In the Dark’s Early Light

In the Northern Hemisphere we are emerging from the darkness of winter. Blinking into the cold, clear, even cruel light of the Imbolc season. This year, we initiates emerge from the long vigil of the pandemic night and now, as the seasons turn, we can begin to imagine what comes next.

What sort of rebirth will this be?

We need to appreciate that for many people the last year has been the most challenging of times. Some have been working to save the lives of others. Some have fallen down lonely rabbit holes of conspiracy fetishism, holes that have become yawning chasms in culture, where legitimate fears are conflated with concerns of a much less well-evidenced sort. Some have found themselves with several months off work on full pay, a delicious time in which they have been rediscovering their local area and exploring their creativity. Others have been holed up for months in difficult or even dangerous situations. Healthcare workers have been living through a time of tremendous stress. A friend of mine spent several weeks holding up iPads to the faces of prone and dying patients with Covid-19 so their families could say goodbye.

The range of experiences within this one great, shared, global crisis are legion. But for all of us there is now the challenge of finding good ways to remake our connection with others. There is both danger and opportunity in this delicate time.

One practice I’ve developed to help deal with isolation is contained in the guided meditation below. This is a practice to help us connect with our sacred magical places. Special places we may not have visited for some considerable time. We know that a lack of connection is commonly at the root of both depression and addiction. By using our imaginal skills to reconnect with those places we love, we help ourselves be well and better prepared for the challenges to come.

This meditation was one of the practices that Nikki Wyrd and I shared in our recent online ritual hosted by The Psychedelic Society. For the rite Nikki also wrote a beautiful text about the spirits of the time which you can read in its entirety at the end of this article.

Imbolc or Candlemas is closely associated with the Goddess (or Saint) Brigid, the archetypal skilful woman. A skilful woman who received a long overdue celebration of her work this month is the artist and occultist Rosaleen Norton. A beautifully realized film documentary telling her story, The Witch of King’s Cross, is now available on Vimeo and Amazon. If you find yourself entranced by Norton’s work and story then your next stop has got to be Pan’s Daughter, an excellent biography by Nevill Drury. I’ve been a fan of Norton’s work for many years, and the new film includes some stanzas of her ritual poetry. Below, I’ve recorded in full a poem quoted in part in the film. The image I’ve chosen is the one originally published alongside the poem in her banned occult art book The Art of Rosaleen Norton (published in 1952, just one year after the repeal of the witchcraft act in Britain).

As we in the North emerge from the winter and into reconnection with others beyond Zoomland, in physical space, there are going be lots of issues to negotiate, many of which will cluster around our ability to trust. It is lack of trust that fuels the conspiratorial mindset. This is quite understandable. The hesitancy to be vaccinated as demonstrated by some communities is perfectly intelligible given the very real abuses of trust they have suffered in the past where people, generally the more excluded members of our societies, have indeed found themselves the unwitting guinea pigs of appalling unethical scientifically mediated interventions, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study. Sure, the whole notion of ‘the state’ is problematic, orientated as it generally is around a monopoly on violence. Simply put; some guy comes along and tells you you have to give a percentage of your crops to The King, if you don’t his knights will make things difficult, or terminal, for you and your family. Later The King explains that he is protecting you from other Kings and other knights, and so the great protection racket begins. It is therefore explicable that, in the face of this pandemic, the state narrative (for some nations) is voiced in the language of fear, protection by authority, othering and ‘reasonable’ draconian measures.

However, that is not to say that letting the state control pendulum swing totally in the other direction would have been any better; some people fail to understand that, especially in a pandemic, it’s not just one’s own health that matters but rather the health of the nation, or indeed the species. Such an individualistic attitude would have let the pandemic rip through our society, which would have been most unkind; nor would it have necessarily have led to less suffering than that caused by lockdowns, social distancing and the other strategies. We might for example think back to some early news coverage of the pandemic which suggested that a large percentage of the British workforce could be off sick all at once. This could realistically have led to many kinds of problems in maintaining even basic infrastructure like water and power, leading to potentially catastrophic domino effects. The point about the pandemic is that we are dealing with dis-ease, an experience that, by definition, is not easy. Life is often like this, there are some situations in which there is no good option, Whatever we do it’s going to hurt. (I should mention here other models of the nation state, or more broadly collective action, that don’t originate in totalitarian oppression which in turn gives rise to the shadow of the ‘sovereign individual’ as an apparently isolated and autonomous self. Alternative systems based on compassionate collective action and personal integrity are possible, as exemplified in this excellent documentary Gather.)

Meanwhile, the number of people I know who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 is increasing. Thus far none of them have been taken over by Bill Gates’ nanobots or whatever, so that augurs well for my own chances when the time comes! Personally, I rather like vaccination as a concept, the idea of limited exposure to disease which primes the body to better manage the actual infection has a somewhat alchemical or even initiatory quality to it.

In initiation rituals we go down into the darkness, recapitulating the experience of our intrauterine existence and our birth. We do this in a limited, controlled but authentic way. Initiation is a little death, a death that doesn’t kill the bodymind but instead enables us to experience a managed crisis of psychic dismemberment and physical tests. In passing through these rites we discover a new appreciation for life just as those who experience near-death events do. Moreover, we acquire enhanced resilience in the face of challenges posed by the human condition.

Over the last few months I, like many people, have spent quite a bit of time online and I know for myself that it’s going to be a curious journey re-making and re-joining collective physical space. While we have all experienced a pandemic, the differences in our narratives will be very significant, as will our experiences of coming back into social space. There are going to be lots of people, notably those in the medical profession, who will be carrying with them deep wounds and trauma. I hope very much that as a community we can find good ways to help each other, and as the year turns, to re-emerge together into the light. Let’s spring clean, shaking out the dust of the wintertime, and make space for the year to come.

Julian Vayne

St Brigid’s crosses (the three-armed variation!) made by Nikki Wyrd
A Call to Brigid and the Spirits of Imbolc

We call in the spirits of the technology that connects us, electronic wizardry conjuring deep magic spells through wires drawn from deep in the ground. 
Flowing electrons, rising sap, leaves budding, fluid birdsong, surge across landscapes. 
We feel the life force stirring beneath the earth. 
Feel the quickening in the belly of the year.
Start to see glimmers of sunlit days ahead. 
The clean clear white light reminds us of the Shining Emptiness at the centre of the psychedelic experience. 
Place of creation, forge of identity, lit by sparks of aspiration from the hammer that beats, and beats with passion for the making of love. 

Imbolc, the time of emerging from the dark of winter days, the time of emerging from under the ground.  
Green shoots with white bells, push up through the snow. 
Pale primrose yellow signals the opening of the season for flowers: Golden trumpets herald the sun’s return. 
Make way, make space! 
For new shoots, springing from old roots. 
Clear the ground, clear your mind, hear the beginning of life from way, way down.  
Make room to breathe, room to forge ahead, room to grow. 

Brigid, goddess of smithing, of fire, of the bright, of wells, of healing and fertility, of poetry, of love, of brilliance. 
Crowned with candles, the saint walks through the land, stirring our hearts with a touch of her wand, soothing away the cares of the winter with a touch of her hand. 
Milk flows from sheep, from mothers, they give life to those that are just born, ancestors nurturing and nourishing what were twinkles in last year’s eyes. 

Brigid, Brid, you who were born as the sun rose, exalted one, blessings on those who celebrate you on this holy day! 
You, who know what we need, wise goddess, we ask for visions, for words, for you to show us what is hidden within! 

The pulse of the year, as the wheel turns again; the beat of the heart, as the smith’s hammer beats time into shape. 
Sparks fly up, tiny lights glimmer, the sun glints from ice crystals as the daylight grows. 
Tiny bright sparks, catch them in your mind’s eye. Breathe with the bellows breath and see the light glow. 

Brigid, inspire us, as our thoughts rise up, like a spring bubbles forth from the ground, overflowing with inspiration long held, deep within our hearts. 
Seed sparks, giving rise to bright flames, flowers blooming on the anvil of Earth as the season of creation arrives.

Nikki Wyrd

Coming up this spring

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.