The Challenge of Resting

A little breather from Origin Story to recount a new ‘project’.

I’ve been reading the shorter, Mathers translation of the Book of Abramelin written in 1458 by ‘Abraham of Worms’. If you’re unfamiliar, the fast summary is this: over the course of six months (18 months in newer, more accurate translation) you gradually withdraw yourself from the world and worldly concerns, culminating in a seven-day ritual in which you gain Knowledge of and Conversation (KC) with you Holy Guardian Angel (HGA). Once you have this (KCHGA) the spirit will then teach you all the magic and symbols you need — no need for other grimoires (which Abraham poo-poos in several places).

The challenge of studying magic is that it can, at times, become knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and it’s important for me to understand my motivation in doing these things. On a very practical level, my life is really good, and I seldom need to call on magic to enact practical change (although I certainly have). On another level, I’m not particularly interested in testing magic to just ‘see if it works’. (There are lots of reasons, I’ll revisit in another post.) Primarily, I am one of those magical practitioners who primarily does magic for those fleeting and amazing experiences of the Unseen world. Most frequently this is genius loci, spirits of places. Lately, it’s been getting to know the planetary spheres, their intelligences, and spirits.

But lately this is pulling me towards the concept of the HGA. The term is trickly. It comes from the Abrahamic traditions, and while Abraham of Worms emphasizes several times that any ‘Jew, Christian, or Pagan’ can do the rite, he does emphasize that one also needs to believe in God and that this belief should be your ‘natural’ one, that is, the one in which you were raised. When he says ‘Pagan’, I’m assuming he either means Neoplatonists or gnostics (who are otherwise considered as heretics) but I really don’t know. (I’m waiting for Goerge Dehn’s translation to arrive and hoping he illuminates that point!)

So I’ve been really considering the idea of a singular God above and beyond all else — in a way, as a pagan, it’s not that hard. I believe there are many spirits, beyond the ones I normally encounter so, of course, the Abrahamic god is as real as the ones I honor, as well as the Virgin Mary, the Saints, the Angels, etc. I just don’t have any discourse with them to speak of. I realize that would offend a lot of monotheists and that’s definitely not my intention — just the opposite. I honor and respect their beliefs (and hope they have the charity and humility to do the same for more).

At the same time, I do believe in something beyond the gods I can engage with, and that gets horribly hung up on the language. It’s like as soon as we give a name to something, whether that name is God, of _od, or Tetragrammaton, we’re necessarily shrouding it in language to bring it closer to us, rather than us closer to it. Because if we use language to get closer to it, it just, well, gets in the way.

I’m attracted to pursuing to Abramelin because I intuit that the HGA (and Aaron Leitch makes a good case for this being specific to the HGA and that it is the only known medieval/early modern grimoire text that does this) but language gets in the way. I was raised atheist, so Wicca is as close to a natural religion for me as I’ve got (by Abraham’s definition of religion, I suspect). But as I’ve been describing in my origin story, if I were going to have to use the capital-G god, it’s highly eminent and ineffable. In ineffable meaning you can’t describe with words — not that it cannot be sensed or experienced. It can definitely be sensed and experienced. But not in the same way we might experience who personal god who ‘speaks’ to you.

From the vantage of a seeker — all of this shouldn’t matter and, if it does, it’s highly personal, really. Wicca, as a practice, is broad enough to encompass a lot of different perspectives on the Divine and the Otherworld. I’m one of those Wiccans who believe that, yes, you can be a great witch and be an Athiest and, yes, you can be a great witch and be Christian — but how you come to balance any perceived tensions is highly personal. That’s entirely up to you. That is something you will decide for yourself, and no HPS or HP can ‘tell’ you how to do it (although they can certainly engage in those conversations in a supportive way, if you even want that.) These are incredibly challenging questions — and very worthwhile, whatever you end up deciding. Pushing your assumptions and beliefs, whatever they are, keeps you honest with yourself, and, ultimately, magic and gods aside, cascades that self-honesty into other aspects of your life. I’m a better wife, mother, and employee now, not because my gods asked me to be — but because of the struggles I had about what I even believed about the gods.

So that struggle is going another step further now as I engage with the question of the Big-G god. No conclusions yet, sorry! But I’m facing my biases, bigotry, fears, and assumptions head-on and — it sucks, but it also feels like I’m growing. (Note to Seekers — if you think your HPS and HP will have all the answers, ha! No dice! And if your HPS or HP claims to have all the answers, well — I’d recommend caution. Even if they’re infinitely wise, at the end of the day, you are the one doing The Work.)

So, here I am, reading the Bible and taking stabs at praying to the Abrahamic god(s) just to see what’s what. It’s a tentative experiment, and I’m trying to do it respectfully. As a woman, witch, pagan, and someone who doesn’t believe in the divine supremacy of humanity, it’s a challenge.

But I’m trying to be open-minded. I’m used to praying to the gods of the Wicca (and other gods), but not to an ineffable and eminent Divine that I ‘sense’ more than can ‘talk to’. So praying to the Divine is — it just feels really different. On the one hand, it’s right there. There’s no invoking or conjuring or waiting for things to show up. It’s inherently everywhere all the time. That’s me as a panentheist talking, I guess. But I don’t get the sense that it ‘listens’ to prayers like small-g gods. It doesn’t ‘need the food’. It is so much everything, my prayers are just another tiny, tiny part of it’s natural manifestation of Everythingness.

But it is helpful to verbalize gratitude. Just as language can veil the Divine, it can also solidify intention. That’s a core concept in witchcraft and magic, and that’s true, too, for expressing gratitude. I’m finding the same is true for verbalizing ‘sins’, but that word is almost more loaded nowadays than God. Framed another way, it’s helpful to verbalize the times you haven’t been the best you know you’re capable of being. Nothing can change those past actions. Nothing external can ‘forgive’ you and make those past actions disappear. But acknowledging them is the first step in 1) seeking to make things right, where possible, 2) facing the guilt and grief for things that cannot be undone and 3) learning from those experiences to try and be better in the future — or, in some cases, acknowledging that a circumstance was inherently impossible and paradoxical, and harm was going to happen, no matter the event. That’s part of life too.

Part of this process led me down a later internet rabbit hole into the 10 commandments and the Tables of the Law. Historically, it’s fascinating stuff. And I started considering which ones I was like, “Duh, of course” and which ones were like, “WTF?” Sure, there’s lots of stuff about it being early public health, but it’s worth considering at part of a religious practice — just for the thought experiment.

One thing I realized that I have never done, never even considered doing in all my 45 years, was maintaining a Sabbath, a Day of Rest. Usually, we’re busy complaining that we can’t buy booze before noon on Sundays (legit), but I never really considered the Sabbath aside from, oh, the day you go get indoctrinated by your church or synagogue. I know, that’s totally not fair. But that’s basically the extent to which I considered it.

I am, hands down, addicted to work. I’m good at it, I like work — work is a blessing (especially now with a nearly 20% unemployment rate). So I’m grateful for it, and I like it. But it does dictate much of my life, including the time I spend with my family, the time I spend exercising, and a lot more. When I came to Wicca, that was really the first time I started putting my whole heart into something that wasn’t work.

With everything being online now, it’s really hard to set up walls between work and the rest of life. And I could tell I was slipping — I was spending more and more time in my magical pursuits in order to ‘not work’, but at a certain point that can be a different kind of work (at least for me). So I decided Saturday night to start maintaining a Sabbath, a day of rest.

Sunday (although I might switch it to Saturday now and then — sometimes I do have recruitment events to work on weekends) I made myself rest. I wasn’t orthodox (I was allowed to turn on lights, read texts on my Kindle, cook lunch, etc.) but I wasn’t allowed to work at my job, and I wasn’t allowed to ‘make’ anything. So no emails, no drawing, none of that. To help with that, I decided to maintain the rule that you cannot write or erase more than two letters on the sabbat. This was tricky. There were a couple things I wanted to put on the grocery list – but didn’t. But basically I spent the whole day going for walks, talking with friends, hanging out with my family, reading, napping, eating.

OMG it was really nice.

It was hard to not ‘do’ some things. And I realized I may need to be stricter about some things next weekend. I may say no electronics at all, but it was really fun playing video games with my kid, which I never do.

The other thing I’ve started (on the same day) was the daily dawn and dusk prayers to the Divine. As I mentioned above, this is a little harder and is taking some theological gymnastics, but I’m using the Abramelin as a guide. At dawn and dusk I open a window (or go out on the back porch) and speak from the heart. And yeah, I’m wondering how people did this to the letter before alarm clocks.

In the Abramelin, Abraham says to read and re-read the text of the ritual for six months before commencing (and distributing 10 gold shekels as alms to 72 individuals. Once I figure out what a gold shekel is worth today, I can start cracking at that one.) But I think I’m going to take that advice on studying for six months first to heart. I’m also reading Liber Samekh and the PGM Headless Rite more closely. I’m going to start Frater Acher’s Holy Daimon as well since it’s worth looking at the contemporary version as well, IMHO. I’m hung up on the language, and, well, my Divine looks so utterly different than the Abrahamic one, it’s just a long-ass walk to the confluence. But six months buys me some time to really consider this. I do think we each have an Unseen ‘guardian’ or ‘companion’ spirit, one that cares for us, that is not the same as our Higher Selves. Different authors are rather dogmatic about what it ‘is’ (HGA, or Agathodaemon, or something else again) and it begs the question — are they different entities or not? My gut says there are probably many spirits that however around us, but one ‘natal spirit’ as it were. And the discussion about which is the ‘true’ method to knowledge and conversation feels, well, frankly political at times.

It would be helpful if magicians who’ve completed one of the rites successfully did the other ones as well, and wrote a comparison of results. But that’s a lifetime of work. And sometimes we have to also Rest.

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