When Tense Magicians Get Creative…

In my previous post I sought to wax philosophical regarding the way in which we as magicians try to work with dynamic tensions in our lives. We can use our art and magic to gain points of reconciliation, synthesis and blending, or we can let the dynamic tension go, reconciled in the hope that this more jagged energy will open up new vistas.

While this hopefully proved helpful and provided some sophisticated insights into the dynamics that generate and inspire our magic, I thought I would provide a couple of brief snap-shots of how I have used my own magical practice to manage during the Corona related limitations.

  1. Doodling as Spell-Craft.

As a young teenager growing up in Australia, I was an incessant doodler and would often receive encouraging feedback on Maths papers: “You would do a lot better if you spent as much time working on equations as you did drawing drum kits and surfboards!”

While capitalism may deride doodling as daydreaming with a pen in hand, I now see it as a powerful way of managing anxiety and unblocking creativity. If sigils are those stripped back symbols that we cast onto the ocean of the unconscious, I think that Doodles can be those sigils reverse engineered. Carl Jung, in his usually clever way, explored the way in which mandalas expressed the tensions and symbols present and emerging from the unconscious and for me doodles are a more punk-rock version of that. Here’s a nice Ted talk about doodling ☺ 

So if you are stressed or feeling blocked, unleash your inner automatic doodler and see what emerges. Here’s one of mine:

  1. Working with Slow Cut-ups.

I have previously written on this blog about the way magicians can use cut-ups to de-stabilise and transform the self. In using cut-ups we disrupt our attempts at coherence and linearity in order to improvise new expressions of spiritual creativity. I really enjoyed this recent documentary made by Carl Abrahamsson and Vanessa Sinclair about Genesis’ creativity and their take on cut-ups, and the way in which cut-ups allow us to write new stories of the self:

In re-visiting my own play/practice with cut-ups and its close cousin collage, I began to wonder whether I needed any more deconstruction given that the day-to-day challenge of getting through lockdown. In having to contend with the pressures of claustrophobia, limitation and compulsory interaction did I really want to use my old-style cut-up techniques to lob yet another psychic hand grenade into the mix?

Taking inspiration from the Slow movement I have started playing with cut-ups as a way of exploring multiple layers of meaning.  By layering I can acknowledge my own need for self-compassion as I move between the multiplicity of roles that the lockdown and my keyworker role demands of me. I love the centrality of the heart motif in the healing sigil that others have evolved in seeking to work magically with the impact of Covid-19. The cut-up both acknowledges the messy reality of my current situation and perhaps invites me to include new ingredients that will allow better self-care. 

Cut-up Sculpt for Self-Care

Shaking out the Body.

I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing the way in which my body is holding tension in response to our current circumstances. Whether it’s too many hours squinting at on-line video platforms or the relentless barrage of important but challenging news feeds, I have been aware of my need to get moving and allow my physical being to make sense of the almost endless cognitive download.

Sometimes I have sought the repetition of my running or even revelled in the luxury of an early morning (socially distanced) surf session. While I count myself fortunate to have access to both these routes, the place I have been going to most is dance. Perhaps inspired by my reading of his pacey and hilarious autobiography Porcelain, I have been revisiting the house-music back catalogue of Moby.

Here’s a nice video of Moby talking about his new album “All visible Objects”: 

Few things in my life are as vital as music and when I get the chance to lose myself in the range of emotions that it can evoke, I am aware of alpha-wave connections that allow release and some healing. Lots of very helpful research is being undertaken into how bodily based interventions allow us to process trauma. My friend Meg-John Barker has provided a super helpful summary of this over on their great blog:

Anyhow, these are a few of my own magical experiments that I have been carrying out; feel free to borrow them and mutate them as you see fit! 

Lots of Love,

Steve Dee

When Magicians Get Tense…

We seem to be living in times in which it’s hard to find answers. How does the magical practitioner use the fruits of their training and study to hold a position of both wisdom and radical uncertainty? How do we explore the meaning of our collective COVID-19 related trauma while at the same time acknowledging that meaning is elusive and potentially risks over-simplification? Many of us feel caught between the competing pulls of hope and despair, science and superstition, and claustrophobia and agoraphobia.

Ironically I became interested in the occult precisely because it tried to grapple with complexity and dynamic tension. In contrast to the mono-answers of faith, here was a messy hodgepodge of ideas called the Western Mystery Tradition that tried to hold in dynamic tension the poles of light and dark, male and female, and mercy and severity. While we may long for a simpler solution (especially at times of distress), I personally have become increasingly interested in how we magicians of varying stripes manage dynamic tension.

While the history of Western magic is littered with systems that make use of polarity, they often project such binaries outwards onto the form of divine versions of the God and Goddess. In contrast to this externalising approach, lately I have been reflecting on how we negotiate our internal struggles. Forgive me if what follows sounds a tad academic; I plan to write a sequel to this in post in which ‘Tense Magicians get Creative’.

Polarity and unity

Hegel and Synthesis 

It’s hard to think about binaries and their tension at a conceptual level without at least a nod to the concept of the Hegelian dialectic. Hegel (1770–1831), as an expression of the philosophy of Idealism, believed that a dynamic process was at work at both a micro and macro level, in which ideas and their polar opposites were in a process of reconciliation, synthesis or sublimation. His ideas were then popularized by others in the formula: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis i.e. every idea (a thesis) will have its opposite (its antithesis) and that this polarity will eventually evolve a reconciling third principle that at once retains and transforms the qualities of the original idea (the synthesis).

I first encountered these ideas as a fledgling psychotherapist 20 years ago when I undertook a training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy that was aimed at supporting people with intense difficulties in identifying and regulating their emotions. For such clients a primary dilemma is observed in which they are trying to synthesise a balancing position between either feeling flooded by emotion or dismissing their emotions and fleeing to a cold over-reliance on reason. The synthesis in this case is called “Wise-Mind” and aims at helping emotions and reason to dialogue and inform each other.

Such dynamics can provide interesting scaffolding for our own initiatory processes. When we feel ourselves strongly drawn to a theme or concept, our exploration may eventually lead us to its apparent opposite. For example an exploration of indulgence may also include discovering a greater understanding of abstinence. In our exploration of such apparent polarities we may then synthesise a mediating position that brings about a more profound perception of the whole. Arguably such mediation and balancing is one of the key tasks of the mature magician.

While there is much to be recommended in a deeper exploration of how the alchemy of dialectical processes may be at work at both a subjective and objective level, critics of this dynamic often question the neatness of its balancing processes. Hegel in his Idealism was keen to locate an unfolding of meaning that often feels unrelated to the ennui and impermanence that most of us experience in our lives and magical exploration.

Dialogics and Dynamic Tension

In contrast to the balancing, reconciling metaphysics of dialectics, the dialogical worldview seeks to grapple with what happens if we allow a multiplicity of perspectives to co-exist without conscious attempts at reconciliation. Inspired by the fiction of Dostoevsky and the philosophical work of Bakhtin, dialogical theory and its therapeutic love-child Dialogical Self Theory explore the complex terrain of a reality where numerous voices and dimensions of self are explored, voiced and allowed to interact fluidly with each other so as to generate new relationships and tensions. This is quite heady territory, but in my initial exploration of some of its insights I felt that it potentially offered something helpful in understanding dynamic tension as gnostic-engine for initiatory change.

Yin Yang Fire - Yin Yang - Phone Case | TeePublic
Dynamic tension

My hunch is that as magicians we are working with such tensions all the time and much of our spiritual work involves the exploration of them as much as it does the imagined resolution. To work deeply with the self usually involves a journey downwards into the roots of what really motivates us. However we conceptualise the realm of the unconscious, the tools of artistic creativity, dream work and more receptive meditative states are important keys for exploring this territory. Whilst part of us may want a simpler synthesis, sometimes it is the tension that generates the most interesting work.

Steve Dee


Coming up next…

Julian is leading more online ritual workshops with Treadwell’s Books.

More Deep Magic online courses are in production. Core Magical Skill and Imagination & Wellbeing (which is free) are available here.

My Magical Thing continues to enchant, entertain and inform.

The Illuminates of Thanateros and Me shares perspectives from The Magical Pact of the IOT.