I’ve been spending some quality time with my children (August is the most delightful month in Britain if you’re a kid, because it coincides with school holidays) which is always an opportunity for insights. Working with children is something I do a lot in a professional capacity, where my role is to help them explore museums, galleries and other historic sites in a way that builds on their natural curiosity. As an educationalist I view time with children as an opportunity for me to learn as well as to teach. (I have written before how insights from parenting can cut through the sometimes overly complex jungle of narrative to help us come up with beautiful, simple answers.)
Two examples of learning with my own kids come to mind. One is from Number Two Son’s created (or in his words ‘discovered’) religion of Jimoanism. To conclude a Jimoanist ceremony, he taught me, we simply say ‘The End’. This is a delightfully direct way of ‘banishing’ or open/closing (depending on your tradition) your magic circle once a rite is finished, and is one I’m certainly going to use in non-Jimoanist contexts. Another example, this time flowing from me to Number Two Son: One night, while perhaps a little over-tired as I tucked him into bed, he was expressing his anxiety about the world. Of course this is perfectly normal. Once we realise that everyone we love will die and that all things change, we can easily find ourselves feeling sad. While I could pragmatically reassure my son that he is loved, that he and all his family are well, the fact remains that I can’t fundamentally take away the worries he (like any of us) can have about the future. But what I could do was share an insight that I’ve written about before. Namely that the human nervous system has developed to be risk-averse and to remind us very clearly about what we need to avoid. The negative consequence for complex cognition in humans is that we can find ourselves trapped in our woes and worries, however there is a magical technique to address this problem, namely Giving Thanks. I explained this to Number Two Son, once he had shared his worries and I’d attempted to put his mind at ease, by asking about his foot;
“How’s your foot feeling?” I enquired.
“Er…fine…” responds Number Two Son
“So you don’t notice your foot right now?”
“No, it’s fine.”
My point, I went on to explain, is that we generally only notice something when it’s wrong. If your foot is fine, busy doing foot stuff, we (that is our conscious awareness) ignores it. We notice when our foot hurts but not when all is well. So when we get, for whatever reason, trapped in real or imagined pain (like anxiety) remembering that our metaphorical foot is fine can be the first step towards addressing our distress. Religion in its various forms makes plenty of use of this technique but we can also think of it as an edgy ‘mind hack’ or simply an act of magical (ie the technology of the imagination) transformation. The trick is to give thanks for all those things that are right, are free of pain, are sources or comfort, delight and love. Prayers (or ‘acts of meta-programming’ or ‘spells’ if you prefer) to make us aware of that which is good help off-set and tune down our biologically rooted tendency to see the gloomy side of life. A particularly strong version of this technique is to direct our thanks towards an imagined (or ‘discovered’) personified entity. Since our nervous system is also geared up to interact with personified entities (ie other people) this technique is particularly effective when we give an identity to the imagined concept we choose to give thanks to.
Having shared a somewhat simplified version of the above with my son he considered what I’d said. “So I could thank Jimoan?’ he asked. “That would be perfect! Good idea!” I agreed, and he settled down to sleep smiling.
Meanwhile Number One Son is at the dawn of adulthood, growing rangy and preparing to take formal exams. I had a fascinating conversation with him and a friend’s daughter the other day. They were talking about drugs and both were firmly of the opinion that cannabis in particular should be decriminalised. What was additionally interesting was that they claimed that all their peers thought the same way. We know that fundamental political and cultural changes take time, and while new prohibitionist laws and even murder in the service of the war on (some) drugs is happening today, the next generation want to see this change.
One of the things that fed into this conversation was my discover that Miracle Berry (aka Synsepalum dulcificum) cannot now be obtained via Amazon in Britain. This product is made from a west African plant the fruit of which contains a chemical called, rather wonderfully, Miraculin. Miraculin blocks the tongues receptor to sour, thus effectively sweetening foods that are eaten after it is consumed (for about an hour). Number One Son had, in previous times, found out about this stuff and so we purchased some (via Amazon.co.uk). Together we made the assay; after rolling the tablet round our mouths for the prescribed 20 minutes we both took slices of lime. Looking at each other we bit down on the citrus but, miraculously, it tasted sweet! I gazed at my Son and we shared a special moment of chemically mediated psychoactive transformation as I asked him, “can you feel it?”. Later at his birthday party a whole bunch of friends tried the stuff (two had already experimented with it previously). Together a set of pre-teens laughed and joked and tucked into raw gooseberries and lemons.
This harmless and enjoyable experience is now, of course, off limits. The New Psychoactives bill forbids such epicurean nervous-system manipulating chemicals and Amazon, being understandably risk averse, no longer sell this product in the UK (tho I am given to understand there is now, unsurprisingly, a thriving black market for this essential component of ‘flavour tripping’ parties).
Those who bemoan such kill-joy and positively dangerous laws as the British Psychoactives Substances Act and, more recently the attempts to criminalise the use of kratom in the USA should well know that they are not alone. While medical and other discourses are making great strides to liberalise access to psychoactives (and especially psychedelics), my view is that the principle of cognitive liberty is something that should underpin campaigns to change not just the law but the fundamental way our culture approaches both pleasure, and the issue of who ownes our minds and bodies. The fact that I can’t now use a major retailer to buy a perfectly safe substance that simply makes sour things taste sweet, because of the law and reasons, is both ludicrous and ironic in equal measure.
Hanging with the kids also helps me get a new perspective on The Big Questions of life. I realise, as a parent, step parent and God/dess parent and teacher, how raising children is a process, like most things in life, about letting go. When they are infants children need our constant care but as they grow they want and should have more and more of their own space. We let go as our children go out into the world. As parents we need to show intelligence and care and to find strategies (like Giving Thanks) that help us deal with the natural anxieties we have for our children as they begin to fly the nest.
While spatial metaphors such as ‘letting go’ are somewhat unpopular within some Left-hand Path discourses (which, in some versions, privilege isolation, integrity and individualism) in my view these ‘actively passive’ abilities are just as important to the über-Setian or Odian as they are to the tantrika or transcendentalist. It’s interesting to note that, as mentioned in The Varieties of Magical Experience: Indigenous, Medieval, and Modern Magic by Lynne L. Hume PhD, and Nevill Drury there is a view of the LHP as being something quite distinct from, “…an ultimately passive quest for mystical transcendence – or as members of the Dragon Rouge express it, “melting into God”.” However, historically roots of the philosophical tradition of Transcendentalism are highly individualistic. The metaphors we favour, while apparently pointing to philosophical positions that are quite distinct – when considered in high level ontological terms or small scale practical terms (ie what techniques do we use) – tend to turn out to be different sides of the very same coin.
In the context of parenting this ‘letting go’, as our children mature and grow, can be seen in terms of acknowledging and celebrating their own ‘Gift of Set’, their unique individuality. The flip side of this is that it is also about ‘letting go’ as we acknowledge our age and that our children are here to replace us.
A few months ago I did one of those ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions within the Facebook Chaos Magick Group. The ever perceptive Jo Sims (also I believe a parent) asked me what was the best advice I’d ever received. My answer was that when my first Son was born that a friend told me to ‘trust in the process’, and this sage advice I’ve since passed along to new parents. Letting Go implies a trust, a trust that when we let go all will be well (or at least a recognition that, fundamentally, there is no choice but to let go). This process isn’t about abjuring responsibility or denying our agency, but what it is about is actively facing the facts of the universe, and learning how best to meet the world in which we find ourselves. Letting go is also (as I wrote in The Book of Baphomet) the fundamental skill needed when it comes to navigating psychedelic drugs. While we actively take the medicine, once it is in us, if we are going to get the best from it, we must learn to let go. This is an ‘actively passive’ process; we are listening rather than talking (for a change). I ask my son, ‘can you feel it?’, we allow this ingested intentional change to happen to us, we let go into the experience of the miraculously sweet lemon.
So as the mornings become a little darker and colder, and we once more prepare to come inside from the summer holidays and go back to school, I give thanks for my children, for all the new humans that find themselves in this world. May they be nurtured with kindness and inspired to fully realise their potential as individuals and members of our future culture.