literature

The Pathfinder Rituals

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These are rituals of summoning and communication. The usual precautionary statements (about following all instructions to the letter, being clear in your own mind about what you want and what you are prepared to pay for it, and above all not being fool enough to actually do any of this) are in full effect.

I’m going to start by talking about the basic ritual, even though I suspect that isn’t what you came for. When you know how to do the basic ritual, you’ll understand how to perform the advanced ritual.

For the basic ritual, you’ll need four things:
• A mirror, the bigger the better.
• A clock. If it’s an analog clock, it should have a second hand. If it’s a digital clock, it should display seconds as well as hours and minutes.
• A comfortable chair. (Yes, it needs to be comfortable. Use a recliner if you have one.)
• One single source of light. It can be a candle, or a light bulb — I favor an LED bulb myself. Whatever it is, there must be no danger of it going out before the hour is up.

Set these things up in a room — preferably a basement or other windowless room. It has to be a room that can be made lightproof. The ritual doesn’t seem to work properly if there are multiple light sources shining on the mirror.

Here’s how you set it up: Put the chair in front of the mirror, as close as reasonably possible. The more of your field of vision it takes up, the better. It doesn’t matter exactly where the light is, as long as it shines on the mirror. If you use a candle, make sure this particular candle will burn for more than one hour — leave plenty of margin for error. Make sure it’s situated where it won’t fall over or get knocked over by the cat or anything — you don’t want the room to catch fire while you’re doing this. And, above all, make sure it isn’t going to be blown out. I’ve done each of these rituals once, and both times I used an LED bulb with a fresh battery. As for the clock, just make sure you can see it from your chair.

The important thing is your physical and mental well-being. Before you begin this ritual, you should eat something. Not a full meal — just enough to make sure you won’t get hungry during the next hour or so. If you feel thirsty, take a small drink of water. And for God’s sake, go to the bathroom first.

Get yourself situated in the chair about five minutes before midnight. Spend the next few minutes getting comfortable. If you aren’t comfortable — if you’re tense or nervous, if you have a headache or a stomachache or any other physical pain, or if there’s anything wrong with the chair or your posture in it — it’s best not to go through with it.

You should look into the mirror and begin speaking precisely five seconds before the stroke of midnight. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s necessary to start speaking then, or to finish speaking just before the stroke of midnight, but five seconds is the rule I’ve always followed, and it’s worked for me. You must speak in a clear voice and in a respectful tone. And this is what you must say:

“Hail, Pathfinder. I would learn what might have been.”

At this point, the image in the mirror will change. You will see yourself, but not as you are now — as you were when you were younger, probably a child. You will be seeing into your own past.

From there, you will watch your life unfold — not every last detail, but all the moments that are of any importance. But it won’t appear the way you remember it. You will watch yourself making different decisions. Pursuing different hobbies. Making different friends. Studying harder, or studying different things. Dating different people. I’m just speculating here. I don’t know nearly enough about you to say. The point is that with every decision point, the life you watch will diverge a little more from your own. Or a lot more.

And it will be happier. That’s the thing. Whether the person you see ends up richer or poorer than you, more important or famous or less so, whether he or she is happily married, actively dating or even alone… that person will be the happiest possible version of you, living the best (or at least the happiest) possible version of your life.

At least, up to the point of your current age. That’s all you’ll get to see. Objectively, this will take no more than one hour. Subjectively, it may take weeks, months or even years — remember, this is a lifetime you’re seeing, or at least the highlights of one. (This is why I made such a big deal about your physical comfort. You wouldn’t want to spend a subjective year needing to pee and not being able to do it.)

Is this ritual a good idea? You tell me. I didn’t come away from it any happier than I was before, and I don’t know anyone who did. I’m not sure which would be more depressing — realizing you had a perfectly good chance at an awesome life and blew it, or finding out you were doomed from the get-go.

And it does have certain risks. I mentioned the thing about comfort, but even more important is the light. If you ever want to find your way back into your own life, if being stranded for eternity in the darkness between worlds is not your idea of a fun night on the town, make sure the light does not go out.

That’s the basic ritual… but of course, it’s not what you really want, is it? You want the advanced ritual.

For the advanced ritual, you’ll need two more things. One is a receptacle of some sort — a box, a trash can. Something opaque, preferably with a lid on it.

The other is… an offering. A sacrifice. This can be anything — but it must be something you personally value. Something you will, at least to some degree, miss when it’s gone. Also, it has to be something that will fit in the receptacle. (If it’s something alive — a beloved pet — don’t kill it. You won’t get anything for sacrificing a corpse. Just make sure it can’t get out of the box before the ritual is over.) If you choose to use money, I would not recommend trying this with less than five percent of your savings — and no, your personal check will not be accepted.

Everything else is the same as the basic ritual. When you begin, the receptacle should be at the foot of the mirror, with the sacrifice inside it. You should not be able to see any part of the sacrifice. (I hate repeating myself, but I think I need to — the sacrifice must be something you want to keep, that you would not choose to part with under other circumstances.) And at the stroke of midnight, this is what you should say:

“Hail, Pathfinder. I would learn what may yet be.”

Once again, you’ll see yourself making all the right choices. But what you’ll see this time is not the past, but the future. It might be only a few days, or it might be months or years — how much of the future you see depends on the value of the sacrifice.

You’re wondering if you should be taking notes at this point, if there’s any danger of forgetting what you see. Don’t worry about any of that. Just look, listen and learn.

Again, it will only last an hour. When the hour is complete, if you look inside the receptacle it will be empty.

Whatever you saw in the mirror will be burned into your memory. For however much time you saw, you’ll know exactly what to say and do in every situation. It might not be easy — in fact, it will probably involve a certain amount of effort on your part — and it might not be the sort of thing you would normally do under the circumstances. But at least you’ll know it’s the right choice.

I did the advanced ritual shortly before I graduated from college. For my sacrifice, I used this old toy of mine. It was an action figure of some very obscure GI Joe-knockoff line of toys whose exact name I can’t remember — “Team World Justice Force” or something. I think it was one of the bad guys. Some sort of gangster. I don’t know why he had yellow and pink hair. I used to throw him in when I was playing with my other action figures, just to confuse them. The point is that this toy had sentimental value for me, and I wouldn’t know where to begin looking for another one like it. (That’s another thing — the sacrifice should be something you can’t easily replace.)

When I put the toy in the box, performed the ritual and looked into the mirror, I saw exactly what to do for the next seventy-one days. Time enough to perfect my thesis, ace all my exams, get a good job and meet a wonderful girl. That toy bought me just over ten weeks of making all the right moves in life. It was sad parting with it, but I can’t say I regret it.

But I am starting to regret telling you how to do this. I can tell you’re already trying to think of ways to be clever. Ways to game the system, to get what you want without giving up anything you really cherish. I’m not here to tell you stories about this ritual, but I think you should at least have a few examples of what not to do.

The guy who taught me this ritual had what he thought was a good idea. He’d been meaning to quit smoking, so one day he gathered up all the cigarettes in his house and put them in the box. He began the ritual just when the withdrawal was starting to kick in. His thinking was that his craving for a cigarette would be taken a sign that he was sacrificing something of value… even though he had no intention of ever smoking again.

You’d think he’d have known better.

Melissa — the girl I met during those ten perfect weeks… the reason she isn’t around any more is that I taught her the ritual. Her great-aunt died and left her, among other things, an old fur coat. The problem was that she was a vegan. She thought fur was disgusting. She didn’t even want to touch the coat.

So Melissa had the idea of sacrificing it instead. After all, that coat must have been worth thousands of dollars. She could have sold it and sacrificed the money, but she figured if she sacrificed the coat directly, it would amount to the same thing, at least from an economic standpoint.

Honestly, I tried to warn her.

And then there was Nick. Nick was… well, I wouldn’t exactly call him a friend — I didn’t like him all that much — but we knew each other. And we did have one mutual friend — the guy I mentioned earlier who taught us the ritual.

Anyway, Nick had moved in with his girlfriend, and she had this little yapping dog. She loved that dog. Nick, on the other hand, hated it. So Nick, being Nick, decided to sacrifice the dog… on the theory that even if he didn’t miss it himself, she would, and that would make him unhappy by extension. Theory is wonderful.

Believe me when I say this — you do not want to know what happened to these people when they followed the Pathfinder’s advice.
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