a guest post by D.J. Smith
“The Devil is in the details” is a perfect encapsulation of what these 72hrs felt like to me. I originally intended for this post to be a cute, sorcerous spin on Pink Moon rituals, but this instead became a fight for my pride and an exploration of my quirks (to include some experiential learning on altar etiquette). I’ve broken the post into 4 main parts: the story, the ritual, the math, and a conclusion. The post’s themes will bleed into all 4 parts, but this ordering made the most sense to me. Also, if you like math, hang tight, because there’s gonna be a lot of it!
For the month of April, I wanted to do something on the 16th to celebrate the Pink Moon. I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to do (I’ve been so busy with work, the full moon just snuck up on me), so I started googling the themes associated with the Pink Moon. In addition to this moon being called the Pink Moon, I saw that it’s also been called the “Egg Moon”, and since Eostre was just a couple weeks ago, I figured I could do something involving eggs, like maybe taking the volume of an egg. I did some light googling and found a simple equation in the first link I found. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not how I would have gone about it. My method would include a bit more analytic geometry, some slightly-more sophisticated numerical analysis techniques. It’d give me a chance to discuss some cool math, contribute to citizen science, stretch my data science skills…
On the other hand, I’ve always associated the color pink with “mind”, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to make a D&D-inspired ritual, so I started thumbing through 3.5’s edition of “The Expanded Psionics Handbook” and landed on a demon called “Cerebrilith”. The Cerebrilith looked unlike anything that I would normally associate with “intellect”: it was savage, bestial, and outwardly-hostile, like a foil to the peaceful monk/Stoic (or, for a more timely reference, it was like a moral inversion of the Logic Rocks in Netflix’s “Human Resources”). In a weird way, I envied how seamlessly this fictional brain demon meshed animalistic qualities with hyper-intelligence, so I decided to incorporate it into my ritual.
Next came the hard part of marrying the two. Some time Saturday morning, it hit me: within secular witchcraft, “demons” are typically understood to be personifications of the qualities we despise about ourselves that we want to overcome (either through cleansing or banishing). I knew this ritual was going to include some math, so why not make this demon represent my insecurities about being a competent mathematician? My Imposter Syndrome comes from my belief that anybody can just Google/YouTube their way into exactly the same solutions that I could come up with using my base understanding of math (like the algebraic solution that I found by Googling), making my education and title worthless. With that in mind, my ritual was coming together: for the Full Moon, I would challenge the Cerebrilith to a “battle of the wits” by calculating the volume of a real egg, my method (Polynomial Interpolation + Solid of Revolution) vs his (Elliptical estimation), which we’ll verify via the Water Displacement Method. It was going to be so deliciously nerdy, but it got complicated very quickly…
I sat there for 4hrs Saturday night, struggling to collect the graphical data I needed to build the model that would calculate the volume of my chosen egg. It was humiliating, relying on digital systems as much as I was. I knew sort of what I was doing, but my skills had atrophied over the past ~3 years, and I kept making silly mistakes, forcing me to start from scratch over and over. I was trying to use a mix of bootlegged online calculators to interpolate and evaluate the data (because I knew how long it would take to do this by hand), and the results kept coming out wonky and complicated, more so than they needed to be. I was just fumbling in the dark at this point, facing the fact that I came into this unprepared. My naivety got the better of me. Come midnight, I was only marginally closer to the solution that I was expecting, feeling a little defeated, with a ton of ritual prep left to do, so I decided to call it a night and try again Sunday.
Come Sunday morning, I re-evaluated my data, found a method that seemed to be working, ran the numbers, and tallied my results. My model predicted that the egg had a volume of about ~2,300mm3. I had no idea how small a cubic millimeter was, but from the onset, it looked correct. I spent the rest of my day in blissful ignorance, assured that I had beaten the Cerebrilith in this faux challenge. Come 7pm, I was ready to crunch the demon’s numbers, do the water test, and end the night feeling victorious. Based on the dimensions of the egg, the algebraic model came out to 56,206mm3, which was WAY off from my number. That number was so ridiculously large, or so I thought, that there was no way it could be correct. I setup my altar, got dressed up in my ritual garb, and started preparing for my ritual. As a last “just to be sure”, I googled the average volume of a grocery store egg: 44,000mm3.
I quickly did the verification test (which I was saving for the actual ritual), and the egg came out to be 53,004mm3. Somehow, I managed to fuck up the ONE thing I’m supposed to be good at, and by a wide margin at that. (If this had been a fiddle of gold, I would have lost my soul). I tried to conduct the ritual as planned, but things were getting meta, and I was dissociating HARD at this point. I couldn’t concentrate for shit, my visualizations weren’t coming through, the background ambiance was annoying as fuck, and I felt like I was a fake; the egg was literally on my face (pun intended). The demon itself wasn’t real, but my character flaws made him real: naivety, hubris, procrastination… these are the real demons that have been feeding my sense of imposter syndrome. If I’d done my due diligence (like googling the AVG volume of an egg), I wouldn’t have felt so embarrassed.
To be continued…