Linear Algebra

The mathematics professor was closing his lecture with questions and answers. He was asking the questions, French accent, chalk in hand.

“Tell me how do you imagine a vector space before your mind’s eyes?”

Lenny raised a hand, the prof found him. A nod in his direction, “yes?”

“Like a dough. You can stretch and pull it”.

The professor considered this for a moment, then made an impatient gesture.

“No, that is not enough. No. No, a vector space is not like a dough at all! You are speaking like the washerwomen at the market. You must learn to speak like a nobleman!”

Snorts and giggles, quiet expressions of disbelief. The professor was known to be eccentic, but not to bizarre extremes like this.

“Yes, you?”

Another student answered the question satisfactorily.

*

In the slanting afternoon light, a sprawl of students on the main stairs. Cool air and warm light on our faces. Someone exhaled a long plume of smoke into the sky. Elbows back on the steps, I closed my eyes at the sun, red veins brilliant across my field of vision.

Discussions about the professor’s strange tirade. Lenny’s voice, “He has a medieval mindset! Noblemen and washerwomen!”

Someone else’s voice. “But aren’t you into magic yourself, Lenny? You were telling us yesterday -”

Back and forth. Lenny explained his views about magic in the modern world, quantum effects and a conscious substrate of reality made up large parts of his model.

Heavy steps shuffling up the stairs nearby, the cold of the stone steps at my elbows. Motor noise from below.

“So you people are looking for a flatmate?”

Cigarette smoke laced with herbal scents, the sound of a bicycle switching gears.

“Bea, are you looking for a flatmate?”

I opened my eyes. Lenny, long eyelashes, gaze lowered at my chest. I sat up and he looked away.

“Yes, want to see? Josh will be in later, but you should meet him, too.”

*

On our way from the university to the flat, we passed through a section of the old town. Lenny talked about magic, describing a medieval ritual he had read about, but which he would never try because it involved an animal sacrifice, of a black cat, apparently.

I was pushing my bicycle over the cobbled streets, he was walking along, gesturing and explaining. When we arrived, I swung open the little cast iron gate and led the way past the overgrown garden and the bicycle shed.

Lenny nodded with an approving air at what he saw. We entered the house and ascended the creaking stairs. Evening sunlight filtered through the colourful glass windows of the stairwell, painting our faces yellow and red. We reached the landing and I opened the flat’s doors.

“To the right is my room, and Josh’s. Here is the kitchen. Would you like some orange juice?” He stood closely behind me as I poured our drinks and we took them to the kitchen window overlooking the shadows of the little courtyard behind the house. There were a few folded garden chairs and a soggy cardboard box with pots and other gardening equipment on the balcony outside the kitchen.

“Sometimes we get foxes trying to loot the trash cans in the courtyard. They even fought one night, maybe a cat or a badger or something, very noisy.” Lenny showed some interest in the wildlife, and we discussed urban foxes as I led him out into the hall and to the vacant room.

“Sue used to live here. She’s moved out of town, to Italy, so we’re looking for a new flat mate. How do you like it? She will pick up the boxes next week – ” I gestured at a stack of boxes next to the door.

Lenny went to the window overlooking the old city below. “Nice view!” he remarked. I told him about the rent, he had no questions about it. “Let me show you the living room,” I said, walking out.

*

In the center of the living room there stood a large wooden frame. Thin wires criss-crossed the wedge of space spanned by the frame, and delicately glazed ceramic discs were suspended on them. The discs were in motion from the draught through the open window, spinning and touching the strings and wires, generating scratching and humming noises.

Lenny was captivated by the mobile. “What is this?”

“It’s full of vectors, isn’t it?” I teased him. “Josh will be able to explain it better. He is into magic, like you are.” I paused, but Lenny did not launch into one of his lectures. “Anyway, Josh says it is an entire cosmos of worlds and when he needs energy or whatever for his magic, he stops one of the discs. He says it is always the end of a world when he does that. He gets really upset when someone else touches it.”

Lenny had been leaning closer to the sculpture, hand extended towards one of the spinning, humming slivers of ceramic, but he backed away now, eyes wide. “What does Josh do? I mean, is he a student?” he asked.

“Biology,” I nodded. “He is in one of the labs where they do vivisection. He has this method of dissecting a mouse where he first fixes it to a board” – I made a cruciform with my arms to illustrate – “and then injects formaldehyde into a major blood vessel. That way, the heart circulates the formaldehyde … I think it’s horrible, too. But he once told me he gets power from that as well.”

I laughed at Lennys expression. “No, really. Josh is nice! Just don’t talk to him when he comes home before he has a chance to stop the mobile. He is much more relaxed when he can do that.”

Steps and the sounds of the door opening. I called a hello to Josh, who muttered something as he came into the living room. His long, thin hair was hangig in strands to his shoulders, and his broad face seemed slack and tired. He wore a black t-shirt with a band’s name in grotesquely overdone gothic lettering.

I did not speak, and neither did Lenny. After pausing and giving us a look for a moment, he held the biggest disc with the fingers of his left hand, until the mobile quieted down. Then he nodded at us and left wordlessly. Lenny had not moved. After a few moments, running water and the sounds of drops on a shower curtain could be heard through the hallway.

“He’ll be more talkative after taking a shower!” I beamed at Lenny. “Do you want to stay? It’s going to be pizza, I’m afraid.”

But Lenny was leaving, saying some vague things about letting me know. I let him out.

*

As we were putting our pizzas in the oven, Josh asked, “So who was that just now? Didn’t even want to say hello?”

I shrugged. “Lenny. Looking for a room. From the Algebra course.”

“You know I’m not big on conventions, but not saying hello is a red light. I get enough of that kind of attitude in the computer science lab all day, I don’t want it all evening as well.”

“He is a bit strange, but we need to find someone for Susan’s room.” I set the alarm for the pizzas.

Josh shook his head. “We will find someone else a bit higher on the social aptitude scale. Speaking of social aptitude, when is Susan going to get her stuff? That mobile is driving me insane! Can’t we just put it out on the balcony?”

Protection

Sauteed Tofu with Chinese Mushrooms

“I have two protective spirits”, a co-worker told us over lunch.

We had been discussing religion and spirituality, a topic that arose since the Chinese restaurant where we were having lunch was right across the street from an impressive religious building. Next to our table was a little altar to Chinese deities, burnt-down joss sticks in front of a heavenly court made of porcelain.

My co-worker’s family had emigrated from a Southeast Asian country a generation or two ago. They still have family ties to the old place, and once in a while family reunions take place, presided over by the most senior grandmother.

During one of those stays, years ago, he told us, the family insisted on calling in a local wise man to conduct a ceremony which dedicated two protective spirits to watch over him. He joked about the fact that he had two such guardians, and speculated that this might be due to his living in a far-off place on another continent, so twice the protection would be required.  Or maybe because he was always making mischief.

Our lunch arrived at this point in the discussion, fragrant plates of sauteed food and bowls of rice. Chopsticks and spoons were sorted out, orders for additional drinks had to be placed.

After a mouthful of tofu with Chinese mushrooms, I remarked how this ceremony resembles the child-blessing sacraments of other religions. He agreed that it was similar, and we explored the social pressure surrounding this type of religious event. My wife and I never had our child baptized, and received a certain amount of disapproval for it from our relatives, I told him, even though they were not religious at all.

Others on the table joined in to the discussion, which then diverged over such topics as nominally religious political parties like the Christian Democrats or its counterparts in Turkey, church tax (an issue in this corner of Europe), and cults like the one in the large modern building across the street.

Village house in Southeast Asia

Finally we got back to the actual choreography of the guardian spirit ceremony our colleague had been subject to all those years ago. Interest in the exotic aspects of Southeast Asian folk religion had increased during our meal, he was asked for more details, and he indulged us in good-natured fashion.

“Now this year, the wise man wants to do another ceremony, because this thing only lasts so long”, he told us.

Understanding nods around the table. Everyone was relaxed and satisfied after a nice meal. The earth-bound spirituality of a far-off people with their ancient traditions had given the afterglow of the Chinese food a pleasant romantic tinge.

“Only now he says it will cost the equivalent of three thousand Euros. And that’s at the current exchange rate, not some kind of wage equivalent.”

This marred the atmosphere a bit. People suggested to tell the holy man to get lost.

“Yes, that’s what I’d do myself”, he grinned. “Only, if we do that, the protection will go away, you see? People back there take this kind of thing seriously. They all paid their fees to the wise man, so if we don’t, then that makes them look stupid, and there is also the superstitious aspect.”

Protection Racket
Guardian Archons

On my way back to the office, I had black thoughts about supernatural protection rackets, and riots in heaven, about tearing down spiritual hierarchies, smashing celestial spheres, and watching the aethyrs burn as we dance on the debris and rubble of an overthrown cosmic order.

Any magician will have done banishing rituals and maybe contacted some kind of guardian spirit. Protective servitors are also popular. But are they effective against social pressures and the transcendental insurance salesmen offering protection against fragile things breaking because of clumsy people in a bad mood?

The supernatural protection racket situation hinges upon several parameters:

  • there are “bad guys” in other realms. In this paradigm, the protective spirits are getting something profitable to them out of the arrangement. Their motives diverge from the pure, wholesome image conveyed by the term “guardian spirit”.
  • the social control mechanisms which fail to prevent mobsters from doing their thing in this world equally fail to do keep the mobster spirits under control in other realms. The archontic police forces may be impotent or corrupt.
  • in this realm, social pressure accumulates at the bottom of the pyramid. The rich and powerful take advantage of social norms and expectations, harnessing them for their own purposes: Delegate influence and responsibility to the man with the beard or the suit. On top of this the would-be guardian spirits also hook into these convenient patterns of behavior: Blindly believe in what you are told, submit to spiritual authority.
Project A

There have always – or at least as far back as we have documented history, and probably before that given human nature – always been those who thought about or even attempted to implement more egalitarian modes of coexistence in human society: Mutual aid and solidarity rather than reliance on the benevolence of bullies, decentralization instead of concentration of power, direct action, and voluntary participation as opposed to hierarchies.

Let me unpack this long string of left-wing buzzwords and apply them to the subject of spiritual protection.

A Freebox in Berlin, Germany 2005, serving as a distribution center for free donated materials. (source: Wikipedia)

Mutual Aid: this amounts to a slight paradigm shift in the time-honored system of making a sacrifice which is a staple of magick both ancient and modern. Rather than viewing the sacrifice as a payment for a service provided by a spirit, sacrifice in the vein of mutual aid has the quality of a flea-market exchange: everybody and -spirit brings their goods and services along, and from this pool, everybody and -spirit can get what they need.

Decentralization: magickal systems tend to be highly structured, with tables and lists and precise prescriptions, rituals with elaborate choreography or at least rigid rules on how to improvise, grades and degrees and hierarchies of recognition… even Chaos magick has produced paradigms and institutions that emulate these to an extent. In a decentralized paradigm, small self-organized groups form networks according to their interests and needs. Information control, which is a mainstay of institutionalized power both in this realm and spiritual ones, is replaced by open access to knowledge. Of course magick without secrecy, grand titles, and the hosts of heaven and hell seems unappealing. In the specific context of guardian spirits however, these are the aspects which make the supernatural protection racket work in the first place.

Direct Action: examples are strikes, blockades, occupation, sabotage, and civil disobedience. Chaos magicians will recognize these readily, summarized in such foundational quotes as, “nothing may be true, everything may be permitted”, the basic premises of tantric practices, and the generally heterodox outlook of the chaos magick subculture.

To get back to the question of how to approach the conditions which facilitate abusive spirits to pose as guardian angels, let me boil all of this socio-spiritual analysis down to something pragmatic:

Foster mutually beneficent relations with a diverse and egalitarian group of humans and spirits. The group will have the means to protect its members. Do not pay for individual spiritual protection. Do not delegate this to cosmic institutional hierarchies.

Sex and Gender on the Subtle Planes

Kali is a woman. Jupiter is a man. Athena is a virgin, but obviously a woman. Loki is sometimes transsexual, but he is a “he”, a man. Angels are asexual, but are also masculine. Baphomet is … what, bisexual, hermaphrodite, something, yet in a masculine way, right? He, Baphomet. At least, that was my unquestioning assumption, until one day the insight arose in me, that Baphomet is not a man.

baphometThe spirits are just as diverse in their sexuality as we are, and gender, grammatical and otherwise, is just as complex an issue on the subtle planes of existence as it is on our mundane one.

Instead of boring my readers with a long essay on sex, gender, their distinction, and their interplay and dynamics, here is a magical exercise inspired by an online Gender workshop (not magical) which I came across a few years ago. In preparation for the following working, I suggest at least scanning parts of this workshop, to get into the right mood.

  1. Design a gender neutral sigil. Take your time, this is tricky, and it is also part of the exercise. Once you are satisfied, set it up in your favorite ritual space. Altar. Coffee table. Whatever.
  2. Banish as follows: Think of an attractive person, notice the gender you attribute to them. Now deliberately “drop” the gender attribution by saying aloud (or thinking) the words “what a beautiful human being”. Notice the change in attitude and interest this brought about. Make a sweeping gesture to spread this new attitude all around.
  3. Speak out loud: “It is my intention to communicate with a truly gender-neutral spirit now.”
  4. Meditate in whatever posture you like, first staring at the sigil, then after a while closing your eyes and keeping your focus on the afterimage of the sigil until it fades. After some time, usually around ten to fifteen minutes, you will have had a vision or a reverie, or engaged in some other form of communication with the truly gender-neutral spirit whose sigil you created. Observe their appearance, visual or otherwise. Discuss a gender related subject with them. This is where having read parts of the previously linked online workshop is very useful.
  5. When you are done, thank them and inhale then exhale deeply a few times.
  6. Banish by doing a mildly sexual gesture, such as the sign of the fig or an erect middle finger, in the four cardinal directions.
  7. Write down what you remember of your exchange with the spirit. Or, if you prefer, keep a recording device running during your meditation and dictate your experience to it.

Reviewing the recorded material is very revealing. The spirit is truly gender-neutral, therefore any discernible gender in their appearance must be on the part of our perception. This will make previously unnoticed preconceptions and stereotypes visible, for instance how I used to think of Baphomet as masculine.

Hygienic Everyday Magic

Bureau d'Hygiène
Photo by chantrybee, CC-BY

Recently, I read up on hygienic macros in functional programming languages. (Unless you are into very geeky details of computer science, you do not have to follow that link.) Thought processes diverged and branched out and recombined, and I present you with the resulting definition of Hygienic Magic:

Hygienic Magic is magic whose working is guaranteed not to cause the accidental capture of mental identifications.

To further parody the Wikipedia article I linked: The general problem of accidental capture is well known within the magical community. Magicians will use banishing rituals and dedicated temple spaces to define the location and duration of a ritual, and to remove any residual, unwanted identifications, for example after invoking an entity.

In other words, most formal, ceremonial magical acts are hygienic.

Every intentional act is a Magical Act.

So what about the everyday intentional, magical acts where we do not set up a temple and banish thoroughly before and after? Should we be worried about contracting astral diseases off door handles? Should we expect demons behind every street corner ready to possess us? Will we ourselves become vehicles of contagion?

No. But there is a class of intentional acts which carry a high possibility of capturing mental identifications: reading or otherwise accessing or interacting with information. To a degree, the new identifications are desired and expected: by reading a book on Chaos Magic, I want to identify with being someone who knows more about the subject.

What if the book carries other, less overt information suitable for identification? By reading a text by Julius Evola for example, I will also be exposed to his latent fascism and appreciation of the nazi “order” of the SS. Will this turn me into a reactionary genocidal black brother? Not immediately, I am sure. And maybe not in the long term either, depending on my other identifications and preferences. I already know that the author had ideological affiliations which I reject, so I will be alert and my magical act of intentionally reading Evola will likely be a hygienic one.

How about reading Peter Carroll’s blog, an influential writer who is very competent in magic but whose political leanings were not previously on my mental radar? Are the identitarian overtones which I encounter there worthy of my consideration because I am so used to having my preconceived notions about reality challenged by this magician, or are they just more of the murky banality of the dark enlightenment? Or did Peter Carroll himself neglect hygiene by picking up this stray right-wing identification? And of course, questions like these should arise in me not only when accessing texts by magical writers, but when interacting with any information in general.

Protective Sigil (ineffectual without personal transformation)

Unfortunately, I know of no simple banishing ritual that will wipe away all traces of accidentally captured identifications. It is tempting to believe that wearing a suitable sigil or chanting a certain mantra will give me the magical equivalent of a condom protecting me from the exchange of fluids and energies during intellectual intercourse, but I am convinced that nothing short of a personal transformation into being more watchful and critical – and hygienic – in the everyday magical act of consuming information is necessary.

The Babysitter

My two sisters and I are standing on one side of the yellow table in our childhood house, where the family gathers for meals. There are cups and a teapot on the table. The babysitter is opposite, a young grown-up woman who is looking at us fixedly, while I am staring back at her in defiance. We three siblings begin to sing, a ditty from a fairy-tale. The three verses are appropriate and fill the space over the table, between us and the babysitter, with their threefold repetition and the progression of their theme.

I wake up.

“Who is the babysitter from the dream, dear oracle?”

CLOUDS, THUNDER, SPROUTING. ONE WEAVES WARP AND WEFT.

Three women, Surrealist Graffiti in Zagreb. Photographer: Goran Zec
Three women, Surrealist Graffiti in Zagreb.  Goran Zec Creative Commons Attribution-Share alike

The Norns? The tree is there in the form of a wooden table, water for watering it in the form of, presumably, tea in the teapot. The three ladies are there. But what is the babysitter doing on the other side of the table?

WAITING, the oracle remarks. FOOD AND DRINK.

Ahh! I had expressed interest in contacting an ancestor some time ago. Then other events demanded my attention, and that work was assigned lower priority. But if all three of the sisters of fate and destiny show up in a dream, then it is time to turn my attention back to the matter.

Food and drink. An offering is left in the kitchen over night.

RELAX, the oracle advises. WITH MUSIC. If only I could remember that little song from the dream now!


I am halfway through a psychology article about the personality structure of a person who had gaps in her psyche. The gaps were regularly spaced, with slices of actual psychological entity alternating with empty ones. The subject of this study was a powerful woman, and her actions and decisions matched up perfectly with the missing portions of her psyche. I am particularly interested in understanding her motivations because she influences the lives of all people I know. Her office is not political or economic, but nevertheless invested with a lot of power. As I begin to grasp the full scale of this entire state of affairs, my understanding becomes less certain, some aspects fade from my awareness and the dream falls apart as I gain waking consciousness.

Superposition of two wave systems
Superposition of two wave systems

There is no need to consult the oracle. This was a dream experience of Sophia, the gnostic aeon who is, according to various myths, either Mother Wisdom or else responsible for foolishly bringing forth the misbegotten creator of our universe. Her mind might well be an interference pattern of wisdom and ignorance.

So when I wanted to contact an ancestor, I did not really think it would turn out to be the wise mother of ignorance, whose foolish asexual act of creation landed us all in the circumstances we now find ourselves in.

Someone less far down the line would have been totally satisfactory.