Magic in Between Times

The September Equinox is a time of balance. Occurring under the auspices of Libra this is the season of Adjustment, of Justice, and a time to measure our harvest. It is a time for looking at relationships, the interplay between the dark and the light, and that which connects these polarities.

This year has been difficult for many people and so, as we in the northern hemisphere slip into the dark half of the year, we are faced with the need to address these shadows. To help us in our transition, one approach is to look not only at the ‘things’ in our lives, but also to be attentive to the ‘between spaces’. This work can, and should, unfold on may levels.

The body is the first temple and so, as we in the north head into the dark, we can prepare our bodies for this time by attending to our physical ‘spaces between’. One example of this would be in our bodywork where we can focus on the fascia, the connective tissues that attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate our muscles and organs. 

We can pay attention to the fascia using any number of approaches including yoga, tai chi, massage of self or others. We can use supplements, notably hyaluronic acid, and good diet to support these tissues. We can consult a healer if necessary. The fascia can be regarded as the primal matter of the body, from which the tissues of bone, muscle and other organs differentiate as the embryo develops. As such it isn’t just the ‘padding’ between structures but rather the foundation of our form. Paying attention to this ‘in-between’ aspect of our organism helps our whole being emerge in a good way. As a wise friend of mine remarked recently; ‘focus on the fascia and the chakras will sort themselves out’.

Emerging centres

For magicians, bodywork is crucial because, well, as above, so below. Bodywork implies acting with the aspiration to be as fit as we are able to be in our current context. This investment, in what these days is usually described as our wellbeing, is for the benefit of ourselves and others. Bodywork, however we do it, helps us have more capacity when we face the slings and arrows of Fortune. It’s a good investment. As they say in the memesphere; ‘make time for your wellbeing or you will be forced to make time for your illness.’

Moreover if as magicians we are to stay in tune with the patterns in the wyrd we must be able to listen, and bodywork trains listening the body. In my own approach to this work I’ve been exploring Butoh, inspired by a friend’s investigations of this technique. This way of movement that originated in Japan proceeds from a deep listening to the tides in the body. As with shamanic transformation into animals, we quiet our minds, allowing a spirit to enter us, embodying that force in our dance. (Or at least that’s how I’ve been approaching it at the moment.). Have a look at this example of the practice and, more importantly, give it a go:

Seeking balance includes becoming aware of opportunities in daily life that I can use to support my practice; especially in the busy autumn and new academic year. When I teach students I often suggest that they look for these opportunities, so their magic becomes seamlessly blended with daily activity. For example; when we brush our teeth, which we probably do twice a day, we can do so while wondering if the toast is burning, or thinking about what we did last night or whatever. But we can also recognize this simple, almost automatic act of self-care, as an opportunity to work with our awareness. We can simply brush our teeth. Remaining fully present in the act. When out mind wanders we notice this and return to awareness of brushing our teeth. Thus we have turned a straightforward act of dental hygiene into a chance for mindful awareness.

Noticing and using these little opportunities for finding the magic in daily life is essential. While of course sometimes we may find ourselves doing more or less elaborate ceremony, daily chores like cooking, cleaning, mending and making can all be magical acts if approached in the right way.

The equinox period also provides a chance to pay attention to personal points of inbetweeness and transition. This could mean doing practices at the interface between sleep and wakefulness. Recommended reading on this topic includes the excellent Liminal Dreaming by Jennifer Dumpert (also a contributor to the My Magical Thing series). In her book Jennifer brilliantly updates the use of the traditional black scrying mirror by suggesting you use your ipad or phone screen while it’s turned off. The tech, whether you’re doing it with an digital tablet or obsidian mirror, is simple. Having done any preparations for the work you deem suitable, sit or lay down so that you are holding the black mirror in front of you. Allow yourself to dream, to doze (this technique works well just before bedtime). As you fall into a microsleep the hypnagogic state, with it’s boundless creativity and complex brainwave patterns, emerges to generate images, ideas and sensations. As your hands drop the mirror to your lap you’ll jolt into wakefulness. Simply repeat the practice; gazing into the mirror, slipping into the liminal state noticing what’s there, and then jolting back into awareness. Repeated over multiple sessions this is a very effective approach to scrying. The images may begin to appear in the mirror itself as the duration of the hypnagogic state extends. Suitable incenses can be usefully employed to increase the potency of this method.

Making offerings
Black mirror

I’ve also been getting to the liminal state at the other end of the day. Over the last few months I’ve been doing online wellbeing teaching under the auspices of the National Health Service. Some of these sessions happen in the mornings from 7 to 8 am. To make sure I’m in the best state of mind to help others, I’ve been spending half an hour each morning before I teach in meditation. While most of the time I do my meditation practice seated or standing, for these 6 am sessions I use Shavasana while still in bed. Obviously some mornings I slip back into sleep but then hover in the hypnopompic state, as my meta awareness notices that I’m sleeping, and I return to conscious attention on my breath. This practice also allows dreams, that may have been brutally banished by the alarm clock, to gently seep back into memory. More broadly, as the duration of the light changes this alters melatonin production in the pineal gland. This makes the equinox season a good time to start a dream diary and to explore dream magic.

Experiments with liminal psychedelics, such as orally consumed Salvia divinorum, nitrous oxide and ketamine may appeal to psychonauts at this time. However chief among the magical medicines of the autumn is of course psilocybin. I was honoured this month take part, for a second year, in the Tam Integration Psilocybin Summit. If you missed this stellar, richly diverse event you can catch the recorded presentations online. I’m also working on a course for the Fungi Academy on Psychedelic Journeywork with sacred mushrooms. Now the proud possessor of studio lights, teleprompter and high end camera, we’re working to create some real quality material. I’ll keep you informed as the project progresses.

Reflecting in this way – on what we have done and where we’re going next – is also part of the equinox process. We look back at what we did over the summer, we consider what we have harvested from this year, and we prepare for the period ahead. Though we may wince at idea that winter is coming, especially in this time of pandemic, the skillful person will try to re-frame the situation. We can look at this moving inwards, into the dark, as a challenge. Therefore this is time to take stock, to enumerate our resources, our allies, to work on our health, and built our resilience. And to do so does not mean slipping into some kind of alt-right survivalist nonsense, for if ‘I’ am to survive then it must be ‘we’ that survive together.

Back in the temple of the body we can use this equinox time to pay attention to the biology of our gut. This is another good way to do this work of ‘in-between’ magic. After all about 50% of the cells in your body are the intestinal flora. The human gut is, according to some, one of the most densely packed and potentially diverse ecological niches on our planet. Feed your gut, however this works for you, and pay attention to the feelings and needs of the millions upon millions of tiny spirits in your body without whose collaboration you would die. Make a healthy alliance with your gut feelings, listen to what they tell you. If your equinox is one of springtime that’s where spring tonics come in. If you’re passing into the dark this may mean eating microbiologically enriching foods to set you up for winter.

Spirit realm

By recognizing ourselves as a microbial biome we bring into focus our inter connectivity rather than our (apparent) sovereign self of separation. Our gut creatures are the ‘inbetweeners’, the interface between self and the nourishment we need from the world.

The equinox season invites us to notice connections where previously all we perceived was separation and distance. I am reminded of this teaching by the marvellous spider webs, spanning improbably wide gulfs in my garden, binding things together.

Though we may be located apart let us be cognizant of the connections between us, change what no longer serves us, and nourish our Great Work. Let us celebrate the turning of the year. Let us acknowledge the entering of the dark for some, the emergence into the light for others. We are different, we are connected, we are together.

Julian Vayne

Online magics

I’ve doing a whole bunch of workshops via Treadwell’s Books. We’ve got a packed program right through until December, I hope you can join me there.

The awesome Dave Lee is also doing online stuff these days. To find out more the best plan is to subscribe to his excellent newsletter, check his website for details and for info on current courses.

Nikki continues as Editor of the Psychedelic Press quarterly journal; the autumn issue is now available.

A Harvest of Magics

We hear the geese now. They fly in great chevron shaped groups, along the valley I live in, following the river. They are the heralds of the autumn as high summer tips over into the fall. Leaves litter the paths, releasing the rich, complex scent of organic decay. Children in the neighborhood gather blackberries, coming away this year with an abundant harvest. They carry plastic bags and containers, their lips stained with purple juice, eager beneficiaries of food foraged from the liminal spaces of the land.

In the northern hemisphere we sit poised to spiral inwards, into the darker half of the year. A few weeks will bring us to the September Equinox. One of the fascinating features of the equinoxes is that on these two days a year pretty much everyone on our planet experience the same thing; twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of night. While we can link the equinoxes to the flow of the agricultural year – in Britain it’s around this time that lots of Harvest Festivals happen – this celestial aspect of a global coherence is one of the things that fascinates me about this time.

Of course we’re also living through another shared global event, the COVID-19 pandemic. However while the broad experience of this time may be similar, there are many devils in the perceptual details. The coronavirus outbreak is rather like a Rorschach inkblot. Some folk see in it all the hallmarks of governmental repression, state control and nefarious conspiracy. Some perceive it as a wake up call indicative of our species’ poor relationship with the ecology of this planet. Some see it as an opportunity, some as a threat. We perceive the pandemic in multiple ways, like gazing at an abstract image in which we discern what we want – or have been told – to see.

Say what you see

Erik Davis makes a savvy comment in this respect when he talks about the psychedelic aspect of the pandemic. One of the definitions of a psychedelic is a non-specific amplifier of experience and in some respects the pandemic does just this. Many people perceive it, and the handling of it by various governments, as a vindication of their position. It turns up the volume on their beliefs, providing clear confirmation that what they always thought was going on actually is. Certainly for many the pandemic has amplified their situation – the isolated have become more solitary, the unwell have become more ill, the radical have been further radicalized, the community minded have become more engaged with people around them.

The turning of the year sets us on course for northern hemisphere mushroom season and mushrooms – mostly of the psilocybin variety – have been very much on my mind recently. As far as the pandemic goes psilocybin offers a valuable tool to help us come through this time in a good way. Psilocybin is well established as a way of helping people heal a range of psychological ailments. To promote the positive use of this medicine I’m looking forward to being part of the forthcoming Psilocybin Summit, which this year features the fabulous Paul Stamets.

I’ve also been working with the wonderful people of the Fungi Academy to build a course on psychedelic journeywork and have been really inspired by a recent event celebrating the life and work of Kilindi Iyi. For those who may not know him Kilindi was, among other things, a regular speaker at Breaking Convention and an advocate for the use of sacred mushrooms. The online gathering held in his honour was an excellent opportunity for people inspired by Kilindi to share stories of the man as well as insights from their own engagement with psilocybin. Check out this wide-ranging session which is available on the Breaking Convention Youtube channel.

The colour of magic which I relate to the September Equinox is Blue Magic (see Liber Kaos and Chaos Craft). This is the magic of ‘wealth’ which of course can be understood in numerous ways. Wealth can be imagined as the rich harvest as seen in the swelling fruits of blackberries and mushrooms. The colour blue is associated with the sephira of Chesed in the Hermetic Qabalah. This sphere, the first below the supernal triad and the Abyss, has a correspondence with Jupiter, King of the Gods like the (blue) sky deity Zeus. There is also that link to lightning and thunder which, as any fule kno, makes mushrooms grow.

One of the key processes for Blue Magic is the use of gratitude, the conscious recognition and expression of the things that are abundant and good in our lives, noticing and celebrating our wealth. My gratitude overflowed recently when my friend William Leonard Pickard was released from jail after serving 20 years for crimes related to the manufacture of LSD. I’m pleased to report that I’ve spoken with Leonard by phone; a call in which he recounted a few tales of his release. Profoundly moving stories such as his encounter with a roadside flower – having not seen any growing plants for two decades. He sounds 20 years younger and describes himself as feeling reborn. Leonard’s release is great news but there is much more work still to do in order to end the barbaric War on Drugs and liberate all those in jail (or facing death) for drug crimes. I’ll be taking some time this autumn to update the Scales of Justice website with details of other pressure points for anti-prohibition activists.

Blue magic also invites us to find our stability; just as wealth, in several senses of the word, confers stability and strength. This work is particularly important as we head towards a time when big cultural changes are afoot. This stability includes ideas of justice and discrimination. I’m reminded here of the wisdom of Solomon, or the ruler of the North Sea Empire King Cnut. Cnut is often misunderstood as a haughty monarch who tried to order the tide to stop coming in, but the truth and lesson of his tale is quite different from this misrepresentation. Cnut’s example is brilliant in that it points to the fact that, in order to have power, we must have a realistic understanding of our limits. Solomon is an excellent figure to meditate on at this time. I once did a series of magical rituals calling on this renowned king that led to a miscreant in a court case falling right into a judgment of Solomon situation. Frothing madly at the mouth, they demonstrated to the court they were more concerned with being proven right about their crazed conspiracy theory than the wellbeing of a person they claimed to care for. The judge was not impressed.

To find stability we need to be sure of things, our circumstances, our friends and ‘the facts’. But is such stability of knowledge even possible within a chaos magical approach? Commentators sometimes question this by pointing to the  ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted’ phrase. How can you have stable facts when ‘nothing is true’? But stability can be dynamic as well as static, think of the way that gyroscopic equilibrium works, or indeed the way you stand up. Lots of tiny ongoing adjustments give the illusion of stillness whereas, looked at in more detail, there is plenty of change going on. Of course the claim ‘nothing is true’ claims to be a ‘truth’ and so it’s quickly apparent, to thoughtful people, that this statement is closer to a koan than a post-modern guide to living. Aside from the phrase’s specific meaning in terms of Islamic culture (see Chris Bennett’s excellent Liber 420 for more on this) it points to the process of meaning making. The phrase indicates the importance of not forming fixed, absolute ideas but rather adopting attitudes like those proposed by Robert Anton Wilson, where we remain open to the possibility of new evidence. 

Meanwhile, while it’s true that the map isn’t the territory it’s also true to say it is a map. If we have the right map we can use it to help our journey, even if it is not literally true (like the lines on the London tube map). 

A useful simplification
Another way of seeing things

Stability comes, like in walking, for an ongoing engagement with many senses and multiple feedback loops. It comes down to sifting out what may be irrelevant data in order to make meaningful choices. As a practical example; when it comes to making decisions in the face of a global pandemic it’s wise to seek our information from multiple sources; to sift these and make decisions that we recognize as provisional, while remaining open to changing our minds as a result of new information. This is the way judgment works best – as an ongoing process of discernment as experience unfolds, rather than remaining devoted to a fixed set of a priori assumptions. It’s also vital to consider what might be the intentions behind the stories we are told? Like a wise judge, like Solomon, we need to look at the evidence presented to us, noticing not simply the overt story, but the subtexts too. Cultivating that skill in discernment helps us, at harvest time, to sort the wheat from the chaff, making judgements and taking actions that are well informed, considered and wise.

Julian Vayne

Online workshops and services

I’m providing online workshops through the wonderful Treadwell’s Books. These tend to sell out pretty quick so please book your place early. Next courses that are still open for registration are The Magical Qabalah, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners and Cleansing, Banishing and Centering. I’m also available for individual consultations, tarot readings, psychedelic support and mentoring. Over the next few months I’m going to be releasing more courses on my teaching site. Please sign up to my mailing list if you want advanced information about these releases and the chance to join the courses at a reduced rate.

The wonderful Dave Lee is also teaching Rune Magic via Treadwell’s. Dave is one of the heroes of practice when it comes to chaos magic. You can find out more in this interview and can connect with his work by signing up to his Chaotopia newsletter which is an excellent far ranging read.