Loosening the armour

Having just re-read Julian’s great article on shaking and my last offering on balance, I thought I’d reflect more on my own work with embodied ecstasy and what its purpose might be in relation to the on-going project of “The Great Work”.

In thinking about what we do as ritual magicians, generally we use sights, sounds, smells and sensations in order to build a psychological microcosm. By doing this we are seeking to attract those energies with which we want to work and we are trying to evoke an atmosphere that is congruent with the goal of our magical endeavours. Given that we are often trying to access a state of consciousness “other” than that normally available, it seems right that effective magical work often has a sense of tension and “atmosphere” often induced by the sense of collective expectation.

We will all have our preferred means for getting “in the zone” for ritual-for me it’s generally music. As the incense billows and the altar candles are lit, it’s the steady throb of shamanic drumming and rattles that propel me towards the work.

Get your shaman throbbing, head out on the highway...

Get your shaman throbbin’, head out on the highway…

It might be the building tension around the beginnings of some potent spiritual work or the fact that I’m a dancing diva, I find invariably that I have to starting moving-swaying, some gentle “shaking out” or stalking around the ritual space. In his excellent Seidways Jan Fries describes the building of such tension as being like a boiling cauldron. Whether one chooses to explore this energy as a seething practice or channel it in a form of fluid, spontaneous movement will be determined by context and the desire of the magician.

Ecstatic dance, group shaking and psychodramatic shape shifting are but a few of the methods of exploring what’s rising up in and through the body. The yogic concept of Sahaja-the natural, the simple, the spontaneous, expresses the potential sense of liberty and child-like freedom that encourages deeper exploration of these techniques. Julian has already described many of the physiological benefits of such practices but I was wondering what they might allow us to access in terms of individual and group psychology.

In trying to integrate the insights of western psychotherapy with the methods of somatic alchemical approaches, it will come of little surprise when I name-check Wilhelm Reich. As a student of Freud he was immersed in the master’s insights concerning the process of ego formation and the unconscious, but like Carl Jung, Reich’s own startling insights lead him to breech the confines of psycho-analytic orthodoxy. Reich primary focus was the relationship between “Orgone” (the psycho-sexual energy that pervades the universe) and the way in which human development either enables or impedes its flow. One of his primary realizations concerned the way in which the core conditioning and defences of individuals could result in the formation of “body armor”. Much of the psychotherapeutic technique developed by Reich and his followers was concerned about how body-aware approaches could be used to help soften and shift those barriers than reduce our openness and ability to connect to others.

For me, what this points towards is that technologies such as shaking and dance allow us to connect to the vitality and Eros of the body without having to necessarily rush towards a culturally shaped script around “having sex” or even “doing sex magick”. As we connect to our body and breath, the serpentine energy of our dance allows the possibility of unlocking our inner knots. In parallel to many “internal” martial arts, the sweating of our prayers through movement helps us to access a greater sense of openness.

In combining dance and movement with collective ritual work, I believe that we provide enhanced conditions for the further development of soul. The research of Paul Zak and other neuroscientists have documented that religious rituals and dance are both great methods for triggering the production of the neurochemical oxytocin. The production of oxytocin is associated with feeling a greater sense of closeness and attachment, more effective management of stress and an increase in our ability to learn (neuroplasticity).

With my pointy chaos magician’s hat on I can’t but help thinking about rituals making use of the Vampyre archetype and techniques experimenting with energy exchange. Although the energy invigorating us may be primarily our own,there may be sense of mutual “feeding” as the groups intent and shared exploration creates collective atmosphere. Certainly my own experience in the group I work within, is that as we have revisited these approaches over the turning of the year that there is a deepening sense of a group bodymind that is reactivated when the drumming starts and the psychonauts strut their stuff!


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