complex ontologically in relation to the more ancient concepts of ritual purity explored in the Hellenic and other communities, but echoes rites from the religion from which it derives and which to this day still has a much closer relationship to ritual purification derived from ancient temple worship. In Judaism, ritual immersion is still practiced with even ritual specifications surrounding the pool and its water being exactly prescribed by Jewish law. Immersion, tevillah, is the common core component of every traditional Jewish conversion process. In more traditional Jewish communities, there are even prescriptions surrounding washing the hands and face prior to prayer.

In Ancient Greece, ritual purification at the barest minimum involved the ritualized washing of the face and hands at a minimum using certain personal, regional, or cultic formulations. In Sacred Disease, Hippocrates notes, “[We] mark out the boundaries of the temples and the groves of the gods, so that no one may pass them unless he be pure, and when we enter them we are sprinkled with holy water, not as being polluted, but as laying aside any other pollution which we formerly had.” Purification in corporate ceremony as well as private functions in such a way as to separate us from our everyday social concerns and enter into an intimate relationship with the divine, and across cultures the most common symbol of this is through bathing, immersion, or washing with water.

Rites of external, bodily, purification are most frequently concerned with the physical act of external cleanliness which makes us more approachable to the divine. By making ourselves outwardly presentable,  we have a higher likelihood of being transformed inwardly by participation with the divine powers as well as remove any external negative associations we’ve had or, if one were to ascribe to an energetic paradigm, remove ‘bad vibes’. Because this form of purification concerns the body, I relate this to the α soul or the fetch as discussed in the tradition of which I’m part.

The α soul, during physical life is called the vital body, is the vehicle of the animal self or spirit. It is intimately connected to the physical body and other bodies, visible and invisible. Victor Anderson made some interesting cross comparisons of this soul complex to the nefesh, believed in some Kabbalistic thought to be the lowest level of consciousness. In my experience, the α soul is the seed from which the other parts of the soul complexes emerge or congeal, being concerned with the preservation of the body and its functions as well as storing somatic memory and physiological drives such as those toward ecstasis or reproduction. While some initiates have made strong arguments for a relationship between the α soul and the Jungian concept of the Child archetype, which is not unhelpful for visualization purposes, I have found in my explorations that it is much more dynamic, clever, and sometimes threatening than leaving it alone as a psychological construction.

The purification of the α soul is most often treated externally, through physical practices such as cleansing by water, but also affects the rest of the soul complexes purifying the mental (β) and spiritual (γ) souls in subtle ways as well as they are all connected to the same process. For this purpose, I’ve come up with a diagnostic method borrowing slightly from my experience as well as the experience of my teacher in examining what types of purification may be needed and how they affect the soul complexes in outer, inner, and secret ways.

Outer: The outer purification of the α soul involves physical cleanliness. As this soul is sensory in nature, it reacts most readily to processes that entail ceremony, the senses, and expression. For this reason, I engage my α soul regularly in the practice of taking spiritual baths such as those described in the grimoires or, as in the picture below, with scented herbs such as lemon balm, sage, mint, or rosemary which all have correspondences with cleanliness, health, and vitality.

Inner: The inner forms of purification of the α soul involve attentiveness to diet, the balancing of the humours, taking medicinal or herbal tisanes and tinctures, being attentive to my rest and dreaming cycles, and regular exercise or visits to natural areas which help to connect myself to the physical world around me.

Secret: The secret forms of the purification of the α soul involve rituals of raising, embodying, storing, or grounding energy. The α soul is believed to be that part of the soul which stores the energy used during magical practice and, if left to stagnate, can cause complexes to arise in the body of the practitioner which may be deleterious to their practice.

In closing, by dynamically engaging with practices of external purification of the body, we ourselves become more attractive to the divine powers with whom we interface as well as become more effective magically through the maintenance of our individual souls. By paying attention to the need for physical purification practice, we begin to start a process of dynamic relationship to ourselves as embodied magical practitioners and beings and are able to more holistically engage with concepts of purification within the rest of our bodies. Regular maintenance also bypasses, but doesn’t always avoid, the possibility of contamination from external sources directed at us from other beings, spiritual or human.

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Learning Cartomancy: the Fours

Continuing on our journey through the collective numbered cards, today let’s take a look at the Fours as they exist together and how they can be loosely individuated from one another. The overall theme of the Fours is that of stability however, as with most things, we should differentiate stability as an idea from the concept of stasis. Stability itself is a form of change but it is one that has reached a level of motion that seemingly gives it greater substance. The pace at which change occurs—such as the degree of aging and the extent of movement toward or away from goals—can vary considerably, from infinitesimal to incremental to abrupt. Stasis, on the other hand, represents the point at which change has ceased and movement toward or away from goals has stopped moving for ceased entirely. As all the cards are dynamic, it is in the Fours that we encounter a fuller “body” to the range of motion and phenomena than we encounter in the “form” which is first provided by the Threes.

The message of the Fours is that of “form” of body and being embodied as well as participating in “bodies” while still staying in motion. The Earth, in classical prose, is said to have four corners or cardinal directions. This is useful for navigation on our spheroid floating in space but outside this frame of reference we find that these “corners” become increasingly less relevant. Similarly, while the Fours can be said to classically relate to ideas of enclosures such as rooms, homes, and animal stables; these reference points are not fully static as people still need a door to enter and leave a house or room, a horse can theoretically jump a fence, eventually we have to get out of bed, and (if one has a vested interest in such phenomena) even the mind or soul is unbounded by the body. Even the classical Empedoclean elements aren’t bounded by their forms and are constantly in the process of change despite the relative state of their forms. On the other hand, it’s also good to be grounded, have a sense of stability, feel safe at home, as well as move in such a way that you’re not subject to the elements – riding a Jeep with no doors only feels good on sunny days and even then, I don’t like the uncertainty of falling out while jumping around the sand dunes.

The Four of Diamonds is the most solid of solids, yet it is still dynamic and kinetic despite its solid appearance. Classically it could represent an office or financial establishment where transactions are negotiated, notarized, finalized, and put in a safety deposit box. It can also represent a gift having significant value such as a diamond or jewelry, an heirloom, or even a collection of books – this last part is probably super relevant to people who are interested in furthering their education or are invested in a discipline of intense study. This Four can also be represent a house or condominium purchased on mortgage, a stable living environment that’s not quite yet a “home” but is also a good asset for future growth.

In the Heart suit, the Four of Hearts represents the pleasures of the finer things in life. It’s the ultimate “feel good” card bounded by the perfect balance of Epicurian pleasure without any worry of excesses such as hangovers from indulging in “too much” good wine. It can denote a good relationship with a lover, the comfort of having someone to come home to, a good gathering of friends, and of course very fulfilling sexual and emotional connections. Depending on the other surrounding cards it can also be a place of luxury such as a salon or spa, a place of comfort such as a comfortable bed or kitchen, and places where you can feed your heart and your soul.

The Four of Clubs typically relates to finalizing some sort of business or “squaring” a deal or, being “on the square”. More often than not it represents being in a stable place of business, a workplace or meeting room, and in general a place of employment where there is room for growth and expansion without the looming threat of downsizing or dismissal. It can also relate to contracts, especially ones that might put one’s leg up in the company as well as spreadsheets and documented tables of growth and opportunity. It can also represent mobility such as a mode of transportation that’s owned by an individual, however is more often indicative of mass transportation such as busses, trains, and streetcars. In our contemporary age it can also be related to initiating or receiving e-mails and video calls.

Four in the Spades suit, as always, tends to be a little ominous. At risk of making a bad pun, it’s frequently the “final nail” in the proverbial coffin and the overall feeling of claustrophobia of a negative situation. It can represent feeling trapped or fenced in, not being able to see the road ahead of you, and in general relates to feelings of malaise and defeat. It can, however, be positive at times as well and represent an institution, particularly buildings of law, long-established businesses such as national banks, old universities or places of higher learning, as well as hospitals. Naturally, all of these can be great if you find yourself working there, but can also be kind of depressing if you end up having to visit them due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, having to pay off student loans, imprisonment or forgetting debts.

The Fours can relate to periods of time, specifically the fourth days of a month, Wednesdays, the month of April symbolized by the Four of Clubs, and the quarters of a business or school year. Of the fourth “times” mentioned at the end of the classic Biblical passages in Ecclesiastes, the representing “a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Eccles. 3:2), “a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:3), “a time to refrain from embracing” (Eccles. 3:4), “a time to cast away” (Eccles. 3:5), and “a time to speak” (Eccles. 3:6), “a time of peace” (Eccles 3:7). Borrowing another Biblical symbolism, the fours can also represent the start of a new day, as it was on the fourth day of creation in Genesis that God was said to have created the division between evening and day.

Combined with one another and other cards the Fours tend to represent groups or gatherings and the places where such events may occur and all the formalities associated with them. Four Fours together typically indicate large gatherings such as banquets, conventions, and major social occasions such as weddings, graduations, and religious rites of passage. The overall feeling is one of accomplishment here even when your drunken uncle decides to speak his mind. Three Fours tend to indicate small, mobile, or temporary seasonal gatherings such as holiday bazaars, seasonal fundraisers, small booths selling items such as that coveted time of year when the Girl Scouts come out en masse selling cookies in front of stores or even door to door. Here, things are typically polite and dependent on cooperation and casual go with the flow attitudes. Two Fours tend to indicate spaces where deals are finalized such as offices or meeting rooms where recognition is given and where the general mood is one more of formalities than overt enthusiasm.

In giving form to events, objects, and time itself, the Fours are not merely the “containers” of things but also the contexts in which things relate to one another. They provide the spatial limitations that give meaning and reference points in order to make embodied and knowledgeable decisions even if the ultimate sense of opportunities, space, and time itself is far too limitless for us to fully comprehend. Being solid, they give us a sensory look at the world around us that is not merely a two dimensional figure of something we know is solid but cannot interact with. For this reason as well, the Fours are cards of real of reality instead of the conception, outline, and forms of reality being that they can be observed, touched and experienced beyond Cartesian idealism of the Aces, Twos, and Threes.

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