At the Heretic’s Altar

Having just passed the 12 month anniversary of The Heretic’s Journey being published, I thought I would share part of the Foreward with you all as a blog post. Also, one of the many magical exercises that are peppered throughout the book – enjoy!   Steve Dee

This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy! The territory I invite you to explore is that of the spiritual free thinker who is no longer satisfied with the easy answer. The literal definition of Heretic is “to choose” i.e.  to make a conscious and active choice rather than merely accepting an opinion due to it being espoused by the mainstream or by those in authority. To walk such a path is far from risk-free, but in my view the rewards of such self-sovereignty are powerful and profound. It is my hope that this work (The Heretic’s Journey) will act as a catalyst for your own exploration of your heretic self, and in that exploration you will experience the unfolding of who you truly are.

pride

Spiritual Freethinking during Pride month

Such an unfolding can take time. The magical axiom “To Dare, To know, To Will and To Keep Silent” for me points to a circular process of refinement where the daring Mage receives new insight, which when proven through practice is internalized (kept silent) so that this incubation then gives birth to further development/mutation.

This internal alchemy can birth things within us that at first seem monstrous. As our freethinking allows us to conceptualize and articulate ideas beyond the realms of orthodoxy, so we will be viewed as Monsters. Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and an assortment of other freak-labels were at times applied to those who questioned the limits of what we thought we knew. 

While the mundane world may conspire to keep us small and within a form that makes its control of us more possible, as explorers of awakening we have a more formidable task ahead of us. Our own initial response may be to flinch when we see the possibility of who our deepest self might become; these glimpses at the edges of sight may demand too much of us; too much sacrifice, too great a transformation. Dear traveller, be of stout heart! The inner genius of your daemon doesn’t require that we reach the goal before the journey has begun; rather it asks of us the bravery to stop and truly look at the possibility of who we might be…”

 

Exercise 1: Sculpting the Heretic’s Altar

One of the techniques that I employ during my day-job (as a Systemic/Family psychotherapist) is that of the Sculpt. Sculpting is a tool for making an external picture, or ‘sculpt’, of an internal process such as feelings, experiences, or perceptions.  It can use both items and bodily postures as ways of experimenting with the relationships between things and how their proximity or orientation might express the dynamics of communication and power.

In this activity I am proposing that we create an altar as a means for exploring the interplay between different aspects of our heretical selves. So often religious or spiritual altars express something of our aspirations and longings, and it is interesting to note the changes we make to them (or the time we spend in front of them) depending on which guiding principles or realities we wish to experience more of.

The first part of our task is to collect a series of objects, pictures and texts that embody those heretical, rebellious and inspirational figures and ideas that mark us as outsiders and inspire our processes of free thought. At this point it is important that we don’t over-think this process. 

We may draw our inspiration from a broad spectrum or it may reflect the narrowness of our current obsessions. In my case I had everything from an icon of St Francis, a Gurdjieff book, a leather-clad Catwoman figurine and a Henry Rollins CD. I made little attempt to rationalise why I needed this collection of heretic heroes together, I was simply aware that they embodied important markers in my own journey of personal liberation.

As a person with strong devotional tendencies, I then spent some time offering incense to the assembled representation of free-thinking and undertook my normal meditative practice. This felt less like an act of worship and more a process of acknowledging and aligning myself with these embodiments of freedom.

altar

Heretical Heroes

If you choose to undertake this task, I would recommend an initial period of simply sitting with the choices that you have made. Maybe note their presence and position within a journal or magical diary so that any future changes can be noticed.

Working with sculpts can be accomplished in many ways, and it may be interesting to note how this altar-sculpt evolves over time. You may want to shift the objects to change their proximity to each other (interestingly, Cat Woman currently seems to be whipping St Francis; but it looks consensual) or we may want to introduce new elements to either maximize a component or to provide a sensed need for counter-balance (in my case a black feather representing Ma’at).

However you choose to work with this exercise, as with most sculpts, the aim is to externalise those key aspects of who we are so that in seeing them “out there”, we can gain a greater sense of clarity having brought them more fully into the conscious parts of self. The purpose of beginning such work is usually far more beneficial if we view it as an unfolding process of questioning and exploration for ourselves rather than attempting to rush towards answers prematurely.

More about The Heretic’s Journey can be found here: https://theblogofbaphomet.com/the-heretics-journey/

Steve Dee


In other news…

Julian is teaching Sigils at Treadwell’s Books in July and Magical Words and Signs at The Museum of Witchcraft in August

Our dear friend Lucia is offering a Tai Chi retreat in the magical Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury. Lucia is an awesome practitioner and a great teacher. Find out more here.

heretics

Wyrd Relationships

When following a path of initiatory magic, however much we may want to emphasize our rugged individualism and uniqueness, most of us eventually come to the realization that we can’t do this on our own. However potent our initial gnostic insights regarding the need to take a radical degree of responsibility for own salvation, we soon realize that we will need to connect to the others for this process to be sustainable.

web1

Creating New Connections

I have already written on this blog about the influence of Gurdjieff/Fourth Way ideas on my path generally, but I have been especially influenced with regards to that tradition’s focus on the importance of finding dynamic spiritual relationships, in order to challenge and deepen our own explorations. Learning something by one’s self is of course possible, but most of us realise quickly that everything from Tai Chi to foreign language learning is made easier (and ultimately more fun) if we have a competent teacher or teachers. In having an experienced mentor, our learning becomes more rounded as pitfalls are avoided and the full range of sensory and kinaesthetic information becomes available to us.

Learning within an esoteric or magical context is usually associated with groups of other humans who organise themselves into Orders, Schools or networks centred on a shared philosophy, lifestyle or ritual aesthetic. This is often how we do things as Homo sapiens and however much our politics and aspirations hope to flatten hierarchies, we usually self-organise into something that looks like a tribe or family system. When we enter such environments, inspired by our search for meaning, it is unsurprising that most of us look to the longstanding members of such groups both for guidance, and evidence that the group’s claims have some degree of validity.

Okay, so far so good, but if such groups can be beneficial why is it that they can also be a complete pain in the arse? For me, part of why Schools and Orders can be challenging is they often have profound tensions at their core. In reflecting on this, here are a few of them that seem critical:

Openness versus Discernment

Most religious and philosophical groups require the internalization of a certain amount of information and adherence to specific behavioural requirements. When we enter this as a newcomer to a group we can often feel that we re-enacting those scenes from our childhoods in which we were seeking approval. When this is going on alongside the message that we should be aspiring to become powerful, competent initiates we can be forgiven for becoming somewhat confused and disheartened.

For me, the saying attributed to Christ is helpful: “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are too naïve we risk exploitation and buying into a type of group-think that can run contra to the aims of initiation, but if we are too shut off and not willing to unlearn then there is little point in being there.

Most of us don’t get it right upon the first time of trying and it is also possible that part of our difficulty lies in bringing the same expectations to the School that we would to other (more conventional) religious contexts. Many enter a School seeking a Church and then seemed shocked that it feels more like a dojo!

Freedom versus Structure

Working with others can be tricky. By definition most magical practitioners are free spirits with anarchic tendencies. We can experience a deep desire to work with others in order to empower and sharpen our work, but most of us are prone to experiencing claustrophobia when we feel our agency and liberty is being threatened!

In traditions that involve truly transformative perspectives there is a certain inevitability that we will need to challenge existing values and certainties. While they will never be perfect in their execution, many Orders out of necessity have had to spend time reflecting on how they provide boundaries and guidance to ensure that ethical standards are understood and respected. Such reflection often takes decades of shared work to develop maturity and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Groups will always make mistakes in the doing of the Great Work, but what feels critical is that they have mechanisms for feedback and reflection so that the inevitable mistakes are learnt from. The presence of such processes for self-reflection are vital in ensuring that a School’s core philosophy is both truly life promoting and able to counter any organizational excesses.

Personally speaking, being part of a more formal magical Order has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn. Even if I might not agree with some of what’s being proposed, the content and structure of such systems provide me with something solid to bash up against and thus refine my own initiatory understanding. The pursuit of grades and curricula may become yet another form of “spiritual materialism”, but at best they can fulfill our need for structure and a way of mapping our development, especially in the early to intermediate stages of training.

box1

Something clever about trying to think outside the box

Personal versus Impersonal

While undertaking any deep spiritual work will inevitably lead to the forming of close relationships with others, one of the strengths of an Order is that they usually provide a corpus of techniques and perspectives to engage with. Without a solid body of ideas and practice with which to engage, there is a danger that our involvement becomes overly reliant on interpersonal connection. While warm rapport and friendships can be a major strength in the sustainability of group involvement, if we become overly dependent on this, then our own motivations for doing the work can become distorted. People inevitably come and go from magical and initiatory groups as their own focus changes or the costs of involvement outweigh the benefits. Finding like-minded souls can feel amazing after perhaps years of feeling isolated, but we must remain clear about our own goals, and alive to where we may need to go next.

These tensions are likely to remain in play while we choose to take the risk of working magically with others. The probability of finding some imagined perfect balance between these polarities is both unlikely and frankly a bit dull. Like the perfect job or the perfect relationship, the perfect group or school simply doesn’t exist, but in recognizing the dynamics at work we may become more conscious of the push and pull of such forces and how we might play with and respond to them more skillfully.

Steve Dee

 

Digging in the Dirt

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel…

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

Peter Gabriel  Digging in the Dirt

When we enter onto a path of initiatory magic that seeks to transform the Self it can be easy to lose perspective. In exercising the antinomian bravery of putting our own evolution before the concerns of the gods (real or imagined), we can still get caught-up in becoming overly attached to our own reflection. In the project of awakening and self-sovereignty we can easily become delusional about where our humanity and divinity intersect. Even so-called “living Gods” have to clean the litter tray and push the shopping cart!

In seeking to assess the potential value of the plethora of resources claiming to offer progress along the Left-Hand Path, I would be highly skeptical about any source or school that doesn’t account for failure. Organisations and Orders may well want to emphasize the potential greatness of what their methods might help you attain and obtain, but we still need to show discernment in evaluating the actual method in getting there. While I may be drawn to night-side aesthetics that Kennet Granholm helpfully described as “the Post-Satanic” (cf. his article in the anthology The Devil’s Party), we still need to answer the question: “what is actually required of me for such feats of alchemy to be accomplished?”

dirty

Getting dirty with Peter Gabriel  

The initial Faustian act of taking responsibility for our spiritual development can be fuelled by a healthy dose of adolescent punk-rock rebellion or Black Metal grimacing, but without a depth psychology they eventually risk becoming little more than posturing. For such transformational work to have authentic power and true sustainability it needs to actually engage with the darkness that it is so keen to espouse. As the above quote from Jung maintains, the roots of our being need to be deeply engaged with the dark soil of the unconscious and the shadow aspects of the self.

One magical curriculum that I feel successfully embodies an engagement with these dimensions is the Nine Doors of Midgard that is used within the Rune Gild. This work authored by Edred Thorsson outlines a somewhat terrifying course of work that can take anywhere between 3 and 5 years to complete. The Nine Doors demands a profound engagement with the elder furthark and requires extensive use of body, mind, emotions and voice as a way of internalizing these mysteries.

In the early phases of the Nine doors (the first door), the new apprentice is required to reflect on both their strengths and areas of difficulty. These are termed “Bright” and “Murk” aspects of the self and for me there is significant wisdom in the placement of this activity at the beginning of such a potentially arduous journey.

Often in the early stages of any new relationship (whether friendship, a romance or an initiatory connection), we are keen to emphasize the positive aspects of who we think we are. Whether consciously or unconsciously we have maximized those bits of ourselves that we deem most attractive and desirable to others. This is completely understandable at a human level, but the maintenance of such a relentlessly positive persona will inevitably fail to bring about psychic maturity.

In contrast to the penitent believer, the acknowledgement of such weaknesses need not entail compulsory repentance. This is not about the pardon of an imaginary friend, but rather a challenge to self-examination and an honest assessment of what we need to do in order to create change. While we will certainly be required to refine our strengths in the course of any serious undertaking, it is inevitable that our areas of fragility will be the place in which we either falter or find new dimensions of being.

Whatever cosmological map we use to track our progress, be it Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life or chakras, the enduring value of such schemas is that they embody the challenge to pursue balance and eventual holism. If our eventual goal is to fully actualize our potential as a human being, it would seem inevitable that the keys to our liberation lie with those aspects of self that we are currently most likely to reject or shy away from.

treeworld

The Nine Worlds (illustration by Alexis Snell)

To embrace these fragile and fractured aspects of who we are represents a profound act of self-compassion. This is far from glorifying our failings or wallowing in dysfunction, rather it represents a profound realization that the hope of becoming something new is fueled by the potency of what is currently blocked or stuck. Your explorations may take the form of ritual, artistic play or via seeking therapy, but when our heroism allows us look clearly at the shadows, so transformation begins to become possible.

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Carl Jung  “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

Steve Dee

 

Vision and Discipline

Once upon a time my spiritual path was firmly situated in a type of theism that viewed all human activity as flawed. As a result we lowly worms were reliant upon the grace and favour of a rather changeable deity/demiurge. His book told me that not only was I doomed, but I was doubly doomed if I chose to exercise the Faustian audacity to question his divine authoritarianism.

Although my adolescent longing for identity and certainty made me vulnerable to the promises of orthodoxy, I have never responded well to bullies and attempts to control, and it wasn’t too long before the cracks in my faith grew from being hairline to truly cavernous. Ironically it was study of Christian theology itself that hastened my departure from the fold. Amongst the inevitable deconstruction that occurred via Biblical criticism and the irrational claims of systematic theology, one of the key books that helped me expand my understanding of spirituality was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

While this book is written by a devout Christian who is unapologetic about the language and imagery he uses, what affected me was the way in which he highlighted effective habits and practices that were able to allow the development of psychological and spiritual fitness. The disciplines of study, meditation, fasting, ritual and pilgrimage were all means for increasing ones’ openness to the incoming of the numinous. Such an approach had a profound resonance for me given the value I had found in the structure and discipline of the Yogic practice I had explored in my early teens and the way they sought to engage all aspects of being.

Throughout the meandering journey that my personal religious instincts have taken me, I have often been suspicious of the type of vulnerable subservience that can feel innate to those paths that have a heavy emphasis on the grace and largesse of supernatural beings. Whatever metaphors or masks that I seek to employ in engaging with Mystery, I am more interested in developing a relationship that allows for the co-construction of meaning rather the wholesale consumption of a “revealed” truth.

I don’t want to minimize the potential importance of strange revelations and non-ordinary states of consciousness, I love a weird gnostic experience as much as the next person. Non-linear insights coming out of the blue? Check! Profound devotional needs expressed to dark deities? Hold my coat. My own practice as a magician has always been as much about what I do and might experience as it has been about the acquisition of arcane lore.

heads

Okay…that was weird!

For me the visionary dimensions of initiatory development acts like a trail of bread crumbs leading me along a path that has often been hard going and overgrown; and yet on their own they are not enough. While this incoming of gnosis and insight has been essential I am still left with the question of how I might create the ideal environment to receive and sustain such experiences so that they might be translated into patterns of change within myself. For me this is a question about the development of character, the quality of my self-awareness and an appreciation of the combination of qualities that make me uniquely me. For me this a question of Soul.

Theologians and psychologists can argue endlessly about the structure of the Self and whether the Soul is innate or developed. Many of us in the West are slowly unlearning the simplicity of the models proposed by orthodoxies of both the Christian and Freudian variety so as to recover richer languages for our internal processes. Whether via pre-Christian Egyptian or Norse models or the Post-Freudian transpersonal work of Assagioli, we are gradually recovering more functional maps of alchemical self-change. Given this, what feels clear to me is that whether or not we view the Soul as ontologically innate, it is something that can be evolved and strengthened through consciously applied effort.

In Systemic Family Therapy we often talk about first and second order change. First order change is a shift in behaviour in response to a direct challenge or stimulus, while second order change is a change of our scripts or patterns of behaviour so that a new way of being is established in an on-going way. Our visionary encounters may provide the initial jolt away from the routine and mundane, but the application of discipline feels critical if we are fully utilize the shocking energy of gnosis in accessing more profound levels of transformation that are sustainable.

The early stages of applied discipline can feel like hard work. As we try to move from conscious incompetence to the mastery of relaxed competence it is inevitable that we need to grit our teeth in overcoming the forces of inertia. In my own experience, those times where I have been able to persist have been when I have kept returning to my initial motivation and goals. Why did I choose this path? Why this one and not another? What am I hoping to gain via this effort? How would I feel if stepped away from this current path?

henry

Henry knows the score.

Your method of developing soul will inevitably unique to you as an individual, but if I would offer advice I would recommend those models of change that advocate a holism that tries to account for the fullness of our human experience. Models such as Leary’s Eight-Circuit model or Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way ideas have much of their strength in the fact that they seek to actualize the physical, the emotional and intellectual dimensions of who we are rather than advocating lopsided forms of development.

The creation of Soul and magical character is never about merely knowing stuff. The mighty Don Webb in describing the work of the Order of Setne Khamuast rightly identifies the three critical stages in ensuring initiatory change: learning, enacting and then finally communicating about our discoveries. Knowledge and even the divine glimpses of gnosis are vital in providing the spark of inspiration but they will rarely keep the flame alight for long. To stay warm and to survive we also need oxygen and fuel. Here’s to keeping the flame alive!

Steve Dee

 

Things & Stuff – magical happenings…

The Glastonbury Occult Conference is on the 23-24th February and both Nikki and Julian will be there speaking independently and providing a workshop together on Sunday.

Next month:There are still a couple of places available on Julian’s workshop on Queer Magic at Treadwell’s Books on Saturday 9th March in London.

Both Nikki and Julian will be leading a workshop on shamanism in Wales on Saturday 23rd March.

This is the year of Breaking Convention, one of the biggest and best conferences on psychedelics in the known multiverse. Details of tickets can be found here along with how to submit a paper, performance, workshop etc as well as information on volunteering opportunities. This is going to be an amazing event with over 1500 people taking part!

September 13-14th will see the second Trance-States Conference in sunny Northampton at the University. If you fancy a comprehensive download from the leading edge of  occulture this is the place to be.

There will be more events coming up at Treadwell’s and The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic later this year. Please see our Deep Magic page for details

Wishing all our friends in the northern hemisphere a bright new spring!

The Toxicity of Magic

Making generalizations about magic is always perilous. 

To speak about magic is to speak of the almost the entirety of humanity’s attempts to understand and explore both science and religion. What are these things? Why are they like this? Can I influence these things (including myself) so that they might behave differently? To do magic is to set sail on an adventure of exploration and understanding regarding the nature of things and the (possible) means of causation.

When we reflect on the broad categories of theurgy and thaumaturgy, we can see that magic seeks to provide us both with creative ways of wrestling with the questions of theological meaning and also our human attempts to exert some control over our experience of material existence. When I view my own journey as a magician I can see a variety of stages in which I have used creative ritual and occult technologies (trance, evocation, divination etc.) to engage with a number of these dilemmas.

While I have spent significant amounts of time working with the type of theological preoccupations shared by many forms of contemporary Neo-Paganism, if I was trying to locate any common thread between the techniques and traditions that I have explored, I have largely been preoccupied by the psychological alchemy that magic can exert when we attempt to use it to engage with the unknown, the mysterious and what Freud called “the crushing superiority of nature”.

It’s fair to say that I take my magic with a fair dose of existentialism, and for me the sense of agency created by occult work provides me with a degree of leverage when seeking to create meaning in the world. Whether via the drama of ritual or the creative mind-set of the initiatory imagination, magic helps me both embrace the strength of my passions and also the possibility of managing chaos so that the likelihood of being overwhelmed is reduced.

Orthodox believers are often perplexed or horrified by the ways of the magician. We not only consciously revel in the pursuit of power and agency, but we often engage with personifications of death, impermanence and misrule. The magician is often the one who while valuing the light and the conscious, recognizes that the brutality of life also demands an engagement with the dark, the hidden and the potentially destructive. We see these forces both within ourselves and at work in the world. These are dangerous forces that threaten to overwhelm us and yet for the initiate, we respond to a deep hunch that we need to engage with this material. What matters in such work is the dose we take.

The dose makes the poison” (sola dosis facit venenum) is an axiom credited to the 16th century scientist/alchemist Paracelsus and alludes to his idea that the amount of something is the critical factor in determining its risk to us. Basically this  means that a substance can only produce the harmful effect associated with its toxic properties if it reaches a high enough level within a given body or system. Therefore risk is influenced by a whole range of variable factors such as our personal constitutions and our experience with a given substance.  

para

Paracelsus – Awesome alchemist, great taste in hats

When I reflect upon my spiritual and magical practice, I can see direct parallels between this perspective and the way in which I use my explorations of ritual, ecstatic states and divination as a way of more effectively managing my own struggle to engage with the uncertainty and anxiety of being alive.

Life throws all sorts of crazy shit at us: the reliable fails, we get ill, people die, politicians make hugely unwise decisions; you get the idea, this list could go on for a very long time. As we try to create a semblance of order and stability in our lives, the variable and the unknown encroach upon our efforts and then things fall apart. As much as we try to live peaceful lives, the shock of the new and the unexpected induces a whole flood of fight, flight and freeze responses as we try to make sense of the traumas that blind-side us.

While my own pursuit of the “Great Work” of magic is inevitably focused on creating an increased sense of agency in the face of such challenges, for me this is rarely about beseeching prayer and attempts to defy the laws of science. For me, it is more likely to be about a confrontation of my fears within the (relatively) contained setting of the ritual chamber or circle. This is the work of the initiate as we consciously seek to work with a potentially toxic aspect of reality so as to build a degree of resilience or even immunity.

Such work can be profoundly alchemical, in that in working with our fears and wrathful aspects of reality, we can consciously create tension and induce a profitable form of psycho-spiritual resistance. There are some parallels between this work and Hegel’s dialectical process. To introduce a challenging concept (e.g. our fear of death) also asks that we acknowledge its apparent opposite (the joy of experiencing life’s pleasures) and then via the tension between these polar extremes we can begin to synthesize our own unique resolution.  The great mystic Jacob Bohme saw this dialectical tension within the very Godhead itself and the value that bitterness (Grimmigkeit) had in generating creativity and change.

ice1

Working with tensions

Overdose is always possible and part of maturity on the path is knowing when to reduce our intake and ground ourselves via friends, food and more everyday concerns. Magic can be both upsetting and disturbing; the holism that it advocates usually demands the confrontation of aspects of self that we would often prefer to ignore. Most magical paths are designed to give the unconscious an almighty stir so that we are forced to wake from our sleep-states. There are easier hobbies out there if all we are seeking is distraction, but for those of us touched by this initiatory need-fire, this is a work not easily relinquished.

Steve Dee

 

The Slow Burn of Initiation

We all want things yesterday; quicker service, faster broadband, shorter travel times. If something is good surely it will be even better if we can get it in half the time? In the busyness of our day-to-day lives wouldn’t it better if we could apply the aesthetics of our drive-through, take-away culture to our spiritual aspirations as well? Being a Shaman sounds so cool! Surely a couple of weekend workshops should do it or even better could I do it via Skype?

Most of us know deep down that this isn’t going to get it done. In a disposable age of quick fixes, fast food and bodge jobs, something at the root of our souls wants substance, and in our hunger for something truly nutritious we have a hunch that the thing that we seek will require real effort.

I have previously written on the blog about the influence of the Slow Movement and the way that it may help contemporary magicians cultivate maturity. Rather than increased mindfulness being limited to a set of internal practices, the Slow Movement challenges us to wonder what would happen if such a mindful perspective was brought to bear on the whole of our lives. What would our eating habits look like, our transport arrangements, our approach to child-care?

In my own pursuit of initiatory work I was reminded of this perspective once again as I reached an apparent impasse. After an investment of over 20 years of working with the type of non-linear, improvised form of sorcery know as Chaos Magic, was it time to call it a day and move on or was I able to find another gear, a deeper level from which I could continue to practice with a sense of integrity and personal congruence?

When something becomes as all-consuming as the pursuit of awakening, it can be hard to pause and take stock. When our internal fires are ignited, the pursuit of gnosis can expand to fill both our waking hours and dreamscapes. The gift of consciousness pushes us to expand and transcend the parameters of nature, and yet to do so without respecting both our physical and psychological health leads us vulnerable to burn out. As much as we may lust to the see the fruition of our own Great Work, wisdom seems to ask that we seek times when we surrender the work back to the earth and its cycles.

This concept of a necessary pause and rest first came to my attention via the work of Edred Thorsson. In his Nine Doors of Midgard he provides the seeker of mystery with a magical syllabus that can easily involve between 3-5 years of sustained engagement. In the course of pursuing such a heroic undertaking, it becomes critical to step back from the work; to bury it so that it might re-emerge invigorated. The depth of work set out in the Nine Doors is both awe inspiring and daunting. Looking back, my own failure to complete it in a sustained burst initially felt like an affront to my success driven ego, but now I realize I had something important to learn.

When we get to the point where we feel burnt-out or our practice feels stale or broken, it can be a profound opportunity to tune in to our deepest motivation. As a Chaos Magician, it would be all too easy to fill this unease with the pursuit of a different paradigm or the shiny baubles of new techniques, but for me I knew that this would have been missing the point. For me I was faced with the far more daunting task of reconnecting to initiatory “need-fire” i.e. when life circumstances strip us back, what remains as our vital drives and motivations? What is it that I have to do?

flasks1

Working with Slow Change

In pursuit of my own initiatory work I recently took a trip to Prague to meet with a group of magicians from around the world. Prague is an amazing city that feels like a heady meeting place of East and West, the modern and ancient and it was a fitting context for my own attempts to slow down and reconnect to the deep motivation for my own work.

Prague has its own wealth of occult history and lore; the legend of the Golem, the adventures of Dee and Kelly being but two. As you walk among its streets, its baroque and gothic buildings feel fully in keeping with the pursuit of the hidden and the nightside. Via Rudolph II’s obsession, Prague has long been associated with the art of alchemy and this alongside its love of absinthe’s green fairy created for me an enjoyable sense of romantic seediness.

These rich references to alchemy seemed to mirror the slow change and transformation that I am seeking. The Spagyric processes of drawing out and bringing together via fermentation and distillation require time, space and attention. Recently this process of Solve et Coagula (“To dissolve and concentrate”) has felt especially present at both the level of self via initiation and within the macrocosm of the natural world through the loss of beloved family members. This is a slow-burn process that has required patience and an awareness that artificially rushing things is likely spoil the intended goal.

In the spiralling gyre of my own initiatory work, it feels as though I am continually seeking to refine this process of stripping back and slowing down. Definitely not easy, but in doing so I allow the possibility of tuning in to the essential fires of my work and an acknowledgement of what my head, heart and body need to make this journey sustainable.

Prague-Astronomical-Clock-2
New Perspectives on Time: Astronomical Clock- Prague

Steve Dee

 


 

Don’t forget you find more Steve Dee deliciousness in his new book A Heretics Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times.

Priesthood and Service

During my recent reflections regarding the path of Druidry, one issue that I have found myself returning to is how we manifest maturity on the spiritual path and what this might mean in relation to what we give to others. While it remains open to a degree of debate, one of the characteristics that might be imagined to define a Druid –  as being distinct from the role of either Bard/Poet or Ovate/Seer – was the way in which they helped mediate specific social processes within their given communities. Whether via legal adjudication, philosophical consultation or by acting a celebrant during major life-rites the role of the Druid/Priest requires that they embody specific principles or perspectives within the external world.

druid1

#Life Goals

Having spent the last 40 years ensconced in a spiritual journey that has allowed me to encounter a wide variety of folks who have laid claim to concepts of Priesthood, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the shared concepts that seem important to those who minister with varying degrees of esoteric intention.

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to observe, is that a Priest (whether Male, Female or non-binary) is usually a Priest of something or someone! Priests of virtually all denominational stripes are seeking to mediate and embody a deity, a principle or a process. Even if the mission of our Priesthood is broad, there needs to be a certain degree of clarity regarding the perspective they are seeking to represent to the wider world. Some may be attracted to the status or accouterments of the Priestly role, but without a clear sense of vision as to who or what our service is being offered, such Priesthood is likely to be little more than cosplay. For our Priesthood to have depth it feels critical that we have internalized our goal to a degree that it has truly transformed us; we have moved beyond merely articulating truths and more profoundly we are seeking to become them.

Most forms of Priesthood seem to incorporate both the function of Priesthood i.e. what you actually do and the ontology of Priesthood i.e. how you as a person have been transformed internally by having Priesthood conveyed upon you.  When we examine different traditions, we can see the way in which they place varying degrees of focus on either part of this vocational equation. For some schools Priesthood is predominantly sacramental and initiatory in that the goal of ordination is the alchemical transformation of an individual spiritual DNA. For others Priesthood is less about identity and a person may move in and out of a Priestly function depending on the role or function they are adopting at a given time.

In seeking to comprehend ministerial roles that are more defined by function, I was aware of my own background as a former Christian and the way in which the Protestant emphasis on “the priesthood of all believers” sort to minimize any unique status or intermediary role for those who sought ordination. I am aware of the way in which my own biases have been formed by a good dose of Welsh anti-clericalism, but I’m glad to say that this has slowly softened over time as I have been more fully able to appreciate the initiatory and transformational power of having such vocations acknowledged.

My own journey into Priesthood has been a long and winding one. In my late teens I became a seminarian with a view to become an Anglican Priest, but this was eventually derailed by the crisis of faith that pushed me to explore a more magical-gnostic path. Eventually my exploration of magic and the Thelemic-Tantra espoused by AMOOKOS led me into an intense encounter with the Egyptian deity Sekhmet and I became increasingly aware of the obligations that this experience carried with it. During my own in encounter it was made abundantly clear that if I wished to continue a working relationship with these forces, it would entail both cost and obligations in representing her reality to others. While I am a firm believer that vocation can take manifold forms that are uniquely shaped by the individual and their context, based on my own experience I would question the validity of any call to Priesthood that doesn’t have its basis in both marked intensity and sacrifice.

doyle

Will you have a cup of Tea Father?

Although we should be cautious about any insistence that a person’s Priesthood must involve service to a physical community who hold similar perspectives (this is especially the case if adherents are spread over a large geographical area), we mustn’t underestimate the impact that our presence and embodiment might have on those in our more immediate sphere. The very magical act of someone pursuing a deep vocation and the creative flame of the daimonic-self can be both inspiring and potentially disruptive for those who feel they are simply going through the motions of day-to-day life. This in part is the challenge of our service as a Priest: the ideals and forces that we are seeking to manifest, become intensified and crystallized within ourselves as we take the risk of mediating them to those around us.

In the last 10 years my own Priesthood has found expression via mentoring, writing and more publicly in naming ceremonies, hand fasting and delivering eulogies at funerals. Often those seeking such support have been less concerned about the fine detail of my wyrd theological preoccupations and more drawn to the way in which my own initiatory process has enabled me to sit with challenging life processes. It feels as if what I have to offer is less about metaphysical certainties and far more about an ability to explore Mystery. For me those who manifest Priesthood most readily are those for whom their offer of service to others is as a natural overspill of the work that they are embodying in their own lives. This is at once the challenge of feeling called to such vocations but also the powerful initiatory role they can have in forging our magic.

Steve Dee