We live in accelerated times. Our options seem almost limitless and we could be forgiven for feeling confused and paralyzed as we try and find our way forwards. We are flooded by new information and opinions and it can feel deeply challenging to quieten down in order to find our own internal wisdom. Hearing the deepest longings of lives can be especially tough when trying to find our spiritual home but thankfully Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent new book Changing Paths is here to help us.
Yvonne is open from the outset that this is a deeply personal for them. Faced with their own deconstructive process as a Christian teenager they moved through Atheism before connecting deeply with the initiatory path of Gardnerian Wicca. They described this as a profound “coming home” and the book helpfully returns to Yvonne’s own process as a lens for understanding the pains, challenges and opportunities that seem central to walking such a path.
Yvonne takes us on a deep dive into the nature of religion and how the communal dimensions of shared beliefs and practices can offer us a sense of “binding and connection”. While ones religious path can be followed as a solitary, for Aburrow the richness of spirituality practiced in community offer for them the most robust means for exploring the importance of lived ethics and social engagement. At best the warmth of close knit coven, heathen hearth or Buddhist meditation group provide a counter-cultural space is which the potential burn-out of our activism can identified and held collectively.
Yvonne’s work (reviewed here and here) is renowned for its emphasis on radical social justice and inclusion and Changing Paths is no different. This is a book that considers closely both the use and misuse of power. While not innately critical of any specific religious traditions, they do challenge us to consider the potential physical and psychological vulnerabilities that can be associated with adopting a child-like naivety within more exoteric forms of belief. Aburrow is clear that Pagan paths are far from exempt from expressing these shadow aspects of power and control and they offer some searching questions of us to consider so that our awareness of consent remains centralised within our ethics.
The author is clear that the direction of travel can go any number of ways; Pagans can become Christians, Hindus can become atheists and people can move between differing traditions and theological positions while under the broad umbrella of a religious label. In this book Yvonne invites us to a position of spiritual adulthood where our personal choices and preferences are honoured as an expression of who we are and aspire to be. We are encouraged to tune into our deeper self and I especially enjoyed the series of reflective questions and meditative exercises that accompany each chapter as a means of furthering and personalising the issues that each chapter raises.
Aburrow’s own journey took them not only into initiatory Wicca but also into the Unitarian denomination. Yvonne uses this experience as a doorway into issues relating to Universalism, syncretism and the dangers of cultural appropriation. In its well-intentioned liberal project in trying to honour all religious paths and emphasise the apparent commonalities between them Unitarianism (and other versions of the perennial philosophy) are in danger of creating a theological flat-land in which the unique contribution of a tradition may struggle to be valued. In contrast Aburrow explores an arguably more postmodern form of radical particularity whereby the authentic and specific voice of each tradition are allowed to exist alongside each other without premature attempts at homogenization.
Yvonne’s own wrestling with these questions has led them to committing more deeply to a Wiccan path as they felt that the archetype of the Witch provided a more integrated connection to the earth, sexuality and immanence as “the source of dreams, darkness (and) the deep well of the unconscious”. The longing for an emergent spiritual tradition that was able to own its own failings and human origins felt more in keeping with their pursuit of a magical path that would truly nurture their activism and expression of Priesthood.
My own journey of spiritual deconstruction has been far from clean or well organised. In moving from orthodox Christianity to a more Pagan form of magical practice, I was acutely aware of the disapproval of my friends and former community. To be viewed as some kind of apostate who has relinquished salvation is never going to be easy, but neither is being dishonest about who we are and need to become. While being able to listen honestly to our own needs and the shape of our personality may ultimately necessitate us taking the brave and painful steps of leaving an identity, a group and a community behind, in not doing so we risk stunting our evolution and making ourselves smaller than we truly are.
I would highly recommend Yvonne’s thoughtful and accessible guide to anyone exploring these questions for themselves or for those seeking to make sense of the difficult journeys they may have already taken. For me this book was a healing balm in helping me make further sense of the steps I needed to take. Initiation is rarely easy, but the golden goal of taking our truest and emerging form is an alchemy worth pursuing!
Coming Up Next…
Breaking Convention – Europe’s largest and most diverse psychedelic research conference is almost here! Join us for 3 days of art, film, cutting edge lectures, panel discussions, workshops, ancient wisdom, modern science, performance, party, community and much more! April 20-22nd at The University of Exeter, UK https://breakingconvention.co.uk/
Magical Qabalah Introduced. 27 Apr, 19:00 – 21:00 UK time via Zoom. Participate live or watch the recorded session. With Treadwell’s Books.
Julian Vayne introduces the Qabala, so if you’ve always meant to get to grips with this core subject, tonight’s your night! Julian is fun, smart, accessible, and knows the subject. He traces it from its origins in Jewish culture through its later iterations the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema and chaos magic — even the comics of Alan Moore Participants will learn the structure of the Qabalah, the schema of the Tree of Life, and practice some magical techniques to take them deeper into its mysteries. There is no better way to learn it, in our opinion. https://www.treadwells-london.com/events-1/magical-qabalah-introduced-class-2
May the 4th be with You! Science, Fiction and Magic. 4th of May 19:00 – 20:30 UK time via Zoom. Participate live or watch the recorded session. With Treadwell’s Books.
Hold on to your tinfoil hat as you join us for a warp speed ride through the universe where magic and science meet! From cyberpunk shamanism to alchemical futurism, discover how magicians have used scientific ideas to inform their practice, and the ways in which science is influenced by occultism. In this lecture and Q&A session, occultist and independent scholar Julian Vayne will be our guide to forces that have shaped the history and language of magic, as well as lifting the veil on emerging fields where technology and the esoteric studies converge. https://www.treadwells-london.com/events-1/may-the-4th-be-with-you-science-fiction-and-magic
Sigil Magic. Tuesday 9th/16th/23rd May 2023 : 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm UK Time via Zoom. With The College of Psychic Studies. Discover for yourself one of the core techniques of modern magic: sigil magic. Sigils are an approachable way to use intention to transform our reality. This 3-part livestream workshop with occultist Julian Vayne teaches the history and development of sigil magic. It also presents many practical approaches to this craft. We’ll explore ancient sigil-style methods such as the use of bind runes and Solomonic symbols. We’ll also explore and experience hi-tech ways to cast sigil spells using the internet and even your phone. Join us for a friendly and welcoming exploration of this magical system and the opportunity to explore, create, charge your own sigils. We will not be recording these classes. One of the unique aspects of the College’s online courses is that they are highly interactive. Participants are encouraged to discuss and share with the tutor and the group. These sharings can be very personal, and some may not feel comfortable with them being recorded. If you need to miss any sessions, your tutor will be happy to offer a brief outline of the material covered. https://www.collegeofpsychicstudies.co.uk/workshops/myth-magic/sigil-magic/
Breathwork Ceremony live at The College of Psychic Studies, London. Friday 12th May 2023: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm.
Breath is the mantra that begins the day we are born and continues until the day we let go of our form. In this in-person ceremony at the College, occultist Julian Vayne will facilitate a powerful journey through breathwork into a profound altered state. The method of changing awareness through this breathwork is controllable, profound and can lead to deep healing and new insights. You don’t need any previous experience to take part and there will be a range of options for the practice for everyone who joins us in the circle. The ceremony will include opening preparation and closing gratitude and grounding practices. https://www.collegeofpsychicstudies.co.uk/workshops/meditation-training/breathwork-ceremony/
Sound Magic live at The College of Psychic Studies, London. Saturday 13th May 2023: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. From rune singing and the use of drumming to create altered states, to mantra, healing sound frequencies, glossolalia and ritual poetry, this experiential workshop will guide you into sound’s transformative power. If you feel drawn to this workshop, please do come. Even if you feel self-conscious, the supportive and accessible style of Julian Vayne’s teaching will help you find not only your voice but to discover the magic you can make with it! https://www.collegeofpsychicstudies.co.uk/workshops/myth-magic/sound-magic/
Chaos Squared: Steve Dee and Julian Vayne in conversation. 25 May, 19:00 – 20:30 UK time via Zoom. Participate live or watch the recorded session. With Treadwell’s Books.
Steve Dee, author of Chaos Monk, A Gnostics Progress and The Heretic’s Journey discusses his heady occult fusion of chaos magic, left-hand path philosophy, gnosticism, Zen and more with his magical partner and co-author of Chaos Craft Julian Vayne. Expect an evening where we range far and wide across the esoteric terrain; from mental health, mindfulness and wellbeing through to the use of embodied practices including pilgrimage and BDSM as transgressive and transformative magical technologies. We’ll also be diving deep into the gnostic current of heretical Christian sects and re-imagining witchcraft for the 21st century along the way so join us for a journey into the darkness of gnostic illumination! https://www.treadwells-london.com/events-1/chaos-squared-julian-vayne-and-steve-dee-in-conversation
The Sacred Space Holder Program in person course at The Fungi Academy in Guatemala, December 3-9th. Applications are now open! To find out more click here!