The Heart of the Matter: a Magical Response to COVID-19

As many of us are now showing our solidarity by being on retreat I’d like to make a suggestion for some shared magical work to address the coronavirus pandemic.

This working was initially suggested by a member of the Illuminates of Thanateros and I’d like to thank that Brother for starting the process.

Many people will be already be doing magical work in many different ways and what I’m suggesting here allows for that diversity. We needs lots of approaches to address this crisis, in multiplicity there is strength.

To help link our magical work together this is the suggested sigil which has been named ‘Hearty’ for all the obvious reasons:

The sigil can be used as a focal point for various types of magical action including:

Sending vibes of solidarity, care, admiration and positive power to all those in the caring professions, teachers, medical staff and the many others who are at the front line in this pandemic.

Conjuring for breakthroughs in medicine, treatment, the discovery of a vaccine and other technologies and approaches to reduce suffering and support healing.

Sending spells to directly affect the virus to reduce its rate of transmission and severity.

Doing some classic shamanistic or trance work to enter the imaginal world and battle the virus.

Calling into manifestation those timelines in which our species respond to this challenge in ways that support better ways of living together on the planet and with all our relations (both human and non-human).

There are many other ways you could choose to work with the sigil. Your practice could be as simple as creating your own image of Hearty or bringing it up on screen and making prayers of gratitude and asking whatever spirits you work with for their help.

You could try some Tonglen practice using Hearty as the gateway image, breathing in the suffering of those affected by the virus and breathing out the alleviation of suffering through the symbol. (Only recommended for experienced practitioners who are in a good mental state.)

You could also use Hearty as a visual focus while speaking aloud to yourself or a friend (including over audio/video channels) and together create a ‘future nostalgia’. “Do you remember how it was that COVID-19, for all the sadness it brought, finally helped us come together as one people to address climate change and wealth inequality? Do you remember how we found a really effective and simple antidote to the virus and how wonderful the celebrations were when we emerged from our retreats? etc”.

An additional resource that you might want to include in this work is this soundtrack generated from the genome of the virus.

Here’s an example of a practice with Hearty, developed by a magical friend who is working in an intensive care unit, nursing people with the coronavirus:

Breathing with Good Heart

A breathing exercise/ritual. Can be used alone as a meditation or prayer using the sigil, or as part of a larger piece of ritual work. At a time when we face a respiratory disease, this focuses on breath as a tool to share collective prayer and ritual. Use the sigil, either printed or drawn in front of you, or in your mind. Imagine the sigil as a compass and use four cardinal points for each breath. You could draw the sigil on the floor and stand in it as your magical circle, turning to each direction as you perform the ritual.

Come to a still, centred state of awareness.

Place one hand to my chest, the other outstretched

“For my kin, for my kind, I will offer 5 breaths.”

In the East, breathe in deeply and say

“Inspiration – the breath of life that is Air

A consciousness higher, let us meet there.”

Bring attention to the element of Air.

In the South, breathe deeply and say:

“A breath for the flames that bring action and light

For passion for love, rise after the night.”

Bring attention to the element of Fire.

In the West, breathe deeply and say:

“A breath for the Water that cleanses and flows

For the tears, for the dreams, for the depths unknown.”

Bring attention to the element of Water.

In the North, breathe deeply and say:

“Inhale now and root deeply into the Earth

For the here, for the now, for the death and rebirth.”

Bring attention to the element of Earth.

Facing upwards.

“A breath for the Spirit that binds us as one

For unity, for truth, now the circle is spun.”

Take a final moment to allow your intention to pass into all those people, situations and objects that will help us in this time. 

***

Obviously whatever magical work you do this needs to be combined with physical care for ourselves and others in our community.

We’re already seeing many heartening examples of community solidarity. A friend in Barcelona tells me that at 8pm each evening people come onto their balconies to clap and cheer in support of their medical staff. Let us, as Witches, Magicians, Shamans, Druids, Thelemites and others, create a global circle of power at this time of crisis and transformation. Let us be of good heart and breathe life into this magic!

Blessings on our Great Work and Happy Equinox!

Julian Vayne

Things to do on your COVID-19 Retreat…

In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus and buy valuable time for our medical services (see my previous article) people are doing ‘social distancing’. This means, for some of us, adopting the ‘namaste’ greeting of hands in prayer, rather than shaking hands. Even Donald Trump seems to have picked up the vibe. It’s lovely to see such behavioural flexibility and support for cultural diversity from the President of the USA. Well done.

Meanwhile there may be times when we are ‘self isolating’ or as I prefer to describe it ‘going on retreat’. Here are a few things for you do while on retreat to help ensure you have a magical time.

The Invocation of Hygieia. It’s common practice before beginning any magical or devotional ceremony to clear the working space and prepare the temple. Your home is your temple so the first process for your retreat could be to undertake a banishing ritual. Tidy up! Double bag any things you don’t need and, mindful of contamination, give them away or set them aside to share with others later. Clean your space. Let the light and the fresh air in, put on some energizing music (like some of the tunes on my COVID-19 Pandemic Party Playlist) and get to work! If you’ve got a home altar space this is the time to cleanse that too. Once you’ve done the washing up go a stage deeper and do a spot of cleaning that you rarely get round to (that oven could do with some attention…). Really honour the goddesses Hygieia and Hestia in your work. Once that’s done perform your favourite cleaning/banishing/creating sacred space practice. By analogy, tidying our bedroom (as a species) is what we have to do now. We’ve made something of mess of the biosphere so perhaps, when this pandemic is over, we can seriously set out to address the issues of climate change and the sixth mass extinction.

Time to get out the ritual tools…

Do some meditation. Whatever style(s) you favour this is a time to go deeper into your practice. If you’ve never done meditation in a disciplined, regular way this is your opportunity to get serious. Start with some mindfulness meditation, maybe some object concentration. Explore the multiple resources online and give it a go. Doing meditation can also help you manage any fears you might have in this time of change. Meditation boosts our individual immune response and can enable us to be in a good cognitive state. This means we are more likely to make sound judgements (rather than decisions guided by fear) for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

Do some bodywork. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, weights whatever. Keep your body moving and in shape. Again this is good for you and those around you. Try some freeform movement or dance such as Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms. If you have access to a green space get out and into the fresh air and sunlight. Do some breathing exercises. If you do contract the virus this is going to be where it hits. Stop smoking or change your method of delivery (use your vape).

Connect with others. Hopefully the internet will stay on; assuming it does, use it to reach out to your community. For the benefit of your own immune system and the sanity of others try to be kind and considered in your interactions. Don’t feed the fears or the trolls but use this opportunity to find the others. Encourage and support the real life humans on the other end of the keyboard. Phone your friends. Where possible see if you can interact directly with folk around you in safe and mutually beneficial ways, like those people holding block parties in Italy. If you’re following an online course of study this could be a great time to focus on your learning.

Make prayers of gratitude. Thank your gods, spirits or simply providence that you got sufficient food, water, community and shelter (if you are fortunate enough to have these things). Pray to the Great Spirit, however you conceive that to be. Even if you prefer to regard this process as a neat neuro-hack to improve your immune system give it a go. Verbalizing prayers aloud helps since we get neurological feedback, via our environment, when we speak to ourselves. That’s why repeating the name of the thing you’re searching for helps find it. Or how by explaining your problem to the dude on the IT helpdesk you can see what…oh yeah, OK I see what’s wrong…

Plant something. Think about the future. Invest time in growing a seed. A tree to set free when your retreat is over, flowers for the garden. Food plants, even just a little salad in a window box. Watch as the spring comes and new life returns to the world.

Read an inspirational book. Whether you choose get to grips with a new text, or one you’ve been putting off because of lack of time, retreat is the perfect time for reading. Read lots and catch up with that pile by your bed of half-glanced at texts (ahem… well perhaps that’s just me?). Here are two recommendations. The first is the captivating story of LSD chemists The Rose of Paracelsus by William Leonard Pickard. This exquisite book was written in cell where Pickard still dwells 20 years after being busted for allegedly making planetary scale batches of acid. Much of the book follows the work of clandestine chemists, themselves cloistered in remote laboratory sites. Same same but different as they say in the East, the second is Cave in the Snow. This is the tale of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who, following her Buddhist vocation, secluded herself in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas, where she stayed for 12 years between the ages of 33 and 45. Palmo became a spiritual leader and champion of the right of women to achieve spiritual enlightenment. A remarkable and beautifully written tale.

Make something. Create some art. Play with whatever resources you have to hand and allow yourself to explore without necessarily any predetermined goal in mind. Whether it is music, sculpture, baking or something else see what you can produce. If you’re able, learn a new skill (thanks internet). If you’ve always wanted to play guitar this could be your moment! Learn to knit. Consider what skills might be useful for you and your community and will impress your friends when you meet up again. You may be about to discover your aptitude for any any number of crafts and the joy in being a producer as well as a consumer.

Day dream. Spend some time, as the Romantic Poets John Keats would say, in diligent indolence. Now you’re out the thick of the capitalist rat-race take some time to loaf about. Just lie on the coach and stare out the window. Let your unconscious have time to unwind. Don’t mediate, listen to music or whatever. Just be in your own space and let the time drift by and allow your self to day-dream.

Have a psychedelic experience. If you lucky and have supplies then that’s all well and good but if not, there’s always connected breathwork. Connected or holotopic breathwork can be used to induce the psychedelic state in which novel connections are made in the brain and our content processing and connection finding systems get all fired up. Allowing for your skills in holding the psychedelic state it can be deployed for numerous purposes. To reboot the brain, potentially resolving blocks and trauma, and to give our minds a proper spring clean. I’ll take the liberty of recommending my book on psychedelic ceremony Getting Higher and David Lee’s definitive text on breathwork Life Force: Sensed energy in breathwork, psychedelia and chaos magic to get you started.

Do some ceremony. You could try adapting the six month retirement of the Abramelin grimoire to your situation or go for something quite different. A period of retreat is ideal for devotional work. You could perform daily puja to Ganesh to break down obstacles, to Shiva Lord of Creation and Destruction, or whatever spirits you groove with. This could be your chance to undertake a Chaos Monasticisms or follow the obligations of Resh. Alternatively, at the risk of annoying the neighbours, there could be plenty of time for a shamanic journey or nine… Your retreat would naturally be a perfect time for doing magic to aid the healing of our species, our relationships with each other, and with the biosphere as a whole.

Demonic healer

Remember, if we want to slow this virus down the best attitude is to assume you already have it and therefore behave in ways that are less likely to pass it on. Don’t think of this as cowering in your rooms like the Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of The Red Death (read here by William Burroughs). Rather, this is an opportunity for us to stand together to support people like this Italian doctor in the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. Respect.

Make your retreat be full of rest and joy, of well being and of wonders.

Julian Vayne

P.S. As many of us are now on retreat in our homes I’m doing extra online one-to-one sessions of mentoring, tarot reading and other services. If you’d like to arrange a video call please let me know contactdeepmagic@gmail.com

Big Creation, Small Creation: Explorations in Chaos Mysticism (Part 1)

Candles and incense are were lit and the wood burner was fed. We were few in number but in the stillness between All Souls and Solstice, we had come seeking “the still point of the turning world.”

Vowel sounds are intoned as Gnostic pentagrams are vibrated through the body and before we journey through drumming and sitting practice, our declaration is made:

Zen-Gnostic Poem

(Ring Bell 8 times)

“We begin in Silence and Space

The realm of vast consciousness

The marriage of Darkness and Light.

In the pregnant space of reflection

Wisdom is born

Glowing deep blue against the blackness

Silver Star points grow

As the holy Aeon spins her web of connection.

Wisdom makes manifest

An outflowing of the multiple and the complex

The Craftsman makes the World:

Baphomet-Abraxas, liminal world dancer

Changing, growing and creating.

We come to listen and to remember our original face,

We come as heroes of practice

Who sit like mountains together!”

cosmic

For the magician-mystic, the stories of creation on the grandest scale are also stories of self. Diverse cultures over millennia have grappled with both imagining the process of cosmic becoming and also in understanding individual experiences of consciousness upon that stage. These are parallel processes that mirror each other at the deepest level and the beliefs we hold about our significance and structure are often projected upon the big screen of our creation stories.

These stories may attempt to place us in relation to a supreme deity or they may hold positions (as with many Buddhist schools) where speculation regarding our metaphysical origins is kept to a minimum. For me what often feels different for the magician is that rather than viewing ourselves as passive spectators of a completed process, we are active agents upon a stage on which our own self-creation is a vital chapter. While this potentially risks megalomania, most of us chose to walk this knife-edge rather than feeling overwhelmed by powerlessness.

In my view the postmodern insights of Chaos Magic have something valuable to offer to this process. While many Chaos magicians may embrace world views that emphasize the uncovering of the essential Self/Buddha-mind, the dynamic fluidity of the Chaotic approach also allows for the active creation of self.

star

As I re-read my Zen-Gnostic creation poem, I am struck by its fragmentary beauty and partial truths: a cut-up formed from moments of inspiration and hard-won life lessons. This is a custom job, slowly stitched together and arguably unique. The orthodox will decry its hotchpotch constructionism, but these monstrous forms contain their own potency in being born from an honest encounter with dread and comic awe.

The Magician is engaged is an on-going and arguably endless process of zooming out (the Big, the Cosmic) and then in; in the pursuit of self. When I apply this method to the alchemy of self-transformation, perhaps I can learn to accept the complexity of who I am and that I am very much a work in progress. Effort and analysis remain essential, but it is also good to question what the fuck I think perfectionism means and whether I can relinquish the relentless conveyor-belt of self-improvement tasks?

In thinking about what helps with this opening-out, here’s a few ideas that I am currently exploring:

  1. A Mystic of the Self:

While we might initially balk at the idea of the place of Mysticism within magical traditions with a more Left-Hand Path/antinomian  perspective (mysticism being far too fuzzy and imprecise), I find potential value in the way in which it might grapple with the expansive boundaries of self that we experience in our psyche-centric exploration. Of course each of us will have favored models of the self that provide helpful maps for reducing the likelihood of confusion and feeling lost, but even these have their limits when we are faced with mystery and the limits of the known.

My own commitment to this work has been about a desire to make self-awakening the center of my work while retaining a willingness to loosen my old certainties about what I think that is. Life and initiation may well require periods of focused crystallization in which consistency, boundaries and being “of a single-eye” are required, but if we resist refinement and alchemical dissolution, we may carrying around the corpse of yesterday’s self. I’m ever thoughtful of Odin’s experience on the world-tree and what it might mean to “sacrifice self to self” (Havamal 138). If we are able to retain our sense of exploration, what might we discover as we take up the Runes (mysteries) and seek to explore the fragmentary mysteries of our self and the world around us?

  1. Connected Independence:

Most of us are familiar with the archetypal antinomian lone wolf who makes great claims to godhood and yet is all too clearly lost in a labyrinth of their own solipsism. Our initiation requires the challenge and insight of others who have walked the path before us. While we need to bring the sharp-edge of consciousness to our own motivation for seeking connections, we also need to be authentic in acknowledging the counter cultural value of “finding the others” who support and inspire out efforts toward greater becoming.

  1. The Ability to Play:

While the early stages of individuation may necessitate a rejection of the spiritual perspectives of family or culture, most of us go on to a more mature position of “return” to original ideas or images that we may have dismissed during our rebellious fervor. Such a position reflects a certain lightness of touch and an ability to engage with something while still questioning it. For me this feels like a shift in which we move away from cynically dismissing something and towards a position of being able to play with ideas and concepts in a way that both values them but allows some distance and even irreverence.

While determination and dogged focus are undoubtedly essential in making progress as a Magician, how do we also ensure that we feel free enough to experiment, to play and to make mistakes in that process? Whether we are experimenting with new magical techniques, body-focused practices or mythical framework for exploring awakening, I believe that we benefit when we give ourselves and others permission to adopt a position of Shoshin or “beginner’s mind”.

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets, T S Eliot

Steve Dee

 

Spirits of Place

I’ve been thinking recently about the spirit of place. The subject came to mind following recent visits to cities in the North America and Europe.

There are many esoteric practitioners who rejoice in the magic of the city, the archetypal British example being William Blake. Blake is one of the great inspirations of John Constable who last month celebrated his 23rd year as the oracular bard of Crossbones graveyard in London. Crossbones has been transformed from a derelict patch of land into a garden in remembrance of the outcast dead. The very fact that John and his confederates have held that land against the machinations of predatory capitalism is a testament to a remarkable act of magic.

When we explore the spirit of the city one of the key issues, it seems to me, is the ability to see beyond the simplistic duality of natural/artificial. While where I live is often thought of as ‘the countryside’ and therefore ‘natural’ I often point out to visitors that the green fields of Devon are actually the factory floor of the dairy industry, while the moorlands were created by prehistoric tree felling. Equally the ‘artificial’ city can be perceived as a technological rhizomatic complexity, a palimpsest of histories, as rich in its own way as a rainforest ecology.

Here, for your enjoyment, some recent pics of my recent wanderings in cities and just outside them…

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Ancient life street art, Bristol

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Sekhmet, Bristol Museum

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Beneath a prehistoric form, Bristol Museum

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Inhabited spaces, Bristol

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Organic Gaudi, Barcelona

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Inside La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

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Basilica growing, Barcelona

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3D printed tiles, London

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Aboriginal Artwork and city reflection, British Museum, London

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Seattle skyline at dusk

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Peak experience, North Bend, Washington

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Hollow Hills, Snoqualmie

Whether the magical city is Zion or Shamabhala, and whether that magical city is physically manifest as Northampton or elsewhere, the magician’s power lies in being able to discern the hidden reality. For even in the steel and the concrete, the glass and the tarmac, the spirits live if only we know how to find them.

Julian Vayne


 

Next workshop…

I’m going to be in the sacred city of London in February next year where I’ll be sharing a range of practical techniques to help us discover the magical spirits of place. I hope you can join me there.

KalachakraSera

 

 

Do you believe in magic?

Happy belated Halloween!

I’ve just returned home from a family holiday in Barcelona staying within sight of the magnificent Sagrada Familia. Over the previous 25 years I’ve seen this remarkable building grow, having visited it several times (once with Rodney Orpheus during a particularly dramatic electrical storm) . It’s quite something to encounter such a multi-generational project, a fitting setting to reflect on ideas of ancestors and families.

 

Upon my return to Britain I’d been asked to speak and MC an evening of talks at Real Magic, part of the Do you believe in magic? exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. This was a delightful way to spend my birthday, with over 720 people attending. The evening featuring wonderful presentations from speakers Esther Eidinow, Kurt Lampe, Vikki Carr and Ronald Hutton. Do you believe in magic? is a very engaging exploration of the occult and it’s relationship with science and religion, do go along to see it if you have an opportunity.

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Mind manifesting in the Enlightenment Gallery at Bristol Museum

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Ronald Hutton and me chatting before his magnificent presentation on The Wheel of the Year.

 

Here’s the text of my talk that evening on Psychedelics, Shamanism and Magic – enjoy!

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We live in interesting times, one sign of which is perhaps the renewed engagement by academia and museums with the subject of magic. We have interdisciplinary conferences, most recently Trans-States at the University of Northampton, bringing together magical practitioners, artists and academics. The Victoria & Albert, Ashmolean and now Bristol Museums are working to widen the cultural conversation about what have often been excluded or even forbidden aspects of the human experience.

Tonight I’ll be speaking about an aspect of the human experience which has, until quite recently, remained occult, hidden, and even forbidden, namely the use of psychedelic drugs.

Psychedelics Shamanism and Magic

witches and alchemists

The role of mysterious substances is deeply embedded in the iconography of western magic. Where would the witch be without her bubbling cauldron, or the alchemist without the arcane paraphernalia of their laboratory? In European herbalism correspondences between plants and astrological forces informed diagnosis and treatment. Malevolent witches were imagined by some to make use of poisonous plants; henbane, datura and deadly nightshade. Scattered references in the grimoires of ceremonial magic suggest the use of mind-altering incenses. 

While ongoing research gathers together these fragments of our indigenous tradition, it is primarily through the encounter between European culture and the peoples of the New World that the modern story of psychedelic substances emerges.

The term psychedelic ‘literally mind manifesting’, was coined in 1956 by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmand in conversation with writer Aldous Huxley to refer to a particular class of drugs. Their principal effect is to radically transform awareness, inducing a state of consciousness with some very curious, some might even say magical properties. The word Osmand coined was first applied to the effects of a  cactus.

Psychedelics Shamanism and Magic (1)

Classic psychedelic people and plants

The peyote cactus has been used for over 5000 years by communities in the Americas. The principle psychedelic alkaloid in peyote is mescaline, isolated and identified by western chemists in 1897, and first synthesized in 1918. Two other cacti also containing mescaline are used in the Americas for a variety of purposes which could be described as medical, religious and magical. Mescaline can include visionary phenomena, synesthesia-like effects where music might be perceived as visual patterns as well as evoking a range of very profound feelings including personal insight, euphoria and peak mystical experience. The effects of mescaline, like all psychedelics, are highly responsive to what has become known as ‘set and setting’ that is the mindset of the person taking the substance and the setting or environment in which the drug is consumed. Ritual specialists use ceremony to curate the set and settings for specific purposes, such as divination or healing. While these practitioners use various words to describe their work and social role their practice is often labelled as  ‘shamanism’. Shamanism is a complex and contested term which some feel should be limited to the Siberian and central Asian areas from which it derives. For others, the word has a broader pan-cultural use and indicates a certain style of what we could call ‘magical’ practice that often includes interactions with spirits and the use of altered or ‘ecstatic’ states.

In some shamanic traditions these ecstatic states are induced by practices such as long periods in darkness or solitary mediation, or through the use of drumming or chanting. All these methods are effective but psychedelic substances provide one of the most reliable ways of inducing ecstatic states and perhaps for that reason are central to many of the shamanic traditions of the Americas. This doesn’t only mean states that are pleasurable, though they may be. The etymology of the word ‘ecstasy’ points to a feeling of being ‘outside of ourselves’, to be ‘out of one’s mind’. In the psychedelic state we are propelled outside of our usual way of thinking into a form of cognition that is rich and strange.

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Mind the drugs

We can see this change in these two brain scans made during research in 2014 at Imperial College London, using the psychedelic psilocybin found in magic mushrooms and also used in New World Shamanism. On the left we see the brain in it’s ‘default mode network’ state. This arrangement is, in some respects, our sense of self, our egoic identity, the pattern that consciousness habitually adopts when we are alone, ruminating on the past and thinking about the future. The right hand image shows the same brain on psilocybin. We see that the self-identity pattern is turned down and novel connections between previously discrete systems in the brain emerge. We remain conscious and aware but our perception of reality is dramatically transformed.  To use the language of shamanism – we might take flight and soar over an innerworld landscape, looking down from this new vantage point to gain new insights about the world. We might encounter spirits such as ancestors or mythological figures. We have a sense of going on a journey, a trip.

On our return to everyday awareness we can bring these insights with us, leading to transformations in our social relationships and effects such as the healing of sickness. In the psychedelic state we experience the deep truth that all things are interconnected or, as the Hermetic magicians would say; ‘As Above, So Below’. 

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Beastly rites

In the early 20th century the use of psychedelic substances, began to filter into European culture. Aleister Crowley dosed the audience at his Rites of Eleusis, a series of publicly performed rituals,  with mescaline. His rituals, which included music, clouds of incense and epic poetry, were performed in London in 1910 making them one of the first attempts to formulate a ceremonial setting in which to ingest a psychedelic sacrament outside of the Americas. Crowley’s rituals can also claim to be the first psychedelic art-happening. In this sense Crowley’s rites were the forerunner of the Be-In’s of the beat generation and the LSD enhanced concerts of the Grateful Dead and Hawkwind.

The trickle of interest from artists, medics and researchers exploring mescaline became a flood in the mid 20th century with the discovery by Albert Hoffman in 1943 of LSD  Hoffman’s new psychedelic substance initiated seismic changes in culture. These included the development of the rock music festival which aimed to provide a cultural container for the psychedelic state which had suddenly become available to thousands of people.

Within European occulture of the late 20th century, while psychedelics informed the cultural context, they were not central to the emerging esoteric styles of Wicca and neo-paganism. However they were enthusiastically integrated into the practice of some occultists, notably those influenced by the work of Crowley. 

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Peyote circle and Castlemorton festival

A third wave of psychedelic exploration occurred in the late 20th century as a novel chemical, closely related to mescaline, began to hit the headlines; MDMA or ecstasy. The development of the rave, like the emergence of the music festival decades earlier, provided a setting in which the psychedelic state could be held. The emerging rhythms of acid house music (a term arguably coined by the occultist Genesis P.Orridge) matched those used by other ‘shamanic’ psychedelic communities such as Native American Church.

The Native American Church developed in the late 19th century in North America. The central sacrament of the Church is peyote consumed during an all night vigil which features singing, drumming, prayer and other ritual activities. The Native American Church flourished because one of the effects of psychedelics is healing. In the context of the plains dwelling First Nations people this healing was a response to the genocidal damage caused by European colonialism. In particular many Native Americans sought to self-medicate their pain with whisky and this lead to much suffering. The peyote ceremony had the power to help people see things from a different perspective and this often led to them stopping drinking. The medicine of the ritual; that is the intention of the participant, the structure of the ceremony, and the psychedelic cactus – or more succinctly the ‘set, setting and substance’ came together to effect radical personal and social transformation.

Humphry Osmand and his colleague Abram Hoffer attended a Native American Church peyote ceremony in 1958 and this inspired them to wonder if LSD could be used to help people escape their additions. Their informed speculation was correct and, until the advent of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs, many hundreds of people underwent successful psychedelic therapy using LSD.

In Britain, one might suggest that the emerging popularity of  MDMA served to address the cultural wounds caused by post-industrial dislocation. This was the time of Margaret Thatcher, mass unemployment, the ever present threat of nuclear war and the miners strike. The emerging traveller communities and rave culture came under censure in much the same way that the Native American Church had done in the USA. The difference was that without an identifiable ‘shamanism’ or indigenous psychedelic tradition there was little possibility of legally defending the right to party, the sacred music defined in the UK Criminal Justice bill of 1994 as  “…sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” was driven underground. 

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Healing the harm

But the times are changing. Whether we consider the remarkable transformations that a suitable set, setting and psychedelic substance can generate as magic, shamanism or science matters very little. For these mind-manifesting materials are being re-discovered as allies in healing a range of illnesses that are present at epidemic levels in our culture.

Today MDMA is being used in Bristol within licensed settings to help people overcome chronic alcohol addiction. In the USA it is being licensed to treat Post-traumatic stress disorder. Other psychedelics such as cannabis, ayahuasca and psilocybin are also being recognized as having potent healing effects on conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to autoimmune illnesses. The current wave of research, often described as the Psychedelic Renaissance, a term coined by Dr Ben Sessa who works in Bristol doing MDMA therapy, includes studies on the potential of psychedelics to aid creative problem solving, to helping us face death with equanimity, and to develop ways to resolve interpersonal and social conflicts.

To the Mexican Curandera or the Siberian Shaman the discovery that ecstatic trance carries with it magical transformative potential isn’t news, but for European culture this is a radical change. For European, and by extension much of Euro-American culture was disconnected from the use of  substances that could safely induce ecstatic states when the great Temple of Eleusis closed in the 4th century AD. 

Psychedelics Shamanism and Magic (6)

Mystery trend

Eleusis was the principle Mystery initiation of the Ancient World sacred to the goddess Demeter. In her temple 3000 initiates at a time would experience was many regard as the core elements of the shamanic process. They would undertake ritual purification, they would make a pilgrimage, they would fast and, crucially, they would ingest a sacred potion before descending into a vast darkened temple full of drumming and chanting. There they would face their fears and emerge into the light for a party to celebrate their rebirth. This annual ritual went on for thousands of years with its participants being drawn from all ranks of society. This shared psychedelic experience of crisis and rebirth shaped the pre-Christian pagan world. After Eleusis and the loss of the shamanic psychedelic experience European culture, one might suggest, started to behave just like an addict, rampaging across the globe in search of tranquilizers like opium and stimulants like tobacco and cocaine. Later that culture would give rise to two World Wars, the creation of weapons of mass destruction, and the poisoning of the biosphere.

Psychedelics Shamanism and Magic (7)

Connected future

While we celebrate the return of the magical to academia, to museums and to a wider cultural setting we may also like to consider that the return of the psychedelic state to mainstream cultural as part of the same movement. A movement to value again the importance of the subjective, the magical and the ecstatic if we are to successfully cultivate our individual wellbeing and find better ways to live together. To find a medicine in these difficult times that heals us and, as they say in the Native American Church, all our relations.

Julian Vayne

 

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Do you believe in magic? is open until 19th April 2020 at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

Pieces of the Witch

In my most recent book The Heretic’s Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times, I spent time exploring how the Surrealist movement embodied a radical form of self-exploration in their philosophy and the artistic expression for which they became so famed. What follows in a short excerpt and ritual exercise from the book for you to play with:

Whichever media the Surrealists worked in (Painting, poetry, drawing) one of the consistent themes that runs throughout the School, is their desire to work more overtly with the unconscious aspects of self. We have already considered the prevalence of dreams and dream-like states in the work of occult inspired artists such as Ernst and Carrington and the way that their work often used the juxtaposition of strange, jarring images as a way of articulating often pre-verbal themes that emerge from the deepest dimensions of being.

The Surrealists were renowned for their inventiveness in developing a vast range of artistic techniques and strategies for seeking access to the creative dimensions of the unconscious self. This involved everything from relief rubbings (“frottage”), automatic painting, the creation of dream resume and the artistic use of old parlour games such as Exquisite Corpse. One of these techniques that the surrealists utilised to great effect was that of collage.

Collage (from the French coller, “to glue”) is a technique of assemblage in which the artist brings together a number of different media and pulls them out of their original context in order to create a new reality in which radically different ideas and textures can overlap, contrast and interact in the eye of the viewer. Historically while examples of collage can be found in 10th century Japan and in the Cathedrals of Medieval Europe, in relation to its use in Modern art, it is generally agreed that it was primarily developed in the works of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso from 1912 onwards.

Max Ernst’s artistic expression was hugely innovative. He is credited with the invention of the frottage technique and also made use of other approaches such as decalcomania (pressing paint between two surfaces). While Ernst worked in a wide range of media his work with collage is especially inspiring. In works such as his surrealist novel Une Semaine De Bonte: A Surrealist Novel in Collage (1934) we witness his exploration of the jarring and animalistic dimensions of self.  As Ernst himself observed regarding his often absurd combination of images, objects and text, they “provoked a sudden intensification of the visionary faculties in me and brought forth an elusive succession of contradictory images… piling up on each other with the persistence and rapidity which are peculiar to love memories and visions of half sleep.” (Quoted in Ernst by Ian Turpin pg. 7)

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Cutting things up with Uncle Max

Within his collage and his work more generally, Ernst repeatedly utilizes the symbol of the bird as a representation of himself. He named this avian manifestation of himself “Loplop” who he saw as the “superior of the birds”. When viewed through a more occult lens, I am struck by the potential parallels between these images and the concept of the Witch’s familiar or the animal aspect of the self, referred to as the “fetch” in Norse soul lore.  Via its window into the darker, unconscious aspects of self, collage provides a means through which strange and even macabre images can provide insight to our own process of self-understanding.

Exercise: The Witch’s Collage

I will state at the outset that there are a myriad of ways of working magically with collage, and I offer this exercise as but one example (albeit a creative and tested one!) for intrepid explorers to utilise. Unlike their more randomized Postmodern cousin Cut-ups, collages seek to work more deliberately with aspects of the unconscious from the outset of the artist’s project of creation. Hopefully having begun a process of reflection regarding your heretical inspirations, as we begin this activity, the images, symbols and colour associations will begin to bubble to the surface!

To provide you with a bit of structure you might want to follow some of the following steps:

  1. Find the images and symbols that you feel capture the essence of your journey into heretical freethinking. Don’t be weighed down by the expectations of others! If cartoon heroes or industrial noise musicians do it for you include them alongside more standard spiritual symbology.
  2. Assemble art stuff. At a minimum you will need scissors, glue, pens and pencils. Coloured paper of differing textures work and you may want to incorporate pieces of text. Your imagination is the only real limit here! Make sure you have a large piece of paper or card (A3 or bigger) so that you have enough space to stick your stuff onto.
  3. Find a space that you feel comfortable in. Ideally you should be able to spread your images and materials out so that you can see the possible directs that your collage can take. Personally I like having some music on to inspire me and I usually need a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour to let the collage take shape. Having a time limit can also be helpful for this specific exercise in that provides an end point rather than having to struggle with that sense of not knowing when you’ve done enough.
  4. Like the approach of sleep, light hypnosis and some meditative states this work will be best approached with a sense of playfulness and a desire to not take it too seriously. Let your eyes move over your assembled materials and images and simply begin. You can’t get this wrong and your images and textures will build up during the duration of the work.
  5. Often our results can surprise us. What I love about collage is the way in which it can have various pockets of activity and interest. Our eyes may be drawn to one thematic cluster only to realize that there’s something really interesting in another part of our work.
  6. When our collage is completed, we can put it to any number of ritual uses. I often place mine in the corner of the house where I meditate and do ritual work. This allows me to come back to it repeatedly and spot emerging themes.
  7. Given the connection between collage, the unconscious and the realm of dreams, one interesting practice could involve placing your collage under your bed or pillow prior to sleep. Spend some time before sleep meditating on your collage and let the interplay of images and textures enhance your nocturnal journeying!

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Here’s one I made earlier 🙂

Steve Dee


Events update…

  • There are still a few places available for Julian’s workshop on Sigil Magic in London on the 27th of July at Treadwell’s Books.
  • You can also join Julian for a Magical Words workshop at The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall on Saturday 31st of August.

Details of both workshops can be found HERE.

 

Breaking Convention: 16-18 August 2019, London, UK

Nikki and Julian will be at Breaking Convention, Europe’s largest conference on psychedelic consciousness. This is set to be an epic event. As ever Breaking Convention brings together under one roof scientists, medics, artists, shamans, and many more at one of the most intellectually rich and inspirational gatherings in the world. Highly recommended! Book your tickets HERE.

 

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Nikki and Julian will be running Deep Magic camps and retreats in 2020, bringing together freestyle shamanic techniques and wisdom from indigenous medicine traditions. To find out more please ping us a message letting us know a little about your spiritual practice and experience with altered states of awareness. These will be intimate, powerful, accessible and transformation events. We hope you will join us as we go deep into the magic! Ahoy!

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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. 🙂