Dancing with Abraxas

I have recently been busy doing a cluster of podcasts related to my work as a therapist, the path of Chaos Witchcraft and also my own heretical take on gnostic mythology. This last discussion with the lovely Talk Gnosis channel took me back 5 years to many of the themes regarding dualism and deity that I explored in my book A Gnostic’s Progress. Contemporary attempts to reimagine gnostic practice often get tangled in the dilemma of how literally to engage with primary sources that often seem to be viewing the material realm and the body as being overwhelmingly negative. In both my book and the interview below I try to dig into the existential significance of such mythologies and how they often express the transformational tension we experience on our way to non-dual/less-dual experiences of the numinous and mysterious. Here’s the interview and a relevant excerpt from the book that picks up on these themes:

“In contrast to either creedal formulations or some distant “unmoved mover”, for Jung the God that seemed to encapsulate the endeavour of the gnostic explorer, was that strange bird Abraxas. Abraxas, like Baphomet, is one of those Gods whose queer visage keeps popping up in esoteric lore, while at the same time being very difficult to categorise. Research will provide some insights into the roles that he played/plays within a whole host of occult traditions – this strange cockerel (and sometimes lion) headed being with its serpentine “legs” is viewed as an Aeon by some, and as an Archon or even the Demiurge by others. His number (using Greek gematria) being 365, along with his association with the seven classical planets, connect him to both the round of the year and the physical cosmos.

For Jung, Abraxas represented a movement beyond dualism. No longer is the divine image split into a good Lord and an evil Devil; rather the mysteries of godhead are held within the complex iconography of Abraxas:

“Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Therefore is Abraxas terrible.”

The Seven Sermons to the Dead

Cocky God


When one meditates on the most commonly found cockerel headed form of Abraxas, we cannot but be struck by the bizarre chimera-like quality of the image. The body of a man is topped by the head of a solar cockerel (possibly symbolizing foresight and vigilance), while from under “his” concealing skirts, strange chthonic serpents come wriggling forth. This cosmic hybrid seems to be holding together the transcendent and immanent, solar and night side. Viewed through my contemporary lens I am both awed and unsettled by the sense of internal tension that this God seems to embody.

My own attraction to strange gods is hardly new territory – that monstrous hybrid Baphomet has long been jabbing at my consciousness as I’ve sought to make sense of life’s dissolving and coming back together. For me both Abraxas and Baphomet represent something of the core paradox that many of us experience in trying to make sense of the world.

Most attempts at constructing “big theories” (metanarratives if you like) are designed to make sense of the universe that we live within. The success or failure of any such world views seems to be largely determined either by their followers’ ability to manage nuance and complexity, or conversely their naivety and willingness to block out new information. However, for those of us who are seeking to promote some form of cognitive liberty, it seems inevitable that at some point we are going to have to develop deeper strategies for managing complexity, paradox and the types of uncertainty that such realities often give birth to. (See also this.)

We have previously considered the way in which the duality and tension that exists within many gnostic myths potentially trigger the awakening of consciousness; and in many ways these iconic images of Abraxas and Baphomet are little different. The juxtaposition of apparent opposites and the sense of movement that they contain speak to us of dynamism and process rather than fixed Platonic certainties. Whether via weird cosmologies or shape-shifting iconography, these gnostic riddles push us to the edges of comprehension and certainty. In seeking to engage with such material we often experience a profound unease and yet for the intrepid explorer such discomfort can trigger the types of “strange loops” that arguably enable the evolution of consciousness.”

My own exploration is far from merely academic, and I conclude A Gnostic’s Progress with this invocation  to she/he/them:

I call to you O dweller on the knife-edge,
Ambidextrous God,
Both hands, both paths:
A Shadow God, in the half-light of the pre-dawn,
Cockerel headed,
Rooting us in darkness and showing us the Sun.
Skirting Mysteries as Serpent legs
Move in and out of sight.
Creator, destroyer, begettor, purveyor of half-truths
That hold Wisdom still.
I think I know you,
And as I breathe in,
A Serpent tightens-
Wrapped thrice point five around my spine.
Breathing out
Silent Sophia beckons:
A deeper night, whose threshold you safeguard.
Hail to thee O great Abraxas
Whose glorious horror haunts me still!

For the podcast lovers amongst you here’s the link to Dr Vanesa Sinclair’s amazing “Rendering Unconscious” podcast in which we get all therapeutic: 

And here’s a reflection of the path of Chaos Witchcraft with the beautiful people over at “Queer Chaos”: https://www.queerchaospodcast.com/episodes-1

Steve Dee


Coming up soon…

Julian has got a bunch of workshops coming up with Treadwell’s Books. All sessions happen in Zoomland and run from 19:00-21:00 UK time. You can opt to join the workshops live or catch up with the fun at your convenience with a delayed viewing ticket.

The Magical Qabalah 28 October
In this workshop Julian Vayne takes attendees through The Qabalah, a core magical system of the modern Western Occult Tradition. The class examines Qabalah from its origins in Jewish culture, its use in the The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to its appearances in the comics of Alan Moore, and its ‘dark side’ the qliphothic shadow tree. Participants come away from the workshop with a knowledge of the structure of the Qabalah, and with practical techniques to take them deeper into its mysteries. This session is suitable for people who are new to this system and for those wishing to develop their practice.

Queering Baphomet 11 November
‘Baphomet’ is a half-heard whisper of heresy among the Knights Templar, a heavy-metal icon, a French alchemical symbol representing the union of opposites —  but is always more, always undefinable. In this workshop, Julian Vayne explores Baphomet as a queer ‘Deity without a Myth’ who embodies ideas including gender fluidity, disability, and the totality of the life force on earth.  There is also sharing discussion and hands-on magical practice, so attendees by the end feel prepared to work magically with Baphomet as patron and ally. Julian is co-author of The Book of Baphomet.

Street Sigil Sorcery 25 November
Gods at zebra crossings, chthonic deities in cement subways, sigils in the graffiti. Julian Vayne presents practical techniques for working magic in modern cities. This class teaches ways to connect to local spirits of place, how to tap into the psychic power of the urban jungle, and how to perform ’empty handed’ spell techniques that don’t require ceremonial paraphernalia. Attendees will learn to use their phone for magical work, methods to protect themselves from damaging energies in the metropolis, and how to develop their spiritual practice in the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Sun at Midnight 09 December
This workshop-ritual is dedicated to preparing for the longest night of the year Julian Vayne shares magical techniques for nourishing the soul, which help transmute suffering into alchemical gold, and leads the group in an online ceremony to encounter the magic in the season of darkness, ahead of a rebirth of the sun and of light. All are invited to sit around the virtual hearth, feast, chant, laugh and cast intentions into the cauldron of 2022.


The Deep Magic First Steps in Magic course remains at it’s super low price and provides a great introduction to the Core Magical Skills course which was featured in the delightful Wyrd Magazine.

The excellent Dave Lee is also offering a range of classes, self-directed, in-person and online. Visit Dave’s Chaotopia website to find out more.

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