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.

A Witch on the Front Line

It’s 07:40 am as I arrive at the hospital. I walk through empty, silent corridors that just a few months earlier bustled with relatives, patients arriving early for procedures, teams heading into handover and porters keeping the hospital in motion. This morning I hear only my own feet and the acceleration of my breath as I reach the unit door and swipe my ID card to gain access. I walk past the next set of doors, behind which the beeps of cardiac monitors and infusion pumps form the soundtrack I know so well. I head to the staff room and change into my uniform, rubbing a herbal anti-viral balm into my skin and drawing a protective sigil across my heart before I zip up my blue dress. The air is heavy, though now, several weeks into the pandemic, we pretend that it isn’t. 

I head towards the unit, pausing at the doors to pull on the mask that I have become so used to wearing. Next, the eye protection. I open the doors into the high dependency unit I have spent years working in. On first inspection it looks like it always has, occupied beds and the organised chaos that is this kind of nursing. The siderooms are closed, with isolation signs up. Outside the doors are the trolleys I have come to expect. Upon them lie extra personal protective equipment (PPE). The patients are suspected COVID-19 patients. 

We sit in handover, masked, chairs 2 metres apart—ironic seeing as when we are all working together for a critically sick patient, there is no option to distance. It is then time to allocate patients. I am allocated one of the siderooms, a man in his seventies, admitted for a number of symptoms, some of which match the disease pattern we read about each day in the news. He has been tested, but the results have not come back yet, and therefore he is to be treated as a suspected case. Being a nurse is a part of me, I’ve nursed so many types of patients, seen so many different cases, and many times in my life I have been afraid, but I’m not used to being this afraid at work. 

I prepare to meet and assess my patient. Outside his room, I dress into the next level of PPE. It isn’t like armour. Unlike the language used outside of the hospital, this doesn’t feel like a war. It feels like a very treacherous path to walk. The mask sits tight and hot on my face as the visor comes down in front of it. The tighter it feels the safer it feels—this kit is my protection as I work in a closed room with a probably contagious patient. I cannot wash him from 2 metres away, I cannot set up his intravenous medication from 2 metres away, or dress a wound, or hold his hand, or comfort him whilst he is unable to see any of his loved ones in his time of need. The PPE however is not my only protection. The sigil I drew earlier is one of protection and solidarity with fellow practitioners of the craft and I am wearing it on my heart underneath these layers. It goes by the name of Hearty, and within that circle of practitioners, and with Hearty I am held. With my hand on the door, I pause to give thanks to all those practitioners, many I have never met and I call the sigil into my mind, take a deep breath and push open the door. 

He is so very sick, yet like so often, his spirit is so fiery that he’s sitting up talking to me through strained breaths and watching me through red, tired eyes. We talk about how he is feeling and he asks if his test results are back yet. He is desperate to know if he has it. The results are not back yet, but I feel sure that I know. None of us know COVID-19 well enough to know its presentation from experience, the disease is still new to us. But I know its energy and I know spirit and I know my job. I know that what is in that room with us is new. It doesn’t feel like any of the patients I am used to nursing, but it is there, heavy, brazen and full of sorrow. I spend a lot of time listening to the landscape, learning to navigate it or hear it. It is a crucial part of the spiritual path I walk. In many ways, clinically, the patient was not a textbook case but as I took a break I explained to my colleague that I felt sure he had it. I nursed him for my 12-hour shift. The next morning my colleagues informed me that he had tested positive. 

As the pandemic began to take hold in the UK I had worked hard with divination to try to understand what I would be meeting, how it would manifest. I had worked with other practitioners who shared this divination work and we talked at length about this new addition to our world. Now, in its presence, so much of our work felt precious and full of depth. 

At first as we prepared to nurse our first COVID-19 patients, I thought this virus was malevolent, arrogant—a bully. As the months went on, I met more patients with the virus and started to learn the nature of this new presence. It still felt like a powerful bully, but a wounded one, as all bullies are. A week later I was working a shift in intensive care. I was in a sealed bay of four COVID-19 positive ventilated patients. In a quiet moment as I sat next to my patient to write his notes, I stopped, closed my eyes, and from behind that tight mask I began some breath work. I focused on breath—the thing these patients were fighting for, as the lungs take the brunt of the disease—and on my own longing for a breath of fresh clean air from under the kit. I remember thinking of the recent forest fires, as the lungs of our planet burned in Australia and Brazil. I thought of the sounds of the ventilators all working to breathe for the patients. Breath is a part of my practice, but in that moment I truly felt how sacred it is to breathe, how connected we are in that exchange between the internal and the external, the delicate balance of the atmosphere, the biosphere, the everything. I wrote and shared a Hearty practice centred around breath and I hope this story serves it well. 

Being a nurse means sitting with suffering. Sitting with the dark times, the things that many avoid. It means listening and understanding that which is unseen but that is very much there, forming the stories of people’s lives, loves and losses. For me, the craft is similar—it comes from a great love and connection to those I share my existence with, in all their forms, on all their levels. It is about holding that sacred space with compassion, being prepared to ask the bully why it is sad, what does it want to say? It is the love, the hope, the joy and the sadness of that space. It is playing it out on the drum, sending on that which must leave and holding safe that which must be protected. For me it has included the comfort of kind herbs on the days my heart is heavy from the last few months, the soft light of the moon and my bare feet on the belly of the earth. It has been the comfort and love of other practitioners, across the globe working with Hearty or their own practices, to hold the space for better times. 

There is much yet for our craft to give and I have so much gratitude to all my brothers and sisters on this path. Merry Meet, albeit from afar. 

The Heretic Nurse


Keep dancing!

It’s essential to keep the people dancing in this time of pandemic. Big respect and thanks to Quarantine Dance Specials 2020 and to Social DisDance for doing just that! Aho!