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

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

 

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.

 

deep title 1

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!

heretics

Winter Solstice 2018: A film ritual for everyone to enjoy

We were happy to be asked to conduct a solstice eve ritual as part of a series of events at The Cube Microplex in Bristol, a marvellous community enterprise. Because we were in a cinema venue, we made use of the medium of film, and thought that you might enjoy seeing what we did; the YouTube version does require a little advance preparation, though nothing too taxing (find an orange and a candle).

Basically…

• Get an orange and a lit candle
• Start film
• As the stars twinkle, shake off unwanted energies
• When you see the sun, reach out your arms, feeling into the space around you
• Think about the sun
• As the sun sets over the city, sit and think about your year, from the heat of summer into the darkening evenings of the autumn
• In the dark the candle flickers, and you focus on the Here and Now
• The sun returns!
• Celebrate by eating your orange
• As the twinkling stars appear again, move around, make joyful noises

 

Detailed instructions:
1. Read through these instructions first, before pressing play at 22:08pm UT on the 21/12/2018.
2. Find an orange. Place it near the screen.
3. Find a candle, put it where you can look at it, and light it.
4. Turn off the other lights in the room.
5. Stand up, shake it off! Flick away all that yucky energy, making way for a cleaner you. Take a couple of minutes to gently stretch out.
6. Reach out with your arms, like the branches of a tree swaying in the breeze, sensing the air flow which brings with it information, molecules of knowledge.
7. Think about the Sun, whose birthday this is. Take some time on this process. Such an amazing phenomenon deserves our full appreciation! Here are a few facts (you can of course research more of your own in advance). E.g. Third generation star, very big, burns 600 million tons of hydrogen every second, the sun isn’t made of coal (as the Victorians thought), a photon can take thousands of years to emerge from its creation point in the central nuclear fusion zone to the outside, from where light takes 8 minutes to travel across the cold vacuum of space to our rock, the jets of gas which flare off are larger than our Earth… etc.
8. As the sun appears over the city skyline in the film, take a seat. Recall your summer past, a moment when the sunshine was super powerful. A field, with plants grabbing the carbon out of the air, to build amazingly complex structures out of which us animals can eat. Remember the feel of the heat on your skin.
9. The clock ticks. Bring that warmth, that intense light, inside you. As the sun sets, and we hear the sounds of city traffic, focus on your breath. On your heart beat. On the internal warmth of your body, your life as a creature in a house, with other creatures around with whom you have relationships, with whom you might like to visit.
10. Feel the dark around you. Bring to mind the sparkling of lights, the immensity of starry skies.
11. As night falls, watch the very tip of the candle flame; it contains millions of microscopic diamonds, forming and burning up with every moment.
12. The screen fades to black for the astronomical moment of the winter solstice, at 22:23pm UT. For this one minute, focus your attention on the world you can directly sense. The feel of your body on the ground, the sound and movement of your breathing, the heat generated within you. The sensations of the air as it moves in and around you.
13. The candle flame represents a portion of the sun’s energy. It represents the Now, the present portion of eternity, the only moment in which we can Do.
14. (By bringing our attention to this fact, we collectively empower our abilities to choose, to decide, to behave, to recognise we are free of the habitual stories of the past and future, the standard narratives which we blindly follow for the sake of convenience.)
15. As the light and sound return, when you feel the urge, pick up your orange. Hold it in your hand.
16. Behold! This is the solar globe in microcosm, a shining orb of orange, solar energy made matter.
17. Consider the orange; how it arrived where it is. The journeys it has taken. The people who cared for the tree it grew upon. The hours of sunlight, the rain that fell to water it. And then back, to the seed this tree grew from, then the tree before that, and on and on, with all the people, the land, the sunlight, the rainfall. All those thousands of years passed through, by all those moments, all those individual photons falling out of the sun star, through space, to our rock, creating this object.
18. Celebrate your knowledge of these moments which make up eternity by peeling and eating the orange.
19. Finish by dancing about a bit, putting the fairy lights on, waving some tinsel or whatever makes you smile.

We hope you enjoy your Christmas Present. Thank you for the time and attention!

NW & JV

Walking the Narrow Road

Most contemporary Western magical traditions, at some point in their curricula, make use of pathworking as a technique for inner exploration. By making use of an imagined journey, the aspirant is encouraged to move through any number of different landscapes and domains as a means of gaining a fuller, more vivid appreciation of the icons and symbols that are central to a given path.

I was recently chatting with Julian over tea about his teaching on a Master’s course on ecology and spirituality at Schumacher College and his attempt to communicate the way in which a variety of occult traditions had been shaped by historic processes such as the Industrial Revolution and the birth of Romanticism. In seeking to convey the importance of the Golden Dawn’s role in providing the esoteric underpinning for many of the subsequent manifestations of Neo-Paganism, Julian decided to take his willing students on a pathworking through the Tree of Life. In moving through the various Sephiroth and by incorporating the occult rich imagery of the Crowley-Harris Thoth tarot deck, Julian was able to provide a vivid and immersive means for his students to access these central ideas. As a masterful communicator, he was well aware that such experiential ways of learning are a far deeper and more exciting way of promoting both understanding and curiosity; certainly more effective than handing over a well-thumbed edition of 777 and wishing someone “best of luck!”

As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I have recently been revisiting my own engagement with the Druid tradition. Such explorations have been a way of deepening my own connection to the landscape I live within and also my own sense of Priesthood in the magical contexts I currently work. In contrast to many paths that have a more Hermetic or Neo-Platonic emphasis, much of the pathworking that I have undertaken during my training within Druidry has been rooted in the raw glory of Nature’s immanence. Sacred groves and holy wells are visited, dark caves are explored and snowy peaks are scaled in pursuit of wisdom and inspiration.

narrow path

Narrow path on the Holy Mountain

While there may be some benefit in my trying to lay down in detail the imagery and sensory information that would make for a vivid pathworking in the Druid tradition (see the works of Philip Carr-Gomm, Emma Restall Orr and Philip Shallcrass for suitable inspiration), I thought it would be of greater benefit if I described the component parts that I feel might be helpful for effective journeying more generally, so that you, dear reader, can construct your own within the mythological paradigm of your choice:

  1. Grounding in a place of safety: Magic can be a risky business that often asks us to question certainties and re-evaluate the person(s) we think we are. When we set out on a journey it can be good to start by connecting to our breath and body within an imagined setting that allows us to get our bearings and to connect to the values and allies that provide the motivation for the work. In the Druid tradition this is often described as a sacred grove, but it could as easily be by the side of the Nile or within the grounds of Apollo’s temple at Delphi.
  2. Descending to the underworld: Now this might reflect something of my dodgy Luciferian tendencies, but I often like an initial period of connecting to the Chthonic, underworld powers. Whether it involves the roots of trees, stygian tunnels or dragon infested caves, I gain great benefit in reconnecting to the dark and unconscious dimensions that such places often represent. We often enter such realms quietly in acknowledgement of their power and the desire to use such serpentine energy to ensure a rich depth to the insights that we hope to gain.
  3. Connecting to a source of Inspiration: When we re-emerge from the underworld blinking as our eyes readjust to the sunlight of the conscious mind, we may wish to connect to a primary source of inspiration within our mythic universe. Whether our encounter is with the guardian of a sacred well or the Priestess of a temple, we may be met with a challenge as to why we wish to access these places, and we may need to reconnect to our motivation for pursuing this work and the extent to which any Gnosis gained will be put into the service of the greater good.
  4. The Ascent: Having restated our motivation and reconnected to the heart of our work (Tiphareth if you will) we are then ready to ascend in order to gain new insight and challenge. You may wish to frame this journey to Shambhala in any number of ways, such as an encounter with the Holy Guardian Angel or our future magical self. Here we must expect the unexpected and we may also wish for portents and signs in future days as a means of “testing the spirits” and ensuring a balanced integration of new knowledge gained.
  5. The Return: Having gained wisdom and/or new insight, it’s important that we return to base so as to ground these new perspectives and to ensure that we can attend to other day-to-day matters without spinning off into space. Returning to our sacred grove and reconnecting to body and breath allows this process to begin and we may wish to formally conclude by giving thanks to our guardians and by ensuring that we do something that grounds us such as eating. Most magical groups eat and drink together after magical work because they’re hungry and the reality of these mundane acts ensures that we don’t lose our shit/get lost in the realms of faery.

Anyhow, hope that this is helpful! Safe travels!

Steve Dee

A Magician in Residence at The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

For a while, before the office opens, I’m sitting in a hollow on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. I plan to meditate and sing and do some yoga for an hour or so. This will ensure that I’ll be in the right frame of mind for work. Below me is Boscastle harbour. I am sitting on the eastern side of that long inlet, a snaking chasm of rock, half barred by two gently curving sea walls (built in the 16th century). Behind this there are a few boats, some sand and seaweed. On the seaward side there are great cliffs. In undercut hollows, carved by the restless waves, blow-holes form, squirting jets of spray back over the rising tide. This is a deeply magical place, for me and many others. Boscastle is the beautiful, sometimes dangerous confluence of the River Valency and River Jordan. It is one of those deep wooded valleys (‘coombes’ we calls ’em in Devon) that are typical of the north Atlantic coastline. It is also the setting for the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, where for one week in June I was the ‘Magician in Residence‘.

boscastle

Beautiful Boscastle

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) is a collection that is locally adored and internationally recognized. If you’re not already familiar with the amazing range of things they do (from supporting international academic research, to commissioning new artworks) then please take some time to look around their online presence.

baphomet_at_the_museum_of_witchcraft_in_cornwall_by_modgud_merry-d8uct8t

Lurid old skool Baphomet

I’d been aware of the Museum for many years (if nothing else through those brilliantly lurid photos of Baphomet in occult coffee table books of the 1970s). But it wasn’t until fifteen or so years ago I went there for the first time. These days I’m closely involved with the Museum, including as Chair of The Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, a registered charity that supports the museum, in particular with its mission to educate and engage people. One aspect of engagement is to encouraging people to visit spaces like MWM. Visiting museums, especially places of the quality of MWM, can be a powerful, authentic, moving experience. Sure you can see many items from the MWM collection using their online database. However the physical experience of walking down the path, towards the wild Cornish sea, turning right and there, nestled against the rock, is the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic – that embodied experience takes some beating!

MWM’s work includes supporting the increasing appreciation, in academia and wider culture, of the influence of occultism (as I mentioned here). They’ve recently loaned objects to some internationally important shows, such as Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution. There are the many ways in which the MWM collection is relevant to wider culture. One of my own interests in this field is in the social phenomena of witch hunting as a form of scapegoating. The way in which communities, of many different sorts, go about hunting and killing ‘witches’ says something very important to all of us. In order to understand, mitigate and perhaps transform our scapegoating behaviour, we have to understand how it happens. Collections such as that at MWM can directly help us do this by bringing us up close and personal with objects that are the anchors for stories of prejudice, misunderstanding and punishment. (You can see some examples of the educational resources I helped to create, enabling young people to explore these issues on the MWM website.  If you’re a teacher, especially of teenagers, you may like to check these out).

Inside MWM there are many wonderful things; the material traces of many expression of occulture. The galleries themselves are a cunning interplay of dark and secret with bold and well-lit spaces. The standard of presentation is second to none (and I’ve worked in many museums over the past 15 years). This excellent curation isn’t surprising given that museum director Simon Costin is something of a creative genius.

Boscastle-Witchcraft-Museum-4211

Tasteful modern Baphomet

(Talking of Baphomets, it was also during this week that I helped transport a rather famous Baphomet mask from London to its new home at the Museum. But more of that later…)

baph boscastle

Baphomet, last seen in public on The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

For my week in residency I got to hang out in the library. This is, as you might imagine, another wonderful space. There are wooden desks, a gigantic witches ball in the window to repel the evil eye, and many, many books. I set up my office here; runes, two decks of tarot cards, crystal ball, special magic A4 white paper for sigils, sage smudge, some magical pointy things from the Himalayas – and we are good to go!

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In residence

I’d imagined that I could spend much of the week writing and maybe doing a spot of research. In addition to an amazing range of books in the MWM library it houses hundreds of files containing everything from facsimile editions of Gerald Gardner’s original Book of Shadows, through to collections of obscure short-run occult ‘zines from the 1980s. However my research plan was not to be. Rather than reading the books I spent most of my time that week doing tarot readings for visitors.

This was both enjoyable and an honour. People often open up in a divination session and place their trust, to some degree, in the diviner. I encourage this, as an important benefit of having a reading is the confidential, candid, even confessional opportunity that this setting provides.

When people come to me for a reading I explain that I can’t divine the future with any great certainty. I usually joke that were this one of my special powers I’d divine six numbers, win the lottery and spend all my time on holiday. (Actually the problem with this analogy is I do generally to get to spend my time doing what I love, but anyhow…). Instead I explain that my role is primarily to work with clients to explore how things are for them, and to look at what possible futures and courses of action might emerge from their present circumstances. This makes the whole process about discovery; the reading becomes a space for mutual investigation and reflection. The querent is not the passive recipient of advice, but an active agent in their own narrative. For while there may be some circumstances where our options are limited. we do usually possess some degree of freedom; this realization is often a key outcome. Cultivating this awareness of freedom, in a realistic way, and exploring the options for change, are for me what tarot readings are all about.

Now I won’t lie, even within this broadly psychological paradigm of divination things with a distinctly parapsychological flavor do happen. For example, my usual practice is ask the querent to draw three cards. On the basis of these I begin a story, then together we explore how this might relate to their situation. Sometimes, especially when I’m on a roll and have been doing lots of readings over a short period of time, I say things in this opening section that the client responds to with surprise. ‘How could you have known that?’ they say. Then there are moments, perhaps halfway through reading (sometimes accompanied by a sense of having something speak through me, or some sense of ‘absence’) where a rush of words comes out. Again the querent may be impressed; I’ve perhaps articulated the problem we’ve been discussing in a radically new way that helps them see a totally new picture, or perhaps I’ve revealed how one character may be acting and what can be done to make things better. These intuitive insights may be surprising, including to me. But however spot on my words are I always bracket what I say. I explain that one reason we call this stuff ‘magic’ is because none of us (perhaps least of all magicians) really known how any of it works. I acknowledge that this is how things may appear in this moment, in this reading, but that the future is uncertain and new information and possibilities may well arise. I may be ‘inspired’ but I’m also quite clear that my impressions may be wrong or incomplete in any number of ways. Sure listen to the oracle, but take it all with a pinch of salt.

I’m pleased to say that I got really nice feedback from some of the folk I read for during my residency and I’m glad they found the sessions useful. For me whether a reading is heavy on the psychological exploration, or has significant parapsychological moments, isn’t what matters. What is important is that the consultation provides an opportunity to empower the querent; allowing them to find their own way in the world. This is the magic of it.

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In the magicians chair

An additional delight of this week was to be able to spend time with many of the members of my extended family, enjoying this magical landscape and each other’s company. (Which is why each morning on those rocks I gave thanks to the Great Spirit – whom I call Baphomet – for those lovely people and the magic in my life.)

I’ve  recorded a few thoughts towards the end of my residency about the role of the proverbial village witch on my Youtube channel too.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at the Museum for welcoming and supporting me during that week, and to all those people who came to see me over those days; may the royal road rise to meet you!

Blessed Be

Julian Vayne

PS Our next Deep Magic Retreat at St Nectan’s Glen will take place from 27th September-1st October 2018 For more details please visit our Facebook page.

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Labyrinth at Rocky Valley, where the river that runs through St.Nectan’s Glen meets the sea.

 

 

 

 

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