In 2019 I was invited to speak at an event organized by the Oxford Psychedelic Society. ‘The Odd Ball‘ turned out to be a fabulous occasion. An intense one day extravaganza featuring art, talks, food and music including a suitably cosmic performance by The Sun Ra Arkestra. Having chatted after the gig with the lovely organizers, we hatched a plan for me to return to Oxford and address members of the Psychedelic Society (composed largely of university students) the following year. Sadly 2020 saw my proposed return to the city of dreaming spires scuppered, although not for the usual pandemic reasons you might expect…
It proved unusually difficult for the Society to secure a room in the university in which I could speak. Very difficult in fact, strangely so. My contact investigated and it turned out that a minor official at the college in question had decided to ban me from speaking there!
Now this is very amusing to me for many reasons. Not least of which is the fact that 90 years earlier my cultural ancestor, occultist Aleister Crowley, was also banned from Oxford. In his case no reason seems to have been given by the university authorities, but in a statement to the press in 1930 Crowley speculated:
“Perhaps the refusal to let me lecture has come because Gilles de Rais [the subject of Crowley’s proposed lecture] is said to have killed 500 children in ritual murder and in some way this was connected with myself, since the accusation that I have not only killed but eaten children is one of the many false statements that have been circulated about me in the past.”
Same old story ninety years later eh? Well no, not quite. In an email that provided my own little slice of cancel culture, the university clerk explained “…we will not be able to accept this booking given your speakers statements on the record about illegal drug use and our duty of care towards our students.”
This story is delightfully bonkers in so many ways. For starters; I get banned from addressing a psychedelic society because I’ve taken psychedelic drugs – is that really a thing? Meanwhile several major surveys, as well as day-to-day experience of student life, suggests that many of those crazy kids are already using ‘illegal’ (more correctly ‘unlicensed’) drugs, even without my pernicious influence! And, as any fule kno, illegal drugs do not exist! Demonstrating any ‘duty of care’ would presumably include harm minimization education and open conversations rather than blanket banning of discussion. Something of particular relevance given the increasing numbers of young people using illicit drugs and the avowed free-speech policy of Oxford University itself. Finally, over the last decade, I’ve taught in a variety of other university settings and hold a position on an academic peer review publication. Oh, and that’s a journal about, er…psychedelic drugs!
Ninety years before me Crowley decided to stand up for free speech by publishing his banned lecture and donating the profits to the Poetry Society. I’ve done likewise by publishing The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher, available for pre-order now through Psychedelic Press, Copies will hit the streets – including those of Oxford – on November 16th.
And there’s another even more hilarious level of irony in our story. Something concerning the actual subject of my talk, which of course the administration didn’t have the wit to ask about… But no spoilers! All will be revealed in my introductory essay and the text of the lecture itself. You’re sure to find it highly amusing! Order your copy now before it’s er…
These are strange days indeed as, following a diversity of approaches, we all try to make our way through this time of pandemic. As with any complex multi-layered phenomena it can be comforting to look for simple, easy to perceive, patterns. I’ve written before how, when faced with complexity—especially complexity that could be threatening—it can feel good to take refuge in uncomplicated messages; ‘Lockdown harder!’ … ‘End the lockdown!’ … ‘Vitamin C will save us all!’ And on and on and on. While such straightforward responses make perfect sense in terms of human psychology, they are quite inadequate when it comes to dealing with the uncertainty we all face today. (We actually face uncertainty everyday, but the global pandemic has thrown this into stark relief, especially for people who don’t normally get to wrestle with potentially life-threatening, economy-crashing changes to their reality or inconvenient changes to their travel arrangements).
Rather than trying to make over-simplistic sense of things, a smarter approach is to ensure that we are in the best physical, psychological and spiritual place possible to address the innumerable micro-decisions that make up our lives.
At a metaphysical level I, and many others, have been doing this by working with the Hearty sigil. This isn’t one practice but many approaches, using the sigil as the anchor for our aspiration to put care at the heart of the pandemic process. To empower, and support the awareness of, the many examples of this heartfelt care. We could, as communities, chose to do nothing; simply let people suffer and die as this new illness races around the globe. But, however imperfectly, it seems the collective process of responding to the pandemic has, at its best, been driven by feelings of care for, and solidarity with, others.
Meditation and magical work to support those caring for people sick with COVID-19 and its associated traumas is incredibly valuable. If nothing else such acts of magic offer much needed psychological support for those working at the sharp end of the current crisis, and on their behalf, I thank all those working with Hearty and other caring magics at this delicate time.
Meanwhile, to help keep our spirits up and share some magical goodness, the My Magical Things series on the Deep Magic YouTube Channel is continuing its mission to frivolously entertain (and incidentally educate) the discerning viewer. One of the participants, occultist and academic Amy Hale, pointed out that it is turning into a fascinating ethnographic journey through contemporary occulture. Christina Oakley-Harrington, occultist, academic and founder of the iconic occult bookstore Treadwell’s, also made the wise observation of how My Magical Thing allows us to see deeply into people’s practice. Christina pointed out that if you ask an esoteric practitioner ‘so what is it that you do?’ you’re likely to get a rather stock answer. However by asking about an object we get to understand that individual’s process much better; by inference, from the type of thing they choose, the way they explain its story, and how they describe what it means to them.
Today’s new episode of the show is with Carl Abrahamsson sharing his super powerful magical thing… enjoy!
I’m going to keep this project running for a while and have been really delighted and honoured by people’s willingness to join in. Please like, share and subscribe, as they say 🙂 It has also been interesting to see, from my conversations before and after filming, that many occultists are dealing relatively well with phenomena such as lockdown, or working all hours in the caring services. Perhaps this is a result of their ability to see the bigger picture, rather than just their personal desires and circumstances. Maybe it’s engendered by a deep awareness that ‘everything flows, nothing is static’ and that ‘this too shall pass’. It could also be due to reticence to get swept up in those unasked for evocations of one’s ‘Inner Torquemada’ which, depending on circumstances, may be visited on others (generally through the medium of internet chatter) as lockdown vigilantism, ‘Bill Gates is the Devil’ memeplexitis, or any number of other narrow, debilitating reality tunnels.
Other recent work for me has included adding more techniques to the Imagination and Wellbeing resources on my new teaching site. I’m pleased to say that I’ve had lots of positive feedback from people who have used the material there. Some of these films were commissioned by the British National Health Service (NHS) mental health services. As a teacher it has been a great opportunity to bring methods I’ve learnt in occult contexts—to centre ourselves, to come into our power, and bring our attention to the good—to a much wider audience (who tend to be put off, or at least nonplussed, by all those barbaric words of invocation or visualizations of angelic beings).
Inevitably, all the direct magical teaching I’m doing these days is now online. I’m going to be opening the virtual temple with Treadwell’s starting next week with Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners. This is going to be a journey through the classical four elemental system, designed to bring a new depth to the practice for those who are already using it, and to introduce people new to magic to a method which is ubiquitous across global spiritual traditions. Next up we will have a spot of Left-Hand Path Tantra (bring your own skull for the Chod ritual) and a workshop on Cleansing, Banishing & Centering that will present some of the material I’ve curated in a non-magical idiom for the NHS but here with the esoteric content reinstated; plus more specifically occult methods of clearing and making sacred space. Forthcoming classes will feature the Magical Qabalah and Psychedelic Magic. For these, and other services that Treadwell’s are providing, please check out their site.
Across the other side of the great river from me (here in sunny Devon) is Soror Brigantia (in sunny Wales). Former Section Head of The Magical Pact of The Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT), she has started a YouTube series (must be something in the air…). She kicks off with an interview with the current Section Head of the British Isles (‘Sections’ are the autonomous regional groups within the IOT). Historically the IOT has refrained from publicly making statements simply because, while the group has a basic organizational structure, it has no centralized authority which can offer pronouncements (unlike say Ordo Templi Orientis or The Servants of The Light). However the rules of the IOT network are such that people can, of course, talk about their own practice quite openly if they want (I do this all the time). Soror Brigantia’s work is going to be a breath of fresh air, giving people a genuine insight into the ‘The Pact’ (as members often refer to it). This is a fascinating opportunity for people to learn about an international magical network that I value very highly, from people who know it from the inside. Stay tuned to her channel for updates.
In these times of turbulence and trouble let’s also recognize that out of disorientation and chaos can come marvellous things. ‘What disorientates us is good’ as Timothy Leary once observed. Paradigms can shift in innumerable ways and, while we should keep an eye on what the nefarious forces in our world are doing, it behoves us to invest in our own well-being and that of all those around us. Stay centred, breath, laugh when we can and banish often.
By all means listen to the concerns of 5G-causes-coronavirus conspiracy theorists; for their anxious state of mind is certainly genuine, if not perhaps the focus of their fears. By all means check out the latest ‘research’ on epidemiology by the bloke who (until recently) was the guy in the pub giving you financial advice about Bitcoin. By all means listen to the waffling of antipodean alcoholic armchair archonologists if you find that passes the time in an amusing way. We should listen, and care for, the fears that hide behind the swaggering certainty of the twitter ninja and the keyboard warrior. We must also take time nourish ourselves with good soul-food: To express our gratitude for what we have, to do practices to help us remain open to new possibilities (even on issues as apparently fundamental as to whether vaccine hesitancy is a good or bad thing), to cultivate a clear mind, and to attempt to be less panicked by the uncertainty that we all live with in every moment. Not easy, but no Great Work ever is.
And now, a quick list of other cool things coming up…
Magic, Witchcraft, Chaos and Beyond – AN INTRODUCTION TO CHAOS MAGIC – 4th July 2020 at 14:00 BST Dave Lee and Niki Hughes will provide a comprehensive introduction to Chaos Magic. There is possibly no better introduction as Dave wrote one of the most accessible and thorough books in the field of Chaos Magic—Chaotopia. Let the author himself to guide you in the discovery of all things Chaos Magic, aided by his one time student, and now accomplished practitioner and tutor in her own right, Niki Hughes.
The next chapter of The Rose of Paracelsus goes live very soon. If you’ve not heard the first one you can listen here. Chapter 2 is read by the esteemed Brother David and will also appear on Lorenzo Hagerty’s fabulous and long running podcast Psychedelic Salon. (Remembering our prisoners in this time; some now temporarily released but others still locked down in what can only be described as inhumane conditions (even when there is no pandemic), by cruel and pointless laws. May they be safe, may they be free! Aho!)