Priesthood and Service

During my recent reflections regarding the path of Druidry, one issue that I have found myself returning to is how we manifest maturity on the spiritual path and what this might mean in relation to what we give to others. While it remains open to a degree of debate, one of the characteristics that might be imagined to define a Druid –  as being distinct from the role of either Bard/Poet or Ovate/Seer – was the way in which they helped mediate specific social processes within their given communities. Whether via legal adjudication, philosophical consultation or by acting a celebrant during major life-rites the role of the Druid/Priest requires that they embody specific principles or perspectives within the external world.

druid1

#Life Goals

Having spent the last 40 years ensconced in a spiritual journey that has allowed me to encounter a wide variety of folks who have laid claim to concepts of Priesthood, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the shared concepts that seem important to those who minister with varying degrees of esoteric intention.

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to observe, is that a Priest (whether Male, Female or non-binary) is usually a Priest of something or someone! Priests of virtually all denominational stripes are seeking to mediate and embody a deity, a principle or a process. Even if the mission of our Priesthood is broad, there needs to be a certain degree of clarity regarding the perspective they are seeking to represent to the wider world. Some may be attracted to the status or accouterments of the Priestly role, but without a clear sense of vision as to who or what our service is being offered, such Priesthood is likely to be little more than cosplay. For our Priesthood to have depth it feels critical that we have internalized our goal to a degree that it has truly transformed us; we have moved beyond merely articulating truths and more profoundly we are seeking to become them.

Most forms of Priesthood seem to incorporate both the function of Priesthood i.e. what you actually do and the ontology of Priesthood i.e. how you as a person have been transformed internally by having Priesthood conveyed upon you.  When we examine different traditions, we can see the way in which they place varying degrees of focus on either part of this vocational equation. For some schools Priesthood is predominantly sacramental and initiatory in that the goal of ordination is the alchemical transformation of an individual spiritual DNA. For others Priesthood is less about identity and a person may move in and out of a Priestly function depending on the role or function they are adopting at a given time.

In seeking to comprehend ministerial roles that are more defined by function, I was aware of my own background as a former Christian and the way in which the Protestant emphasis on “the priesthood of all believers” sort to minimize any unique status or intermediary role for those who sought ordination. I am aware of the way in which my own biases have been formed by a good dose of Welsh anti-clericalism, but I’m glad to say that this has slowly softened over time as I have been more fully able to appreciate the initiatory and transformational power of having such vocations acknowledged.

My own journey into Priesthood has been a long and winding one. In my late teens I became a seminarian with a view to become an Anglican Priest, but this was eventually derailed by the crisis of faith that pushed me to explore a more magical-gnostic path. Eventually my exploration of magic and the Thelemic-Tantra espoused by AMOOKOS led me into an intense encounter with the Egyptian deity Sekhmet and I became increasingly aware of the obligations that this experience carried with it. During my own in encounter it was made abundantly clear that if I wished to continue a working relationship with these forces, it would entail both cost and obligations in representing her reality to others. While I am a firm believer that vocation can take manifold forms that are uniquely shaped by the individual and their context, based on my own experience I would question the validity of any call to Priesthood that doesn’t have its basis in both marked intensity and sacrifice.

doyle

Will you have a cup of Tea Father?

Although we should be cautious about any insistence that a person’s Priesthood must involve service to a physical community who hold similar perspectives (this is especially the case if adherents are spread over a large geographical area), we mustn’t underestimate the impact that our presence and embodiment might have on those in our more immediate sphere. The very magical act of someone pursuing a deep vocation and the creative flame of the daimonic-self can be both inspiring and potentially disruptive for those who feel they are simply going through the motions of day-to-day life. This in part is the challenge of our service as a Priest: the ideals and forces that we are seeking to manifest, become intensified and crystallized within ourselves as we take the risk of mediating them to those around us.

In the last 10 years my own Priesthood has found expression via mentoring, writing and more publicly in naming ceremonies, hand fasting and delivering eulogies at funerals. Often those seeking such support have been less concerned about the fine detail of my wyrd theological preoccupations and more drawn to the way in which my own initiatory process has enabled me to sit with challenging life processes. It feels as if what I have to offer is less about metaphysical certainties and far more about an ability to explore Mystery. For me those who manifest Priesthood most readily are those for whom their offer of service to others is as a natural overspill of the work that they are embodying in their own lives. This is at once the challenge of feeling called to such vocations but also the powerful initiatory role they can have in forging our magic.

Steve Dee

 

Season of the Mushrooms – why 9/20 is the new 4/20

Here in Britain, the autumn—season beloved of poets and witches—has arrived. For many people, myself included, the rapidly changing amount of natural light (and particularly the disappearance of direct sunshine) can come as something of a shock. As the dark rises, and we scurry into the new academic year, the romantic melancholia of the season can feel difficult, even oppressive. We may describe our feelings simply as being ‘under the weather’,  we may declare ourselves ‘depressed’ or medicalize our emotions as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Me and Damh the Bard are on the same page when it comes to our love of the sunshine. But Dave is a Leo (check his luxurious mane of hair) whereas I’m (predictably) a sex-drugs-occult obsessed Scorpio. So while the autumn does sometimes drag me down, with its blank grey days, there is also excitement as the dark rises; anticipation of Halloween and the following day, my birthday! Autumn brings those mists and mellow fruitfulness, and in all that fruiting  there is an additional excitement. The appearance of a wonderful medicine that can help us address, amongst other things,  the psychological challenges of the dwindling light. Appearing at just the right time to support our seasonal wellbeing, as if planned by Nature Herself ;). I am of course talking about that most magical of plants (okay, yes I known it’s not technically a plant…) the liberty cap mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata.

mushrooms1

Food of the Gods

One of the most potent forms of psilocybe mushroom, the magical elf caps of Psilocybe semilanceata start to sprout at this time of the year. One can find them throughout the British Isles, notably on the damper, western side of the country. Of course without a licence it would be illegal to pick and use these mushrooms, even for the purposes of helping to mitigate one’s depression or SAD. Though arrests for psychedelic mushroom foraging are uncommon, there are cases of people being prosecuted for doing so (for instance the recent bust of Paul Lee Corbett, a 63-year-old man from Washington State facing a charge punishable by five years in prison).

What makes the current legal situation with mushrooms even more insane is that, thanks to the scientists at the cutting edge (or should that be ‘gently waving and breathing’ edge?) of the Psychedelic Renaissance, we now know that this is a very valuable medicine. It can get you high, it can be enjoyable, it can be challenging and it can definitely help you. Psilocybin, in addition to being a remarkably safe substance (arguably safer even than LSD) can catalyze many capacities within humans; this substance can help us problem solve, it can help us deal with our end of life anxiety, it can help us address psychosomatic illness, it can help us unpick our addictions to other substances or debilitating behaviors, it can reliably trigger mystical experience. It’s about as close to a panacea as you can get.

rsif20140873.pdf

Mushrooms in your mind – Placebo vs Psilocybin

Psychedelic mushrooms can be found growing in the depths of many cultures and have, since the mid 20th century, rapidly sprouted in the consciousness of modern Western culture. From Maria Sabina, sharing her mycophilic mystery with Valentia Wasson and her daughter, through to Terence McKenna’s inspirational, and maybe even partly true, Stoned Ape Theory These days, even with legal limitations on our use of them, mushroom culture is alive and well and now boasts it’s own special day which is coming up soon!

Adding to the now traditional pro-cannabis celebrations of 4/20, advocates of mycelial magic have, over the last few years, been promoting the festival of ‘9/20’ (the 20th of September). Using a variety of tactics the 920 Coalition want to encourage appreciation of and dialogue about the beneficial use of psychedelic mushrooms. Meanwhile, The Psychedelic Society are doing their bit with a petition to change the classification of psilocybin in British law. There are also ways you can get down and dirty with mushrooms by cultivating your own. In Europe the irrepressible Darren Springer has been running workshops helping people learn how to cultivate delicious oyster mushrooms.

download

Putting a cap on September

As the autumn rains begin to fall across the Northern Hemisphere people are out and about searching the hills, as perhaps their ancestors did, for the sacred magical mushrooms. Mushrooms that bring us laughter, healing, ecstasy and communion with the spirits. (I’m not sure why ayahuasca has such prominence these days when a large dose of mushrooms will have a very similar visionary and healing effect).

It is indeed the case that harvesting psychedelic mushrooms is prohibited in many places. In that respect I would simply like to quote what I heard recently from the awesome mushroom advocate Kilindi Iyi. Speaking as an African-American he pointed out that black people in the USA didn’t get the vote by voting for it. They had to break the law, reminding me of that Thomas Jefferson quote: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Happy Mushroom Season All!

Julian Vayne

PS I’m facilitating a Magical Mushroom Ceremony next month in London, same date time and venue as Darren’s Shroomshop growers workshop. See Darren for production tips or come to my workshop and ceremony for ideas on how to hold and explore psychedelic mushroom space. Follow this link for tickets. Hope you can join us!

Ahoy!

horns

Psychedelics and The Beast

Here’s my presentation from Beyond Psychedelics in Prague this year, I hope you enjoy it.

During this brief lecture I mentioned Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis. These were a series of public rituals that took place in 1910. As part of the ceremony Crowley served a kykeon to the audience – a magical drink named after the mysterious beverage given to initiates during the ancient Greek rites of Eleusis.

While we cannot be certain there is good circumstantial evidence to suggest that Crowley included an extract of peyote in these rituals. This is interesting in that it wasn’t until decades later that Wasson, Hofmann & Ruck advanced their view that the ancient Eleusinian kykeon contained a psychedelic substance (The Road to Eleusis, 1978). One might conjecture that Crowley was the first person to suggest that the ancient Eleusinian ceremony was a psychedelic initiation. An insight born of Crowley’s keen understanding of how ritual (and ‘strange drugs’) work.

You can read some more background on Crowley’s use of mescaline in The Cactus and The Beast by Patrick Everitt. If Crowley did use peyote in his public rituals, then his work may also constitute the first modern western psychedelic artwork (well before the Human Be-In, concerts by the Grateful Dead & Hawkwind etc). Yet another reason to love Uncle Al .

AC gif

Stay high, stay free!

Julian Vayne

PS.. Speaking of psychedelic ceremony if you are in London in October you can come along to a Magical Mushroom Ceremony! Hurrah for mushroom season!

Summer Time & the Living is Easy

Hello All!

I hope you’re having a fabulous summer! I’ve been really fortunate to have been invited to attend a number of amazing events this summer, including The Third Summer of Love, to address The Netherlands Psychedelic Society and the excellent Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague.

The most recent of these delights was Ozora, a wonderful festival of music, arts, healing and psychedelic goodness in Hungary.  Nikki Wyrd and I were  asked to speak which also meant we got to hang out with an excellent crew of people including Jennifer Dumpert, Erik Davis, Christian Greer, Kilindi Iyi and many more (you can check out the daily newspaper of the festival here). The wooded site of Ozora – where the festival is held – celebrates its 20th year in 2019 and, unusually, is a dedicated location with permanent infrastructure and buildings. This means that when the festival happens (in August, just like it did in 1999 to celebrate a total eclipse) there are the most amazing structures to play in. These included a vast multistory visionary art gallery, an astonishing performance space (one of many) featuring a great thatched dome, blending low-impact technological with hand crafted traditional building methods, complete with a vast yoni sculpture over the stage.

Dome Ozora

Under the Dome in Ozora

At the venue for the talks, a beautiful old barn (the oldest building on the site), one of the big topics of conversation was how to get the ‘vibe’ (for want of better words) of communities like Ozora to take root in wider culture. The other major topic of concern was the uneasy relationship between dualisms such as nature and culture or (post) modernism and (neo) traditionalism. It’s good to explore these tensions but I was again reminded of the importance of sitting with complexity, of welcoming uncertainty and remaining open and curious rather than retreating into a rigid fixity of belief. (Steve Dee and I have written about this lots. It’s also a key issue that Steve addresses in his latest book The Heretic’s Journey.) We have to settle for the fact that life is messy and things rarely (if ever) fall neatly into moral categories of good and bad (to take one such dualist tension). In some respects much of what we are wrestling with in these discussions are actually topological problems, where our physicality (basically tubes with arms and legs) gets us all exercised about whether, for instance, ‘spirits’ (here we are again…) are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ us. These kind of discussions, around delimitation (who is/is not a shaman, whether we should be embrace Technology or return to Nature etc) are sometimes rather simplistic.

Life it’s a complex business and while we may seek for neat answers, like the experience of festival itself, part of the joy is in the diversity, plurality and range of ‘answers’ on offer. How should you spend your festival? I saw people reading, doing yoga, dancing wildly, resting in hammocks surrounded by scented clouds of exotic herbs, communally cooking, caring for their families, giving lectures about psychedelic ecology and more – these are all legitimate answers to the question of what to do at a festival. Which is ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ or better/worse etc depends on what we are actually trying to understand and explore and many other variables. Rather than grasping for certainty we can instead relax into the chaos, the richness, the uncertainty and enjoy the exploration.

But it wasn’t all cerebral stuff at Ozora, there was also some of the most amazing music I’ve heard in quite a while. Lots of impromptu, lo-fi and acoustic sounds and also storming sets from Eat Static, The Herbal Orchestra, Steve Hillage, Higher Intelligence Agency, Mad Professor, Tangerine Dream and many more. Good medicine for the soul!

Nikki and me at Ozora

Taking a break from the dance floor at Ozora

Back in Britain I’ve almost finished a new collection of essays, due out this autumn and I’ve been adding a few more videos to my Youtube channel . The autumn will see Nikki and I hosting further retreats at St Nectan’s Glen and we can also announce that later this year will see the 10th anniversary tour by Psychedelic Press UK Writers on DrugsTickets on sale now 😀

The summer is a time when we can celebrate where we are, who we are, and the wonderful things around us. As occultists we are often attracted to the challenging, the dark, the transgressive, but we should also ensure that we take time, not only to make hay while the sun shines, but also to enjoy it!

As the trees begin to show the first signs of the fading light, and as the blackberries come in to season (yes, already!) we can take the warmth of the summer within and cultivate the light in the gathering darkness.

May your summer ripen into glorious gold!

Ahoy!

Julian Vayne

PS You can listen to Steve Dee talking about his latest work with Miguel Conner on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio

steve dee

Hope to see you on tour!

Writers-on-Drugs-Logo-Small-1024x624

 

 

The Bravery of Taking Our True Form

I was recently chatting with one of my teenage children about how Queer identity is being discussed in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. In the course of our conversation we got on to the brilliance of Ursula Le Guin’s work The Left Hand of Darkness and how the people of the planet Gethen were able to change sex as part of their natural life cycle. Ursula was (and is) awesome!

ursula

The ever awesome Ursula Le Guin

I find it hard to convey the richness that I have gained from Le Guin’s work and the way that it has provided inspiration to me as both a human being and a magical practitioner. With her recent death, I was once again impressed by the wide impact that she has had upon my friends and other creative people that I’m connected to. Le Guin brought the keen eye of the anthropologist to her imagined worlds, and used them as powerful vehicles for exploring concepts without doing violence to the narrative. Her engagement with ideas around race, feminism and alternate family structures, helps us challenge and question our reliance on worn-out social norms and stereotypes.

One of the ideas that Le Guin skillfully wove into the magical universe of Earthsea was the power of words and names. To know a thing or a person’s true name was to have power over them, and the act of sharing your true name with another was an act of profound trust. This concept of a true name (usually received during adolescence) also contains within it the idea that we each hold within us the possibility of bringing something unique into the world.

In a recent blog post I made mention of James Hillman’s excellent The Soul’s Code in which he considers how the idea of the daimon can help us discover those passions and vocations that might provide a sense of coherence to our life’s journey. The challenge for Hillman, and for ourselves, is how we tune in to intuition and creativity, to align our lives to this deeper sense of calling and purpose.  When we are able to bring about this sense of greater congruence with our daimonic, deeper selves, so it becomes possible that greater inspiration might flow through us. 

For Hillman a critical part of this experience comes via a positive, mythic use of loneliness and self-isolation. So often the voice of our vocation can be stifled via the constrictions of family or social conditioning.  To recover the “still, small voice” of the daimon, we are often required to walk a path that may be viewed as willful antinomianism by those around us, as we question or reject their perspectives and values.

For some their sense of daimonic purpose feels so clear, that they have little doubt as to the life’s work that they need to pursue, yet for many of us this process takes more time. The work of tuning in to the voice of our deep self is aided by tools and approaches that allow exploration of hidden or “occult” terrain. Ritual practice, dream-work and art can all be highly helpful means of recovering those powerful longings that may have become lost.

In reflecting on this process of discovering our ‘true name’ or ‘diamonic purpose’,  I was once again drawn to the Grail story of Parzival and the way in which his mother attempted to protect him from both the rigours and glamour of Knighthood. While we can sympathize with her aim, having lost her husband to the crusades, such attempts at control were destined to fail once his own vocation is activated.

grail

Whom does it serve?

As Parzival journeys along the road he finds that his certainties and self-perception are repeatedly challenged as he seeks to find the meaning of true knighthood and what it might mean to be worthy of the Grail. When he begins his quest, the literal and the masculine provide him bench-marks for how he thinks he should be in seeking to make sense of his universe. His first guru Gurnemanz is more than adept in teaching him the use of the lance and shield, but when considering matters of the heart and deep pain he is sadly lacking. It is this “stiff upper-lip”, don’t ask questions attitude that causes his initial failure when confronted by the wound of the Fisher King.

To walk the path of taking our true form demands a form of self-remembering and reflection that asks of us considerable effort, yet to not undertake such work is to stifle the process of initiation unfolding in our lives. Many of us will be all too aware of what it feels like to have our creativity blocked, and the cost this incurs on our sense of psychological and spiritual health, as Hillman puts it:

“Without inspiration, what is left is bare, aimless ferocity.”

The sharp edges of such ferocity often remind me that I’m working too hard on things that don’t really matter or that I’m using such busyness in a desperate attempt to escape the true cost of awakening. To close my ears to this deeper truth, risks denying both myself and the wider world the unique manifestation of who I am and might become.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Urusla Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Steve Dee

 

Steve Dee’s new book A Heretic’s Journey is out now, details here.

Deep Magic retreats – places are still available for our first autumn retreat at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall, details here.

On Having Three Brains

I was recently discussing with Julian and Nikki an experience I had during an MRI scan where its loud, repetitive pulses allowed me to enter a light trance state and eventually fall asleep! As a lover of extreme music, the scanner’s jack-hammer soundtrack was fairly easy listening and reminded me of some of our ritual experimentation with binaural beats. The ever curious Mr Vayne asked whether they had scanned my brain and I told him that given that its focus was on my lower back problems, they were only able to examine my pelvic “brain”. While my reply was in many ways a quip, it did make a connection to some valuable concepts that help shape my own approach to magical transformation.

The concept that the human self is made up of a complex of interacting centres or dimensions is found in a variety of occult and psychological models. Space does not allow a detailed exploration of Taoist alchemy or the wide variety of chakra models deployed in the various yoga traditions, but for me they point to a profound desire to map our spiritual longings more holistically within the visceral, physicality of our bodies. Recently, the awesome Treadwell’s  bookshop in London has been hosting a number of lectures by the ever erudite Phil Hine who has been unpacking the history of how ideas regarding chakras have been utilized in Theosophy and other corners of recent occulture. Phil has now produced some handy chap-books based on these lectures and you can get your paws on them here https://www.treadwells-london.com/shop/wheels-within-wheels-chakras-come-west-phil-hine-signed/ . Work such as Phil’s is vital in capturing the very human process of evolution and adaptation that occurs as our socially formed longings are projected upon traditions romanticized by our desire for the exotic. While such processes may have a degree of inevitability, it feels important to retain an awareness of them so as to limit the violence we might do to primary sources and traditions.

For me in my own magical work, the challenge of such embodied approaches is to accept the limits of what cognition alone can comprehend. It can be all too easy for the Western Occultist to hi-jack these complex symbol-sets in order to provide yet another grid system for piling layer-upon-layer of imagined correspondences. My hunch is that such reductionism, while neat and tidy, makes little headway in accessing the deeper aspects of wisdom that might be accessed if we allowed such traditions to speak on their own terms.

While my own explorations of hatha yoga as a young adolescent have ensured that the language of the chakras has become something of a default setting, my own recent explorations of contemporary Gnostic awakening have been significantly shaped by the insights of the Gurdjieff/4th Way work. Gurdjieff recognised that throughout humanities’ history we have sought to connect to God/HGA/True Self etc. He believed that these efforts could be typified via the centre or starting point from which they began their journey. In short, these paths are the way of the body (the fakir), the way of the heart (the monk) and the way of the mind (the yogi).

Whatever benefit may have been gained in the past through the pursuit of these means, in our age and within a life lived outside of monastery walls we need something more. For Gurdjieff this is the Fourth Way.

jeff

Intense? Who you calling Intense?

The Fourth Way is the way of “the sly man” – the one who seeks to harmonize body, heart and mind as they seek to awaken solar consciousness. This Work challenges us to Self-remember, to become more awake within the bodymind. The methods we may employ, like Beelzebub, are legion, but the goal of awakening from our automatic state of sleep remains.

Whichever map we find most resonant, what feels crucial is that it helps reduce the likelihood of disorientation and the burn-out that can result when we feel that we are going endlessly around in circles. While the process of seeking to manage our uncertainty and fear are a crucial and inevitable part of spiritual maturity, most of us need the structure and language that good maps can provide. Magic without some sense of teleological direction can easily descend into spiritual materialism. In the absence of direction we fill the empty space with a glimmering array of brief distractions that provide little more than a brief sugar-high.

Whichever map we choose, one in which the totality of self is understood and engaged with, is likely to bring the greater success. In the complex experience of being, these schemas seek at once to unify our experience while acknowledging the tensions and competing agendas that we must attend to. These holistic approaches allow us to acknowledge more fully the need to work with a dynamic process of flow in which we move between different domains in pursuing greater health within the ecosystem of ourselves. Like high-wire walkers seeking to hold the line, success is not gained through rigidity; rather we wobble between balance and counter-balance as we journey towards our goal. Our pursuit of magical wisdom seems more likely to bear fruit when our process of reflection (often via the magical diary) allows us strengthen those dimensions of self that may need further development.

Steve Dee

heretics

Available now! In paperback and Kindle editions.

The Heretic’s Journey takes you by the hand firmly and gently, through the by-ways of the author’s life, sharing tales of his younger years and lessons learned. At once forthright and sensitive, Steve Dee is an accomplished magician of the best sort; one who Does. Here you will find instruction in rituals, self-discovery, and deeply meaningful examples of personal praxis. His fascinating flavour of Gnosticism places the body at the centre of spirituality, enjoying the fruits of embodied wisdom found from engagement with Sophia.

A reviewer writes: ‘This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy!’ Thus invites Devon-based chaos magician and gnostic explorer Steve Dee in the prelude to his extraordinary new book The Heretic’s Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times. This is no contrived bit of attention-grabbing as proven by the richly rewarding and experiential text that follows. It similarly provides a diversity of extremely well-curated offerings as those found in Dee’s previous book A Gnostic’s Progress—many of which inspire the reader to participate in straightforward and potentially transformational exercises designed to expand heart and soul. Most refreshing is the writer’s admirable ability to present deeply esoteric perspectives in a consistently uncluttered fashion arrived at obviously through decades of genuine exploration.’

 

deep title 1

Deep Magic

September retreat at the magical St.Nectan’s Glen, North Cornwall

27 Sept at 15:00 to 1 Oct at 13:00

This autumnal retreat will focus on the myths and magic of North Cornwall. We will explore the magical words of Merlin, the mythology of the Once and Future King, and the legends of the Fairy Folk. Participants have the opportunity to undertake a silent solitary vigil/vision quest, and to co-create a group ceremony where we will celebrate with poetry and song this magical landscape. This retreat will also include dowsing, psychogeographical and sacred geometry practices in preparation for the stone circle that will be built at St Nectan’s Glen. Come and help us begin that process!

For more details and to find out how to book please visit our Facebook page.

glenaut1

 

 

 

Psychedelic Ecology

Gods dwell amongst us, and have done so since before the dawn of time.

Shh! Can you hear…? The distant sound of footsteps, careful steps, of a creature trying to move stealthily, making the footfalls irregular. But we can spot the subtle pattern of left, right, left right. And the breathing, you hear that too? On the edge of your perception…

Goddesses and gods, walk the world.

Sometimes, we hear them singing. Not with words like those a pop star would use, not Taylor Swift. More, soaring melodies with powerful emotional key changes, free of standard musical motifs like birdsong is free, to move at will between tones, as the breath goes.

Psychedelic Ecology is the field of psychedelic entity study, when entities are regarded as having an existence of their own, treating them as creatures which live in the perceptual experiences of all Life.

Any persona could be viewed as an emergent property of the material base it inhabits. From stone to human, the difference is only one of complexity. Everything can be said to perceive, or rather is aware of the world outside it, according to its abilities. A stone is aware of gravity, of other things resting upon it, of temperature, and reacts accordingly. A human is aware of far more in the immediate world, and has memory and imagination to allow it to time-travel.

Entities which we notice whilst in psychedelic states grow from the abilities they have at such times. We notice what we are able to at such times. Somewhere in this double approach, we might be able to describe their phenomenological reality.

Beginning before the beginning of humankind, entities existed. Eyes need to be noticed, odd movements must be picked out from the background, movement through the outside world has to have an internal construct. We have always carried these hardwired Important Things. Entities, representations of these deep patterns, were already old when that ancient fish dashed away from the glint of awareness in the rippling body of the eel. That tentacular movement, that enormous eye, lived beyond the animal that carried it, and away from the animal that saw it too. All of us, for billions of years, have to know what to look for; and when we look for something whilst tripping, we tend to see it.

With thousands of eyes, tentacles for legs, numerous arms, strange movements… all these parts deeply embedded in our biology, a collection of physicality with deep associations. Many arms do many things, thousands of eyes demonstrate wide awareness, moving unlike a human, demanding our attention. When we cause ourselves to pay attention really, really pay attention, we summon entities. We see eyes in trees, rocks breathe, the mountains and rivers have characters.

Psychedelic states reveal things to us. They lift the veil of interpretation we add to the raw sensations around us. This brings to mind Aldous Huxley’s metaphor of our senses acting to restrict input. What Huxley did not know of, is the Default Mode Network.

Briefly, the DMN acts as a running commentary on what is happening in our worlds. It overrides the actual world around us, changes the evidence of the present to suit the past narrative, and generally smooths out any kinks or unexpected glitches we encounter from our easily confused sensory inputs.

Our DMN could be said to contribute to our persona. The patterns that establish themselves, the waves of neurological activity which pass through hemispheres, triggering intellectualisations and emergent noises form our organisms, this is what, who, we are. Take away the DMN and we all resemble each other, reduced to immediate awarenesses, raw sights and sounds overwhelming the past stories we arrived with.

Emotional set becomes our personality whilst we trip (at high enough doses). In good settings, we play, dance, smile, feel good. Past and future, those identical not-nows, cease to have meaning. Sometimes they vanish so convincingly that we forget events, confuse names, release belief from all we knew for sure in ordinary life. If we can relax into this, safe in a space held by those we trust to care for us, the confusion lifts us to flights of imagination and make-believe.

In these psychedelic states, we are open to habitation from the spirits, the entities. They come to us in guises and disguises, speaking to us with still small voices, with thunderous roaring, with telepathic messages that arrive without needing soundwaves. They appear in costumes built from echoes of our expectations, clothed with whatever is to hand; I once asked to meet the spirits of Ayahuasca, who appeared as two cartoon characters, borrowing mice from Speedy Gonzales (a childhood hero of mine). They talked with me for a long time, about the collapse of barren concrete cities, and I talked with them too, trying to describe how to inform Westerners in order to achieve their mission of plants regaining greater importance than human-built creation. (Persuade them, I advised, show them the better alternative, please don’t add more fear to the future we are told to see!) They showed me skyscrapers covered with vines.

Image result for vines skyscrapers

I know that ayahuasca is not two cartoon mice. But the vision was there to allow for my hero worship, coupled with a childlike delight in the overthrow of boring, authoritarian society. The voices matched, high pitched, enthusiastic, fast, full of clever wordplay.

Entities take shape from what we can give them.

They sound like, something else; they sound outside of us.

The challenge we face as a rational bunch of people, who nevertheless clearly encounter otherworldly beings whilst tripping, is how to allow ourselves to believe fully in their existence beyond the limitations of our own perceptions and knowledge base. They tell us things we did not know, and possess qualities and abilities we lack.

Since time began we have tried to make sense of their presence within our minds, their manifestation out of and into nothing, puffs of smoke, mirror creatures that dwell in impossible places, out of time. A popular metaphor of current usage is that of ‘another realm’, a kind of sideways step dimensional shift to a world separated from our own by some kind of perceptual cloaking screen, through which we (or they) can pass in certain conditions of altered consciousness.

I find this solution unsatisfactory. It reduces these majestic beings, these goddesses and keepers of eternal knowledge to mere equivalencies of ourselves, elves over there instead of here. I want my spirits up close and personal, ever present, not in a side room to physical reality.

They are at once more easily explained, and more powerfully endowed, by open our minds to the possibilities of wider concepts. I’ll try to paint a picture…

Hear me now! I am the voice of Pan, echoing across these lands for all of time! I am the movement of the smallest creature that crawls, I am the stirring of a leaf, and the raging storm that fills the sky. I dwell wherever life watches and listens. I am awareness, the prickle of your skin when something approaches. The rise of joy within y0our heart as friends draw near, the flow of smooth skin on skin, the strength felt by muscles as they flex and stretch. I bring to you the eternal now, a moment as old as the world. which lasts for ever. This is the moment in which we can do.

Whether we refer to Pan as a god, an archetype, a personification of an abstract concept, we can allow for his existence in the moment, as a useful way of communicating outside our usual frames of reference. Escaping the reality tunnels of our individuality reveals existence without standard labelling; a semiotic chaos, of undifferentiated ground from which emerge all apparent forms anew, ready for reappraisal.

And we need this reappraisal of Normality so desperately.

Less activity in the DMN correlated to the sense of ego-loss felt by people after being injected with psilocin. Psychedelics also cause an increase in the global traffic between regions, whilst a decrease in local activity, within brain areas dealing with discrete tasks, occurs.

The judging part of us disappears. We process inputs and internal processing at a global level. The functionally discrete parts loosen their boundaries, and we find poetic truths dwelling beneath the surface of what looks like home.

We need, as biological organisms, to differentiate between ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘this cup’. How can I pass the cup to you, if those three objects are merely aspects of one substance? That would be stupid.

As soon as deliberate movement became possible, our ancestors needed to know which way was up. Clues as to what lay ahead of them proved incredibly advantageous. Remote sensing became all the rage, back in prehistory, with eyes and vibration sensing apparatus catching on. Upon our heads we bear the latest version of this technology, vibrating air passes through holes originally intended as gill slits, and tiny bones (which evolved from jaw bones, bones for eating) move, minutely, leveraging further membranes attached to the brain’s nerve endings.

From these oh so subtle twitches, the neurons of auditory centres cause cascades of chemicals, and some how, these patterned forms make us think we hear.

Reaching forward in time and space, to what lies ahead of us. We must have a plan, a map. We see, we create, a future world which is not yet our present. We can move towards this future over that world, or maybe that future over that other world; we hold multiple worlds, in order to compare the more desirable. These worlds are real, we make them as we make the world of now, from our sensory inputs and our internal processing. We feel them, we feel how they feel, do we want to move towards this world, or away? No time to rationally assess them, we move according to our will and whim.

Our emotional responses to sensory inputs, and our internal processing, have to be prioritised by hardwiring them together.

Be attracted to this!

Move away from that!

The complexity of this and that should not be underestimated; after a few billion years of practice, we are getting quite good at complexity these days.

Default_Mode_Network_Connectivity

Default Mode Network connectivity

Wedded for millions of lifetimes, emotions and actions. Unexpected intrusions, which appear as if from nowhere to stand before us plainly upon our world maps, demand a lot of attention. Contrariwise, when we have a lot of attention, we find ourselves confronted with unexpected intrusions, standing in front of us…

These are no phantasms however, nor yet visitors from another physical dimension next door. They exist, they live, as creatures which have inhabited our senses for longer than we have. The voice of the siren luring us onwards. The terrifying noise of silence broken by a footstep where none was before. Shrill shrieks, calling for our notice. The regular breathing of a body sleeping beside us, snuggled together in the dark. Water falling, that most promising sound!

From these ancient strands are woven our entities, combined with the visual clues we might have to hand.

Waterfalls sing to us, notes at first, then words. We hear them clear as day.

Auditory hallucinations, clearly heard sounds, with no external source. I hear them all the time, tinnitus attends my every hour, a faint high-pitched tone as if a tv is left on. Buzzing noises often precede spirit encounters for me, I hear them fly past my ear, just before the magic happens. Have you heard the far away voices, that speak from beneath the ground, from behind the hills, from the sky above? They talk and sing so quietly, yet you perceive every word.

mantis

Praying formation

Perceiving other entities as other entities, rather than conceptualising them as ‘thought forms’ or ‘archetypes of the psyche’, has huge benefits in the moment of interaction. Our brains are set up to evaluate incredibly complex social evaluations, to assess the motives of others, to recall factors influencing fair division of resources and task allocation. Entities, whether we call them spirits, deities, aliens, elves, animal familiars, genii loci, ghosts, faery, and so on, whatever we categorise them as are best treated as separate actors on the world stage to ourselves. They have an identity wider and deeper than our individual encounters. We represent our species evolutionary past, embodied in this body at this moment, and we hold the programming of our cultural surroundings as the lens through which we can intuit, hear, and see.

Each one of us is far more than ‘one of us’. As such, the psychedelic encounter with an entity becomes a meeting in the mythical realm, where we become aware of ways of understanding and acting which we could not have considered beforehand.

Realising that these entities have purpose, history, future existence, and a right to their own world view, places the centre of the discussion outside our self. Outside our species’ collective identity. We escape the trap of anthropocentric motives. Given the results of categorical, human centred planning of the past centuries in the dominant world cultures, perhaps this is the most intriguing aspect of meeting otherworldly characters. Just as children come to the astonishing revelation that their parents have a need for happiness, as we mature out of the squabbles of territorial demarcation and fighting over toys, we are learning that we are not the only intelligences which inhabit this planet.

This is not to say there are invisible creatures occupying some kind of parallel dimension to our own, another literal world, which we could reach by stepping through some kind of portal as beloved by so many tv writers of the late 20th century. This particular mythological construct appeals to our childish imaginations, and is very easy to understand, but to my mind diminishes the vastly more rewarding poetic truth I have outlined here, of entities as truly ancient, astonishing collections of perceptual patterns embedded deep within our sensory apparatus, which live in each of us, and which we believe often create what we call paranormal or magical events, whether by information downloads that are impossible to account for by rational means, or even by causing material effects in the world around us (e.g. weather magic). (Most magical traditions explain the magic powers by referring it outwards to an other, a helper spirit, an ancestor. God told me to do it.)

It is worth comparing the view of these commonly held perceptual patterns as entities in their own right, with the way we view other people as entities in their own right. We are happy to attribute personhood to a collection of biological cells, constructed of chemistry, which arose from physics. We are often happy to extend this personhood to animals, or plants (oh, you look sad, would like some water?). Often we relate to places as persons; hello house, nice to be here again! Or events; the figure of father Christmas being the prime example from northern European culture.

Regular engagement with this kind of encounter leads to a more open-minded attitude to the non-psychedelic state. People tend towards a lack of preconception about people, places, and situations. It is likely that this attitude creates the luck with which many psychonauts seem blessed. Richard Wiseman’s research on luck strongly indicates that those who look around see more (unsurprisingly!). it is of course possible to cultivate this open mindedness without psychedelics, but they present unavoidable opportunities for us to practise this skill…

Look around you.

NW

Abridged from a presentation at Beyond Psychedelics conference, 21st June 2018, Prague.