In the Dark’s Early Light

In the Northern Hemisphere we are emerging from the darkness of winter. Blinking into the cold, clear, even cruel light of the Imbolc season. This year, we initiates emerge from the long vigil of the pandemic night and now, as the seasons turn, we can begin to imagine what comes next.

What sort of rebirth will this be?

We need to appreciate that for many people the last year has been the most challenging of times. Some have been working to save the lives of others. Some have fallen down lonely rabbit holes of conspiracy fetishism, holes that have become yawning chasms in culture, where legitimate fears are conflated with concerns of a much less well-evidenced sort. Some have found themselves with several months off work on full pay, a delicious time in which they have been rediscovering their local area and exploring their creativity. Others have been holed up for months in difficult or even dangerous situations. Healthcare workers have been living through a time of tremendous stress. A friend of mine spent several weeks holding up iPads to the faces of prone and dying patients with Covid-19 so their families could say goodbye.

The range of experiences within this one great, shared, global crisis are legion. But for all of us there is now the challenge of finding good ways to remake our connection with others. There is both danger and opportunity in this delicate time.

One practice I’ve developed to help deal with isolation is contained in the guided meditation below. This is a practice to help us connect with our sacred magical places. Special places we may not have visited for some considerable time. We know that a lack of connection is commonly at the root of both depression and addiction. By using our imaginal skills to reconnect with those places we love, we help ourselves be well and better prepared for the challenges to come.

This meditation was one of the practices that Nikki Wyrd and I shared in our recent online ritual hosted by The Psychedelic Society. For the rite Nikki also wrote a beautiful text about the spirits of the time which you can read in its entirety at the end of this article.

Imbolc or Candlemas is closely associated with the Goddess (or Saint) Brigid, the archetypal skilful woman. A skilful woman who received a long overdue celebration of her work this month is the artist and occultist Rosaleen Norton. A beautifully realized film documentary telling her story, The Witch of King’s Cross, is now available on Vimeo and Amazon. If you find yourself entranced by Norton’s work and story then your next stop has got to be Pan’s Daughter, an excellent biography by Nevill Drury. I’ve been a fan of Norton’s work for many years, and the new film includes some stanzas of her ritual poetry. Below, I’ve recorded in full a poem quoted in part in the film. The image I’ve chosen is the one originally published alongside the poem in her banned occult art book The Art of Rosaleen Norton (published in 1952, just one year after the repeal of the witchcraft act in Britain).

As we in the North emerge from the winter and into reconnection with others beyond Zoomland, in physical space, there are going be lots of issues to negotiate, many of which will cluster around our ability to trust. It is lack of trust that fuels the conspiratorial mindset. This is quite understandable. The hesitancy to be vaccinated as demonstrated by some communities is perfectly intelligible given the very real abuses of trust they have suffered in the past where people, generally the more excluded members of our societies, have indeed found themselves the unwitting guinea pigs of appalling unethical scientifically mediated interventions, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study. Sure, the whole notion of ‘the state’ is problematic, orientated as it generally is around a monopoly on violence. Simply put; some guy comes along and tells you you have to give a percentage of your crops to The King, if you don’t his knights will make things difficult, or terminal, for you and your family. Later The King explains that he is protecting you from other Kings and other knights, and so the great protection racket begins. It is therefore explicable that, in the face of this pandemic, the state narrative (for some nations) is voiced in the language of fear, protection by authority, othering and ‘reasonable’ draconian measures.

However, that is not to say that letting the state control pendulum swing totally in the other direction would have been any better; some people fail to understand that, especially in a pandemic, it’s not just one’s own health that matters but rather the health of the nation, or indeed the species. Such an individualistic attitude would have let the pandemic rip through our society, which would have been most unkind; nor would it have necessarily have led to less suffering than that caused by lockdowns, social distancing and the other strategies. We might for example think back to some early news coverage of the pandemic which suggested that a large percentage of the British workforce could be off sick all at once. This could realistically have led to many kinds of problems in maintaining even basic infrastructure like water and power, leading to potentially catastrophic domino effects. The point about the pandemic is that we are dealing with dis-ease, an experience that, by definition, is not easy. Life is often like this, there are some situations in which there is no good option, Whatever we do it’s going to hurt. (I should mention here other models of the nation state, or more broadly collective action, that don’t originate in totalitarian oppression which in turn gives rise to the shadow of the ‘sovereign individual’ as an apparently isolated and autonomous self. Alternative systems based on compassionate collective action and personal integrity are possible, as exemplified in this excellent documentary Gather.)

Meanwhile, the number of people I know who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 is increasing. Thus far none of them have been taken over by Bill Gates’ nanobots or whatever, so that augurs well for my own chances when the time comes! Personally, I rather like vaccination as a concept, the idea of limited exposure to disease which primes the body to better manage the actual infection has a somewhat alchemical or even initiatory quality to it.

In initiation rituals we go down into the darkness, recapitulating the experience of our intrauterine existence and our birth. We do this in a limited, controlled but authentic way. Initiation is a little death, a death that doesn’t kill the bodymind but instead enables us to experience a managed crisis of psychic dismemberment and physical tests. In passing through these rites we discover a new appreciation for life just as those who experience near-death events do. Moreover, we acquire enhanced resilience in the face of challenges posed by the human condition.

Over the last few months I, like many people, have spent quite a bit of time online and I know for myself that it’s going to be a curious journey re-making and re-joining collective physical space. While we have all experienced a pandemic, the differences in our narratives will be very significant, as will our experiences of coming back into social space. There are going to be lots of people, notably those in the medical profession, who will be carrying with them deep wounds and trauma. I hope very much that as a community we can find good ways to help each other, and as the year turns, to re-emerge together into the light. Let’s spring clean, shaking out the dust of the wintertime, and make space for the year to come.

Julian Vayne


St Brigid’s crosses (the three-armed variation!) made by Nikki Wyrd
A Call to Brigid and the Spirits of Imbolc

We call in the spirits of the technology that connects us, electronic wizardry conjuring deep magic spells through wires drawn from deep in the ground. 
Flowing electrons, rising sap, leaves budding, fluid birdsong, surge across landscapes. 
We feel the life force stirring beneath the earth. 
Feel the quickening in the belly of the year.
Start to see glimmers of sunlit days ahead. 
The clean clear white light reminds us of the Shining Emptiness at the centre of the psychedelic experience. 
Place of creation, forge of identity, lit by sparks of aspiration from the hammer that beats, and beats with passion for the making of love. 

Imbolc, the time of emerging from the dark of winter days, the time of emerging from under the ground.  
Green shoots with white bells, push up through the snow. 
Pale primrose yellow signals the opening of the season for flowers: Golden trumpets herald the sun’s return. 
Make way, make space! 
For new shoots, springing from old roots. 
Clear the ground, clear your mind, hear the beginning of life from way, way down.  
Make room to breathe, room to forge ahead, room to grow. 

Brigid, goddess of smithing, of fire, of the bright, of wells, of healing and fertility, of poetry, of love, of brilliance. 
Crowned with candles, the saint walks through the land, stirring our hearts with a touch of her wand, soothing away the cares of the winter with a touch of her hand. 
Milk flows from sheep, from mothers, they give life to those that are just born, ancestors nurturing and nourishing what were twinkles in last year’s eyes. 

Brigid, Brid, you who were born as the sun rose, exalted one, blessings on those who celebrate you on this holy day! 
You, who know what we need, wise goddess, we ask for visions, for words, for you to show us what is hidden within! 

The pulse of the year, as the wheel turns again; the beat of the heart, as the smith’s hammer beats time into shape. 
Sparks fly up, tiny lights glimmer, the sun glints from ice crystals as the daylight grows. 
Tiny bright sparks, catch them in your mind’s eye. Breathe with the bellows breath and see the light glow. 

Brigid, inspire us, as our thoughts rise up, like a spring bubbles forth from the ground, overflowing with inspiration long held, deep within our hearts. 
Seed sparks, giving rise to bright flames, flowers blooming on the anvil of Earth as the season of creation arrives.

Nikki Wyrd

Coming up this spring

The Magician as Creative Theologian

Before I was aware of being a magician, I was a theologian, digging deep into the nature of Mystery and how we locate religious authority in an academic setting. These efforts began a process of deconstruction that lead to a radical expansion of my previous faith.  In contrast to the claustrophobia I had experienced when trying to hold-on to the tenets of belief, the esoteric path felt like an expansive opportunity to explore the fullness of my humanity.

As a fledgling magician I was launched into a landscape in which my own occult exploration and direct experience had a profound impact on my process of interpretation and understanding ( or hermeneutics, for the theologically fancy). While research into the best primary source material was still vital, I was far more aware of the role that my personal religious experience was having in shaping my worldview. I recently had a go at mapping out this process, and while not definitive, it looked a bit like this:

I thought I would share with you an example of such magical hermeneutics at work. What follows is an extract from my piece ‘The Queer Gods of Alchemy’ that was part of the excellent anthology Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries (2018) edited by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin.  I highly recommend the whole anthology for those interested in Queered and creative approaches to spiritual practice.

The Sabbat of the Queered Christ

I’m sure I’m no different from most of people in trying to make sense of the paths I have walked and what they reveal about the core aspects of who I am. When I consider the differing traditions that I have worked within I’m often struck by the commonalities in how I have approached them.  While I might admire the dignity of a scripted ritual rubrik, I personally love music, dance and drumming.  For me this type of embodied, ecstatic leaping about, was once part of my teenage Pentecostalism and now strongly connects me to the shamanic archetype of the Witch and the nightside mysteries of their craft.

Within the collective psyche of Europe, the Witch has often acted as an icon of disturbance and freedom. The projected fantasies of clerics and folkloric imaginings often allude to something dark, disturbing and subversive.

The Witch often acts as an attractor for the shadow aspects of those cultures within which they are suspected of dwelling. They are the hags and the shape-shifters whose messy bodies both arouse and unsettle us. They seem to be scapegoats onto whose heads the repressed longings of society are spoken.

In bearing the weight of such dangerous passions they often hold a position on the outer edge of social and ethical evolution.

If our magic is to mean anything, we must be willing for it to Queer and haunt us. The certainties that we cling to must be placed on the altar of our work as our Gods and ancestors draw us to the crossroads at which the sacrificial cost of true change must be weighed. 

My own work with the Witches’ path induced a profound sense of unease. Have you ever felt haunted? Haunted by an idea or a person who, despite all your best efforts, seems to be lurking at the edges of your vision and prodding your unconscious to give them a bit more space? For me, this was a phantom of my own history, pointing towards past explorations and adventures that were still unresolved. 

In my seeking to more fully appreciate the potential connections between the Witch trials and medieval Christian heretics, I became aware that the figure haunting me from the shadows was that old trickster Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus to his Greek speaking friends). 

In relation to my own journey I have already sought to describe how my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my own sexuality and gender identity. While I now feel that it was necessary to take leave of Christ due to the type of self-suppression that seemed innate to my faith at that time, I am still able to appreciate some of the Queer liberation that I experienced via the androgyny of Christ.  

While owning my own needs and bias, I eventually encountered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that provided for me an alternative mode of being. Yes, this was the Jesus who cleared Temples and overturned tables, but also the Jesus who blessed the gentle and sought out the one lost sheep. 

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

To follow the path of the Witch or the Gnostic explorer is to pay heed to those incoming messages bubbling up from the unconscious. In the same way that I couldn’t adhere to the exclusivity of a Christianity at odds with my Queerness, neither can I turn away from the insights still offered by the Christ-spark within. 

In the Gospel of John (Chapter 11) Jesus describes himself as ‘the door’ and for me the Christic myth still provides a doorway via which I can explore greater self-understanding. Walking through this doorway asks that I leave behind the child-like sentimentality of my past beliefs, but I choose to risk this path as if offers freedom from claustrophobic certainties and the possibility of breathing in fresh insights. 

For all of us I would pray that we might access true gnosis as we listen to the Wisdom of our Queer ancestors and Gods, and as we take heed of their counsel may we be brave enough to pursue the uniqueness of our path towards greater wholeness and freedom. So Mote It Be!

“Be a light unto yourself” Shakyamuni Buddha

Steve Dee


Coming Up This Spring

Julian is teaching two workshops with The Last Tuesday society on Sigil Magic and Chaos Magic in February, and continues his regular workshop series with Treadwell’s Books; next up, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners, Magical Energy and The Magical Qabalah for beginners and advanced practitioners. In addition, Treadwell’s is hosting The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher in March, which like much of their other online content will be available to watch after the live event as a video recording.

Julian’s work is now gathered together on his newly launched portfolio website julianvayne.com

Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne will be hosting an Imbolc Ceremony with The Psychedelic Society on Monday 1st Feb 2021, 7pm – 9pm UK time.

Hoping to see you in the magic circle soon! 😀