Mystery at the Roots

In my last post I spent some time thinking about the concept of World Trees as cosmological maps. These maps are vital to the evolution of our theologies and also the mechanisms via which we see personal transformation happening. Whether we view such change as “magick”, initiation or psychological change, the maps provided by these mythic trees often highlight those key components that allow the shifts to be both balanced and sustainable.

Living in North Devon (in South West England, close to both moorland and rugged Atlantic coastlines), it’s hard to escape the impact that the winds of winter have on trees. With many stripped of leaves and being forced to bend in the face of sharp winds, they rely on flexible trunks and deep roots in order to survive. This combination of being flexible while retaining depth seems to hold wisdom for those of us feeling buffeted by gusts that we feel we have little control over.

To find our roots means to journey into the dark and the soil from which we sprang. When I seek to help families and individuals understand their current behaviours in therapy, it is inevitable that we have to adopt some archaeological moves in uncovering past role models, patterns and stories. When we dig down into these places that often feel lost and poorly understood, so the shape and speed of our growth can be understood more fully.

These roots are often unseen (or unconscious) and their depth and critical role is easy to underestimate. Anyone who has ever tried to uproot or move a tree will know of what I speak! Approaches that focus on present tense problem-solving and changing day-to-day cognition are of great value, but even these have to attend to those deeper roots in order to address more longstanding issues.

This journey of descending, searching and then ascending is hardly new and the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries bear witness to the human need to contend with the dark, the animal and the chthonic in order to provide a more mature blossoming of any initiatory work. This motif of descent became crucial to Jung’s depth psychology, the grand mythic arcs of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” and in turn the scripts of the first Star Wars trilogy. In order for our transformational work to be both rich and sustainable, we need to be drawing on nutrients that only darkness and decomposition can produce. The alchemical stage of nigredo and Jung’s concept of the shadow provide us with insights into this realm; as much as we might aspire to transcendence and states of eternal permanence, we must ground our endeavours in the reality of death, the body and our struggle with uncertainty.

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Confronting the darkness

In the face of such stark challenges it can be easy to seek false refuge in either metaphysical projections or our technology-driven attempts to control and escape from discomfort. Both of these approaches are fully understandable, but often prove to be fragile and disappointing in the face of life’s brutality. In having previously considered the example of Odin on the World Tree Yggdrasil, we can see the something of the cost involved in seeking those mysteries (Runes) that seek to capture the wholeness of human experience. Whether we see his gaining of gnosis as being of triumph (“I took up the Runes roaring”) or terrifying revelation (“I took them up screaming”) it is clear that these insights came via ordeal and struggle and that such travail was lengthy.

With the degree of hyper-acceleration that seems so endemic within Western culture, it can be hard to hear that something is going to take both time and significant effort. I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone in wanting things faster and wanting them now, but when we journey to the roots we can begin to appreciate a slower approach. For me it feels that this more gradual, organic form of emergence takes us beyond the realms of spiritual consumerism and seems to allow what James Hillman describes as the “soul making”.

My own attempts to slow things down and locate deeper roots have recently been via a reconnection to the path of Druidry. When I started exploring the path of magic over twenty years ago it was to Druidry that I was initially drawn. Perhaps because of the apparent gentleness of its style, and the way in which it allowed the Christian and Pagan to converse with each other, it provided me with a less jarring route into occult practice. Alongside my more daring adventures in Chaos magic and Tantra, I have had this slow burn affection for a path that seeks to hold together creativity, magic and wisdom (bard, ovate and druid).

Of the little we know about the druids from early sources (interested readers may like to check out the excellent The Druids by Ronald Hutton), it seems likely that it took at least twenty years to complete one’s training. For me this is good news as I’m just about on schedule! If all this was about was some obsessive attempt at Celtic reconstructionism I’m sure it would have taken far less time, but my hunch is that my deeper relationship with the druid tradition has been about the discovery of what my own expression of Wisdom and Soul should look like in the world around me. The roots of this work are deep because they are as much about my creativity, my social work and my relationships as they are about some well-choreographed wand waggling.

SD

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.

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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

On Letting Go – or, How Not to Get Sick on Ayahuasca…

I once wrote that ‘letting go is the critical ability for navigating psychedelic drugs’ and this is true on many levels. At a Treadwell’s workshop on altered states and at the fabulous Berlin psychedelics conference Altered, people have spoken with me about the challenge of ‘letting go’ in relation to psychedelic sacraments. In both cases my interlocutors were considering taking ayahuasca for the first time. In both cases they’d come to me for reassurance about that whole ‘being sick’ thing.

Ayahuasca can provide an opportunity for spiritual exploration, for self-discovery, for healing, problem solving and much more. As experiences go it can be dazzlingly beautiful and illuminating, and it is true that it can also make you feel nauseous. 

People have heard that taking ayahuasca involves vomiting. I too had these concerns before I took this medicine.  In addition I was afraid that peyote would also make me vomit. I was worried that MDMA would make me overheat and die, I was worried that LSD would make me psychotic and that smoking cannabis would turn me into a hippie…

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Tasty blend of herbs

Joking aside, all these fears do have some basis in reality. Ayahuasca can make you want to vomit, LSD taken in unwise circumstances can scramble one’s brain and toking weed may indeed encourage the consumption of vegan food.

In the case of ayahuasca (or peyote or many other psychedelics) the fear of vomiting is emblematic of the normal human fear of losing control; what looks like fear of being sick is actually about letting go in a much bigger sense. But take heart! Not everyone throws up on the magical Amazonian medicine. I’ve taken the brew many times, sometimes at a high dose, and I’ve not yet vomited on ayahuasca.  I put this this down to having spent many years using other psychedelic drugs where I would register nausea as body load caused by both adrenaline and the stimulation of serotonin receptors in my gut. I’d simply take my attention elsewhere to combat the nausea and it would go away.

Ever the scientist, I once tried eating a chicken tikka baguette not long before an ayahuasca session to see if that might bring on la purga (and turned down my instinctive process to disregard nausea). No luck. I might of course be sick in the future on this or another psychedelic medicine, then again maybe I won’t. When I spoken to a friend, who is much more familiar with ayahuasca than me, he said this wasn’t that unusual and that accords with my experience. Certainly in most  of the ayahuasca sessions I’ve attended the majority of those present didn’t vomit. I have however cried copious tears in the company of The Queen of the Forest; tears of both sadness and joy (sometimes at the same time). Crying for me is a thing,  it’s my physiological catharsis. I cry at the movies, so maybe the ayahuasca spirit uses that channel rather than my gut.

Chicken Tikka Baguette
Not the recommended dieta

The point is that we all fear losing control: our position in society, our face, our well-being. We don’t want to be the gringo covered in his own faeces looking like a J.P. Sears reject, we certainly don’t want our transgressive al-chemical adventures to harm us, or indeed others.

We are right to be thoughtful, mindful, when we approach psychedelic drugs. Sure there will always (I trust) be high spirited, youthful scrapes but, especially as adults, when considering taking a jungle brew (and more so in the case of obscure or new substances) we are wise to be cautious. Accidents, rare reactions and other difficulties can and do happen. However these are very, very rare with the ‘classic’ psychedelics. We know ayahuasca is basically safe because we’ve been testing it on humans for many thousands of years, likewise peyote. Even peyote’s modern daughter MDMA , though a new kid on the block, is known to be a very safe drug. The numbers prove it. Allowing for the problems of unknown dose, composition and other issues caused by prohibition, illegal MDMA is reported to have killed 63 people in the UK in 2016 (this is from government data which also lists 24 deaths as being due to ‘cannabis’, so it may be worth taking these figures with a pinch of salt). This total, whilst still significant and tragic, is very small when considered in the light of the 492,000 people that took one or more doses of this powerful unregulated drug (meaning, zero quality control or any accurate dosage information available at point of sale) in 2015/16. (MDMA use in the UK may be as high as 125 million doses per annum, on the basis of a hefty 200mg per dose of the estimated 25,000kg of Ecstasy consumed in Britain each year.)

Fear doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It helps keep us safe. It is perhaps what we should feel approaching a transformative experience such as can happen when you drink ayahuasca (or take MDMA). Let’s listen to what Terence McKenna (peace be upon him) says about fear and psychedelics:

“One of the interesting characteristics of DMT is that it sometimes inspires fear – this marks the experience as existentially authentic. One of the interesting approaches to evaluating such a compound is to see how eager people are to do it a second time. A touch of terror gives the stamp of validity to the experience because it means, “This is real.” We are in the balance. We read the literature, we know the maximum doses, the LD-50, and so on. But nevertheless, so great is one’s faith in the mind that when one is out in it one comes to feel that the rules of pharmacology do not really apply and that control of existence on that plane is really a matter of focus of will and good luck.”

Psychedelic drugs require us to abandon ourselves to the experience, in the same way that in possession states we (that is; our usual way of thinking) must get out of the way. The Loa enter the ecstatic dancer, temporarily driving out their day-to-day self,  as their body becomes a horse ridden by the gods.

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Raving – still safer than horse riding…

Psychedelic drugs are antithetical to systems of control in a variety of senses. At a raw biological level that’s how they work. The fact that the world looks weird when we are high on ayahuasca is because the control systems in our neurology are being disrupted. Edge detection, motion and colour detection bits of the brain become cross-wired. The ability of your mind to smooth out the visual world into a seamless film (which isn’t how your biology takes in the scene at all, see Nikki’s article for more of this) is compromised by the weird chemistry of the vine and the leaf. Then the visions come; of vertically symmetrical faces, with eyes, mouths and tentacles (visual cues our biology is optimized to notice). What’s going on is that the control systems of our minds are so weakened that content floods between brain regions, creating cognitive chimera and marvellous mental mashups. Out of this creative chaos arise visually perceived sub-personalities or the archetypal programs of our unconscious mind (…or however one likes to think of these things). The spirits  enter our imaginations just as they enter the body of the ecstatic Voudou raver. We let go of control, becoming a vessel for the teaching of the medicine, and in losing ourselves, find ourselves reborn.

Let’s reconsider that basic form of control which preserves our adult decorum; what if the ayahuasca strips away our digestive competence and we make a fool of ourselves?

Any good ayahuasca season takes account of the fears, and indeed in many styles of practice this purging is seen not as a problem but as an opportunity for healing and cathartic release. Small plastic buckets and plenty of tissues are usually provided and, however it is managed, the fact that participants may need to vomit is planned for. By re-imaging this vomiting as ‘getting well’ or ‘la purga’ the experience, while not necessarily pleasant, can be a positive transformative part of the trip. Peyote can have a similar nauseating effect, and again good rituals will take this into account.

Within the design of the Native American Church peyote ceremony the central crescent altar is made from local soil. This soil is dug from a pit to make what is sometimes called a ‘Getting Well Hole’. Any vomit is disposed of into this hole. The soil from the crescent altar is used to fill it in the end of the rite. Flowers from the ceremony may be left on the replaced turfs covering the pit. Thus the process of ‘getting well’ isn’t just an annoying side effect of the drugs but is deeply incorporated into the ceremonial process.

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Altared state

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Getting well whole

More extreme loss of biological control (really needing to poo) usually only happens at high doses of psychedelics, and even then is usually within manageable bounds. Higher doses of any substance means more body load. A very high dose of anything will make you shit yourself as the body deploys one of its basic defensive (control) mechanisms. I’m reminded of a tale told to me by David Luke of some people he is researching who took far, far, far too much LSD (>20,000μg each). As soon as they drank the liquid (in which was dissolved more acid than they bargained for) they all immediately shat themselves, projectile vomited, and then spent a very, very, very long time tripping (one of them is still seeing strange things many years later).

Lots of things at high dose can make us throw up. I’ve seen people throw up on rapé snuff, 4-AcO-DMT, ketamine, cannabis, peyote, ayahuasca and MDMA but (even as someone who rarely goes to pubs) I’ve seen many more people throw up through drinking too much alcohol. In cultures like mine, where alcohol is a protected species of psychoactive and therefore commonly available, most people will have likely seen and possibly experienced vomiting from excessive drinking. Yet the fact that booze can potentially make us spew does not seem to be a major reason for people not trying alcohol.

With many psychedelics my view is that going-in slowly is a wise and polite approach to the spirit of a medicine. I agree that an initial Big Experience can be valuable, sometimes high doses are definitely what is indicated. But for many substances respecting the medicine can simply mean starting off gently. Drink less –  booze or ayahuasca – and you’ll probably feel less like vomiting.

Some styles of medicine worker like to make a big impression and strongly encourage the ‘heroic dose’ approach. Recently I’ve had a couple of people talk to me about shamans giving what they felt was too high a dose of a medicine, certainly too high for the recipients comfort. When I suggested asking the shaman for less they indicated that this would probably be met with a refusal. ‘Shaman knows best’ it would seem, an approach which ignores the feedback of the client. If you want less, particularly of a powerful substance such as 5-MeO-DMT, that’s what you should get. However wise the medicine person thinks their approach is, it is also wise to remain open to information from the client. For some medicines it’s not even an issues of having to take one big hit. 5-MeO-DMT for instance (the primary active ingredient of the psychedelic venom of the toad Bufo alvarius) can be taken in several bursts during a session, gradually increasing (or decreasing) the dosage as appropriate. There is no significant tolerance built up in a single session, and indeed subsequent inhalations of smoke can enhance the intensity of the trip while using less material. This approach is particularly helpful for people with less experience of psychedelic drugs. It also makes good sense in terms of testing for those rare but not unknown idiosyncratic reactions to a new medicine.

The wisdom is this: it is always possible to add more, but difficult to take away too much.

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…the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

A good psychedelic facilitator works to create a set and setting that is supportive and transformative. For those who are new to this territory, with all their fears of losing control of bowel and brain, it’s important for the wise shaman to create an environment where the substance component of the ritual is used intelligently. We want this space to feel safe because it’s important in my view that lots of people have access to the psychedelic experience. This means not just backpacking, adventurous hippie types but many others too. These folks may come from backgrounds where they have been told that drugs are bad, will send you mad and potentially kill you. Unlocking this control can be a powerful journey.  Sometimes blowing open closed minds can work wonders. But let us also cultivate a circumspect form of practice that gently leads people into the psychedelic waters rather than throwing them in at the deep end.

Care and attention are the skills needed to create the best set and setting within which to address our fear of losing control. We care for the vomiting ayahuasca traveller by providing buckets and toilet rolls. We care for panicked festival psychonauts by creating supportive spaces (like this and this) where they can be helped to ride the dragon of a challenging trip.

For my part, when people express their concerns to me about vomiting on ayahuasca I tell them the truth. Yes you can be sick, but you can be sick on beer too, or from a dodgy kebab. Maybe if you are very concerned ask for a smaller dose (and be thoughtful of practitioners who do not listen to your concerns about these matters). If you are sick think of it as ‘getting well’, acknowledge that this is a simple human activity, without shame and easily dealt with. Use the facilities provided, just like you would on a boat or airplane. You will not die (yet), you’re just throwing up.

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Fear not, this too shall pass…

So the message folks is that these concerns about taking ayahuasca makes sense. Be sensible about what you take and with whom, but don’t fear the vomit. Let go of your worries about losing control (you never had it really anyhow), embrace the experience. By and large these psychedelic substances are safe, healing, fun, wonderful and good for us. (Though if possible I recommend going somewhere where prohibition does not impose on the set and setting of your explorations, like here)

Prepare your bucket (which you may not need anyhow). Relax and let it happen, this is good medicine.

JV

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Here’s a brief update on some of the events and projects that we are involved with in early 2018.

Julian is running a one day workshop at Treadwell’s Books in London on Working Magic in the Landscape: Psychogeography on 13th January 2018 11:00 am – 5:30pm.

Nikki and Julian 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.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our 2018 programme of retreats (we’re really excited to have an amazing new venue at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall and some great guest facilitators joining us). Please drop us a line here and we can keep you informed by email of the latest events, publications and more.

The amazing Psychedelic Press UK has just released issue 22 of their journal, check it out and subscribe.

More details on events can be found here at the blog and on Facebook too.

Blessings

NW & JV 

 

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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Working with the Body at Halloween

For me one of the benefits of  working  with the turning of the year (especially alongside the 8 colours of magic), is that I often feel as though I’m being asked to maintain a balance in relation to the diet of my magical/spiritual activity and to pay attention to the way in which such work promotes health. If for example the heights of ego magic at mid-summer risk the danger of grandiosity, so the demands of Lammas and harvest help ensure that I pressure test any sense of advancement.

In the Northern Hemisphere this time of year can be an interesting time to take stock.  Whether we call it Samhain, Halloween or All Souls, the entry into the colder, darker period of the year often provides a natural impulse to slow down and review what we are doing and how this lines-up with our personal aspirations.

One of the great benefits of having both close magical friends and using a magical diary is that they both provide aid in the process of reflection and the way that I keep returning to important themes that I would have been less aware of if I had been left to my own devices. By making the most of such support, one of the reoccurring themes that I keep bumping into, is the importance of the body in my current spiritual practice. In discussion with beloved friends over cups of tea and in deciphering the rambling stream of consciousness contained in my diaries, I have to contend with the question of what it means to experience both the joys and limitations of the physical realm.

For much of this year I have been exploring my relationship with my body by reconnecting to my love of surfing. Living by the coast, I have the good fortune of getting into the sea and exploring the pleasure and challenges that it offers. I tend to surf either without a board (bodysurfing) or on a small inflatable surf mat. Both of these approaches are viewed as somewhat eccentric within the wider surfing community, but help maximize the rider’s closeness to the power of the wave. Outwardly the rider may not seem to be doing much beyond gliding down the face of the wave, but for me they provide a direct experience of nature’s power and the ever changing conditions of the Ocean. However odd and unimpressive this might seem to onlookers, the simple and intense pleasure of this watery Tantra keeps calling me back.

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Inflatable surf action!

My relationship to surfing is a complex one. I started surfing at age 10 when living in Australia and was an enthusiastic devotee until my family returned to the UK 6 years later. For the next 10 years I hardly went in the sea, and my focus on Christianity and theological education provided all the distraction I could want. When I eventually started surfing again, I simply assumed that despite the need for more wetsuit, I would be able to resume my obsession as before. Sadly my body didn’t agree, and following the move to Devon with my partner I was quickly faced by the reality that this love of mine was making me ill. I was confronted by limitation in the form of chronic fatigue symptoms and the realization that I couldn’t really do this, and work and have a life.

The letting go of my surfing obsession was made easier by becoming a parent and the inevitable demands and focus that this requires, and yet I still can’t/won’t let go of this thing I love. Surfing inevitably teaches me all those hippy lessons about flow, and awe at nature’s beauty, but it has also taught me some important things about limitation and self-care. I now avoid those beautiful winter waves and when I do surf in warmer months, I pay attention to my diet, my Qi Gong practice and the need for rest. Other illnesses and life events have provided more stark challenges, but my ability to surf/not surf has definitely allowed me some insight in how I experience my body.

Within the excellent work that Julian has done mapping on the colours of magic to the 8 major fire festivals Samhain is seen as having strong correspondences with black magic and the realm of death. Perhaps this is inevitable as we hunker down in front of fires and contend with early sunsets, but this drawing in and reflection brings associations with endings, darkness and remembering those people or things we have lost. When we work with the body we can become aware of not only the intense pleasures that can be sensed and experienced, but also the frailty of our physical selves and their finite span.

For those of us walking a magical path, the reality of own deaths can trigger a range of differing responses. Having worked hard at refining our psyches via the rigours of esoteric endeavour, the ending of our physical life as we know it can feel like an injustice that we rage against in a desire to buy more time. Alternately, in taking inspiration from Buddhist practice, can we use our awareness of mortality to sharpen our appreciation of this moment and review how we wish to be living now?

If I knew that I had three years left, what changes would I be making in the choices I make and in the quality of my relationships?

What if I knew I had 1 year?

What if I knew I had 6 months?

Stark questions, but also ones that can inspire us to awaken and taste life more fully!

Blessed Be.

SD

 

Preliminary proposal for a psychedelic prisoner solidarity network

This proposal is an open invitation and not a strict program or dogma for prescription.

LSD, DMT, Psilocybin, Peyote, Ayahausca and other psychedelics, enthoeogens, shamanic medicines and hallucinogenic chemicals are generally illegal and targeted by nation states and supranational organisations like the United Nations, G20 etc. Production, distribution and possession are heavily penalized in the majority of countries around the planet, even though there have been some advances towards their accepted uses in spirituality, psychiatry, psychotherapy and neuro-research in various territories.

The cases of judicial injustice which have taken place internationally and continue to take place are staggering in multitude, at the level of a so-called “war on drugs” which has been declared to be taking place for decades. This war is a means of domestic and foreign repression, racial and class-based segregation and it fuels an increasingly privatized prison system which props up an economic order based on division and
exploitation. It is also a war against consciousness itself, who gets to experience it, how it gets transformed and who gets to control and define it. The psychedelic community is a revolutionary and subversive explosion of colour, love, possibility and positivity which has suffered since its inception from state repression, disruption, investigation and infiltration.

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Subverting the State since 1967

There is a need within the psychedelic community for an increased awareness of legal, security and penal issues, from those who are in need of support and to those who will be. Without illegal chemists, distributors, local suppliers and trippers themselves, the psychedelic current wouldn’t exist. Currently the whole entire scenes which dovetail
with the psychedelic movement are based on ‘drug’ experiences which are criminalized and forbidden. Someone has to produce and supply the psychedelic and entheogenic medicines which are so prevalent and so there is a responsibility from the community to support those people who get caught.

A proposed psychedelic prisoner solidarity group would have to decide about a centralized or decentralized structure; their relationships to other entities such as government bodies, trade unions, penal reform organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, Amnesty International, and prison abolition groups such as the Anarchist Black Cross.

The group would need at least four or five core activists in order to be effective at a wider level, needing all the usual resources that a group like this requires: laptops, phones, printer, photocopier etc. It would be thought that a small group which has a such a broad remit and potentially vast interaction with many incarcerated psychonauts and wider society could suffer from being overwhelmed with cases and avenues of expansion beyond its means. The group should be a means to collect and unify many drug war prisoners without being based on individuals solely. This is to focus on the overall picture of repression and to prevent the ebb-and-flow of interest due to a particular case coming to an end or to give the illusion that the group could be a solution to all the problems that an imprisoned person may suffer from. The group should not be a charity based organisation but a means of struggle for the acceptance of psychedelic substances and their positive uses. This also means the family and friends who are supporting their imprisoned loved one do not have to spend all their time doing the public outreach which could be achieved by the impact of a psychedelic prisoner solidarity group, if they wish to focus on more important issues, like practical help to the one inside.

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Inside the System

The group would bring itself to the attention of the authorities quickly due to the campaign topic and the actual contact with prisoners inside. It would need to be up to date with law and policing issues and themes such as security and policy. The group would need to maintain virtual and physical presence, and provide accurate legal information and resources; it would network within and without the psychedelic community, researchers, medical community, marijuana industry, alternative and mainstream media, etc. It would maintain contacts with drug reform groups, lawyers and solicitors with expertise for those requiring their help; it would collect and maintain emergency funds for psychedelic prisoners and defendants; it would seek high-level public support from people, groups and entities of influence as a way to promote it’s causes; it would promote psychedelic culture and values, explaining the reasons to support advocated prisoners to the broader public. It would promote, through its outreach, the struggle for a world without need for a vast prison-industrial complex,
social repression and criminalization, for a better future and healing for all.

We can’t let those psychedelic chemists, entheogenic suppliers and drug war prisoners behind bars remain there, and we cannot fail those people who the state wishes to jail for many years, in some cases, for multiple lifetimes, like William Leonard Pickard. A movement for social change can be judged on how well it treats those who go to prison in defense of its principles, as a movement which forgets its prisoners, forgets itself.

FR

If you’re interested in this proposal please get in touch.

https://www.gofundme.com/psychedelic-prisoner-support

JV

In Search of Depth – A Review of ‘The Magickal Union of East and West’ by Gregory Peters

Much of the writing on this blog is preoccupied with the question of how we as Magicians of varying stripes seek to develop both depth and meaningful direction in our spiritual work. Rather than signing up to the concept of “one teleos fits all”, I hope that team Baphomet manages to balance a lively interest in the development of mature practice while revelling in the many potential ways that this might be pursued.

Once we move beyond the initial stages of understanding the core myths and ritual techniques of a given tradition it can feel bewildering as to how one can put down the type of deep roots that will enable more long term sustenance. While finding a helpful teacher or a structured Order may provide guidance for those lucky enough to locate them, I would not underestimate the role of a good book in providing us with new insight. Thankfully in The Magickal Union of East and West Gregory Peters has provided us with one of these volumes.

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Peters comes from a rich background of Thelemic ceremonial magic and various lineages of both  Hindu and Buddhist tantra. In this work he seeks to outline some of the key ideas and practices that he and other magical colleagues have worked with, within the Ordo Sunyata Vajra (OSV) over the past 18 years.  As is suggested by its English translation as an Order of the “Adamantine Void”, this is a curriculum that seeks to equip the magician with both philosophy and ritual technique for exploring dimensions of the “true” and “silent” self.

Peters is an open and enthusiastic guide who offers the insights he has gained with a deep sense of gratitude to those teachers and currents that have informed his work. Whether it be the work of Kaula Nath lineage of AMOOKOS, Dzogchen or Chan Buddhist practices, he presents these approaches within an explicitly Thelemic world view. However much he has gained from these Eastern traditions, his work seeks to engage with them as means for getting to the deeper dimensions of Crowley’s work as it was carried forward by Kenneth Grant, and Greg’s own mentor Soror Meral (Phyllis Seckler).

If we are to move beyond superficial heavy metal styling’s regarding the expression of “true will”, we will need to explore what will this mean in terms of the transformation of self and the manifestation of Thelema and Agape within our everyday lives. This is not a rejection of the Western magical tradition, rather it is an attempt to reconnect us to those spiritual traditions that were critical to the reconstitution of Neo-pagan paths long deprived of their own change technologies.

Our author is a big fan of Kenneth Grant and clearly sees the focus of the OSV as being profoundly connected to the recovery of a perennial form of “Stellar Gnosis”. In contrast to Grant however, Greg (as a Tantric and ceremonial practitioner) provides us with plenty of guidance with regards things we can do. Malas can be blessed and altars can be created and there are plenty of ritual outlines that we are invited to explore and adapt depending on setting and inclination. We also spend time thinking about what it means to inhabit the “dragon seat” of meditation in order to explore the oscillating sense of being and non-being.

For me, this work provides some helpful maps for exploring the limited spatial metaphors that we as magical types can get hung-up on. If we adopt a psyche-centric focus for work, are we seeking to reinforce concepts like ego-strength or are we pursuing the dissolution of our self-concept? In seeking to simultaneously deepen our engagement with both True Will and the formlessness of the Void, Peters seems to be acknowledging the inevitable spiralling movement of the self as it dances between such poles. In sitting with a spaciousness that demands the alchemical transformation of our Will, Self is ultimately embraced even though its newer form may now seem barely recognisable.

I would highly recommend this book to those magicians interested in how the Aeon of Horus can shake-off some of its dustier, pseudo-masonic origins. In the spirit of Grant’s Typhonic work and Nema’s Maat magick, the work of the OSV provides some highly helpful guidance as to how we as contemporary practitioners can work with both Eastern and Western magical currents in a manner that feels at once respectful, deep and innovative.

SD