Self-Images and Open Minds

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) was a Hungarian obstretician working in Vienna. In his time, fatal childbed fever was a common cause of death, though more common in some clinics than others. Semmelweis’ big discovery happened when he instituted a policy of washing hands between patients or between autopsies and patient care. Comparing mortality rates shortly after the policy, mortality rates at his clinic were down from a staggering 18,3% to 2,2%. He concluded that hand hygiene had been a cause of many unnecessary deaths.

Semmelweis’ discovery was ignored and/or ridiculed by his peers. Even his wife believed he was losing his mind. But why would educated, competent doctors ignore such staggering data? The philosopher Nomy Arpaly believes that this is because the doctors were lacking in open-mindedness. Open-mindedness, here, does not mean being egalitarian or accepting of other lifestyles. It simply means being receptible to new information.

Being able to receive new information can be hard, especially when that new information is contrary to our self-image. Imagine being a doctor in Semmelweis’ time – a good doctor, someone diligently invested in the well-being of his patients. You see yourself as a healer of great learning and skill. The symbols and rituals of medical practice, such as the Hippocratic oath, bolster this self-image, as does the way townspeople tip their hat to you in respect of that skill.

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A Setian Working with Holy Saint Death

Several months ago, I engaged in a 9 week Working with Santa Muerte. The obvious question any sane Setian would ask is why did I undertake the nine weeks of devotion to Holy Saint Death? There answer to that question is complex. First, I felt and acknowledged the “gravitational pull Runa” that lead me to start researching Saint Death. I have come to trust that pull and engaged it through what I refer to as the Explorer Perspective or that approach to Initiation that encourages and thrives within the strange and tangential directions we are often presented with. Second, I can see a long pattern of working with Death goddesses in my Initiation. The dark feminine, the dark aspects of my anima we could say, has been an objective (or projected) part of my spiritual life for a long time and it felt like it was time to reinvest in that aspect of my Psyche. However, this approach was a difficult way for me to engage with that aspect of my Psyche since much of the language and many of the activities associated with a devotion to Santa Muerte are Right Hand Path practices. The Working also helped to remind me and encourage me to Play. I was also simply curious as to what the outcome would be. Holy Saint Death also provided me with an invigorated approach to practical magic. I love the visceral and aesthetic nature of hoodoo but I never really had a need to really practice it. Santa Muerte combines the folk magic aspect of practices like hoodoo with a heartfelt veneration at the core of it. In other words, there was a consistent momentum or ongoing reason for the practice.  The veneration aspect was the most difficult aspect for my Setian sensibilities to accept but it was an important part of the Working and one that I am glad I embraced and continue to embrace. However, I should mention that at no time was I venerating something other than a part of myself. I don’t posit an ontological entity called “Santa Muerte” but I do acknowledge that She is more than my ego-complex. Continue reading

World building…

 

..sounds very big and dramatic, and it can be. Over time. After a lot of work.

We tend to see the results of years and dedicated work and then wonder how it was done, since it seems like an impossible achievement when we only see the end result and not the beginning. It probably started with somebody thinking something should exist. Why else would they start, anyway? Their motives might be very different, but a main idea to bring something new into the world is probably rather common, even if it was hundreds of years ago.

 

I want to begin this blog post with a disclaimer: I’m well aware that most of us need to eat, live somewhere, wear clothing, drink beer and much coffee etc, which usually means having a job and the time this takes out of our day. In this blog post I’m talking about the rest of your life. While there are things to be done about a bad job situation, even when you seem to be stuck in it, but that is a different blog post.

This is sort of a follow up to the Change part of the ‘Reframing vs Change’.. since if not reframing, then what do we do, and why? We can do things to make more of what you want.

If you look at the world you live in in your spare time, how does it look like? Is there anything you wish there was more of, something you’d want to learn, or something you miss?  World building in this context is about creating more of what you want in your world. Continue reading

Midsummer, or: the Magic of Tradition

Midsummer is the time of the year when the Nordic heathen tide runs highest. Swedes erect Midsummer poles, a variation of a Germanic maypole, while Finns, Danes, and Norwegians light huge bonfires by the water, adding a warm glow into the bleak light of the nightless night. By the pole or the bonfire, a raucous party is held, typically with dancing, swimming, a sauna, and copious amounts of alcohol.

All over Scandinavia, Midsummer is considered a time sizzling with magic. The old traditions survive, though few take them seriously anymore, choosing instead to partake for fun or out of a respect for tradition. It’s especially a time of fertility, romance, and even promiscuity. Magic reserved for unmarried women takes the center stage: most know how a maiden can use wildflowers in order to see her future husband in a dream, or enchant a crop so that bread made from it works as an aphrodisiac. But other magic is also done in midsummer, for wealth, good crops, healthy livestock, and for divination.

Finland was converted into Christianity fairly late, and even then, the new faith was mostly one for townsfolk. For a long while, the influence of Christianity was seeping into the old ways of the country folk rather than replacing them. Paradoxically, the thin layer of Christian frosting — calling Midsummer St. John’s day, for example — helped Finns preserve the old ways, at least partially, until the present day.

But why is a practitioner of the Left-Hand Path even rambling about traditions, pre-Christian or not? Aren’t we supposed to be Antinomian, discarding the bonfires erected by those around us in order for our inner truth to burn that much brighter?

In this post, I write about three good reasons to appreciate, and to make the most of, tradition. For Northern Europeans, Midsummer makes for an excellent case for each of them, but they can be applied to the traditions local to where you are. Continue reading

Reframing vs Change

 

Most of us have things we would like to change, something we are working to change, plan to change tomorrow, or when we move to a new town or when the stars are right and so on. Sometimes we believe that we have changed a lot, but our world has the audacity to not acknowledge this, even if we might be looking at it differently. Sometimes we are doing the same thing we have always done (or this is what we believe), but weird things happen. People seem to try to push us in strange directions for obscure reasons, our friends back away, and the job we loved suddenly begins to be a burden. It feels like a small-scale conspiracy going on.

It is not always easy to see when actual change has happened. The response from the world is not what one might expect, even if the change actually is for the better in the long run. Change often disrupts the current balance and threatens what is known as “normal” – and most people dislike that.

In this context I also want to write about Change with a capital C: a permanent difference in you that has made you into something more than you were before the Change happened. Initiation is about causing such Change, often through directed work towards a certain goal.

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Going it Alone: Initiatory Groups and Solo Work

“I’m not one for group work,” says the earnest Seeker. “I’d rather go it alone. My tastes are too weird and quick to evolve for sustaining any cohesive group, plus, I mostly Work on my Self anyway.”

“The Left-Hand-Path and being a member of some group are antithetic to each other”, says the ardent Antinomian.

So when a Novice Magician says, “I need the support of a magical group for my self-development, but I have no idea what that support could be in practice”, the former two balk.

“You don’t need it”, the Seeker says, “you only need yourself”.

“Don’t do it”, says the Antinomian, “you’ll lose track of yourself”.

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…and while our friends can see our faults, they won’t tell.

This is sort of a follow-up post to the one about how we are so blind to our own faults, the aptly named: We know all humans have some common faults, except us. After all, we can see no such faults in ourselves.

To sum up that one a bit:

We know there are common human faults and we can see them in others, but for some reason we seem to think we personally are exceptions. Since we can’t really see our own inconsistencies and faulty thinking very well, and which in some way makes us perceive ourselves as flawless.

We lie to ourselves when it adds  to our current beliefs, making the world a place which is easier to understand and more comfortable (even if our belief is that everything goes to hell, since the point is often to confirm what we already believe, in other words avoiding the unknown), and to make ourselves look better in our own eyes. Or to preserve our current view of ourselves. Others helpfully with these things, and of course we help them in return. To some degree this works, we mostly don’t try to kill each other during normal social interaction even if it does happen. We tend to feel safer when those around us agree with us (echo chambers are comfortable!), despite all incidents of being the last to know because nobody told you, and if you ask why, you are only met with excuses. Others might see us clearer than we do, but they are usually of no help since they don’t tell us.

If you remember the cognitive biases, a lot of them are about (and developed because) we are herd animals on some level. They are probably necessary, and this is a funny thought, if not a very comforting one:  The strange thing seen as normal social interaction based on little lies, misunderstandings and indifference, might actually be the best viable option. These lies have the purpose of making the world seem more consistent and comfortable, catering to the same cognitive biases which keeps fooling us, so they are very easy to make. We all know them. “Of course things are as you want to think they are”.

Comforting thought #2: Other people will help us lie to ourselves to be nice and since they will often see us more clearly than we do, they might be far better at telling us what we want to hear, than we are ourselves. Continue reading