Monday, December 26, 2016

2017: The Year of Being Agile

Edited to add a list of all the posts in this series at the end...

This is reworked and expanded version of one of my early posts on Practical Magic Project Management: Agile Magic.

...In The Black Swan, our hero Taleb talks about the value of constant tinkering, failing fast, and shifting gears quickly. Our world moves very quickly, things change rapidly, and the best way to figure out what works is to fling a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.


For the Literal Minded
Turns out that software development already figured this out and created a methodology to support it. It's called Agile Development and it's based on constant iterating, frequent feedback, and incremental change. It even has it's own manifesto that goes:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.* 

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools 
Working software over comprehensive documentation 
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
Responding to change over following a plan 

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.


* This line always reminds me of Cake's "Building a Religion."

Every indication right now -- from astrology (like Austin Coppock's 2017 preview) to the results of my own divination to, well, just about all of what passes for news -- is that 2017 will benefit from this kind of approach. After all, things aren't exactly stable anywhere right now. Plus all the normal rules seem to have been bent, twisted, broken.


This is exactly the environment where Taleb's approach is the most beneficial and, indeed, may be the only one that will work at all.

There are times when we work on structured goals, within familiar spaces, with defined parameters. Like getting your master's degree -- you are told what classes to take, in what order, and what the cost will be. The steps are laid out, predetermined -- known.

Then there are times when we don't have the luxury of having that kind of structure. When we don't know what to do next or even where we want to end up. Things are shifting and flexible -- unknown.

I'm going to make the bold statement that we're all in this second category right now. Not because we lack goals, but because we're faced with navigating in unfamiliar territory. No map, however carefully crafted, can help us. We're not navigators... we're explorers.

Forget 5-year plans and long-term goals. This year you should strive to streamline your information, maximize your options, and experiment relentlessly to find out what works. I hereby declare that 2017 will be The Year of Being Agile and have created my own Magical Agile manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of re-enchanting the world by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over hierarchy and rules
Working enchantment over comprehensive philosophy
Spiritual collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

... Tinker, pivot, course correct. Do lots of small things and check in with yourself frequently. Keep overhead low. Sign up for half a dozen seminars, shoot off a ton of sigils, spell for road opening. Spend a day gardening, volunteering, writing. Do divination for self-knowledge and data gathering. Say yes to every opportunity, but avoid major commitment. Watch for omens and subtle feedback.

Agile Method and Magic
To Light the Way
Jet-lag Update
Working enchantment over comprehensive philosophy
Spiritual collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
Active Management
Agile Risk Management, Part One
Agile Risk Management, Object Analysis, the Easy Part
Agile Risk Management, Informed Intuition, the Hard Part

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Project Ivy Status Update -- And What's Coming Next

Time for the potentially embarrassing personal project update. (Note: I don't expect anyone else to care about this as much as I do. I'm updating not only because it keeps me accountable, but also because I think a lot of the information is applicable across domains -- that is, you can use it for your own projects).



Project Ivy has been going well overall, but some weaknesses in my plan are becoming evident. This is actually quite normal for a new project. You start with some ideas of what makes sense, but no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy -- even if the enemy is your own life, tendency to procrastinate, and entropy. The trick is to adjust and adapt to what you are finding, rather than deciding to give up.

First step? Make sure your goals are still the right goals. I can't overstate this. People in general are terrible at knowing what they want and, even moreso, what will make them happy. So you shouldn't be afraid of or ashamed to adjust goals as you go, or even change them completely. I hope this message has been clear throughout, but project management does not equal inflexibility.

My project is a batch of small goals that are pretty cut and dried in terms of being solid goals. No one can argue with the idea that getting more exercise is good for you. But there have been a few small adjustments.

Next step, figure out what the weak points are and come up with ideas to strengthen them.

I started this project by making a commitment to outdoor exercise on a daily (or realistically near-daily) basis. This has been going really well as long as there isn't a treacherous storm. I'd say I'd been getting out at least 6 mornings a week, again except for Death by Ice days.*

The exercise, however moderate, is helping me get a lot of other stuff done as well, which is why I chose it as a starting point. It's a keystone habit.

* This is not an exaggeration. My spouse went out to help one of the many cars that were slip-sliding up and down our street, slipped while literally standing still, and fractured his wrist. No good deed goes unpunished.

My next goal included performing regular small devotions to the spirits and ancestors (previously, I was communicating more regularly and offering less regularly -- that's what I wanted to change). Keeping routines simple is important when starting a new habit, so this work doesn't take a lot of time. This has also been going well, but not quite as well as the exercise. I think that's because unlike my morning schedule, my evening schedule is a lot more variable. So the solution here may be as simple as setting a regular "wrapping up time" where I commit to including these devotions into the other evening stuff. One tweak here is that I purchased a better translation of the Orphic hymns. My new translation is pleasantly non-rhyming (personal preference). Thanks Gordon for the recommendation.

Of course it helps that I have a strong overlap between my person practice and the entities in these hymns. For those with a more British Isles bent, the Carmina Gadelica is wonderful (and I admit to a great fondness for Mike Nichols Pagan Carmina Gadelica as well).

A bigger weakness is in accomplishing less regular items. I clearly need to do more work on items that are monthly or quarterly. Because these items aren't in front of me every day, I find I'm not making as much traction on them. First I need to break some stuff down into smaller chunks. This is PM 101 (told you, embarrassing!), but sometimes you just can't see you haven't made the tasks small enough until you get into it. Second, for items that are already small but just infrequent (like a monthly devotion) I need to make sure I'm scheduling in advance. It's not enough to note the day, I really need to block out the time too. Sigh, I had no idea my life had become so busy!

But I do have a holiday break from work, so I'll use some of that time to prepare for the coming year. This includes reviewing the project itself in detail. This is a common catch-22. You get so busy that you don't take the time to plan and organize... so you stay busy. Anyone (even people who PM for a living) can get caught up in this.

Finally, my project includes plenty of magic which I've been making good progress with, however I think my plan is light on the magic to make my project itself successful. So I've got new devotional habits and magic work for certain ends, but I don't have as much magic for the project itself. This is easily rectified however as I can conceive of some workings to tie things together at the meta-level. When doing a major project, it's important for the project itself to become an entity so that it takes on a life of its own. I'll be talking more about this soon.

So again, I don't expect anyone to care about the details of my life. But I do think that it's increasingly important that we focus on real life and real change. As the social fabric starts coming apart at the seams and consensus reality gets increasingly manipulated and mushy, your ability to make changes in your own life are not only a practical benefit, but a balm against the riding tide of, well, insanity out there.

Starting after the Solstice, I'm going to be kicking off another round of PMPM posts. Some content will be repurposed (I have many more readers now), some will be material previously shared only with a select few, and some will be brand new.

I'm sharing this material for free because I believe in its importance. It's becoming increasingly hard to own your own life. In order to remain as free and soverign as you can, you must be able to conquor your own inertia, limitations, and blocks. You have to make positive change in your own life and the lives of those you care about and connect with. Because no one else is going to do it for you and in fact, many forces are aligned against you.

A year ago on the blog: Mind War: This Butterfly -- Smashing Teacups for a Better Tomorrow

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Low Ocean

I dreamed that I was in an occult/antique shop. The kind that you wish you could find, but that only seem to exist in dreams and Harry Potter books. I was drawn to a dusty glass case. Inside were a handful of picture cards laid out on velvet. Like tarot, but not any tarot I was familiar with. The cards were battered and yellowed, obviously very old. The card that I focused on was titled Low Ocean.

The card was a seaside scene. Stone houses along a sea wall and a quay. However the water had withdrawn far into the distance. Ships were grounded on the sea floor and strange creatures had become beached or semi-submerged in pools on the muddy bottom. The ocean had withdrawn. Curious onlookers were exploring the normally hidden seafloor.

But the card wasn't about curiosity or discovery... it was about menace and risk.


Here's the relevant section from Wikipedia:

Drawback


An illustration of the rhythmic "drawback" of surface water associated with a wave. It follows that a very large drawback may herald the arrival of a very large wave.
All waves have a positive and negative peak, i.e. a ridge and a trough. In the case of a propagating wave like a tsunami, either may be the first to arrive. If the first part to arrive at shore is the ridge, a massive breaking wave or sudden flooding will be the first effect noticed on land. However, if the first part to arrive is a trough, a drawback will occur as the shoreline recedes dramatically, exposing normally submerged areas. Drawback can exceed hundreds of metres, and people unaware of the danger sometimes remain near the shore to satisfy their curiosity or to collect fish from the exposed seabed...

In my dream I understood this instinctively and I knew that there would have been a partner card titled Deluge. This dream was years ago, but it's more relevant than ever.

My friends, we are at Low Ocean. 

The normal waters have receded and new landscapes are being revealed. Strange creatures appear, gasping in the sudden air. It's tempting, isn't is, to stay and explore? Picture the people on the ships, taking selfies and rearranging the deck chairs, and the villagers up to their ankles, trying to figure out what's happened.

But Low Ocean isn't the time to be poking about in the muck. Not the time for endless speculation and pointless curiosity. No, it's time to move to higher ground. Because the deluge is coming, and if you are in its path you will drown. And a boat won't save you. Not the fanciest yacht can keep you from smashing when the water returns. No wall will stop this, no debate will solve it, no technology will mitigate it. It's too late to keep it from happening.

Take those you love, if you can, and climb.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sustain-ability: Real Things

Wait, didn't I say I was unplugging?

Why yes, yes I did. However, it's unlikely that I'll be able to stop writing. If I don't blog or journal, my brain starts doing this endless churning. Did you even read the advice that you should keep a pen and pad by your bed so that you can jot down things that are keeping you from sleeping? It's like a whole life version of that.

Still, unplugging is in full force, though like any actionable goal, it's a process and not a end state. I've already culled a huge amount of TV, websites, blogs, and social media. Mainly news and news-like substances, but also vacu-tainment and click bait. The sources of external data I'm still following have been thoroughly curated.

So what have I been focusing on? Real things, including:

Holiday Stuff -- Getting and decorating our tree. Gifts. Cards. Etc. This year I feel the darkness more acutely and am craving the holiday of lights.

Our favorite ornament. Thanks Val!

Food Stuff -- quiche and cake for my dear friend's birthday, homemade stock, chicken and dumplings, beef mushroom soup. And I have a ton of baking planned for my break from work. I'm also planning some winter jam this year (usually I only make jam in the summer).

Magic stuff -- working the various altars, doing major divination, looking ahead and planning a couple of larger workings. Also experiencing some 2x4-over-the-head type omens, a good indicator of connection (though some of the omens really sucked).

Personal stuff -- by this I mean "self care" (though that term has gotten loaded down with a lot of narcissistic consumer baggage). Think warm baths and hot tea and good nights of sleep. Reading books with pages (fiction even). Planning and starting a couple of the kinds of creative projects that give me a lot of personal satisfaction as well as a launch pad for practical enchantment.

People stuff -- connecting with the people I'm closest to. Reaching out to those further afield. Also a plan to expand that circle a bit.

This has been a very busy and challenging year for me. And that's just in my life, not including any external craziness. I really need a good break. But taking time off of work is only the beginning. More important is a break from unhelpful habits, confounding information, and panic-inducing situations.

Above all, a refocusing on the personal, the true, the real.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

CircleThrice End of Year Wrap-up (Also Pimpin')

I wanted to do a bit of an wrap-up of a few things on the blog before I take a well-deserved end of year vacation.

I will be unplugging for the holidays...

First, I updated the Index page. If you want to follow any of my longer series, that's the place to look.

In recent months, I've written a lot on the Mind War and Sustain-ability series. But looking forward, I want to be more focused on directly helping people make changes in their lives. There is a lot of upset and panic out there. For me, the response that works best under those circumstances is to be organized and proactive and productive (that is, to get my shit together). This coming year, I want to refocus on helping other people with that as well. Here are some of my plans:
  • A revisit of the PMPM series, with additional content.
  • Habit formation and habit change.
  • Mental innoculation against harmful ideas.
I also updated my Services page. This was a big year for me, with new readings and a new consulting offering.

If you're looking for a great experiential gift for someone, consider one of my tarot readings. You'll be helping someone you care about craft their own fortune. Proactive, solution-oriented advice for when life seems crazy? I've got you covered!

Or if you don't know what to ask for? Why not ask for support making positive changes in your own life and request a PMPM consulting session? Companies invest heavily in professional project management because they know they'll get a great return. Now this kind of investment in success is within reach of the individual. Add the integration of practical magic and you have a powerful ally to help you meet your goals and make your dreams come true.

Now, you can buy someone a gift certificate for any service I offer (or ask for a gift certificate for yourself!). Check out the Services page for details on all my readings and consulting services.

Finally, you'll be doing good in the world -- 10% of my CircleThrice income (before any expenses including my own time) goes directly to help the homeless. This has been true since I started and it won't ever change.




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Friday, November 25, 2016

Mind War: Part Nine -- Memetic Reverse-Engineering and Self-Innoculation

This post ties directly to the very first post in this series (side note, if you want to catch up on any of my series, the Index is the place to go). I ended that article with only a brief mention of memetic engineering -- the act of deliberately crafting memes and releasing them into a culture. Since then I've learned more and believe that in our current climate understanding how memes are crafted is of even greater importance than ever before.

I'm of the opinion that memes exist naturally as a function of society and communication. These natural memes are the common ideas, beliefs, and assumptions that a society has. A meme is transferable (can be shared with others), has a certain lifespan, and has some kind of effect on the thinking and/or behavior of the parties sharing the meme.

Memes can clump up into more complex forms. These are known as meme-complexes (or memeplexes among those who study this topic and who seem to really like catchy terminology). So how we act, what we think is right, and what we do not tolerate can become a unit -- a morality. If it then attaches to "what we believe" you have a religion. Note that these memes are value neutral. They can strengthen or weaken society or help or harm its members. And the clumping mechanism is also organic to the society. So ideas about children or marriage or death are shared individually and then connect to one another in the mind and begin to be shared together. 

But not all memes evolve naturally. Some are specifically engineered with a goal in mind and created for a target audience. Advertising/marketing and propaganda are the most common sources. In fact, these two enterprises have been tightly intertwined since WWII. The primary difference is that marketing has a financial goal while propaganda has a political one. Public service communications are a more benign source (I dare you do watch this wonderful little thing and not have it stuck in your brain forever). Originally, marketing and propaganda created memes by accident, as part of their larger work (mis)informing and persuading. But it was only a matter of time before memetics itself would be weaponized (oh please, don't act so surprised). 

So organizations of possibly questionable intent are creating memes and memeplexes with the goal of impacting the way that YOU think and act. In order to deal with these, you need to understand them. So lets do some reverse-memengineering (yes, I'm a memeticist! catchy terminology confers credibility).

Memetic Reverse-Engineering
The following is an amalgamation from these sources plus some of my own ideas:
Asher describes the parts of a meme as: anchor, carrier, payload. Hofstadter used the terms hook and bait. Tyler adds the concepts of threat and vacime (told you, catchy terminology). There are other, even more complex, classification systems as well (this is clearly a THING). My focus is on how you can pull the meme apart to find its component parts so I wanted to keep it simple and useful, rather than overly academic and I wanted to particularly highlight the overt message rather than the hidden one (which is a common feature of weaponized memes) which I call the package and the payload.
  • Bait / Anchor: This is what gets you onboard with the meme. It's the entrance point into your brain. This is often the most surface element of the meme (the image, headline, the catchphrase, the jingle). When you see a link to "25 celebrities who ruined their looks" or "this one strange trick can cure cancer" -- that's the bait (hence click bait).

    This is also what gets the meme to stick over time. It anchors the message into your thoughts and allows the meme to infect you long term so you can keep sharing it. Common anchors include common sense (everyone knows that), the ever-popular confirmation bias, logic/faulty logic (A seems like B and A is true, therefore B is true), and "lies, damned lies, and statistics." These baits and anchors can be accurate or inaccurate and are often specifically targeted to a certain demographic.

  • Hook / Carrier / Threat: This what keeps the meme moving. It's the incentive to share and mechanism for sharing. It can be overt (forward this 10 times and you will receive blessings) or subtle (check out this funny video so you will think I'm cool). It can be a carrot -- ostensibly helping others (this information could save your child's life) or making you feel good (virtue signaling). It can also be a stick (share now before it's too late). The Internet comes with built in carrier mechanisms (like, share, repost). Catchphrases or jingles -- which literally have a hook ("dumb ways to di-i-i...") also encourage sharing. 
For the love of God, shaaaaaareeeee meeeeee!
  • Package / Payload: This is the core of the meme -- the idea meant to change how you think and act or what you believe. The distinction of a package versus payload may be my contribution to memetic engineering (since I've not yet found another source that references this). While organic memes will often have a straightforward payload (we don't discuss controversial issues at a funeral because it's disrespectful both to the dead and their family), engineered memes will frequently have both an overt message (the package) and a hidden one (the payload). An obvious example of this is advertising. In the ad below, the package is "you want a new expensive car." However the payload, which is part of the globe's most widespread memeplex is "buying things will make you happy and fulfilled."
Huh huh, they said piece...

An Exercise in Memetic Reverse-Engineering (play along at home)

Exhibit A:

Bait / Anchor: Use of "crooked Hillary" catchphrase in an ironic way. Lies damned lies and statistics. Confirmation bias.

Hook / Carrier: Social media share fodder (like this, repost this, share this). Seem politically aware and informed (look at all those numbers).

Package / Payload:
Overt message -- Trump is bad, Hillary is good
Subtle message -- the most important thing is not getting caught

Exhibit B


Bait / Anchor: Eye-catching face. Everyone knows this. More confirmation bias.

Hook / Carrier: Social media share fodder (like this, repost this, share this). Seem rebellious and anti-establishment.

Package / Payload:
Overt message -- Hillary is bad, her supporters are bad
Subtle message -- Hillary supporters don't care about her baggage, maybe you (Trump supporters) shouldn't care about his -- AKA the all's fare in love and war rationale

Exhibit C


Bait / Anchor: Popular symbol (the safety pin, which ironically is only popular because of other memes). Declarative and easy to repeat catchphrase (two of them in fact).

Hook / Carrier: Social media share fodder (like this, repost this, share this). Virtue signaling (I'm so awesome).

Package / Payload:
Overt message -- I am not a racist
Subtle message -- Minorities need protection from the dominant culture. This protection is useless and shallow (what are you going to do, poke the alt-right with your pin?).

Exhibit D -- bonus round

The examples above are the simple image memes that run rampant on the Internet. This next one is much more complex and professional. I received the following in email (text in blue) and it's an excellent example of the nuanced, weaponized memeplex. See if you can reverse engineer the component parts:

Subject: The incredible law that can still stop Trump

Avaaz is an organization that helps make positive changes around the globe. Please help by  in signing this petition and sending it to your contacts.

Hillary won more votes than Trump, and still lost. But the genius popular vote plan could still stop Trump from becoming president -- but we have to act fast. Click to sign this urgent petition with just one click and share with everyone you know: 


SIGN THE PETITION
Dear friends,

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump! That’s right, Clinton won the popular vote, but the electoral college system will silence the people’s voice. But there’s an incredible Hail Mary plan that could still stop Trump -- if we act really fast! 

The Popular Vote Plan is genius. It’s legislation that would guarantee the candidate who receives the most popular votes is elected, and it only needs the support of enough states to equal 270 electoral votes to pass. 10 states are on board, and 4 have pending legislation, so it’s already 3/4 of the way there! 

The electoral college meets in a few weeks to decide our next president -- and if we can create enormous national pressure on the few holdout states to adopt the plan before it's too late, we can still stop Trump from becoming the next president. Let's make this massive! Click below to sign this urgent petition with just one click and share with everyone you know: 


Sign this urgent petition to stop Trump now

To state lawmakers in Oregon, Connecticut, New Mexico and across America:
As citizens deeply concerned that the presidential candidate with the support of the majority of American voters will not become president, we urge you to pass the National Popular Vote bill immediately before the electoral college meets on December 19. The voice of most Americans should not be silenced. It’s time to make sure that every vote, in every state, matters in every presidential election.
Sign this urgent petition with one click now 

The electoral college system is a disaster for our democracy. It forces presidential candidates to focus all their energy on a small fraction of their voters -- leading to crazy policies like the enormous agricultural subsidies designed to appease farmers in the electorally-important state of Iowa -- and it leaves 75% of voters without a voice in who runs our country. 

To officially get rid of the electoral college would require a constitutional amendment. But what’s so brilliant about the Popular Vote Plan is that it doesn’t need a change to the constitution, it just needs the consensus of enough states. Here’s how it would work: states pass legislation saying they will give all their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, and, when there are enough states to represent 270 electoral votes, the legislation becomes binding. In 2004, Bush became president in the exact same way Trump is set to. Right after the election, there was huge outrage over the electoral college -- but then our attention moved on. This time, we must seize the moment and do everything we can to stop Trump from becoming president. 


Click to sign the urgent petition to stop Trump

Democracy is at the core of Avaazers' DNA. We come together around the idea that the world we want is a dream shared by most people everywhere -- not just the vision of the few. This is a chance to take a step towards that vision despite the darkness of the last few days, and to put our country on the path to a better future. 

With hope, 
Oliver, Nell, Allison, Andrew, Emma and the whole Avaaz team 

More information 

National Popular Vote
http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/ 

Here's the best chance America has to revamp the Electoral College (Daily Dot)
http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/national-vote-electoral-college/ 

The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists (Time)
http://time.com/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/

This is a masterpiece of memetic engineering and, while I know it's long, I think it's worth dissecting in full. Here are a couple of hints to help you on your way:

Bait / Anchor: Classic click bait subject line, use of terms like Genius, positive changes, etc. Facts, links, etc.

Hook / Carrier: This makes extensive use of both overt and covert appeals to share. I counted 19 overt appeals (many linked into strong action sentences). And how is sharing this supposed to make you feel? Intelligent, informed, sophisticated, activist?

Package / Payload:
Overt message -- The overt message is as obvious and in your face as any online sales letter. Defeat Trump, change the law.

Subtle message -- Here's where things get interesting. The more blunt the overt message, the more hidden the subtle one often is. Does it help to know that Avaaz was cofounded by MoveOn.org (our friend Mr. Soros is a major funder) and Res Publica (John Podesta sits on its board)?

Is this about getting the candidate you want when you want it? Or is this about teaching the lesson that democracy -- itself a well-crafted meme with sacred status in our country -- is whatever you can twist the law to make it mean? Is it asking us to question our founding fathers (heresy akin to arguing abortion rights at a funeral) and for what end?

The Point to All of This

Historians may look back and call our current age the age of memes. Of course, the tools of sales and marketing (which work) have long been co-opted beyond their stated purpose by political and state actors. But at this point manipulation of information is at its height and it's becoming increasingly challenging to discern what's accurate, true, useful, or harmful. I believe that identifying truth may be out of our hands at this point (in war, truth is the first casualty), but if we can identify the seeds of manipulation we can avoid the worst weapons in the mind war.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Risk Mitigation Case Study -- President Trump Edition: Part Two, Resurrection

The last post was my Empire Strikes Back... this is Return of the Jedi (but no Ewoks).



Keep Calm (and Carry On)
Since the election happened there's been a lot of, well, flailing around. But just because some things are bad right now (lessons learned implies you have your eyes wide open) doesn't mean we have to get fatalistic. In fact, panic and fatalism are the worst responses to, well, pretty much anything. They are extremely unhelpful in every circumstance.

The most distraught people I've seen are suffering from major cognitive dissonance. Their idea of the world and their idea of what the world was going to be are way out of alignment with reality. If you can remain clear eyed and objective -- both about the things that actually impact you (note, different than things you may be concerned about or care about) and what changes are occurring -- you will be in better shape, practically and emotionally.

Remember that fear leads to anger... which explains pro-Trump voters as well as anti-Trump protesters.

Good Ideas are Contagious Too
Trump's no Hitler (for example, Hitler was a skilled orator who could string coherent sentences together -- oh snap!). There's a chance that his worst ideas could be laughed off the stage. I hope so. If you want to help make this happen, you need to avoid labeling 90 million people as bigots. First, it's not true. Second, it's not helpful. Yes, I get the line of thinking that goes "these people saw the racism and didn't think it was a deal breaker..." but remember, many Hillary supporters saw the war mongering, drone strikes, pandering to Wall Street, and general corruption and didn't think those were deal breakers either. No one's hands are really clean.

You can't know what's in people's secret hearts. If we react with anger, we just drive us further apart, which is what the power brokers want. Honestly we need to demand better options. The two least popular politicians in history (hyperbole, but not by much) don't make for a great result for anyone. Of course we can be legitimately angry with bigotry where we see it... of course we can and we should. We should tolerate everything but intolerance. But angry with half of all of us? Anger leads to hate...

The Government Doesn't Care About You -- It's Up to Us to Care About Each Other
This new government may do, shoot is already planning to do, things I don't like. But they were doing things I didn't like before -- for the last eight years too! The systems of power in the US (and most of the rest of the Western World) are hopelessly corrupt and broken. Corporate titans and political titans are THE SAME PEOPLE... and they don't care about us. Other individuals in business and government are likely great people, but they are snared in the same system.

We need to stop expecting the government to fix things. Honestly, whether you are the staunchest social conservative (why are you here?) or the most liberal progressive, we need to take care of ourselves and each other. Sure, it'd be nice if the government played a role, but even when they honestly try they fuck stuff up.

When we are torn apart (inside and outside) we are fodder for this machine. We battle for scraps or struggle to change the system while they cash in. And no, I'm not talking about school teachers or doctors. We need to define who the enemy is here. I'm talking about the .1%, those who have accumulated more wealth and power than every other demographic.

And remember, power is as important as money (rich people can pay to have someone killed, powerful people don't have to pay).

Please go and read this... I'll wait. It was soul healing during my own dark night. Because hate leads to the dark side...

People are Squishy and Prone to Being Good
As I said before, people are squishy. Most -- seriously, the vast majority -- just want to have safety and security, raise families and prosper. The difference is that some see it as a zero-sum game where winning means that someone else loses and losing means that someone somewhere else is winning. Our society loves this. Others are more collaborative and see that in society more people winning tends to help everyone win, except that our own system seems broken in this regard. When only a tiny minority are winning most of the prizes, then both groups feel lost and out of their depth.

Our current society doesn't fulfill our needs -- social, economic, spiritual. That makes us weak, prone to manipulation, easily turned against one another. Indeed, all of us can be turned -- more easily than we'd like to believe. We can be turned to the dark side or to the light. Keep focusing on the light.

A Little Light
I'm not going to try to predict exactly what's going to happen. If you are concerned and want to see what black swans are coming in your future through divination go to my posts that lay out an earlier version of the Black Swan reading for free (yes, I do an refined version for people for money, but you can do one yourself or for a friend) -- figure out what's coming for you, see what to do about it.

Choose proactivity, productivity, love, and light. Always.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Risk Mitigation Case Study -- President Trump Edition: Part One, Post Mortem

I've been on a bit of a media blackout sabbatical. After major ancestor work on Halloween, I had a quick work trip to our Northern neighbors (yes, I came back). Then a pile of mundane day job work as well as some magical self care.

So, let's get to it. I'm going to skip both the Monday morning quarterbacking and recriminating and skip right to the practical (as is my habit).

Let's start with lessons learned. In the business world, this is called, charmingly enough, the post-mortem.

 Please hold your death of democracy jokes until the end

1. You can't plan for the worst case scenario if you aren't willing to acknowledge its possibility.

Some very smart people I trust were forecasting this outcome (one of them sleeps beside me in bed). But I admit that I had a hard time believing it. I was focused on the polling numbers at a site I trust (which turned out as wrong as everyone else who tracked the polls). So I was surprised, though not as shocked as some obviously were. I did learn a lesson from 2012 -- there were many, MANY republicans who were caught flatfooted by Obama's success. They were convinced that Romney was going to trounce him. I don't know where they were getting their information (*cough* fox news *cough*) but the bubble they were in told them something that wasn't in line with the truth. This time, it was the democrats' turn to be in the bubble.

Since the election, Obamacare enrollment has shot way up*. I bet we'll see passport applications also increase (if you need a passport for upcoming travel, you better get in ahead of the crowd). The Canadian immigration site crashed. These are mitigation actions people could have taken before the election, if they had only been willing to accept the possibility of this outcome.

* Please note the bleak irony of this. We'd recently heard that ACA premiums were going up. This was no surprise to me, since the weakness of the plan was always that healthy people (who pay in more than they get back, a necessary component of any sustainable insurance program) would stay out and pay the minor fine instead. Now that they might loose it, they suddenly decide it's worth the money. What were they going to do if Hillary won? Wait until they got sick to join? Nice hypocrisy there.

2. You can't know what's in a person's secret heart.

There's been a lot of poll-splaining in the past few days. And there are many reasons (both general and specific to this election) that the polls might have been so wrong. These include the ever popular confirmation bias, the reduction of landlines among certain demographics, and so on. I'm leery of trusting a lot of this analysis right now (listening too closely to the people who mucked it up so badly doesn't make sense to me). But one particularly interesting suggestion that has some comparative data to back it up is that people seemed to respond differently to robo-polling than human polling. That maybe a bunch of people felt differently than they were willing to say to another person beforehand. That in the secrecy and privacy of the voting booth, they could do what they really wanted to do. And what they wanted to do was say "fuck you" to the establishment and the government and all the other people who they think are to blame.

3. Ideas are contagious, bad ideas more so.

One question that's been going around is "just how many bigots (racists/sexists/homophobes) are there?" Responses range from ALL OF THEM (who didn't vote for the Hill) to maybe a tiny minority of Trump supporters (so don't worry your little heads about it). The answer really is: "just as many as there were last week." It's the same country.

... for now ...

We have to remember that bigotry isn't a binary state. You aren't bigoted or not bigoted by birth or by flipping a switch. No, people are way more complicate and squishy that that. There are plenty of people who are convinced they aren't racist or misogynist where the people of color or women in their lives would disagree with them. Or people who are completely illogical about it (what? illogical people? who knew?) like they hate immigrants despite the fact that their brother-in-law is from Nicaragua. This is the "some of my best friends are..." and "I don't mean you, you aren't like those people" crowd. The most horrible people have no idea how horrible they are.

Having a shitty life makes more of those people, but so does being empowered by having their ideas validated. When I was pretty young, I pulled my mom aside one day and asked her "how could the Germans let that happen? Why didn't everyone just stand up and say no." My mom's explanation was as follows: After WWI, the German people were crushed, despondent, and broke. Then along came a guy who told them it was going to be OK. That they were awesome. That it was really great to be German, in fact it was the best thing to be German. All their problems were caused by these other people and he was going to make Germany great again.

This was very appealing. They wanted to feel good, they wanted prosperity, and it felt good to have something concrete to blame, someone to point the finger at. Obviously some proportion of the people were anti-Semitic. Otherwise he would have been laughed right off the stage. Having their ideas validated empowered them. Others were sucked in by this very bad idea. They became anti-Semitic, particularly when they saw their Jewish neighbors being successful when they weren't. And saw the other Germans embracing the idea that the Jews were to blame (everyone thinks so). So they elected this guy and by the time that things were spiraling way out of control, well it was too late. And by then your personal views mattered fuck all. My mom had Jewish people hiding in her basement, but my uncles still fought in the war.

So, let's not fool ourselves. However many bigots there are now, there will be more of them. Which really sucks, because my preferred candidate had all the "fuck you system, fuck you right in the ass" energy without the attached deplorableness.  But I didn't get my preferred candidate because of cheating and manipulation by the self-same system.

4. People really want a hero.

When Natural Born Killers came out, it caused a lot of commotion. It was an edgy movie, yes, but the thing that really seemed to shake people was that there weren't any good guys. It was a postmodern tour de force -- nothing right or wrong, everyone corrupt and flawed, and no one you can root for without feeling dirty. The thing that fascinated me was how its lack of morality caused me to question my own. Watching the movie, my brain would search desperately for someone to side with, only to have my brief illusions of empathy shattered by the character's behavior.



Welcome to modern American politics.

The other story my mom tells is how she lost her faith in the Church. It was at the end of the War that we talked about the start of above. Her hometown was flooded with refugees and it was bitterly cold. She stood in the plaza outside the cathedral, a young teen the same age as my own child. It was starting to snow and all around here people were literally dying on the stones, from cold, from hunger, from injury. The doors of the balcony opened and the Bishop appeared to bless the crowd. "Now," mom thought "they will open the doors and give the people food and shelter." But the doors never opened. That was when my mother lost her faith in human institutions of religion.

By Aconcagua - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1860551

Obama was how I lost my faith in American politics. In 2008, on election night I cried with joy. I really felt like things were going to be OK. That we finally had someone who actually cared about the people in this country... in 2012, I was mildly pleased that he beat Romney (what an ass) but mostly disillusioned. Tuesday night I was surprised, yes, but not crushed the way so many Hillary supporters were. I'd resisted the urge to make her my hero, because while I really wanted to support her emotionally (a woman president, yay!) I just couldn't intellectually.

That doesn't mean I'm pleased with the outcome. I'm the opposite of pleased. But the truth is that I wouldn't have been happy in either case. No heroes. No good guys.


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Monday, October 31, 2016

The ROI on Family

We've been honoring our beloved dead for several decades now, but it's only in the last eight years or so that the work has expanded beyond the confines of this time of year. I wish we'd done it sooner. Because of all the spiritual practices of our household, the one with the best Return on Investment is our work with the ancestors.

Your ad could be here...


I'd describe my entire religious and spiritual life as, well, relational. I'm always focused on the relationships I can build. With Deities who've shown an interest, with spirits of place, and with my actual relations. The most reliable and most supportive are, by far, our beloved dead. After all, they have a vested interest in seeing our family do well and a much better grip on the challenges and issues of the modern world than a lot of ancient spirits.

Plus in my case, the Deities I work most closely with are not gentle. They're tough and they challenge me. They aren't nurturing. My family on the other hand? Well, they watch out for me.

Please note that when I talk about Return on Investment (ROI) I'm not necessarily talking about financial return. In fact, both the investment in and return on magical and spiritual practices can be physical, emotional, mental, time-based, and so on. Despite this, I think that considering ROI is an important tool for deciding how to prioritize your magical work.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in what's cool or trendy, what the latest popular book suggests, or what pleases us aesthetically, that we forget to focus on what works. Experimentation is fun, but the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we're getting something back for our efforts. Not only good fortune, but also emotional, health, or personal growth benefits.

That means that when I say that honoring the dead gives the most return for the effort, that's my experience and my experience alone. Still, I'm not the only one who thinks so. After all, honoring those who've gone before is so ubiquitous throughout the world, throughout history, and across all different kids of religions, it might be close to universal spiritual guidance.



The investments we've made in honoring our ancestors are relatively small. First, we brought them out of the closet, literally, and into the center of our home. Second, we honor them in small ways (with a greeting or good morning) and offerings on a more regular basis. Third, we ask them to watch over our household. Finally, I've integrated my relationship with my grandmother into my CircleThrice work as a patron. And of course, we still do a major offering at this time of year.

In terms of results, without getting too personally specific, here are some areas where I've seen an impact:
  • Improved relationships with living relatives.
  • Increased good fortunate or luck.
  • Positive household energy and smoothed interactions.
  • Uncrossing and road opening.
  • Stability in the desired areas -- particularly those that are beneficial to the household.
  • Enhanced divinatory intuition (this is probably specific to my background, but if you have relatives who had the same kind of job or hobby as you, I recommend calling on them for assistance).
This work has been so helpful that I hope to extend it as part of my year-long personal project. Here are some of the areas that I'm working on:
  • Adding additional extended family to the ancestor wall -- this was by request and they will be introduced tonight.
  • Being more regular with small offerings.
  • Being more specific about the things that would be helpful.
If you're not in the habit of working with your ancestors, this would be the perfect time to give it a try. Simply get any photos or other objects from your beloved dead and set them up someplace in the middle of things. Just make sure there aren't any living people in the photos. If you don't have anything from them, write their name or 'title' (ie grandmother's grandfather) on a piece of paper and mark with a drop of your blood. Add a flame (lantern, candles) and incense and then set out the offerings. Our SOP includes: tea, liquor, flowers lying on the alter (dahlias this year but often roses), pomegranates and apples, gourds, pet treats (we have 4-footed beloved dead too), chocolate, etc. 

Frankly, I don't make a big fuss about it. I just call on them by name and we toast them. These are family members after all -- no need to be formal. This year I have some wonderful Dia de los Muertos gourmet chocolate skulls (so I can be all culturally appropriative in my celebrations). In past years, they've gotten part of the budding psychonaut's trick-or-treat haul. In the earliest years, they got a bit of whatever we happened to have.

Dude are you even Mexican?
Everything will sit out overnight and tomorrow all the offerings will get composted. It's always interesting how flat and, well, dead they seem. Very different from offerings to the Gods, where there's this sense of sharing with and enjoying the thought more than the essence. No, the dead drain the essence of the offerings in a way that makes me wonder about vampire legends.

Your mileage may vary of course, but I recommend reaching out and back to those who've come before you and those your remember. It's a smart investment.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sustain-ability: Too Much Shit

I've written previously about the death of the middle class. One of my points was that it's hard to find mid-level quality items -- everything is either really expensive or it's shit... and there's no shortage of the latter.

Since we have a teenager who seems to be growing out of clothing before they're even worn, let alone worn out, we make regular runs to Goodwill to donate. This seems fair because, since the kid has a clothing budget, there's a lot of shopping at Goodwill too. So it makes for kind of a nice loop.

Recently I had a car-full of stuff to donate. Some clothes and shoes, a couple of coats that stopped fitting over the summer, and some pet supplies for our cat (RIP). I took a cruise past the Goodwill truck nearest to me and they weren't open. So I drove over to the bigger, permanent facility. I was floored by the huge amount of stuff, both wedged under the unmanned truck and almost completely filling the parking lot. Just, all kinds of STUFF. Furniture, mattresses, construction stuff (sinks, etc.). And all of it looking beat up and near death.

This is actually from a local Goodwill dropoff,
though not the one I'm writing about here...

Part of this is due to rampant consumerism, I'm sure. But another big part of it is that most stuff you can afford to buy in the US is shit.

I run across this all the time. Reviews for products inevitably go like this:
"Great quality, I've had mine for 20 years."
"I bought one based on good reviews and it's complete crap!"
"Seems like they changed the design / materials / construction from the old ones."
"Used to be good, but when I got a new one, it broke right away."
"Ever since they were bought by X, the quality and services has just dropped."

I also see this with the products we buy, like the mattress saga I wrote about in the post I linked to above. Or some small kitchen appliances. With rare exceptions, you'd be better off buying a toaster, blender, or processor from an antique shop than a new one. Items I've had from my mom that are 30 years old are chugging along while newer items die rapid deaths.

Or look at the made for TV phenomenon -- interesting and innovative ideas so poorly executed that you're honestly better off without them.

We are absolutely drowning in shit.

Not just shit that we don't need (which we already know we have way too much of) but shit that we need but that's still poorly constructed crap. Complete with built-in obsolescence and an inability to be repaired. And this is what really frustrates me. Because it's one thing to suggest that people might not need quite as much fast fashion or cheap toys or disposable gadgets. It's another thing to suggest that you can't even have a working toaster or coffee maker. That a mattress that will last more than four years is out of the 99%'s price range. That you're just stuck with shit. Shit that will break, forcing you to buy more shit.

Who's seen this quote?

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms: The Play
It's been making the rounds on Facebook. And it's absolutely true. It's much more expensive to be poor. To buy one roll of toilet paper after another, rather than a giant bundle from Costco. To get the cheap boots and have to buy them over and over. To get fined and fee'd to death because you, hello, don't have enough money. 
But what terrifies me is that maybe there aren't actually any good boots left. You can spend a little bit of money on a cheap piece of crap that won't last... or a bunch of money on an expensive -- often designer -- piece of crap that won't last. Quality is the endangered species.


I suspect that there are still quality items. But they are so far out of reach at this point that you may not even know about them. Bespoke suits, hand tooled boots, custom crafted furniture that's not made of particle board and despair. But there's no way to catch up to that. You can never, ever win. Because you still need shoes on your feet, something to wear, and something to sit or lie on in the mean time.
The idea that the toaster you spend your last $10 on from Walmart never worked right and died right after the 30-day warranty ran out is painful. The idea that the $100 toaster you got from the home store also never worked right and died -- twice -- so now they won't replace it is also pretty painful. The idea that in our age of technological marvels you can't have a piece of properly toasted bread? That's fucking brutal.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

PMPM - Project Ivy: First Steps

This is part of a series that touches on practical magic project management from the perspective of my own personal 12-month project. Here are the prior posts:

Case Study: Project Ivy
Eating My Own Dog Food

The point of this series isn't to brag (or to whine) about my progress. It's also not going to be an overly personal info. dump (I don't get very personal here as a rule). No, I figure that this series will be useful for a couple of reasons:

First, because I'm a believer in taking advice from people who follow it themselves. A business mentor should have a successful business. A spiritual teacher should lead a spiritual life. Someone offering advice on practical sorcery should have their lives magicked pretty well in line. And if I'm going to provide advice on setting and meeting goals, well, I should be able to do so myself.

Second, because no one is ever perfect and no one is ever done. My life is reasonably successful and settled, and I'd be ashamed to give magical advice if it wasn't. But that doesn't mean it's FINISHED. There's always more to do, areas to improve, levels to unlock, adventures to have. That's what I'm up to here. I may not always succeed. Sometimes I screw up, fail, and just slack off. But I think that's also really useful to share. The blog world suffers from a surface perfection. Sometime it looks like everyone's happy and fulfilled and doing just great -- except you. But that's an illusion. We're all just muddling along, sometimes kickin' it and sometimes getting kicked.

Finally, I have to admit, if the things I'm working on were easy for me, well, I wouldn't be working on them would I? So since I've set myself some challenges, I want to take advantage of accountability. It's a great tool for getting your own ass in gear.

The project was initiated on the Fall Equinox, so it's been about three weeks. This is a good time to check in. This project is primarily about changing habits (though there are some single point goals as well) and the general consensus is that habits take about three weeks to solidify. It's also past the overly enthusiastic honeymoon period. Honestly, one of biggest reasons for project failure is sprinting too fast right from the start. This is why the vast majority of New Year's resolutions peter out by Candlemas (or even before). In fact, I recommend starting slowly, easing into it, and conserving your energy for the ultra marathon that is any reasonably-sized project.

So how did I choose to ease in? Well during my planning I determined that Project Ivy (it actually has a better name, but it's personal) has nine goals, spread between and across the four areas of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. (Obvious? Yeah, but hey I don't need to reinvent the wheel here.) So does this mean that I immediately started working on nine different things. Hell, no! In fact even if I wanted to, that would be an absolutely terrible idea. I'm sure I'd burn out and end up giving up the whole thing.

First of all, some goals are super simple (do this thing, do it regularly). Others are more complex, involving sub tasks that can happen over time. Not to mention that different goals have different cyclical rates. For example, in my plan some items are daily habits, while others are monthly, quarterly, even annual routines. So I don't have to kick off everything all at once or do everything every day. That's deliberate by the way.

For example, let's say that your goal is to enhance your relationship with the local spirits of your city. You can decide to do that through a short daily offering, or a more elaborate monthly exploration. You can make a larger offering to the city (maybe to support its less fortunate denizens) quarterly. Depending on what makes sense for your life, you can choose just one of those ideas or a few. What you don't have to do is everything all at once, right now.

You knew this was coming, right?

So how did I get started? Well, a significant chunk of my project has to do with forming some new habits, so I used the concept of keystone habits. This is an idea that comes from the book The Power of Habit (which I'll be touching on again soon). Keystone habits act as change agents, making it easier for you create lots of other great habits. They are a multiplying force for change in your life.

One of my goals is to get regular, outdoor exercise. This has always been a challenge for me. I'm much more cerebral than physical (shocking, right?). But during past times when I was getting regular vigorous exercise, I felt better physically and emotionally. Also, in recent years my outdoor time (hiking, camping, etc.) has been more limited than I'd like. There are good reasons for that, but that doesn't mean it's the best thing for me. The good news is that exercise is one of those keystone habits. It makes you feel happier and gives you higher energy levels, which makes it easier to accomplish other things.

So I started by focusing entirely on creating that one habit and so far it's been great. I'm getting out and walking/running 6 mornings or so a week for long enough to have me breathing hard and feeling it. I managed this by creating a strong external motivator for my habit, which is a great way to 'force' yourself to do something you don't want to do.

Meet my external motivation

Now, that's not the ONLY thing I've done. I performed an offering that I want to make sure to do monthly. And I started some preliminary tasks for enhancing my relationships with my ancestors. I do this work already, but want to broaden is so it's incremental improvement -- it certainly the right time of year for that. But by focusing primarily on one thing to start, I get a sense of success and achievement that I can roll into the next phase.*

* Note, the brain is a silly creature. It knows I'm manipulating it, obviously, but still reacts in the predictable way. Try eating on salad plates for a week and you'll see what I mean. You KNOW it's a smaller plate, but you'll still eat less as your brain goes "wow, that was huge plate of food!"

The next phase will involve continuing my habit (which is important because I'm traveling and need to see if it survives being in a hotel away from the furry motivation device) as well as adding a second daily routine. Plus continuing the monthly activity. I don't expect to spam the blog with this stuff, but I probably will check back from time to time with status and hints/tips for what seems to be working.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Services -- Mini Readings

Since I've had to up the prices on my larger readings because of the time they take, I've been considering including some smaller offerings that are more accessible to more people. However, it's important to me that any readings I provide be in line with my philosophy of divination: not fortune telling, but fortune creating.



The Black Swan and Multiverse readings are robust tools for helping you react to what's coming in a proactive way and find your best path to your goals. The Life Crafting reading is a powerful combination of the two. These readings go both broad and very, very deep.

But because of their scope, they take a long time to do and result in a huge writeup that can take a major effort to absorb. Along with the expense, that may not be what everyone needs or is ready to handle.

So as of today, I'm rolling out three new readings. These readings are much smaller in scope with less interactivity, but still provide the kind of proactive guidance and value found in the larger readings.

The Mini-Black Swan
The Black Swan looks at what's coming (and more importantly what to do about it) across a number of life areas of your choosing. The mini version focuses on a single area -- the unknown unknown. If you want insight into what surprises are in store -- and more importantly what do to about them -- this is the reading for you.



The Mini-Multi
The Multiverse reading allows you so submit possible ways to reach a goal and then vets them for effectiveness. It also includes a backtracking section that starts with the goal and works backwards to identify a way of reaching it. The mini version considers only the goal and does the back tracking to get to a potential best solution.



The Mini-Combo
Just like the Life Crafting reading, this mini version combines the other two mini readings at a discount over buying the them separately.



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