The Bravery of Taking Our True Form

I was recently chatting with one of my teenage children about how Queer identity is being discussed in Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature. In the course of our conversation we got on to the brilliance of Ursula Le Guin’s work The Left Hand of Darkness and how the people of the planet Gethen were able to change sex as part of their natural life cycle. Ursula was (and is) awesome!

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The ever awesome Ursula Le Guin

I find it hard to convey the richness that I have gained from Le Guin’s work and the way that it has provided inspiration to me as both a human being and a magical practitioner. With her recent death, I was once again impressed by the wide impact that she has had upon my friends and other creative people that I’m connected to. Le Guin brought the keen eye of the anthropologist to her imagined worlds, and used them as powerful vehicles for exploring concepts without doing violence to the narrative. Her engagement with ideas around race, feminism and alternate family structures, helps us challenge and question our reliance on worn-out social norms and stereotypes.

One of the ideas that Le Guin skillfully wove into the magical universe of Earthsea was the power of words and names. To know a thing or a person’s true name was to have power over them, and the act of sharing your true name with another was an act of profound trust. This concept of a true name (usually received during adolescence) also contains within it the idea that we each hold within us the possibility of bringing something unique into the world.

In a recent blog post I made mention of James Hillman’s excellent The Soul’s Code in which he considers how the idea of the daimon can help us discover those passions and vocations that might provide a sense of coherence to our life’s journey. The challenge for Hillman, and for ourselves, is how we tune in to intuition and creativity, to align our lives to this deeper sense of calling and purpose.  When we are able to bring about this sense of greater congruence with our daimonic, deeper selves, so it becomes possible that greater inspiration might flow through us. 

For Hillman a critical part of this experience comes via a positive, mythic use of loneliness and self-isolation. So often the voice of our vocation can be stifled via the constrictions of family or social conditioning.  To recover the “still, small voice” of the daimon, we are often required to walk a path that may be viewed as willful antinomianism by those around us, as we question or reject their perspectives and values.

For some their sense of daimonic purpose feels so clear, that they have little doubt as to the life’s work that they need to pursue, yet for many of us this process takes more time. The work of tuning in to the voice of our deep self is aided by tools and approaches that allow exploration of hidden or “occult” terrain. Ritual practice, dream-work and art can all be highly helpful means of recovering those powerful longings that may have become lost.

In reflecting on this process of discovering our ‘true name’ or ‘diamonic purpose’,  I was once again drawn to the Grail story of Parzival and the way in which his mother attempted to protect him from both the rigours and glamour of Knighthood. While we can sympathize with her aim, having lost her husband to the crusades, such attempts at control were destined to fail once his own vocation is activated.

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Whom does it serve?

As Parzival journeys along the road he finds that his certainties and self-perception are repeatedly challenged as he seeks to find the meaning of true knighthood and what it might mean to be worthy of the Grail. When he begins his quest, the literal and the masculine provide him bench-marks for how he thinks he should be in seeking to make sense of his universe. His first guru Gurnemanz is more than adept in teaching him the use of the lance and shield, but when considering matters of the heart and deep pain he is sadly lacking. It is this “stiff upper-lip”, don’t ask questions attitude that causes his initial failure when confronted by the wound of the Fisher King.

To walk the path of taking our true form demands a form of self-remembering and reflection that asks of us considerable effort, yet to not undertake such work is to stifle the process of initiation unfolding in our lives. Many of us will be all too aware of what it feels like to have our creativity blocked, and the cost this incurs on our sense of psychological and spiritual health, as Hillman puts it:

“Without inspiration, what is left is bare, aimless ferocity.”

The sharp edges of such ferocity often remind me that I’m working too hard on things that don’t really matter or that I’m using such busyness in a desperate attempt to escape the true cost of awakening. To close my ears to this deeper truth, risks denying both myself and the wider world the unique manifestation of who I am and might become.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Urusla Le Guin’s, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Steve Dee

 

Steve Dee’s new book A Heretic’s Journey is out now, details here.

Deep Magic retreats – places are still available for our first autumn retreat at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall, details here.

On Having Three Brains

I was recently discussing with Julian and Nikki an experience I had during an MRI scan where its loud, repetitive pulses allowed me to enter a light trance state and eventually fall asleep! As a lover of extreme music, the scanner’s jack-hammer soundtrack was fairly easy listening and reminded me of some of our ritual experimentation with binaural beats. The ever curious Mr Vayne asked whether they had scanned my brain and I told him that given that its focus was on my lower back problems, they were only able to examine my pelvic “brain”. While my reply was in many ways a quip, it did make a connection to some valuable concepts that help shape my own approach to magical transformation.

The concept that the human self is made up of a complex of interacting centres or dimensions is found in a variety of occult and psychological models. Space does not allow a detailed exploration of Taoist alchemy or the wide variety of chakra models deployed in the various yoga traditions, but for me they point to a profound desire to map our spiritual longings more holistically within the visceral, physicality of our bodies. Recently, the awesome Treadwell’s  bookshop in London has been hosting a number of lectures by the ever erudite Phil Hine who has been unpacking the history of how ideas regarding chakras have been utilized in Theosophy and other corners of recent occulture. Phil has now produced some handy chap-books based on these lectures and you can get your paws on them here https://www.treadwells-london.com/shop/wheels-within-wheels-chakras-come-west-phil-hine-signed/ . Work such as Phil’s is vital in capturing the very human process of evolution and adaptation that occurs as our socially formed longings are projected upon traditions romanticized by our desire for the exotic. While such processes may have a degree of inevitability, it feels important to retain an awareness of them so as to limit the violence we might do to primary sources and traditions.

For me in my own magical work, the challenge of such embodied approaches is to accept the limits of what cognition alone can comprehend. It can be all too easy for the Western Occultist to hi-jack these complex symbol-sets in order to provide yet another grid system for piling layer-upon-layer of imagined correspondences. My hunch is that such reductionism, while neat and tidy, makes little headway in accessing the deeper aspects of wisdom that might be accessed if we allowed such traditions to speak on their own terms.

While my own explorations of hatha yoga as a young adolescent have ensured that the language of the chakras has become something of a default setting, my own recent explorations of contemporary Gnostic awakening have been significantly shaped by the insights of the Gurdjieff/4th Way work. Gurdjieff recognised that throughout humanities’ history we have sought to connect to God/HGA/True Self etc. He believed that these efforts could be typified via the centre or starting point from which they began their journey. In short, these paths are the way of the body (the fakir), the way of the heart (the monk) and the way of the mind (the yogi).

Whatever benefit may have been gained in the past through the pursuit of these means, in our age and within a life lived outside of monastery walls we need something more. For Gurdjieff this is the Fourth Way.

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Intense? Who you calling Intense?

The Fourth Way is the way of “the sly man” – the one who seeks to harmonize body, heart and mind as they seek to awaken solar consciousness. This Work challenges us to Self-remember, to become more awake within the bodymind. The methods we may employ, like Beelzebub, are legion, but the goal of awakening from our automatic state of sleep remains.

Whichever map we find most resonant, what feels crucial is that it helps reduce the likelihood of disorientation and the burn-out that can result when we feel that we are going endlessly around in circles. While the process of seeking to manage our uncertainty and fear are a crucial and inevitable part of spiritual maturity, most of us need the structure and language that good maps can provide. Magic without some sense of teleological direction can easily descend into spiritual materialism. In the absence of direction we fill the empty space with a glimmering array of brief distractions that provide little more than a brief sugar-high.

Whichever map we choose, one in which the totality of self is understood and engaged with, is likely to bring the greater success. In the complex experience of being, these schemas seek at once to unify our experience while acknowledging the tensions and competing agendas that we must attend to. These holistic approaches allow us to acknowledge more fully the need to work with a dynamic process of flow in which we move between different domains in pursuing greater health within the ecosystem of ourselves. Like high-wire walkers seeking to hold the line, success is not gained through rigidity; rather we wobble between balance and counter-balance as we journey towards our goal. Our pursuit of magical wisdom seems more likely to bear fruit when our process of reflection (often via the magical diary) allows us strengthen those dimensions of self that may need further development.

Steve Dee

heretics

Available now! In paperback and Kindle editions.

The Heretic’s Journey takes you by the hand firmly and gently, through the by-ways of the author’s life, sharing tales of his younger years and lessons learned. At once forthright and sensitive, Steve Dee is an accomplished magician of the best sort; one who Does. Here you will find instruction in rituals, self-discovery, and deeply meaningful examples of personal praxis. His fascinating flavour of Gnosticism places the body at the centre of spirituality, enjoying the fruits of embodied wisdom found from engagement with Sophia.

A reviewer writes: ‘This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy!’ Thus invites Devon-based chaos magician and gnostic explorer Steve Dee in the prelude to his extraordinary new book The Heretic’s Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times. This is no contrived bit of attention-grabbing as proven by the richly rewarding and experiential text that follows. It similarly provides a diversity of extremely well-curated offerings as those found in Dee’s previous book A Gnostic’s Progress—many of which inspire the reader to participate in straightforward and potentially transformational exercises designed to expand heart and soul. Most refreshing is the writer’s admirable ability to present deeply esoteric perspectives in a consistently uncluttered fashion arrived at obviously through decades of genuine exploration.’

 

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Deep Magic

September retreat at the magical St.Nectan’s Glen, North Cornwall

27 Sept at 15:00 to 1 Oct at 13:00

This autumnal retreat will focus on the myths and magic of North Cornwall. We will explore the magical words of Merlin, the mythology of the Once and Future King, and the legends of the Fairy Folk. Participants have the opportunity to undertake a silent solitary vigil/vision quest, and to co-create a group ceremony where we will celebrate with poetry and song this magical landscape. This retreat will also include dowsing, psychogeographical and sacred geometry practices in preparation for the stone circle that will be built at St Nectan’s Glen. Come and help us begin that process!

For more details and to find out how to book please visit our Facebook page.

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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.

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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

Swimming in a Sea of Black Light

“The passing from the “black light”’ from the “luminous night”, to the brilliance of the emerald vision will be a sign…of the completed growth of the subtle organism, the “resurrection body” hidden in the physical body.”

Henry Corbin The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

To bring work with the body into the magical circle almost always entails risk. Those neat, finely honed borders that we think we have constructed within our minds are threatened by dissolution when we dare to dance, move and touch. Our attempts to manage the raw heart of emotion via the brute force of cognition feel fragile and dusty when our magic asks that we tune in to where the weight of life sits in the body.

Documenting life below the surface

Tidal forces

Whether our emotions are connected to joy or grief so many of us dump portions of these experiences into the unconscious due to the threat of feeling overwhelmed. When faced with the terrifying flood of these tidal forces, we often disconnect in order to survive. While such a strategy provides us with a valid short-term solution, most of us know that at a deeper level attempts to suppress or even deny can ultimately endanger our health. As magicians seeking to engage with the body, our work allows us the realization that however our clever minds might seek to dodge the impacts of life, our flesh and frame are persistent in pursuing the alchemy of feeling and processing.

My own journey into this territory has taken a number of different forms over the past 40 years-Hatha Yoga as an adventurous 10 year old, Holy Ghost writhing as a petulant teenage Pentecostal and the Shamanic dance/shaking of my current Queer-Gnostic Witchcraft. Beyond my sometimes tortured attempts to capture certainty via belief and communal belonging, I found myself returning again and again to a magic in and through my body. My connection to these methods feels located in their ability to express something that felt both profoundly visceral and immanent, while allowing my sense of self to open to an otherness that I often experience as alien and transcendent. Beyond the occultural expectations to know more and to authenticate my chosen path, the Magic that I find myself doing is one in which the messages of deep intuition are felt as much as thought.

Over the last 6 months I have been making some tentative explorations of various Martial Arts and in addition to the new challenges that this has provided both socially and kinetically, it also catalysed a process of reflection about masculinity and my own experience of grief. While I had been somewhat familiar with western sword fencing and Yang style Tai Chi, these recent forays into Kick-Boxing and Krav Maga caused me to ponder the way in which I used my body to attack and defend in a dojo or gym that predominantly in habited by male-identified humans.

In thinking and writing a lot recently about the experiences of Queerness and androgyny, I started to ponder whether my explorations of Martial Arts were an attempt to explore the expressions of masculinity that I often experience as difficult. From previous experience I knew that such explorations would be challenging for me, but I was unprepared for how they would affect me when, after a short-illness, my Dad passed away.

Grief can do many things to us, but I was truly unprepared for how the engagement in body work via Martial Arts proved to be far too much for me in the midst of such a profound loss. Grief can take on many forms, but for me it felt as though I was carrying around a concrete block that I simply wasn’t ready to put down. In talking with friends (especially those who had lost a parent), I am aware of how complex the process is of making sense of who this person was and is to you following their physical death. This process of internalising his image and memory within me demanded a degree of energy that required quiet incubation rather than an energetic surging outwards.

My experience of loss hit me at a profoundly somatic level and I would often find myself staring off into space as my body tried to manage the waves of tiredness that washed over me. Emotion inevitably found expression through my body: slow stretches and shadow boxing providing a way to connect to the complex amalgam of gratitude and sadness that I feel.

My work with the body is allowing me to swim in the black light of grief. Lessons from surfing provide rich material as I try to make sense of what the heck is going on. Often when held down by the impact of a wave, we can become overwhelmed by panic as we struggle to know which way is up and we are all too aware that we are running out of air. The key in such situations is to relax as much as possible so that with eyes open you can see the direction of light once the waves force has passed. So this is what I’m doing: letting myself feel what I’m feeling, trying not to force myself to struggle against the weight of what has happened. I keep tuning into my body because my training and experience have taught me that it so often the best barometer for where I need to be and the form of self-care I need to invest in.

Steve Dee

 

Our Heroic Selves

In recently reflecting on the way in which Punk has inspired my own process of awakening and self-understanding, I’ve also been prompted to consider how such self-actualization also asks us to question the norms and rules we inherit. Whether via my exploration of the Gnostics or the Thelemic-Tantra of the AMOOKOS work, the path of magic for me has always been linked to a project of self-sovereignty and a desire to explore what “Peace, Freedom and Happiness” mean as I live this life.

In our pursuit of occult heroism it can be easy to imagine that any sense of progress will inevitably entail some form if icy, isolate uber-human state. While our insights will often require that we question those norms adopted by both family and wider society, the deeper challenge may be to consider how we can radically reimagine and express our relationship with others.

One of the most helpful books that I’ve encountered in recent years that reflects on our connections to others is Rewriting the Rules by Meg-John Barker. As the second edition of this book is about to hit the marketplace, I thought I’d share with you a review I wrote for the first edition that I published on Phil Hine’s fantastic blog…

“All of us inherit sets of rules and scripts about how we think we should behave and who we should be in relationships. Such beliefs often have their genesis in our families of origin, the cultural trends we imbibe and the shaping provided by our own experience and emerging sense of identity. In the process of trying to make sense of the pain and dislocation that many of us experience in seeking closeness and relationship, it can be tempting to “buy into” a set of apparent certainties. Recent trends in self-help literature have tried to make of the confusion by playing “The Game”, “The Rules” or by mapping gender difference according to planetary allegiance. While I can understand the impulse of such books in trying to find a cure to what ails us, I must confess to being highly unconvinced by their over-simplicity and gender stereotyping.

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Rule book

In their book Re-writing the Rules Meg-John Barker provides a refreshing antidote to such works and a highly thoughtful and compassionate book that they describes as an “anti-self-help book”. For Barker the starting point in developing more healthy relationships comes not via seconding guessing the maneuvers of the desired “other”, rather it comes via a relationship with self in all its complexity. Self is presented as both an on-going process of change and also as a plurality of differing aspects that dialogue with each other. Barker’s insights are offered in spirit of openness and wondering-an attempt to explore the right questions rather than providing pat answers.

Part of the helpfulness of this work lies in the way in which the author focuses in on the nature of human relationships and current dominance of discourses around romantic intimacy. Barker skillfully weaves in both contemporary cultural references and philosophical acumen in critiquing the centrality of both heterosexuality and genitally focused intimacy. We are invited to move from a position of certainty and polarity, to one in which we seek to cultivate sensitivity to nuances and subtlety. Sexual minorities are not exempted from the danger of losing touch with our desires; the demands of identity politics often asking for a degree of labeling and certainty that some may feel less than comfortable about.

The structure of each chapter begins with a thoughtful reflection on the issues under consideration e.g. the rules of attraction, the rules of gender and then moves on to an exploration of the current set of beliefs that many of us find ourselves operating under e.g. “Relationships should be sexually and emotionally monogamous.” Barker then gently begins a process of questioning and deconstruction that ask us to re-evaluate. Meg-John’s own background in mindfulness practice and existential psychotherapy seem very evident during this process given the acute sense of awareness they display and the degree of compassion towards self and others that runs throughout.

The richness of this work defies detailed description in this context, but the chapters on sex, gender and monogamy resonated deeply with some of my own personal exploration. The chapter on sex examines the way in which insights from the Queer and Kink communities have challenged not only the linearity of “foreplay as a starter, intercourse as the main event”, but also the centrality of genital sexuality itself. In thinking about how gender effects how we do relationships together, Barker artfully unpacks Judith Butler’s thinking on the performance of gender and how we might loosen the tyranny of binary thinking.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the depth of its meditation on the nature of friendship. The chapters on the nature of love and commitment rightly question the qualitative distinction that we make between how we relate to “Friends” and “Lovers”. How might our relationships improve if we let go of the assumptions we make and unrealistic expectations that we often demand of those we have sex with?

Given the centrality of existential psychology within the book, themes regarding endings, loss and transition are thoughtfully and thoroughly addressed. Barker is highly aware that in times of pain we may naturally seek to retreat and defend ourselves, with this in mind they provide many helpful exercises and strategies with a view to developing greater presence, flexibility and compassion. As with the other discussions in the book, the aim of such work is not to prescribe a new “hipper”, queerer orthodoxy, rather it seeks to explore how we might experience a greater sense of freedom, both for ourselves and those to whom we are connected.

I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in a philosophically and spiritually engaging examination in how we challenge and re-write the stories that we have inherited about how we “do” intimacy. Meg-John has managed to produce a book that is at once contemporary, engaging and entertaining, while at the same time providing depth and vivid insight.”

Steve Dee

The Hardcore Bard

“Do you know yourself, do you know the others? Can you pull the weight that rides on another’s shoulders? Once you’ve lost yourself to the acceptance mask, well could you find yourself, it’s not a simple task. Self-inherence, freedom. Comes from within.  Take a different track. It’s time to see what you are made of. Can you expose yourself? Can you peel away another  layer? Will you make the time, the time to take control? Because only you can save yourself, only you can save your soul….come on, can you let go, can you, be you?”

Caboose by Snapcase (1997 Victory Records)

One of the criticisms that I often hear levelled at Druidry as a path is that it’s a bit polite! Having spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Chaos magicians, Thelemites and Left-Hand Path folks, when I discuss my connection to the Druid path, the question is often asked about what it has to offer in terms of methodology beyond its very public rituals and solar orientated aesthetics. In circles where darkness, intensity and the spilling of bodily fluids are potential measures of commitment, it could be easy to dismiss Druidry as being overly ordered and lacking in changed focused techniques. In my view such a reading is superficial and fails to account for subtle currents of inspiration that allow for a slower more sustainable form of personal evolution.

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A Hardcore Bard at Work

While works such as Ronald Hutton’s excellent The Druids highlight the struggle that modern Druids might have in uncovering what their ancient forebears actually did, we still have a rich body of both Celtic lore and the last two to three hundred years of reconstruction to draw from. While some may look down on the pseudo-masonic and Christian influence on the Druid revival, I personally feel that it holds some truly rich examples of the human spirit seeking to explore Mystery beyond the confines of the prevailing religious orthodoxies.

One of the aspects that I love in most forms of reconstituted modern Druidry is the way in which the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid are seen as interacting with each other. While most contemporary Druids view these roles as being a progressive hierarchy, it is important to acknowledge that some present-day adherents elect to remain as a Bard or Seer (Ovate) if they feel that this best captures their calling. For me the adoption of this three-fold scheme is less about moving through a stage in order to reach the next level, and more about an essential group of experiences that make the stage of the journey possible.

The work of the Bard often involves a reconnection to the spirit of creativity. The three drops of inspiration (Awen) that Gwion Bach ingested from Cerridwen’s cauldron, catalysed a process of alchemical change in which he eventually became the great poet Taliesin. Gwion’s transformation was far from easy as he was forced to adopt multiple animal and even vegetable forms in order to escape the pursuit of the dark Goddess in the form of Cerridwen.

The process of re-contacting our inspiration and creativity often involves a descent into the roots of our unconscious. Without this journey into the rich loam of our dark dimensions, our art and creativity risks a thinness that robs our work of its true magical potential. As I considered in my last post, we need to utilize the mirror as a tool for self-examination in meeting the challenge to “Know Thyself!” Our dreams need to be attended to and I have gained much benefit in revisiting old magical journals in order to comprehend the repeating patterns and ideas that revealed the deep drives that were shaping my magic.

In thinking about Bardic inspiration one could easily lapse into the stereotype of a harp-strumming longhair wandering through sun-dappled forests. As awesome and evocative as such images are, my own reconnection to Awen took a far noisier form. Dear reader I confess that I was a childhood metal head and that my own desire for increasing musical heaviness drove me into the sweaty tattooed arms of hardcore punk.

Any attempt to define musical genres will always be fraught with purism and border skirmishes, but broadly speaking, hardcore Punk (especially in its North American form) tends to integrate the rebellion and aesthetics of Punk while also capturing the heaviness and speed of more extreme Metal. Alongside its distinctive musical style, Hardcore often sought to convey a message of positivity, self-actualization and a desire to question societal norms regarding the food we eat, the drugs that we take and the things we consume.

Within the world of Hardcore, themes connected to the spiritual search are rarely far below the surface. Whether in the Heathen brutality of bands such as Neurosis or the Krishna-based longings of Shelter or 108, the desire to find both discipline and vision have driven artists down some intriguing by-roads.

As with any musical movement advocating change, there is often a distance between these ideals and the actual scene that espoused these goals. Although Queercore and the Riot Grrrl movements have gone some way in challenging the homophobia and misogyny within the Hardcore scene, it would be naïve to deny their presence. At it’s best however bands such as Fugazi, Quicksand and Neurosis have been able to maintain integrity and the evolution of their musical sound.

Each of us will have our own aesthetic styles and artistic media from which we can draw the waters’ of inspiration. As much as I love musical heaviness, regular readers of this blog will also be aware of my passion for both dance and Surrealist visual art. What feels important is that we give ourselves permission to embrace a holism in which the sacredness of all things is allowed to disrupt any secular/spiritual dualism. For me as a Postmodern Bard, my own journey to find inspiration, vision and discipline has enabled me to appreciate the way in which Hardcore at its best embodies these qualities and plays an important role in sustaining the flame of alchemical transformation.

I’ll end with some with some great lyrics from the Neurosis’ track “Burn”:

“You lie in the snow, cold but not dead
Stare into the sun, long since its last heat

Feel the freeze burn skin
Salt your open wounds
A burning desire clears your eyes
A willful air fills your lungs

You choke your first breath of wildfire and oceans depth
Climb out of your hole, see your spirit take form

This world of cold stone gives nothing in return
To those who sleep while the restless burn
There are those few driven to flame
Most are content to drown in the wake of dreams

The trail lies overgrown
Across the years fade out of light
Ever growing dim to an age in the dark
Grasp from your soul and don’t let them steal your eyes”

From The Eye of Every Storm  Neurot Recordings 2004

Steve Dee

The Tendrils of Sacred Time and Space

In the course of deepening my own engagement with the Druid tradition, I have recently been thinking further about the way in which stone circles and standing stones shape the way in which I think about sacred time and space. For me, my own use of the self-descriptor “Pagan” is innately connected to my pursuit of a spiritual path that consciously embraces the limitations of time, context and place. Whatever weird dimensions that I seek to ascend to or access, the pagan orientation of my pursuit of Gnosis necessitates an ongoing connection to the earth and the animal.

Magical acts often begin with the practitioner demarking a space and time so that their ritual practice might become more effective. Whether we journey to a location associated with power or we cast a circle in our front room, these acts and intentions become a psychic funnel via which our longings (both conscious and unconscious) can be focused more directly.

When, as a Chaos magician, I started exploring the wide variety of techniques that could be used for creating or entering sacred space I quickly became aware of the way in which my chosen paradigm profoundly affected my expectation of what such demarcation needed to achieve. If for instance I wanted to engage in a piece of Goetic magic my desire for protection and banishing might be profoundly different from a Puja dedicated to a deity with whom I have a deep and ongoing connection. What I started noticing through these explorations were the varying degrees of permeability that these approaches represented, and also the potential naivety in viewing any approach as entirely protective.

To undertake an act of magic is to invite change at both external and intra-psychic levels. As much as I might imagine that my banishing of a spirit or a great old one cleanses my spiritual palate, it clearly doesn’t negate the spiritual or psychological drives that caused me to do that work in the first place! If, for example, I choose to enter the realm of Red magick it is likely that the combative aspects of myself have been activated with all the adrenal, “fight” based responses innate to such territory. Whatever spell, sigil or servitor I use to express these impulses, I still have to contend with the reality that they arose from me in the first place. These desires and longings extend tendrils deep within our personality structures and as magicians we cannot dismiss them lightly.

strands

Cosmic Connections

The marking of sacred space via beginning and ending rituals allows a process of punctuation where we are trying to contain those events and energies that are potentially more risky. As magicians, we often make use of this approach to create a sense of control and agency in relation to life’s chaos. While such an approach is understandable, it is also susceptible to our all too human delusions of omnipotence. Our magic can be key in shifting our consciousness so that it can become more congruent with our goals, but I would also argue that the nature of such transformation can be as much about the need to accept things and to relinquish “the lust for results”.

The creation of magical space often provides us with a way of externalizing those aspects of self that we find problematic or challenging. I have previously considered some of the parallels between the Circle and the therapy room as environments in which we can explore ideas or qualities in more personified form,  and I continue to believe that this recognition and naming of parts is critical to our initiatory work. While I think that sacred space provides a helpful lab-like environment for such exploration to take place, I believe that our banishing and attempts at separation can only ever be partial. Yes banishing can be vital to prevent us becoming swamped and destabilized. but we must also recognize the ongoing web of connection that enables a slower, less conscious process of alchemical change.

Whatever perception we have of our magic enabling probability enhancement, we are still contending with a mysterious realm in which our intentions must interact with the complex dimensions of causality. For me, part of the genius of the sigil-based approach of Austin Osman Spare is that he recognises the importance of surrendering our longings to the ocean of the Unconscious. As much as our needs and longings need to be valued, we also need to acknowledge that the exertion of magical will through gritted teeth will only get us so far.

As we enter sacred space via our intentions, our magic often asks us to attend to a profound paradox that often lies at the heart of the Great Work that we undertake. Often we bring to our endeavours a desire to activate profound change to either aspects of ourselves or, the circumstances that surround us. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough for magic to happen through us, we can begin to understand our own motivations more fully and perhaps experience a greater acceptance of who we actually are. When we embrace the maxim “to dare” and turn to truly face our deepest drives, so we can begin to understand the next challenges in our initiatory journey. This can be difficult work, but for me it goes some way in unpacking what it means to engage with the challenge found at the temple of Apollo at Delphi:  “Know Thyself!”

Steve Dee