We all want things yesterday; quicker service, faster broadband, shorter travel times. If something is good surely it will be even better if we can get it in half the time? In the busyness of our day-to-day lives wouldn’t it better if we could apply the aesthetics of our drive-through, take-away culture to our spiritual aspirations as well? Being a Shaman sounds so cool! Surely a couple of weekend workshops should do it or even better could I do it via Skype?
Most of us know deep down that this isn’t going to get it done. In a disposable age of quick fixes, fast food and bodge jobs, something at the root of our souls wants substance, and in our hunger for something truly nutritious we have a hunch that the thing that we seek will require real effort.
I have previously written on the blog about the influence of the Slow Movement and the way that it may help contemporary magicians cultivate maturity. Rather than increased mindfulness being limited to a set of internal practices, the Slow Movement challenges us to wonder what would happen if such a mindful perspective was brought to bear on the whole of our lives. What would our eating habits look like, our transport arrangements, our approach to child-care?
In my own pursuit of initiatory work I was reminded of this perspective once again as I reached an apparent impasse. After an investment of over 20 years of working with the type of non-linear, improvised form of sorcery know as Chaos Magic, was it time to call it a day and move on or was I able to find another gear, a deeper level from which I could continue to practice with a sense of integrity and personal congruence?
When something becomes as all-consuming as the pursuit of awakening, it can be hard to pause and take stock. When our internal fires are ignited, the pursuit of gnosis can expand to fill both our waking hours and dreamscapes. The gift of consciousness pushes us to expand and transcend the parameters of nature, and yet to do so without respecting both our physical and psychological health leads us vulnerable to burn out. As much as we may lust to the see the fruition of our own Great Work, wisdom seems to ask that we seek times when we surrender the work back to the earth and its cycles.
This concept of a necessary pause and rest first came to my attention via the work of Edred Thorsson. In his Nine Doors of Midgard he provides the seeker of mystery with a magical syllabus that can easily involve between 3-5 years of sustained engagement. In the course of pursuing such a heroic undertaking, it becomes critical to step back from the work; to bury it so that it might re-emerge invigorated. The depth of work set out in the Nine Doors is both awe inspiring and daunting. Looking back, my own failure to complete it in a sustained burst initially felt like an affront to my success driven ego, but now I realize I had something important to learn.
When we get to the point where we feel burnt-out or our practice feels stale or broken, it can be a profound opportunity to tune in to our deepest motivation. As a Chaos Magician, it would be all too easy to fill this unease with the pursuit of a different paradigm or the shiny baubles of new techniques, but for me I knew that this would have been missing the point. For me I was faced with the far more daunting task of reconnecting to initiatory “need-fire” i.e. when life circumstances strip us back, what remains as our vital drives and motivations? What is it that I have to do?
In pursuit of my own initiatory work I recently took a trip to Prague to meet with a group of magicians from around the world. Prague is an amazing city that feels like a heady meeting place of East and West, the modern and ancient and it was a fitting context for my own attempts to slow down and reconnect to the deep motivation for my own work.
Prague has its own wealth of occult history and lore; the legend of the Golem, the adventures of Dee and Kelly being but two. As you walk among its streets, its baroque and gothic buildings feel fully in keeping with the pursuit of the hidden and the nightside. Via Rudolph II’s obsession, Prague has long been associated with the art of alchemy and this alongside its love of absinthe’s green fairy created for me an enjoyable sense of romantic seediness.
These rich references to alchemy seemed to mirror the slow change and transformation that I am seeking. The Spagyric processes of drawing out and bringing together via fermentation and distillation require time, space and attention. Recently this process of Solve et Coagula (“To dissolve and concentrate”) has felt especially present at both the level of self via initiation and within the macrocosm of the natural world through the loss of beloved family members. This is a slow-burn process that has required patience and an awareness that artificially rushing things is likely spoil the intended goal.
In the spiralling gyre of my own initiatory work, it feels as though I am continually seeking to refine this process of stripping back and slowing down. Definitely not easy, but in doing so I allow the possibility of tuning in to the essential fires of my work and an acknowledgement of what my head, heart and body need to make this journey sustainable.
Don’t forget you find more Steve Dee deliciousness in his new book A Heretics Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times.