September 14, 2018

I'm taking a break to grow cabbages.

This is the ill-fated cabbage merchant from the Avatar: the Last Airbender,
but at least in this screenshot the feeling is mutual.
Once upon a time, there was this Roman emperor, see? And things got real busy for him in the Caesar-business, so busy in fact that he gave up his throne and retired to his farm so other people who cared more about these kinds of things could fight over who gets to be in charge. Well, things didn't go so well for the people who took over all his business, and they eventually decided that they needed his help running things again. They sent out some legionnaires to invite him back, but when they found him the old guy said, "No way, I'm too happy growing cabbages, which are fucking awesome by the way."

I've never been a Roman emperor, but at least in the Satanic sense I'm definitely the ruler of my own self. The past couple years I've been working real hard at running a household while also managing my stress, and time after time the answer to both those tasks is, "Do less of other stuff." And you know, since I've cut back my YouTube channel, blogging, and Tarot work, I've never been happier.

All of which is a long way of saying that I'm taking a break from blogging to grow cabbages for a while, and I anticipate coming back to regular blogging in January 2019.

See you in the New Year.

September 07, 2018

What is Tarot Good For?

via Spy vs Spy
I've come a long way with Tarot over the past 15-plus years, and the figurative distance is so far that I often forget why I started in the first place. Well, that's not entirely true: I do remember why I started, and it's because a friend bought my first Tarot deck for me as a gag gift on my birthday. Joke's on me, huh? But I stuck with it not because I enjoyed reliving the joke, but because I think I knew even at the beginning two things which have stuck with me all this time: the feeling that I can't trust myself, and the feeling that I can't understand others.

My entire life I have felt out of place and have had difficulty relating to other people, and I think that this is in large part due to the fact that my father was an officer in the Marine Corps and our whole family moved to a new part of the country (and once even to another country) every 2-3 years. I can't speak for all military brats everywhere, but at least for me the experience taught me that making friends was more trouble than the effort was worth because I would be gone before the friendship ever turned into anything -- or I would just have to be painfully ripping up roots if I let them sink deep. For me this resulted in having an insular family life and as a consequence probably not enough social contact with other people my age. This meant that as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand other people's perspectives and how to develop meaningful friendships.

As for the other part, as left young adulthood I frequently struggled with mental and emotional health. I don't particularly want to go into the details, partly because I don't think you're that interested in hearing about them, but also because I'm don't think the details matter very much in this context, but the point is that I frequently struggled to find a sense of personal balance. This struggle for balance is best characterized by the way that when I felt good, I wouldn't be able to see that I was over-extending myself, and when I felt bad I would run out of either stamina or motivation to sustain the things I set in motion and be forced to watch them crumble around me. I've described this feeling in the past as the struggle between perpetual optimist Charlie Brown and his attempt to kick the football which the perpetual trickster Lucy, despite her promises to the contrary, always pulls it out from under him at the most moment.

However, I often also think that my moods are adequately described by the "Spy vs. Spy" comic printed by Mad Magazine because both spies are equally capable of killing the other, both take turns obliterating each other, and neither one appears to be willing or capable of making a choice to stop the fight. Both distrust each other, both are constantly looking for the other around every corner, and both believe that they'll always win. Replace "Spy vs. Spy" with "Mood vs. Mood," and you get an idea what my life is like.

Combine my learned habits as a military brat with whatever it is that I still don't understand which has caused me so many ups and downs as an adult, and you get me: a person who is frequently frustrated with other people because he struggles to understand and relate to them, but who also is frequently frustrated with himself because he distrusts his own mind and struggles to keep the promises he makes even to himself.

When you see me in that context, I think it becomes clear to you why I was initially attracted to the fantasy of psychic divination and its promise of revealing the unknown, but also why after so many other things have fallen away from my life I've continued to keep the Tarot as it really exists: a means to force paradigm shifts, step outside of myself, consider my thoughts and moods from another perspective, and think about myself and other people without relying on my own personal instabilities.

Of course, at least for me the natural conclusion to this discussion is one that many other people have already pointed out: maybe I really can't trust myself? Even if the Tarot is random and no better than throwing dice, it's an effective tool for causing my train of thought to jump the rails. Yes, it's going to be a big mess when the train crashes, but often enough the process of putting it back on the rails helps me decide if I want to change direction, speed up, slow down, or just stop completely.

For a guy who continues to struggle for certainty and avoid over-reaching, that makes Tarot a damn fine tool for self-care.

September 01, 2018

September 2018: The Man Behind the Curtain

via The Wizard of Oz (1939)
September is too early to write about my year-in-review, but considering some of the changes that are happening right now it seems as good a time as any to look back and think forward -- or think back and look forward? Whichever and however the case, 2018 so far has been a whirlwind for me and to be honest I need to get out of the weather. I've never been very good at managing my time, and as a personal project in 2018 I've been working hard a changing that fault. In the process, one of the biggest things I've learned about myself is that while I tend to get fixated on whatever I'm dealing with at a given moment which in turn eats up my mental real estate and predisposes me to the company of the two-headed monster of overwhelm and exhaustion.

This is something I've been working on since late last year and early this year, and is the chief reason why I stopped broadcasting on my YouTube channel: I could not find a way to manage both my blog and my YouTube channel that didn't throw the rest of my own life and my family life out of balance. After considering what was most important to me, the most reasonable decision turned out to be that the most reasonable thing was to retire my YouTube channel and focus on my blog.

Unfortunately, that was only a superficial resolution because while it eliminated one thing that consumes my time and energy, it didn't address how I spent the rest of my time and energy. In this way, my blog became a sort of social-media feed where I posted quick blurbs, shared my mental digestion, and otherwise thought out-loud. It was fun for me in terms of an exercise in vanity, but all the time I was no longer spending on my YouTube channel became the time I spent writing on my blog and in the final calculation became the same sort of problem as my YouTube channel.

To treat this problem, I've adopted a schedule of blogging once a week, and usually on Fridays, although the occasional exception is made to work around the 1st of the month. The schedule I'm following right now is that the first of the month (Friday or not) is a general check-in with my readers and usually an update on what's happening with me, the second Friday is something related to Tarot, the third Friday of the month is something related to Satanism, and starting this month the fourth Friday (or whatever is convenient before the start of the next month) is a round-up of my favorite links from the previous month.

Writing on a schedule has been really helpful for me, not only because it allows me to better budget and manage my time, but also because it gives me a chance to write letters and essays which are probably better conceived and developed than the other items I published when I was writing without a schedule. This schedule has also been really helpful for me because it's allowed me to better compartmentalize what's happening inside my head, which ultimately helps to reduce distractions and increase the quality of my productive time.

And I gotta say, having been on this schedule for a while, it feels really good.

It feels so good, in fact, that until the end of the year I'm taking a hiatus from Tarot reading for the sake of personal and professional development... well, that and to more successfully accommodate my family's changing schedule. This spring my wife went back to school to finish her bachelor's degree, and given that there are two school-aged kids in the house this means that I'm the lead parent most days of the week when school is in session for all things child-related. Strictly speaking, I do have the time in my day to continue servicing my Tarot clients, but in practice I find that I don't have the energy or focus to give all the people in my life -- both family and clients -- the time and attention they deserve. For this reason, as you could guess, I'm keeping my family and dropping my clients.

My blog isn't going anywhere, and my regular schedule of updates will continue for as long as I'm here to write them, but I've spent too much time being the man behind the curtain working the smoke and mirrors for my clients. Like Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs -- or as you probably know him, the Wizard of Oz -- I need to take a break from operating the controls behind the curtain, climb into a hot air balloon, and fly away for a little while.

I couldn't guess at what the Wizard of Oz was going to do when he got to wherever he was going, but when I get to where I'm going -- which I suppose is right where I already am? -- I'm going to spend less time practicing for others and more time practicing for myself. Well, I think it's more accurate to say that I'll spend more time doing housework and driving the kids around town... but the point is that I've become tired of performing for others and need to spend more time performing for myself.  

As before, once again: this blog will continue as it ever has, but private services cannot be purchase at any price for the rest of the year. I'll be offering Tarot readings again in 2019, and I might also start offering numerology readings, but for now -- as far as professional services are concerned -- the man behind the curtain has flown away and he'll return when he's good and ready.

August 24, 2018

Software vs. Hardware: What is a Tarot Reading?

I am the software. Tarot is the hardware.
You are the end-user... and here is your EULA.
I am the software.

When a sitter comes to me for a reading, I am not in fact the person who is using the cards: it is the sitter who is using the cards. I the fortune-teller am the software who provides an interface for the end-user to access hardware, and who also translates the Tarot code into a human-readable language. Because I am the software, I have no desires for the end-user, and therefore I have no interest in sifting through infinity to find random bytes of information. Instead, it's the job of the end-user to input variables into the software for analysis -- in other words, it's the job of the sitter to give me questions to evaluate.

Tarot is the hardware.

The 78 cards of the Tarot deck are the hardware. The three groups of cards which compose the Tarot deck -- the 40 pips, the 16 faces, and the 22 trumps -- together form a primitive kind of chaos computer which allows for input through software. Questions without context, or fishing expeditions for whatever might show up, are no better than raw data. Lacking context, the analysis produced by the software is no better than an infinite river of irrelevant data. The Tarot deck may be only 78 cards, but even among combinations from only four cards there are 34,234,200 possible permutations -- and that number doesn't even begin to express how the analysis produced by the software in service to the end-user changes as a result of elemental dignity, numerical significance, or the expression of the three septenaries. The number of combinations increases exponentially to the point that drawing even six cards from the deck would produce 184,933,148,400 possible permutations, which is roughly 76 billion more than the total number of humans both living and dead who have ever existed. Tarot is hardware capable of capturing infinity, and software is the tool which is capable of translating infinity into a language that the end-user can understand.

You are the end-user.

The fortune-teller who shuffles the cards, lays them down, and interprets them for the sitter is not the end-user. Instead, the fortune-teller is the software who operates the hardware of the Tarot deck, and the sitter is the end-user who submits search queries into the chaos computer in search of answers. For this reason, the sitter who is the end-user should understand that he or she alone is responsible for shaping and guiding the outcome of any reading. It is not the fault of the software if the end-user submits nonsense queries -- such efforts will only return a GI/GO error. It is of the greatest importance that the end-user input meaningful data into the chaos computer so that the software can return meaningful answers. 

The software is capable of offering suggestions for related queries and it also has safe-guards built in to advise the end-user when repeated submissions of the same query are unlikely to produce useful analysis, but ultimately it is not the software's responsibility to dictate how it may be used by the end-user. The software is only a means to access the hardware, and therefore it's the end-user's responsibility to input relevant queries as well as to either accept or refuse both the suggestions and the warnings.

This is your end-user license agreement.

When a sitter retains the services of a fortune-teller, he or she is accepting the end-user license agreement which is like an agreement between the fortune-teller and sitter and establishes the sitter's right to use the software. In this case, the agreement made between sitter and fortune-teller is that the fortune-teller agrees to do his or her best to return relevant hits in response to the sitter's query, and the sitter agrees to do his or her best to apply the returned hits to his or her query. A Tarot reading is neither the software nor the hardware; instead, a Tarot reading is the resulting process of the end-user who submitted the query accepting the analysis produced by the software and applying it to his or her life. 

All of which is a long way of saying that a Tarot reading is not what the fortune-teller says, but instead the sitter's decision to combine what the fortune-teller says with the sum of his or her own personal knowledge, experiences, and circumstances. Absent this final choice to merge the analysis provided by the software with the context provided by the end-user, what you see is not a Tarot reading, but only undefined statements. It's the responsibility of the end-user to take ownership of the data produced by the hardware and interpreted by the software. In fact, you might even say that the software is hard-coded to teach end-users that responsibility is for the responsible, but in the end it's not the function of the software to dictate how the end-user must use the data computed by the hardware. The software is capable of advising an end-user about the limitations of any results served by the software, but the end-use of a Tarot reading can be decided only by the end-user.

Once you understand the nature of the hardware, the function of the software, and the role of the end-user, you'll get better results and feel greater satisfaction the next time you boot up a chaos-computer.

August 17, 2018

Pop Culture Satanism II

That's not the seal of Satan, it's the sigil of Lucifer,
but I doubt that distinction matters to the conspiracy theorists.
One of the things that I enjoy about making connections to Satanism through popular culture generally but in expressing my understanding of Satanism through the mythological Tower of Babylon specifically is that Satanism is absolutely everywhere. In this paradigm, Satan -- or Babylon, if you prefer to call her by that name -- is the ruler of the world. Unlike a fabled sky-daddy living in a celestial realm that's both far away and separate from manifest reality, Satan is among us here and now. Consider for example the photo at the top of the page which compares everyday symbols to occult symbols: if you follow the logic, even the person who created this infographic appears to be saying that either Satan or agents of Satan have infiltrated every aspect of society. Now let it be said that I'm sure I don't know what the conspiracy theorists think -- I suspect that their world paradigm is substantially different from my own -- but I feel confident agreeing with their frequent accusations about how anybody who's not the right kind of Christian is part of the church of Satan...

... and I need to clarify before I go any further: the upper-case Church of Satan is a religious organization founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey which rabidly condemns theism, by its own preference and admission has very few members, and as an organization in fact does nothing. The lower-case church of Satan is an fictitious and amorphous blob whose definition changes depending on the person describing it, allegedly includes everybody who isn't a True Christian (the definition of which is also subject to change), supposedly is in constant contact with Satan, and is allegedly in control of every aspect of the entire world including very nearly all other organized religions.

Let it be known that the Church of Satan doesn't enter into this discussion. Instead, this essay focuses on the fictitious church of Satan, also called the church of Babylon, also called the whore of Babylon, also called the "great and terrible church of the earth." Regarding the church of Satan, I want to discuss three interesting distinctions that get made by the people who define it:
  • Joining the church of Satan isn't an act of commission, but of omission.
  • Serving the church of Satan doesn't have to be deliberate, and can even be accidental.
  • Worship in the church of Satan doesn't require overt ritual. 
1. How does one join the church of Satan?

The first claim made by popular culture and the conspiracy-minded is that although the church of Satan is for some reason in need of rappers, singers, actors, business leaders, world leaders, religious leaders, God Himself, and for some reason even preschool workers*, nobody actually needs an invitation to join the church of Satan. Unlike a good-and-proper Christian church which requires baptism (voluntary or not) for remission of made-up sins and afterwards requires 10% of your income for life plus dutiful avoidance of impure, unchaste, and otherwise corrupting influences, the church of Satan doesn't ask anything of prospective members. Quite the opposite: the church of Satan instead welcomes into its ranks those who take for themselves** the things which they desire, be they material or immaterial, or of the mind or of the body.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that the church of Satan welcomes everybody. Straight, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, cis, black, white, yellow, brown, or even fucking purple -- doesn't matter, you've got an "in" with Satan. God might love you enough to let you hang out with him forever after you spend your entire mortal life kissing his hairy butt-hole, but Satan loves you so much that She'll meet you at the crossroads on any night you choose -- and unlike God who wants you change for him, Satan loves you exactly as you are. Isn't that wonderfully validating?

It's also interesting to me because unlike that old chestnut about the mere 144,000 people who'll be allowed into Heaven, Satan doesn't bother with exclusion: She wants everybody. From the highest to the lowest, the strongest to the weakest, the able and the disabled, the rich and the poor, it doesn't matter: you're important to Satan, and She wants you to be with her. I feel at this point I should remind my readers that I don't believe in a literal Satan and that when I speak of Her I do so metaphorically. In this sense, Satan represents to me natural, instinctual human behavior which includes altruism, cooperation, and just plain caring about others (versus shunning people for their violation of imaginary rules.)

2. Serving the church of Satan doesn't have to be deliberate.

The second claim that emerges from popular culture is that just like how one joins the church of Satan, one need not deliberately choose to participate in order to serve within the church of Satan. So the accusation goes, it doesn't matter even if you're the right kind of Christian who attends the right kind of church and says the right kind of words on the right days of the week: if you still watch TV or movies which portray sin, buy music which encourages sin, eat food that has been deemed sinful, vote for people who are the wrong kind of Christian (or not at all), and otherwise lead a lifestyle that doesn't keep the right kind of Christianity as your #1 priority even above responsibility to your family, then you're serving the church of Satan by at best not protesting against Satan, and at worst contributing to Satan's plans.

As has been pointed out by one of my favorite blogs, "[N]utters will always call you a Satanist whether you are or not. Not really being a Satanist never spares anyone the stigma of Satanism." Doesn't matter how devout you are, or how much you genuinely care about living a Christ-like life. In the end, when it's convenient, the people who care about this sort of thing will still denounce you as Satanist no matter what you do. And yes, that's frustrating for a lot of people who either aren't Satanists at all, or who are Satanists but want to just keep to themselves, but at least for me I find this comforting in that I never need to apologize when this and similar accusations are levied. Somebody once in all seriousness accused me of being dark-sided for not agreeing to tell his fortune, and it was a singularly hilarious experience. 

Although I reject all belief in the fabulous conspiracy of a one-world government operating under the oversight of Satan Herself, I confess that thinking about the world through this paradigm is comforting if only because it reinforces the truth that actions have consequences, and that by actively choosing to refuse a life lived according to religious dictates from over 2,000 years ago I'm helping to discard yester-millennium's rubbish in favor of a new world order. Serving the church of Satan requires nothing more than that I pursue my natural appetites***, live according to my conscience (wherever it may lead me), and contribute in whatever ways I can to people and organizations who further my own interests.

And if you think that I'm advocating for a kind of pan-Satanic unity, then you'd be wrong because unlike God who demands that everybody believe and act the same, Satan welcomes differences of opinion, belief, and practice. Satan was the first advocate for multi-culturalism, tolerance of others, and learning to work alongside and even with others who would otherwise appear to be enemies. 

3. Worship in the church of Satan doesn't require overt ritual

Finally, the third claim that emerges from popular culture and especially from certain Christian congregations is that worship of Satan doesn't require overt ritual. So the accusation goes, almost anything can be a Satanic ritual whether it's a celebration to mark the opening of a tunnel, the existence of a scientific research facility, or even watching a movie. The act of anything at all which displaces God as the highest of the high and steals even one iota of adoration from Him constitutes a Satanic deed which in turn is deemed a Satanic act.

This may be my favorite accusation because it allows me the opportunity to expand the definition of ritual and worship beyond that which I conduct within the ritual chamber. While I'd like to flatter myself that this is something unique to Satanism, the truth is that the Wiccans probably got here first. Doreen Valiente famously wrote in her Charge of the Goddess, "Let my worship be within the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." I sincerely doubt that Ms. Valiente had even a thought of Satan in her mind when she wrote those words, but they feel not an inch out of line with the sentiment of modern Satanism that living itself is a ritual.

Whether I'm indulging the sin of lust by laying with my wife, indulging the sin of wrath by emptying my anger on the deserving, or even denying the artificial bonds of in-group sectarianism and defying authoritarian dictates of the culture-warriors by learning foreign languages: overt, specific ritual is not necessary to worship Satan. You might accuse me of searching for words in Alphabet soup, but I find that this selective interpretation of otherwise meaningless activities gives my life color and and flavor.
This is part of a continuing series. For all entries, see Babylon Rising.

* Do not think that I'm apologizing for pedophilia. If ever there were a universal wrong detested by all people everywhere, then the rape of a child surely qualifies, and people who commit that crime deserve to be permanently exiled from society. At any rate, I think that the Christians who slur Satanists as rapists and pedophiles should see to their own house first. 

** This is satire, and not to be taken as an endorsement of criminality, but all the best comedy is based on truth.

*** Again, don't even think that anything I'm saying can be construed as an apologetic for pedophilia. There are detestable people who will argue that their desire to rape a child is "natural" and therefore totally okay. Well, if you're going to follow that line of logic, then I think it's also natural and therefore totally okay for me to desire that child rapists be subjected to rat torture

August 10, 2018

What happens when you remove a card from your Tarot deck?

tarot satanism fortune telling
Do you see what I see?

The title of this post is both more and less than you might have assumed. It is less than you assumed because my inclusion of numerological principles within Tarot is no secret, but it is more than you assumed because in this instance my act of hacking the Tarot is not a matter of altering the insides of my 78-card chaos computer, but of actually removing cards.

I've long had an interest in the principles of numerology, and this is what has inspired some of my most productive thinking about the Tarot (and how to use it), but I was never actually interested in numerology itself and the formulas and long-winded calculations used by numerologists. Given that no numerologist has yet won the lottery -- a pure numbers game that ought to be a numerologist's delight? -- I think it's safe to say that the formulas and calculations are hokum, but for me they fall into the category of useful hokum and that's why I periodically review the occult foundations which informed my understanding of the Tarot.

During one of my periodic reviews which take place every few years, it occurred to me that 10 is only a permutation of 1. Do you see how this works? Through the numerological process of reduction (which is actually addition), the digits of a number (or a word converted to numbers) are added together over and over until something between 1 and 9 remains. In this instance, 10 is represented by the following equation: 10 = 1 + 0 =1. Or written with numerological shorthand, 10/1.

Because 9 is a critical number for me in my understanding of the pips -- they're all based on my understanding of the 9 Satanic Statements -- this means that 10 is the odd number out. Combined with the numerological observation that 10 is only a permutation of 1, this makes 10 doubly conspicuous which lead me to think, "Why don't I just remove it?" So I did: I removed all four 10's from my Tarot deck so that each suit of pips would number only 1 through 9.

But so say I, hacking the Tarot is like eating potato chips: you can't make just one change. Because of the five years I spent reading with just playing cards, I've developed a fondness for reading with 12 face cards instead of 16, so as long as I'm cutting cards from the deck I also removed the four Slaves (what other people typically call the Pages, or even the Princesses), leaving only the Jacks, Queens, and Kings. 

Finally, because I've been in a mood where I want everything in my deck to have a set meaning, or at least a set rule for how it behaves within a reading, I removed my wild card, the Joker (what other people typically call the Fool.) Granted, yes -- the Joker does have a set definition for nearly all other readers -- but for me, the Joker is a wild card with no set definition. That plus the fact that I never read with Jokers when I used playing cards, I decided to hack the Joker from the deck, too.

In the end, this left me with a 69-card deck composed of 21 trumps (forming a perfect, self-contained septenary), 36 pips (1-9 among among four suits), and 12 faces (J/Q/K among three suits). If you're studying along at home and are curious to know how this changes the configuration of the royal court, this is what I'm doing:
  • King: 4 < 9 > 2
  • Jack: 3 < 5 > 7
  • Queen: 8 < 1 > 6
All other rules for the royal court remain in effect: trumps produce fixed values based on the middle numbers, same and complimentary suits produce cardinal values based on the right numbers, neutral and opposite suits produce mutable values based on the left numbers. Rules for support and antagonism are unchanged.
Where was I? Yes... hacking the Tarot. In the end, this leaves me with a 69-card deck which strictly speaking isn't that far away from a 78-card deck, but even a small change can make a big difference. I mean, ever tasted the difference between 1% milk and 2% milk? The difference of 1% in milk-fat is quite noticeable, wouldn't you say? So when I removed 9 cards from the deck, this changed the deck in a few ways.

First and most obviously, a 69-card deck is no longer a Tarot. In order for a deck to be called a Tarot, it must be 78 cards composed of 22 trumps numbered 0 to 21 in ascending order, 40 pips divided equally among four suits in ascending order, and 16 faces divided equally among four suits and arranged in ascending order. Remove four pips, four faces, and a trump, and it's not a Tarot anymore. Hell, lacking the four 10's which I removed for my own pleasure, it's not even a regular playing deck anymore. But you know what the great thing is about being a Tarot reader? There are no Tarot police, and I'm free to experiment with, and hack away at, my Tarot deck as much as I please if it serves my purposes.

Second and less obviously, subtracting 9 cards changes the distribution and ever so slightly increases the odds of drawing almost any of the remaining cards. For example, in a 78-card deck, each card individually composes 1.2% of total deck, but in a 69-card deck this is increased to 1.4% of the total deck. Trumps were 28%, but now 30%. The pips were 51%, but now 52%. All face cards were 20.5%, but now 17%. In this newly adjusted distribution, I'm more slightly more likely to draw trumps and pips, and slightly less likely to draw faces.

Third and much less obviously, this change in distribution does something that I personally enjoy quite a lot: it creates much more frequent overlap among the cards. One of the things that I really enjoy doing during a Tarot reading is to form connections between cards based on shared septenaries (for trumps), or suit and value (for pips and faces.) Connecting number to number by shared value, connecting cards by shared suits, connecting trumps by shared septenary, and above all pointing out the conflict and opposition between any of the cards based on their neutral, complimentary, or polar opposition according to suit, number, or septenary is just fascinating. This sort of hunting is like a Dorito for my brain, and is so satisfying to me. 

Removing the poorly unified 10 (which never did fit very well into my 9 Satanic statements, and which is also considered only a permutation of 1), reducing the number of faces to match the configuration I prefer among playing cards, and removing the Fool to create a self-contained grand tableau of trumps is just a delight to me because it's like making Tarot new again. This creates an opportunity for me to not only attempt to improve or refine my approach to the Tarot, but this also recreates the feeling of novelty and discovery that has long since diminished for me.

Does this mean that I'm no longer a Tarot reader (since, after all, I'm not using a 78-card deck anymore)? Nope: Tarot reader I was, Tarot reader I am, and Tarot reader I will remain. I'll call myself what I like even if I have to ignore a few technicalities in the process. But me being who I am, it's very likely that I'll reintroduce the subtracted cards back into the deck during my next review in about two years. Of course, it's also very likely that in two years I might be doing something completely different.

So say I, a change is as good as a rest.

August 01, 2018

August 2018: Purpose-Driven Social Media

facebook mind control
Somebody must have removed the social
media chip from this mind control device?
Remember that thing called lesser magic? Sure you do: it's the subtle manipulation of people and circumstances through wile and guile for the purpose of guiding choices and events toward your preferred outcome. Lesser magic informs a large part of my approach to fortune-telling -- not that this is any secret given that I've written an entire book on the subject -- but to an extent it also informs a large part of my world-view. I'll accept that there are dangers in always looking for a third-side perspective and trying to be savvy to others' lesser magic -- if I'm convinced that there's always a different truth just beneath the surface of evident reality and am always on guard against being hoodwinked, then this predisposes me to paranoia and accepting conspiracy theories -- but I still think it's important to be aware of how others are attempting to influence how I use my limited time and energy.

Perfect example of this is social media, and here's my sharpest opinion yet: social media is an addictive drug, and the platforms where one uses social media are pushers. I'll be the first to say that there's no such thing as social media addiction -- after all, "addiction" is a specific, clinical term which discusses chemical changes within the body -- but there's absolutely such a thing as social media compulsion, and it's absolutely by design. The companies who create platforms to host social media interactions are deliberately creating their own Skinner boxes which compel users to repeatedly check for status updates, renew for fresh content, and above all to feel anxious that they're missing out on something important. Throw into the mix the fact that users of social media are curating their feeds to persuade others (and maybe even themselves?) that they're more attractive, successful, powerful, or other quality, and this creates an environment where users constantly questioning their own beauty, success, accomplishments, or self worth, and it quickly becomes unhealthy.

Or at least, it does for me. A rule that I've been diligently trying to follow not just on this blog but in my life generally is to speak only for myself, and to be very careful about making universal statements. Sure enough, I've got some broad opinions, but I try to be specific when I'm making a personal statement, versus what I believe to be universally applicable to everybody, everywhere. And while there's a small body of academic research (and a large body of anecdotal evidence) commenting on the worst aspects of social media, what I can say from my own experience is that it's remarkably difficult for me to withstand the lesser magic of social media pushers.

I think you probably know how this goes: I tell myself, "I'll only follow this one community." But next thing I know, I'm following 20 communities. I tell myself, "I'm only going to upvote or like the things I enjoy, and downvote or just ignore the stuff I don't enjoy." But next thing I know, I'm waist-deep into the comment section and arguing with random strangers about the average airspeed of an unladen swallow (both African and European.) I tell myself, "But it's okay, because social media keeps me in touch with the thought communities that are important to me." Next thing I know, I'm refreshing feeds every hour searching for the new post that makes the hours spent searching for it worthwhile. I tell myself, "I love this!," and yet, by using an app to record my moods in conjunction with how I spend my time, social media is something I do not enjoy (if you're curious to know, I've learned that my best moods are experienced when I'm doing mundane housework.)

Yeah, social media... no matter what I tell myself, I can't argue with the evidence that my mood consistently suffers when I use social media, and scrolling through feeds is particularly bad for me. I mean, if I want to just instantly feel depressed, lonely, and unimportant, then all I need do is load up the nearest social media feed and just start scrolling -- the effect is almost immediate. Me being who I am, I don't enjoy feeling sad or isolated, and yet... there I am, scrolling away, and wondering why I keep doing something that I don't enjoy. Boy howdy, that sure sounds like the behavior of an addict, doesn't it? The pushers wouldn't have it any other way: they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profit, even if that means encouraging compulsive behavior in their users. 

But I've got a personal responsibility to myself, and after probably more than a year and a half of talking about how I'm reducing my use of social media, I've finally conquered that particular compulsion and I did so with one rule: Any use of social media must be driven by purpose. That is, I must have a specific and compelling reason to visit a social web, and that specific and compelling reason should be intimately connected to something that I'm already doing in real life, something whose existence is not dependent on social media. Do you see how this works? Following this principle, I should never be in the position that I'm randomly scrolling through a feed or mindlessly reviewing status updates. The only reason that I should get onto a social web is because I have a valid need or compelling reason to do so based on a specific interest or activity which is not rooted in an online community, and once I've asked a question in order to resolve my need or reason, I leave the social web and wait for an answer.

An example of this is my interest in Esperanto, a planned language intended to promote communication between countries, cultures, and people. There are a lot of very busy groups, forums, and channels I could join for access to basically unlimited interactions, but what purpose would it serve? What am I gaining from sifting through an infinite feed of status updates hoping to stumble onto the equivalent of a needle in a haystack? It's a fucking waste of time. In this example the way I observe the principle of purpose-driven social media is by joining only a select number of groups and turning on notifications. If I have a question about the language or a special event, I can visit the relevant group to ask my question and then leave. With notifications turned on, I don't even have to visit the website to read responses to my questions or stay updated about the latest events and announcements -- they come straight to my email inbox where I can review them at my own leisure and outside the confines of the pusher's drug den.

The fundamental principles of purpose-driven social media are to reduce compulsion, increase productivity, and preserve happiness. After using a diary-method to cross-reference my moods against my activities and learning that social media is something that increases compulsion, decreases productivity, and erodes happiness, I've found it much easier to fight back against the lesser magic of social media and develop my own strategies of making it work for me on my own terms. This does nothing to change my opinion that social media is a drug being dispensed by money-minded pushers, but if I'm aware of the lesser magic they're working against me to sell their dope, then I know how to counter their rituals and deny them the compulsion they desire.

I'm done wasting my time, and purpose-driven use of social media is how I stay happy, productive, and healthy. If you ever feel like the pushers are taking advantage of you with their lesser magic, then who knows? Maybe you'd benefit from a policy of purpose-driven social media, too.

July 26, 2018

Review: Dungeon Solitaire - The Devil's Playground

card game rpg

Oh, sweet baby Satan, it's here and it's awesome: Dungeon Solitaire: the Devil's Playground. Nearly two years ago I had the good luck to hear about the game "Dungeon Solitaire - Labyrinth of Souls" from author Matthew Lowes and artist Josephe Vandel. If this is news to you, then I recommend you read the review I wrote, but if you want the TL/DR version, this is it: Matthew Lowes has managed to do with playing cards what Rogue Legacy did for video games. Before I continue this review, I feel it important to disclose that I received my copy of the Devil's Playground rule-book and deck as a gift from Matthew. I consider Matthew a friend, and I've also greatly enjoyed his and other authors' fiction published via Shadowspinners Press, but he didn't ask me to review Devil's Playground, nor am I receiving any compensation or enticement for this review.

occult magic cursed object

General Overview

So, let's do this: Solitaire. I suppose that in principle Matthew could be accused of not doing anything original -- I mean, single-player card games have been around for a very long time -- but his imagination uses a deck of cards to create a game that's engaging, challenging, and just plain fun. And did I mention difficult? Yes, Devil's Playground is very difficult. Oh, sure -- you might not lose a game, but since the objective is to play for a high score you might not win, either. And you know, that's not a bug -- it's a feature. People who make games -- whether card games, board games, or video games -- have over the past 20 years rediscovered the fact that adults love to play games, and -- unlike children and teenagers -- they not only enjoy the feeling of delicious frustration that comes with difficult challenges, but are motivated by defeat to keep trying for a better score.

If that sounds like something you'll enjoy, then enter the Devil's Playground because -- much like the Lament configuration -- good things come in small packages. The Devil's Playground is a deck composed of 52 cards, 9 of which are used as tokens to count off hit points, which leaves a bare 43 cards remaining. I can  hear your skepticism intensifying -- "43 cards isn't even a proper deck for Magic: the Gathering?" -- but limiting the Devil's Playground to a small set of cards works beautifully. By limiting the total number of playable cards to 43, Matthew has not only managed the probability of drawing certain cards in the correct sequence (which is necessary to achieve certain win conditions), but has also made it possible for the player to enjoy games from five to 10 minutes in duration that can be easily fit into the day. Speaking for myself, fun games that won't monopolize my time for more than an hour are pretty important considering that with two kids running around the house I don't typically get enough time or space to take over a table for that long.

deadly sins tarot

Game-play Specifics

But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's rewind: What is the Devil's Playground? In short, you are an adventurer exploring a hellish labyrinth filled with devious traps, incredible treasure, and demented monsters. Your goal is to both find and capture three powerful demons while avoiding terrifying monsters, deadly traps, and the danger of losing yourself in the temptation of sins or succumbing to plagues and curses. Along the way you can gather magical artifacts of untold power, resupply at a goblin market, and you might even find a magic portal back in time. Each turn represents a step into the Devil's playground, and uses a satisfying system to resolve encounters (dangerous misfortunes, treacherous obstacles, and deadly sins).

Encounter resolution is mostly random and is performed by drawing a card off the top of the deck, but recovered treasure, discovered magical artifacts, and acquired divine blessings can be used to build a hand that you can use to influence encounters. You might find it difficult to believe that with only 43 cards there's sufficient opportunity to build a hand, but there is, and in this way Matthew has captured the feeling of a good survival-horror video game in which the player is never truly safe and must constantly weigh the value of how to spend very limited resources. That's a lot of game mechanics to fit into 43 cards.

Devil's Playground isn't a complicated game -- once you see how it goes together, the rules are actually pretty straight-forward -- but even having played Labyrinth of Souls (the predecessor to Devil's Playground), it took me a couple read-throughs to see how things went together. What I found helped the most was to lay the deck out on a table with the cards grouped together in their sets -- demons, graces, sins, misfortunes, obstacles, magic items, and so on -- so that I can look at the cards at the same time I read the rule-book.

It's worth mentioning that if you find yourself in possession of a rule-book but not a copy of the Devil's Playground deck, then in theory you can substitute a deck of regular playing cards -- this is a choice which Matthew mentions in his rule-book -- but because the cards aren't divided equally among four suits, in practice this isn't going to work unless you mark each card individually. For this reason, one without the other isn't much use, and the two should be considered a bundle. However, when you purchase the rule-book and the deck, you're not getting just a solitaire game...

abomination hell gate

Additional Modules

... what you're actually getting is multiple solitaire games, because the rule-book includes additional instructions for a two-player cooperative game (which does require two decks), seven different ways to combine the 52-card Devil's Playground deck with the 78-card Labyrinth of Souls deck, four different ways to use the Devil's Playground deck as part of an extended campaign mode complete with pen-and-paper notes for carrying information over from one game to the next, occult meanings for each card to be used in fortune-telling, an original way to arrange the cards in a spread like what's done by Tarot readers to tell a fortune, and at the very end there's even a diagram similar to a kabbalistic Tree of Life which indicates a progression through life, shows misfortune and obstacles branching away from demons, and suggests a progression through magic and sins on the path to grace.

In a word, overwhelming, but in a few more words, it's mostly the same experience I had with Labyrinth of Souls: additional solitaire variations, cooperative play, campaign modes, and even some occult-themed offerings for people who enjoy that sort of thing. The amount of time and effort Matthew has obviously invested into his work is astonishing, and shame on me for not eating fully of the banquet he's prepared, but I enjoyed the basic solitaire module for Labyrinth of Souls -- and the basic solitaire module for Devil's Playground -- that I still haven't played anything else. However, if there is one other game module I intend to play very soon, it's the combination of the Labyrinth of Souls and the Devil's Playground. Because the two games share common mechanics, they are by design intended to ultimately be combined into one deck of 130 cards used to play a much longer and more complex game.

The full depth and beauty of the Devil's Playground appears to only be revealed when combined with the Labyrinth of Souls, but having played Devil's Playground on its own for a week I can say confidently that it's not dependent on Labyrinth of Souls. Devil's Playground is a game which is hugely enjoyable all on its own, and unlike so much of what's available in the video gaming world (both on console as well as on mobile) this isn't merely an up-sell to a more expensive product. If you only buy the Devil's Playground, you'll only be buying a game that's infinitely replayable, and for as much fun as it offers I think that's a damned good deal.

tarot satanism

Other Things I Think

Beyond all my other remarks, there's a lot of great storytelling at play in Devil's Playground, but I think that's to be expected given that the creator Matthew appears to be equally passionate about both the games he plays and the stories he writes.

Among the things I enjoy the most is that -- unlike the three heavenly gems which must be found in Labyrinth of Souls for a full win and are recovered as treasure upon a successful turn conclusion -- the demons of the Devil's Playground aren't so easy. To capture one of the three greater demons in the Devil's Playground -- the Throne, the Dominion, and the Power -- you must first reveal them. Once you've revealed a demon by winning a round in which it appeared, the demon is set aside in the "doom track" where it gives bonuses to other lesser demons who turn up in following rounds. To capture the demon, you must then defeat one of these lesser demons while the greater demon is present in the doom track. This makes for deliciously frustrating win conditions in which it's possible to reveal a demon, but be unable to capture it because the necessary lesser demons couldn't be played in the correct order. Fortunately, there is a limited ability for the player to recover necessary cards from earlier rounds -- using a magic Portal, finding a Supply Cache, or visiting the Goblin Market -- but there's no guarantee any of the three will be available when needed. This mostly irrevocable scarcity is part of what helps to sustain the tension of the game-play.

Another thing I enjoyed about the two-step process necessary to capture one of the three greater demons is how this plays into the storytelling. For me, the dominant impression I took away from this process is that the greater demons are omnipresent and it is only through careful discernment that their true faces can be revealed. I also interpreted the second part of the two-part capture process as a really interesting statement that the greater evils of the world are fundamentally non-corporeal and beyond human comprehension. Their shape can be seen by the shadow they cast or through the consequences of their actions, but they can only be fought hand-to-hand when expressing themselves through the physical form of a lesser demon (called a "diabolism" in the game's parlance.)

Despite the power of the greater demons of the Devil's Playground, there are still three graces: Kindness, Compassion, and Equanimity. The graces are like guardian angels because they are collected in the hand and may be played at will to overcome a misfortune, obstacle, curse, or one of three legendary terrors (the Diabolical Machine, the Abomination, and the Hell Gate) in one shot. However, you can't use the power of grace to one-shot the monsters who are effectively the masks of the greater demons. In this way, it seemed to me like the graces are unwilling to intervene in the player's struggle against figurative sins. Either the player is strong enough to endure or defeat his or her sins, and is thus deserving of further grace, or he or she is one of the Devil's playthings and is unworthy of redemption.

Final Verdict

Devil's Playground is not a mere repackaging of house rules carried over from Labyrinth of Souls -- it is its own game, with its own flavor, and offering its own pleasures. At the time that I'm writing this review, the only people playing in the Devil's Playground are the people who were able to support the Kickstarter (or lucky enough to be gifted a copy of the book and deck), but the rule-book and deck should be available for purchase through Matthew's website any time now.

For all these reasons, Devil's Playground receives the same score that its sibling Labyrinth of Souls received two years ago:

To purchase Devil's Playground, 
visit the Kickstarter page for details 
or Matthew Lowes for other updates.

matthew lowes labyrinth of souls

Wait, there's more?

As rewards for stretch-goals during the Kickstarter, two additional cards were printed: The Watcher and the Wheel of Chaos. These cards are not included in the standard deck, and it's not clear that they'll ever be available for purchase separately, but they are included in the rule-book within a two-page chapter titled simply, "Unknown Arcana." Other than the name, nothing is said about the cards, and for this reason I consider them to be wild cards for which the player must invent his or her own house rules. If you happen to own this pair of cards (or are improvising your own?), then here are my own house rules for these two cards that I've been using for the last week.

The Watcher
  • If the Watcher is drawn, it remains in the turn and has no effect on other cards in play.
  • If the round is won, move the Watcher to the doom track alongside any other demons that have been exposed. The Watcher does nothing while in your doom track and has no impact on game-play.
  • If on a following turn you are victorious in an encounter against a diabolism, you may capture the Watcher the same as you would capture a demon. If you decide to capture the Watcher, collect it into your hand and then turn your deck upside-down. The top card in your deck has an exposed face.
    • Even though the deck has been turned upside-down, the bottom of the deck remains the same. Thus, the card which is face-up is still technically the bottom of the deck. Any cards which would send a card to the bottom of the deck are placed face-up on top-most card of the deck.
  • The Watcher is worth 20 points. If used as a treasure to appease the Abomination or the Dragon, distract a lesser demon or other monster, or barter at the Goblin Market, return your deck to its right-side up configuration in which only the card backs are visible and the faces are hidden.

The Wheel of Chaos
  • If the Wheel of Chaos is the first card played, then it is treated as a curse which is moved immediately into the doom track. Otherwise, it is an action card.
  • As soon as the Wheel of Chaos is placed into the doom track, count the number of cards in your discard pile. Then, shuffle your discard pile into the deck and replace the discard pile with an equal number of cards drawn from the top of the deck. You may look at the cards as you discard them.
    • If playing with Labyrinth of Souls: torches, rations, demonic possession, and death are not discarded. Instead, they are placed into the doom track.
  • Repeat this process at the start of every new hand.
  • The Wheel of Chaos may be purged into the discard pile through the Blessing of the High Goddess or the Murdered God, the power of the Three Graces, a Divine Blessing, drinking Holy Water, or the services of a wizard at the Goblin Market.

July 19, 2018

The Ship of Theseus

psychic occult satanic tarot

For people who like to try and answer these kinds of questions, there's a thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus. So the story goes, Theseus was a Greek hero who sailed a mighty, wooden ship. When his glory days were over, his ship was put to harbor as a museum piece. Unfortunately, the ship being made of wood, ever so slowly it began to rot... say, at the rate of one plank at a time. To preserve the ship, the rotten wood had to be replaced ever so slowly -- say, at the rate of one plank at a time. Eventually, every original piece of the ship of Theseus would no longer exist because it will have been replaced by a different piece of wood. So the question goes, "How many pieces of wood can be replaced before the ship is no longer of Theseus?

This is a question that's I've been asking myself lately, too, especially in regards to my efforts to reinterpret the meaning of Satanism and apply it to my own life. How many pieces of my original conception can I change before what I'm thinking can no longer be rightly called Satanism? I don't think I've replaced very many pieces in that particular ship, so I'm not worried that I've gone beyond the pale, but I think it's a question worth asking all the same. Me being who I am, one of the things I created to help me think through this process is a Tarot spread called by the same name of the Ship of Theseus. Here are the methods to my madness:
  1. Shuffle deck thoroughly and lay five cards into the positions of Needs, Habits, Desires, Past, and Point of Interest.
  2. The Needs, Habits, Desires, and Past are representative of the individual who reads the cards, or for whom the cards are read.
  3. The Point of Interest is something that plays an important role in the life of the individual who reads the cards, or for whom the cards are read.
  4. Read through the arrangement for the first time. If so desired, make note of the highlights.
  5. Choose any original card that hasn't already been replaced. Having chosen that card, draw one card off the top of the deck and lay it over the already chosen position.
  6. Read through the arrangement for the second time. What is the same? What has changed? If so desired, make note of the highlights.
  7. After each read of the arrangement, continue replacing one card at a time until all cards have been replaced.
  8. How is the fifth read different from the first read? What is revealed through the transition of the second, third, and fourth reads?
Let's take a look at the Ship of Theseus in action! Two examples will follow: the first will be the original five cards, and the second will replace one card. Watch and see what happens:

In this first arrangement, I've drawn the Queen of Hearts, Queen of Clubs, 5 of Diamonds, 4 of Diamonds, and the Moon as my Needs, Habits, Desires, Past, and Point of Interest, respectively. All positions in the arrangement are self-evident, except for the Point of Interest which you might have guessed to be the larger body of Satanism.

First, my Needs and my Habits (QH and QC) are very similar. Despite their cosmetic expression being of opposite suits (H/Water and C/Fire), their fundamental identity is the same (Q). This says that while I'm working to address my needs, the way in which I'm addressing them is off the mark. What needs to change? Going only by the elemental combination, I should permit watery Hearts to reign over fiery Clubs, or practically speaking, stop trying so hard. Well... hmm... I just don't know if I can do that. 

Second, my Past and my Desires are the 4 and 5 of Diamonds, respectively. Evaluated on their own, they create a short string that ties my understanding and perspective of what I value -- or what I want to value -- to evidence and lessons learned in the past. And because the number 3 is irrepressible in stories -- three acts to a story, three times the hero is tested, three times the magic words must be chanted, and so on -- where's the missing number in our incomplete string? I'm looking for a 3 or a 6 to complete the 4-and-5, but it's nowhere to be found. There's a missing piece to this puzzle, and neither the present nor the future are able to complete my past or complement my desires. Perhaps instead of focusing on how to satisfy my needs, I should instead work toward more relevant desires? Hmm... pairing this message with my Needs, there's a message here about not using my intellect to shape the world into what I'd like it to be, but instead of allowing the world to shape me into what I am. Well... hmm... I just don't know if I can do that, either.

As for Satanism itself, my Point of Interest is represented by the Moon. This says that owing to external influences over which I myself have little power (and to which I contribute very little), Satanism is on the wane. I'll be shocked if there's any truth to this because I'm rather biased in favor of Satanism and would be disappointed to see it fall from what appears to be a bit of a renaissance, but what do I know? At any rate, going by the cards my point of interest contributes in fact nothing to the rest of the cards on the table. Well, fuck me -- what am I supposed to do with this? Satanism is something that's become a real pillar of my life and if upon further evaluation it's not helping me as much as I think then I've got some serious discussions to have with myself.

That's the first read of the Ship of Theseus. 

Because I'm the sort of person who thinks that one's habits are fundamental to any situation, and because I'm not entirely happy with the message given to me in the first arrangement, I decided that my Habits position would be the first one to be replaced. Drawing one card off the top of the deck, I get the 5 of Clubs.

Now isn't that interesting? With one card, the link between my Needs and Habits (QH and QC) has been broken and replaced by a new link between my Habits and my Desires (5C and 5D). Or in other words, even after changing the central card, I'm still dealing with the same problems as before: I'm synchronized to the fundamental essence of my Desires, but I'm not synchronized to the cosmetic expression, or said differently, I can define the general shape of what I want but am unable to describe the specifics. It feels very relevant to me right now, and it's just as frustrating as you think. 

What else is frustrating is that the 5 of Clubs maintains the fiery attitude of the Queen of Clubs which it replaced, which means that the way my Habits relates to the rest of the cards on the table remains unchanged. What else remains unchanged is that incomplete string of 4-and-5 of Diamonds. A change of Habits still fails to complete the chain linking my Desires to the Past. Perhaps there's a larger discussion to be had about the ability of the Past to satisfy my Desires, and I should look either to the Present or the Future to find what I'm looking for? Hmm... hmm...

And you know what else hasn't change? The quality of my relationship to my Point of Interest. Satanism as a broader body of thought continues to wane under the dim light of the Moon, and while I couldn't say if this is only within the context of my life or in the broader cultural tapestry, either way Satanism diminishes in importance. If that's really so, then what a bummer -- I'm rather fond of Satanism -- but this is only the second read of the Ship of Theseus. Each consecutive read replaces additional planks and reveals different aspects of the self. Perhaps after I replace the entire ship of Theseus one piece at a time I'll discover what I'm most looking for?

July 12, 2018

Pop Culture Satanism I

pop culture illuminati conspiracy
Do you see what I see?
In the category of things that I almost can't believe I'm writing about, you can include this essay and all the others that I expect will follow from it: Satanism and the attendant myth of the Illuminati as portrayed in popular culture. There are a number of reasons that this has come to pass, but I think the chief among them is that after deciding to leave the exclusive and limited Satanic paradigm offered by the Church of Satan, I've had to redefine for myself and according to my own terms what I believe Satanism to be, and -- in the final calculation -- if that's a concept I still want to include in my life.

But in the final calculation, I favor the liberty of heterodoxy, value antagonism for its ability to stimulate progress, reject belief in things unseen, celebrate the pleasures of the flesh, seek worldly fulfillment, and shun neo-Platonism, so I think that whatever external configuration it takes, the internal essence of Satanism will be with me forever. And since the internal essence is what's most important to me, this leaves a lot of room to find the external configuration that's most satisfying for me personally.

Satanism being a religion of the individual, then, it follows that -- in line with what I believe to be the internal essence of Satanism (heterodoxy, antagonism, atheism, sex- and body-positivity, hedonism, and materialism) -- the external configuration of Satanism is dependent on the individual's chosen interests and preferred aesthetics. Because I am the sort of person who values an open world, easy access to information, a non-partisan society, and international cooperation, there are certain things which have appealed to me including the stimulating fantasies of Tarot and numerology, but also the pursuit of an international auxiliary language to enhance communication people without regard for national origin. Naturally, it also follows that some aesthetic choices have appealed to me more than others, namely the myth of the Tower of Babylon, the archetype of the all-seeing eye, and the modern conspiracy of the Illuminati.

Before I continue, I feel compelled to say that I do not believe in the literal existence of the Illuminati, but I do believe in the Illuminati in the same way that I believe in Satan as a productive and meaningful way to talk about how I understand myself, other people, the world, and how myself and other people exist in the world. The nonsense conspiracies about global pedophile cults, child sacrifice, lizard people, Nazis living on the dark side of the moon, and coded messages predicting 9/11 are the height of tin-foil hattery and not worth discussing in detail... I mean, it doesn't matter how deep you dig into a pile of shit, because at the bottom of the pile it's still just shit.

I'm also not drawing on the factual history of the Illuminati, which was originally styled as a fraternal organization and Masonic lodge for wealthy men. While the history of that organization has been stretched over the years to the point of lunacy, the fully known and well-documented history of that organization is much less interesting. You can consult Le Google if you really want to know, but short of it is that the organization collapsed as a result of arguments over authority, disappointments over the quantity and quality of content offered to members, political infighting with other Masonic lodges, and ultimately the cost to participate as well as lack of funds to perpetuate the order. For a group of people allegedly bent on world domination, you'd think that managing a Masonic lodge would be an easy task?

Where was I? ... So, having said that, I believe that popular culture has a way of synthesizing and recontextualizing past and present history with the dominant myths and stories which shape and influence cultural awareness, which at the very least in North America is the Bible and all the Christian trappings that go along with it. For these reasons, I sympathize with Michael Aquino who founded the Temple of Set and his decision to roll the clock back to an earlier myth which predated the Bible because in this way he was able to step outside the Christian frame in which Anton LaVey's Church of Satan was conceived. I understand why Aquino made that decision, but for me that ancient Egyptian frame of reference doesn't work because it's too foreign to my contemporary experience. So many Satanists say, "Satanism is a tool to be used by the individual," and so say I, the tool should be relevant to the circumstances. And while I completely understand how it is that many Satanists prefer to define themselves by what they are instead of by what they oppose, I think not only that context is important but also that this kind of thinking can contribute to the mistaken belief that it's possible for the individual to exist within the community yet not be a member of, or be influenced by, the community.

So for these reasons, I look close to home for the external configuration that satisfies my personal aesthetic. A paradox that's emerged within my personal aesthetic is that while I'm in favor of an open world without borders and hope to see the achievement of an internationally-recognized auxiliary language -- hence my affinity for the myth of the Tower of Babylon and its one-world language -- I dislike adopting or fetishizing other cultures. Not because I think it's necessarily wrong to do so, but because it feels foreign and inauthentic to me. A great example of this is LaVey's invocation of the crown princes of Hell: Lucifer, Satan, Leviathan, and Belial. I understand that he probably chose these names because they're straight out of The Book of Abramelin, but I've never had an interest in the historically accurate and culturally relevant mythology of demons. Lucifer, Leviathan, and Belial are all names which come with their own historical and cultural baggage which I just can't be bothered to care about, and since I'm not willing to put in the effort to claim these names as part of my religious practice, I'm not going to use them.

Likewise, though I've been exposed to all manner of occultism over the past 20 years, I just can't find within myself a spark of interest for some of them. For example, kabbalah. You'd think that me being a Tarot reader I'd be knee-deep into kabbalah, but you'd be wrong because no matter how much kabbalah has influenced modern Tarot (for sake of argument that being Tarot from the 1800's and on, versus other ancient Tarot systems dating to the 1500's) by way of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and others who have made use of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and weaving the 22 trumps into the kabbalistic tree of life, I just don't feel like I can relax into and fully integrate something that seems so foreign. Or, consider Norse runes: I've known more Tarot readers than I can remember who practiced both Tarot and runes, and while I can't think of any reason why the two systems can't work together, I've never been able to summon an affinity for casting runes because the divinatory meaning of the runes is tightly bundled into Norse mythology and folklore. I've got nothing against Norse mythology and folklore, but it just doesn't feel relevant to me because the meaning of the runes developed over a time and in a place that holds no personal or cultural meaning to me. Whether because I don't care to invest the necessary time and effort to learn their roots, or because they hold no personal or cultural relevance to me, there are some things I don't use because my use of them feels at best disingenuous and at worst meaningless. For these reasons, when considering what I bring into my religious practice, I've become accustomed to picking only things which I thoroughly understand and which are a part of my own, native cultural tableau...

.. and yes, that opens a whole 'nother door into a discussion about cultural appropriation, how ideas are transmitted between cultures, and what I mean when I say "native," but the core principle I try to observe is whether I'm reaching beyond my knowledge and, consequently, whether I'm trying to force a square peg into a round hole. This is why I've come to really appreciate the pop-culture conception and representations of Satanism especially through the contemporary myth of the Illuminati (which of course is obedient to Satan.) This appeals to me because the names of Leviathan and Belial are too foreign to me to hold resonance, and Lucifer is too closely associated with both the Biblical conception of Lucifer as well as the new religious movement of Luciferianism. Satan, meanwhile, has been so thoroughly digested by the culture in which I live, and is so closely associated with generic archetypes of the supreme Devil, that it feels like a native myth to me.

As for the contemporary myth of the Illuminati, I reject the insane conspiracy theories associated with its name as well as the scam artists who attempt to sell memberships to desperate people, but it has so thoroughly filtered into popular culture and especially popular music -- and is so closely associated with the heterodoxy, antagonism, blasphemy, atheism, sex and sexuality, money, and personal power of modern Satanism -- that it fits like a glove... you might even say, a crimson, velvet, left-handed glove?

The contemporary myth of the Illuminati is frequently invoked in the same breath as the myth of the Tower of Babylon, which is also used as a stand-in among conspiracy theorists as the alleged evil of human pride, material wealth, and the emergence of a "new world order." The so-called new, world order is also frequently referred to in popular culture as "Babylon," and is a catch-all for everything that isn't part of Christendom. See how the pieces are coming together? While all self-respecting Satanists seem to have prejudicially shunned the contemporary myths of the Illuminati and Babylon, what I've observed is that popular culture has almost without anybody's notice created a living Satanic canon ripe for exploitation by forward-thinking Satanists.
This is the first of a continuing series. For all entries, see Babylon Rising.