As many of us are now showing our solidarity by being on retreat I’d like to make a suggestion for some shared magical work to address the coronavirus pandemic.
This working was initially suggested by a member of the Illuminates of Thanateros and I’d like to thank that Brother for starting the process.
Many people will be already be doing magical work in many different ways and what I’m suggesting here allows for that diversity. We needs lots of approaches to address this crisis, in multiplicity there is strength.
To help link our magical work together this is the suggested sigil which has been named ‘Hearty’ for all the obvious reasons:
The sigil can be used as a focal point for various types of magical action including:
Sending vibes of solidarity, care, admiration and positive power to all those in the caring professions, teachers, medical staff and the many others who are at the front line in this pandemic.
Conjuring for breakthroughs in medicine, treatment, the discovery of a vaccine and other technologies and approaches to reduce suffering and support healing.
Sending spells to directly affect the virus to reduce its rate of transmission and severity.
Doing some classic shamanistic or trance work to enter the imaginal world and battle the virus.
Calling into manifestation those timelines in which our species respond to this challenge in ways that support better ways of living together on the planet and with all our relations (both human and non-human).
There are many other ways you could choose to work with the sigil. Your practice could be as simple as creating your own image of Hearty or bringing it up on screen and making prayers of gratitude and asking whatever spirits you work with for their help.
You could try some Tonglen practice using Hearty as the gateway image, breathing in the suffering of those affected by the virus and breathing out the alleviation of suffering through the symbol. (Only recommended for experienced practitioners who are in a good mental state.)
You could also use Hearty as a visual focus while speaking aloud to yourself or a friend (including over audio/video channels) and together create a ‘future nostalgia’. “Do you remember how it was that COVID-19, for all the sadness it brought, finally helped us come together as one people to address climate change and wealth inequality? Do you remember how we found a really effective and simple antidote to the virus and how wonderful the celebrations were when we emerged from our retreats? etc”.
Here’s an example of a practice with Hearty, developed by a magical friend who is working in an intensive care unit, nursing people with the coronavirus:
Breathing with Good Heart
A breathing exercise/ritual. Can be used alone as a meditation or prayer using the sigil, or as part of a larger piece of ritual work. At a time when we face a respiratory disease, this focuses on breath as a tool to share collective prayer and ritual. Use the sigil, either printed or drawn in front of you, or in your mind. Imagine the sigil as a compass and use four cardinal points for each breath. You could draw the sigil on the floor and stand in it as your magical circle, turning to each direction as you perform the ritual.
Come to a still, centred state of awareness.
Place one hand to my chest, the other outstretched
“For my kin, for my kind, I will offer 5 breaths.”
In the East, breathe in deeply and say
“Inspiration – the breath of life that is Air
A consciousness higher, let us meet there.”
Bring attention to the element of Air.
In the South, breathe deeply and say:
“A breath for the flames that bring action and light
For passion for love, rise after the night.”
Bring attention to the element of Fire.
In the West, breathe deeply and say:
“A breath for the Water that cleanses and flows
For the tears, for the dreams, for the depths unknown.”
Bring attention to the element of Water.
In the North, breathe deeply and say:
“Inhale now and root deeply into the Earth
For the here, for the now, for the death and rebirth.”
Bring attention to the element of Earth.
“A breath for the Spirit that binds us as one
For unity, for truth, now the circle is spun.”
Take a final moment to allow your intention to pass into all those people, situations and objects that will help us in this time.
Obviously whatever magical work you do this needs to be combined with physical care for ourselves and others in our community.
We’re already seeing many heartening examples of community solidarity. A friend in Barcelona tells me that at 8pm each evening people come onto their balconies to clap and cheer in support of their medical staff. Let us, as Witches, Magicians, Shamans, Druids, Thelemites and others, create a global circle of power at this time of crisis and transformation. Let us be of good heart and breathe life into this magic!
In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus and buy valuable time for our medical services (see my previous article) people are doing ‘social distancing’. This means, for some of us, adopting the ‘namaste’ greeting of hands in prayer, rather than shaking hands. Even Donald Trump seems to have picked up the vibe. It’s lovely to see such behavioural flexibility and support for cultural diversity from the President of the USA. Well done.
Meanwhile there may be times when we are ‘self isolating’ or as I prefer to describe it ‘going on retreat’. Here are a few things for you do while on retreat to help ensure you have a magical time.
The Invocation of Hygieia. It’s common practice before beginning any magical or devotional ceremony to clear the working space and prepare the temple. Your home is your temple so the first process for your retreat could be to undertake a banishing ritual. Tidy up! Double bag any things you don’t need and, mindful of contamination, give them away or set them aside to share with others later. Clean your space. Let the light and the fresh air in, put on some energizing music (like some of the tunes on my COVID-19 Pandemic Party Playlist) and get to work! If you’ve got a home altar space this is the time to cleanse that too. Once you’ve done the washing up go a stage deeper and do a spot of cleaning that you rarely get round to (that oven could do with some attention…). Really honour the goddesses Hygieia and Hestia in your work. Once that’s done perform your favourite cleaning/banishing/creating sacred space practice. By analogy, tidying our bedroom (as a species) is what we have to do now. We’ve made something of mess of the biosphere so perhaps, when this pandemic is over, we can seriously set out to address the issues of climate change and the sixth mass extinction.
Do some meditation. Whatever style(s) you favour this is a time to go deeper into your practice. If you’ve never done meditation in a disciplined, regular way this is your opportunity to get serious. Start with some mindfulness meditation, maybe some object concentration. Explore the multiple resources online and give it a go. Doing meditation can also help you manage any fears you might have in this time of change. Meditation boosts our individual immune response and can enable us to be in a good cognitive state. This means we are more likely to make sound judgements (rather than decisions guided by fear) for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.
Do some bodywork. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, weights whatever. Keep your body moving and in shape. Again this is good for you and those around you. Try some freeform movement or dance such as Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms. If you have access to a green space get out and into the fresh air and sunlight. Do some breathing exercises. If you do contract the virus this is going to be where it hits. Stop smoking or change your method of delivery (use your vape).
Connect with others. Hopefully the internet will stay on; assuming it does, use it to reach out to your community. For the benefit of your own immune system and the sanity of others try to be kind and considered in your interactions. Don’t feed the fears or the trolls but use this opportunity to find the others. Encourage and support the real life humans on the other end of the keyboard. Phone your friends. Where possible see if you can interact directly with folk around you in safe and mutually beneficial ways, like those people holding block parties in Italy. If you’re following an online course of study this could be a great time to focus on your learning.
Make prayers of gratitude. Thank your gods, spirits or simply providence that you got sufficient food, water, community and shelter (if you are fortunate enough to have these things). Pray to the Great Spirit, however you conceive that to be. Even if you prefer to regard this process as a neat neuro-hack to improve your immune system give it a go. Verbalizing prayers aloud helps since we get neurological feedback, via our environment, when we speak to ourselves. That’s why repeating the name of the thing you’re searching for helps find it. Or how by explaining your problem to the dude on the IT helpdesk you can see what…oh yeah, OK I see what’s wrong…
Plant something. Think about the future. Invest time in growing a seed. A tree to set free when your retreat is over, flowers for the garden. Food plants, even just a little salad in a window box. Watch as the spring comes and new life returns to the world.
Read an inspirational book. Whether you choose get to grips with a new text, or one you’ve been putting off because of lack of time, retreat is the perfect time for reading. Read lots and catch up with that pile by your bed of half-glanced at texts (ahem… well perhaps that’s just me?). Here are two recommendations. The first is the captivating story of LSD chemists The Rose of Paracelsusby William Leonard Pickard. This exquisite book was written in cell where Pickard still dwells 20 years after being busted for allegedly making planetary scale batches of acid. Much of the book follows the work of clandestine chemists, themselves cloistered in remote laboratory sites. Same same but different as they say in the East, the second is Cave in the Snow. This is the tale of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who, following her Buddhist vocation, secluded herself in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas, where she stayed for 12 years between the ages of 33 and 45. Palmo became a spiritual leader and champion of the right of women to achieve spiritual enlightenment. A remarkable and beautifully written tale.
Make something. Create some art. Play with whatever resources you have to hand and allow yourself to explore without necessarily any predetermined goal in mind. Whether it is music, sculpture, baking or something else see what you can produce. If you’re able, learn a new skill (thanks internet). If you’ve always wanted to play guitar this could be your moment! Learn to knit. Consider what skills might be useful for you and your community and will impress your friends when you meet up again. You may be about to discover your aptitude for any any number of crafts and the joy in being a producer as well as a consumer.
Day dream. Spend some time, as the Romantic Poets John Keats would say, in diligent indolence. Now you’re out the thick of the capitalist rat-race take some time to loaf about. Just lie on the coach and stare out the window. Let your unconscious have time to unwind. Don’t mediate, listen to music or whatever. Just be in your own space and let the time drift by and allow your self to day-dream.
Have a psychedelic experience. If you lucky and have supplies then that’s all well and good but if not, there’s always connected breathwork. Connected or holotopic breathwork can be used to induce the psychedelic state in which novel connections are made in the brain and our content processing and connection finding systems get all fired up. Allowing for your skills in holding the psychedelic state it can be deployed for numerous purposes. To reboot the brain, potentially resolving blocks and trauma, and to give our minds a proper spring clean. I’ll take the liberty of recommending my book on psychedelic ceremony Getting Higher and David Lee’s definitive text on breathwork Life Force: Sensed energy in breathwork, psychedelia and chaos magic to get you started.
Do some ceremony. You could try adapting the six month retirement of the Abramelin grimoire to your situation or go for something quite different. A period of retreat is ideal for devotional work. You could perform daily puja to Ganesh to break down obstacles, to Shiva Lord of Creation and Destruction, or whatever spirits you groove with. This could be your chance to undertake a Chaos Monasticisms or follow the obligations of Resh. Alternatively, at the risk of annoying the neighbours, there could be plenty of time for a shamanic journey or nine… Your retreat would naturally be a perfect time for doing magic to aid the healing of our species, our relationships with each other, and with the biosphere as a whole.
Remember, if we want to slow this virus down the best attitude is to assume you already have it and therefore behave in ways that are less likely to pass it on. Don’t think of this as cowering in your rooms like the Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of The Red Death (read here by William Burroughs). Rather, this is an opportunity for us to stand together to support people like this Italian doctor in the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. Respect.
Make your retreat be full of rest and joy, of well being and of wonders.
P.S. As many of us are now on retreat in our homes I’m doing extra online one-to-one sessions of mentoring, tarot reading and other services. If you’d like to arrange a video call please let me know firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of us like to think things will, generally speaking, continue as they are. Most of the time we assume, within certain limits, tomorrow will be much the same as today, much the same as yesterday. Sometimes we can sleepwalk our way into problems precisely because of this cognitive bias. Big life events can cut across our sense of normality; some of these can be planned for, others may take us by surprise. As I write these words one such surprise is happening, the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
The shockwaves from the events that followed the emergence of the virus in Wuhan, China are rippling out across our world. In addition to the infection itself in our hyperconnected digital age, along with the very real consequences of this new disease, there is the diverse online conversation, the reporting and conjecture. Inevitably some folk think the whole thing is a false flag plot, or perhaps an illness unleashed by 5G (one example of that kind of bonkers idea here if you can be bothered). Other commentators, apparently ignorant of the death toll, have suggested that COVID-19 is more-or-less identical to season ‘flu outbreaks and that the mainstream media are piling on the fear because that’s what sells and serves some imagined shadowy Deep State agenda. Yet however self-sovereign we might imagine ourselves to be in terms of our own health the spread a new epidemic disease is about much more than us as isolated, potentially over-opinionated individuals. COVID-19 is clearly a highly communicable disease that harms some of the most vulnerable people in our community and in this way no matter how young, hale and hearty we might believe we are, this epidemic invites us to reach beyond our self-sovereign (or self-absorbed) beliefs about the world.
The incursion into our lives of this virus isn’t convenient but such disruptions may help us come to terms with those disruptions yet to come; climate change and ecosystem collapse. They may teach us that individual and national sovereignty mean little in the face of collective and global challenges. The current last-ditch rallying of nationalism, of which Brexit and the elections of Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro are emblematic, is increasingly anachronistic. The emergence of a new global pandemic in a matter of weeks is enough to demonstrate this in stark terms.
For some people this new disease is the Pale horse of Revelation, pestilence unleashed because we are entering the apocalyptic Last Days. For others of a more pagan persuasion coronavirus, with its probably zoonotic origin, is a karmic consequence of the terrible treatment of the biosphere by our species. The commodification of non-human people manufactures a living hell for both wild and domesticated species. One example of this, though there are many others, is the trade in bile taken from live bears. (This is really horrible stuff so I’m not adding a direct link, look it up on Wikipedia if you want.)
The coronavirus is particularly notable in that it has impinged on the lives of some of the more affluent members of our community. Those enjoying their post-Christmas hols in northern Italy, those living their best retirement years aboard cruise ships, people who in all other respects are potentially somewhat insulated against the global crises of the sixth mass extinction and climate collapse. You may be a media-savvy international jet setter and networker but that actually makes you vulnerable. A fascinating phenomenon that has helped to rapidly raise the profile of this disease.
How the COVID-19 story plays out in the next few months remains to be seen. If it reaches the levels of the 1918 influenza epidemic (which I’m pretty sure was not a media fake, false-flag op or mobile phone induced cataclysm) we could be talking about many millions of people dead with all the trauma and sorrow that would follow such an event. It’s instructive to look at examples from history, including that of the Black Death, not out of some kind of ghoulish schadenfreude, but to realize the truth that such dramatic changes in the fortunes of our species can and do happen.
What can we do to help? Well there are many decisions to be taken and we would do well not to consider these not from the ‘how do I protect myself’ perspective but in terms of a wider sense of social concern and our intimate interconnection with each other. Don’t think ‘how can I avoid the virus?’ but rather ‘how can I avoid passing it on to others?’
There have been some great examples of this already in the form of autonomous groups springing up to support people at a local level. A family member spoke today about the youth of a Spanish community self-organizing to provide shopping for less able people in their village. (Picture a group of punks on bikes with face masks, learning how to arrange food deliveries to the elderly without risking contamination.)
I’m relieved that most of my family live in Britain where, for all its faults, our healthcare system is shared and collective. I’m worried for my friends in places with poor healthcare provision, notably the USA where the idea of universal healthcare seems to be imagined by some as tantamount to Stalinist repression. (Trump, with his extensive knowledge of epidemiology, imagines COVID-19 will go away in the summer. Those who know about the history of the 1918 pandemic may be less certain.)
While people are tapping away on their laptops about archonic forces, curtailment of civil liberties and the supposedly fake photographs of Chinese hospital wards, some real world stuff is going down. But if you still want a Deep State plot in your noosphere check out how governments that privilege the health of their populations are behaving in-comparison to more rapacious capitalist countries. Those are the states that are not restricting movement or conducing mass testing. Of course the conspiratorially minded see such things as fear-mongering state grabs for social control. Personally I see this in a more holistic way. A governmental system is made out of people, with all the banes and blessings that this brings. Those nations that have been capable of concerted collective action (like China and South Korea) are beginning to contain the virus. Meanwhile the intensely capitalist ‘liberal democracies’ are setting themselves up for some shocking events. Both the USA and UK look like they are intending to simply push on through, to get the epidemic over fast with all the causalities that will entail.
To speak in esoteric terms: The necessity to take collective action rubs up against the childlike ire of Horus. Crowley writes of the Aeon of Horus:
“Everywhere his government is taking root. Observe for yourselves the decay of the sense of sin, the growth of innocence and irresponsibility, the strange modifications of the reproductive instinct with a tendency to become bi-sexual or epicene, the childlike confidence in progress combined with a nightmare fear of catastrophe, against which we are yet half unwilling to take precautions. Consider the outcrop of dictatorships, only possible when moral growth is in its earliest stages, and the prevalence of infantile cults like Communism, Fascism, Pacifism, health crazes, occultism in nearly all its forms, religions sentimentalized to a point of practical extinction. Consider the popularity of the cinema, the wireless, the football pools and guessing competitions, all devices for soothing fractious infants, no seed of purpose in them. Consider sport, the babyish enthusiasms and rages which it excites, whole nations disturbed by disputes between boys. Consider war, the atrocities which occur daily and leave us unmoved and hardly worried. We are children.”
Perhaps COVID-19 is a lesson from the Maat current, with her symbol of the bee, and the need for community cohesion in order to survive as a compassionate community. The COVID-19 crisis invites us to imagine a magic in the Anthropocene where we step beyond the idea of doing our Will and into an approach which is for the benefit of All.
In terms of result magical work. Rather than conjuring that I and my friends don’t get sick it makes more sense, and in my experience is much more beneficial, to work magic to inspire successful medical research, and to attack other variables of probability concerning the progression and management of disease.
One approach to healing magic, which can be used globally as well as personally, is through the spirit Kawa Pohr developed by the Illuminates of Thanateros. Details of this occult tech were recently released by arch-mage Dave Lee and can be found on the IOT British Isles blog. As well as directing Kawa Pohr at specific individuals it can be installed in a location (as in the nightclub example given in the article) and also into a timeline or egregore in order to heal. This an intelligent spirit that works on individuals not simply by making them well but by creating the conditions in which wellness happens. This could include the discovery and availability of medicines, the identification of supportive complimentary therapies, a setting of a caring and supportive community and so on. Long term collective enchantments, such as the ones that the IOT led against HIV with Kawa Pohr may, in time, enable what previously would have been thought impossible, to come true.
I think it’s clearly time we should all be ‘social distancing’ and where possible ‘self-isolating’, or to put rather more positively, ‘going on retreat’. This is a retreat, not in some exotic setting or wilderness, but in our own domestic spaces. Going on retreat will help us, as a community, to flatten the curve, to prevent a situation like that unfolding in Italy and elsewhere where there are simply not enough medical staff and critical care beds to go round. If two or more weeks of retreat are an over-reaction to this situation then the worse that will have happened is that you’ll have had some time to mediate, catch up on your reading, do a spot of DIY, binge watch Netflix etc etc. You’ll emerge feeling rested and perhaps somewhat embarrassed. However if the projections from folk like the WHO and others are even vaguely correct then you’ll have helped reduce the spread of this potentially deadly disease.
Let’s consider some simple numbers to help us make our decisions, allow me to give you an example from my own setting. I live in a town of around 20,000 people in Devon, England. Let’s assume that 50% of people in my town get the virus (which is a conservative estimate) within a few weeks of each other. We’re lucky in that locally we have a hospital, however this is only for out-patients. Anyone needing admission must to go to the nearby larger town which has a hospital of 423 beds. However if 50% of people in my town get sick that means at the very least 6% will need hospitalization. That’s 600 people, and that’s just from my town. The population of the whole region served by this hospital is 164,253. As they say in America ‘do the math’. And of course people may need to be in hospital for other reasons than coronavirus. (A good analysis of the situation here, and see here for data on the global picture.) These numbers mean that, unless we, as individuals and governments, reduce the spread of the virus, there will need to be very extreme triaging. Older people, people with health issues, even just those of whatever age that are severely ill may be discounted from receiving limited and massively overstretched medical help.
For my part I’ve cancelled my forthcoming appearance at a conference abroad and potentially at other events next month too. Instead I’m going to be ‘social distancing’ and ‘going on retreat’ predominantly in my own house and garden. A domestic vision quest for meaning and collective healing in the space which I inhabit. I’ll have a chance to reflect on our situation and how it might enable us all to appreciate our intimate interconnection with each other and with the biosphere. Ironically if we all go on retreat for the next 2 to 4 weeks, by sticking apart we can demonstrate our global solidarity with each other in the face of this pandemic.
For the benefit of ourselves and all other beings.
In thinking recently about the way in which Chaos Magic might allow for a greater access to and acceptance of fluidity I thought it might be helpful to share an example from my own practice about my shifting relationship with a god-form. In this case the Chaos Buddha.
My own relationship with magic has always intertwined with Dharmic traditions such as Buddhism as the emphasis on introspection and meditative practice felt like a necessary counterbalance to the more active methods of much of Western occultism. Back in 2011 I found myself wanting to deepen my exploration of what a Buddha-form might look like when seen through the lens of my chaos magical practice. Digging back through some dust-covered magical diaries I came across this semi-channeled piece that later became the basis for a large group Puja:
“(The Chaos Buddha) A Laughing Buddha-representing the Erisian/Discordian stream of the Chaos impulse. A Trickster Buddha who invites us to relax into our conflicts, to breathe into them, to half-smile and release them to the deeper aspects of ourselves-to subvert out linear, rational attempts to make things work. Chaos emanates from a belly that bespeaks enjoyment, pleasure and playfulness rather than asceticism, sacrifice and denial.
A place of succulence, opulence and contentment.
An earthy bass notes that challenges the belief that wisdom is a move away from matter. A playful Monkey Buddha pinching Tripitarka’s bottom. A Zen rebel, taking us ever back to the circle rather than the straight line. Hail the Chaos Buddha!!”
Reading back over this, I am struck by what it says about me and the place that I was at in my life when it was both written and then deployed in a magical setting. In the months prior to this work I had undertaken a period of Chaos Monasticism that had a strong focus on Eris and Discordianism. As someone with a fairly wide stripe of seriousness and intensity, I had felt inspired to explore this current as a way of bursting my own bubble of taking my own magic too seriously. The work was far too important to not laugh at it!
For me, the creative process of engaging in this work was a Process Theology of the highest order. I was making no claims to ancient traditions or unbroken lineages as I sought to give my own impulses and spiritual desires an external shape. In this artistic expression of my magical aspirations I was simultaneously taking a radical and antinomian degree of responsibility for the work while at the same time tapping into the archetype of the Trickster that has taken numerous forms across many cultures.
My work with the Chaos Buddha took on a particular intensity back then and much of my sitting practice and engagement with Zen teaching stories was done with a nod in their direction. By personifying my aspirations and giving them an external form, I felt that I was able to engage more fully than if I had simply tried to simply think about how Zen and Chaos Magic might overlap. God-forms often act as amplifiers for our intentions and allow us to engage our bodies and heart-based Bhakti vibes.
Nothing stays still for long and when I thought about this reflection inevitably I began to think about how my work with the Chaos Buddha has evolved. In recent years my own work has become less focused on the down and dirty “results magick” aspect of chaos magic and more on the meaning of deep psychological change and initiation. For me that has involved a deep-dive into Existentialism and how concepts such as emptiness and the Void can be applied in the context of a Left Hand Path type approaches.
In exploring this work, I remained aware that the Chaos Buddha was gently nudging me to develop my past disciplines as a means for exploring this new terrain. So much of Western Occultism can feel like another version of the relentless project of acquisition: more books, more degrees, more weird experiences and more funny hats. While all these things can be meaningful and potentially absorbing, I must still deal with the reality that the vastness of the Universe still blows my conceptual little mind and eventually (hopefully not too soon), I’m still going to die. Ultimately I need tools and perspectives for helping me sit with these realities and the senses of Dread and Awe that they generate.
Thankfully the lens provided by the Chaos Buddha work is providing me with some helpful keys for cultivating what I need. Whether it’s sitting with paradox or surfing the waves of internal chatter this part-made god is still proving to be a valuable asset. Cynics might dismiss my imaginary friend, but as magicians we know that imaginary friends can be life changing!
In the large group puja to the Chaos Buddha that I led in 2011 we ended with taking three deep bows while reciting 3 affirmations to the treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha:
“I bow to the Chaos Buddha as the half-smiling fool
I bow to the dharmic paradox that there may be no absolute truth
I bow to the Sangha of my school-the tribe of holy idiots bold enough to do the work of magick!”
Feel free to experiment with this if it looks helpful ☺
As a latecomer to Chaos Magic in the mid-1990’s, Phil Hine’s Condensed Chaos provided an excellent guide to the Neophyte Steve Dee. Having been spiritually burnt out by my previous struggles with belief and attempts at religious faith, the iconoclastic approach of Chaos Magic articulated in that work felt like an invigorating breath of fresh air.
In this latest collection spanning over 40 years of magical practice and reflection, Phil has brought together not only a rich smorgasbord of his writing that has previously been featured in Zines, collections and his on-line presence, he also intersperses these pieces with illuminating snapshots of magical autobiography and reflections on his inspirations at the time they were written. In addition to Phil’s written work, the book also features evocative linocuts by Maria Strutz at the beginning of each of its major subsections.
He provides us with a vivid recollection of his own beginnings in Magic that reference the impact of Austin Osman Spare, Theosophy and some bold experimentation with the pantheon of HP Lovecraft. Early occult group work came in the form of a rather bumpy experience with a Wiccan Coven, and we also see him giving his playful and non-conformist streak expression via more experimental work with the Discordian Goddess Eris. Things clearly lit-up during his involvement in the vibrant Pagan/magical scene in the North of England during the 1980’s and his involvement with the enigmatic Lincoln Order of Neuromancers provides a Segway into the books first major section containing writing on Chaos Magic.
Even with the passing of time, Phil’s writing from this period still contains both a vibrancy and a relevance. Pieces such as the channelled Erisian Stupid Book and the brutally honest Fracture Lines provide clear insight into the magician both at work and struggling with the emotional realities of being a human being. In Cthulhu Madness he challenges the sanitised safety of our overly psychologised magic and our attempts at control. “Real Magic is Wild” insists Hine and yet he also asks us to use on whole of our beings in balancing magic and mysticism, work and play:
“Chaos Magic is a process of mutation…the deconstruction of Identity from the beleaguered Ego into the legion of Selves requiring only self-love”
In his section on Paganisms, we find Phil in full activist mode using both his writing and group ritual to challenge the hysteria of alleged satanic child abuse and the ecological threat posed by industrialisation. This a Paganism unbolted from the politeness of social conservatism and in his writing for Pagan News we see a clear embodiment of the magician-shaman as social disruptor. In his Must we Love the Golden Bough? I sensed the beginnings of Phil’s role as erudite historian of religion and critic of Western Occultisms lazy reliance on the Universalistic assumptions that reflect an insensitivity to cultural context.
Phil’s section on Practice provides some rich anecdotes and some very down-to-earth principles for magical practice. He provides valuable thoughts regarding the power dynamics present within the student-teacher relationship and how the paradigm of mentorship might provide a less lopsided model. I was especially struck by his piece on Leaving Magical Groups and was aware of the parallels in my own experience of how such departures can have long lasting impacts on friendships, personal psychology and the shape of on-going spiritual work.
Somewhat organically Hine takes us with him on a voyage into his exploration of Tantra. We are treated to tales of his meeting his Guru, involvement with the AMOOKOS tradition and a description of a deeply personal embodied Kundalini experience. Phil openly wrestles with what it might mean to let the complex traditions of South Asia speak for themselves and inform his efforts to create a “hybridised Tantra”. Through a number of nuanced pieces of writing he invites us to become detectives with him in trying to experience the complex layers of meaning of Tantra’s twilight language rather than coarsely pillaging concepts around rebellion, antinomianism and sacred sexuality. However these concepts are present, they need to be able to speak on their own terms.
His sub-section on Sexualities was a personal favourite of mine, as Phil provides a robust challenge to much of the heteronormativity and phallo-centrism that is still present within certain quarters of western occultism. In exploring the fluid and evolving concept of Queer Paganism we encounter Baphomet as an “unfinished” deity who contains “a multiplicity of shifting planes and horizons”. These aren’t merely theoretical constructs but rather profound explorations of when the personal is the political and pieces such Sodomy and Spiritual Fulfilment and Biography of a Kiss provide us with some truly tender insights on how we unfold in becoming more human.
The final two sections of the book are given over to Histories and Fiction and in this juxtaposition we see Hine in both his most incisive and playful modes. In his analysis of the work of Lobsang Rampa and Elizabeth Sharpe’s writing on The Secrets of the Kaula Circle we have Phil in full religious historian mode challenging us to stay sensitive to context and to appreciate the complexity of contributions within the timeline. In Fiction (probably the section that appealed to me least), we see the blurring of the lines between story and history and the weird tales described could quite feasibly be chapters from his own biography.
In his writing on Masters, Mentors, Teachers and Gurus Hine advises us to let go of our fixation in seeking parental authority figures and to “seek friendship instead”. Finding such magical mentors can take time but I feel that Phil has provided us with a warm and authentic version of this albeit in print. This collection provides us with a rare, raw and at times hilarious insight regarding what it might mean to be a magician in the 21st century. While playful and irreverent it also contains a moving story of the search for meaning, the fluid nature of identity and also a desire to find the Goddess in all their multiplicity of forms.
In my last post I spent time thinking about the potential parallels between acts of creation at both a large and small scale. How might the way in which we view the origins of the Universe shape our perception of self and experience of being a human?
My own view is that the creative, cut-up style of Chaos magic provides us with a position of dynamic agnosticism that allows us to engage with the questions we grapple with. At a cosmological level I was keen to embrace an origins story that reflected a “fragmentary beauty and partial truths: a cut-up formed from moments of inspiration and hard-won life lessons…a custom job, slowly stitched together and arguably unique.” In this post I hope to explore the way in which such an approach can help shape the way we engage with the work of transforming the self.
As we seek to explore potential models of self, the Chaos magician (or at least this one) tends to exercise a degree of both skepticism and down and dirty pragmatism. Yes a specific model may provide a language with which to access new insights, but how do I take these lessons into the realm of my magical work so as to bring about lasting initiatory change?
Under the sway of Postmodernism, Chaos magic tends to be far more interested in the self as a process rather than seeing it as a fixed entity. Think more of a dynamic shifting river bed rather than a still pool of unfathomed depths. Rather than initiatory work being located in some far off idealized future, this “self as process” paradigm challenges us to experience the work unfolding in the moment as the primary location and focus of activity.
Most of us come to magical work in order to experience change. We may have felt trapped by the old, outdated scripts and principles we were adhereing to. If we were simply content with these we would not have entered the Temple of the Mysteries. Whatever the techniques or traditions we favour, my hunch is that we are seeking methods and frameworks within which to improvise new understandings of self.
I have previously written about how the artistic technique of cut-ups provide us with powerful insights into the shifting nature of both consciousness and identity. The dynamic and improvisational spirit of this approach captures well the experience of many and potentially provides a more fluid map for developing a more playful approach.
Cut-ups also happen at a cosmic level and the Mesopotamian creation myth Enuma Elish (lit. “when on high”) vividly depicts this. It tells the story of a struggle between the elder gods of primal chaos and the young upstarts embodying consciousness and order. The great primal Mother Tiamat is eventually slain by the heroic warrior Marduk who then forms the material universe from her draconian remains. This speaks powerfully of our own journey in pursuing the goal of self-creation; we may desire the coherence and direction of the ordered and linear, but if we fail to recognise the vital potency of the chaotic, our path is likely to become arid.
When we begin to pay more attention to the terrain of self, it can feel both challenging and potentially disorientating. Too great a sense of fragmentation and we risk both good mental health and the necessary cohesion needed for day-to-day functioning. Embracing fluidity and multiplicity can feel highly liberating, but we can also risk feeling distress if our experience of subjective complexity runs contra to older expectations regarding having a unified experience of self. Shouldn’t I be more consistent, less conflicted and frankly have my shit more together?
I hope you are beginning to spot how tricky it can be to find metaphors that help convey the complexity and mystery of the work that we are trying to do! In my own attempt to map-out some of my own exploration of what I experience going on:
In this circularity I have been trying to spot the links in my own chaos magical process and role that intuition plays in inspiring the form of play and ritual improvisation that takes place in the laboratory space of the magical circle. While my intuition can definitely have an unexpected and non-linear quality, the foundation for such gnostic insights has come by means of research, reading and the consumption of prodigious quantities of art.
When we dare to improvise, to step outside of the known and fully rehersed we can feel like The Fool in the tarot daring to step out. While that image is both powerful and inspiring, we should be cautious about taking it too literally! To improvise is not to disregard health and safety concerns or rely on blind-optimism, rather it allows us to trust in our own cultivation of poise and the possibility of what can occur when we relinquish the tightness of our control.
Such states of being are often associated with “flow” and the outcome of mastery and we know that these experiences often result as a result of concentrated discipline in acquiring the basics. We would rarely expect to be able to play an improvised guitar solo without hours spent playing scales, and yet in our magical work we imagine that the possibility of mystical experience isn’t enhanced by regular spiritual practice.
Perhaps with a new year and new decade beginning, it’s time for all of us to revisit magical bootcamps like Liber MMM (or others of your choosing), in order to reconnect to daily practices that allow the possibility of more creative experiences of both ourselves and our connection to others.
To conclude here’s a beasutiful quote from the preface of Viola Spolin’s excellent Theater Games for the Lone Actor:
“In the present time a path is opened to your intuition, closing the gap between thinking and doing, allowing you, the real you, your natural self, to emerge and experience directly and act freely, present to the moment you are present to.
You, the real you, must be seen. There are many facets to your basic persona unknown even to you , that you may come forth, appear, and become visible. You, the unique, invisible, unknown, must emerge, be seen, and connect!”
Deep Magic Retreat
Our 2020 springtime retreat will take place in April (17-19th). Please join us for this magical adventure, exploring the connection between Nature and ourselves!
This weekend will give you the opportunity to engage with a remarkable landscape in which humans and other species live and work together. Through group practices and solitary exploration we will discover how we can bring together spirituality and practicality. Using a range of artistic, ceremonial and meditative processes developed specifically for this site, we will re-engage with our humanity as a harmonious part of Nature. The key themes for this retreat will be regeneration and relationship; bring your curiosity, your open mind, and a willingness to participate.
Ragmans Lane Farm is nestled in the Wye Valley on the edge of the Forest of Dean, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. An hour from Bristol, Birmingham and Cardiff, the 60 acre site is one of Britain’s most well established permaculture and organic farms. Ragmans has hosted numerous courses over many decades with teachers including Starhawk, Patrick Whitefield and Bill Mollison.
Accessible to novices, and beneficial for experienced practitioners, these days of practical deep magic will give you plenty of opportunity for personal transformation, learning and fun.
We will be staying in a superbly converted 400 year old barn, with three dormitory style areas (6 beds, 2 beds and 3 beds). The barn also has a comfortable sitting room, and a large dining room/kitchen, both perfect for socialising. The retreat includes full-board accommodation with delicious home-cooked vegan food, much of it grown locally, some at Ragmans Lane itself!
We will be using a separate meeting hall for indoor ceremony and practices, as well as several beautiful outdoor spaces.
The retreat runs from Friday 17th until Sunday 19th April.
As the psychedelic renaissance continues the language we use about these substances frames how they emerge from ‘traditional’, underground and research contexts and into wider culture.
For example, it’s worth pointing out that psychedelic substances, indeed all drugs for that matter, are not and have never been ‘illegal’. While this point may seem like splitting hairs to some it’s vital to understand how drugs are controlled, by whom and for what reasons (mostly Richard Nixon’s paranoia). Sure, in day to day parlance, we may speak of ‘illegal drugs’ but understanding the deeper truth of their juridical status helps us appreciate key nuances. What we are dealing here with isn’t outlaw substances, but rather the politics, policy and underlying ethical positions that support prohibition.
Another important aspect of pharmacolingistics is how we choose to describe the class of drugs being investigated in clinical and academic settings world-wide. While ‘hallucinogen’ has been used in this past this term has serious flaws.
“Hallucinogen is now, however, the most common designation in the scientific literature, although it is an inaccurate descriptor of the actual effects of these drugs. In the lay press, the term psychedelic is still the most popular and has held sway f,or nearly four decades.”
Psychedelic drugs, not just active in the mind’s eye…
The comment above is from David Nichols, one of the leading psychedelic chemists on the planet, who knows a thing or two about such matters (see hallucinogen in Wikipedia). Luckily David’s wish to change that ‘inaccurate descriptor’ has been granted.
The quote from Professor Nichols dates back to 2004. These days a brief glance at contemporary research shows how ‘psychedelic’ has now become the preferred nomenclature in scientific circles . There is for example The Journal of Psychedelic Studies, a leading academic peer-reviewed publication that brings together scientific research concerning these medicines. Then there is Psychedelic Press Journal that publishes ethnographic research, rare historical material and experimental writing. There’s nothing remotely equivalent out there with the ‘hallucinogenic’ tag and for very good reasons, as I explain here…
The book I name check in this video is Mike Jay’s wonderful Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic; a meticulously researched and moving account, especially in relation to the development of peyote ceremony within Native American communities. Highly recommended.
Wishing you all a fabulous December Solstice!
Stay high! Stay free!
Yuletide shopping opportunity!
I’m really pleased to announce that Getting Higher has been published in Polish! You can get your copy here 🙂
I’m also running a workshop at Treadwell’s Books in London on Spaces and their Spirits on the 1st of February where I’ll be sharing techniques to enable us explore a metamodern animism. Expect spirit beings of all sorts, from genuis loci and faeries to chaos magic servitors and ancient deities!
Nikki and I will be running more Deep Magic retreats in 2020. If you want to be kept up to date with our plans please get in touch and we will add you to our mailing list.