The thing is, TarotFS is not the most
out-there piece of software that I’ve worked on under the guise
ocyber-occultism and in fact is first real foray into what I like to call
“Computational Alchemy” is called
qsp which is short for Qabalah Space
The name is obviously a riff on a popular rocket science simulation game, at least in part because I’m hacking together random components with the nominal goal of exploring some extra-dimensional space and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. But let’s focus in on the “Qabalah” part…
WARNING: Do your own research! I’m oversimplifying and not heavily fact checking here for the sake of some narrative context. It did not happen exactly like this.
To cut a long story short, Qabalah is pretty much a second order descendent of the school of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah. Something like this:
Kabbalah -> Christian Cabalah -> Hermetic Qabalah
The OG Kabbalah is just straight up fantastic as far as I’m concerned. To summarise (my understanding at least), it’s essentially a system in which God speaking the world into existence actually functioned, so that the creative act ex nihilo is described by mechanism of the numbers 1-10 (represented by the 10 Sephiroth, or “emanations”) and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and their particular categorization (3 mothers, 7 doubles, 12 simples) represented by the paths between the emanations. Systematically it attempts to describe all of the features of both the macrocosm and the microcosm through a series of separations from the godhead, creating dimensionality, movement, birth, death, so on and so forth. As complicated as that sounds, it’s a real simplification. If you want to lose hours of your life to a deeply complex systematization of reality and a human as a reflection of that, you know what to start reading about.
As you can imagine, due to its lineage Christian mysticism at some point wanted a piece of the action. Also unsurprisingly, it involved trying to jam Jesus into the scheme, much as you might try to jam too many syllables into some song lyrics. I don’t have much to say about this because a) I don’t know too much about it and b) Christian syncretism to my untrained eye is like a box mix that says “JUST ADD JESUS”.
Anyway, somewhat unsurprisingly with these concepts being expounded on by the likes of Agrippa in the 16th century, it was somewhat inevitable that in the 19th century magical revival that people like and adjacent to The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were going to pick up on the concept and run with it. Around this sort of time, Eliphas Levi for instance was the first to attribute the Major Arcana of the Tarot to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, creating a direct translation between the two systems. Moves like this have triggered using the 32 paths of the Tree of Life (10 emanations, 22 links between them) to be used as a central pivot of equivalences in modern occultism, and if you’re tuned into these things (or, hilariously, the right kind of anime) you may recognize at least one graphical formulation of the system, the Etz Chaim or Tree of Life:
This is, in of its own right, fascinating. We’re talking about a system of Jewish mysticism that was syncretic of the creation myth, language, mathematics and medieval terminology being increasingly built upon to become of “profound” meaning to esotericism going forward.
To my mind, there’s an exercise in credulity to be done here.
Allow me to change subject for a moment - don’t worry, I’ll bring it back round.
Isaac Newton famously discovered calculus as a collateral offshoot of his work in alchemy, toward the Magnum Opus of transmuting gold and of creating the Philosopher’s Stone. Here we have an example of credulous engagement with a historical system claiming antiquity and scientific validity producing something world-changing, or at least demonstrably incredibly profound and useful.
Now profound and useful are all well and good if you’re in to productivity, but personally I’m productive enough in my day job. I’ll settle for “pursue an arbitrary goal and see what weird shit falls out”, and I think that’s kind of what I mean by Computational Alchemy - it’s the “fuck around and find out” answer to the scientific method. Where the scientific method requires a hypothesis to disprove in order to not meander off into the tall grass, I’m treating the meander into the tall grass to be the edifying bit - where will it take me? Who knows? Who the fuck even cares?
Which brings us to what I actually did.
The first thing to note is that I’ve named it for Hermetic Qabalah, on the basis that I want it to be clear that this is very much a syncretic extension of a syncretic system, and that I’m not about to attempt to retcon my discoveries onto a system that stands in its own place and time and culture. 19th century Hermeticism, however, is asking for it.
So what exactly are we going to try to achieve here? Well when I was at university I did a masters' project on simulating electron energy loss spectroscopy on transition metal silicides, and part of prepping data for that was to compose a structurally correct formation of atoms and then running it through several iterations to essentially seek the lowest energy configuration, which is to say to find the natural configuration in which all of the forces are resolved to as close to a stable state as makes no odds.
So after reading some of Chaos by James Gleick, one of the many books that I’m still half way through, I began to look at the Tree of Life from the lens of a physics many-body problem - if I resolved the forces along the paths, what would the resulting configuration look like? What if I change the resting lengths and coefficients of restitution of all the paths? What if I map it into 3D space and join Kether to Malkuth (something you would reasonably do based on an understanding of the Four Worlds scheme in Kabbalah) and then run the simulation? What will this tell me about the universe? More importantly, what hilarious side-effects will fall out of the pursuit?
The tl;dr is that I’ve essentially implemented a scheme for doing this on
9front using libdraw for graphical rendering and composing configurations,
using ndb (yes the network configuration database format) as a graph database,
and a whole lot of farting about in
acid looking for memory management bugs
when my actual programming logic just sucks.
This post is a bit long in the tooth already though, so let’s leave the implementation and some early results for next time!