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).

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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.

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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!

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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!

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“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.

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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

Season of the Mushrooms – why 9/20 is the new 4/20

Here in Britain, the autumn—season beloved of poets and witches—has arrived. For many people, myself included, the rapidly changing amount of natural light (and particularly the disappearance of direct sunshine) can come as something of a shock. As the dark rises, and we scurry into the new academic year, the romantic melancholia of the season can feel difficult, even oppressive. We may describe our feelings simply as being ‘under the weather’,  we may declare ourselves ‘depressed’ or medicalize our emotions as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Me and Damh the Bard are on the same page when it comes to our love of the sunshine. But Dave is a Leo (check his luxurious mane of hair) whereas I’m (predictably) a sex-drugs-occult obsessed Scorpio. So while the autumn does sometimes drag me down, with its blank grey days, there is also excitement as the dark rises; anticipation of Halloween and the following day, my birthday! Autumn brings those mists and mellow fruitfulness, and in all that fruiting  there is an additional excitement. The appearance of a wonderful medicine that can help us address, amongst other things,  the psychological challenges of the dwindling light. Appearing at just the right time to support our seasonal wellbeing, as if planned by Nature Herself ;). I am of course talking about that most magical of plants (okay, yes I known it’s not technically a plant…) the liberty cap mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata.

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Food of the Gods

One of the most potent forms of psilocybe mushroom, the magical elf caps of Psilocybe semilanceata start to sprout at this time of the year. One can find them throughout the British Isles, notably on the damper, western side of the country. Of course without a licence it would be illegal to pick and use these mushrooms, even for the purposes of helping to mitigate one’s depression or SAD. Though arrests for psychedelic mushroom foraging are uncommon, there are cases of people being prosecuted for doing so (for instance the recent bust of Paul Lee Corbett, a 63-year-old man from Washington State facing a charge punishable by five years in prison).

What makes the current legal situation with mushrooms even more insane is that, thanks to the scientists at the cutting edge (or should that be ‘gently waving and breathing’ edge?) of the Psychedelic Renaissance, we now know that this is a very valuable medicine. It can get you high, it can be enjoyable, it can be challenging and it can definitely help you. Psilocybin, in addition to being a remarkably safe substance (arguably safer even than LSD) can catalyze many capacities within humans; this substance can help us problem solve, it can help us deal with our end of life anxiety, it can help us address psychosomatic illness, it can help us unpick our addictions to other substances or debilitating behaviors, it can reliably trigger mystical experience. It’s about as close to a panacea as you can get.

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Mushrooms in your mind – Placebo vs Psilocybin

Psychedelic mushrooms can be found growing in the depths of many cultures and have, since the mid 20th century, rapidly sprouted in the consciousness of modern Western culture. From Maria Sabina, sharing her mycophilic mystery with Valentia Wasson and her daughter, through to Terence McKenna’s inspirational, and maybe even partly true, Stoned Ape Theory These days, even with legal limitations on our use of them, mushroom culture is alive and well and now boasts it’s own special day which is coming up soon!

Adding to the now traditional pro-cannabis celebrations of 4/20, advocates of mycelial magic have, over the last few years, been promoting the festival of ‘9/20’ (the 20th of September). Using a variety of tactics the 920 Coalition want to encourage appreciation of and dialogue about the beneficial use of psychedelic mushrooms. Meanwhile, The Psychedelic Society are doing their bit with a petition to change the classification of psilocybin in British law. There are also ways you can get down and dirty with mushrooms by cultivating your own. In Europe the irrepressible Darren Springer has been running workshops helping people learn how to cultivate delicious oyster mushrooms.

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Putting a cap on September

As the autumn rains begin to fall across the Northern Hemisphere people are out and about searching the hills, as perhaps their ancestors did, for the sacred magical mushrooms. Mushrooms that bring us laughter, healing, ecstasy and communion with the spirits. (I’m not sure why ayahuasca has such prominence these days when a large dose of mushrooms will have a very similar visionary and healing effect).

It is indeed the case that harvesting psychedelic mushrooms is prohibited in many places. In that respect I would simply like to quote what I heard recently from the awesome mushroom advocate Kilindi Iyi. Speaking as an African-American he pointed out that black people in the USA didn’t get the vote by voting for it. They had to break the law, reminding me of that Thomas Jefferson quote: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Happy Mushroom Season All!

Julian Vayne

PS I’m facilitating a Magical Mushroom Ceremony next month in London, same date time and venue as Darren’s Shroomshop growers workshop. See Darren for production tips or come to my workshop and ceremony for ideas on how to hold and explore psychedelic mushroom space. Follow this link for tickets. Hope you can join us!

Ahoy!

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Psychedelics and The Beast

Here’s my presentation from Beyond Psychedelics in Prague this year, I hope you enjoy it.

During this brief lecture I mentioned Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis. These were a series of public rituals that took place in 1910. As part of the ceremony Crowley served a kykeon to the audience – a magical drink named after the mysterious beverage given to initiates during the ancient Greek rites of Eleusis.

While we cannot be certain there is good circumstantial evidence to suggest that Crowley included an extract of peyote in these rituals. This is interesting in that it wasn’t until decades later that Wasson, Hofmann & Ruck advanced their view that the ancient Eleusinian kykeon contained a psychedelic substance (The Road to Eleusis, 1978). One might conjecture that Crowley was the first person to suggest that the ancient Eleusinian ceremony was a psychedelic initiation. An insight born of Crowley’s keen understanding of how ritual (and ‘strange drugs’) work.

You can read some more background on Crowley’s use of mescaline in The Cactus and The Beast by Patrick Everitt. If Crowley did use peyote in his public rituals, then his work may also constitute the first modern western psychedelic artwork (well before the Human Be-In, concerts by the Grateful Dead & Hawkwind etc). Yet another reason to love Uncle Al .

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Stay high, stay free!

Julian Vayne

PS.. Speaking of psychedelic ceremony if you are in London in October you can come along to a Magical Mushroom Ceremony! Hurrah for mushroom season!

Summer Time & the Living is Easy

Hello All!

I hope you’re having a fabulous summer! I’ve been really fortunate to have been invited to attend a number of amazing events this summer, including The Third Summer of Love, to address The Netherlands Psychedelic Society and the excellent Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague.

The most recent of these delights was Ozora, a wonderful festival of music, arts, healing and psychedelic goodness in Hungary.  Nikki Wyrd and I were  asked to speak which also meant we got to hang out with an excellent crew of people including Jennifer Dumpert, Erik Davis, Christian Greer, Kilindi Iyi and many more (you can check out the daily newspaper of the festival here). The wooded site of Ozora – where the festival is held – celebrates its 20th year in 2019 and, unusually, is a dedicated location with permanent infrastructure and buildings. This means that when the festival happens (in August, just like it did in 1999 to celebrate a total eclipse) there are the most amazing structures to play in. These included a vast multistory visionary art gallery, an astonishing performance space (one of many) featuring a great thatched dome, blending low-impact technological with hand crafted traditional building methods, complete with a vast yoni sculpture over the stage.

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Under the Dome in Ozora

At the venue for the talks, a beautiful old barn (the oldest building on the site), one of the big topics of conversation was how to get the ‘vibe’ (for want of better words) of communities like Ozora to take root in wider culture. The other major topic of concern was the uneasy relationship between dualisms such as nature and culture or (post) modernism and (neo) traditionalism. It’s good to explore these tensions but I was again reminded of the importance of sitting with complexity, of welcoming uncertainty and remaining open and curious rather than retreating into a rigid fixity of belief. (Steve Dee and I have written about this lots. It’s also a key issue that Steve addresses in his latest book The Heretic’s Journey.) We have to settle for the fact that life is messy and things rarely (if ever) fall neatly into moral categories of good and bad (to take one such dualist tension). In some respects much of what we are wrestling with in these discussions are actually topological problems, where our physicality (basically tubes with arms and legs) gets us all exercised about whether, for instance, ‘spirits’ (here we are again…) are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ us. These kind of discussions, around delimitation (who is/is not a shaman, whether we should be embrace Technology or return to Nature etc) are sometimes rather simplistic.

Life it’s a complex business and while we may seek for neat answers, like the experience of festival itself, part of the joy is in the diversity, plurality and range of ‘answers’ on offer. How should you spend your festival? I saw people reading, doing yoga, dancing wildly, resting in hammocks surrounded by scented clouds of exotic herbs, communally cooking, caring for their families, giving lectures about psychedelic ecology and more – these are all legitimate answers to the question of what to do at a festival. Which is ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ or better/worse etc depends on what we are actually trying to understand and explore and many other variables. Rather than grasping for certainty we can instead relax into the chaos, the richness, the uncertainty and enjoy the exploration.

But it wasn’t all cerebral stuff at Ozora, there was also some of the most amazing music I’ve heard in quite a while. Lots of impromptu, lo-fi and acoustic sounds and also storming sets from Eat Static, The Herbal Orchestra, Steve Hillage, Higher Intelligence Agency, Mad Professor, Tangerine Dream and many more. Good medicine for the soul!

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Taking a break from the dance floor at Ozora

Back in Britain I’ve almost finished a new collection of essays, due out this autumn and I’ve been adding a few more videos to my Youtube channel . The autumn will see Nikki and I hosting further retreats at St Nectan’s Glen and we can also announce that later this year will see the 10th anniversary tour by Psychedelic Press UK Writers on DrugsTickets on sale now 😀

The summer is a time when we can celebrate where we are, who we are, and the wonderful things around us. As occultists we are often attracted to the challenging, the dark, the transgressive, but we should also ensure that we take time, not only to make hay while the sun shines, but also to enjoy it!

As the trees begin to show the first signs of the fading light, and as the blackberries come in to season (yes, already!) we can take the warmth of the summer within and cultivate the light in the gathering darkness.

May your summer ripen into glorious gold!

Ahoy!

Julian Vayne

PS You can listen to Steve Dee talking about his latest work with Miguel Conner on Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio

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Hope to see you on tour!

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A Magician in Residence at The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

For a while, before the office opens, I’m sitting in a hollow on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. I plan to meditate and sing and do some yoga for an hour or so. This will ensure that I’ll be in the right frame of mind for work. Below me is Boscastle harbour. I am sitting on the eastern side of that long inlet, a snaking chasm of rock, half barred by two gently curving sea walls (built in the 16th century). Behind this there are a few boats, some sand and seaweed. On the seaward side there are great cliffs. In undercut hollows, carved by the restless waves, blow-holes form, squirting jets of spray back over the rising tide. This is a deeply magical place, for me and many others. Boscastle is the beautiful, sometimes dangerous confluence of the River Valency and River Jordan. It is one of those deep wooded valleys (‘coombes’ we calls ’em in Devon) that are typical of the north Atlantic coastline. It is also the setting for the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, where for one week in June I was the ‘Magician in Residence‘.

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Beautiful Boscastle

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) is a collection that is locally adored and internationally recognized. If you’re not already familiar with the amazing range of things they do (from supporting international academic research, to commissioning new artworks) then please take some time to look around their online presence.

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Lurid old skool Baphomet

I’d been aware of the Museum for many years (if nothing else through those brilliantly lurid photos of Baphomet in occult coffee table books of the 1970s). But it wasn’t until fifteen or so years ago I went there for the first time. These days I’m closely involved with the Museum, including as Chair of The Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, a registered charity that supports the museum, in particular with its mission to educate and engage people. One aspect of engagement is to encouraging people to visit spaces like MWM. Visiting museums, especially places of the quality of MWM, can be a powerful, authentic, moving experience. Sure you can see many items from the MWM collection using their online database. However the physical experience of walking down the path, towards the wild Cornish sea, turning right and there, nestled against the rock, is the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic – that embodied experience takes some beating!

MWM’s work includes supporting the increasing appreciation, in academia and wider culture, of the influence of occultism (as I mentioned here). They’ve recently loaned objects to some internationally important shows, such as Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution. There are the many ways in which the MWM collection is relevant to wider culture. One of my own interests in this field is in the social phenomena of witch hunting as a form of scapegoating. The way in which communities, of many different sorts, go about hunting and killing ‘witches’ says something very important to all of us. In order to understand, mitigate and perhaps transform our scapegoating behaviour, we have to understand how it happens. Collections such as that at MWM can directly help us do this by bringing us up close and personal with objects that are the anchors for stories of prejudice, misunderstanding and punishment. (You can see some examples of the educational resources I helped to create, enabling young people to explore these issues on the MWM website.  If you’re a teacher, especially of teenagers, you may like to check these out).

Inside MWM there are many wonderful things; the material traces of many expression of occulture. The galleries themselves are a cunning interplay of dark and secret with bold and well-lit spaces. The standard of presentation is second to none (and I’ve worked in many museums over the past 15 years). This excellent curation isn’t surprising given that museum director Simon Costin is something of a creative genius.

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Tasteful modern Baphomet

(Talking of Baphomets, it was also during this week that I helped transport a rather famous Baphomet mask from London to its new home at the Museum. But more of that later…)

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Baphomet, last seen in public on The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

For my week in residency I got to hang out in the library. This is, as you might imagine, another wonderful space. There are wooden desks, a gigantic witches ball in the window to repel the evil eye, and many, many books. I set up my office here; runes, two decks of tarot cards, crystal ball, special magic A4 white paper for sigils, sage smudge, some magical pointy things from the Himalayas – and we are good to go!

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In residence

I’d imagined that I could spend much of the week writing and maybe doing a spot of research. In addition to an amazing range of books in the MWM library it houses hundreds of files containing everything from facsimile editions of Gerald Gardner’s original Book of Shadows, through to collections of obscure short-run occult ‘zines from the 1980s. However my research plan was not to be. Rather than reading the books I spent most of my time that week doing tarot readings for visitors.

This was both enjoyable and an honour. People often open up in a divination session and place their trust, to some degree, in the diviner. I encourage this, as an important benefit of having a reading is the confidential, candid, even confessional opportunity that this setting provides.

When people come to me for a reading I explain that I can’t divine the future with any great certainty. I usually joke that were this one of my special powers I’d divine six numbers, win the lottery and spend all my time on holiday. (Actually the problem with this analogy is I do generally to get to spend my time doing what I love, but anyhow…). Instead I explain that my role is primarily to work with clients to explore how things are for them, and to look at what possible futures and courses of action might emerge from their present circumstances. This makes the whole process about discovery; the reading becomes a space for mutual investigation and reflection. The querent is not the passive recipient of advice, but an active agent in their own narrative. For while there may be some circumstances where our options are limited. we do usually possess some degree of freedom; this realization is often a key outcome. Cultivating this awareness of freedom, in a realistic way, and exploring the options for change, are for me what tarot readings are all about.

Now I won’t lie, even within this broadly psychological paradigm of divination things with a distinctly parapsychological flavor do happen. For example, my usual practice is ask the querent to draw three cards. On the basis of these I begin a story, then together we explore how this might relate to their situation. Sometimes, especially when I’m on a roll and have been doing lots of readings over a short period of time, I say things in this opening section that the client responds to with surprise. ‘How could you have known that?’ they say. Then there are moments, perhaps halfway through reading (sometimes accompanied by a sense of having something speak through me, or some sense of ‘absence’) where a rush of words comes out. Again the querent may be impressed; I’ve perhaps articulated the problem we’ve been discussing in a radically new way that helps them see a totally new picture, or perhaps I’ve revealed how one character may be acting and what can be done to make things better. These intuitive insights may be surprising, including to me. But however spot on my words are I always bracket what I say. I explain that one reason we call this stuff ‘magic’ is because none of us (perhaps least of all magicians) really known how any of it works. I acknowledge that this is how things may appear in this moment, in this reading, but that the future is uncertain and new information and possibilities may well arise. I may be ‘inspired’ but I’m also quite clear that my impressions may be wrong or incomplete in any number of ways. Sure listen to the oracle, but take it all with a pinch of salt.

I’m pleased to say that I got really nice feedback from some of the folk I read for during my residency and I’m glad they found the sessions useful. For me whether a reading is heavy on the psychological exploration, or has significant parapsychological moments, isn’t what matters. What is important is that the consultation provides an opportunity to empower the querent; allowing them to find their own way in the world. This is the magic of it.

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In the magicians chair

An additional delight of this week was to be able to spend time with many of the members of my extended family, enjoying this magical landscape and each other’s company. (Which is why each morning on those rocks I gave thanks to the Great Spirit – whom I call Baphomet – for those lovely people and the magic in my life.)

I’ve  recorded a few thoughts towards the end of my residency about the role of the proverbial village witch on my Youtube channel too.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at the Museum for welcoming and supporting me during that week, and to all those people who came to see me over those days; may the royal road rise to meet you!

Blessed Be

Julian Vayne

PS Our next Deep Magic Retreat at St Nectan’s Glen will take place from 27th September-1st October 2018 For more details please visit our Facebook page.

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Labyrinth at Rocky Valley, where the river that runs through St.Nectan’s Glen meets the sea.