When Magicians Get Tense…

We seem to be living in times in which it’s hard to find answers. How does the magical practitioner use the fruits of their training and study to hold a position of both wisdom and radical uncertainty? How do we explore the meaning of our collective COVID-19 related trauma while at the same time acknowledging that meaning is elusive and potentially risks over-simplification? Many of us feel caught between the competing pulls of hope and despair, science and superstition, and claustrophobia and agoraphobia.

Ironically I became interested in the occult precisely because it tried to grapple with complexity and dynamic tension. In contrast to the mono-answers of faith, here was a messy hodgepodge of ideas called the Western Mystery Tradition that tried to hold in dynamic tension the poles of light and dark, male and female, and mercy and severity. While we may long for a simpler solution (especially at times of distress), I personally have become increasingly interested in how we magicians of varying stripes manage dynamic tension.

While the history of Western magic is littered with systems that make use of polarity, they often project such binaries outwards onto the form of divine versions of the God and Goddess. In contrast to this externalising approach, lately I have been reflecting on how we negotiate our internal struggles. Forgive me if what follows sounds a tad academic; I plan to write a sequel to this in post in which ‘Tense Magicians get Creative’.

Polarity and unity

Hegel and Synthesis 

It’s hard to think about binaries and their tension at a conceptual level without at least a nod to the concept of the Hegelian dialectic. Hegel (1770–1831), as an expression of the philosophy of Idealism, believed that a dynamic process was at work at both a micro and macro level, in which ideas and their polar opposites were in a process of reconciliation, synthesis or sublimation. His ideas were then popularized by others in the formula: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis i.e. every idea (a thesis) will have its opposite (its antithesis) and that this polarity will eventually evolve a reconciling third principle that at once retains and transforms the qualities of the original idea (the synthesis).

I first encountered these ideas as a fledgling psychotherapist 20 years ago when I undertook a training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy that was aimed at supporting people with intense difficulties in identifying and regulating their emotions. For such clients a primary dilemma is observed in which they are trying to synthesise a balancing position between either feeling flooded by emotion or dismissing their emotions and fleeing to a cold over-reliance on reason. The synthesis in this case is called “Wise-Mind” and aims at helping emotions and reason to dialogue and inform each other.

Such dynamics can provide interesting scaffolding for our own initiatory processes. When we feel ourselves strongly drawn to a theme or concept, our exploration may eventually lead us to its apparent opposite. For example an exploration of indulgence may also include discovering a greater understanding of abstinence. In our exploration of such apparent polarities we may then synthesise a mediating position that brings about a more profound perception of the whole. Arguably such mediation and balancing is one of the key tasks of the mature magician.

While there is much to be recommended in a deeper exploration of how the alchemy of dialectical processes may be at work at both a subjective and objective level, critics of this dynamic often question the neatness of its balancing processes. Hegel in his Idealism was keen to locate an unfolding of meaning that often feels unrelated to the ennui and impermanence that most of us experience in our lives and magical exploration.

Dialogics and Dynamic Tension

In contrast to the balancing, reconciling metaphysics of dialectics, the dialogical worldview seeks to grapple with what happens if we allow a multiplicity of perspectives to co-exist without conscious attempts at reconciliation. Inspired by the fiction of Dostoevsky and the philosophical work of Bakhtin, dialogical theory and its therapeutic love-child Dialogical Self Theory explore the complex terrain of a reality where numerous voices and dimensions of self are explored, voiced and allowed to interact fluidly with each other so as to generate new relationships and tensions. This is quite heady territory, but in my initial exploration of some of its insights I felt that it potentially offered something helpful in understanding dynamic tension as gnostic-engine for initiatory change.

Yin Yang Fire - Yin Yang - Phone Case | TeePublic
Dynamic tension

My hunch is that as magicians we are working with such tensions all the time and much of our spiritual work involves the exploration of them as much as it does the imagined resolution. To work deeply with the self usually involves a journey downwards into the roots of what really motivates us. However we conceptualise the realm of the unconscious, the tools of artistic creativity, dream work and more receptive meditative states are important keys for exploring this territory. Whilst part of us may want a simpler synthesis, sometimes it is the tension that generates the most interesting work.

Steve Dee


Coming up next…

Julian is leading more online ritual workshops with Treadwell’s Books.

More Deep Magic online courses are in production. Core Magical Skill and Imagination & Wellbeing (which is free) are available here.

My Magical Thing continues to enchant, entertain and inform.

The Illuminates of Thanateros and Me shares perspectives from The Magical Pact of the IOT.

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