Vision and Discipline

Once upon a time my spiritual path was firmly situated in a type of theism that viewed all human activity as flawed. As a result we lowly worms were reliant upon the grace and favour of a rather changeable deity/demiurge. His book told me that not only was I doomed, but I was doubly doomed if I chose to exercise the Faustian audacity to question his divine authoritarianism.

Although my adolescent longing for identity and certainty made me vulnerable to the promises of orthodoxy, I have never responded well to bullies and attempts to control, and it wasn’t too long before the cracks in my faith grew from being hairline to truly cavernous. Ironically it was study of Christian theology itself that hastened my departure from the fold. Amongst the inevitable deconstruction that occurred via Biblical criticism and the irrational claims of systematic theology, one of the key books that helped me expand my understanding of spirituality was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

While this book is written by a devout Christian who is unapologetic about the language and imagery he uses, what affected me was the way in which he highlighted effective habits and practices that were able to allow the development of psychological and spiritual fitness. The disciplines of study, meditation, fasting, ritual and pilgrimage were all means for increasing ones’ openness to the incoming of the numinous. Such an approach had a profound resonance for me given the value I had found in the structure and discipline of the Yogic practice I had explored in my early teens and the way they sought to engage all aspects of being.

Throughout the meandering journey that my personal religious instincts have taken me, I have often been suspicious of the type of vulnerable subservience that can feel innate to those paths that have a heavy emphasis on the grace and largesse of supernatural beings. Whatever metaphors or masks that I seek to employ in engaging with Mystery, I am more interested in developing a relationship that allows for the co-construction of meaning rather the wholesale consumption of a “revealed” truth.

I don’t want to minimize the potential importance of strange revelations and non-ordinary states of consciousness, I love a weird gnostic experience as much as the next person. Non-linear insights coming out of the blue? Check! Profound devotional needs expressed to dark deities? Hold my coat. My own practice as a magician has always been as much about what I do and might experience as it has been about the acquisition of arcane lore.

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Okay…that was weird!

For me the visionary dimensions of initiatory development acts like a trail of bread crumbs leading me along a path that has often been hard going and overgrown; and yet on their own they are not enough. While this incoming of gnosis and insight has been essential I am still left with the question of how I might create the ideal environment to receive and sustain such experiences so that they might be translated into patterns of change within myself. For me this is a question about the development of character, the quality of my self-awareness and an appreciation of the combination of qualities that make me uniquely me. For me this a question of Soul.

Theologians and psychologists can argue endlessly about the structure of the Self and whether the Soul is innate or developed. Many of us in the West are slowly unlearning the simplicity of the models proposed by orthodoxies of both the Christian and Freudian variety so as to recover richer languages for our internal processes. Whether via pre-Christian Egyptian or Norse models or the Post-Freudian transpersonal work of Assagioli, we are gradually recovering more functional maps of alchemical self-change. Given this, what feels clear to me is that whether or not we view the Soul as ontologically innate, it is something that can be evolved and strengthened through consciously applied effort.

In Systemic Family Therapy we often talk about first and second order change. First order change is a shift in behaviour in response to a direct challenge or stimulus, while second order change is a change of our scripts or patterns of behaviour so that a new way of being is established in an on-going way. Our visionary encounters may provide the initial jolt away from the routine and mundane, but the application of discipline feels critical if we are fully utilize the shocking energy of gnosis in accessing more profound levels of transformation that are sustainable.

The early stages of applied discipline can feel like hard work. As we try to move from conscious incompetence to the mastery of relaxed competence it is inevitable that we need to grit our teeth in overcoming the forces of inertia. In my own experience, those times where I have been able to persist have been when I have kept returning to my initial motivation and goals. Why did I choose this path? Why this one and not another? What am I hoping to gain via this effort? How would I feel if stepped away from this current path?

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Henry knows the score.

Your method of developing soul will inevitably unique to you as an individual, but if I would offer advice I would recommend those models of change that advocate a holism that tries to account for the fullness of our human experience. Models such as Leary’s Eight-Circuit model or Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way ideas have much of their strength in the fact that they seek to actualize the physical, the emotional and intellectual dimensions of who we are rather than advocating lopsided forms of development.

The creation of Soul and magical character is never about merely knowing stuff. The mighty Don Webb in describing the work of the Order of Setne Khamuast rightly identifies the three critical stages in ensuring initiatory change: learning, enacting and then finally communicating about our discoveries. Knowledge and even the divine glimpses of gnosis are vital in providing the spark of inspiration but they will rarely keep the flame alight for long. To stay warm and to survive we also need oxygen and fuel. Here’s to keeping the flame alive!

Steve Dee

 

Things & Stuff – magical happenings…

The Glastonbury Occult Conference is on the 23-24th February and both Nikki and Julian will be there speaking independently and providing a workshop together on Sunday.

Next month:There are still a couple of places available on Julian’s workshop on Queer Magic at Treadwell’s Books on Saturday 9th March in London.

Both Nikki and Julian will be leading a workshop on shamanism in Wales on Saturday 23rd March.

This is the year of Breaking Convention, one of the biggest and best conferences on psychedelics in the known multiverse. Details of tickets can be found here along with how to submit a paper, performance, workshop etc as well as information on volunteering opportunities. This is going to be an amazing event with over 1500 people taking part!

September 13-14th will see the second Trance-States Conference in sunny Northampton at the University. If you fancy a comprehensive download from the leading edge of  occulture is the place to be.

There will be more events coming up at Treadwell’s and The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic later this year. Please see our Deep Magic page for details

Wishing all our friends in the northern hemisphere a bright new spring!

The Toxicity of Magic

Making generalizations about magic is always perilous. 

To speak about magic is to speak of the almost the entirety of humanity’s attempts to understand and explore both science and religion. What are these things? Why are they like this? Can I influence these things (including myself) so that they might behave differently? To do magic is to set sail on an adventure of exploration and understanding regarding the nature of things and the (possible) means of causation.

When we reflect on the broad categories of theurgy and thaumaturgy, we can see that magic seeks to provide us both with creative ways of wrestling with the questions of theological meaning and also our human attempts to exert some control over our experience of material existence. When I view my own journey as a magician I can see a variety of stages in which I have used creative ritual and occult technologies (trance, evocation, divination etc.) to engage with a number of these dilemmas.

While I have spent significant amounts of time working with the type of theological preoccupations shared by many forms of contemporary Neo-Paganism, if I was trying to locate any common thread between the techniques and traditions that I have explored, I have largely been preoccupied by the psychological alchemy that magic can exert when we attempt to use it to engage with the unknown, the mysterious and what Freud called “the crushing superiority of nature”.

It’s fair to say that I take my magic with a fair dose of existentialism, and for me the sense of agency created by occult work provides me with a degree of leverage when seeking to create meaning in the world. Whether via the drama of ritual or the creative mind-set of the initiatory imagination, magic helps me both embrace the strength of my passions and also the possibility of managing chaos so that the likelihood of being overwhelmed is reduced.

Orthodox believers are often perplexed or horrified by the ways of the magician. We not only consciously revel in the pursuit of power and agency, but we often engage with personifications of death, impermanence and misrule. The magician is often the one who while valuing the light and the conscious, recognizes that the brutality of life also demands an engagement with the dark, the hidden and the potentially destructive. We see these forces both within ourselves and at work in the world. These are dangerous forces that threaten to overwhelm us and yet for the initiate, we respond to a deep hunch that we need to engage with this material. What matters in such work is the dose we take.

The dose makes the poison” (sola dosis facit venenum) is an axiom credited to the 16th century scientist/alchemist Paracelsus and alludes to his idea that the amount of something is the critical factor in determining its risk to us. Basically this  means that a substance can only produce the harmful effect associated with its toxic properties if it reaches a high enough level within a given body or system. Therefore risk is influenced by a whole range of variable factors such as our personal constitutions and our experience with a given substance.  

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Paracelsus – Awesome alchemist, great taste in hats

When I reflect upon my spiritual and magical practice, I can see direct parallels between this perspective and the way in which I use my explorations of ritual, ecstatic states and divination as a way of more effectively managing my own struggle to engage with the uncertainty and anxiety of being alive.

Life throws all sorts of crazy shit at us: the reliable fails, we get ill, people die, politicians make hugely unwise decisions; you get the idea, this list could go on for a very long time. As we try to create a semblance of order and stability in our lives, the variable and the unknown encroach upon our efforts and then things fall apart. As much as we try to live peaceful lives, the shock of the new and the unexpected induces a whole flood of fight, flight and freeze responses as we try to make sense of the traumas that blind-side us.

While my own pursuit of the “Great Work” of magic is inevitably focused on creating an increased sense of agency in the face of such challenges, for me this is rarely about beseeching prayer and attempts to defy the laws of science. For me, it is more likely to be about a confrontation of my fears within the (relatively) contained setting of the ritual chamber or circle. This is the work of the initiate as we consciously seek to work with a potentially toxic aspect of reality so as to build a degree of resilience or even immunity.

Such work can be profoundly alchemical, in that in working with our fears and wrathful aspects of reality, we can consciously create tension and induce a profitable form of psycho-spiritual resistance. There are some parallels between this work and Hegel’s dialectical process. To introduce a challenging concept (e.g. our fear of death) also asks that we acknowledge its apparent opposite (the joy of experiencing life’s pleasures) and then via the tension between these polar extremes we can begin to synthesize our own unique resolution.  The great mystic Jacob Bohme saw this dialectical tension within the very Godhead itself and the value that bitterness (Grimmigkeit) had in generating creativity and change.

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Working with tensions

Overdose is always possible and part of maturity on the path is knowing when to reduce our intake and ground ourselves via friends, food and more everyday concerns. Magic can be both upsetting and disturbing; the holism that it advocates usually demands the confrontation of aspects of self that we would often prefer to ignore. Most magical paths are designed to give the unconscious an almighty stir so that we are forced to wake from our sleep-states. There are easier hobbies out there if all we are seeking is distraction, but for those of us touched by this initiatory need-fire, this is a work not easily relinquished.

Steve Dee

 

Truth, Lies & Magick

I’ve been reading Gary Lachman’s new book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump which set me thinking about the nature of ‘fake news’ and the complex relationship in magic between the stories we tell ourselves (and each other) about the world, and the world itself.

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There are hundreds of great examples of how things that are not ‘true’ lead to real and ‘true’ outcomes. In mathematics we have crazy concepts that never-the-less still generate real and useful answers, imaginary numbers are perhaps the most obvious example. Then there are all those imaginary lines we draw in the globe for the purposes of navigation and communication, and for deciding which day it is. Such imaginary lines include the (in some respects quite recent) notion of national boarders which of course are a major concern in the politics of America First and Brexit.

Here are a few thoughts on how things that are not ‘true’ can indeed manifest as real things in the world. Not through a naive New Thought solipsism (the kind of thing usually marketed as ‘prosperity consciousness’) but rather through the multiplex processes of culture and the imagination.

One of my favourite tales that I didn’t mention – about the relationship between truth, lies and magick – comes in the form of a chess playing Turk. This was a (fake) robot automaton from the 18th century which (it is said) inspired Charles Babbage and more broadly the industrial revolution. Check out ‘How a magician helped the industrial revolution’ by Gregg Tob for this amazing, and instructive, story.

Details of the December event at The October Gallery with the author of Dark Star Rising and yours truly coming soon.

Julian Vayne

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.

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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.’

 

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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.

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An Audience with Christina Oakley Harrington

I was fortunate to catch up with the wonderful Christina Oakley Harrington while at Treadwell’s Books for my second Psychogeography workshop.

Christina is Treadwell’s founder and presiding spirit. She was voraciously interested in spirituality and magic since childhood, and grew up in West Africa, Burma, and Chile, only moving to the West at the age of 15. In her early twenties she was heartened to discover Europe’s own native religious traditions, and has been a pagan ever since. A former academic, she left university life in 2001 to establish Treadwell’s. These days she serves as a consultant for programmes and projects but is usually at the shop somewhere during the week.

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Christina presents Golden Dawn magician Florence Farr

Here you can listen to the conversation that Christina and I had which ranges across the subjects of women in magic, the importance (or not) of visualization, the use of mescaline in witchcraft, the feminist history of psychedelics, post-modern (or metamodernist) magical paradigms and other stuff!

Enjoy!

Julian Vayne

Swimming in a Sea of Black Light

“The passing from the “black light”’ from the “luminous night”, to the brilliance of the emerald vision will be a sign…of the completed growth of the subtle organism, the “resurrection body” hidden in the physical body.”

Henry Corbin The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

To bring work with the body into the magical circle almost always entails risk. Those neat, finely honed borders that we think we have constructed within our minds are threatened by dissolution when we dare to dance, move and touch. Our attempts to manage the raw heart of emotion via the brute force of cognition feel fragile and dusty when our magic asks that we tune in to where the weight of life sits in the body.

Documenting life below the surface

Tidal forces

Whether our emotions are connected to joy or grief so many of us dump portions of these experiences into the unconscious due to the threat of feeling overwhelmed. When faced with the terrifying flood of these tidal forces, we often disconnect in order to survive. While such a strategy provides us with a valid short-term solution, most of us know that at a deeper level attempts to suppress or even deny can ultimately endanger our health. As magicians seeking to engage with the body, our work allows us the realization that however our clever minds might seek to dodge the impacts of life, our flesh and frame are persistent in pursuing the alchemy of feeling and processing.

My own journey into this territory has taken a number of different forms over the past 40 years-Hatha Yoga as an adventurous 10 year old, Holy Ghost writhing as a petulant teenage Pentecostal and the Shamanic dance/shaking of my current Queer-Gnostic Witchcraft. Beyond my sometimes tortured attempts to capture certainty via belief and communal belonging, I found myself returning again and again to a magic in and through my body. My connection to these methods feels located in their ability to express something that felt both profoundly visceral and immanent, while allowing my sense of self to open to an otherness that I often experience as alien and transcendent. Beyond the occultural expectations to know more and to authenticate my chosen path, the Magic that I find myself doing is one in which the messages of deep intuition are felt as much as thought.

Over the last 6 months I have been making some tentative explorations of various Martial Arts and in addition to the new challenges that this has provided both socially and kinetically, it also catalysed a process of reflection about masculinity and my own experience of grief. While I had been somewhat familiar with western sword fencing and Yang style Tai Chi, these recent forays into Kick-Boxing and Krav Maga caused me to ponder the way in which I used my body to attack and defend in a dojo or gym that predominantly in habited by male-identified humans.

In thinking and writing a lot recently about the experiences of Queerness and androgyny, I started to ponder whether my explorations of Martial Arts were an attempt to explore the expressions of masculinity that I often experience as difficult. From previous experience I knew that such explorations would be challenging for me, but I was unprepared for how they would affect me when, after a short-illness, my Dad passed away.

Grief can do many things to us, but I was truly unprepared for how the engagement in body work via Martial Arts proved to be far too much for me in the midst of such a profound loss. Grief can take on many forms, but for me it felt as though I was carrying around a concrete block that I simply wasn’t ready to put down. In talking with friends (especially those who had lost a parent), I am aware of how complex the process is of making sense of who this person was and is to you following their physical death. This process of internalising his image and memory within me demanded a degree of energy that required quiet incubation rather than an energetic surging outwards.

My experience of loss hit me at a profoundly somatic level and I would often find myself staring off into space as my body tried to manage the waves of tiredness that washed over me. Emotion inevitably found expression through my body: slow stretches and shadow boxing providing a way to connect to the complex amalgam of gratitude and sadness that I feel.

My work with the body is allowing me to swim in the black light of grief. Lessons from surfing provide rich material as I try to make sense of what the heck is going on. Often when held down by the impact of a wave, we can become overwhelmed by panic as we struggle to know which way is up and we are all too aware that we are running out of air. The key in such situations is to relax as much as possible so that with eyes open you can see the direction of light once the waves force has passed. So this is what I’m doing: letting myself feel what I’m feeling, trying not to force myself to struggle against the weight of what has happened. I keep tuning into my body because my training and experience have taught me that it so often the best barometer for where I need to be and the form of self-care I need to invest in.

Steve Dee

 

The Hardcore Bard

“Do you know yourself, do you know the others? Can you pull the weight that rides on another’s shoulders? Once you’ve lost yourself to the acceptance mask, well could you find yourself, it’s not a simple task. Self-inherence, freedom. Comes from within.  Take a different track. It’s time to see what you are made of. Can you expose yourself? Can you peel away another  layer? Will you make the time, the time to take control? Because only you can save yourself, only you can save your soul….come on, can you let go, can you, be you?”

Caboose by Snapcase (1997 Victory Records)

One of the criticisms that I often hear levelled at Druidry as a path is that it’s a bit polite! Having spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Chaos magicians, Thelemites and Left-Hand Path folks, when I discuss my connection to the Druid path, the question is often asked about what it has to offer in terms of methodology beyond its very public rituals and solar orientated aesthetics. In circles where darkness, intensity and the spilling of bodily fluids are potential measures of commitment, it could be easy to dismiss Druidry as being overly ordered and lacking in changed focused techniques. In my view such a reading is superficial and fails to account for subtle currents of inspiration that allow for a slower more sustainable form of personal evolution.

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A Hardcore Bard at Work

While works such as Ronald Hutton’s excellent The Druids highlight the struggle that modern Druids might have in uncovering what their ancient forebears actually did, we still have a rich body of both Celtic lore and the last two to three hundred years of reconstruction to draw from. While some may look down on the pseudo-masonic and Christian influence on the Druid revival, I personally feel that it holds some truly rich examples of the human spirit seeking to explore Mystery beyond the confines of the prevailing religious orthodoxies.

One of the aspects that I love in most forms of reconstituted modern Druidry is the way in which the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid are seen as interacting with each other. While most contemporary Druids view these roles as being a progressive hierarchy, it is important to acknowledge that some present-day adherents elect to remain as a Bard or Seer (Ovate) if they feel that this best captures their calling. For me the adoption of this three-fold scheme is less about moving through a stage in order to reach the next level, and more about an essential group of experiences that make the stage of the journey possible.

The work of the Bard often involves a reconnection to the spirit of creativity. The three drops of inspiration (Awen) that Gwion Bach ingested from Cerridwen’s cauldron, catalysed a process of alchemical change in which he eventually became the great poet Taliesin. Gwion’s transformation was far from easy as he was forced to adopt multiple animal and even vegetable forms in order to escape the pursuit of the dark Goddess in the form of Cerridwen.

The process of re-contacting our inspiration and creativity often involves a descent into the roots of our unconscious. Without this journey into the rich loam of our dark dimensions, our art and creativity risks a thinness that robs our work of its true magical potential. As I considered in my last post, we need to utilize the mirror as a tool for self-examination in meeting the challenge to “Know Thyself!” Our dreams need to be attended to and I have gained much benefit in revisiting old magical journals in order to comprehend the repeating patterns and ideas that revealed the deep drives that were shaping my magic.

In thinking about Bardic inspiration one could easily lapse into the stereotype of a harp-strumming longhair wandering through sun-dappled forests. As awesome and evocative as such images are, my own reconnection to Awen took a far noisier form. Dear reader I confess that I was a childhood metal head and that my own desire for increasing musical heaviness drove me into the sweaty tattooed arms of hardcore punk.

Any attempt to define musical genres will always be fraught with purism and border skirmishes, but broadly speaking, hardcore Punk (especially in its North American form) tends to integrate the rebellion and aesthetics of Punk while also capturing the heaviness and speed of more extreme Metal. Alongside its distinctive musical style, Hardcore often sought to convey a message of positivity, self-actualization and a desire to question societal norms regarding the food we eat, the drugs that we take and the things we consume.

Within the world of Hardcore, themes connected to the spiritual search are rarely far below the surface. Whether in the Heathen brutality of bands such as Neurosis or the Krishna-based longings of Shelter or 108, the desire to find both discipline and vision have driven artists down some intriguing by-roads.

As with any musical movement advocating change, there is often a distance between these ideals and the actual scene that espoused these goals. Although Queercore and the Riot Grrrl movements have gone some way in challenging the homophobia and misogyny within the Hardcore scene, it would be naïve to deny their presence. At it’s best however bands such as Fugazi, Quicksand and Neurosis have been able to maintain integrity and the evolution of their musical sound.

Each of us will have our own aesthetic styles and artistic media from which we can draw the waters’ of inspiration. As much as I love musical heaviness, regular readers of this blog will also be aware of my passion for both dance and Surrealist visual art. What feels important is that we give ourselves permission to embrace a holism in which the sacredness of all things is allowed to disrupt any secular/spiritual dualism. For me as a Postmodern Bard, my own journey to find inspiration, vision and discipline has enabled me to appreciate the way in which Hardcore at its best embodies these qualities and plays an important role in sustaining the flame of alchemical transformation.

I’ll end with some with some great lyrics from the Neurosis’ track “Burn”:

“You lie in the snow, cold but not dead
Stare into the sun, long since its last heat

Feel the freeze burn skin
Salt your open wounds
A burning desire clears your eyes
A willful air fills your lungs

You choke your first breath of wildfire and oceans depth
Climb out of your hole, see your spirit take form

This world of cold stone gives nothing in return
To those who sleep while the restless burn
There are those few driven to flame
Most are content to drown in the wake of dreams

The trail lies overgrown
Across the years fade out of light
Ever growing dim to an age in the dark
Grasp from your soul and don’t let them steal your eyes”

From The Eye of Every Storm  Neurot Recordings 2004

Steve Dee