Reformatting as banishing of ritual space.

Oct 31, 2007

Due to the fact that Rending the Veil magazine has not finished restoring the backlog of old articles following a server migration, here is my first article published by them, on reformatting a computer as banishing and consecration of ritual space.

In many paradigms of Western magick, rituals are often performed to dedicate some area for use as a temple. Theoretically, by dedicating a space and everything within it to the will of the magickian(s), workings will be untainted by stray ideas, thereby leading to a more precise result. Interpreting sacred space as a reflection of the practitioners’ consciousness, the rituals used to prepare sacred space could be said to delete stray concepts from the area, allowing the operations to take place in an environment with fewer influences tainting the desired outcome. Just as one stretches and warms up exercises before beginning aerobic exercise, one would also put away stray objects that might be knocked over, broken, or otherwise get in the way of one's actions.

A computer can also represent the inner workings of a magickian's mind. The hard drive and removable drives storage of a computer correspond to a person’s long term memory, where information is stored for later use. Long term storage is also where useful software (skills, rituals, and practical occult knowledge) and meta-software (software used by other software, to aid in its function; magically, skills used in the pursuit of knowledge, and skills to aid the performance of magick, such as memorization techniques) are kept. Printers produce hardcopy as non-volatile storage; magickians produce hardcopy by drawing, writing, or otherwise permanently recording ideas. Communication between computers is done with through the encoding, transmission, reception, and decoding of data. People use their eyes to read and see, ears to hear, hands and other body parts to draw, write, produce music, and deliver storage media of some kind, and mouths to speak so that their voices may be heard. Computers have just as diverse a selection of peripheral information transfer devices, from network interface cards to USB keys and modems. Information is encoded into transferable formats: computers use files with specific internal structures, while people use words, pictures, and ideograms to format data for exchange. Checksum and message digest algorithms ensure that the data has not been corrupted in transit, and certain mathematical techniques may be applied to reconstruct damaged data so long as enough of the original information remains. Comparatively, people ask for clarification and repetition if the meaning is not clear, or if the words or text are damaged in transit. As long as the format of the data is known, the information may be extracted and apprehended in a useful manner

Computers use RAM (random access memory) as working space to perform computations and manipulate data. Programs are read into memory and executed, whereupon they interact with input/output devices, read data from files into memory, accept input from peripherals or users, and write data in some fashion for transmission, storage, or interpretation by the user. In people, the short term memory fulfills this function by recollecting from long-term memory, gathering information from the senses, manipulating the data internally, and either outputting the result somehow (via the hands, mouth, or other function of the body) or saving the result in short or long term memory.

Ritual space may represent specific ideas and structures in the magickian's mind; a computer may be considered in like manner. The ideas related to the ritual correspond to files with a certain purpose or whose contents are related to a task at hand. The magickal implements used in the execution of the ritual (such as a wand, sword, or bell) may be likened to the utilities a user has available. A mouse or text cursor could be compared to a wand, the `rm` (remove file) or `strings` (which pulls sequences of legible characters out of arbitrary input) utilities to a sword, and the `wall` utility (which displays a message to all logged-in users) to a bell or an evocation. There are some tools that have no which may not have a physical counterpart (such a text editor, which can be used to create and revise files), that may be used directly in a ritual context. Files containing evocations and executable code (in the form of source code or scripts) may be created with a text editor, and arranged in a manner meaningful to the magickian around the system

Sacred space is often set up with a ritual, be it as complex as the dedication of the Vault of the Adepti or as outwardly simple as a chaote setting off a cherry bomb in a park. A magickian may declare that the space is his/hers to do with as s/he pleases and that it will be used for the execution of the magickian's will... at least until s/he changes his or her mind and decides to throw a party in the living room. The dedication of a computer can involve the reformatting of the hard drive and the installation of software symbolically appropriate to the magickian’s purpose. The arrangement of magickal implements or utilities are calculated with the most efficient application of effort and the working space itself is swept clean of extraneous data that would otherwise clutter up the information stored in the system.

The computer system used in the working I describe below was a Dell Latitude CP that I had invested much time and energy into, by performing repairs to the best of my ability (if anyone has a replacement LCD panel for this particular model, please contact me privately), as well as upgrading the RAM with a mini-DIMM and the hard drive with a hard drive from another laptop. This laptop had been a magickal tool and associate of mine until hardware failures rendered it unusable. Not only are the upgrades eminently practical (try getting anything at all done with a 4GB hard drive these days), they also carried the residue of past magickal workings (verifiably in my body's long term memory, as provably as anything magickal is within the components themselves). From either perspective, the consecration technique erased the old associations and operations, returning them to a like-new state, free of energetic baggage that would otherwise contaminate future operations.

A never before used NetBSD v2.1 CD was inserted into the CD-ROM drive, and the laptop was booted while connected to mains power. The battery had become discharged after extended disuse, which further served to bleed off the accumulated associations upon that particular unit. (Batteries store power; in a magickal sense, they also store the potential for bringing about change, and thus can carry the echoes of past operations within them.) The BIOS setup function was used to set the date and time of the system clock as closely as possible to the date and time of the operation. Settings were saved (impressing the concept of "new beginning" within the matrix of concepts surrounding the computer) and the machine booted from CD-ROM. The installation kernel came on line and probed the hardware for installed peripherals, seeking the functional limits of the hardware before I started to configure it.

I selected a custom installation process to outfit the working environment, unplanned in the specific though it was. A kernel compiled with laptops in mind (which included PCMCIA and APM [advanced power management] support) was selected, as were the file collections that would construct a base NetBSD system. The software development kit (consisting of compilers, development libraries, header files, and associated documentation) was added to the list of file sets to unpack. The system man pages were also added to the list of implements to install, along with a suite of tools labeled “miscellaneous” (including dictionaries and documentation), and utilities to process and reformat text. I opted to not install the XFree86 packages because I wanted to keep the laptop running with as little overhead as I could manage; I would rather dedicate every compute cycle and byte of disk space to text-based applications, which I find more responsive and useful for magickal operations. However, if your tastes run counter to mine, by all means install X Windows a GUI and whatever else makes you comfortable.

I also opted not to install any games or other entertainment software, because I did not want to offer myself the possibility of distraction during magickal work (as if the cell phone, pager, e-mail, instant messenger, and other devices related to employment are not enough). I will say that the programs included in the games.tgz distribution package of NetBSD have magickal uses in their own right (`fortune,` for example, includes databases of quotes, sayings, jokes, and other text that can be used for divination; the output of the `primes` program can be used for seeding other utilities, as well as provide a steady stream of output that may be used for meditation).

The installation system detected the hard drive and allowed me to delete the existing disk partitions so that I could allocate the entire storage space to the installation of NetBSD (and by extension, technomagickal operations). Within the disk label, I allocated seven partitions: one for the root file system (/), used for storing software most basic to the operation of the system as well as configuration and support files; one swap partition (which allows idle processes to be written to disk so that the memory they occupied can be re-used); a /tmp partition to hold temporary files produced by running applications; a /usr partition, under which utilities for system users (as opposed to the system itself) are kept; a /var partition, which holds system logs as well as records produced by the normal system operation (such lists of installed packages, network maps produced by certain services, process ID files, and the states of certain applications between system boots). I also allocated a /home partition under which I would later place my home directory, where I intended to keep my notes, log files, source code, and technomagickal utilities. To use up the last bit of disk space and provide a repository for third-party applications, I also created an /opt partition. The sizes of the partitions are unimportant at this time (save in a practical, administrative sense) though practitioners who study Qabalah will possibly find tweaking the parameters of file systems useful for setting up numerical correspondences. The system console is configured as the primary means of access. Rather than display the names of the files as they were unpacked, I opted for the traditional progress bar. While staring at the names of the files as they fly by may be useful for attuning oneself to a system (I've had a great deal of success doing this), it also slows down the installation process, and seeing as how the computer I used is already a number of years out of date, I wanted the installation done in a reasonable period of time.

The installation package source (NetBSD CD-ROM in the drive) was chosen and the installer unpacked the files of the installation sets I'd selected. When that was finished, I configured the system time zone (GMT-5, to synchronize it with the other timepieces in my living space), password cipher (used to store users' passwords), and root password. The installation system finished, and I rebooted the laptop. At this point, all of the basic systemware and utilities I need to perform technomagickal operations were installed, which left only customizing the working/developmental environment to suit my particular tastes.

The offset of the laptop's real time clock (five hours * sixty minutes per hour) was set and added to the /etc/sysctl.conf file for configuration at boot-time. At this time, I made a copy of the /etc/defaults/rc.conf file (the core NetBSD configuration file) and edited it to refine the system configuration. This configuration file determines the values of system variables, such as the hostname (wide open to any magickian), the IP address to which all traffic not destined for the local network would go (the default route, in networking parlance), whether or not the /tmp partition would be erased when the system is rebooted (like many coders, I often leave scores of files in /tmp which I don't necessarily want to lose if I need to reboot), and which servers (system services) should be started when the laptop is rebooted. The servers started may be configured through a combination of editing variables in /etc/rc.conf as well as config files located in /etc. I also edited the /etc/fstab file (which controls the partitions mounted when the system starts) so that file system metadata would be recorded at the same time as changed files were written to disk, to increase the chance that a crash would not damage valuable data.

Setting system variables by hand serves to shape the environment in line with the user’s desires and workings. It also serves a more practical purpose, as the operating system is more in sync with the hardware, making it run more efficiently. As an aside, the value of the rc_configured variable was set to 'YES' so that the boot sequence would not be interrupted next time; this signifies that the configuration process was properly completed, and that the system is ready to be put to use.

After another reboot, I logged back in as the root user and created a user account and home directory to store files and notes in. The user account is, for all intents and purposes, a symbol of myself that connects me to the operating system in particular and the universe in general. After setting the password, the computer was ready for my personal use.

System security measures, such as constructing firewalls, locking down file permissions, setting access privileges, and encryption I will leave for another time and essay. Security countermeasures are readily applicable to warding sacred space in particular and arbitrary locations in general, and are worth study by any technomancer.


This work by The Doctor [412/724/301/703] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution / Noncommercial / Share Alike 3.0 License.