Natural or Artificial Psychedelics – Which are Best?

As promised in a previous post I’m going to try adding a few videos in which I explore particular subjects. These are unscripted and so inevitably I think of extra stuff to say once I press ‘stop’. This one presents as few thoughts about the relationship between natural and artificial psychedelics, and an exploration of where we consider the limits of nature and culture to be.

And a few extra points…

One additional thought is that there is now a vast range of laboratory synthesized chemicals (mostly still uncommon enough that they don’t have well established street names). Subtle variations in their effects was one of the things that inspired Alexander Shulgin to explore various ways of tweaking the phenethylamines (MDMA, 2CI, 2CB etc) and the tryptamines (LSD, A-LAD,  5-MeO-DiPT etc). As we gather more data about these substances, and as clinical exploration continues, we will hopefully gain a much deeper understanding of the pharmacology of psychedelic space. The complex relationship between molecular shape and subjective effects is subtle indeed. Reading Shulgins’ work it’s fascinating to learn how tiny changes in molecular structure can significantly change the activity, dosage range, duration and subjective experience of substances that maintain a common set of chemical characteristics. There is perhaps something of an analogy with smell here, in that just because two molecules look structurally similar does not necessarily mean they smell the same. Smell appears to be a process where the Newtonian ‘shape’ of molecules is one factor along with the fuzzy complexity of quantum biology. (You can also check out some of the fine grain psychopharmacological theory about psychedelics in this fascinating presentation by Thomas Ray at Breaking Convention 2017.)

lsd

Shamanic journey

Having access to this range of psychedelics means we can explore the potentials of this space, and that’s what humans do. Our ancestors discovered the chemical key that unlocked the DMT in Psychotria viridis and rendered it orally active. They invented ayahuasca. The work of Hofmann, Shulgin, Manske, Nichols et al. is part of this lineage, this tradition of entheogenic chemical exploration.

(Incidentally, Canadian chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske first synthesized DMT in 1931, many years before it was unequivocally identified in organic sources.)

Sure ‘natural’ organic psychedelics are great, but I come from a culture where our entheogenic revival was initiated by LSD. This laboratory product was what transformed Western culture. It opened the way for the return of the plant medicines into the society I inhabit. For that I give thanks to the Bunsen burners, the reaction vessels, the pipettes, and of course to the curious twist of fate whereby a Swiss chemist ‘accidentally’ ingests this incredibly potent substance that his alchemy has brought to birth. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Finally, on the matter of the relative benefits of organic or synthetic psychedelics I think we should be mindful of the option of Arch-Mushroom curandera Maria Sabina (Peace Be Upon Her).

Albert Hofmann visited María Sabina in 1962 and brought her a gift; a bottle of psilocybin pills that Hofmann had synthesized. After trying the pills Maria Sabina announced that there was little difference between their effects and that of the Psilocybe mexicana she used in ceremony. She then thanked Hofmann saying that with these pills she would now be able to serve people as a healer even when the mushrooms were out of season.

This is a great story. A respected shaman sees no great difference between a spirit from the laboratory or from the landscape. And more than this, she explains, why she is pleased to have Hofmann’s medicine; to use it when the natural substance is not available, and to use it to help others.

sabina

Chemical romance

My culture did not have access to entheogens for many generations (they were there in the landscape but we had forgotten them). Since the time of Eleusis we’ve been cut off from ‘the medicine’. It took that chance laboratory discovery, and subsequent archetypal bicycle ride, to return my society to a connection with the psychedelic gnosis. Like Maria Sabina says, when the plant medicine isn’t available the synthetic spirit is just as good so long as we keep to our intention – to take these trips for the benefit of ourselves and for all beings.

Ahoy!

summer

Summer programme

Stuff we are doing…

Nikki and I are holding a series of retreats at St.Nectan’s Glen. The May retreat is fully booked but please keep an eye on our Facebook page and/or send us your email so we can keep you up to date. We are planning another retreat in July, then September and November.

I’m presenting a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first intentional LSD trip on Bicycle Day, 19th April in London. This will be a participatory ritual journey, from Eleusis to Acid.

I’m is also facilitating a day long workshop on Sigils, Talismans and Magic Signs at Treadwell’s in London.

Nikki and I have the honour of providing the opening and closing ceremony at the Third Summer of Love gathering in Amsterdam in July. This is going to be an awesome entheogenic ceremony. The next day (yeah, really!) we’ll be providing talks for the Netherlands Psychedelic Society, and the day after that, a workshop on magic and altered states of consciousness. Stay tuned for more details.

In August we’ll be in Wales to run a shamanic workshop  We’re also speaking at Beyond Psychedelics in Prague in June and Ozora in Hungary at the end of July.

Hope to see you soon!

Julian Vayne

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

 

On Making Offerings

I’ve been working on some longer pieces of writing recently (an essay on Eleusis for a forthcoming collection, and others that will form part of a new book The Fool & The Mirror that I’m planning to release later this year).

This means I’ve got less time for writing on this blog, at least the moment, so I’m planning to share various musings and later practices via my Youtube channel Deep Magic (please like, share, subscribe and all that).

ribbons1

Echoes of devotion at St.Credan’s Well, Sancreed.

Here are a few thoughts on the practice of leaving offerings. These reflections were prompted by the image on this post of a tree hung with prayer ribbons (and some of the responses to this image).

I mention in this video the term ‘clooties’, have a look at the Wikipedia entry for more details. There’s also Wiki information on Madron Well in Cornwall. For examples of trees hung with ribbon style offerings outside of ‘Celtic’ cultural settings one might look to North AmericaChinaThailand (or pretty much anywhere…). Finally a lovely article with multiple examples, including images of St.Nectan’s Glen and one of my favorite sites sacred sites Sancreed in Cornwall.

As the light grows in the northern hemisphere of our planet, so we come out of our homes and more and more into the landscape. May we find respectful and responsible ways to enjoy the special places we inhabit, and take joy in our recognition of the sacredness of this earth.

Ahoy!

 

Julian Vayne

Pagan Roots

I was recently reflecting at a Queer book group that I attend, about the issue of how we communicate about aspects of ourselves and the process of “coming out” and what this might mean. Whilst in that group we were specifically thinking about descriptors regarding sexuality and gender identity, it also raised for me the issue of how I adopt religious labels for myself.

Given that my own spiritual path is probably even more complicated than how I experience my sexuality and gender, it has caused me to ponder why in the 2011 UK census I chose to describe myself as a Pagan. In all honesty my decision was partially prompted by activism by groups such as the Pagan Federation that were seeking to increase awareness regarding the growth of minority religious communities. I was momentarily tempted to self-declare as “Jedi” (or possibly Sith), but in pursuit of the greater good I opted for Pagan.

Part of the reason that I take at least partial refuge in the self-description of being a Pagan, is the creative way in which many of the communities under that umbrella seek to engage (and wrestle!) with polarities and seek balance between them. Those of you who have read my recent series of posts about Androgyny will be well aware of my personal journey in exploring apparent dualities and how we as magical explorers dance with them.  Male/Female, Light/Dark, Internal/External all represent different attempts at trying to map and classify our experience of life’s complexity.

One such dichotomy that I have been considering recently has been the contrast between the vertical and horizontal aspects of religious expression.  Pagans of varying stripes (Druids, Wiccans, Heathens etc.) are hardly unique in trying to consider the tension between our relationship with the numinous realm of the vertical (gods, spirits, celestial beings etc.) and the horizontal plain in which we experience time, space, matter and relationships. Almost all religions seek to mark the year’s calendar with festivals that reflect the emergence or revelation of their given truth, but in my view, most Pagan paths go further in making use of sacred time and awareness of place in a way that brings the vertical and horizontal closer. The wheel of the year is not only a matrix in which the specific events of a salvation history can be placed (as in, say, Christianity), rather the changes in Nature during the course of our planet around the Sun is a divine revelation in and of itself.

Many forms of contemporary neo-paganism have at the heart of their theology a cosmological map that views matter less as something to be moved away from, and more a realm of experience in which our connection to the natural, the relational and the horizontal is explicitly the realm within which the vertical and numinous is experienced. It may seem obvious to state that our experience of the Gods inevitably happens within the realm of the life we know and experience, but I would argue that Paganism goes a step further in paying attention to the process in which the vertical and horizontal directly feed each other. Maps such as the Norse Yggdrasil are rarely realms of cosmic harmony that promise utopia, rather these World Trees hold realms in a dynamic tension whose frisson creates a Cosmos-driving energy.

For me, this more interactive process is perhaps part of Paganism’s appeal in owning its identity as a more emergent rather than revealed religion. While Paganism has its fair share of prophets laying claim to revelation and channelled material, over time (and through scholarship) it seems to be becoming more open in acknowledging the human soil from which these new religious expressions have grown. While our Gods are inevitably co-created as their archetypal patterns meet the challenges of our lives, these divine beings are no less real for having come through the filter of our contexts, our longings and our struggles.

Tree_Roots_at_Riverside

Networking

The beauty of these World Trees is that while their branches reach towards heaven in an attempt to connect the divine realm to our daily lives, so also their roots delve deep into the soil of our unconscious in search of sustaining nutrients. If our Gods are to have true depth, they will hold a rich darkness alongside their light. Without depth and mystery they will be little more than two dimensional pop-icons that while momentarily distracting, fail to exemplify our own longings for authenticity.

As in the example of the All-Father Odin, such explorations are not without sacrifice and as we delve into the roots of our lives and contexts, our engagement with Mystery (Runa) may well produce both roars of triumph and screams of anguish:

I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded by a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.

No bread did they give me or drink from a horn,
Downwards I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
Then I fell back from there.

Havamal 138–139

I guess for those of us who are magical practitioners, our relationship to the vertical was always going to be more complicated. If the simpler task of faith, worship and subservience alone were going to satisfy, we wouldn’t be walking this path. While my own magical work has strong currents of Bhakti yoga and devotion within it, I am aware that such acts are less about worship and more about the active use of body and emotion to gain alignment with the principles these deities embody. I engage with these divinities not just to further my personal solipsism, but rather to amplify those narratives and ideas that I wish to see in the world. For me these generally represent a guarded optimism and a desire for the mysterious and heroic that comes from the deep roots of our full humanity. I continue to grapple with the challenge that any insights that I gain, must be embodied at the horizontal level of my interactions with other organic beings and the planet we inhabit together.

SD

Retreating in Order to Advance

The summer is a time for rest and relaxation, counter-pointed by the retreat time of (northern) midwinter. In the capricious temperate maritime climate of the British Isles the summer can be a time both of glorious sunshine and torrential rain. For those of us with children it means the delight of spending quality time together, having a chance to pause and to take stock before the start of the new academic year and the now headlong rush towards the nadir of the December solstice.

This summer I have mostly been on retreat in Cornwall. Part of this came in the form of lovely family holiday in West Penwith. Staying at a charming campsite managed by two friends (complete with gypsy caravan and our own new high tech tent) we had a base from which we could sample diverse Cornish delights from a marine safari (where seals basked on rocky outcrops and pterodactyl-like gannets sliced the sun-bright air above the swell) through to a some rainy-day virtual reality fun (with experiences such as a virtual journey into the watery depths and an opportunity to try VR art). Counterpointing our visits to sacred sites such as Mênan-Tol (an iconic prehistoric megalith, the Cornish name for which translates as the high-art sounding ‘stone with hole’) was a visit to an escape room, a kind of crystal maze-eque challenge cunningly constructed so that each one of us could contribute to the solution (we escaped successfully with just a few minutes to spare!).

men

Stone with Hole, photo by Nikki Wyrd

Camping provides an opportunity to reconnect with the simple and timeless features of life; weather, fire, water. The sky, that remarkable artwork beneath which we live our span, revealed itself in its star-strewn glory on a few nights. Lying on our backs by the campfire cushioned by sheepskins, we could look up and out into space, back into time, and marvel at the plane of our galaxy which we call the Milky Way. For me these times help keep the rest of life in perspective. What really matters is how a marshmallow burns when ignited over the flaming logs, or the amazing bright red colour of the large fox we spied out by the lake, or the whether one can spot a shooting star.

My second location for retreat was also in Cornwall but this time further east and on the northern coast. I’ve written before about the amazing place of pilgrimage known as St.Nectan’s Glen and this was where I stayed. Over the last six years the Glen has been beautifully enhanced by well considered new buildings, woodland walks, art and the planting of over 3,000 new native trees. By spring 2018 the Glen will also be available for retreats, with accommodation for around 20 people and the opportunity to have sole use of the space once the day-time visitors are gone. Nikki and I will be facilitating retreats there as well as helping other groups make use of this unique magical place so if you’d like to find out more please get in touch.

St_Nectan's_Kieve-8687.jpg

The magical waters of the Kieve

The river Trevillet falls some 60ft through a naturally cut circle in the rock and into the kieve. Joined by the outflow from two smaller falls (which can be seen from the new woodland walk) the wider stream flows through the woodland as does the path that visitors  need to walk up to access the site. The river then flows on its way down to Rocky Valley (where Troy Town mazes of uncertain age are inscribed upon the rock).

The Glen is rarely a place of literal silence. That said the only sounds that are audible, water, wind, and birdsong create a textured background sound that is at once both stimulating and restful. Further developments on the site over the next few years will include additional accommodation and the erection of a stone circle. But even in the hurly burly of building works those caring for the site have shown enormous sensitivity to its special character. For example, at one point some land needed to be cleared in preparation for the creation of a Zen meditation and sensory garden and Iron Age style roundhouse. Of course the easiest plan would have been simply to grub up the (not terribly impressive) apple trees and get on with the job. What actually happened is that the trees were carefully moved and re planted. Now in a much better place, and having been treated with care and love, they are flourishing.

Rocky-Valley

Magical mazes in Rocky Valley

To go on retreat, however we do it, implies having time to listen. We make an opportunity to be actively passive. This may be very inwards (sitting in silent meditation in order to see what arises in this moment) or outward (becoming tourists and allowing ourselves to engage in a journey of curiosity and discovery). We can choose to downshift and spend hours by the river watching the play of light on the water or actively seek out novelty (in the case of donning VR goggles). Whatever we do, the aim is to make space, to change our usual modus operandi and engage with a different way of being that can shed light on our ‘normal’ lives, putting things into perspective and nourishing our souls. By stepping outside of our usual settings, we can look inside ourselves afresh.

JV

 

PS: Nikki and I are running a retreat in The Netherlands on Altered States & Magic. This promises to be a magical weekend which runs from 9–11th February 2018. There are still a few spaces left, please get in touch if you’d like to join us.

The Psychedelic Museum: Celebrating the Summers of Love at Breaking Convention

This gallery contains 17 photos.

Originally posted on the psychedelic museum:
Rather like the psychedelic experience itself, Breaking Convention (BC) is a whirlwind of stimulating new ideas, interconnections and ramifying insights, a place to have preconceptions challenged, and a place to celebrate. This biennial, always sell-out conference on psychedelic research and experience, is a wondrous melting pot of influences. In…

Great Questions, Great Answers

I have recently returned from the excellent Occult Conference at Glastonbury where I had the good fortune to be co-presenting with Andrew Phillip Smith (http://www.andrewphillipsmith.com/)  on “Gnosticism in Theory and Practice: Gnosticism as a path of spiritual Free-thinking”. In pursuit of an engaging format, Andrew and I decided that we would pose to each other a series of questions about this theme in the hope that we could provide some interesting and erudite responses. While I will leave the assessment of our success to the audience, one of the most intriguing questions that Andrew asked was whether I had encountered any interesting spiritual beings during my gnostic explorations.

While sadly time did not allow for us to explore this question together during our actual presentation, musing on it did trigger an interesting process of self-reflection and insight. In short my most memorable experiences to date have been with Holy Wisdom (Sophia) and with my future magical self.

I have already written on this blog about my work with Sophia and while I have engaged with a number of god-forms in my magical work, I have been struck by the depth of her impact on me. I had long been acquainted with the personification of Wisdom as female within Biblical literature, but by engaging with her magically via Gnostic myth, I felt as though I have been given a new lens through which to view with the female divine across a number of intersecting traditions. For me this has these have led me to deep waters of Bhakti (devotional) yoga that I have found profoundly helpful. I rarely feel comfortable talking about the deeply personal dimensions of my magical work in that I find language often struggles to capture nuance without risking cliché,  but I would encourage you, dear reader, to explore for yourself the connections between Wisdom and the divine feminine in whichever path you follow.

It is perhaps slightly comical that as a Gnostic explorer I continue to be shocked by the direct challenge that this work poses, but I guess we are all prone to forgetfulness. In exploring the process of my own waking up, I have been aware of my own spark of awareness being embodied by a figure dwelling at the threshold of my consciousness. I have already written about being haunted by my memory of the Jesus I had encountered during my Christian past but this unease has a different quality. Differing schools may seek to describe this as an etheric double or the daemonic aspect of the self, but my own encounter seemed quite strongly connected to my own future self. This sense of personified aspiration or what Assagioli would call the Super-Conscious self might be explored mythically via figures such as the androgynous Adam Kadmon from the Jewish tradition or Balder “the shining one” from Norse lore. Whatever figure we might connect to, perhaps more critical is that we draw inspiration from the sense of becoming or unfolding they represent.

Baldr.jpg

Bright God

For me this is the path of aspiration, guarded futurism and teleological endeavour. Magical work that has no aspiration or no real longing that it is seeking to fulfill is unlikely to sustain focus. Most of us who seek to follow an initiatory or magical path do so because we want more. We aspire to understand our past and who we are today so that we might maximize our being, and pull-in gnosis from our future magical selves.

Nema in her excellent Maat Magick locates such work in the figure of “N’Aton”, an androgynous future Self that holds within it both our individual and collective genius: “In N’Aton’s home line (i.e. the version of the future in which they are most fully realised), we’ve controlled our mutation into a species of double consciousness: the familiar one of individuality and the new telepathic connection amongst us that constitutes N’Aton” (Ma’at Magick pg. 65). Personally I love this perception of awakening as holding both individual and collective dimensions. Each of us will have our own unique challenge in either making more connections or establishing individual ego-strength, but N’Aton reminds us that both must be held in Ma’at’s balancing scales.

maat

Just Goddess

My own ongoing explorations of N’Aton as a concept/being feel fruitful in that such workings can provide rich illustration regarding what we aspire to be, and the challenges that might limit such becoming. Such work can be quite edgy and disorientating (time-travel often can be!) and I would recommend thorough grounding at the conclusion of your ritual working i.e. banish, eat and preferably have contact with others.

In conclusion I will provide a snapshot from a recent invocation to N’Aton that took place as part of a ritual exploring our hopes and longings from the future:

N’Aton:

Deep Self

Future Self

Quicksilver Messenger

Who dwells on the Threshold.

Genius!

Daemon!

Dark-Feather Wind-Dancer.

Holy Guardian Angel,

Speak to us and support us.

Pull us forward

Come dwell with us now!

SD