The Rose Garden with Leonard Pickard

At this summer solstice I’m very pleased to let you know that our first podcast of The Rose Garden is in bloom!

Podcast 609 – “The Rose Garden – Introduction”

Visit The Psychedelic Salon

Guest speakers: 
William Leonard Pickard
Kat & Alexa Lakey, discussing The Rose from Santa Cruz, and Cusco, Peru

Julian Vayne & Nikki Wyrd, reading from Devon, England
Brother David Steindl-Rast, reading from Gut Aich Priory in Salzburg, Austria
Ben Sessa MD, reading from London, England
Ralf Jeutter, reading from Germany
Julie Holland MD, discussing The Rose from New York City
Ryan Place, reading from Detroit, Michigan
Mark Schunemann. reading from the University of Oxford
Estia from University of Durham (UK), reading from Paris
Jo from University of Durham, reading at Durham, England
Nese Devenot PhD, reading from Case Western University School of Medicine
Bruce Van Dyke, reading from Reno, Nevada
Greg Sams, reading from London, England

PROGRAM NOTES:

Today’s podcast features an introduction to The Rose Of Paracelsus: On Secrets & Sacraments by Leonard Pickard. Rolling Stone once called Pickard “The Acid King”, and his book is being called a modern masterpiece. It tells the story of an international clan of secret LSD chemists. And who better to tell this story than Leonard Pickard, who is now serving two life sentences in a maximum security prison in the United States, having been accused of manufacturing large quantities of acid, billions according to one ex-DEA agent. Over the next two years we will present a reading of this book, along with commentary, by friends of Leonard’s. Today we feature an introduction of The Rose of Paracelsus with a series of readings from various chapters, followed by some commentary on the readings. In the months and years to come, we will be podcasting a reading of this entire book, chapter-by-chapter.

The podcast is also available on Soundcloud

and Youtube

leonard

May a thousand flowers bloom!

Julian Vayne

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.”

fireworks 005

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.

water01

“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

bc photo1

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.

A Spring Clean for the May Queen

We welcome the summer here in the northern hemisphere in many ways, from public folk dances to intimate coven or solitary rituals. (For me this includes a ceremonial screening of The Wicker Man, a lineage tradition I received from Peter Grey.)

On the run up to May Day this year, across the world, we’ve seen some remarkable actions by Extinction Rebellion and other groups. This in the context of British politics, where we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of climate change, while wittering on about Brexit.

With the intention that our community can find ways to transcend current divisions and to unite in the face of the collapsing biosphere I’ve created this audio track. Feel free to deploy it in ritual that seeks to build common ground among all those demanding change and those who don’t get it yet. The core ritual technology in this tune is a recording of a wonderful naked protest action in the House of Commons. Why not sing along to the Padstow May Day carol and using the ‘Extinction Rebellion!’ chant, focus some positive vibes in the direction of these timely transformations. By all means go skyclad if you like 😀

young people

“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you.”

Beltane is the celebration of sexuality and so, from the archives, here’s another folky offering:

You may fancy a bit of dancing to celebrate summer coming in, so here are some tunes used during our Purple Magic rituals in the Chaos Craft Coven the Western Watchtower.

And last by not least, Beltane is the season to worship Pan; the god called from an imagined Arcadia into the heart of the late 19th and early 20th century literature as The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, ‘The Great God’ by Golden Dawn magician Arthur Machen and in many other guises.

In ancient times Pan was a dependable minor deity (once charmingly referred to, by Professor Ronald Hutton, as ‘the Citroën 2CV of Gods)’. By the dark dawn of the industrial revolution, when the ‘peasants’ got re-branded as the ‘working class’ of Britain this all changed. People flooded into the cities, driven off the newly enclosed land as the long haul of climate change began its exponential curve. The subsequent sense of loss for the countryside and rural life conjured Pan into the pens of poets, the brushes of painters and the temples and groves of occultists and witches. Let us reclaim and replant the wild wood from which we were untimely ripped by oppression and industrialization!

Edward_Burne-Jones_Pan_and_Psyche

Edward Burne-Jones Pan and Psyche, 1874

Io Pan!

Hail the Queen of the May!

Julian Vayne

Queer Magic in Theory and Practice

The relationship between magic and queer is something that Steve Dee and I have explored in multiple articles on this blog (do a search for ‘queer’ to find them). Recently I had the opportunity to put some of these ideas into practice during my Queering Magic workshop at Treadwell’s Books, London.

The word queer relates, among other things, to notions of sexuality, gender and identity. More broadly it can be taken to suggest liminality, uncertainty, curiosity and the disruption of (apparently) fixed systems, through to what Freud would call the ‘uncanny’ and others might describe as ‘the weird’ (or wyrd).

With such a broad and morphing constellation of meanings it’s interesting to attempt to articulate these, and at the workshop that’s what we did, both in writing and through colour and form.

DSC_3556

queerwords.jpg

Queer connects us to mythical and historic figures; bisexual deities such as Pan, the Divine Androgyne of Hermetic mysticism, and our queer ancestors from Aleister Crowley to Tove Jansson. Identifying these allies makes a real difference when it comes to claiming our own identity as queer people and especially as queer occultists.

Seeking historical exemplars helps us recognize that we stand in a lineage of queer folk. Knowing this history helps challenge the view that wyrd-kids-today are adopting non-binary identity simply as a fashion statement. That was the kind of thinking behind Clause 28, a bit of British law from the 1980s designed to stop regional governmental bodies “…intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any State funded school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. (Those who find this kind of repressive legislation repulsive should know that they are not alone. This law was repealed by the then new Scottish Parliament in 2000 as one of their first legislative acts, and in England and Wales in 2003.)

Rather than something ‘new’ growth of the queer in Western culture represents a recognition that human identity, social roles, gender and sexuality have actually always been multiple and complex. The queer isn’t something original, as much as a recognition of what has actually always been the case. Supporters of this increasingly visible culture (like me) enjoying pointing out that many other societies (notably those of many Native American nations) include much richer, often more fluid, vocabularies for describing gender and sexual identity. Physical gender is a continuum or field of possibilities, sexual preference or social role even more so. This is why I like queer, it’s a useful umbrella term which reminds us to keep in mind – or in ‘play’ as Jacques Derrida might say – the mutability and flexibility of human nature. This isn’t necessarily a rejection of words like ‘gay’ or ‘male’ but rather queer acts as a reminder that these labels are convenient, contingent fictions and subject, like all things, to flux.

Magic, according to Crowley in 777, is ‘energy tending to change’ and more famously “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Thus the relationship of magic, change and queer(ing) is apparent at a deep esoteric theoretical level as well as in the actual lives of many occultists.

As we explore the meanings of queer we find it in contact with many other words of magic. Take for example the etymology of the word ‘witch‘. Grimm suggests that *weik- “to curve, bend” and *weg’h- “to move” (in a “mysterious” way) are concepts at the root of ‘witchcraft’. Such an imaged etymology of ‘witch’ contains ideas of bending or twisting both as demonstration of mysterious control (‘the witch bent men to her will’) or a turning away from the right/true/moral (ie socially acceptable) path and instead following of the a ‘road less traveled’ or a ‘crooked way’. ‘Witch’ exhibits Similar negative associations of spoiling or going wrong that have been linked to queer. The potentially transgressive, antinomian and outsider qualities of ‘witch’ are echoed in ‘queer’ in that both words have been reclaimed, recuperated and re-imagined not as epithets of denigration but instead identities of celebration, empowerment, transformation and resistance.

In a mythological context the ‘cut-up’ deities of Baphomet and Abraxas can also be considered pretty queer.  These spirits have obscure backstories and yet, especially in the case of Baphomet, a wild proliferation of forms, imbued with multiple meanings. ‘Baphomet’, like the ‘queer’ is a placeholder for an uncertain, powerful, morphing ‘energy tending to change’. At Treadwell’s we decorated our ritual space with Baphomets generated through the ‘picture consequences’ or ‘exquisite corpse’ method. Here are a few of the chimeric beings we spawned:

baphpics

Queer Truth is mutable and multiple.

There are of course those folks who, for whatever reason are unsure of all this queerness around magic. A few esoteric writers, typically of the probably-gay-but-unable-to-admit it type are hostile to queer cultures. Heteronormativity is writ large in the worlds of polarity structured occultures (such as Wicca) and also Medicine Path groups (where the language of familial heteronormativity often appears in ceremonial songs) – but this is changing. (By Medicine Community I mean folk using psychedelics such as ayahuasca, peyote and other sacraments as part of their spiritual process, often in a way informed by ‘native’ practices.)

Wicca has proliferated into many forms where queer identity is welcomed, celebrated and included. There are indications too that in Medicine Community contexts where previously there was only a relative mono-culture of male-female tropes, a richer linguistic ecology is developing. We can see how people wrestle with the boundary crossing experience that ayahuasca and other psychedelic drugs induce, sometimes in cultural settings where diverse sexual identity doesn’t necessarily get acknowledged. For more on this check the work of Clancy Cavnar for instance this article and this presentation.

Back at Treadwell’s, part of our practice was to collectively offer our thanks to the artist, queer icon and Golden Dawn initiate Pamela Coleman Smith. ‘Pixie’, as she was affectionately known to her friends, lived in the Cornish town of Bude where I’d previously done magical work intended to re-ignite interest in her phenomenal oeuvre.  Following recent repairs to her former home Treadwell’s was able to acquire Pixie’s original fireplace. This charming ovoid hearth now stands in the basement of one of the leading bookshops and venues for the sharing of magical practice in Britain. A fitting place of power to house this magical object. Our group took time to appreciate Pamela Coleman Smith, the woman who designed the best-selling classic modern tarot. A woman who lived for many years with her female companion. A person, I’m pleased to report, increasingly recognized and celebrated as a key figure of the Western magical tradition. (Check out this wonderful new collection of writings on, and art by, Pamela Coleman Smith.)

pixie

Fireside conversation with Pamela Coleman Smith

Whether we wish to claim an identity such as ‘queer’ for ourselves or not my feeling is that occultists of all stripes can benefit from an exploration of these ideas. For those who apply the word to themselves and their work, seeking out mythic and historical allies, and recovering, creating and honouring their stories is vital work. For the queer spaces in culture are not themselves inevitable or irrevocable. For this is ‘energy tending to change’ – it is all those ongoing acts of witness, of rebellion, or bravery and of ‘queer truth’ that act together to create and maintain this space. A queer space in culture where the diversity of human experience can be shared and valued rather than repressed and feared.

Thanks to all those that came to the workshop and respect to all those queer wyrd people wherever and whenever they may be!

Julian Vayne

A few more thoughts on ritual process, magic and queer here

 

PS I’m doing another workshop at Treadwells in May on psychogeography, hope you can join me for some magic in the streets of London. 🙂

Winter Solstice 2018: A film ritual for everyone to enjoy

We were happy to be asked to conduct a solstice eve ritual as part of a series of events at The Cube Microplex in Bristol, a marvellous community enterprise. Because we were in a cinema venue, we made use of the medium of film, and thought that you might enjoy seeing what we did; the YouTube version does require a little advance preparation, though nothing too taxing (find an orange and a candle).

Basically…

• Get an orange and a lit candle
• Start film
• As the stars twinkle, shake off unwanted energies
• When you see the sun, reach out your arms, feeling into the space around you
• Think about the sun
• As the sun sets over the city, sit and think about your year, from the heat of summer into the darkening evenings of the autumn
• In the dark the candle flickers, and you focus on the Here and Now
• The sun returns!
• Celebrate by eating your orange
• As the twinkling stars appear again, move around, make joyful noises

 

Detailed instructions:
1. Read through these instructions first, before pressing play at 22:08pm UT on the 21/12/2018.
2. Find an orange. Place it near the screen.
3. Find a candle, put it where you can look at it, and light it.
4. Turn off the other lights in the room.
5. Stand up, shake it off! Flick away all that yucky energy, making way for a cleaner you. Take a couple of minutes to gently stretch out.
6. Reach out with your arms, like the branches of a tree swaying in the breeze, sensing the air flow which brings with it information, molecules of knowledge.
7. Think about the Sun, whose birthday this is. Take some time on this process. Such an amazing phenomenon deserves our full appreciation! Here are a few facts (you can of course research more of your own in advance). E.g. Third generation star, very big, burns 600 million tons of hydrogen every second, the sun isn’t made of coal (as the Victorians thought), a photon can take thousands of years to emerge from its creation point in the central nuclear fusion zone to the outside, from where light takes 8 minutes to travel across the cold vacuum of space to our rock, the jets of gas which flare off are larger than our Earth… etc.
8. As the sun appears over the city skyline in the film, take a seat. Recall your summer past, a moment when the sunshine was super powerful. A field, with plants grabbing the carbon out of the air, to build amazingly complex structures out of which us animals can eat. Remember the feel of the heat on your skin.
9. The clock ticks. Bring that warmth, that intense light, inside you. As the sun sets, and we hear the sounds of city traffic, focus on your breath. On your heart beat. On the internal warmth of your body, your life as a creature in a house, with other creatures around with whom you have relationships, with whom you might like to visit.
10. Feel the dark around you. Bring to mind the sparkling of lights, the immensity of starry skies.
11. As night falls, watch the very tip of the candle flame; it contains millions of microscopic diamonds, forming and burning up with every moment.
12. The screen fades to black for the astronomical moment of the winter solstice, at 22:23pm UT. For this one minute, focus your attention on the world you can directly sense. The feel of your body on the ground, the sound and movement of your breathing, the heat generated within you. The sensations of the air as it moves in and around you.
13. The candle flame represents a portion of the sun’s energy. It represents the Now, the present portion of eternity, the only moment in which we can Do.
14. (By bringing our attention to this fact, we collectively empower our abilities to choose, to decide, to behave, to recognise we are free of the habitual stories of the past and future, the standard narratives which we blindly follow for the sake of convenience.)
15. As the light and sound return, when you feel the urge, pick up your orange. Hold it in your hand.
16. Behold! This is the solar globe in microcosm, a shining orb of orange, solar energy made matter.
17. Consider the orange; how it arrived where it is. The journeys it has taken. The people who cared for the tree it grew upon. The hours of sunlight, the rain that fell to water it. And then back, to the seed this tree grew from, then the tree before that, and on and on, with all the people, the land, the sunlight, the rainfall. All those thousands of years passed through, by all those moments, all those individual photons falling out of the sun star, through space, to our rock, creating this object.
18. Celebrate your knowledge of these moments which make up eternity by peeling and eating the orange.
19. Finish by dancing about a bit, putting the fairy lights on, waving some tinsel or whatever makes you smile.

We hope you enjoy your Christmas Present. Thank you for the time and attention!

NW & JV

The Army of the Dead; on transformation at Halloween

I can feel them, the army of the dead. They are behind me and growing in numbers. At Samhain our attention is drawn to them; we remember the dead. There’s a personal twist in this for me, since my birthday falls the day after Halloween. Moreover this year I get to level up to 50. Growing up in 1980s Thatcher’s Britain I imagined that I’d probably be picking through the radioactive waste of a post Protect and Survive England long before the time I reached adulthood. But here I am, half a century old.

As we age we know more and more dead people. Grandparents, parents, colleagues, heroes and friends… This Samhain when I make a toast to the Ancestors there will be many names to remember, and every year that list gets longer.

When we consider our ancestors, whether biological or cultural, we come up against all kinds of interesting issues. One is that our ancestors were not all wise and wonderful. History (and even pre-history) are replete with examples of people being cruel, ignorant and short-sighted. Medieval people killed hedgehogs because they suckled milk from cows. In Christendom people were permitted to eat fish on fast days since fish was known to have no nutritional value. In prehistoric Britain times burning the woodlands on the high hills was a strategy to attract the deer making them easier to hunt (then changes in the weather left the high hills with treeless acid soil; each moorland in Britain is an example of ancient environmental damage).

wistmans

Spirit form from Wistman’s Wood. One of the last groves of moorland wildwood in England.

While we can acknowledge what appear to us to be the failings of our ancestors it’s also the case that, however good, bad or indifferent their care, we owe our existence to them. In magic, especially magic of the Left Hand Path or Thelemic varieties, there can sometimes be a tendency to see the magician as the autonomous, antinomian, lone wolf; a brave hero who steps away from the crowd to bravely explore… blah blah. This kind of Atlas Shrugged attitude can work for a while, and indeed there are times when we should undoubtedly celebrate our (apparent) individuality. But when we are young, or old, or caring for children, or unwell – that’s when we need what philosopher Hanna Arendt calls the ‘ethic of care’. For while the romantic notion of the heroic individual has power and value, the fact is that collaboration, care and mutual interdependence are actually the rule in the universe and the monad of isolated individualism is something of an illusion. If nothing else, ‘you’ are mostly the flora and fauna of ‘your’ body. ‘You’, each time you breathe, exchange around 5-8 litres of air each minute across a surface inside ‘you’ as big as half a tennis court. Even ‘your’ conscious, deliberate decision making happens first in the unconscious brain and is only later, retroactively, made into a story of choice in the mind.

So while the army of the dead grows in my backstory every year, and I know that one day I shall join that company, I also know that it is because of the work of those ancestors that I have come into this moment of being alive. What should I do then in this moment, in this liminal festival season between life and death (which is actually where we stand all the time anyhow, whether there are carved pumpkins in evidence or not)? One thing I can do is to seek to heal the hurts and wrongs of the past, and transform these into something good.

pumkins

The Great Pumpkin

When we access the deep levels of ourselves (whether through ritual, trance, psychedelics, art or other means) we are touching not only ‘our stuff’  but also the collective wounds of our ancestors, the collective Chiron of our tribe, our culture, our nation, our species. Engaging with these hurts – the ones from the collective psyche and those we acquire in our individual lifetimes – and transforming this pain into something that benefits ourselves and others, that is certainly The Great Work.

This is really important stuff; though magic can indeed be about wild imaginal adventures and parapsychologist phenomena, it is mostly in the inter-personal realm where its results unfold. I’ve done loads of ‘transformation’ rituals over the years and never grown a new pair of arms (despite my devotions to Ganesha). I have however been able to make important changes in relationships within myself and with others. This has led to real world effects in many areas of my life and the lives of others.

Samhain brings us up close and personal to our relationship with death in all its forms. Our awareness of our own death is of central importance when it comes to understanding human behaviour. Some psychologist studying our death fears have proposed a terror managment theory . These ideas developed out of a series of experimental observations; when faced with reminders of their own death people often respond by taking refuge in belief systems and behaviours that act to reduce the terror of dying. When we are reminded that we’re going to die (even via subtle unconscious cues) we reach out for things that in some sense appear to guarantee our immorality; national identity, religious or ideological beliefs etc. Moreover when we seek to mitigate our terror of death through joining in with things that are ‘bigger’ than us (the party, the flag, the religion that ‘never dies’) we are also more likely to engage in ‘othering’ behaviours. We become less well disposed, less kind towards those who don’t take refuge from death with the same party/flag/religion that we’ve chosen.

This stirs up more stuff from the bottom of the Halloween cauldron. If recalling our own death makes us more reactionary, nationalistic or fanatical, what can we do?

I think part of the answer lies in gaining a deeper understanding of the issue, something that our leaders learnt in ancient Europe through their initiation at the (probably psychedelic) Temple of Demeter at Eleusis; namely that we need not fear our death because in an important sense it doesn’t exist.

Now this isn’t as it may at first appear a way of dealing with the problem by flat out denial of the obvious. Instead it is about realizing that ‘I’, that individual self, while so convincing and indeed useful, isn’t really a single ‘thing’. Instead ‘self’ – a process of awareness arising and passing away – is at any moment present in the universe in a multiplicity of forms. Sure individual people have histories, narratives, birthdays and deathdays but the ‘self’ that identifies as an individual in the world, that sense of self only exists in awareness. We need not fear the absence of ‘self’ in our death anymore than we fear the absence of ‘self’ before our birth or the obliteration of ‘self’ when we sleep. Leaving aside the more subtle issues of exactly when life finishes in our bodies, when we are dead the ‘self’ continues to arise in all selves in the universe. There is therefore no death in the usual sense, not because we cannot die but because the sense of self we have is enlarged. This understanding is frequently gained by those who have had near-death (or near-death-like) experiences induced by psychedelic medicines or other practices. Rather than becoming more fearful of death, having brushed up against it, people emerging from those states instead find that they don’t cling so tenaciously to this ‘self’ that (especially in Euro-American culture) we value so highly. They no longer fear the reaper because they are no longer foxed by the (convincing and sometimes helpful) illusion of the separate self.

As I complete my 50th orbit round our star, and as skulls and cobwebs are placed in windows to invite in the trick-or-treaters, my thoughts turn to death. I remember that while grief and grieving are natural and human what’s behind me isn’t an army of the dead. Rather the dead are my sangha, my community and whatever their story they have things to teach me. Sometimes they teach me not to be like them, not to make the same mistakes, sometimes they whisper wise and simple ancestral knowledge in my ear. Mostly – like children delighting in dressing as vampires, ghouls and zombies – they remind me not to take my ‘self’ too seriously. I am reminded to enjoy my awareness but not to cling to it. I am reminded to welcome the memories of the dead; to honour them and to work to heal the hurts they they could not mend while they lived. Moreover I realize that there isn’t such a great divide between the living and dead, for in remembering the dead they live in and through us.

Which reminds of the beautiful requiem poetry of Marge Piercy from her novel Woman on the Edge of Time:

Only in us do the dead live. Water flows downhill through us. The sun
cools in our bones. We are joined with all living in one singing web of
energy. In us live the dead who made us. In us live the children unborn.
Breathing each other’s air, drinking each other’s water, eating each
other’s flesh, we grow like a tree from the earth.

May you have a blessed Halloween.

Julian


Coming up next…

Walking Backwards Or, The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography – colour copies of this collaboration between me and Greg Humphries are now collectors items, but the monochrome edition is now available.

Nikki and I have just released details of our next retreat at St Nectan’s Glen.

We’re writers and we’re on drugs (mostly tea…) Psychedelic Press are celebrating 10 years of their imprint by going on tour. Me, Nikki Wyrd, Danny Nemu, Ben Sessa, Robert Dickins, Charlotte Walsh, Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, Torsten Passie and Reanne Crane are doing a series of events in England, Ireland and Scotland. Grab your ticket for this now!

Writers-on-Drugs-Logo-Small-1024x624

Meanwhile Nikki and I will be at The Cube in Bristol later this year as part of their psychedelic season, more details soon. The next in this series of events is on November 1st.

My new book The Fool & The Mirror: Essays on Magic, Art & Identity will soon be available for pre-order!

Nikki and I will also be at Occulture in Berlin which is shaping up to be an amazing conference.

Have a fabulous Samhain!

old

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…” 
― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

 

 

 

Truth, Lies & Magick

I’ve been reading Gary Lachman’s new book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump which set me thinking about the nature of ‘fake news’ and the complex relationship in magic between the stories we tell ourselves (and each other) about the world, and the world itself.

dark1

There are hundreds of great examples of how things that are not ‘true’ lead to real and ‘true’ outcomes. In mathematics we have crazy concepts that never-the-less still generate real and useful answers, imaginary numbers are perhaps the most obvious example. Then there are all those imaginary lines we draw in the globe for the purposes of navigation and communication, and for deciding which day it is. Such imaginary lines include the (in some respects quite recent) notion of national boarders which of course are a major concern in the politics of America First and Brexit.

Here are a few thoughts on how things that are not ‘true’ can indeed manifest as real things in the world. Not through a naive New Thought solipsism (the kind of thing usually marketed as ‘prosperity consciousness’) but rather through the multiplex processes of culture and the imagination.

One of my favourite tales that I didn’t mention – about the relationship between truth, lies and magick – comes in the form of a chess playing Turk. This was a (fake) robot automaton from the 18th century which (it is said) inspired Charles Babbage and more broadly the industrial revolution. Check out ‘How a magician helped the industrial revolution’ by Gregg Tob for this amazing, and instructive, story.

Details of the December event at The October Gallery with the author of Dark Star Rising and yours truly coming soon.

Julian Vayne