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
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,
Both hands, both paths:
A Shadow God, in the half-light of the pre-dawn,
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.
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
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 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.