A Harvest of Magics

We hear the geese now. They fly in great chevron shaped groups, along the valley I live in, following the river. They are the heralds of the autumn as high summer tips over into the fall. Leaves litter the paths, releasing the rich, complex scent of organic decay. Children in the neighborhood gather blackberries, coming away this year with an abundant harvest. They carry plastic bags and containers, their lips stained with purple juice, eager beneficiaries of food foraged from the liminal spaces of the land.

In the northern hemisphere we sit poised to spiral inwards, into the darker half of the year. A few weeks will bring us to the September Equinox. One of the fascinating features of the equinoxes is that on these two days a year pretty much everyone on our planet experience the same thing; twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of night. While we can link the equinoxes to the flow of the agricultural year – in Britain it’s around this time that lots of Harvest Festivals happen – this celestial aspect of a global coherence is one of the things that fascinates me about this time.

Of course we’re also living through another shared global event, the COVID-19 pandemic. However while the broad experience of this time may be similar, there are many devils in the perceptual details. The coronavirus outbreak is rather like a Rorschach inkblot. Some folk see in it all the hallmarks of governmental repression, state control and nefarious conspiracy. Some perceive it as a wake up call indicative of our species’ poor relationship with the ecology of this planet. Some see it as an opportunity, some as a threat. We perceive the pandemic in multiple ways, like gazing at an abstract image in which we discern what we want – or have been told – to see.

Say what you see

Erik Davis makes a savvy comment in this respect when he talks about the psychedelic aspect of the pandemic. One of the definitions of a psychedelic is a non-specific amplifier of experience and in some respects the pandemic does just this. Many people perceive it, and the handling of it by various governments, as a vindication of their position. It turns up the volume on their beliefs, providing clear confirmation that what they always thought was going on actually is. Certainly for many the pandemic has amplified their situation – the isolated have become more solitary, the unwell have become more ill, the radical have been further radicalized, the community minded have become more engaged with people around them.

The turning of the year sets us on course for northern hemisphere mushroom season and mushrooms – mostly of the psilocybin variety – have been very much on my mind recently. As far as the pandemic goes psilocybin offers a valuable tool to help us come through this time in a good way. Psilocybin is well established as a way of helping people heal a range of psychological ailments. To promote the positive use of this medicine I’m looking forward to being part of the forthcoming Psilocybin Summit, which this year features the fabulous Paul Stamets.

I’ve also been working with the wonderful people of the Fungi Academy to build a course on psychedelic journeywork and have been really inspired by a recent event celebrating the life and work of Kilindi Iyi. For those who may not know him Kilindi was, among other things, a regular speaker at Breaking Convention and an advocate for the use of sacred mushrooms. The online gathering held in his honour was an excellent opportunity for people inspired by Kilindi to share stories of the man as well as insights from their own engagement with psilocybin. Check out this wide-ranging session which is available on the Breaking Convention Youtube channel.

The colour of magic which I relate to the September Equinox is Blue Magic (see Liber Kaos and Chaos Craft). This is the magic of ‘wealth’ which of course can be understood in numerous ways. Wealth can be imagined as the rich harvest as seen in the swelling fruits of blackberries and mushrooms. The colour blue is associated with the sephira of Chesed in the Hermetic Qabalah. This sphere, the first below the supernal triad and the Abyss, has a correspondence with Jupiter, King of the Gods like the (blue) sky deity Zeus. There is also that link to lightning and thunder which, as any fule kno, makes mushrooms grow.

One of the key processes for Blue Magic is the use of gratitude, the conscious recognition and expression of the things that are abundant and good in our lives, noticing and celebrating our wealth. My gratitude overflowed recently when my friend William Leonard Pickard was released from jail after serving 20 years for crimes related to the manufacture of LSD. I’m pleased to report that I’ve spoken with Leonard by phone; a call in which he recounted a few tales of his release. Profoundly moving stories such as his encounter with a roadside flower – having not seen any growing plants for two decades. He sounds 20 years younger and describes himself as feeling reborn. Leonard’s release is great news but there is much more work still to do in order to end the barbaric War on Drugs and liberate all those in jail (or facing death) for drug crimes. I’ll be taking some time this autumn to update the Scales of Justice website with details of other pressure points for anti-prohibition activists.

Blue magic also invites us to find our stability; just as wealth, in several senses of the word, confers stability and strength. This work is particularly important as we head towards a time when big cultural changes are afoot. This stability includes ideas of justice and discrimination. I’m reminded here of the wisdom of Solomon, or the ruler of the North Sea Empire King Cnut. Cnut is often misunderstood as a haughty monarch who tried to order the tide to stop coming in, but the truth and lesson of his tale is quite different from this misrepresentation. Cnut’s example is brilliant in that it points to the fact that, in order to have power, we must have a realistic understanding of our limits. Solomon is an excellent figure to meditate on at this time. I once did a series of magical rituals calling on this renowned king that led to a miscreant in a court case falling right into a judgment of Solomon situation. Frothing madly at the mouth, they demonstrated to the court they were more concerned with being proven right about their crazed conspiracy theory than the wellbeing of a person they claimed to care for. The judge was not impressed.

To find stability we need to be sure of things, our circumstances, our friends and ‘the facts’. But is such stability of knowledge even possible within a chaos magical approach? Commentators sometimes question this by pointing to the  ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted’ phrase. How can you have stable facts when ‘nothing is true’? But stability can be dynamic as well as static, think of the way that gyroscopic equilibrium works, or indeed the way you stand up. Lots of tiny ongoing adjustments give the illusion of stillness whereas, looked at in more detail, there is plenty of change going on. Of course the claim ‘nothing is true’ claims to be a ‘truth’ and so it’s quickly apparent, to thoughtful people, that this statement is closer to a koan than a post-modern guide to living. Aside from the phrase’s specific meaning in terms of Islamic culture (see Chris Bennett’s excellent Liber 420 for more on this) it points to the process of meaning making. The phrase indicates the importance of not forming fixed, absolute ideas but rather adopting attitudes like those proposed by Robert Anton Wilson, where we remain open to the possibility of new evidence. 

Meanwhile, while it’s true that the map isn’t the territory it’s also true to say it is a map. If we have the right map we can use it to help our journey, even if it is not literally true (like the lines on the London tube map). 

A useful simplification
Another way of seeing things

Stability comes, like in walking, for an ongoing engagement with many senses and multiple feedback loops. It comes down to sifting out what may be irrelevant data in order to make meaningful choices. As a practical example; when it comes to making decisions in the face of a global pandemic it’s wise to seek our information from multiple sources; to sift these and make decisions that we recognize as provisional, while remaining open to changing our minds as a result of new information. This is the way judgment works best – as an ongoing process of discernment as experience unfolds, rather than remaining devoted to a fixed set of a priori assumptions. It’s also vital to consider what might be the intentions behind the stories we are told? Like a wise judge, like Solomon, we need to look at the evidence presented to us, noticing not simply the overt story, but the subtexts too. Cultivating that skill in discernment helps us, at harvest time, to sort the wheat from the chaff, making judgements and taking actions that are well informed, considered and wise.

Julian Vayne

Online workshops and services

I’m providing online workshops through the wonderful Treadwell’s Books. These tend to sell out pretty quick so please book your place early. Next courses that are still open for registration are The Magical Qabalah, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners and Cleansing, Banishing and Centering. I’m also available for individual consultations, tarot readings, psychedelic support and mentoring. Over the next few months I’m going to be releasing more courses on my teaching site. Please sign up to my mailing list if you want advanced information about these releases and the chance to join the courses at a reduced rate.

The wonderful Dave Lee is also teaching Rune Magic via Treadwell’s. Dave is one of the heroes of practice when it comes to chaos magic. You can find out more in this interview and can connect with his work by signing up to his Chaotopia newsletter which is an excellent far ranging read.

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.