Review: Hine’s Varieties Chaos and Beyond by Phil Hine

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Cover by Strutz & Hine

As a latecomer to Chaos Magic in the mid-1990’s, Phil Hine’s Condensed Chaos provided an excellent guide to the Neophyte Steve Dee. Having been spiritually burnt out by my previous struggles with belief and attempts at religious faith, the iconoclastic approach of Chaos Magic articulated in that work felt like an invigorating breath of fresh air.

In this latest collection spanning over 40 years of magical practice and reflection, Phil has brought together not only a rich smorgasbord of his writing that has previously been featured in Zines, collections and his on-line presence, he also intersperses these pieces with illuminating snapshots of magical autobiography and reflections on his inspirations at the time they were written. In addition to Phil’s written work, the book also features evocative linocuts by Maria Strutz at the beginning of each of its major subsections.

He provides us with a vivid recollection of his own beginnings in Magic that reference the impact of Austin Osman Spare, Theosophy and some bold experimentation with the pantheon of HP Lovecraft. Early occult group work came in the form of a rather bumpy experience with a Wiccan Coven, and we also see him giving his playful and non-conformist streak expression via more experimental work with the Discordian Goddess Eris. Things clearly lit-up during his involvement in the vibrant Pagan/magical scene in the North of England during the 1980’s and his involvement with the enigmatic Lincoln Order of Neuromancers provides a Segway into the books first major section containing writing on Chaos Magic.

Even with the passing of time, Phil’s writing from this period still contains both a vibrancy and a relevance. Pieces such as the channelled Erisian Stupid Book and the brutally honest Fracture Lines provide clear insight into the magician both at work and struggling with the emotional realities of being a human being. In Cthulhu Madness he challenges the sanitised safety of our overly psychologised magic and our attempts at control. “Real Magic is Wild” insists Hine and yet he also asks us to use on whole of our beings in balancing magic and mysticism, work and play: 

“Chaos Magic is a process of mutation…the deconstruction of Identity from the beleaguered Ego into the legion of Selves requiring only self-love”

In his section on Paganisms, we find Phil in full activist mode using both his writing and group ritual to challenge the hysteria of alleged satanic child abuse and the ecological threat posed by industrialisation. This a Paganism unbolted from the politeness of social conservatism and in his writing for Pagan News we see a clear embodiment of the magician-shaman as social disruptor. In his Must we Love the Golden Bough? I sensed the beginnings of Phil’s role as erudite historian of religion and critic of Western Occultisms lazy reliance on the Universalistic assumptions that reflect an insensitivity to cultural context.

Phil’s section on Practice provides some rich anecdotes and some very down-to-earth principles for magical practice. He provides valuable thoughts regarding the power dynamics present within the student-teacher relationship and how the paradigm of mentorship might provide a less lopsided model. I was especially struck by his piece on Leaving Magical Groups and was aware of the parallels in my own experience of how such departures can have long lasting impacts on friendships, personal psychology and the shape of on-going spiritual work.

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Phil throwing down some organic Tantra   Portrait by Asa Medhurst

Somewhat organically Hine takes us with him on a voyage into his exploration of Tantra. We are treated to tales of his meeting his Guru, involvement with the AMOOKOS tradition and a description of a deeply personal embodied Kundalini experience. Phil openly wrestles with what it might mean to let the complex traditions of South Asia speak for themselves and inform his efforts to create a “hybridised Tantra”. Through a number of nuanced pieces of writing he invites us to become detectives with him in trying to experience the complex layers of meaning of Tantra’s twilight language rather than coarsely pillaging concepts around rebellion, antinomianism and sacred sexuality. However these concepts are present, they need to be able to speak on their own terms.

His sub-section on Sexualities was a personal favourite of mine, as Phil provides a robust challenge to much of the heteronormativity and phallo-centrism that is still present within certain quarters of western occultism. In exploring the fluid and evolving concept of Queer Paganism we encounter Baphomet as an “unfinished” deity who contains “a multiplicity of shifting planes and horizons”. These aren’t merely theoretical constructs but rather profound explorations of when the personal is the political and pieces such Sodomy and Spiritual Fulfilment and Biography of a Kiss provide us with some truly tender insights on how we unfold in becoming more human.

The final two sections of the book are given over to Histories and Fiction and in this juxtaposition we see Hine in both his most incisive and playful modes.  In his analysis of the work of Lobsang Rampa and Elizabeth Sharpe’s writing on The Secrets of the Kaula Circle we have Phil in full religious historian mode challenging us to stay sensitive to context and to appreciate the complexity of contributions within the timeline. In Fiction (probably the section that appealed to me least), we see the blurring of the lines between story and history and the weird tales described could quite feasibly be chapters from his own biography.

In his writing on Masters, Mentors, Teachers and Gurus Hine advises us to let go of our fixation in seeking parental authority figures and to “seek friendship instead”. Finding such magical mentors can take time but I feel that Phil has provided us with a warm and authentic version of this albeit in print. This collection provides us with a rare, raw and at times hilarious insight regarding what it might mean to be a magician in the 21st century. While playful and irreverent it also contains a moving story of the search for meaning, the fluid nature of identity and also a desire to find the Goddess in all their multiplicity of forms.

Highly Recommended!

Steve Dee

Book Launch of Hine’s Varieties

At Treadwell’s Books, London on 13th February.

Details HERE


Deep Magic Spring Retreat

Cultivating Connection

Last few days to secure your place at the early-bird price. Details HERE

Schumacher College – Where Ecology and Spirituality Meet

Set in the South Devon countryside on the Dartington Hall Estate (famed as place of radical socialist ideas) stands Schumacher College. The College takes it name from the environmentalist, educator and ecomomist Ernst Schumacher, author of the ground breaking book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. This May I was invited by Andy Letcher (author of the seminal Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom) to teach a module on the MA in Spirituality and Ecology; my area of expertise being the history, theory and practice of British Paganism and occulture.

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Schumacher in the Summertime

The academic study of what is usually called ‘Western Esotericism’ has been growing apace over recent years. For instance, the vital role of magic in the work of many artists is today being recovered and celebrated in the academy (whereas mention of occultism was strictly forbidden within the prevailing materialist vocabulary of late 20th century artistic criticism). Meanwhile the relationship between esotericism and many other domains of culture are now seen as legitimate territory for scholarly engagement.

In teaching at Schumacher I was joining  an august list of former lecturers including  Fritjof CapraStanislav GrofJames LovelockLynn MargulisArne NaessRupert Sheldrake, StarhawkVandana Shiva, etc etc. This was a great honour especially since my qualifications are primarily those of esoteric practitioner and writer rather than those of academia. It was a residential week, so I was invited to stay in the beautiful college building and eat wonderful food, much of it grown and prepared by the students. Each day I would come into work, walking past a quote from Goethe, writ large at the college entrance: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

The week’s teaching began with a brief overview of British history, focusing on the previous 200 or so years. It’s hard to understand the emergence of British paganisms (such as Wicca, Thelema, Druidry, Chaos Magic et al) unless one appreciates something of the history of the British Empire and the social impact of the Industrial Revolution.

Thereafter we plunged into the story of various forms of pagan spirituality; the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Thelema, Wicca and witchcraft, Druidry and, towards the end of the week, chaos magic, Discordianism and neo-shamanism.

Each day started with a seminar to provide context, explore origins, key concepts, characters and events.

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Fabulous history

As you can see from the (incomplete) diagram above, the general history of modern British paganism is deeply indebted to the Romantic movement. The Romantics initiated a reappraisal of all those groups of people considered inimicable to the then dominant (religious) discourse. The Romantics looked to the witches, the druids, the heathens and the magicians, re-imagining these groups in powerful ways; seen by some as standing against (repressive) Christian culture. They (witches, druids et al) were more authentic, more spiritual, more in touch with the land, more magical, more matrifocal etc etc than people are today (‘today’ being the 18th and 19th centuries). Thus the devils of the dominant religion become the heroes of the new.  And this process has a powerful magic in it. Druidry, for instance, is successfully re-imagined by the Romantics and antiquarians into inhabited reality. That is, there are people who start to call themselves ‘Druids’ and claim some form of lineage, spiritual or cultural connection with the Druids that Tacitus writes about. As this re-imagination unfolds polymorphously through time, making all kinds of twists and turns. Druidry becomes both a form of LARPing for Anglican ministers and an identity for protest (at Seahenge and Stonehenge) and for a sporting nation (at the Olympics and Paralympics).

Magical history is full of such wyrd transformations: one of my favorites being the way that Margaret Murray sacrifices her academic standing on the altar of Gerald Gardner’s (supposedly ancient) Wicca (by writing the Introduction to Gardner’s Witchcraft Today) and, in doing so, helps to give rise to an actual religion of pagan witchcraft. (A curious historical artefact observed by Wiccan practitioner and scholar Melissa Harrington.)

The afternoons at Schumacher were given over to practical exercises (from Hermetic pathworking through to eclectic-shamanic-style ritual). Through embodied practice I aimed to demonstrate that the techniques of imagination, of ceremony and of attention, that get grouped together as ‘magic’ actually underpin many (apparently non-magical). things. Identity, marketing, economics, religion, all pivot, not on the material stuff of the world, but primarily on our ideas about the world and ourselves. Therefore the fact that we can use these ‘magical’ approaches to stir up and change our awareness is deeply relevant to how culture happens, especially when we consider how our beliefs (our spirituality) relates to the communities and planet we inhabit (ecology). Magic also rests on the axiom ‘As Above, So Below’, or more generally that ‘everything is interconnected’. Such a world view is natural to the ecologist. With that in mind it is important to equip those studying ecology and related disciplines not only with ideas, but with embodied practices by which they can modify awareness so that this ‘holistic’ world-view becomes a deeply felt experience.

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At the Entrance to the Underworld, shrine space decorated by students on the Spirituality & Ecology MA programme.

Naturally I learnt lots as a teacher at Schumacher. One insight was a renewed appreciation of how the history of British occultism can initially appear like a tiny (irrelevant) scene, a cul-de-sac of culture. But dig a little deeper and it is soon becomes apparent that, not only does magic respond to and reflect wider culture, but it also acts to change it; often in far reaching ways. Another lesson was something I’m often reminded of when I teach magical techniques and that is this; the process of doing ritual, of creating ceremony, is a deeply human need. It’s a process which, for many people, is linked to experiences of orthodox religion and its associated oppressions, and so they (understandably) distrust it. But ritual need not be like this; empowering ourselves to understand and use this approach for purposes such as spiritual exploration, group bonding and social transformation, on our own terms, is essential.

My heartfelt thanks to Andy Letcher and the staff at Schumacher, and to the students for being up for everything from constructing the Qabalah from tarot cards through to rune singing and the gnostic pentagram rite! I look forward to my next visit 😀

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Exploring the Tarot and the Tree

Use this link find out more about the MA in Spiritual and Ecology.

Julian Vayne