The Magician as Creative Theologian

Before I was aware of being a magician, I was a theologian, digging deep into the nature of Mystery and how we locate religious authority in an academic setting. These efforts began a process of deconstruction that lead to a radical expansion of my previous faith.  In contrast to the claustrophobia I had experienced when trying to hold-on to the tenets of belief, the esoteric path felt like an expansive opportunity to explore the fullness of my humanity.

As a fledgling magician I was launched into a landscape in which my own occult exploration and direct experience had a profound impact on my process of interpretation and understanding ( or hermeneutics, for the theologically fancy). While research into the best primary source material was still vital, I was far more aware of the role that my personal religious experience was having in shaping my worldview. I recently had a go at mapping out this process, and while not definitive, it looked a bit like this:

I thought I would share with you an example of such magical hermeneutics at work. What follows is an extract from my piece ‘The Queer Gods of Alchemy’ that was part of the excellent anthology Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries (2018) edited by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin.  I highly recommend the whole anthology for those interested in Queered and creative approaches to spiritual practice.

The Sabbat of the Queered Christ

I’m sure I’m no different from most of people in trying to make sense of the paths I have walked and what they reveal about the core aspects of who I am. When I consider the differing traditions that I have worked within I’m often struck by the commonalities in how I have approached them.  While I might admire the dignity of a scripted ritual rubrik, I personally love music, dance and drumming.  For me this type of embodied, ecstatic leaping about, was once part of my teenage Pentecostalism and now strongly connects me to the shamanic archetype of the Witch and the nightside mysteries of their craft.

Within the collective psyche of Europe, the Witch has often acted as an icon of disturbance and freedom. The projected fantasies of clerics and folkloric imaginings often allude to something dark, disturbing and subversive.

The Witch often acts as an attractor for the shadow aspects of those cultures within which they are suspected of dwelling. They are the hags and the shape-shifters whose messy bodies both arouse and unsettle us. They seem to be scapegoats onto whose heads the repressed longings of society are spoken.

In bearing the weight of such dangerous passions they often hold a position on the outer edge of social and ethical evolution.

If our magic is to mean anything, we must be willing for it to Queer and haunt us. The certainties that we cling to must be placed on the altar of our work as our Gods and ancestors draw us to the crossroads at which the sacrificial cost of true change must be weighed. 

My own work with the Witches’ path induced a profound sense of unease. Have you ever felt haunted? Haunted by an idea or a person who, despite all your best efforts, seems to be lurking at the edges of your vision and prodding your unconscious to give them a bit more space? For me, this was a phantom of my own history, pointing towards past explorations and adventures that were still unresolved. 

In my seeking to more fully appreciate the potential connections between the Witch trials and medieval Christian heretics, I became aware that the figure haunting me from the shadows was that old trickster Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus to his Greek speaking friends). 

In relation to my own journey I have already sought to describe how my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my own sexuality and gender identity. While I now feel that it was necessary to take leave of Christ due to the type of self-suppression that seemed innate to my faith at that time, I am still able to appreciate some of the Queer liberation that I experienced via the androgyny of Christ.  

While owning my own needs and bias, I eventually encountered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that provided for me an alternative mode of being. Yes, this was the Jesus who cleared Temples and overturned tables, but also the Jesus who blessed the gentle and sought out the one lost sheep. 

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

To follow the path of the Witch or the Gnostic explorer is to pay heed to those incoming messages bubbling up from the unconscious. In the same way that I couldn’t adhere to the exclusivity of a Christianity at odds with my Queerness, neither can I turn away from the insights still offered by the Christ-spark within. 

In the Gospel of John (Chapter 11) Jesus describes himself as ‘the door’ and for me the Christic myth still provides a doorway via which I can explore greater self-understanding. Walking through this doorway asks that I leave behind the child-like sentimentality of my past beliefs, but I choose to risk this path as if offers freedom from claustrophobic certainties and the possibility of breathing in fresh insights. 

For all of us I would pray that we might access true gnosis as we listen to the Wisdom of our Queer ancestors and Gods, and as we take heed of their counsel may we be brave enough to pursue the uniqueness of our path towards greater wholeness and freedom. So Mote It Be!

“Be a light unto yourself” Shakyamuni Buddha

Steve Dee


Coming Up This Spring

Julian is teaching two workshops with The Last Tuesday society on Sigil Magic and Chaos Magic in February, and continues his regular workshop series with Treadwell’s Books; next up, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners, Magical Energy and The Magical Qabalah for beginners and advanced practitioners. In addition, Treadwell’s is hosting The Banned Lecture of Getting Higher in March, which like much of their other online content will be available to watch after the live event as a video recording.

Julian’s work is now gathered together on his newly launched portfolio website julianvayne.com

Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne will be hosting an Imbolc Ceremony with The Psychedelic Society on Monday 1st Feb 2021, 7pm – 9pm UK time.

Hoping to see you in the magic circle soon! 😀

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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queerwords.jpg

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. 🙂