Ban on Julian Vayne lecture at Oxford University

In 2019 I was invited to speak at an event organized by the Oxford Psychedelic Society. ‘The Odd Ball‘ turned out to be a fabulous occasion. An intense one day extravaganza featuring art, talks, food and music including a suitably cosmic performance by The Sun Ra Arkestra. Having chatted after the gig with the lovely organizers, we hatched a plan for me to return to Oxford and address members of the Psychedelic Society (composed largely of university students) the following year. Sadly 2020 saw my proposed return to the city of dreaming spires scuppered, although not for the usual pandemic reasons you might expect…

It proved unusually difficult for the Society to secure a room in the university in which I could speak. Very difficult in fact, strangely so. My contact investigated and it turned out that a minor official at the college in question had decided to ban me from speaking there!

Now this is very amusing to me for many reasons. Not least of which is the fact that 90 years earlier my cultural ancestor, occultist Aleister Crowley, was also banned from Oxford. In his case no reason seems to have been given by the university authorities, but in a statement to the press in 1930 Crowley speculated:

“Perhaps the refusal to let me lecture has come because Gilles de Rais [the subject of Crowley’s proposed lecture] is said to have killed 500 children in ritual murder and in some way this was connected with myself, since the accusation that I have not only killed but eaten children is one of the many false statements that have been circulated about me in the past.”

Same old story ninety years later eh? Well no, not quite. In an email that provided my own little slice of cancel culture, the university clerk explained “…we will not be able to accept this booking given your speakers statements on the record about illegal drug use and our duty of care towards our students.”

This story is delightfully bonkers in so many ways. For starters; I get banned from addressing a psychedelic society because I’ve taken psychedelic drugs – is that really a thing? Meanwhile several major surveys, as well as day-to-day experience of student life, suggests that many of those crazy kids are already using ‘illegal’ (more correctly ‘unlicensed’) drugs, even without my pernicious influence! And, as any fule kno, illegal drugs do not exist! Demonstrating any ‘duty of care’ would presumably include harm minimization education and open conversations rather than blanket banning of discussion. Something of particular relevance given the increasing numbers of young people using illicit drugs and the avowed free-speech policy of Oxford University itself. Finally, over the last decade, I’ve taught in a variety of other university settings and hold a position on an academic peer review publication. Oh, and that’s a journal about, er…psychedelic drugs!

Ninety years before me Crowley decided to stand up for free speech by publishing his banned lecture and donating the profits to the Poetry Society. I’ve done likewise by publishing The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher, available for pre-order now through Psychedelic Press, Copies will hit the streets – including those of Oxford – on November 16th.

And there’s another even more hilarious level of irony in our story. Something concerning the actual subject of my talk, which of course the administration didn’t have the wit to ask about… But no spoilers! All will be revealed in my introductory essay and the text of the lecture itself. You’re sure to find it highly amusing! Order your copy now before it’s er…

Happy mushroom season everyone!

Julian Vayne

XxX


I’m doing lots of workshops via the fabulous Treadwell’s Books. Check here for details.

Locked down but still want to develop your magic? Check out my Core Magical Skills course and the free Imagination and Wellbeing course on my teaching site.

A Witch on the Front Line

It’s 07:40 am as I arrive at the hospital. I walk through empty, silent corridors that just a few months earlier bustled with relatives, patients arriving early for procedures, teams heading into handover and porters keeping the hospital in motion. This morning I hear only my own feet and the acceleration of my breath as I reach the unit door and swipe my ID card to gain access. I walk past the next set of doors, behind which the beeps of cardiac monitors and infusion pumps form the soundtrack I know so well. I head to the staff room and change into my uniform, rubbing a herbal anti-viral balm into my skin and drawing a protective sigil across my heart before I zip up my blue dress. The air is heavy, though now, several weeks into the pandemic, we pretend that it isn’t. 

I head towards the unit, pausing at the doors to pull on the mask that I have become so used to wearing. Next, the eye protection. I open the doors into the high dependency unit I have spent years working in. On first inspection it looks like it always has, occupied beds and the organised chaos that is this kind of nursing. The siderooms are closed, with isolation signs up. Outside the doors are the trolleys I have come to expect. Upon them lie extra personal protective equipment (PPE). The patients are suspected COVID-19 patients. 

We sit in handover, masked, chairs 2 metres apart—ironic seeing as when we are all working together for a critically sick patient, there is no option to distance. It is then time to allocate patients. I am allocated one of the siderooms, a man in his seventies, admitted for a number of symptoms, some of which match the disease pattern we read about each day in the news. He has been tested, but the results have not come back yet, and therefore he is to be treated as a suspected case. Being a nurse is a part of me, I’ve nursed so many types of patients, seen so many different cases, and many times in my life I have been afraid, but I’m not used to being this afraid at work. 

I prepare to meet and assess my patient. Outside his room, I dress into the next level of PPE. It isn’t like armour. Unlike the language used outside of the hospital, this doesn’t feel like a war. It feels like a very treacherous path to walk. The mask sits tight and hot on my face as the visor comes down in front of it. The tighter it feels the safer it feels—this kit is my protection as I work in a closed room with a probably contagious patient. I cannot wash him from 2 metres away, I cannot set up his intravenous medication from 2 metres away, or dress a wound, or hold his hand, or comfort him whilst he is unable to see any of his loved ones in his time of need. The PPE however is not my only protection. The sigil I drew earlier is one of protection and solidarity with fellow practitioners of the craft and I am wearing it on my heart underneath these layers. It goes by the name of Hearty, and within that circle of practitioners, and with Hearty I am held. With my hand on the door, I pause to give thanks to all those practitioners, many I have never met and I call the sigil into my mind, take a deep breath and push open the door. 

He is so very sick, yet like so often, his spirit is so fiery that he’s sitting up talking to me through strained breaths and watching me through red, tired eyes. We talk about how he is feeling and he asks if his test results are back yet. He is desperate to know if he has it. The results are not back yet, but I feel sure that I know. None of us know COVID-19 well enough to know its presentation from experience, the disease is still new to us. But I know its energy and I know spirit and I know my job. I know that what is in that room with us is new. It doesn’t feel like any of the patients I am used to nursing, but it is there, heavy, brazen and full of sorrow. I spend a lot of time listening to the landscape, learning to navigate it or hear it. It is a crucial part of the spiritual path I walk. In many ways, clinically, the patient was not a textbook case but as I took a break I explained to my colleague that I felt sure he had it. I nursed him for my 12-hour shift. The next morning my colleagues informed me that he had tested positive. 

As the pandemic began to take hold in the UK I had worked hard with divination to try to understand what I would be meeting, how it would manifest. I had worked with other practitioners who shared this divination work and we talked at length about this new addition to our world. Now, in its presence, so much of our work felt precious and full of depth. 

At first as we prepared to nurse our first COVID-19 patients, I thought this virus was malevolent, arrogant—a bully. As the months went on, I met more patients with the virus and started to learn the nature of this new presence. It still felt like a powerful bully, but a wounded one, as all bullies are. A week later I was working a shift in intensive care. I was in a sealed bay of four COVID-19 positive ventilated patients. In a quiet moment as I sat next to my patient to write his notes, I stopped, closed my eyes, and from behind that tight mask I began some breath work. I focused on breath—the thing these patients were fighting for, as the lungs take the brunt of the disease—and on my own longing for a breath of fresh clean air from under the kit. I remember thinking of the recent forest fires, as the lungs of our planet burned in Australia and Brazil. I thought of the sounds of the ventilators all working to breathe for the patients. Breath is a part of my practice, but in that moment I truly felt how sacred it is to breathe, how connected we are in that exchange between the internal and the external, the delicate balance of the atmosphere, the biosphere, the everything. I wrote and shared a Hearty practice centred around breath and I hope this story serves it well. 

Being a nurse means sitting with suffering. Sitting with the dark times, the things that many avoid. It means listening and understanding that which is unseen but that is very much there, forming the stories of people’s lives, loves and losses. For me, the craft is similar—it comes from a great love and connection to those I share my existence with, in all their forms, on all their levels. It is about holding that sacred space with compassion, being prepared to ask the bully why it is sad, what does it want to say? It is the love, the hope, the joy and the sadness of that space. It is playing it out on the drum, sending on that which must leave and holding safe that which must be protected. For me it has included the comfort of kind herbs on the days my heart is heavy from the last few months, the soft light of the moon and my bare feet on the belly of the earth. It has been the comfort and love of other practitioners, across the globe working with Hearty or their own practices, to hold the space for better times. 

There is much yet for our craft to give and I have so much gratitude to all my brothers and sisters on this path. Merry Meet, albeit from afar. 

The Heretic Nurse


Keep dancing!

It’s essential to keep the people dancing in this time of pandemic. Big respect and thanks to Quarantine Dance Specials 2020 and to Social DisDance for doing just that! Aho!