High Speech – from ‘illegal drugs’ to psychedelic sacraments

As summer slips away from the northern hemisphere and we head towards the equinox, we can gather up the sunshine of the bright part of the year and use it to nourish us as we descend into the darkness.

One of the high points this summer for me was Breaking Convention. This year 1,500 people gathered at The University of Greenwich for a three day conference consisting of over 300 different talks and events. Cutting edge virtual reality installations, cinema, stalls, art exhibitions, workshops, five parallel tracks of lectures and much more! As is traditional some of the finest moments unfolded on the lawns beside the Greenwich meridian line in the form of scintillating conversations between leading scientists, shaman, medics, ethnographers and many others. A new university building provided the setting for three amazing nights of entertainment, the high point of which for me was a set by the magnificent Henge.

 

As we move towards the mainstreaming of psychedelic medicine we can see the discourse around these substances changing in a big way. As this happens it can be helpful to begin to unpick some of the erroneous language foisted on the psychedelic community as a result of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. The words we use play an important role in how we think and act, so it’s worth remembering the simple fact that illegal drugs do not exist. While it’s a common figure of speech to talk about, for example, LSD being ‘illegal’, the law can only apply to human actions. One can be permitted in law to manufacture, distribute and possess LSD (for example if you are a research scientist) but if you’re not permitted to do so by the State then it’s the act that’s criminal not the molecule.

The insidious illusion of ‘illegal drugs’ is very powerful, even for professionals in the field. When I asked the therapists at Kings College, during my recent participation as a research subject, which of them had taken psilocybin one researcher suggested that they couldn’t answer that question without effectively admitting to have broken the law. However, as I explained at the time, this isn’t the case as psilocybin isn’t illegal in itself. Rather people can be permitted—or not—by law to handle, possess, supply etc a ‘controlled substance’. In Kings College we weren’t breaking the law, as the mushroom medicine was being used in a licensed setting. While this issue may seem like something of legal nicety it has major impacts for the way we think about psychedelic and psychoactive substances. If nothing else in a recent governmental form I was asked: “Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?” to which I was cheerfully and categorically able to answer ‘no’.

All the presentations from Breaking Convention 2019 are being uploaded to our YouTube channel; stay tuned and subscribed so you can catch the 140 plus talks from the cutting edge of psychedelic culture as they go online. Here’s my presentation, the text of which you can read on this blog.

 

I was also really pleased to be on stage with collector Mark McCloud and Monkey aka Paul Guest the leading producer of blotter art. Mark took us on an erudite exploration of LSD packaging and acid counter-culture, while Monkey, ably assisted by BC Director Aimée Tollanran an auction of rare blotter art in aid of Breaking Convention. In addition to publishing and organizing the conference Breaking Convention also provides grants to support students and researchers.

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Blotter and Badges

 

As the northern hemisphere mushroom season arrives a new edition of the Psychedelic Press Journal is about to come to fruition. Readers will be treated to an essay on the magical use of solanaceous suffumigations  (much easier to evoke those Goetic spirits with a little datura in the censer), 19th century hashish eating in the USA, and an excerpt from the story of Michael Hollingshead, the subject of a new book Divine Rascal by leading psychedelic historian Andy Roberts. Meanwhile I’m taking part in the an online international Psilocybin Summit. If you’d like to join me for my talk ‘A User’s Guide to Psychedelic Ceremony’ please follow the link to sign up. On the Deep Magic events page you can also find details of the Trans-States conference at which Nikki and I will be speaking, my appearance across the pond in Seattle for the Three Hands Press Texts and Traditions Colloquium, and in October my psychedelic magic workshop at Treadwell’s in London.

Wishing you fabulous Fall and mushrooming success!

Julian Vayne

Tribes get High: power, practice and politics in the Psychedelic Renaissance

A lecture for Breaking Convention 2019

I’d like to share my experience as a volunteer in an experiment that took place earlier this year. You’ll hear my story as well as reflections from my perspective as both research participant and ceremonialist  on the issue of the medicalization of psychedelic substances. For those for whom some of the issues around medicalized psychedelics may be new this paper,is also available on my blog with links to relevant texts.

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Wellcome Volunteer

The date is Thursday the 17th of January, my third visit to the King’s College Hospital Clinical Research Facility in the London Borough of Southwark as a medical study participant. Today the research team would be dosing volunteers with an experimental medication intended to  help people suffering from treatment resistant depression, a drug called psilocybin. 

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Psychedelic Spirit

Having checked with the researchers it was okay, I’d brought a ‘lucky mascot’ along for the ride. ‘Izawa’ is the name given to the spirit who works for ‘the liberation of the psychedelic experience for the benefit of all beings’. A circle of chaos magicians in northern England created – or perhaps contacted – this entity in 2011 fashioning a representation of the spirit as part of their ceremony. 

Today this ally would accompany me on my trip. 

Participation in the trial had meant reducing my use of substances that might compromise the research. Since the December solstice I’d eschewed what, in the language of contemporary medicine are  ‘drugs of abuse’. This includes methamphetamine, heroin and cannabis (only one of these three was an issue for me) but somewhat ironically not tobacco or alcohol. It was now January and I enjoyed being ‘straight edge’ for science for over a month. 

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Eyes and feels

Days before the dosing session I’d undergone detailed physical and psychiatric assessments. This necessitated completing various standardized, somewhat repetitive, questionnaires: are you feeling suicidal? (‘no’), have you thought about any means of committing suicide (‘no’), have you thought about where you might commit suicide (‘er…no’).  Through to questions intended to identify Schizotypal personality disorder such as “Have you ever seen things invisible to other people?” (‘look, I know what you’re getting at here so, in the context of this evaluation, no’). 

Blood and urine and physical tests had confirmed the absence of any  drugs in my body. My general health was fine: we were all systems go. 

The day before dosing I’d met the team of therapists who would be working with me and five other volunteer subjects. The therapists were an international cohort of mixed ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds all smiling, all clearly fascinated with the idea of psychedelic psychotherapy. 

We assembled in the ward where, the following day, we would take the medicine. 

One of the researchers explained how about 15 minutes after taking the drug, if we had received what they called the ‘active dose’ we might notice something:

“When you are wearing the eye-shades”, they explained “at first it will; be just like normal. Then after a while, if you have had the active dose, it will be as if you are looking into space, perhaps a space filled with stars or even images.” A  delightfully simple and gentle way of describing the powerful visionary experiences that psilocybin can induce. 

“If you find places in the experience that are dark or difficult don’t be afraid” they further counselled us. “The darkness is where the treasure lies, follow it and find the treasure”, more elegantly simple instructions, clearly from someone who knew this territory well. Our instructor amplified this advice by repeating the core message (some might say mantra or charm); ‘go in and through’. We were introduced us to a simple breathing pattern that would help the process; breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4 then breath out for a count of 8. 

The confidentiality of the session, housekeeping, safety, and other matters were all addressed and I left feeling confident that the experience would be held well by the team. I didn’t sleep  much that night though. I was too excited. For me this event represented many things. It was a concrete opportunity to help in a process that I’ve worked for, in my own way, for many years. To help manifest what my magical colleagues from the north described as the ‘liberation of the psychedelic experience for the benefit of all beings’. 

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A walk in the park

I arrived early on dosing day and made my way to a park adjacent to the hospital where I planned to do some tai chi, and generally spent time with the trees.

As I sat in the park I was visited by a robin, a bird which is a totem for my Dad who passed away a few years ago. I’d been with him during his final days. Prior to my participation in this experiment that was the last time I was in a hospital setting. I greeted this welcome visitor and asked for its blessing.

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Setting up the setting

Once in the research department I chatted amiably with the receptionist.  A nurse was busy preparing the ward in which six of us would simultaneously dosed. The window blinds were closed and lamps resembling candles glowed softly beside each bed. Large pale coloured rugs were laid on the floor to minimize the sound of footsteps and make the place feel as cozy as possible. Silk flowers decorated the room, a picture book of botanic illustrations by each bedside. Vaporisers gently perfumed the air with sandalwood. Screens were unfolded behind the beds, decorated with an abstract design reminiscent of dappled sunlight. I installed Izawa at my bedside and introduced the spirit to the person who would be my sitter, a smiling, thoughtful young man I’d met the previous day. I popped a catkin gathered from the park into one of the tubular structures protruding from Izawas’s body. 

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Atu X

That morning I had drawn a tarot card, The Wheel of Fortune, an apposite symbol. This study was double blind; neither researchers nor volunteers would know whether participants would receive a placebo, or 10mg of synthetic psilocybin, or the ‘active dose’ or 25mg.

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Pot luck

The Wheel of Fortune spins; the nurse moves to each bedside, opening the randomly selected medicine pots, pouring their contents into tiny paper cups at each bedside.

The researcher who had so thoughtfully described the psilocybin experience the previous day reminded us of the breathing pattern:  In for a count of four, hold for four, out for eight, relax. Accept what arises and go ‘in and through’. 

I cradled the paper medicine pot in my hands, made a prayer over the contents and swallowed the cluster of tiny pills. Putting on the headphones and eye mask I lay down and relaxed and waited. 

The music was a classical piano piece,  deeply textured and beautiful. I listened intently.

I’d only had a light breakfast and knew that if this was an active dose, I’d start to feel something within 20 minutes.

Then it started. 

Something was happening, that unmistakable sensation of the wyrd and the wonderful. This was at least 10 milligrams. Quickly I revised my estimate upwards; this was the ‘active dose’.  Fortuna had smiled.

With eye-shades on and the music playing I began to sing quietly as I lay on the bed while rushes of energy moved through my body. Little flutterings and stutterings and twitches and yawning, the kind of effects I’ve come to expect with this medicine.  As the music changed to drum beats and textured electronic sounds, I found myself rapidly ascending into the psychedelic state. 

The trip was profoundly influenced by my setting. Not the calm room, transformed from daytime ward into twilight psychedelic ceremonial space, but the very fact that I was in a hospital. I brought to mind the people I’d seen in the days during the preparatory sessions in its corridors: harassed looking medics, confused visitors, earnestly conversing relatives, patients – their bodies sprouting tubes  – being pushed on beds between wards . I felt repeated shivers of energy moving through me and wondered if I was somehow detecting the bustling auric field of the place. The injured arriving in blue-lit, siren-shrieking vehicles, patients receiving their life-changing news, people dying, people being born.

My body twitched and danced, an organic layer lying orthogonal to a stream of energy connecting heaven and the deep that was my whole being. Yellow hi visibility jacketed police thronged my inner vision. Here I was, legally taking psilocybin in the heart of London while out there the police, who of course, have got much better things to do, were tasked with busting people for using the same substance that I had consumed in a licensed setting.

This tension had a personal relevance. I thought about my Mum, who worked as a nurse in Accident and Emergency for over a quarter of century. Of my Dad who had been both a military medic and a senior member of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. I thought of how this therapy might help members of my own family were it to be accessible in a conventional medical context. Perhaps they could then benefit from the psychedelic insights and healing that I’ve discovered in ‘traditional’ and underground settings?

My sitter was immediately and gently by my side as I removed the headphones, eye-shades and sat up in order to visit the bathroom. The short corridor from the ward to the toilet was dimly lit with LED nightlights. Once inside I regarded myself briefly in the full-length mirror. Yep, eyes like saucers. Returning to the ward I glanced through the window. Outside the car park was full of scurrying people, ambulances, police cars and taxis. I was tripping pretty hard as the carpet undulated beneath me. I quipped to my sitter, “It’s about 3am in this club!’ He grinned. 

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25mg later…

We’d taken the medicine at 10:30am and by 3:45pm  I was beginning to come down. By 4pm I was sitting up in bed, eye shades and headphones off, the music quietly audible through speakers in the room. I glanced at the other beds. One person seemed to have left – I guessed they’d received the placebo. Another volunteer was weeping. This individual was being ably supported by their sitter. Their tears had a gentle cathartic quality, soon replaced with wry laughter at the cosmic joke of it all. Later I discovered that this volunteer has never taken any psychedelic drugs before. 

I poured myself some water, sitting up on the bed, my blanket wrapped around me. In my imagination I offered the water to the important people in my life. Wishing that all beings could have access to clean water. I sprinkled a little on the floor and acknowledged the spirit of the place before finally taking a sip. Turning to my sitter I asked; “Is there any tea on this spaceship?’ he smiled and went to prepare a brew.

Later I ate, breaking my fast with fruit and salad and bread. As evening fell I was interviewed by the team, provided my initial reflections on the experience, and was pronounced fit to go. 

The other volunteer who also appeared to have received the ‘active dose’ and I were last to leave. We spoke for a while as they waited for their taxi. “It was like I could see it all,” they said “all the past and future, all the connections. All the horror and all the beauty and even the joke of it all. It was amazing!” 

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Festival wristband

And so it is, this psychedelic state. This remarkable form of awareness where our minds perceive the embodied truth that ‘everything is interconnected’.  And while this realization may be ecstatic it may also provide us with challenging material – and to meet these challenges we need to consider the wider context of my trip in the hospital that day.

The King’s College Hospital Clinical Research Facility is funded by the National Institute for Health Research who get their cash primarily from the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care and also by The Wellcome Institute, that is Big Pharma. The trial I specifically participated in was funded by Compass Pathways, a for-profit company developing psilocybin therapy in Europe and North America. These facts may give us pause for thought.

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Voices of doom

Today there are commentators in the psychedelic community who are moved to warn us about the problematic aspects of psychedelic medicalization. Some have wondered if the whole psychedelic renaissance is doomed (though they remain happy to sell their books, artworks or workshops to us as it crumbles). In the opinion of some pundits by taking part in this trial I am at least a dupe if not an active conspirator in a sinister deep state plot.  

Now we should certainly aware of how sociopathic tendencies in our culture may wish to deploy these drugs. History teaches us how the Roman military encouraged the culture of wine drinking in order to subdue barbarian tribes. We may recall the deplorable tale of how in the 19th century the British East India company weaponized opium against the Chinese Empire and there are those more recent attempts in the 20th century to weaponize mescaline, LSD and the rest.  These days may fear that we shall become numb to our pain; medicated with Mac Mindfulness and anesthetized by esketamine nasal spray, docile, unable and unwilling to rise up again oppression. These fears need to be acknowledged as entirely plausible –  for the Moksha medicine of Huxley’s Island to become the debilitating Soma of his Brave New World

We also know that simply using psychedelics does not necessarily make you a good person. On a scale smaller than that of shadowy governmental departments, things can go very wrong within the psychedelic community. One may take iboga and only come away with pinchbeck revelations, or encounter shocking abuses while under the influence of toad venom. These bad things happen well outside of state actors. It is therefore essential that – as people who love and appreciate these substances – we are alert and ready to address such problems in compassionate and intelligent ways, wherever they emerge.

Concerns about the medicalization and state use of psychedelics seems most often expressed by people (as far as I can tell predominantly white men)  living in The United States of America. This makes sense to me. The USA is a nation with a proud tradition of individual liberty, an impressive pioneering spirit and wary attitude towards governmental power. It is also a nation with many serious challenges and wounds which express themselves in draconian drug laws, rampant militarism, and in my view a, barbaric and economically exploitative approach to medicine. Meanwhile psilocybin and MDMA treatments in the UK will be delivered through the National Health Service making them free of charge at the point of provision. I therefore wonder if the fears of capitalist exploitation of psychedelics in the USA would be better addressed not by problematizing developments in psychedelic medicine but by campaigning for accessible healthcare in that nation. 

While some commentators rail against any state involvement in psychedelics it’s worth remembering that some of these sacraments were originally products of commercial enterprise. Big Pharma, for all it’s faults, gave us psychedelic medicine too.  And though we may distrust the re-emergence of a licensed capitalist psychedelic economy (which we should remember existed in the early and mid 20th century) these medicines cannot remain underground and only available to wealthy guys, rolling around on Adam in the privileged playgrounds of Esalen and Burning Man

However I don’t believe that physicians should be the only people with a lawful right to use these drugs and admitting psychedelics into medicine settings should, in my view, go hand in hand with other changes to make these substances more widely accessible.  

As someone who lives in one of the most oppressive and closely monitored countries in the world (the UK) I appreciate the American appetite for decentralization and personal liberty. I support moves to change the laws around psychedelic drugs, and in some respects America is leading the way through developments such as the vote to decriminalize entheogenic plants in Oakland. That people should have access to psychedelics in settings other than medical ones is obvious, especially to those like me who use these substances in ceremonial and recreational settings.  There is no reason why the shaman and the scientist and the clinician and the private individual could not all have access to these materials. In fact the ironic thing is that the private individual and the shaman already do, though they may operate within a culture of fear and repressive legislation which hardly serves to support good practice or intelligent use. It is our doctors, our healers, who are forbidden from using these valuable medicines.

As the psychedelic renaissance unfolds there are naturally difficult ethical choices to be made. There was the choice I made when I signed up for the Compass Pathways trial,  the choice that MAPS made to accept money from the Mercer Family. Rick Doblin gives a clear account of the thinking behind that decision, just as I can explain why I decided to participate in the Compass research. Sure Rick and I could be part of some great  MKULTRA/MOSAD false-flag operation of The New World Order but I propose another reading. As Terence McKenna said: ‘we’re not dropping out here, we’re infiltrating and taking over’. 

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Receiving my travel expenses from Compass Pathways. Disappointed by the absence of my MOSAD de-coder ring.

Some might argue that my taking part in this trial makes me a collaborator with the evil machine of imperialist-capitalist violence which is cheerfully doing it’s thing while the ice-caps melt. But then I think of my Dad and of the apparent contradiction in his role as an army medic; the contradiction between healing medicine and the harms of war.  But this contradiction is also a connection.

MAPS have chosen to work with veterans as a stratagem to speed the development of MDMA therapy that will eventually be open to everyone (allowing for America’s poor healthcare provision). And while we may be dismayed at the deplorable contexts in which people have developed PTSD, we cannot morally ignore their wounds. Would it be a compassionate response to argue:  ’I’m sorry, but you chose to go to war so you’re not getting a blood transfusion because otherwise I’ll just be supporting the war machine’. Clearly not, and while some detractors of the medicalization of psychedelics recognize this they don’t appear able to propose any answers.

I also wonder whether, even though sanctioned by the military,  psychedelic therapy may have other effects than just fixing people’s PTSD. Perhaps soldiers treated with MDMA are unlikely to return to work shouting “kill kill kill. Are they perhaps more likely to oppose militarism, less likely to send their kids to war, more likely to support attempts at dialogue as a means of conflict resolution? Time I guess will tell.

I would also argue as does physician Gabor Mate that healing, at it’s best, is a process that inevitably has a radical social dimension:

“In essence, healing is a highly subversive act in our culture. Whether in a medical or more direct psychotherapeutic sense, our work with people is about subverting their self-image as isolated, simply biological or simply psychological creatures, and helping them see the connections among their existence, the nature of the culture we live in, and the functioning of all of humanity. It’s about challenging the idea that someone’s value is dependent on how well they fit into an abnormal, unhealthy culture. Ideally, as healers in the broadest sense, that’s what we should be doing.” 

Psychedelic therapy may also help us heal by fundamentally changing how medicine is done. Now the therapist must learn to sit, like the shaman of old, with the patient and facilitate the conditions in which they can do their own healing. A far cry from the bumbling pharmacology of sedation and the ubiquitous 10-minute consultation. We may be witnessing a transformation from psychiatry as a discipline with ‘labels for everything and cures for nothing, into an approach to healing that successfully combines ancient knowledge and modern science.

For western psychedelic medicine is indebted to the wisdom of ancient cultures, and not only by having learnt about psilocybin through Maria Sabina’s generous gift the sacred mushrooms. In 1953 two psychiatrists, Abram Hoffer and Humphrey Osmand took part in a Native American Church peyote ritual. They observed first hand how psychedelic ceremony was helping First Nations people overcome their dependence on whiskey. In the light of this observation they wondered if they could use LSD to treat addiction. So when our medicine people; our doctors and nurses and clinicians, sit in psychedelic therapy with their patients, they do so in a lineage that includes the Red Pheasant First Nation people of Saskatchewan. Moreover in their report to the government not only did Hoffer and Osmond argue for the safety and healing power of the peyote ceremony but they also acknowledge the ethical limitations on the rights of the medical profession to stake a claim these substances:

“We believe most medical men would object if asked to judge whether to allow or prohibit members of any church from practicing their religion and enjoying their sacrament.  It does not seem to us that, as medical men, we have any competence to decide upon these matters.”

But it is clearly in the competence of physicians to determine whether psychedelics could be a valuable part of their practice. 

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Suitable settings for psychedelics

On a personal level my trip that day in the hospital was about connecting my own passion for psychedelics and their transformative power with the opportunity that licensed therapy could provide to my own family and many other people; the kind of people who don’t undertake ayahuasca pilgrimages, people who don’t dance away their cares on the ecstatic dance floor, and who don’t attend conferences like this one. But people nevertheless who could be healed by the sensitive use of these ancient sacred medicines and who would be able to access these treatments through the NHS. As an advocate of psychedelic inclusion I hope that I have helped to medicalize the mushroom medicine which I also regard as a sacrament.

May this marvelous opportunity, these magical medicines, help heal those in pain and heal too the disconnections and addictions within medicine itself. May these medicines be available in many ways so that they are accessible to all who might benefit from them. May our culture be transformed for the better by the liberation of the psychedelic experience for the benefit of all beings.

Aho!

Julian Vayne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.”

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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.

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“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

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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

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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 😀

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“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!

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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.

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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:

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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.)

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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