Dancing with Abraxas

I have recently been busy doing a cluster of podcasts related to my work as a therapist, the path of Chaos Witchcraft and also my own heretical take on gnostic mythology. This last discussion with the lovely Talk Gnosis channel took me back 5 years to many of the themes regarding dualism and deity that I explored in my book A Gnostic’s Progress. Contemporary attempts to reimagine gnostic practice often get tangled in the dilemma of how literally to engage with primary sources that often seem to be viewing the material realm and the body as being overwhelmingly negative. In both my book and the interview below I try to dig into the existential significance of such mythologies and how they often express the transformational tension we experience on our way to non-dual/less-dual experiences of the numinous and mysterious. Here’s the interview and a relevant excerpt from the book that picks up on these themes:

“In contrast to either creedal formulations or some distant “unmoved mover”, for Jung the God that seemed to encapsulate the endeavour of the gnostic explorer, was that strange bird Abraxas. Abraxas, like Baphomet, is one of those Gods whose queer visage keeps popping up in esoteric lore, while at the same time being very difficult to categorise. Research will provide some insights into the roles that he played/plays within a whole host of occult traditions – this strange cockerel (and sometimes lion) headed being with its serpentine “legs” is viewed as an Aeon by some, and as an Archon or even the Demiurge by others. His number (using Greek gematria) being 365, along with his association with the seven classical planets, connect him to both the round of the year and the physical cosmos.

For Jung, Abraxas represented a movement beyond dualism. No longer is the divine image split into a good Lord and an evil Devil; rather the mysteries of godhead are held within the complex iconography of Abraxas:

“Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Therefore is Abraxas terrible.”

The Seven Sermons to the Dead

Cocky God


When one meditates on the most commonly found cockerel headed form of Abraxas, we cannot but be struck by the bizarre chimera-like quality of the image. The body of a man is topped by the head of a solar cockerel (possibly symbolizing foresight and vigilance), while from under “his” concealing skirts, strange chthonic serpents come wriggling forth. This cosmic hybrid seems to be holding together the transcendent and immanent, solar and night side. Viewed through my contemporary lens I am both awed and unsettled by the sense of internal tension that this God seems to embody.

My own attraction to strange gods is hardly new territory – that monstrous hybrid Baphomet has long been jabbing at my consciousness as I’ve sought to make sense of life’s dissolving and coming back together. For me both Abraxas and Baphomet represent something of the core paradox that many of us experience in trying to make sense of the world.

Most attempts at constructing “big theories” (metanarratives if you like) are designed to make sense of the universe that we live within. The success or failure of any such world views seems to be largely determined either by their followers’ ability to manage nuance and complexity, or conversely their naivety and willingness to block out new information. However, for those of us who are seeking to promote some form of cognitive liberty, it seems inevitable that at some point we are going to have to develop deeper strategies for managing complexity, paradox and the types of uncertainty that such realities often give birth to. (See also this.)

We have previously considered the way in which the duality and tension that exists within many gnostic myths potentially trigger the awakening of consciousness; and in many ways these iconic images of Abraxas and Baphomet are little different. The juxtaposition of apparent opposites and the sense of movement that they contain speak to us of dynamism and process rather than fixed Platonic certainties. Whether via weird cosmologies or shape-shifting iconography, these gnostic riddles push us to the edges of comprehension and certainty. In seeking to engage with such material we often experience a profound unease and yet for the intrepid explorer such discomfort can trigger the types of “strange loops” that arguably enable the evolution of consciousness.”

My own exploration is far from merely academic, and I conclude A Gnostic’s Progress with this invocation  to she/he/them:

I call to you O dweller on the knife-edge,
Ambidextrous God,
Both hands, both paths:
A Shadow God, in the half-light of the pre-dawn,
Cockerel headed,
Rooting us in darkness and showing us the Sun.
Skirting Mysteries as Serpent legs
Move in and out of sight.
Creator, destroyer, begettor, purveyor of half-truths
That hold Wisdom still.
I think I know you,
And as I breathe in,
A Serpent tightens-
Wrapped thrice point five around my spine.
Breathing out
Silent Sophia beckons:
A deeper night, whose threshold you safeguard.
Hail to thee O great Abraxas
Whose glorious horror haunts me still!

For the podcast lovers amongst you here’s the link to Dr Vanesa Sinclair’s amazing “Rendering Unconscious” podcast in which we get all therapeutic: 

And here’s a reflection of the path of Chaos Witchcraft with the beautiful people over at “Queer Chaos”: https://www.queerchaospodcast.com/episodes-1

Steve Dee


Coming up soon…

Julian has got a bunch of workshops coming up with Treadwell’s Books. All sessions happen in Zoomland and run from 19:00-21:00 UK time. You can opt to join the workshops live or catch up with the fun at your convenience with a delayed viewing ticket.

The Magical Qabalah 28 October
In this workshop Julian Vayne takes attendees through The Qabalah, a core magical system of the modern Western Occult Tradition. The class examines Qabalah from its origins in Jewish culture, its use in the The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, to its appearances in the comics of Alan Moore, and its ‘dark side’ the qliphothic shadow tree. Participants come away from the workshop with a knowledge of the structure of the Qabalah, and with practical techniques to take them deeper into its mysteries. This session is suitable for people who are new to this system and for those wishing to develop their practice.

Queering Baphomet 11 November
‘Baphomet’ is a half-heard whisper of heresy among the Knights Templar, a heavy-metal icon, a French alchemical symbol representing the union of opposites —  but is always more, always undefinable. In this workshop, Julian Vayne explores Baphomet as a queer ‘Deity without a Myth’ who embodies ideas including gender fluidity, disability, and the totality of the life force on earth.  There is also sharing discussion and hands-on magical practice, so attendees by the end feel prepared to work magically with Baphomet as patron and ally. Julian is co-author of The Book of Baphomet.

Street Sigil Sorcery 25 November
Gods at zebra crossings, chthonic deities in cement subways, sigils in the graffiti. Julian Vayne presents practical techniques for working magic in modern cities. This class teaches ways to connect to local spirits of place, how to tap into the psychic power of the urban jungle, and how to perform ’empty handed’ spell techniques that don’t require ceremonial paraphernalia. Attendees will learn to use their phone for magical work, methods to protect themselves from damaging energies in the metropolis, and how to develop their spiritual practice in the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Sun at Midnight 09 December
This workshop-ritual is dedicated to preparing for the longest night of the year Julian Vayne shares magical techniques for nourishing the soul, which help transmute suffering into alchemical gold, and leads the group in an online ceremony to encounter the magic in the season of darkness, ahead of a rebirth of the sun and of light. All are invited to sit around the virtual hearth, feast, chant, laugh and cast intentions into the cauldron of 2022.


The Deep Magic First Steps in Magic course remains at it’s super low price and provides a great introduction to the Core Magical Skills course which was featured in the delightful Wyrd Magazine.

The excellent Dave Lee is also offering a range of classes, self-directed, in-person and online. Visit Dave’s Chaotopia website to find out more.

Pilgrimage: Journeying in the body and landscape

Perhaps as a result of lockdown related ennui, I have been thinking about sacred journeys. 

(In order to avoid the frustrations of travel porn I will provide a link to a previous piece about taking inner journeys via pathworking techniques Walking the Narrow Road.)

When we scan the vast landscape of human religious experience and expression, the act of Pilgrimage is almost universal in its scope. Moving from our place of origin towards a sacred site is an undertaken in religions both theistic and non-theistic. Whether it is the ground zero of the Buddha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, A Sufi Saint’s tomb or Canterbury Cathedral, the power and significance of a spiritually meaningful journey should not be underestimated.

In the introduction to their wonderful and encyclopedic guide Britain’s Pilgrim Places Nick Mayhew-Smith and Guy Hayward make the following observation:

“Meaningful journeys are one of the few universal patterns of human behavior, seeking out special places where communities share their memories, spill out their hopes and fears. They are places where all can find wholeness, be part of something bigger. They are open to all.”

Whatever the destination particular to our chosen religious or magical path, the Pilgrimage represents a very physical expression of our devotion and longings. We are no longer armchair aspirants, rather our internal journey, in pursuit of meaning, is gaining a very physical and spatial expression. Whether undertaken independently or with the support of others, we are acknowledging that staying-put is not enough, we need to hit the road. 

Our journey usually begins long before we step outside our front door. We may have spent months or years planning and anticipating this journey. Finding the time, the funds and the support of others to make this possible all contributes to casting a powerful spell upon such undertakings. Often the amount of sacrifice needed to make our pilgrimage happen, profoundly encapsulates the importance of that destination as an embodiment of our spiritual intentions. I have clear memories of what it has felt like as I began a journey to a large Pagan gathering, a road-trip to monastery and even my preparations to see a band like Fugazi whose music captured my politics and desire for authenticity. 

As we travel, our hopes and expectations sharpen our senses in a way that creates story. Aspects of my own Pilgrimages feel etched in my memory: what I drank in the airport, the challenges of negotiating a foreign public transport system and those meals with fellow pilgrims where time slowed down and deep connections were made.

Pilgrims at the Ka’ba in Mecca

On the road we often meet fellow travellers and we resonate with a shared knowledge that often remains unspoken. We connect with the perseverance needed, the aspirations shared and the badge of honor earned via the journey. We have a common mythology as someone who was willing to step-outside mundane time in pursuit of new truths. Symbols and shared songs while on the way add to the creation of a temporal community. Markers such the white robe of the Hajj pilgrim or the Scallop Shell of the Camino walkers, mark us as changed. 

Given that Pilgrimage often involves journey to the remains of a Saint or beloved spiritual teacher, as we travel we enter into a new relationship with both time and death. When we travel with intention we enter a liminal zone between life and death. We have uncoupled ourselves from our static, safe bases (if we ever had them) and we are forcing ourselves to face change and the finite nature our lives. In the light of our mortality how are we to live? What are we doing with the time we have left and how does the life of our saint exemplify how we might do things differently?

We might fantasize about the Pilgrim as being an embodiment of rugged individualism, but such ableism has little place in the reality of mobility and sensory challenges that many of us experience. Even if we travel alone most of us have benefited from the support of a community that has helped get us there. They become “a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) surrounding us and cheering us on in spirit via thoughts, spells and Instagram messages. 

Recent connections have been made here between bipedal movement through a landscape and the type of trauma processing that occurs via trauma therapies such as Eye-Movement Desensitizing Reprogramming (EMDR). In a way similar to the bilateral tapping or use of moving lights that encourages eye-movement, travelling through a landscapes creates a rhythm that seems to allow us to make sense of things in a way that linear problem-solving alone fails to do. The home-spun wisdom of “just go for a walk” may not be bad advice and in my own experience as a somewhat nominal runner, I often find that the rigors of a sweaty and breathless 5K run often allows access to previously unconsidered wisdom.

Discovering Wisdom: The Canterbury Tales

Sometimes the sense of magical space that we inhabited during pilgrimage can make the readjustment to normal life quite bumpy. Perhaps the expectations we had were too high and we are making sense of disappointment; perhaps the freedom of the road makes a return to our previous life impossible? Intentional journeys create change and no change is without a cost. 

Personally I am taking time to recollect my own past journeys and I am savoring the way in which their magical atmosphere changed me. With lockdown still a reality, I am breaking out the maps and my walking shoes and warming up my imagination for what is to come. ☺ 

Here’s some more inspiration from the brilliant British Pilgrim’s Trust to inspire you:

“Pilgrimage (n.): A journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places.

People have made pilgrimage across countless geographies, cultures and eras.

To turn a walk into a pilgrimage, at the beginning set your private ‘intention’ – dedicate your journey to something that you want help with, or for which you want to give thanks.

Pilgrimage is for everyone, promoting holistic wellbeing via pilgrim practices and connecting you with yourself, others, nature and everything beyond.”

Steve Dee