Using Magic to Improvise the Self: Explorations in Chaos Mysticism (Part 2)

In my last post I spent time thinking about the potential parallels between acts of creation at both a large and small scale. How might the way in which we view the origins of the Universe shape our perception of self and experience of being a human?

My own view is that the creative, cut-up style of Chaos magic provides us with a position of dynamic agnosticism that allows us to engage with the questions we grapple with. At a cosmological level I was keen to embrace an origins story that reflected a “fragmentary beauty and partial truths: a cut-up formed from moments of inspiration and hard-won life lessons…a custom job, slowly stitched together and arguably unique.” In this post I hope to explore the way in which such an approach can help shape the way we engage with the work of transforming the self.

As we seek to explore potential models of self, the Chaos magician (or at least this one) tends to exercise a degree of both skepticism and down and dirty pragmatism. Yes a specific model may provide a language with which to access new insights, but how do I take these lessons into the realm of my magical work so as to bring about lasting initiatory change?

Under the sway of Postmodernism, Chaos magic tends to be far more interested in the self as a process rather than seeing it as a fixed entity. Think more of a dynamic shifting river bed rather than a still pool of unfathomed depths. Rather than initiatory work being located in some far off idealized future, this “self as process” paradigm challenges us to experience the work unfolding in the moment as the primary location and focus of activity.

Most of us come to magical work in order to experience change. We may have felt trapped by the old, outdated scripts and principles we were adhereing to. If we were simply content with these we would not have entered the Temple of the Mysteries. Whatever the techniques or traditions we favour, my hunch is that we are seeking methods and frameworks within which to improvise new understandings of self.

I have previously written about how the artistic technique of cut-ups provide us with powerful insights into the shifting nature of both consciousness and identity. The dynamic and improvisational spirit of this approach captures well the experience of many and potentially provides a more fluid map for developing a more playful approach.

Cut-ups also happen at a cosmic level and the Mesopotamian creation myth Enuma Elish (lit. “when on high”) vividly depicts this. It tells the story of a struggle between the elder gods of primal chaos and the young upstarts embodying consciousness and order. The great primal Mother Tiamat is eventually slain by the heroic warrior Marduk who then forms the material universe from her draconian remains. This speaks powerfully of our own journey in pursuing the goal of self-creation; we may desire the coherence and direction of the ordered and linear, but if we fail to recognise the vital potency of the chaotic, our path is likely to become arid.

When we begin to pay more attention to the terrain of self, it can feel both challenging and potentially disorientating. Too great a sense of fragmentation and we risk both good mental health and the necessary cohesion needed for day-to-day functioning. Embracing fluidity and multiplicity can feel highly liberating, but we can also risk feeling distress if our experience of subjective complexity runs contra to older expectations regarding having a unified experience of self. Shouldn’t I be more consistent, less conflicted and frankly have my shit more together?

I hope you are beginning to spot how tricky it can be to find metaphors that help convey the complexity and mystery of the work that we are trying to do! In my own attempt to map-out some of my own exploration of what I experience going on:

In this circularity I have been trying to spot the links in my own chaos magical process and role that intuition plays in inspiring the form of play and ritual improvisation that takes place in the laboratory space of the magical circle. While my intuition can definitely have an unexpected and non-linear quality, the foundation for such gnostic insights has come by means of research, reading and the consumption of prodigious quantities of art.

When we dare to improvise, to step outside of the known and fully rehersed we can feel like The Fool in the tarot daring to step out. While that image is both powerful and inspiring, we should be cautious about taking it too literally! To improvise is not to disregard health and safety concerns or rely on blind-optimism, rather it allows us to trust in our own cultivation of poise and the possibility of what can occur when we relinquish the tightness of our control. 

Such states of being are often associated with “flow” and the outcome of mastery and we know that these experiences often result as a result of concentrated discipline in acquiring the basics. We would rarely expect to be able to play an improvised guitar solo without hours spent playing scales, and yet in our magical work we imagine that the possibility of mystical experience isn’t enhanced by regular spiritual practice. 

Perhaps with a new year and new decade beginning, it’s time for all of us to revisit magical bootcamps like Liber MMM (or others of your choosing), in order to reconnect to daily practices that allow the possibility of more creative experiences of both ourselves and our connection to others.

To conclude here’s a beasutiful quote from the preface of Viola Spolin’s excellent Theater Games for the Lone Actor:

“In the present time a path is opened to your intuition, closing the gap between thinking and doing, allowing you, the real you, your natural self, to emerge and experience directly and act freely, present to the moment you are present to.

You, the real you, must be seen. There are many facets to your basic persona unknown even to you , that you may come forth, appear, and become visible. You, the unique, invisible, unknown, must emerge, be seen, and connect!”

Steve Dee


Deep Magic Retreat

Cultivating Connection

Our 2020 springtime retreat will take place in April (17-19th). Please join us for this magical adventure, exploring the connection between Nature and ourselves!

This weekend will give you the opportunity to engage with a remarkable landscape in which humans and other species live and work together. Through group practices and solitary exploration we will discover how we can bring together spirituality and practicality. Using a range of artistic, ceremonial and meditative processes developed specifically for this site, we will re-engage with our humanity as a harmonious part of Nature. The key themes for this retreat will be regeneration and relationship; bring your curiosity, your open mind, and a willingness to participate.

Ragmans Lane Farm is nestled in the Wye Valley on the edge of the Forest of Dean, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. An hour from Bristol, Birmingham and Cardiff, the 60 acre site is one of Britain’s most well established permaculture and organic farms. Ragmans has hosted numerous courses over many decades with teachers including Starhawk, Patrick Whitefield  and Bill Mollison.

Accessible to novices, and beneficial for experienced practitioners, these days of practical deep magic will give you plenty of opportunity for personal transformation, learning and fun.

We will be staying in a superbly converted 400 year old barn, with three dormitory style areas (6 beds, 2 beds and 3 beds). The barn also has a comfortable sitting room, and a large dining room/kitchen, both perfect for socialising. The retreat includes full-board accommodation with delicious home-cooked vegan food, much of it grown locally, some at Ragmans Lane itself!

We will be using a separate meeting hall for indoor ceremony and practices, as well as several beautiful outdoor spaces. 

The retreat runs from Friday 17th until Sunday 19th April. 

Cost £300. Early Bird £250 (until 14th February).
PayPal contactdeepmagic@gmail.com

If you have any questions, or want to know about alternative payment options, please email us at contactdeepmagic@gmail.com

Big Creation, Small Creation: Explorations in Chaos Mysticism (Part 1)

Candles and incense are were lit and the wood burner was fed. We were few in number but in the stillness between All Souls and Solstice, we had come seeking “the still point of the turning world.”

Vowel sounds are intoned as Gnostic pentagrams are vibrated through the body and before we journey through drumming and sitting practice, our declaration is made:

Zen-Gnostic Poem

(Ring Bell 8 times)

“We begin in Silence and Space

The realm of vast consciousness

The marriage of Darkness and Light.

In the pregnant space of reflection

Wisdom is born

Glowing deep blue against the blackness

Silver Star points grow

As the holy Aeon spins her web of connection.

Wisdom makes manifest

An outflowing of the multiple and the complex

The Craftsman makes the World:

Baphomet-Abraxas, liminal world dancer

Changing, growing and creating.

We come to listen and to remember our original face,

We come as heroes of practice

Who sit like mountains together!”

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For the magician-mystic, the stories of creation on the grandest scale are also stories of self. Diverse cultures over millennia have grappled with both imagining the process of cosmic becoming and also in understanding individual experiences of consciousness upon that stage. These are parallel processes that mirror each other at the deepest level and the beliefs we hold about our significance and structure are often projected upon the big screen of our creation stories.

These stories may attempt to place us in relation to a supreme deity or they may hold positions (as with many Buddhist schools) where speculation regarding our metaphysical origins is kept to a minimum. For me what often feels different for the magician is that rather than viewing ourselves as passive spectators of a completed process, we are active agents upon a stage on which our own self-creation is a vital chapter. While this potentially risks megalomania, most of us chose to walk this knife-edge rather than feeling overwhelmed by powerlessness.

In my view the postmodern insights of Chaos Magic have something valuable to offer to this process. While many Chaos magicians may embrace world views that emphasize the uncovering of the essential Self/Buddha-mind, the dynamic fluidity of the Chaotic approach also allows for the active creation of self.

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As I re-read my Zen-Gnostic creation poem, I am struck by its fragmentary beauty and partial truths: a cut-up formed from moments of inspiration and hard-won life lessons. This is a custom job, slowly stitched together and arguably unique. The orthodox will decry its hotchpotch constructionism, but these monstrous forms contain their own potency in being born from an honest encounter with dread and comic awe.

The Magician is engaged is an on-going and arguably endless process of zooming out (the Big, the Cosmic) and then in; in the pursuit of self. When I apply this method to the alchemy of self-transformation, perhaps I can learn to accept the complexity of who I am and that I am very much a work in progress. Effort and analysis remain essential, but it is also good to question what the fuck I think perfectionism means and whether I can relinquish the relentless conveyor-belt of self-improvement tasks?

In thinking about what helps with this opening-out, here’s a few ideas that I am currently exploring:

  1. A Mystic of the Self:

While we might initially balk at the idea of the place of Mysticism within magical traditions with a more Left-Hand Path/antinomian  perspective (mysticism being far too fuzzy and imprecise), I find potential value in the way in which it might grapple with the expansive boundaries of self that we experience in our psyche-centric exploration. Of course each of us will have favored models of the self that provide helpful maps for reducing the likelihood of confusion and feeling lost, but even these have their limits when we are faced with mystery and the limits of the known.

My own commitment to this work has been about a desire to make self-awakening the center of my work while retaining a willingness to loosen my old certainties about what I think that is. Life and initiation may well require periods of focused crystallization in which consistency, boundaries and being “of a single-eye” are required, but if we resist refinement and alchemical dissolution, we may carrying around the corpse of yesterday’s self. I’m ever thoughtful of Odin’s experience on the world-tree and what it might mean to “sacrifice self to self” (Havamal 138). If we are able to retain our sense of exploration, what might we discover as we take up the Runes (mysteries) and seek to explore the fragmentary mysteries of our self and the world around us?

  1. Connected Independence:

Most of us are familiar with the archetypal antinomian lone wolf who makes great claims to godhood and yet is all too clearly lost in a labyrinth of their own solipsism. Our initiation requires the challenge and insight of others who have walked the path before us. While we need to bring the sharp-edge of consciousness to our own motivation for seeking connections, we also need to be authentic in acknowledging the counter cultural value of “finding the others” who support and inspire out efforts toward greater becoming.

  1. The Ability to Play:

While the early stages of individuation may necessitate a rejection of the spiritual perspectives of family or culture, most of us go on to a more mature position of “return” to original ideas or images that we may have dismissed during our rebellious fervor. Such a position reflects a certain lightness of touch and an ability to engage with something while still questioning it. For me this feels like a shift in which we move away from cynically dismissing something and towards a position of being able to play with ideas and concepts in a way that both values them but allows some distance and even irreverence.

While determination and dogged focus are undoubtedly essential in making progress as a Magician, how do we also ensure that we feel free enough to experiment, to play and to make mistakes in that process? Whether we are experimenting with new magical techniques, body-focused practices or mythical framework for exploring awakening, I believe that we benefit when we give ourselves and others permission to adopt a position of Shoshin or “beginner’s mind”.

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets, T S Eliot

Steve Dee

 

Wisdom in the Aeon of Maat 

I have recently been getting excited about the release of this forthcoming book published by those wonderful people at Starfire  and thought I’d share a piece of writing that appeared in my book The Heretic’s Journey that sought to explore the key role of Nema’s work in manifesting the aeon of Maat:

In reflecting upon the Aeon of Maat and how Nema’s own work developed the initial articulation by Frater Achad, I feel one of her wisest insights relates to the importance of “the double current” in seeking to develop a more balanced magical path. In contrast to simply seeing our current age as needing the mono-message of Thelema or Will, Nema’s own journey has been towards a place where the overlapping Aeons of Horus and Maat dialogue with each other.

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Horus; “Welcome!” Ma’at; “In peace.”

The issue of how Magicians in the West quantify progress has always been a tricky one. Yes, we may choose to rely on the grade system mapped out by a given Order that we participate in, but this is no guarantee of personal evolution. Grades and titles are not without value, but they seem to function primarily as markers of progress within the given sub-culture of that Order. I think a more interesting and potentially demanding question is how we translate any claimed maturation into social or cultural change.

Such dilemmas are not unique to overtly Gnostic or Magical religious paths, with most religions having to grapple with the more collective or political dimensions of their original spiritual message. Certainly in the Buddhist tradition the historical development of the Mahayana tradition (from the earlier Theravarda) reflects an attempt to explore the more collective implications of that philosophy.

The pursuit of true will as a project for the contemporary Mage certainly resonates with the existential and individualistic concerns of the 20th century that birthed Thelema, but is it enough? The icon of Horus as the conquering child certainly seems to capture the type of surging technological change of the last century, but to my mind this energy needs some counter-balance.

The primary symbolism in ancient Egypt regarding the goddess Maat reflect her position as the neter (divine principle) of justice and balance. The hieroglyph of the feather is seen as representing the breath of life, as well as the standard against which the human heart will be weighed at the judgement. Her other symbol of the ruler is in keeping with these ideas of accuracy, assessment and truth.

For Nema (and Achad) the importance of the Horus/Maat “double current” is that it at once acknowledges the need for a prophetic cleansing of a corrupt Piscean/Osirian age, while at the same time recognizing that such change needs balance and stabilization in order to prevent “Will” becoming egoic megalomania. I see great parallels between Maat and the Gnostic Sophia as the embodiment of wisdom. The punk rock energy of Horus may get the revolution started, but in the longer term we need our Aeons to overlap and to allow a multiplicity of perspectives to support us in the cultivation of a fairer society.

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This idea of the Aeons being sequential and dominated by mono-mythologies is frequently promoted in esoteric lore, and while it may have been helpful and even accurate in times past, I believe that the value of such an approach is now limited. What Nema seems to be pointing towards (and which Maat herself embodies) is the importance of allowing these differing Aeonic currents to dance with and inform each other, and create what she describes as a “PanAeonic Magick”.

In my view Pete Carroll highlights something similar in his seminal “Mass of Chaos B”:

“In the first aeon, I was the Great Spirit
In the second aeon, Men knew me as the Horned God, Pangenitor Panphage. 
In the third aeon, I was the dark one, the Devil. 
In the fourth aeon, Men knew me not, for I am the Hidden One
. In this new aeon, I appear before you as Baphomet The God before all gods who shall endure to the end Of the Earth.”

Liber Null and Psychonaut

In contrast to those ages ruled by a singular narrative or dominant discourse, now is the time of Baphomet, a deity more overtly borne of humanity’s creative imagination. Baphomet embodies duality itself and transcends it, within their being they hold the ongoing process of dissolving and coming together.

I believe the Aeon of Maat with its core message of balance holds within it the possibility of the multiple, and the aspiration of being able to recognize numerous perspectives and approaches. Nema’s artistic depiction of N’Aton captures much of this as the half of their face that is visible contains a multitude of individuals dwelling in a futuristic city scape. N’Aton represents the potentiality of a future in which dualities are played with by the Magician: transcended, discarded, redefined and embraced in accordance with a true will that balances both individual freedom and collective responsibility.

The icon of N’Aton provides a potential map for the Magician’s project of self-sovereignty. N’Aton seeks to balance the needs for individual self-definition and collective connection. Rather than getting overly focused the type of brittle, self-obsession that can tip into solipsism or megalomania, for me N’Aton asks that any claims to insight are pressure tested in the realm of wider society. In many ways the Aeon of Maat closely parallels the description of the Aquarian age as described one of Nema’s magical colleagues Louise Martinie of the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple:

The Aeon in which we are presently incarnate has been called by various names. “Aquarian” seems to be the designation which is most widely used in the New World cultures. The Aquarian mode emphasizes profound searching, a reliance on experiential knowledge, and a uniting of diverse occult systems. Aeonic Voodoo seeks to incorporate these dispositions in its structure. 

Waters of Return: The Aeonic Flow of Voudoo

He then goes on to describe this Aeon’s defining features:

Anarchism; the state of being without a “frozen” hierarchy. Postdrogeny; the abrogation of all existent gender roles so that new perceptions may manifest. Feminism; as it is in the forefront in its stand against restriction and for human liberation. Equalitarianism; the belief that all people have equal political and social rights, and Nonviolence; a refusal to subject the self or others to physical coercion. 

Whether we define this Aeon as being Aquarian, of Maat, or holding a multiplicity of overlapping words, we seem to be moving towards a place where language and definitions are being asked to become more plastic and amorphous in trying to stay alive to the diversity of human experience.

Steve Dee

Dreadful Magic

Many of us long for the divine and the mysterious, but what is it like to actually gain a glimpse of these things?

In his masterwork The Idea of the Holy Rudolf Otto, valiantly sought to map out those shared human experiences that lay at the heart of religious seeking. For Otto when we view the vastness and mystery of the Universe, we are met with both Dread and Awe. Dread and Awe act as two sides of a coin in which the vastness of time, space and the magnitude of life erode our sense of control and understanding. Just when we think we might be getting it, it’s that “oh shit” moment when we realize that barely have a clue.

otto

Rudolf Otto supporting his planet-sized brain

A couple of years ago I wrote this and for me it captured something of my own encounter with mystery and what Otto describes as “the numinous”:

“As I gaze out at the night sky, I find myself unable to find lasting meaning in any prevailing metaphysical position, be it a theistic one or that of the strict rationalist. The mystery and expansiveness of space seems to empty me of the trite and obvious. My sense of awe seems to both induce a sense of mild panic as I glimpse the limits of my control and understanding, while at the same time beckoning me onward into the depths of the unknown.”

stars

The more time I spend working with the Dread and Awe the more I am struck but the powerful parallels that exist with both existential philosophy and its application within existential psychotherapy.

The origins of both of these movements lie with Søren Kierkegaard and the way in which his own radical reading of Christianity led him to grapple with the uncertainty connected to the experience of existence. As is well documented these ideas were taken on by Jean-Paul Satre who, in being inspired by his reading of Heidegger, gave the lecture in 1945 “Existentialism is a Humanism”. Existentialism as a philosophical school sought to centralize the experience of the individual in the face of a Universe within which the Judeo-Christian God had been declared dead.

In facing a Universal vastness that had no apparent meaning, how were we as humans supposed to find authenticity and a sense of our true essence? What lies at the heart of being beyond the superficial roles and labels that society may want to hand to us? These questions were a major preoccupation for the early Existentialists. Thinkers such as Sartre, De Beauvoir and Camus were relentless in their pursuit of making choices congruent with authentic being (i.e. in “Good Faith”). When faced with absurdity, the existentialists were stark in their assessment that such insights triggered both Dread and an underlying sense of despair.

The impact of the existentialists was profound and they not only spawned weird adventures in art, literature and theatre, but they also inspired radical forms of psychotherapy.

Building upon the insights of existential philosophy, existential psychotherapy sought to explore the way in which these ideas regarding meaning, freedom and impermanence could be explored within the healing context of a therapeutic relationship. Therapists such as Otto Rank (who broke with Freud in the 1920’s), Viktor Frankl and Rollo May were central to the development of an understanding of our shared human experiences that was less focused medical diagnosis.

In contrast to Freud and his focus on pathology, existential psychotherapy tends to view experiences of anxiety, alienation and even depression as part of a normal maturation that most humans will experience in response to the disconnect experienced between our experience of self and the world we inhabit. More contemporary thinker/therapists such as Irvin Yalom believe that psychological dysfunction arises when we try to avoid these givens of life. While current schools of so-called “positive psychology” may view such perspectives as being doom-laden or negativistic, an existential approach maintains that in confronting such realities, the true value of life and consciousness comes into sharper definition.

For me as a Magician seeking to work with ideas of Dread and Awe, the insights of existentialism provide helpful keys to unlocking the process via which my own initiation is deepened. In truly looking at the world’s vastness and impermanence so I create the possibility of seeing with a Zen-like “Shoshin” or beginners mind. In experiencing Dread I recognize the limits of what I can know and yet the sense of awe I encounter also helps me pursue what Viktor Frankl called “The Will to Meaning”.

Magic asks us to see with new eyes and what we see is often not comfortable Magic accelerates and intensifies our experience of dread, but in doing this so the possibility of activating our will becomes both more necessary and thus possible.

“Know Thyself, Create Thyself!”

Steve Dee

Check out Steve’s review of Asexual Erotics on Phil Hine’s blog.

Everyday Magic – how to find time for occult practice in your busy life

For those of us from post-Protestant culture the notion of discipline in our practice often looms large. There is a sense that magical or spiritual practice is an obligation, something that demands a fierce activity and tenacity; this is ‘Work’ with a capital ‘W’, indeed it’s ‘The Great Work’.

As magicians we may wrestle with these feelings; the anxiety to get on with it, to do, to act, to turn up the heat on our practice. After all, if 20 mins of mindfulness meditation is good then seven hours of meditation must be better right?

Phil Hine in Prime Chaos expresses these feelings beautifully in the opening to this seminal work:

“A friend said to me recently, “I’m just not doing enough magical work at the moment.” I nodded, thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” There is a kind of creeping Protestant Work Ethic implicit in modern magic, a view that you have to work at magic before you get anywhere, doing your regular practice-visualisation, meditation, daily banishing, muttering your chosen mantra on the train, controlling your dreams etc.- until it becomes ‘hard work’ accompanied by a guilt trip if you slacken off or take a break. Some time ago I was reading a basic magical training programme in some book or other and I thought, “Yeah, I bet this guy went to a public school”- the kind of place where you get up at dawn for a cold bath, run round the playing fields and get beaten senseless at every opportunity. The way the guy was going on, I wouldn’t have been surprised if some Archangel had appeared, thundering, “HINE! You didn’t do your daily banishing this morning! Stand in the corner boy until you can recite all the godnames in Assiah!” That sort of thing.”

It’s true that self-discipline matters and that magical practice is just that, a practice, something that needs to be enacted to be real. Chaos magic’s emergence into late 20th century occulture was predicated on this observation. You want to be a magician? Great! start doing something about it! Don’t wait until the guru, the Order or the Holy Book turns up. Pick up your wand (or just use your finger) and start experimenting. The attitude of punk and D.I.Y. culture informs this approach; sure your guitar playing, at least initially, may suck, but you’ve started a practice that potentially will lead to mastery.  Lao Tzu, who knows a thing or two, points out that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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Khaos Punx – Keeping it real since the late 20th century

Those feelings of practice inadequacy apply to many people. While some of us might have the luxury of spending weeks on silent retreat or months chowing down on Master Plants in the jungle – unless we adopt a  monastic lifestyle – we inevitably return to the day-to-day world and often the day job. After the ecstasy the laundry, as they say.

We can feel that once we are back at home, back in the office, that the magic fades into the distance. These feelings can result in us imagining that ‘the sacred’ is dependent, by contrast, on ‘the secular’. We feel that we’re doing magic when we do rituals, when we do our tai chi, when we meditate but not necessarily when we answer our business emails, when we walk the children to school or when defrosting the fridge.

If these feelings emerge it can be helpful to set goals and to recognize that even tiny steps towards achieving our intentions are important. We can seek the support of our community and find opportunities to practice together. This support may be in person or online and the very act of signing up to a course of study (and perhaps telling our friends and peers we have done so) can be just the spur to action that we need.

Another approach is to remember that perseverance is a virtue too. For while seven hours of meditation may be great in itself  it’s better to do 20 mins when you can over a longer period of time. In my own case; my hatha yoga practice is something that I’ve done at various levels of intensity for 40 years. Doing yoga irregularly but persistently has helped me be more aware of my bodymind and develop my interoceptive awareness. My formal yogic practice conditions me to stretch when I’ve been sitting for a long time as an automatic reflex. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to have received teaching for some formidable practitioners of yoga and other body arts. At times I’ve joined classes. I’ve had opportunities to teach and share what I know with others, and to and to learn from Youtube teachers (my go-to practitioner is Adriene). In other periods I’ve done very little formal practice; just a few morning stretches and deep breathing. My overall approach to yoga is informed by the action of water; an irregular drip-feed of practice, variable in its details from week to week, but gently persistent over time.

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“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” Lao Tzu

Finding ways to keep our practice up when we are householders can certainly be a challenge but it’s also an opportunity since by bringing our magic into the everyday we aspire to recognize the everyday magic of the world. We can aim to notice what we do naturally, what actually arises, and then discover ways to formulate these everyday, even humdrum occasions, as practice. This isn’t  a new aspiration as indicated by the  words of the ancient tantra dedicated to the Goddess Parvati the Saundarya Lahari (‘Waves of Beauty’).

“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity is mine be some form of worship of you.”

Here are a few more thoughts on embedding our practice in daily life…

…and a few reflections on mindfully moving through the landscape (psychogeography) – providing us with an opportunity for practice with every journey to work and each time we walk the dog.

May we each find ways to discover the magic in every moment!

Julian Vayne

 


Coming soon…

Saturday 31st August

Magical Words Workshop 

@ The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

Boscastle, Cornwall

to-speak-with-spirits-spells1-e1499901785456

In this one day workshop Julian Vayne will help you discover your own magical words. We will use a range of practical techniques, including working with the spirit of the fabulous library of The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. Explore the power of magical words and signs; from Enochian to mantras, from sigils to poetic invocation. Bring writing materials and your curiosity for this adventure into the magic of text, language, symbol and literature. View details of this and other events here..

 

BREAKING CONVENTION 2019

5th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PSYCHEDELIC CONSCIOUSNESS

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I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking at Breaking Convention, the mother of all psychedelic conferences, at the University of Greenwich, 16-18th August. This is going to be a massive, multidisciplinary event hosting more than 150 interdisciplinary presentations over three days, across FIVE simultaneous academic tracks. The conference expands this year and features more than a dozen interactive workshops, a visionary art exhibition, installation gallery, psychedelic film festival, a comedy night, theatre and performance programme, evening banquet, and celebrations every night at the new Student Union bar within our Telesterion building!

At Breaking Convention there’s something for everyone, with contributions from cutting-edge neuroscience, clinical psychology and psychiatry, pharmacology, sociology and criminology, policy analysis, anthropology, archaeology, ethnobotany, music, art, history, literature, theology, mysticism, indigenous perspectives, parapsychology, and much else besides. Hope to see you there!

Get your tickets here.

Wyrd Relationships

When following a path of initiatory magic, however much we may want to emphasize our rugged individualism and uniqueness, most of us eventually come to the realization that we can’t do this on our own. However potent our initial gnostic insights regarding the need to take a radical degree of responsibility for own salvation, we soon realize that we will need to connect to the others for this process to be sustainable.

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Creating New Connections

I have already written on this blog about the influence of Gurdjieff/Fourth Way ideas on my path generally, but I have been especially influenced with regards to that tradition’s focus on the importance of finding dynamic spiritual relationships, in order to challenge and deepen our own explorations. Learning something by one’s self is of course possible, but most of us realise quickly that everything from Tai Chi to foreign language learning is made easier (and ultimately more fun) if we have a competent teacher or teachers. In having an experienced mentor, our learning becomes more rounded as pitfalls are avoided and the full range of sensory and kinaesthetic information becomes available to us.

Learning within an esoteric or magical context is usually associated with groups of other humans who organise themselves into Orders, Schools or networks centred on a shared philosophy, lifestyle or ritual aesthetic. This is often how we do things as Homo sapiens and however much our politics and aspirations hope to flatten hierarchies, we usually self-organise into something that looks like a tribe or family system. When we enter such environments, inspired by our search for meaning, it is unsurprising that most of us look to the longstanding members of such groups both for guidance, and evidence that the group’s claims have some degree of validity.

Okay, so far so good, but if such groups can be beneficial why is it that they can also be a complete pain in the arse? For me, part of why Schools and Orders can be challenging is they often have profound tensions at their core. In reflecting on this, here are a few of them that seem critical:

Openness versus Discernment

Most religious and philosophical groups require the internalization of a certain amount of information and adherence to specific behavioural requirements. When we enter this as a newcomer to a group we can often feel that we re-enacting those scenes from our childhoods in which we were seeking approval. When this is going on alongside the message that we should be aspiring to become powerful, competent initiates we can be forgiven for becoming somewhat confused and disheartened.

For me, the saying attributed to Christ is helpful: “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are too naïve we risk exploitation and buying into a type of group-think that can run contra to the aims of initiation, but if we are too shut off and not willing to unlearn then there is little point in being there.

Most of us don’t get it right upon the first time of trying and it is also possible that part of our difficulty lies in bringing the same expectations to the School that we would to other (more conventional) religious contexts. Many enter a School seeking a Church and then seemed shocked that it feels more like a dojo!

Freedom versus Structure

Working with others can be tricky. By definition most magical practitioners are free spirits with anarchic tendencies. We can experience a deep desire to work with others in order to empower and sharpen our work, but most of us are prone to experiencing claustrophobia when we feel our agency and liberty is being threatened!

In traditions that involve truly transformative perspectives there is a certain inevitability that we will need to challenge existing values and certainties. While they will never be perfect in their execution, many Orders out of necessity have had to spend time reflecting on how they provide boundaries and guidance to ensure that ethical standards are understood and respected. Such reflection often takes decades of shared work to develop maturity and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Groups will always make mistakes in the doing of the Great Work, but what feels critical is that they have mechanisms for feedback and reflection so that the inevitable mistakes are learnt from. The presence of such processes for self-reflection are vital in ensuring that a School’s core philosophy is both truly life promoting and able to counter any organizational excesses.

Personally speaking, being part of a more formal magical Order has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn. Even if I might not agree with some of what’s being proposed, the content and structure of such systems provide me with something solid to bash up against and thus refine my own initiatory understanding. The pursuit of grades and curricula may become yet another form of “spiritual materialism”, but at best they can fulfill our need for structure and a way of mapping our development, especially in the early to intermediate stages of training.

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Something clever about trying to think outside the box

Personal versus Impersonal

While undertaking any deep spiritual work will inevitably lead to the forming of close relationships with others, one of the strengths of an Order is that they usually provide a corpus of techniques and perspectives to engage with. Without a solid body of ideas and practice with which to engage, there is a danger that our involvement becomes overly reliant on interpersonal connection. While warm rapport and friendships can be a major strength in the sustainability of group involvement, if we become overly dependent on this, then our own motivations for doing the work can become distorted. People inevitably come and go from magical and initiatory groups as their own focus changes or the costs of involvement outweigh the benefits. Finding like-minded souls can feel amazing after perhaps years of feeling isolated, but we must remain clear about our own goals, and alive to where we may need to go next.

These tensions are likely to remain in play while we choose to take the risk of working magically with others. The probability of finding some imagined perfect balance between these polarities is both unlikely and frankly a bit dull. Like the perfect job or the perfect relationship, the perfect group or school simply doesn’t exist, but in recognizing the dynamics at work we may become more conscious of the push and pull of such forces and how we might play with and respond to them more skillfully.

Steve Dee