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.

July 06, 2018

Reading for the Wrong Audience

Am I speaking to the right audience?
Of the courses I took in college, the ones I enjoyed the most were public speaking and persuasive writing, and among the most important lessons I took away from those courses is not only the importance of understanding to a select audience, but also of understanding when another presenter is speaking for a specific audience (and whether or not I'm a member of that audience.) My choice of vocabulary, the way that I frame an subject, and how I position myself will change radically depending on whether I'm speaking for a general or specific audience. If I'm speaking or writing for a general audience, then I'll use high-frequency words or concepts, assume the audience has little to no prior knowledge of the subject, and avoid niche terminology. Conversely, if I'm speaking to a select audience that's familiar with the subject, then I can move deeper into a niche, use terminology known to the audience to save time, and use particular concepts or phrases which hold special meaning.

A perfect example of this is a real gem of an essay written by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in which he's speaking to a Jewish audience and warning them against practicing Tarot which has recently gained in popularity. Now, when I call this essay a "gem" it's not because it's simply marvelous, but because it's like the perfect storm of bad jokes: "Did you hear the one about a rabbi, conspiracy theorist, and idiot who walked into a bar? He hit his head." This essay is just delightful because Adam manages to not only demonstrate how to speak to a select audience, but while doing so he also manages to invoke I think every stereotype about Tarot and Tarot readers that I can name.

Adam's essay opens with an appeal to authority by citing Leviticus 19:26, and you might be uncertain whether he thinks that this prohibition against fortune-telling applies only to people who care about Hebraic law, but his opening paragraph makes it pretty clear that he thinks it's a universal law for all people everywhere because it's part of "setting the stage for the Messianic showdown [between] Good and Evil [which are] clearly defined." Right off the bat, Adam's drawing lines in the sand and wants you to know that he's only speaking to the better half... which of course is also his half.

Another way that Adam shows he's speaking to a select audience is in his explanation for why fortune-telling is evil: the Torah says so. Do you get the circular reasoning of his primary argument? Fortune-telling is evil because the Torah says that fortune-telling is evil because the Torah says that fortune-telling is evil. Boy, it's tiresome running around in circles like this, but it's an instructive exercise if only because it reveals that Adam is speaking to people who respond to appeals to authority -- an argumentative fallacy, but why let logic get in the way?

When Adam can bother to stretch for a better explanation about why fortune-telling is evil, he pulls out that old chestnut about how fortune-telling is "anti-divine" and is presumed to side-step the will of God. Now, let it be said that fortune-telling need not be "anti-divine" so long as the practitioner doesn't attempt to question or interrogate God (that privilege is given to another.) If the practitioner wants to ask about mundane stuff, go ahead!, but piercing the veil and trying to claim supreme knowledge? That's so Satanic, don'ch'know. But then, if Adam is that kind of Jew who believes that attempting to gain any knowledge before God sees damned well fit to reveal it to you -- or to do anything at all that side-steps the authority of the priesthood (or denies them their Godly subscription fees) -- well, I guess there's no getting around that now, is there? Apparently, fortune-telling's is perceived as a threat by entrenched priesthoods who fear that a deck of cards would supplant their divine authority, and is for this reason "considered one of the more egregious forms of evil," although I could think of one worse

This bit of hand-wringing leads into a whingey bit of pearl-clutching about how fortune-tellers -- who of course must also be witches, though I've met several witches who had no interest in fortune-telling -- are replacing God with "self" -- a sentiment with which I can agree, but which is not shared among all fortune-tellers (some of whom are devotional polytheists) -- and jumping from A to C without any mention of B this consequently equates to idolatry, because... of course it does?

See, this is something that just seems silly to anybody outside of Adam's intended audience, but to people inside his audience it's understood that anybody or anything which diminishes reverence for God (plus His priesthood, of course) is identical to idolatry because it lessens "value" given to God and increases "value" given to somebody or something else. Incidentally, this is the same line of reasoning when (usually) teenagers are accused of idolatry for plastering their bedroom walls with posters of Justin Bieber (peace be upon him, amirite?) The trouble with this line of reasoning, though, is that if taking pleasure from anything worldly equates idolatry, then absolutely anything "worldly" -- food, clothing, music, money, sexual desire, absolutely anything at all -- is a pathway to idolatry, godlessness, atheism, and Satanism...

... yes, Satanism. Of course Adam went there, because in his mind and apparently in the mind of his audience which he wants to agree with him, questioning God is a slippery slope that leads to atheism, and anything outside the God-box must by default by the Satan-box because as he stated at the opening of his essay, "Good and Evil" are "clearly defined." Adam might find this difficult to believe, but there are a lot of atheists who think that atheistic Satanism is dumber than a box of rocks, atheistic Satanists who think that humanistic atheism doesn't go far enough, and Satanists who do in fact believe in a literal Satan. But then, these are nuances which don't matter to Adam because he's not speaking to a general audience that has no vested interest in the authority of the Torah, but a select audience of Jews who evidently need to be told that they're still not allowed to play cards in their free time. 

Adam apparently isn't one to slide half-way down a slippery slope when he can dive straight to the bottom, so naturally he followed his downward trajectory into predictions of immanent anarchy, the plot of the "Avengers: Infinity War", the danger of women governing their own bodily functions, and the despair of "non-productive relationships," all of which sound like unfounded fears to me, but again, Adam isn't speaking to me: he's speaking to an audience of culturally and politically conservative Jews -- hence all the references to Donald Trump -- who care about the perpetuating authority, strictly enforcing civil law to keep nations in their place, strictly enforcing religious law to keep marriages in their place, and strictly enforcing cultural mores to ensure that fucking is only done by married people and only for the purpose of producing more children who will follow the rules... because, authority.

I'm going to gloss over his implied assertion that without strict laws people would just be wild, murderous, rapey assholes -- because as all good religionists know, it's impossible to be good without God! -- because one way or another, the primary argument to which Adam keeps returning is that individual people can't be trusted with the authority to manage their own lives. This argument is emphasized when Adam quotes a Rabbi who says that "Satanism --" remember, kids: for Adam's audience, anything outside the God-box must by default be inside the Satan-box -- "is explicitly a power struggle." So naturally, if Satan and all the people inside the Satan-box are pulling one side of the rope, then of course Adam and all the other true believers in the God-box are pulling the other side of the rope. See how that works? Adam's just a big flatterer who likes giving ego-strokes to his audience. I mean, he has to give them ego-strokes because by this point he's taken away everything else including their choice to enjoy worldly pleasures and even manage their own bodily functions.

You'd think that Adam's fantastical claims about the return of the messiah, the clear differences between Good and Evil, the dangers of idolatry, and the New World Order -- because of course he had to throw a bone to his conspiracy-minded readers -- would have evolved since the early 90's, but he seems to have maintained his own private supply of Satanic Panic-era Kool Aid. The final third of his essay predictably devolves into calling former US President Obama a tool of the Devil and current US President Donald Trump a messenger of God, because these days it's not enough for opposing politicians to be just be wrong -- instead, they've got to be an a fatal enemy deserving of death and eternal damnation.

And while I think that kind of Us-vs-Them, Good-vs-Evil, Life-or-Death struggles as hyperbole unfit for rational discussion, Adam's not talking to me. No, you see: Adam is speaking either to an audience that lives within his cultural or religious paradigm and whom he thinks need to be reminded about the way things really are, or an audience who believes as does Adam and wants to reminded not only that they're not alone but also that their contempt for people who feel differently is fully justified. 

But you know what else is justified? Sharing a message with my audience that you'll understand but he won't:

July 01, 2018

July 2018: Distrust & Disenchantment

This announcement has been a little while coming, but I wanted to be completely sure before I posted it: the spinal cord tumor I discussed earlier this year has to my great relief turned out to be nothing at all, and all the symptoms I was experiencing have mysteriously but thankfully vanished. According to my neurosurgeon, the mass inside my spinal cord remained unchanged during the six months between two MRI's, and he believes that it's probably only a build-up of spinal cord fluid that's doing absolutely nothing at all. The consensus right now is that the shooting pain down my arms, the numbness in my hands and fingers, and the weakness in my grip was a combination of generalized anxiety and psychosomatic suggestion. You don't even know how relieved I am that this whole ordeal turned out to be a cloud of smoke, but you what else you don't even know? How disappointed I am that this whole ordeal has shaken my trust in physicians generally.

You see, this whole story began over two years ago when shortly after I received a vasectomy I started experiencing post-vasectomy pain syndrome (TL/DR: chronic man-pain.) My wife is deeply skeptical of doctors and medicine generally, so if it were up to her I would have grilled my urologist like the TV stereotype of a cigarette-smoking police detective, but me being who I am I tend to trust doctors. My habit of trusting doctors is part of my habit generally of accepting the expertise of people more accomplished than I am and this is owing to the time I spent in the Marine Corps where I was taught the importance of compartmentalization. If this is your first time hearing that word, think about it like this: A team is composed of individuals, each of which exists in his or her own compartment. Each individual is responsible for managing his or her own compartment, and need not concern him or herself with what's happening in the other compartments. Instead, the individual must learn to trust that every other team member is doing what he or she must do to manage his or her own compartment, and together -- with the whole team working together in their individual compartments -- the whole team succeeds.

In a military sense, this is a matter of trusting in one's teammates and choosing to believe that the rest of the team is going to work toward the chosen objective, but in a general sense this means that, in the words of the paranoid conspiracy theorists, I don't have to "do your own research!" I can trust that if I did my own research, I would be drawing from the same body of knowledge that informed the knowledge of my physician. "Do your own research!," they say? Well, I could do a Google search... or maybe read some books... or maybe take some continuing education classes at the local college... or maybe go for a degree in chemistry or biology... or maybe go to university for pre-med... or maybe get licensed as a nurse practitioner... or maybe become a physician... or perhaps even eventually become an advanced medical specialist?

Or, maybe I could just trust in the knowledge and competence of my physician who already did all those things.

You know, whatever.

So the way I see it, when I'm already stressed out and either sick or injured, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to additionally exhaust and stress myself by poring over a potentially infinite number of Internet search results for days or weeks on end when I can let my physician do the job for which he or she has already been educated, trained, reviewed, and approved to do. It isn't that I don't want to be informed, or that I prefer to be ignorant of the possible risks and outcomes of a treatment, therapy, or surgery -- because I don't -- I just don't think it's productive for me to neglect the compartment of my own life including my marriage and my family just so I can take over the compartment already being handled by my physician.

This sort of compartmentalization works very well for me in many spheres of my life, but unfortunately it isn't a perfect life strategy because it only works when the other compartments on which I depend are occupied by people who give a shit. In this example, the urologist who was treating me spent a year and a half either prescribing the medical equivalent of M&M's to treat my post-vasectomy pain syndrome, or else referring me to other professionals who in turn couldn't help me and kept referring me back to him. It all came to a head when about 18 months after the vasectomy he sent me for an MRI. It was during this first MRI that the spinal cord tumor was found, and my urologist grabbed onto that like a grifter to an audience of Evangelical end-timers. 

In hindsight, I should have known that he was playing me because he's a urologist -- not a neurologist -- and he was weaving an elaborate story about the grave seriousness of this very rare and very dangerous tumor in my spinal cord that's pushing on my nerves and referring pain throughout my whole body. What responsible doctor speaks so authoritatively outside his or her field of expertise? Owing to my deference to experts and professionals, my urologist's insistence on a neurological cause for my symptoms, and the sum stress of the ordeal, my mind appears to have created and sustained a purely psychosomatic bogeyman to match my perceived reality.

This whole ordeal has on the one hand been a really fascinating, first-hand experience to the power of suggestion and the phenomenon of psychosomatic illness, but it's also been a disappointing and depressing experience because it's made it very difficult for me to maintain my strategy of compartmentalization. Living life through compartmentalization is like building a boat with bulkheads: even if one bulkhead fails, the others will remain airtight and keep the ship well above water. But having said that, being played by a doctor who in the final calculation was so obviously doing anything he could to keep me out of his office and refer me to any other professional whom he thought would take over my care is the kind of failure that breaches multiple compartments.

All of which is a really long way of saying that the past two years and change have been a personalized object lesson in the importance of limiting the degree to which I allow any authority to influence my judgement and perception. If you're a cynical sort, you might think that I'm whining that there's nobody to tell me what to think or do, but you'd be wrong. I mean, consider all the ways that you who read this have off-loaded numerous other decisions and jobs onto other people. You might think I'm silly for having trusted doctors the way that I have, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that you do the same in at least two other compartments of your own life. Whether it's your spouse, your employer, your elected representatives fact-checking services, or any of a number of other people or things I could name, I'm dead sure that there are times when you reject the exhaustion and delay of critical analysis in favor of the ease and speed of confident trust.

As a Satanist, I value doubt, skepticism, criticism, and analysis. As a Satanist, I think that nothing should be left unquestioned, and I agree with Socrates when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living. To leave anything or anybody unquestioned and unexamined is to allow the least desirable aspects therein to at best perpetuate and at worst to proliferate. But then, as a Satanist, I also value pleasure, happiness, indulgence, and relaxation. I don't know about you, but for me I find these two poles difficult to balance if only because the left-ward pole tends to point out the fly in the ointment that is the right-ward pole and which, once seen, is impossible to ignore and thus becomes difficult to further enjoy.

In the same way that I've been robbed -- or robbed myself? -- of the ability to fully trust my physicians, I feel that I've also been robbed -- or robbed myself? -- of the ability to fully relax into Satanism. This kind of distrust in people and institutions that I previously believed was well-placed and well-chosen owing to the perceived accomplishments, authority, and other qualifying bona fides feels a lot like disenchantment. I can't call back to me the figurative magic that allowed me the luxury of having to not dissect and examine multiple compartments within the totality of my self -- or likewise, within the totality of my life.

In terms of Satanism, this phenomenon of breached compartments -- the causes for which I've already discussed at length (1, 2, 3, 4) -- is starting to feel a lot like the internal development of a post-Satanic personal paradigm in which I've internalized multiple elements of Satanism but no longer feel drawn to participate in Satanism itself or identify as a Satanist myself. Considering how heavily the Church of Satan seems to emphasize post-Satanism ("true" Satanists aren't easily identified; "de facto" Satanists; "true" Satanism is defined by worldly success; etc.), and given that I was initiated into Satanism through the canon literature of the Church of Satan, this trajectory isn't surprising to me, but to experience it myself does feel disappointing and disenchanting if only because the whole thing feels a lot like unnecessary trouble and wasted time. Well, maybe not wasted time: I like myself and who I am, and I possibly would not have reached this point if not for the influence of the Church of Satan -- being influenced by both its success and its failures.

All the same, I still feel the sharp temptation to discard the distrust and disenchantment I've accumulated if doing so would return to me the pleasure and satisfaction I enjoyed in my previously intact compartment, but such a temptation is one that I'm neither able nor willing to indulge. Even though my broken compartment often feels dull and empty, I'm not going to repair the breach with willful ignorance or fill my compartment with fool's gold. It's depressing to watch compartments collapse because the people or institutions whose word I trusted turned out to be a fantasy unequal to the reality which they claimed to represent.

It's my preference when I write to persuade my audience toward a particular opinion or outcome, or to conclude each essay with some kind of solution, but I don't honestly know what the most adequate conclusion to this essay really is. If you've got any ideas, then throw them into the comment section below.

June 21, 2018

I refuse to be your savior.

life of bryan messiah naughty boy

Among the things that irritate me more than anything else as a Tarot reader is when other people choose to not believe me when I tell them who I am, and then in their willful ignorance become angry at me for not playing their preferred role. Don't get me wrong -- exploiting the role demanded of me by people who literally refuse to know any better has its advantages, and that was more or less the first rule of show-business when I was working full-time as a Tarot reader and servicing clients for hours every day. The rule that "The customer is always right!" is never truer than when performing as a Tarot reader, but that kind of show-business can only be sustained for so long before the routine becomes exhausting and the patience for playing other people's roles (and wearing other people's masks) becomes more trouble than it's worth.

The role that I've learned to hate more than any other is that of the savior. If I were a less self-aware person with less foresight, then the role of the savior is an ego-trap which might have caught me, but the trouble with pretending to be a savior is that it always ends badly for the savior. I mean, just look at Jesus Christ: the poor fucker got crucified and probably died from a combination of dehydration and asphyxiation. That's pretty god-damned awful. 

The other reason that I detest playing the savior more than any other role is because quite often this is a role put upon me without my consent to the performance, and there is no better example of this than the phone call I received this week. Phone rings, and it's a guy looking for a psychic reader. Because of my experience with person to person sales, I'll always pre-screen clients over the telephone in order to prepare them for the "ask" when they arrive in person. Pro tip, folks: If you don't prepare customers for what's expected of them during a sales presentation and eliminate obstacles before the close, then you're creating additional obstacles that will only deny the close. 

What was I saying? That's right: guy on the telephone wants a psychic reader. I've got a memorized sales script that I use to help screen clients, get them to invite friends, and shuffle them along the sales funnel, but this guy wasn't interested in playing ball because, and here's another pro-tip, the person who asks the questions controls the conversation. It's an immediate red flag that I'm dealing with a problem client when the other person won't let me lead the conversation. In the case of Telephone Man, he wouldn't even answer a simple question like, "Who am I speaking with?" 




Instead of giving me the basic decency of just sharing his name, he flew straight into a dramatic monologue about how three other readers had told him that he was going to win the lottery this month, and that his parents died but left all the money to his siblings and he needs to know which lawyer will help him get his part of the inheritance: "But the lottery is what I really need to know about... I really need that money to come through for me because I've had just such a hard time this year... and my dog is sick too, so I really need that money to get her the treatment she needs... And I wouldn't even be in this situation if it weren't for my sister... she's done me wrong, and I really need that lottery money to come through for me this month."

After about five minutes into the conversation and having realized from his decision to not respond to any of my questions and instead just launch into his own dialogue -- which, if you want to know, is exactly what happens in every American presidential debate -- I was starting to lose patience. When he paused to catch his breath, I interrupted him to explain that there's nothing I can do to help him win the lottery or resolve his legal complaints. But what do I know? I'm only me, and he helpfully proceeded to tell me again how badly he needed this lottery money and to get back on his sister. 

I let him go for another 30 seconds in case he was just wrapping up his final comments, but it became evident that he believed that not only if I read his cards he would be guaranteed a favorable prediction, but also that the very act of producing a favorable prediction would equate to causation and guarantee him the outcomes he desired. Since he wasn't getting the picture, I interrupted him and no shit kids, this is verbatim what I said: "I cannot help you win the lottery. I cannot help you with your legal concerns. I cannot help you with any of this. I cannot help you."

You might think that at this point he would realize that I just wasn't the Tarot reader for him, but instead of believing me when I told him who I am, he became angry. Can you believe it? He became angry with me because he believed that I was capable of doing the things he wanted, but was refusing to help him because I just didn't like him. He launched into some choice accusations, and almost made me laugh when he said, "What are you, dark-sided?," but his attempt to guilt me into helping him wasn't a reflection of my actual self, but of his paradigm that all Tarot readers are sainted prophets obligated to provide service to the needy and I'm supposed to be some kind of parallel to a Christian priest who lives to serve and minster to the unfortunate. In his mind, I'm a savior who's obligated to help him and I don't even get to have a say in the matter.

Once he revealed himself to be the psychic vampire that he is, I cut him off and said, "It's been great talking, but I'm going to hang up now. Good-bye." He must not have liked that very much, because he called back about five minutes later -- presumably after rage-fapping about it Facebook -- to tell me, "You need help, and there's nothing I can do to help you," before quickly hanging up. You might think that this was just awful, terrible, my goodness so nasty, but truthfully I thought it was a good laugh. I was also glad that I got rid of that guy before he ever showed up on my doorstep, because if this is how he treats his saviors when they disappoint him over the course of a single phone-call, how do you think he'd treat a savior after the course of several months when it becomes evident that I couldn't through the act of reading his cards conjure his desired is-to-be? Do you think that he'd thank me for playing the role he demanded of me by just telling me off? Or do you suppose that he might throw a brick through my window, slash my tires, or spray-paint my place of business?

See, that's the problem with being a savior: sooner or later, your audience will crucify you.

I refuse to be your savior.

June 13, 2018

Initiation, the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, and You

digital theft pirate piracy
You're a spoiled brat.
via Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
For better and for worse, the information age and the advent of the Internet have totally -- and probably irreversibly -- changed the world in which we live. There are many luxuries that I enjoy, not the least of which is the ability for me to share my thoughts here on my blog, but more generally the ability to by-pass jealous gatekeepers and seek out whatsoever knowledge and information I desire. I will be the first to tell you that if not for the Internet I wouldn't be as accomplished or successful of a Tarot reader (or as insufferable of a Satanist?) as I am today.

The Internet has surely also been a big help for the occult community as well as practitioners and scholars of new and marginalized religions. But you know, the Internet gives with one hand and takes with the other. I myself don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing, but in terms of the occult community one of the things that's been taken is formal initiations. Me being who I am, I think that in practice initiations are largely unnecessary and only a means for vested interests to selfishly and sometimes counter-productively decide who gets to join the inner circle, but me being who I am, I also think that initiations are meaningful and capable of validating experience.

Fortunately or unfortunately -- depending on your viewpoint -- the Internet has by and large eliminated the power of gatekeepers and neutered the power of formal initiations to control an initiate's access to information (as well as manage the risk of the initiate stealing the information.) This has led to a broader occult community -- if such a thing can even be defined? -- in which formal initiations are the exception and not the rule, and like it or not but each individual is in almost all circumstances now responsible for initiating him or herself into the mysteries of his or her school of thought. 

Whether this process of self-initiation is overt and ritually performed, or whether it's largely unobserved and unrecognized, I believe that the end result of initiation (formal or informal) is the confidence and competence of the initiate. In formal initiations, whether or not a fee is explicitly paid, there is always an expression of gratitude, respect, recognition, and praise given to the master who made the initiate's ascension possible. But in self-initiations, where is this principle of reciprocity? Has the initiate consumed the knowledge of the master and figuratively kowtowed before him or her who deserves it? Or did the initiate consume the knowledge of the master and not even bother to credit the master for his or her contributions?

To give you an idea why this matters to me, I want to talk about a legal doctrine called the fruit of the poisonous tree which basically states that evidence illegally obtained cannot be used against the defendant. The way I see it, when an initiate is formally or self recognized, the defining principle at play is whether or not the initiate compensates the master in the manner specified by the master. I believe that when an initiate chooses to not recognize the master, this is the same as the fruit of the poisonous tree, and until such time as the initiate pays the immaterial or material price, the initiate's lineage is poisoned and should not be considered valid.

So what, then, does initiation cost? Well, it depends on the master.

If the master in question is another person offering formal initiation, then this may resemble the initiatory structure of a Wiccan coven which requires aspirants to spend a year and a day studying and practicing with the coven's leadership before being welcomed into the mysteries. Although I'm surely no scholar of Wicca, I'm pretty confident in saying that covens typically don't charge fees or even collect tithes of any kind except to cover incidental expenses. Wicca as a religion and Wiccans as people tend to have a sour attitude about money as a precondition for anything, so consequently the price of initiation is measured in terms of consistent participation and the aspirant's willingness to be respectful to him, her, or them showing the way.

It could also resemble the initiatory structure of the Freemasons in which aspirants are required to pay an initiation fee plus annual dues. Given the Freemasons' history of being an exclusive club for rich men, it's no surprise that this tradition continues to the present day, but then how else will the Freemasons keep their lodges standing if not for the dues paid by those initiated into their mysteries? Even if the Freemasons are using very nearly all of the money they collect for charitable purposes, and even if today the price of initiation has a mysterious way of changing relative to the aspirant's wealth and social station, there's still a price tag involved. It's understood among the Freemasons that although spiritual or intellectual devotion to the literature is important, initiates are also required to demonstrate their commitment to the figurative master through money.

It could also resemble the initiatory structure of a Reiki instructor who's willing to teach a two-day crash-course in the mysteries of spirit and "energy" manipulation: all the initiate need do is sign up for the course, pay the specified fee, and it's showtime, baby! In this case, the literal master is willing to impart all the necessary knowledge including a lineage noting every instructor who came before back to the first master -- although nobody can explain who initiated the first master? -- and the new initiate can now show his or her bona fides to anybody who asks.

The important thing to remember is that in all three of the above examples, the initiate figuratively or literally compensates the instructor. Whether it's respect and recognition, or good, old-fashioned money, the aspirant accepts that the "master" (whatever form he or she takes) was necessary for his or her initiation and in one way or another thanks, recognizes, praises, or even pays the master. That is the price for a formal initiation.

But what about self-initiation? In this example, the aspirant guides him or herself toward initiation through the study and application of the works of the master, and for many aspirants this usually means reading lots of books. As for the literal or figurative price of self-initiation, this largely depends on the master in question. 

If the master is long dead and gone, and especially his or her work can be considered part of the public domain, then the price is figurative and requires only that the student devote him or herself to really understanding the work of the master and give credit to the master for the knowledge consumed (instead of intellectually plagiarizing the work of the master and pretending that he or she has just always known these things.) Perhaps the work in question is still being published and may be purchased in a store? Or maybe the work long went out of publication and now exist only in digital format in the furthest recesses of the Internet? I accept that as a result of the passage of years, the widespread accumulation of initiates, or falling into obscurity that a time or circumstance may come when a master can no longer claim his or her work as his or her own exclusively.

Speaking for myself, I prefer books I can touch and hold, but I accept that in the example of books which have been digitized or which are borrowed from a public library (or another person who already paid the material cost of the book) that the aspirant may offer no material payment since there is no longer any master to benefit from such payment, or the knowledge of the master is so widespread as to make material payment irrelevant. In this case, the cost of initiation is figurative and looks like a strong degree of intellectual honesty on the part of the initiate to acknowledge and to speak fairly of the source of his or her knowledge. 

Or, if the master is alive and well, then the price for initiation is to access the work in question according to the master's preferences for how that work should be accessed. If the master has offered his or her book for commercial publication, then the price is quite literal and the aspirant should pay the specified price. If the master has offered the book free of charge, then the price is figurative and requires that the aspirant should give credit to the master for his her creation and not deceive others as to whence came the knowledge.

Do you get what I'm saying? Whether the book is exists in physical or digital form is unimportant. What matters is the preference of the master who created the work so desired by the aspirant.

There are opponents to the monetization of knowledge, and at least in terms of the writing produced by academics and scholars whose work is supported by public research grants, or who are employed by institutions of higher education, I agree with them. When the work of a master is only possible through the financial underwriting of the public, then the public has a right to access to fruit of that tree. But when the master in question is an author who financially supports him or herself (or his or her family) through his or her work, then not paying the literal price of initiation is equivalent to theft.

If you know damn well that the author of a work is alive and well, and intended his or her work to be accessed only on the condition of monetary compensation, then the aspirant who chooses to consume his or her work through an unlicensed digital source or download is a thief whose desired lineage is a poisonous tree that will never be clean until he or she satisfies the demands of the master. The price of self-initiation is to satisfy the conditions set by the master, and if the master has specified the price of initiation to be paying for the book, then the aspirant should just fucking pay for the god-damned book already.

"But James," I can hear you say, "What about masters who charge a price so high that nobody can benefit from their work? If nobody can afford to read their work, then the work will disappear into the sands of time, and there'll be nothing to inspire the future generations. We have a moral obligation to pirate authors' work!"

I'm going to skip over the suggestion that people are too stupid to think for themselves because I'd rather discuss the apologetic that without the efforts of thieves to digitize and disseminate an infinite number of stolen books that the work of the master might be lost forever. To that I say, So what? How do you know the intentions of the master who created the work? There are people who might find this difficult to believe, but there are still some masters who are elitists and who don't want their books given to the masses. "Pearls before swine," they say, and though I can't really know sure if this is so, I would bet any amount of money that there are masters who would rather their work faded into obscurity than be rendered as disgusting slop for indiscriminate and inconsiderate consumers. Or, if a master is insufficiently enlightened that he or she suffers counter-productive pride and prices him or herself into oblivion, that's his or her own consequence to endure and should serve as a lesson to other masters as to what literal or figurative price their initiates must pay.

All of which is a very long way of saying that I think it's the absolute worst kind of hypocrisy for an aspirant to claim that the work of a master is so sufficiently valuable that he or she is entitled to have it for free no matter the preference of the master, but that the same work of the same master is also so insufficiently valuable that the aspirant shouldn't be obligated to pay anything for the privilege of consuming it.

If you are such an aspirant who thinks that you can initiate yourself into the mysteries of an admired author without paying the specified price for initiation, then by all means you go ahead and do what you think is right. I have neither the time nor the means to evaluate your initiation, and so long as you never confess to your thievery then I'll never know one way or the other how you came by your knowledge and competence in your chosen interests. But if you open your mouth and tell me about all the fruit you ate from the poisonous tree, then you can be sure I'll tell you that you're unworthy of the knowledge you claim to revere. No matter what else you prove with your words, you have proven by your actions that you believe the fruit of your master is worthless, and in my eyes so are you.

June 08, 2018

Reverse Tarot Reading: Do you look into the Tarot, or does it look into you?

satanic tarot and satanism

I'm going to preface this blog entry by saying that this approach may not be unusual for anybody else, but me being the reader that I am and the way that I approach a reading, this for me is the exception, not the norm. Having said that, one of the rules that I observe in reading cards is that the cards themselves are the flesh of a reading, but a specific arrangement is the skeleton which gives shape to the flesh. Absent a skeletal arrangement, the flesh is no more than a loose, undefined bag of potential. For example, I'm the kind of reader who very nearly always uses set or improvised arrangements which specify, "This card represents the past; this card represents the subject of the reading; this card represents the obstacle," and so on. This is how I was taught to read Tarot, and it's worked so well for me over the past 15+ years that I've never been convinced of a reason to change it.

But having said that, I do on occasion when I'm reading for myself like to take a more contemplative approach to the cards where I have less control over the process and also less ability to predetermine the kind of answers I expect to find in a reading. On such an occasion, I'll use something that I call a reverse Tarot reading in which I lay out cards for the past, present, and future, but not a single card for anything else. For me, this kind of arrangement breaks what is perhaps my preeminent rule that every reading must have a primary anchor card to represent the subject of the reading. There are readers who don't use anchor cards -- they probably call it a "significator card" -- but I think they should because the anchor card represents the subject of the reading, whereas all the other cards on the table are at best representative only of extended aspects of the subject, and at worst the territory through which the subject is travelling. Without an anchor card, the reference cards are orphaned planets without a star around which to orbit. But in a reverse Tarot reading, absent a specified anchor, my perspective within the reading is free to change depending on what among the total number of cards on the table is most important to me. 

So to give you an idea how this works, remember that of course each individual card in the Tarot deck means something. Some are representative of health, money, or power; others are representative of the self, passion, or perspective. And so on and so on, to the conclusion that instead of stating a question ("What will my finances look like in the coming month?") and then drawing cards to fit my query, I draw cards and then let them tell me the things which I may ask based on what is present. So for example, I myself may be concerned about my finances, but if none of the nine cards present in this arrangement indicate money, then finances aren't up for discussion. 

But if there is any of the nine cards present in the arrangement which indicate money, then each in turn is used as my anchor card and read in pair with every other card on the table as a point of reference. Additionally, because each position in this arrangement indicates not a person, situation, or thing but a point in time, then I must consider not only when this money did appear, is appearing, or will appear, but how it allied, neutral, or opposed to other points of reference within my past, present, or future.

You might think that just nine cards on the table isn't a big deal, but when you select one card as the anchor and then read it reference to the other 8 cards present, this is not a matter of interpreting nine cards on the table, but of evaluating 36 different two-card combinations (which ends up feeling a lot more like a 72-card arrangement than a nine-card arrangement, but who's counting?)

So to give you an example how this works, let's go over a few rules for this arrangement:
  • There is one position for the distant past.
  • There are two separate positions for the recent past.
  • There are three separate positions for the present.
  • There are two separate positions for the near future.
  • There is one position for the distant future.
  • Don't pose questions to the cards. Instead, look at the meaning presented by each card to see what you're allowed to discuss in the reading.
  • When you find something that you want to discuss, no matter where in time this card is present, it becomes your anchor card against which all other cards are measured.
  • One by one, read your anchor card paired with a reference card to see how it is supported, is antagonized, supports, or antagonizes other points in time.
And just in case this isn't clear from the image at the top of the page, the black lines don't indicate cards that are read as a group, but is instead only a visual reference to help easily identify the diagonal orientation of the arrangement.

Continuing our discussion, let's return to that question about money. What do you suppose that this arrangement has to tell me? First, I've got figure out which cards if any discuss what I want to know about:
  • PRESENT (top left): King of Diamonds
    • RECENT PAST (bottom middle): XXI, The World
  • DISTANT FUTURE (top right): Ace of Diamonds
  • RECENT PAST (bottom left): Ace of Hearts
So right away I can see that there's a discussion about money in the present that continues into the distant future, but because of my eccentricities in how I read the cards, it's also important to say that the King of Diamonds is only able to discuss money when paired with a trump card, and the only one present is in the recent past (XXI, the World). Also owing to one of my eccentricities as a card reader, I consider the King of Diamonds the governor of the Ace of Diamonds, so this links part of my present directly to the distant future, but in this case the King of Diamonds ceases discussing money and shifts instead to a discussion about power, influence, and reputation contributing to the Ace of Diamonds which does discuss money. The other thread in this increasingly tangled web is the Ace of Hearts which doesn't specifically reference money, but does reference debt and other people's money, and owing to it sharing the same pip value as the Ace of Diamonds represents a link between the recent past and the distant future in terms of money lost and money earned. Getting sufficiently convoluted for you yet?

In this hypothetical reading, there are three cards which will tell me about my finances. There's a whole lot else that I can discuss, but just hitting the high point we see a largely encompassing matter of debt in the recent past which has motivated me toward doing the best I can with what I've got in terms of my professional abilities and also created a strong drive for balanced financial accomplishment in the future. In the present, I am still accumulating debt but without the burdens of past financial mis-steps based on wishful thinking, and am instead welcoming a more balanced approach to managing my finances and income. Moving into the distant future, after much effort to wield discipline over myself and also to improve my standing in the eyes of professional peers and potential clients, finances are reestablished, debt is repaid, and my own foundations are strengthened despite the weakening economic environment in which I find myself representative of larger issues that go beyond my own personal concerns.

See how this arrangement works? I don't decide in advance what I want to discuss. Instead, I lay down cards and then discuss only that which the cards offer to me. This kind of Tarot reading is something I don't offer for my clients because it's the sort of reading where I like to sit at the table, drink a beer, and eat some tomato-and-cheese on toast while thinking quietly to myself. This arrangement invites solitary contemplation and an open mind free of specific desires in order to appreciate the tangled nuance it's capable of offering, and is also something that I might spend 45 minutes or more just stewing over. In my estimation, this is as close as it gets to having somebody else read my cards for me. Maybe it'll be the same for you? Try it out and let me know what you think.

June 01, 2018

June 2018: Happy Birthday to Me

via GoHowi.com
On the 6th of June 2018 at precisely 3:10pm (give or take a few minutes) I will be 35 years old. In the Satanic tradition, my own birthday should be the highest holiday of my year, but I find it difficult to get excited about birthdays the way I could when I was much younger. When I was in grade-school, the accumulating pressure of anticipation for the ecstasy of promised presents, cake, and friends was something that would send me into a spiral for weeks in advance, but over the years has been replaced by a quiet appreciation for the people closest to me. I still enjoy a good cake, and am of course grateful for any presents that are given (though I no longer request or expect gifts), but the atmosphere of party cannons, unquestioned smiles, and go-along-to-get-along has long faded.

In the final calculation, this year has been one in which I've been asking myself, "Does the river shape the rock, or does the rock shape the river?" This summary of my past year is something that I've been trying to put into words for several months, and while I've finally managed to put it into words, I still have doubts that I'm properly expressing myself. If you get to the end of this letter and feel like something's missing, you'll have to let me know what it is because I can't figure it out to save my life.

At any rate... there are long-winded ruminations I could make on the nuance between the rock's and the river's perspective, but obviously the answer is that both shape each other. This process of mutual redirection and erosion has been a persistent theme for me this past year, especially as I process the last remaining traces of my association with the Church of Satan. Regular followers of this blog will have noticed a gradual transition over the past 8-12 months away from the goat-heavy themes of the Church of Satan and more toward the enlightenment themes of the so-called Illuminati. Just to get this out of the way, I don't believe that the Illuminati exists in the popular, conspiratorial sense, but just like the myth of Satan I find the myth of the Illuminati to be personally stimulating and a productive way of expressing and differentiating myself.

Seeing as the Church of Satan was my first exposure to Satanism, my understanding of the definition of Satanism will be forever colored by the work of Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore. Now, don't get me wrong: this isn't a complaint, and in terms of initial influences I could have done a whole lot worse. What I'm saying is that my foundational understanding of the concept of Satanism will probably be forever biased in favor of an atheistic, indulgent, and rationalist worldview which favors individual will-to-power, deliberate antagonism of deserving victims, self-deification, and the use of greater magic.

As before, once again: I'm not complaining. This understanding of Satanism -- and my application of it to my career as a Tarot card reader, in particular -- has contributed to vast improvements in my personal and professional happiness. Whatever differences of opinion I have about what the Church of Satan has become, I'll always be grateful to Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore for their intellectual contributions to my life. In this example, I suppose you could say that they were the rock that reshaped my river...

... or was I the rock shaped by their river? I sometimes wonder if this isn't the case, because even as I work to redefine my understanding of Satanism in line with the principles which became my core, I find that the rock which I believed to be myself is no longer the same as it used to be. Bruce Lee once famously said that self-improvement isn't a matter of daily increase, but decrease -- hack away the unessential! But what happens when -- cut after cut -- very little remains? Does the whole of the rock fracture into separate halves? Will the lesser half be carried away by the river? Or will both halves sink into the silt at the bottom of the river, never to regain their definition?

Since parting ways with the Church of Satan, I've chosen to join the Satanic Temple for the same reason that I joined the Church of Satan: I appreciate the work they're doing and want them to know that for however much or little I'm worth they have my support intellectually and from time to time financially. I've gained an appreciation for their decentralized approach to the study and understanding of Satanism, and am grateful that they've pierced the echo chamber of the Church of Satan.

In terms of religious expression and the reason and method of ritual, I think that the Satanic Temple is not one step out of line with the Church of Satan. The Satanic Temple also shares a few other pillars of thought with the Church of Satan, the core pillar being perhaps the improvement of the individual and those things of concern to the individual; however, the two organizations build upon this pillar differently. Whereas the Church of Satan generally favors the greater jihad of improving the individual him or herself exclusively, the Satanic Temple generally favors the lesser jihad of improving the world in which the individual lives.

But one of the reasons that the Satanic Temple shares what at times feels like quite a bit with the Church of Satan is because the Satanic Temple was founded in part by at least one person who was a long-time member of the Church of Satan. In the river of Satanism, the rock that is the Church of Satan split (and not for the first time) into separate pieces. In this case, neither piece sank to the bottom of the river, and both have instead taken up prominent positions to shape the river. I can already hear members of the Satanic Temple groaning on the other side of the interwebs, but I think that the difference between the Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan isn't one of substance, but expression, and I also think that this is a strength and a testament to the growth and development of Satanism as a modern religion (versus the sole property of a jealous priesthood).

There are others who've criticized the Satanic Temple for not going far enough to differentiate itself from the Church of Satan, but I don't agree with this criticism, and I may yet discuss my reasons why when I can neatly articulate them, but in terms of rocks and rivers -- What did anybody expect? Why does anybody expect the Satanic Temple to be shaped by neither the river nor the rock from which it came? If interested critics are going to require the Satanic Temple to clear a bar of complete originality and total individuation, then this same bar applies to the Church of Satan whose foundational book cribs liberally and overtly from other established authors and bodies of thought.

And finally, to bring this all back to me, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't redirect the river of my self away from the Satanic Temple? I appreciate the work the national organization is doing, and I've enjoyed a lot of the content coming from and conversation with other TST members, but I have neither the time nor the energy to organize TST-friendly Satanists in my city, and even if I did then I think that I could do it only as a rock smoothed by the river of the Church of Satan. It's not my goal to apply my own CoS-influenced understanding of Satanism in support of an organization that's working pretty damn hard to not duplicate the culture of the Church of Satan. In these moments, I wonder that I would contribute more through my absence than my presence? Who knows...

But then, even by talking about these things I'm contributing (perhaps only a trickle?) to a larger river of change that is shaping, smoothing, and eroding the broader rock of Satanism within the even larger river of culture. I suppose my only birthday wish for the next year is that my own rock remains above others' rivers, and my own river is not dammed by others' rocks. 

Happy birthday to me. 

May 23, 2018

Hopes & Fears: Reconsidering the Celtic Cross

nightmare scary doctor
This is not a doctor I hope to ever see.
Dieter Laser as Dr. Josef Heiter
When a Tarot reader lays cards down on the table, he or she will typically lay the cards into a conceived pattern called a spread or an arrangement. The reasons for doing so is because specific arrangements work as rigid skeletons to give strength and form to the flesh of the individual cards. One such arrangement is called the Celtic Cross, and although I couldn't say if it's the single most widely used arrangement in the world, I'm confident in saying that it's the best known arrangement in the world.

One of the reasons that the Celtic Cross has endured for so many years is because it was featured in "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot" by Arthur Edward Waite, a man called the father of modern Tarot and whose deck -- popularly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, named for the Rider Publishing House who produced it and Pamela Coleman Smith who illustrated it -- has become the template against which all other decks are now compared.

As for the Celtic Cross arrangement, it's become a staple inclusion in seemingly every little white book sold with new Tarot decks. Haven't you ever heard of an LWB? It's that throw-away pamphlet included with the deck that gives the basic definitions of the cards and features the Celtic Cross if no other reason than to give the proud new owner of the deck a way to use it. Among Tarot readers, the Celtic Cross tends to be polarizing without much ground in between. 

One of the reasons that the Celtic Cross is occasionally disliked is because it isn't a very precise sort of arrangement, but another is because despite it often being the first arrangement introduced to new Tarot readers, it's actually quite difficult to use because several of the positions within the arrangement overlap and sometimes even seem to repeat one another.

But one position within the arrangement that doesn't overlap is the ninth position, called Hopes & Fears. This position is exactly what it sounds like: the hoped for outcome, ideals, lofty desires, and wishes, but also fears, nightmares, anxieties, unwanted outcomes, and worse. Tarot readers just learning how to read the Celtic Cross sometimes complain that this doesn't make any sense, because "How can one position represent two opposite things at the same time?" To answer that question, I want to tell you a story about myself, and more specifically, how I feel about surgery, doctors, and hospitals. 

Here's a secret about me: I enjoy surgery. Not in the sense that I fetishize pain and suffering, or even the surgery itself, but the preparation before the surgery and the recovery after. There's a strange sort of personal peace and calm that emerges in the period of time before and after surgery, because there are no more decisions for me to make. I'm able to entrust my care to a team of medical professionals who have taken away completely the burden of all responsibilities. I don't have to decide what to wear, because they've given me a hospital gown. I don't have to worry about cleaning linens, because they'll change my pillows and my sheets. I don't have to worry about cooking meals, because the hospital cafeteria will supply my food. I don't have to worry about my pain and discomfort, because the doctors and the nurses will tend to my safety and security. And if necessary, I don't even have to worry about cleaning myself, because the nurses will bathe me. In this period of time shortly before and just after a surgery, I have only one job: to take complete rest. 

In a way, this allows me to rewind the clock into a state of sweet, childlike oblivion. I've never attempted to receive unnecessary surgeries, but between pinning a broken hand, removing an inflamed appendix, repairing a collapsed lung, and probably something else I'm forgetting right now, this is a phenomenon I've been able to enjoy a few times.

But you know what I haven't enjoyed a few times? Surgery. The last major surgery I had was to repair a collapsed lung, and it was a genuine nightmare. The period of time after I received thoracoscopic surgery to repair a collapsed lung is one which I can't fully remember, and strangely enough I seem to be able to recall less and less accurately as the years pass. There are so many things I can't remember: the name of the hospital and even the name of the city where the hospital is located, who did or didn't visit me while I was in the hospital, how long I was in the hospital... hell, there are just entire days at a time missing from my memory during which I reportedly tried to get up and walk away (even with all the tubes, IV's, and a catheter in me), spoke gibberish, and had a hysterical fit while calling out for my sister who was a nurse's aid at the same hospital.

I also had periods of time when I was not permitted to sleep because when I did sleep my heart rate would fall too low to keep me alive, and there was also an unfortunately memorable time when I did sleep that I dreamed I was naked in darkness and being tortured by imps who were stabbing me with pitchforks in my surgical wound. And on top of all that, there were also the times when I hallucinated about people who weren't there at all, including being visited by Dennis Haysbert, also known as the Allstate Guy. It would seem that my unconscious mind wanted nothing more than to be in good hands.

This particular hospital stay over eight years ago was so memorable that I continue to have anxiety about it to this day and it's impacted me to such a degree that I often self-censor during movies and TV shows featuring traumatic hospital scenes. All things considered, I suppose you could say that it had a big impact on my life and has completely redefined what fear means to me. You have no idea how much I wish these things were not true, because this hospital stay was the nightmare that still haunts me.

All of which is a long way of saying that this is what the position of Hopes & Fears means in the Celtic Cross. Hospitals and in particular surgery have become a potent combination of my own personal hopes and fears. I hope for a recovery from illness and injury, I hope to escape the burden of stress and anxiety, I hope to be cared for and given the treatment I need to become healthy again. I fear the pain of recovery, I fear the loss of myself, I fear the reminder of death, I fear helplessness and despair. It's easy to dismiss the position of Hopes & Fears as a bit of mental masturbation and fluffy day-dreaming, but if you're going to give this arrangement the esoteric depth it deserves, then you should not fail to remember that the position of Hopes & Fears in the Celtic Cross can be equally bright and encouraging as it can be dark and terrifying.

May 17, 2018

Render unto Moloch that which is Moloch's

satanic altar moloch sacrifice
Sidewalk chalk and a little imagination can go a long way.
Here's a true story about me: I'm petty and vindictive. This has caused problems for me in the past, but I'm making a maximum effort attempt at channeling my pettiness into more constructive directions. The most recent occasion that somebody got my goat was actually a culmination of probably six months' frustrations: Disrespectful neighbors and more generally community members who have no respect for private property and public cleanliness.

I live in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, at the edge of the west side of town close to the border crossing into the USA and just a few blocks away from one of the few steel plants. This part of town is called Steelton (Steel Town), but it's also called the edge of the ghetto -- I suppose you could say I live in the "G?" The great thing about living on the edge of the ghetto is that property taxes are quite low, but the not great thing about living on the edge of the ghetto is dealing with the frequent turn-over of renters who absolutely do not care about the community.

The landlord who owns the building next to my own plays musical chairs with her two rental units, and I don't know how she does it, but she somehow manages to rent to the shittiest people over and over again. Maybe she's not vetting her applicants and she deserves the way they treat her rental units? Maybe she just doesn't have a lot of choice in applicants and has to accept whomever she can get? Or maybe her apartments are really shitty and she just doesn't care about the quality of people who live there? Whatever the case, she manages to consistently rent to people who think that "Private Property - No Parking Allowed" signs are only for decoration, they can throw their garbage wherever they want (including into my yard), and they can let their animals shit wherever they want and not clean it up. Combine the steady parade of uncaring renters with a public lane-way runs along the rear of my house, and that means I also get a steady parade of dog-walkers who let their dogs shit on the grassy margins as well as people who think it's totally okay to discard their trash in the lane-way.

All this results in a combination of circumstances which creates a steady accumulation of animal feces and other rubbish outside my back door. I mean, it's everything you can imagine: styrofoam coffee cups, plastic drink cups, empty pizza boxes, syringes and needles, used napkins, old pens, broken bottles, whitefish, ruined children's toys, plastic straws, and dog shit. So much dog shit... I mean, there are even plastic bags of dog shit that the dog's owner took the trouble of collecting and even tying shut, but then still decided to throw the neat-and-tidy, tied-shut bag of dog shit into the margins of the lane-way.

I can't even tell you how angry this makes me. This is my home. I live here. I get up every day, and when I look out the window I get to see the occasional rubbish and dog shit discarded by my shitty neighbors, as well as the frequent rubbish and dog shit discarded by all the other people who think that the lane-way behind my back door is a public dumping ground. These kinds of people have no respect for community and I don't know how they can look at the dog shit and litter piling up every day and think, "This is okay." It's dirty and disgusting, it smells terrible, and if it were up to me I'd force these shitty litterbugs to eat the piles they left behind.

The first time it became evident that the next-door renter was letting his dogs run off-leash and drop their turds wherever they felt inspired to do so, my approach was to return to sender: I just scooped them with a shovel and threw them back over the property line. When it kept happening, I asked him to pick up after his dogs. Evidently, asking somebody to do the right thing was the wrong decision because he wanted to fight me over it. I'm like, "It's your dogs' shit, so why should I have to clean it up?" When he threatened to vandalize my car -- because apparently that's what broke-ass renters who don't own a car like to do when somebody tells them to be minimally decent toward their neighbors -- I called the police to have him trespassed from my property and the Humane Society who got all up in his business about keeping his dogs leashed. Why do people have to be like that? This is why we can't have nice things.

What this experience taught me is that asking people to be responsible in response to a problem of their own creation only produces results if said people have any decency or self-respect. In this case, it turned out I was wasting my time and it was unreasonable of me to expect that anything productive would come from attempting to hold shitty children accountable for their shitty childishness. 

And it may sound silly to you, but while swimming in my anger what came to mind was the expression, "Render unto Caeser the things that are Caeser's." I saw all this trash accumulating, and thought of the Lord of the Flies who dwells in the trash heap of Gehenna and Moloch who also has been said to dwell in that same place, also called valley of Hinnom. In my mind, Caeser in the aforementioned expression was replaced by another authority: "Render unto Moloch the things that are Moloch's." The way it came to me, the Lord of the Flies is a gatekeeper who inhabits the burning fires of the trash-heap through which human offerings are sent to be devoured by Moloch.

If you can see it my way, it seems that the Lord of the Flies and Moloch are rightfully owed certain offerings, and to deny them these offerings by discarding them outside their domain serves only to invite them to expand their kingdom of rubbish to include the community where I live. If the Lord of the Flies and Moloch were real, I'd surely have no desire to meet them. They are owed offerings of filthy rubbish and worthless children, and I'm happy to see that they receive them.

So it occurred to me that if I'm getting no results by emptying my wrath onto people who cannot be persuaded by wrath, then I should channel my considerable anger and frustration into something more productive: a Satanic ritual in which they themselves would be offered up as the sacrifice. To achieve this goal, I decided to destroy the one thing I could: the piles of filth and rubbish. If I were a character in the Star Wars universe, I'd absolutely give myself over to the dark side. Wrath can be productive if it's allowed to flow toward worthwhile ends.  

So last weekend I focused my hate onto the destruction of the filth that's taken hold outside my back door. I took a rake, a shovel, and a trash bag out into the lane-way and pulled out all the dog shit and trash that had been left there. I even found a dead bird that looked in sore need of going under the soil. I wish I could tell you that the act of cleaning the lane-way was cathartic, but it only intensified my anger. Every turd I scooped was a reminder that I'm living next to people who do not care at all about shitting almost literally where they eat. Every piece of rubbish was a reminder that there are people who think it's okay to make other people live in squalor for the sake of their own convenience. All these things I raked managed to fit into a single black trash-bag, and the task done I took a can of white spray paint and marked it with the alchemical symbol of earth for the Lord of the Flies. As for the offering to Moloch, that would come later...

.. after I had constructed an altar specifically for the purpose of this ritual. Having collected the filth and rubbish from the lane-way, I purchased some side-walk chalk and started illustrating my altar. I needed the daylight to see what I was drawing, and if initial responses are any indication of the outcome then I suppose they were promising because a large grid of occult markings in bright chalk did really caught people's eyes and did wonders to get drivers to slow down instead of speeding through the back alley. It had occurred to me that safety, day-glow orange paint would also make people slow down and take notice, but day-glow chalk would be counter-productive to the final working of this ritual in which after the chanting and hand-waving is finished I sweep up all the chalk, dirty, and sand on the pavement and then surreptitiously scatter it around the doorways of known offending neighbors.

As for the format of the ritual, it closely followed the standard destruction ritual featured in the Satanic Bible. There were a few points of improvisation, but me being who I am I care more about the sizzle than the steak. Hilariously to me, the biggest push-back I encountered on this ritual came from theistically-minded occultists who really got their hair tied in knots because I wasn't using their correct seals, their correct words, or their correct execution. Satanism has been pretty damn well defined for over 50 years, but for some reason a lot of occultists just can't wrap their minds around the fact that Satanic ritual is a lot like purging: it allows me to figuratively vomit out the anger and frustration that inhibit my ability to focus and pursue other outcomes. As for the Harry-Pottery, I'm willing to indulge in the fantasy that this will really accomplish something. If the old gods Beelzebub and Moloch really do exist, then the city landfill would be where to find them. If an offering suitably marked and dutifully given at best magically solves my problem or at worst just makes me feel better about the whole thing, I'm okay with the outcome either way.

Having said that, though, there is a method to my madness. The image displayed at the very top of this blog post is not consistent with any other occult practices, nor is it intended to be because what you see is my idea of artistic improvisation. Want to know why I chose the elements that I did? Read on:

  • The bull's head representing Moloch is evident at the top of the chalked altar, and that's repeated by the horned idol you see by the fence. Three red arrows descend from the head of Moloch toward the left, central, and right portions of the altar to show where I want things to flow.
  • The trash bag which contains all the refuse I collected is marked with the alchemical symbol for the element of earth, and represents the final destination to which offering is destined. Dust to dust, and so on.
  • The vertical white lines broken by off-angled orange lines are my idea of a protective barrier. My house is behind that fence, so I create that as my way of showing that nothing passes that direction.
  • The left arrow from Moloch moves into my command to "Eat the shameful person." There's a specific person whom I'll be very glad to see eaten by Moloch, and I rather doubt it will happen, but whatever -- it's the thought that counts, you know what I mean? 
  • Beneath that is my command to "Sleep with the unclean." This is flanked on the left by a couple repetitions of "Fuck You." On the bottom left, there're the words, "Lord of the Flies. I think the sentiment is clear.
  • The right arrow from Moloch moves into my command, "Rule in Gehenna," the burning trash heap where in Biblical times was found garbage, corpses, unwanted babies, and other refuse. This is my way of saying that I understand that there are things in life that are hideous, disgusting, and revolting, and I want to maintain the boundary between them and me. To the right of this are more repetitions of "Fuck You." 
  • Just beneath that is the command to "Make them eat shit." On the bottom right, there're the words "Lord of the Abyss." Leviathan is a worthy inclusion in any Satanic ritual, especially when performing a curse.
  • The middle arrow from Moloch moves into the command, "Give unto Lord Moloch his property." Beneath that is a square of power to contain the eight-pointed chaos star within. There are additional counter-positioned spokes against the Chaos star which to me represent explosive force, and in my mind the whole central square is a brittle cage preparing to explode upon the completion of the ritual. 
  • The square links to the candles at the left and right sides which are my way of feeding fire to the central cage. The four grey areas you see extending from the candles are where I'll put my ritual tools: the Satanic Bible, a ritual knife, a ritual bell, and a good old bottle of beer for libation and spitting upon my offerings. As for me, I'll sit directly between the two circles on top of the words "Strength (comes) to me, the greatest strength." Get it? I'm on a seat of power.
  • Finally, the blue tridents are my idea of psychic shit-catchers: the barbed tines catch anything they touch, but because of the angle release nothing. This feeds power to my implements which sit just behind them. 
  • The left and right edges of the altar are illustrated with lightning bolts which radiate left and right toward the east and west ends of the alley where all the refuse I collected was littered.

You can read the standard ritual format in the Satanic Bible if you want to get an idea how the performance of this ritual was structured and performed. As for the intention set forth in the ritual, I offered the trash bag of rubbish and dog shit to the Lord of the Flies because that is what Beelzebub is owed, and to Moloch I offered the names of the rude, immature renters. If they can't be bothered to act like responsible adults, then I'll make them pass through the burning fires of Gehenna watched by the Lord of the Flies and offer them as unwanted children for Lord Moloch to devour. 

There are occultists who really don't approve of how I'm performing this ritual, but they seem either unwilling or unable to understand the Satanic approach to ritual and the fact that I place more emphasis on the performative artistry of my work than the spiritual precision. The only thing I didn't like about this set-up is that I was performing the ritual outside the fence of my backyard and could be seen by anybody who was coming or going. Public ritual isn't conducive for really letting go of self awareness, but whatever -- I work with what I have, and there's no way I could spew my libation over the altar inside. Way too much to clean up.

As it happened, the neighbors closest to my heart for the purposes of this ritual did make an appearance. During the close of the ritual while chanting a suitable Enochian key about dung-filled branches of lamentation, the neighbor and his girlfriend plus their two dogs came out for their evening walk to drop some more turds at the edge of the back alley. I could hear them having a good laugh, but I didn't break stride. As far as I'm concerned, their appearance exceeded my wildest dreams because they effectively presented themselves as offerings at the key and most critical moment of the ritual. It brings me pleasure to indulge in the fantasy that Moloch will eat these shitty little children and remove them from my life.

As for the results of the ritual and the question that's always asked -- DID IT WORK? -- I can say both yes and no. Immediately after the ritual, I felt a great relief. The consuming anger and frustration that distracted me from more productive goals is well and truly gone. I mean, it's completely gone and I even have a hard time digging it up again. This ritual was one of the few times that I've managed to achieve a complete and total purge of unwanted emotions, and they have not returned. I'm skeptical that I performed any Harry Potter-y, but it's fair to say that this ritual of greater magic did in fact change my reality because it changed me. The shitty renters are still alive (and I'm sure no more inclined to clean up after themselves,) and the back lane-way is still frequented by people who can't be bothered to responsibly dispose of their rubbish, but whatever -- is it still a problem if it no longer feels like a problem?

After I finished the ritual, I dripped some wax from the candles over the chaos star in the middle, swept what chalk and beer-spat sand I could into a hot-foot powder that got spread around some choice locations. After that, I got a bucket of rainwater from the sump in the basement and washed it all away. The next morning, the only remaining evidence that the altar and its attendant ritual ever existed are the scatterings of sand and chalk where certain people are known to walk. The trash bag of filth and rubbish was suitably marked and offered, and this past Wednesday was collected by sanitation workers and ultimately delivered to the city landfill. The goat idol, striking bell, ritual knife, and Satanic Bible went back onto their usual shelves...

... and as for the empty beer bottle used to pour libations, that went into the recycling.