Dancing with Abraxas

I have recently been busy doing a cluster of podcasts related to my work as a therapist, the path of Chaos Witchcraft and also my own heretical take on gnostic mythology. This last discussion with the lovely Talk Gnosis channel took me back 5 years to many of the themes regarding dualism and deity that I explored in my book A Gnostic’s Progress. Contemporary attempts to reimagine gnostic practice often get tangled in the dilemma of how literally to engage with primary sources that often seem to be viewing the material realm and the body as being overwhelmingly negative. In both my book and the interview below I try to dig into the existential significance of such mythologies and how they often express the transformational tension we experience on our way to non-dual/less-dual experiences of the numinous and mysterious. Here’s the interview and a relevant excerpt from the book that picks up on these themes:

“In contrast to either creedal formulations or some distant “unmoved mover”, for Jung the God that seemed to encapsulate the endeavour of the gnostic explorer, was that strange bird Abraxas. Abraxas, like Baphomet, is one of those Gods whose queer visage keeps popping up in esoteric lore, while at the same time being very difficult to categorise. Research will provide some insights into the roles that he played/plays within a whole host of occult traditions – this strange cockerel (and sometimes lion) headed being with its serpentine “legs” is viewed as an Aeon by some, and as an Archon or even the Demiurge by others. His number (using Greek gematria) being 365, along with his association with the seven classical planets, connect him to both the round of the year and the physical cosmos.

For Jung, Abraxas represented a movement beyond dualism. No longer is the divine image split into a good Lord and an evil Devil; rather the mysteries of godhead are held within the complex iconography of Abraxas:

“Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Therefore is Abraxas terrible.”

The Seven Sermons to the Dead

Cocky God


When one meditates on the most commonly found cockerel headed form of Abraxas, we cannot but be struck by the bizarre chimera-like quality of the image. The body of a man is topped by the head of a solar cockerel (possibly symbolizing foresight and vigilance), while from under “his” concealing skirts, strange chthonic serpents come wriggling forth. This cosmic hybrid seems to be holding together the transcendent and immanent, solar and night side. Viewed through my contemporary lens I am both awed and unsettled by the sense of internal tension that this God seems to embody.

My own attraction to strange gods is hardly new territory – that monstrous hybrid Baphomet has long been jabbing at my consciousness as I’ve sought to make sense of life’s dissolving and coming back together. For me both Abraxas and Baphomet represent something of the core paradox that many of us experience in trying to make sense of the world.

Most attempts at constructing “big theories” (metanarratives if you like) are designed to make sense of the universe that we live within. The success or failure of any such world views seems to be largely determined either by their followers’ ability to manage nuance and complexity, or conversely their naivety and willingness to block out new information. However, for those of us who are seeking to promote some form of cognitive liberty, it seems inevitable that at some point we are going to have to develop deeper strategies for managing complexity, paradox and the types of uncertainty that such realities often give birth to. (See also this.)

We have previously considered the way in which the duality and tension that exists within many gnostic myths potentially trigger the awakening of consciousness; and in many ways these iconic images of Abraxas and Baphomet are little different. The juxtaposition of apparent opposites and the sense of movement that they contain speak to us of dynamism and process rather than fixed Platonic certainties. Whether via weird cosmologies or shape-shifting iconography, these gnostic riddles push us to the edges of comprehension and certainty. In seeking to engage with such material we often experience a profound unease and yet for the intrepid explorer such discomfort can trigger the types of “strange loops” that arguably enable the evolution of consciousness.”

My own exploration is far from merely academic, and I conclude A Gnostic’s Progress with this invocation  to she/he/them:

I call to you O dweller on the knife-edge,
Ambidextrous God,
Both hands, both paths:
A Shadow God, in the half-light of the pre-dawn,
Cockerel headed,
Rooting us in darkness and showing us the Sun.
Skirting Mysteries as Serpent legs
Move in and out of sight.
Creator, destroyer, begettor, purveyor of half-truths
That hold Wisdom still.
I think I know you,
And as I breathe in,
A Serpent tightens-
Wrapped thrice point five around my spine.
Breathing out
Silent Sophia beckons:
A deeper night, whose threshold you safeguard.
Hail to thee O great Abraxas
Whose glorious horror haunts me still!

For the podcast lovers amongst you here’s the link to Dr Vanesa Sinclair’s amazing “Rendering Unconscious” podcast in which we get all therapeutic: 

And here’s a reflection of the path of Chaos Witchcraft with the beautiful people over at “Queer Chaos”: https://www.queerchaospodcast.com/episodes-1

Steve Dee


Coming up soon…

Julian has got a bunch of workshops coming up with Treadwell’s Books. All sessions happen in Zoomland and run from 19:00-21:00 UK time. You can opt to join the workshops live or catch up with the fun at your convenience with a delayed viewing ticket.

The Magical Qabalah 28 October
In this workshop Julian Vayne takes attendees through The Qabalah, a core magical system of the modern Western Occult Tradition. The class examines Qabalah from its origins in Jewish culture, its use in the The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to its appearances in the comics of Alan Moore, and its ‘dark side’ the qliphothic shadow tree. Participants come away from the workshop with a knowledge of the structure of the Qabalah, and with practical techniques to take them deeper into its mysteries. This session is suitable for people who are new to this system and for those wishing to develop their practice.

Queering Baphomet 11 November
‘Baphomet’ is a half-heard whisper of heresy among the Knights Templar, a heavy-metal icon, a French alchemical symbol representing the union of opposites —  but is always more, always undefinable. In this workshop, Julian Vayne explores Baphomet as a queer ‘Deity without a Myth’ who embodies ideas including gender fluidity, disability, and the totality of the life force on earth.  There is also sharing discussion and hands-on magical practice, so attendees by the end feel prepared to work magically with Baphomet as patron and ally. Julian is co-author of The Book of Baphomet.

Street Sigil Sorcery 25 November
Gods at zebra crossings, chthonic deities in cement subways, sigils in the graffiti. Julian Vayne presents practical techniques for working magic in modern cities. This class teaches ways to connect to local spirits of place, how to tap into the psychic power of the urban jungle, and how to perform ’empty handed’ spell techniques that don’t require ceremonial paraphernalia. Attendees will learn to use their phone for magical work, methods to protect themselves from damaging energies in the metropolis, and how to develop their spiritual practice in the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Sun at Midnight 09 December
This workshop-ritual is dedicated to preparing for the longest night of the year Julian Vayne shares magical techniques for nourishing the soul, which help transmute suffering into alchemical gold, and leads the group in an online ceremony to encounter the magic in the season of darkness, ahead of a rebirth of the sun and of light. All are invited to sit around the virtual hearth, feast, chant, laugh and cast intentions into the cauldron of 2022.


The Deep Magic First Steps in Magic course remains at it’s super low price and provides a great introduction to the Core Magical Skills course which was featured in the delightful Wyrd Magazine.

The excellent Dave Lee is also offering a range of classes, self-directed, in-person and online. Visit Dave’s Chaotopia website to find out more.

The Red Magic of Lammas

The British archipelago, that cluster of islands off the European mainland on which I live, is changing colour. The sky, while still sometimes blessed with the bright blue of summer, now fills with the grey of anvil headed thunder clouds, gravid with rain. The green of the land, with trees magnificent in their full leaf, tips over into the gold of harvest time. Rolls, bales, and here in North Devon even stooks of grain, stand sculptural in the fields. This is the time of Lammas, a time associated with Red Magic in the Chaos Craft interpretation of The Wheel of the Year.

In Liber Kaos Peter J. Carroll describes Red Magic as ‘war magic’. Inspired perhaps by his father’s military experiences Carroll often uses combative metaphors in his work. However, there are many other approaches to understanding Red Magic. My perception of this ‘ray’ or ‘sephira’, to use older nomenclature, is similarly influenced by my father. When my Dad did his National Service, or more accurately was conscripted, he did so as a medic. Perhaps this is a reason why my perception of Red Magic is, in part, refracted through the lens not of war but of medicine. Healing and war do of course have much in common. For instance, it can sometimes be useful to describe biological processes in martial terms: a virus can ‘invade’ the body and ‘attack’ our cells whereupon ‘guard’ cells and other ‘defenders’ begin the ‘counter-attack’ etc etc. However the essence of chaos magic, as a philosophical practice, is to recognize that this vocabulary, like any series of metaphorical statements, inevitably reveals certain truths while concealing others. For example, the military narrative of ‘viral attack’ if taken literally would seem to be quite incompatible with the processes by which viruses become part of our genome

On both the battlefield and in the context of healing one of the virtues of Red Magic is that of courage. This courage is the bravery of the child resolving to rip off a sticking plaster in one swift movement, or the courage to face a devastating diagnosis and find ways to live as well as one can, not only to ‘fight’ an illness, but also to open to the experience and to learn from it. This courage can be quiet and unassuming, such as the social courage to live with illnesses that cannot be seen as signs by others, but only reported as symptoms. There is the courage to face rehabilitative exercises and surgical procedures, the courage of seeking to heal our trauma, and the courage of reaching out for help. 

magnetic hematite ally

There’s also the courage to wait before we act; to be patient until the time is right before we scythe the crop or the determination to endure the swelling boil until it is ripe for the lancet. In combative terms – for indeed one important aspect of Red Magic is how we deal with adversaries as well as adversity – we bide our time so that when make our move there is a swift and comprehensive effect.

When we work with Red Magic the emphasis on cultivating virtues, such as courage, can be helpful to stop us battling with monsters and thereby becoming monsters ourselves. It is also important to remember that while violent conflict (war) is part of the human repertoire – and arguably that of some other species too – the realist knows that beneath the thin veneer of civilization (with all its exploitative characteristics) human nature is fundamentally kind and collaborative (check out the excellent Humankind; A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman for more on this).

These processes of endurance, of breaking, of cutting, of drawing lines in the sand, are central to the iconography of Lammas. This is the time of the dying god, the cutting of the Corn King who gives us our daily bread and becomes, in the words of the Wiccan ceremony of Cakes & Wine ‘The Body of our Harvest Lord’. The agricultural tools of this time of the year are the blade, the flail, and the grindstone. The Red Magic gods are deities of warfare as well as gods of agriculture and self-sacrifice. Týr, for example, from the Norse pantheon, who gives us our day-name ‘Tuesday’ , bravely gives up his hand in the process of binding the wolf Fenrir. Týr is a deity suitably invoked by Pagan practitioners who are serving members of the armed forces and emergency services in these difficult times, and by those seeking justice.

The mythology of Lammas, that speaks of the courage to cut and be transformed, to fall and rise again, to give up power and so find it, is deliciously captured in the folk ballad John Barleycorn:

There were three men came out of the West

Their fortunes for to try,

And these three men made a solemn vow

John Barleycorn must die.

They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in

Throwing clods upon his head,

And these three men made a solemn vow

John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time

Till the rains from heaven did fall,

Then little Sir John’s sprung up his head

And so amazed them all!

They let him stand till the Midsummer Day

Till he grew both pale and wan,

Then little Sir John’s grew a great long beard

And so become a man.

They hire’d men with scythes so sharp

To cut him off at the knee.

They bound and tied him around the waist

Serving him most barb’rously.

They hire’d men with their sharp pitch-forks

To prick him to the heart

But the drover served him worse than that

For he bound him to a cart.

They drove him around and around the field

Till they came unto a barn

And these three men made a solemn vow

On poor John Barleycorn

They hire’d men with crab-tree sticks

To strip him skin from bone,

But the miller, he served him worse than that,

For he ground him between two stones.

There’s Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl

And brandy in the glass

But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl

Proved the stronger man at last.

For the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox

Nor loudly blow his horn

And the tinker, he can’t mend kettle or pot

Without a little Barleycorn.

(I recommend Damh the Bard’s version of this tune as well as his seasonal celebratory Lughnasadh and the dialogue ballad of Green and Grey.)

In this season of Red Magic it is time to take aim, to swing, and cut with skill and clear intention. This is the time to take control of processes, to consider how and what we might need to change in our lives. What needs to be harvested, what cut down and, if necessary, incinerated to make fertile ash and space for new growth.

Along with Samhain, Lammas is a time when we consider endings and death, including our own mortality. What have we achieved in our lives, what nourishment for the future will be left by our ashes? What are the fruits of our labours? As the Norse folk would ask; what will be our renown? What stories, if any, will be told of us by future generations?

As ye sow…

As we age, and enter our golden years, we are drawn by necessity to focus attention on our own mortality, our health and our vigour. In my case, aged 52, I find myself in what Victor Hugo calls ‘the youth of old age’. I’m aware that I need to actively invest more energy in caring for my bodymind. There are only so many times you can copy a file before glitches inevitably start to happen and – until one gets to re-spawn (to continue the gaming metaphor) – it makes sense to aim for compression of morbidity. This means actively working to be as well as we can be so that, when our death process arrives, it is as easy as possible. My tai chi teacher puts this brilliantly, quipping; “the purpose of tai chi is to live a long, happy and productive life and then die quickly and easily so as not to be a burden on your family and friends’. Tai chi chuan is a great example of the multivalent nature of Red Magic. With the Chinese name of this ‘martial art’ being commonly translated as ‘supreme ultimate boxing’, in one sense tai chi is clearly a species of ‘war magic’. But to see it only in those terms would be to ignore its many other aspects, such as its value as a means to cultivate good health, and as an approach to spiritual illumination.

The daylight draws in, and as the apples swell on the trees, the temperature drops while swifts circle frantically overhead before beginning their long migration to Africa. For my friends in the Southern Hemisphere the spring rises and the light grows. But for all of us on the planet, as we move through this shared experience of pandemic together, may we find skilful ways to connect with the spirit of these times, the courage to face our fears, and the opportunity to be transformed.

Julian Vayne


Coming up next…

Breaking Convention

– The Intermission –

14th August

You are invited to join other psychedelic-curious people at this unique day of talks. Our focus this year is very much on ethics, especially in relation to indigenous reciprocity and psychedelic capitalism. News of scientific research comes direct from the source, courtesy of a couple of luminaries from Imperial College London. We are honoured to host a lecture from Robin Carhart-Harris, Founder and Visiting Professor of Imperial’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, in his last public appearance before moving to America, and we are very pleased to welcome David Erritzoe, their Clinical Director, who will be telling us of their current and future research.

We start the day with the words and powerful presence of Don Eugenio Lopez Carilloo (Uru Muile), a Mara’akame in the Wixarika Laguna community, accompanied by Eusebio Lopez and Rodrigo Rurawe. We at Breaking Convention acknowledge the gratitude we owe to all those people who have kept the knowledge and practices of plant medicines alive for so long, in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Also on our stage will be several people with expertise and experience in the field of ethical engagement with psychedelics; from Canada, Andrea Langlois (activism and indigenous rights), and from closer to home our own Alexander Beiner (psychedelic capitalism) and Ashleigh Murphy-Beiner (ethics of the therapeutic process). Timmy Davis, of CDPRG, speaks about their current campaign for rescheduling psilocybin. There will be an in-depth panel discussion around these areas of ethical consideration.

https://www.breakingconvention.co.uk/events.html