Honoring the ancestors of my profession

In my day job, I’m a software developer.  I was fascinated by computers as soon as I discovered them, and ended up graduating with a degree in “business” (i.e. not computer science) programming.  I’ve worked in the field for over thirty years now.  I honor the ancestors of my profession- people like Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Admiral Grace Hopper

Recently, I’ve been geeking out on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, including through the excellent BBC podcast 13 Minutes to The Moon.  I just finished the episode covering the guidance computer and those who created and programmed it and… well.  My life has been shaped in many ways by the wonder of the space program; it and science fiction literature were profoundly formative influences on my imagination and creativity.

But that episode made me realize how much the space program shaped my career.  The Apollo guidance computer pioneered the use of integrated circuits (ICs) in computers, and the Apollo program itself consumed 60% of the world production of ICs.  The very term “software” came to prominence because of the program, and the modern principles of software engineering came out of the work of Margaret Hamilton and others involved with Project Apollo.  You could say that without undue hyperbole that the modern computer industry was born in that time.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that my career wouldn’t have existed without the trailblazing work that the computer scientists, software engineers, and programmers who were behind the Moon landings were doing, around the time I was born and into my early childhood.  They (and their families), like many others in the project, paid a great cost for that triumph- long hours, isolation, marital and familiar stress, health issues.  I honor what they achieved, and the doors they opened for me.

Hail to the ancestors of my profession!



I freaked myself out a bit today.  I got pulled into an informal working meeting in my boss’s office, and afterwards I realized I’d been in an entirely different mode than usual for me (even at work)- confident, assured, completely and helpfully coherent- and entirely unselfconscious about about it.

I don’t really think of this as a mask in the sense of a falsification of my genuine personality.  It’s more a way to show a different facet of me, one appropriate to the situation and audience.

I do the same thing in ritual space, although there are many different possible facets and sometimes I need to spend extra effort in remembering when to switch from one to another.  For example, at Universal Temple of Spirits services that I attend (most of them in a given year), I’m almost always one of the people singing the opening prayers that connect the current place and time to the ongoing and permanent spiritual structure of the ritual, building the sacred space of hospitality and worship that we need.  That requires an odd split where part of me is singing prayers and names (often in other languages than English) while part of me is paying attention to the energy of the process.  During the main part of the services, I’m switching modes quite often- drumming is different than dancing and singing is different than keeping an eye out for who might be getting possessed (or is needing a little nudge either towards or away from that) is different from attending to the needs of a spirit who is riding someone is different from interacting with that spirit more directly.

I’m not always good at this.  I need to work on being less self-conscious; I need to work on better selection of what facet needs to shine at what time.  But I’m definitely getting better.

Dealing with my Catholic past

A recent post by John Beckett got me thinking.  I was raised Catholic and it (and other aspects of Christianity) definitely did me some damage.  Although I’m fond of Western Ceremonial Magic as an area of study (and occasional LARP character background), it just doesn’t work for me… and a lot of that has to do with its explicit Christian groundwork.  I’m not much of a magician (and not into the ascension/transcendence/etc. aspects of Ceremonial Magic in general), so I don’t find that to be much of a hindrance.  On the other hand, a lot of hoodoo uses psalms and prayers, and that bugs me a bit (although it seems to work).

But I do have some Vodou lwa who walk with me, and a lot of them have Catholic saint imagery associated with them.  For many reasons, that doesn’t bother me.  Most sources that I have read are pretty clear that Vodouisants appropriated those images and reinterpreted them- because the images were easy to get, attractive and resonated with them as much as for camouflage from the Catholic church.  There’s not necessarily any identification or connection implied- e.g., St. Patrick is used as an image for Damballah because of the snakes in the image (amongst other things), not because Damballah and Patrick are in any way related.

Also, for me, the lwa themselves have often expressed a preference to me for those images. Erzulie Freda wants the image of Mater Dolorosa (the one with all the golden heart lockets) over Her shrine; Erzulie Dantor wants the Black Madonna of Czestochowa over Hers.  Others are less picky- Simbi Andezo prefers dragon and snake imagery, and the Gede like just about anything with skulls and such.  If it bugged me, I suppose I could work with them to find substitutes.

I guess the point here is magic is about what works for me.  Devotion is about what the Powers want, and how that resonates in our relationship.

Poem for a friend

Sometimes Brigid has me write poems for specific purposes, or for specific people.  This is one of the latter cases; a good friend who is also one of Her children is going through some rough health issues, and found out that there is a deeper level of work going on…

Hammer and Anvil

Lady, never let me forget that
Your flame is not solely set in the
Heads of poets, or lies within the coals
Wakened from last night’s smooring to
Joy on the hearth.  It also dwells in
Your forge- trying our metal, forcing it
To glow red to yellow to white to
Be seized and beaten, spark-showering
On Your anvil.  As You hammer, I only ask:
Make pure my steel,
Make true my blade,
Make keen my edge,
And grant me, in Your mercy,
Quenching in Your well.

Poem: Note for the journey

Note for the journey

When you are drawn down that hungry well,
That tunnel, bored through cruel stone,
And your eyes, straining through the blindfold dark,
Desperate for the least glimmer or phantasm,
Catch a firelight-flicker on the edge of sight,
Only to realize it sparks and glows, relentless
From the eternal flame that heats change’s cauldron-
Remember that the skeleton of the flower
Shall be fleshed out in petals of heart-flame,
And you shall rise from the furnace, purified,
Alchemized into the truest gold.



[Something I wrote a couple of months ago…]

We cannot do this: see the world as They do-
Somewhat removed from time, suspended in
A suffusing, after-storm light, wet gold
In the west; a renewal even at sunset,
A promise more freighted with subtle awe
Than a rainbow; a pregnant peace, cloud-
Formed magic on high meeting the damp below.

Or as She sees it, as all Muses do-
All things as words to a poem, parts
To the greater work, fuel or tool or
Metal ready for the forge; gems to set
Just so, refracting; the shape emerging
Under patient hands, carved or pulled
Or picked out by paint, shaded into life.

But They cannot (choose not?) to touch direct
The world of hours; upswing, downfall,
Chrysalis-change; our senses are the ones
To take in this dust and delight, our hands
The only to mold the mortal; They may guide, order,
Even drive our actions, but our blood, brains,
Will and thews are the means of making.

Incarnation and life purpose

Today’s reblog led me to think of a poem I’d posted last year, and to thinking about my views on incarnation and life purpose.

Someday, I’ll get around to editing and updating the personal “Credo” I wrote during my studies at Cherry Hill Seminary, but for now, let me just give this brief summary of the relevant part:  I believe that we all have an eternal part – our spirit – that lies partially outside of time, and that our mortal lives are something that is an expression of these spirits, a venture that we take in order to do things in time, in matter, that we can’t do any other way.

This is not to say that we choose every part of our experience, or even any of it.  Our wills have function, we may choose to enter into a certain place and time, a certain body and culture, but we give up most of our control in doing so.  Forces in the world shape our lives, forces we have no power over. Our wills contend with billions of others.  Nature can never be wholly predicted.

Our spirits also have alliances and friendships with, and duties and obligations to others.  and above all, there are the Powers- the choice of place and circumstance may be more (or even all) Theirs, rather than ours.

But just as we don’t have complete control, we don’t completely lack it, either. The ratio of control to lack thereof isn’t constant; it rises and falls, sometimes in cycles as regular as the tides or the seasons, sometimes in jumbled turbulence like the boiling of stormclouds.

This complicated balance was behind the poem I linked to above, but you can extend the metaphor even further.  Even the most “primitive” seafarers, without keels or charts or compasses, had a vast lore and fund of skill that allowed them a surprising range and reach in their explorations.  And even in the modern era, with GPS and radar and computers, today’s seafarers still run from the storm, run aground on the most charted reefs… and have to watch out for pirates.


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