A few weeks ago I caught Covid-19. The tell-tale double line of the lateral flow test slowly emerged to confirm what I could feel happening. This was the closing of a time-loop that I recall beginning in late 2019. Nikki Wyrd and I had been keeping an eye on an emerging novel disease in China and once the first few cases started turning up elsewhere it was pretty obvious that we were headed towards a global phenomenon. In my office, before First Lock Down, I showed a graph of the infections from the influenza pandemic of 1918 to a colleague and opined that this new disease would likely follow a similar course. Taking the long view of matters like this is one I find tremendously helpful, it is said with some truth that those who forget the past are are doomed to repeat it. The history of pandemics, from HIV to the Black Death, unsurprisingly contains many of the same human behaviours; denial of the reality of the disease, the deluded or unscrupulous making money with bogus cures, overreach in social control by institutions desperately grappling with an enemy within, and so on. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun. Back through history we can see similar patterns and we can also seek a wider context for what we are experiencing now. For example, one might consider the similarities and differences between SARS-CoV-2 infection and other communicable diseases, for instance, poliomyelitis. Many people infected with polio have no symptoms, and the infection has a high recovery rate. However both polio and Covid-19 are potentially lethal for some and can cause significant ongoing health problems for many.
I remember sitting in my garden on that first Thursday in the British Isles where, with the lock down in place, there was a solidarity action called ‘clap for our carers’. That was the evening that I decided to do some magic in response to Covid-19. Using a significant dose of psychedelic medicine I made my way into the Web of Wyrd, trying to follow the patterns of the universe into the narrative of the pandemic. I found a brilliant bright light that was both the spirit of the virus and the lightning fast calculations of the computing systems, such as Summit, which were being used to sequence the virus genome. As a police helicopter hovered over the town and applause rose from each garden, the dystopian strangeness of ‘clapping for our carers’ was not lost on me. At that time a magical colleague was stepping much closer to the virus than I. They wore the Hearty Sigil, designed by a magician in North America, as a protective talisman as they nursed Covid patients in the first wave of the illness.
Some two years on from all of this, and thousands of miles away from the origin point, I find myself meeting the direct descendants of the viruses that caused those first reported cases. Shivering, coughing, sniffing and with a splitting headache which nothing in the way of non-dissociative pain relief seems to touch. For three days the symptoms are significant and then begin to slowly abate. A further 10 days on and my lateral flow test is negative. I am in the privileged position of being able to pause all my appointments and focus on the work of convalescence. I can feel that the illness has taken the energy out of me, but as I write, some three weeks after the infection began, my appetite and energy levels are returning to normal. The warm sunshine in my garden helped, as did my lovely and less affected partner who was able to arrange deliveries of tasty food from local supermarkets, and the many kind get well messages.
Quite a lot of the practice that I do is focused around interoception. This is the ability to feel the internal processes of the body. Training interoception is useful when it comes not only to knowing what’s happening within our physical form but also what’s going on in our social and wider ecological context. People who are good at interoception are better informed when they make choices by making use of their ‘gut instinct’. A high degree of interoceptive awareness (which can be measured using a variety of techniques) can be observed in people such as hostage negotiators. In the contexts of complex, fast moving situations the excellent negotiator is using not only data gathered through spoken or written language but is also listening to the deep body ( or ‘unconscious’) knowledge of what is going on. The psychedelic experience of course is a great example of a powerful interoceptive experience, where the changes of chemistry in the body resolve themselves into a range of perceivable mental phenomena. (Of course there is no real dividing line between mind and body; the distinction between the two is an unfortunate artefact of current language). Illness is another opportunity to focus our attention in an interoceptive manner. Pain and discomfort are interoceptive experiences that call us to action; to address infection, decay or injury . A interoceptive metaphor provided by a friend about Covid echoed my experience; they said it felt as if the virus was moving round the body like a burglar, trying the windows and doors, figuring out where the least well guarded points of entry were to be found. This impression of the virus makes sense when it comes to the wide range of signs and symptoms that it seem able to provoke. Whether directly as a result of the virus, or the subsequent cascade of inflammatory processes that it precipitates, Covid has effects that range from mental confusion through to inflammation in the muscular-skeletal system. Covid isn’t ‘just ‘flu‘.
For me the journey of Covid convalescence has been relatively easy. As I recovered I’ve been able to enjoy books, music and film. (I’ve particularly enjoyed the charming and intelligent travel documentaries of Rick Steves and the excellent A Brief History of Nakedness by Philp Carr-Gomm). Covid has been a good reminder of my own mortality and therefore the need to get on with those major projects I want to complete over the next few years. It’s been a reminder of the fact that I need to spend time gently cultivating my wellbeing and of the importance of making time to nourish, replenish, rest and review my life.
Friends have died from Covid and still others have found that this illness has hit them very hard. A few friends, disturbed by the pandemic, have taken refuge in understanding this outbreak in ways that make little sense to me. These are strange days, and while the story is globally shared the individual ways we meet it and try to make sense of it are endlessly diverse.
It’s easy to think of Covid as an invading enemy and in some sense, as it stalks the structures of the body looking for weakness, that is an accurate and useful way of understanding what is going on. But for the magician it is also important to discover how the lead of disease might be transmuted into the gold of renewed health, of expanded compassion for ourselves and others, and into insight.
Covid-19 has given me a renewed appreciation of the importance of interoception; of being sensitive to the foods, rest, exercise and other practices that I felt were helping me through this journey. The experience of being properly ill reminded me of my childhood, of those dreamy off-school days with chicken soup, of strange daytime TV and wearing pyjamas all day long while speckled with chickenpox. Having rarely had any major infections since those days Covid helped me slip into that nostalgic space and, acting much like a psychedelic experience, moments of long-lost memory would come drifting into awareness. In this way the experience of Covid was a re-collection of myself, a chance for re-connection and regeneration.
Stepping back from my own experience to a wider perspective, I’m reminded of the previous pandemic; the emergence of HIV in the late 20th century. In those days groups of magicians cast their spells in the hope of witnessing reductions in the fatalities from the virus and towards the development of new medicines to combat it. Decades later, HIV is much better understood, much easier to treat and those treatments are much more accessible for many who become infected. HIV, like Covid, caused much suffering. It also helped open up honest conversations about sexuality and drug use. Covid likewise has and will continue to be a source of pain for many and at the moment perhaps it’s hard to see much good that has come from this most recent pandemic. But rest assured that there is gold to be found even in the most unprepossessing of lead if we can listen to our bodies; the personal body, the body of culture and biosphere as a whole. There is a teaching in this virus for all of us; as its effects reveal those points of weakness that need attention, the enemy may serve as an ally.
Coming Up Next…
The next few months includes a packed program of events I’m presenting or hosting at Treadwell’s Books of London. There are online workshops and magical conversations in which you can take part in live or join later with a delayed viewing ticket. There’s also two in-person workshops in the program too! I’m really looking forward to being physically back at Treadwell’s and hope to see you in the store or online, soon!
The Magick of Aleister Crowley – Workshop 12 May, 19:00 – 21:00 online
Lon Milo DuQuette Thelema, Qabalah and Thoth – A Magical Conversation with Julian Vayne 19 May, 19:00 – 20:30 BST online
Damh The Bard – A Magical Conversation with Julian Vayne 24 May, 19:00 – 20:30 BST online
The Magical Qabalah Introduced – Workshop 26 May, 19:00 – 21:00 BST online
Psychedelic Magic – In-person Workshop 18 Jun, 11:00 – 17:00 at Treadwell’s Books, 33 Store St, London WC1E 7BS, UK
Meeting Baphomet – In-person Workshop 19 Jun, 11:00 – 17:00 at Treadwell’s Books, 33 Store St, London WC1E 7BS, UK
Mentoring – I work with a wide variety of people, from those who are newly exploring magic, experienced practitioners who want an ally to support their process, people working in the field of psychedelic therapy and those seeking integration of psychedelic experience. Some people I work with I see weekly, some for a defined period or time, and others check in occasionally when it feels right. If you’d like to explore the possibility of working together please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I also provide tarot readings, usually of 1 hour long, using either the Thoth or Smith-Waite decks. Please drop me an email if you’d like to discuss a consultation.
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Wishing you well 🙏