Psychedelic Learning

For many years I’ve been interesting in teaching and learning, how these processes happen, and what makes them more or less effective. My university studies were in the field of pedagogy, and my undergraduate dissertation explored the value of a playful approach to learning in hypertext environments. That was in the very early days of the World Wide Web. These days we just call this process ‘online learning’, a process which, like any educational experience has a variety of benefits and limitations.

The Russian pedagogue Lev Vygotsky described learning as a process that takes place in the zone of proximal development (ZPD); this is the conceptual space between what the learner knows, and what they can come to know in the presence of a teacher (a ‘more knowledgeable other’). This concept and the metaphor of a ‘learning space’ reminds me of a definition of magic given by Phil Hine in his seminal work Condensed Chaos:

‘Magic is a set of techniques and approaches which can be used to extend the limits of Achievable Reality. Our sense of Achievable Reality is the limitations which we believe bind us into a narrow range of actions and successes—what we believe to be possible for us at any one given time. In this context, the purpose of magic is to simultaneously explore the boundaries and attempt to push them back—to widen the “sphere” of possible action.’

I’ve written before about the importance of strategies to break out of behavioural patterns, which entails learning something new. Sometimes this new knowing, the wisdom attained in the ZPD, is of such magnitude that the self that arises in it may be profoundly transformed. To make change of this magnitude we need a technology (an approach or method—as in Phil’s definition of Magic) and/or a great teacher.

When it comes to learning, one great teacher that increasing numbers of people are seeking out, is the category of psychedelic medicines. These substances, whether cultivated, wild-harvested, or conjured into visible appearance in the alchemist’s laboratory, can provide a range of new perspectives. They can provide healing by providing us with new ways to understand trauma. They can give us creative insights and help cultivate a new sense of connection between us and other beings (from our family and friends through to the biosphere as a whole). The idea that the psychedelic state can be usefully thought of as a teacher is one that educationalist Lindsay Jordon and I have both spoken about. Like any wise teacher, psychedelic medicines often give us the lessons we need, not necessarily the ones we think we need. The psychedelic state, with it’s ability to generate novel neuronal connections helps us come to realizations ourselves, and it also encourages us to ask more questions.

As an educationalist I was delighted to be contacted by the Fungi Academy and invited to collaborate with them in the creation of a Psychedelic Journeywork Course. The Fungi Academy already provide courses, both online and at their center in Guatemala, on mushroom cultivation. With this new course I had the opportunity to translate the accessible approach of Getting Higher; The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony into a complete program for people wanting to learn how to work with sacred mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. I hope you’ll have the time to check the course out; it contains some beautiful videography and music, as well as written information to help students connect with the world-wide mycelial network of psychedelic practice. Follow this link to view the course. You can get 25% off the course price with the promo code/coupon ‘Julian’.

The growth of online classes and events that the pandemic has occasioned means more and more people are increasingly confident navigating online spaces. In terms of my own esoteric work I’m part of a group that has been experimenting with online ritual for decades and, while of course there are limitations to this way of working, there are benefits too. I’ve stood in the virtual circle with practitioners from many time-zones, allowing us to collapse chronology and distance, coming together to work our magic and build community across the globe.

As we begin to reconnect with each other in physical space I hope that we can continue to develop our intelligent use of the online space. That we can learn how opinions form, how they can be successfully challenged, and that we can increase our ability to sift useful information from the less useful. I hope too that those international meetings, now so commonplace in Zoomland, can help us grok that we are in fact one global community, however much nationalism and other ideologies claim otherwise.

While we should remain mindful of the echo-chamber effect, and of bad actors, there’s much more collaboration and community around these days than we may immediately appreciate. Much more solidarity and cooperation than the news portrays. The creation and development of these virtual communities can be a great blessing, may it serve us well.

Julian Vayne

Coming up next

Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne are hosting two online events:
A Spring Equinox ritual with The Psychedelic Society, 21st March
two-day intensive session on Psychedelic Magick organized through Occulture, 27-28th March
Nikki and Julian will also be speaking at the Mt.Tam Psychedelic Integration Jamboree April 16th-18th

Julian is taking part in a panel on Morning Rituals with The Psychedelic Society, 6th April
Julian is also teaching online with Treadwell’s Books, check their events page for details
Nikki is holding an online workshop, The Structure of Psychedelic Ceremony, 25th April; details to follow

Ban on Julian Vayne lecture at Oxford University

In 2019 I was invited to speak at an event organized by the Oxford Psychedelic Society. ‘The Odd Ball‘ turned out to be a fabulous occasion. An intense one day extravaganza featuring art, talks, food and music including a suitably cosmic performance by The Sun Ra Arkestra. Having chatted after the gig with the lovely organizers, we hatched a plan for me to return to Oxford and address members of the Psychedelic Society (composed largely of university students) the following year. Sadly 2020 saw my proposed return to the city of dreaming spires scuppered, although not for the usual pandemic reasons you might expect…

It proved unusually difficult for the Society to secure a room in the university in which I could speak. Very difficult in fact, strangely so. My contact investigated and it turned out that a minor official at the college in question had decided to ban me from speaking there!

Now this is very amusing to me for many reasons. Not least of which is the fact that 90 years earlier my cultural ancestor, occultist Aleister Crowley, was also banned from Oxford. In his case no reason seems to have been given by the university authorities, but in a statement to the press in 1930 Crowley speculated:

“Perhaps the refusal to let me lecture has come because Gilles de Rais [the subject of Crowley’s proposed lecture] is said to have killed 500 children in ritual murder and in some way this was connected with myself, since the accusation that I have not only killed but eaten children is one of the many false statements that have been circulated about me in the past.”

Same old story ninety years later eh? Well no, not quite. In an email that provided my own little slice of cancel culture, the university clerk explained “…we will not be able to accept this booking given your speakers statements on the record about illegal drug use and our duty of care towards our students.”

This story is delightfully bonkers in so many ways. For starters; I get banned from addressing a psychedelic society because I’ve taken psychedelic drugs – is that really a thing? Meanwhile several major surveys, as well as day-to-day experience of student life, suggests that many of those crazy kids are already using ‘illegal’ (more correctly ‘unlicensed’) drugs, even without my pernicious influence! And, as any fule kno, illegal drugs do not exist! Demonstrating any ‘duty of care’ would presumably include harm minimization education and open conversations rather than blanket banning of discussion. Something of particular relevance given the increasing numbers of young people using illicit drugs and the avowed free-speech policy of Oxford University itself. Finally, over the last decade, I’ve taught in a variety of other university settings and hold a position on an academic peer review publication. Oh, and that’s a journal about, er…psychedelic drugs!

Ninety years before me Crowley decided to stand up for free speech by publishing his banned lecture and donating the profits to the Poetry Society. I’ve done likewise by publishing The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher, available for pre-order now through Psychedelic Press, Copies will hit the streets – including those of Oxford – on November 16th.

And there’s another even more hilarious level of irony in our story. Something concerning the actual subject of my talk, which of course the administration didn’t have the wit to ask about… But no spoilers! All will be revealed in my introductory essay and the text of the lecture itself. You’re sure to find it highly amusing! Order your copy now before it’s er…

Happy mushroom season everyone!

Julian Vayne


I’m doing lots of workshops via the fabulous Treadwell’s Books. Check here for details.

Locked down but still want to develop your magic? Check out my Core Magical Skills course and the free Imagination and Wellbeing course on my teaching site.