The Magician as Creative Theologian

Before I was aware of being a magician, I was a theologian, digging deep into the nature of Mystery and how we locate religious authority in an academic setting. These efforts began a process of deconstruction that lead to a radical expansion of my previous faith.  In contrast to the claustrophobia I had experienced when trying to hold-on to the tenets of belief, the esoteric path felt like an expansive opportunity to explore the fullness of my humanity.

As a fledgling magician I was launched into a landscape in which my own occult exploration and direct experience had a profound impact on my process of interpretation and understanding ( or hermeneutics, for the theologically fancy). While research into the best primary source material was still vital, I was far more aware of the role that my personal religious experience was having in shaping my worldview. I recently had a go at mapping out this process, and while not definitive, it looked a bit like this:

I thought I would share with you an example of such magical hermeneutics at work. What follows is an extract from my piece ‘The Queer Gods of Alchemy’ that was part of the excellent anthology Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries (2018) edited by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin.  I highly recommend the whole anthology for those interested in Queered and creative approaches to spiritual practice.

The Sabbat of the Queered Christ

I’m sure I’m no different from most of people in trying to make sense of the paths I have walked and what they reveal about the core aspects of who I am. When I consider the differing traditions that I have worked within I’m often struck by the commonalities in how I have approached them.  While I might admire the dignity of a scripted ritual rubrik, I personally love music, dance and drumming.  For me this type of embodied, ecstatic leaping about, was once part of my teenage Pentecostalism and now strongly connects me to the shamanic archetype of the Witch and the nightside mysteries of their craft.

Within the collective psyche of Europe, the Witch has often acted as an icon of disturbance and freedom. The projected fantasies of clerics and folkloric imaginings often allude to something dark, disturbing and subversive.

The Witch often acts as an attractor for the shadow aspects of those cultures within which they are suspected of dwelling. They are the hags and the shape-shifters whose messy bodies both arouse and unsettle us. They seem to be scapegoats onto whose heads the repressed longings of society are spoken.

In bearing the weight of such dangerous passions they often hold a position on the outer edge of social and ethical evolution.

If our magic is to mean anything, we must be willing for it to Queer and haunt us. The certainties that we cling to must be placed on the altar of our work as our Gods and ancestors draw us to the crossroads at which the sacrificial cost of true change must be weighed. 

My own work with the Witches’ path induced a profound sense of unease. Have you ever felt haunted? Haunted by an idea or a person who, despite all your best efforts, seems to be lurking at the edges of your vision and prodding your unconscious to give them a bit more space? For me, this was a phantom of my own history, pointing towards past explorations and adventures that were still unresolved. 

In my seeking to more fully appreciate the potential connections between the Witch trials and medieval Christian heretics, I became aware that the figure haunting me from the shadows was that old trickster Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus to his Greek speaking friends). 

In relation to my own journey I have already sought to describe how my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my own sexuality and gender identity. While I now feel that it was necessary to take leave of Christ due to the type of self-suppression that seemed innate to my faith at that time, I am still able to appreciate some of the Queer liberation that I experienced via the androgyny of Christ.  

While owning my own needs and bias, I eventually encountered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that provided for me an alternative mode of being. Yes, this was the Jesus who cleared Temples and overturned tables, but also the Jesus who blessed the gentle and sought out the one lost sheep. 

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

To follow the path of the Witch or the Gnostic explorer is to pay heed to those incoming messages bubbling up from the unconscious. In the same way that I couldn’t adhere to the exclusivity of a Christianity at odds with my Queerness, neither can I turn away from the insights still offered by the Christ-spark within. 

In the Gospel of John (Chapter 11) Jesus describes himself as ‘the door’ and for me the Christic myth still provides a doorway via which I can explore greater self-understanding. Walking through this doorway asks that I leave behind the child-like sentimentality of my past beliefs, but I choose to risk this path as if offers freedom from claustrophobic certainties and the possibility of breathing in fresh insights. 

For all of us I would pray that we might access true gnosis as we listen to the Wisdom of our Queer ancestors and Gods, and as we take heed of their counsel may we be brave enough to pursue the uniqueness of our path towards greater wholeness and freedom. So Mote It Be!

“Be a light unto yourself” Shakyamuni Buddha

Steve Dee


Coming Up This Spring

Julian is teaching two workshops with The Last Tuesday society on Sigil Magic and Chaos Magic in February, and continues his regular workshop series with Treadwell’s Books; next up, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners, Magical Energy and The Magical Qabalah for beginners and advanced practitioners. In addition, Treadwell’s is hosting The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher in March, which like much of their other online content will be available to watch after the live event as a video recording.

Julian’s work is now gathered together on his newly launched portfolio website julianvayne.com

Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne will be hosting an Imbolc Ceremony with The Psychedelic Society on Monday 1st Feb 2021, 7pm – 9pm UK time.

Hoping to see you in the magic circle soon! 😀

Working in Dark Light: Magic on the Via Negativa

I have recently been going down a spiritual rabbit-hole regarding how we as magicians might use contemplative practice. Having spent a lot of years exploring the use of meditative states within yogic and Buddhist traditions, I have also (via that mighty Trappist Thomas Merton) started looking at the way in which deeper internal states were being articulated within Abrahamic mystical traditions. Via his exploration of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Merton dives headlong into the mystical depths of spiritual practice.

Nightside Cistercian

The early stages of most spiritual journeys are often filled positive, affirmative statements aimed at locating meaning and exerting control. Those walking the paths of more orthodox religious expression might speak of Cataphatic theologies or the Via Positiva in which we aspire to affirm the promises of faith and the joys of our newfound purpose. I’m pretty sure we magical heretics also have our own version of this. While we may be sceptical about the big promises of father/mother gods, we may well experience the rebellious sugar high of our newfound antinomianism. Having gained our hard-won freedom from the conditioning of family and culture, we often get busy with the project on greater understanding, greater control and endless amounts of information. This of course very cool, knowledge is power and knowledge of the previously forbidden can be truly liberating! But is it enough? Is it enough to sustain the long haul of becoming through initiation and countless cycles of alchemical refinement? 

Many of us are drawn to magical or Pagan spiritual traditions because they offer a more balanced and integrated way of engaging with the dance between darkness and light. Whether via those deities that express the destructive aspects of life or the wheel of the year itself, we are forced to articulate and explore the aspects of life that many of us (if given the choice) would choose to ignore. While part of us might shy away from the challenge of such work, the deeper parts of our soul seems to recognize the need to engage with the dynamic tension present within life. The balancing of darkness and light is key to the alchemical work we are engaged in. I really like the quote below and the mention of the emerald vision brings to mind our own internal work with the darker aspects of reality: 

“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 

So often it is our encounter with the world and the other that challenge any simplistic notion of control. For the freshly minted magician it’s an easy mistake to make, as much as we might place a high value on spiritual autonomy, it is not the same as an imagined utopia of hermetically sealed isolation. Yes our personal Great Work often leads to an increased sense of our separateness as part of our refined sense of self-awareness, but we still remain within the world with all the connections and context that this entails.  The complex mess of our world means that we eventually have to confront the dryness of our meditation, our emptied rituals and our unanswered prayers.

The way of the Via Negativa is one in which our words run dry and the work becomes truly gritty. We may to struggle to describe our work and it may feel easier to say what it is not. We are those who die before death so that we can fully become what the mundane world can’t handle.

Vastness Without, Vastness Within

The early visibility of the path dims and we feel that are operating as much by touch and instinct as we are with planned intentions. This may be the place where silence becomes our friend/enemy we may need to find those contemplative tools that allow us to sail its seas. Mystery may become our watchword as we feel the gravitational pull forwards into goodness knows what!

We may sense vast spaciousness within the self; the orthodox may describe this as ‘not self’ but we are the magicians who are often called to cross desert places in search of wisdom. This realm of dark light is where the unconscious bleeds in and our art and ecstasy often reveal more about who we really are than our well-devised narratives. In the desert our uncertainty can be treasured and when treasured these ‘WTF?’ moments become the fuel for our unfolding. 

In the desert the light pollution of our self-story gets turned down and in this silence we look upwards. It’s unsurprising that magicians spend so much time staring up at the stars. This is the realm in which we encounter distant sparks in a vast darkness. In looking we are filled with the dread and awe that reflect our internal world and the journey we must take.

Steve Dee