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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Psychedelic Ecology

Gods dwell amongst us, and have done so since before the dawn of time.

Shh! Can you hear…? The distant sound of footsteps, careful steps, of a creature trying to move stealthily, making the footfalls irregular. But we can spot the subtle pattern of left, right, left right. And the breathing, you hear that too? On the edge of your perception…

Goddesses and gods, walk the world.

Sometimes, we hear them singing. Not with words like those a pop star would use, not Taylor Swift. More, soaring melodies with powerful emotional key changes, free of standard musical motifs like birdsong is free, to move at will between tones, as the breath goes.

Psychedelic Ecology is the field of psychedelic entity study, when entities are regarded as having an existence of their own, treating them as creatures which live in the perceptual experiences of all Life.

Any persona could be viewed as an emergent property of the material base it inhabits. From stone to human, the difference is only one of complexity. Everything can be said to perceive, or rather is aware of the world outside it, according to its abilities. A stone is aware of gravity, of other things resting upon it, of temperature, and reacts accordingly. A human is aware of far more in the immediate world, and has memory and imagination to allow it to time-travel.

Entities which we notice whilst in psychedelic states grow from the abilities they have at such times. We notice what we are able to at such times. Somewhere in this double approach, we might be able to describe their phenomenological reality.

Beginning before the beginning of humankind, entities existed. Eyes need to be noticed, odd movements must be picked out from the background, movement through the outside world has to have an internal construct. We have always carried these hardwired Important Things. Entities, representations of these deep patterns, were already old when that ancient fish dashed away from the glint of awareness in the rippling body of the eel. That tentacular movement, that enormous eye, lived beyond the animal that carried it, and away from the animal that saw it too. All of us, for billions of years, have to know what to look for; and when we look for something whilst tripping, we tend to see it.

With thousands of eyes, tentacles for legs, numerous arms, strange movements… all these parts deeply embedded in our biology, a collection of physicality with deep associations. Many arms do many things, thousands of eyes demonstrate wide awareness, moving unlike a human, demanding our attention. When we cause ourselves to pay attention really, really pay attention, we summon entities. We see eyes in trees, rocks breathe, the mountains and rivers have characters.

Psychedelic states reveal things to us. They lift the veil of interpretation we add to the raw sensations around us. This brings to mind Aldous Huxley’s metaphor of our senses acting to restrict input. What Huxley did not know of, is the Default Mode Network.

Briefly, the DMN acts as a running commentary on what is happening in our worlds. It overrides the actual world around us, changes the evidence of the present to suit the past narrative, and generally smooths out any kinks or unexpected glitches we encounter from our easily confused sensory inputs.

Our DMN could be said to contribute to our persona. The patterns that establish themselves, the waves of neurological activity which pass through hemispheres, triggering intellectualisations and emergent noises form our organisms, this is what, who, we are. Take away the DMN and we all resemble each other, reduced to immediate awarenesses, raw sights and sounds overwhelming the past stories we arrived with.

Emotional set becomes our personality whilst we trip (at high enough doses). In good settings, we play, dance, smile, feel good. Past and future, those identical not-nows, cease to have meaning. Sometimes they vanish so convincingly that we forget events, confuse names, release belief from all we knew for sure in ordinary life. If we can relax into this, safe in a space held by those we trust to care for us, the confusion lifts us to flights of imagination and make-believe.

In these psychedelic states, we are open to habitation from the spirits, the entities. They come to us in guises and disguises, speaking to us with still small voices, with thunderous roaring, with telepathic messages that arrive without needing soundwaves. They appear in costumes built from echoes of our expectations, clothed with whatever is to hand; I once asked to meet the spirits of Ayahuasca, who appeared as two cartoon characters, borrowing mice from Speedy Gonzales (a childhood hero of mine). They talked with me for a long time, about the collapse of barren concrete cities, and I talked with them too, trying to describe how to inform Westerners in order to achieve their mission of plants regaining greater importance than human-built creation. (Persuade them, I advised, show them the better alternative, please don’t add more fear to the future we are told to see!) They showed me skyscrapers covered with vines.

Image result for vines skyscrapers

I know that ayahuasca is not two cartoon mice. But the vision was there to allow for my hero worship, coupled with a childlike delight in the overthrow of boring, authoritarian society. The voices matched, high pitched, enthusiastic, fast, full of clever wordplay.

Entities take shape from what we can give them.

They sound like, something else; they sound outside of us.

The challenge we face as a rational bunch of people, who nevertheless clearly encounter otherworldly beings whilst tripping, is how to allow ourselves to believe fully in their existence beyond the limitations of our own perceptions and knowledge base. They tell us things we did not know, and possess qualities and abilities we lack.

Since time began we have tried to make sense of their presence within our minds, their manifestation out of and into nothing, puffs of smoke, mirror creatures that dwell in impossible places, out of time. A popular metaphor of current usage is that of ‘another realm’, a kind of sideways step dimensional shift to a world separated from our own by some kind of perceptual cloaking screen, through which we (or they) can pass in certain conditions of altered consciousness.

I find this solution unsatisfactory. It reduces these majestic beings, these goddesses and keepers of eternal knowledge to mere equivalencies of ourselves, elves over there instead of here. I want my spirits up close and personal, ever present, not in a side room to physical reality.

They are at once more easily explained, and more powerfully endowed, by open our minds to the possibilities of wider concepts. I’ll try to paint a picture…

Hear me now! I am the voice of Pan, echoing across these lands for all of time! I am the movement of the smallest creature that crawls, I am the stirring of a leaf, and the raging storm that fills the sky. I dwell wherever life watches and listens. I am awareness, the prickle of your skin when something approaches. The rise of joy within y0our heart as friends draw near, the flow of smooth skin on skin, the strength felt by muscles as they flex and stretch. I bring to you the eternal now, a moment as old as the world. which lasts for ever. This is the moment in which we can do.

Whether we refer to Pan as a god, an archetype, a personification of an abstract concept, we can allow for his existence in the moment, as a useful way of communicating outside our usual frames of reference. Escaping the reality tunnels of our individuality reveals existence without standard labelling; a semiotic chaos, of undifferentiated ground from which emerge all apparent forms anew, ready for reappraisal.

And we need this reappraisal of Normality so desperately.

Less activity in the DMN correlated to the sense of ego-loss felt by people after being injected with psilocin. Psychedelics also cause an increase in the global traffic between regions, whilst a decrease in local activity, within brain areas dealing with discrete tasks, occurs.

The judging part of us disappears. We process inputs and internal processing at a global level. The functionally discrete parts loosen their boundaries, and we find poetic truths dwelling beneath the surface of what looks like home.

We need, as biological organisms, to differentiate between ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘this cup’. How can I pass the cup to you, if those three objects are merely aspects of one substance? That would be stupid.

As soon as deliberate movement became possible, our ancestors needed to know which way was up. Clues as to what lay ahead of them proved incredibly advantageous. Remote sensing became all the rage, back in prehistory, with eyes and vibration sensing apparatus catching on. Upon our heads we bear the latest version of this technology, vibrating air passes through holes originally intended as gill slits, and tiny bones (which evolved from jaw bones, bones for eating) move, minutely, leveraging further membranes attached to the brain’s nerve endings.

From these oh so subtle twitches, the neurons of auditory centres cause cascades of chemicals, and some how, these patterned forms make us think we hear.

Reaching forward in time and space, to what lies ahead of us. We must have a plan, a map. We see, we create, a future world which is not yet our present. We can move towards this future over that world, or maybe that future over that other world; we hold multiple worlds, in order to compare the more desirable. These worlds are real, we make them as we make the world of now, from our sensory inputs and our internal processing. We feel them, we feel how they feel, do we want to move towards this world, or away? No time to rationally assess them, we move according to our will and whim.

Our emotional responses to sensory inputs, and our internal processing, have to be prioritised by hardwiring them together.

Be attracted to this!

Move away from that!

The complexity of this and that should not be underestimated; after a few billion years of practice, we are getting quite good at complexity these days.

Default_Mode_Network_Connectivity

Default Mode Network connectivity

Wedded for millions of lifetimes, emotions and actions. Unexpected intrusions, which appear as if from nowhere to stand before us plainly upon our world maps, demand a lot of attention. Contrariwise, when we have a lot of attention, we find ourselves confronted with unexpected intrusions, standing in front of us…

These are no phantasms however, nor yet visitors from another physical dimension next door. They exist, they live, as creatures which have inhabited our senses for longer than we have. The voice of the siren luring us onwards. The terrifying noise of silence broken by a footstep where none was before. Shrill shrieks, calling for our notice. The regular breathing of a body sleeping beside us, snuggled together in the dark. Water falling, that most promising sound!

From these ancient strands are woven our entities, combined with the visual clues we might have to hand.

Waterfalls sing to us, notes at first, then words. We hear them clear as day.

Auditory hallucinations, clearly heard sounds, with no external source. I hear them all the time, tinnitus attends my every hour, a faint high-pitched tone as if a tv is left on. Buzzing noises often precede spirit encounters for me, I hear them fly past my ear, just before the magic happens. Have you heard the far away voices, that speak from beneath the ground, from behind the hills, from the sky above? They talk and sing so quietly, yet you perceive every word.

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Praying formation

Perceiving other entities as other entities, rather than conceptualising them as ‘thought forms’ or ‘archetypes of the psyche’, has huge benefits in the moment of interaction. Our brains are set up to evaluate incredibly complex social evaluations, to assess the motives of others, to recall factors influencing fair division of resources and task allocation. Entities, whether we call them spirits, deities, aliens, elves, animal familiars, genii loci, ghosts, faery, and so on, whatever we categorise them as are best treated as separate actors on the world stage to ourselves. They have an identity wider and deeper than our individual encounters. We represent our species evolutionary past, embodied in this body at this moment, and we hold the programming of our cultural surroundings as the lens through which we can intuit, hear, and see.

Each one of us is far more than ‘one of us’. As such, the psychedelic encounter with an entity becomes a meeting in the mythical realm, where we become aware of ways of understanding and acting which we could not have considered beforehand.

Realising that these entities have purpose, history, future existence, and a right to their own world view, places the centre of the discussion outside our self. Outside our species’ collective identity. We escape the trap of anthropocentric motives. Given the results of categorical, human centred planning of the past centuries in the dominant world cultures, perhaps this is the most intriguing aspect of meeting otherworldly characters. Just as children come to the astonishing revelation that their parents have a need for happiness, as we mature out of the squabbles of territorial demarcation and fighting over toys, we are learning that we are not the only intelligences which inhabit this planet.

This is not to say there are invisible creatures occupying some kind of parallel dimension to our own, another literal world, which we could reach by stepping through some kind of portal as beloved by so many tv writers of the late 20th century. This particular mythological construct appeals to our childish imaginations, and is very easy to understand, but to my mind diminishes the vastly more rewarding poetic truth I have outlined here, of entities as truly ancient, astonishing collections of perceptual patterns embedded deep within our sensory apparatus, which live in each of us, and which we believe often create what we call paranormal or magical events, whether by information downloads that are impossible to account for by rational means, or even by causing material effects in the world around us (e.g. weather magic). (Most magical traditions explain the magic powers by referring it outwards to an other, a helper spirit, an ancestor. God told me to do it.)

It is worth comparing the view of these commonly held perceptual patterns as entities in their own right, with the way we view other people as entities in their own right. We are happy to attribute personhood to a collection of biological cells, constructed of chemistry, which arose from physics. We are often happy to extend this personhood to animals, or plants (oh, you look sad, would like some water?). Often we relate to places as persons; hello house, nice to be here again! Or events; the figure of father Christmas being the prime example from northern European culture.

Regular engagement with this kind of encounter leads to a more open-minded attitude to the non-psychedelic state. People tend towards a lack of preconception about people, places, and situations. It is likely that this attitude creates the luck with which many psychonauts seem blessed. Richard Wiseman’s research on luck strongly indicates that those who look around see more (unsurprisingly!). it is of course possible to cultivate this open mindedness without psychedelics, but they present unavoidable opportunities for us to practise this skill…

Look around you.

NW

Abridged from a presentation at Beyond Psychedelics conference, 21st June 2018, Prague.

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

A Magician in Residence at The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

For a while, before the office opens, I’m sitting in a hollow on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. I plan to meditate and sing and do some yoga for an hour or so. This will ensure that I’ll be in the right frame of mind for work. Below me is Boscastle harbour. I am sitting on the eastern side of that long inlet, a snaking chasm of rock, half barred by two gently curving sea walls (built in the 16th century). Behind this there are a few boats, some sand and seaweed. On the seaward side there are great cliffs. In undercut hollows, carved by the restless waves, blow-holes form, squirting jets of spray back over the rising tide. This is a deeply magical place, for me and many others. Boscastle is the beautiful, sometimes dangerous confluence of the River Valency and River Jordan. It is one of those deep wooded valleys (‘coombes’ we calls ’em in Devon) that are typical of the north Atlantic coastline. It is also the setting for the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, where for one week in June I was the ‘Magician in Residence‘.

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Beautiful Boscastle

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) is a collection that is locally adored and internationally recognized. If you’re not already familiar with the amazing range of things they do (from supporting international academic research, to commissioning new artworks) then please take some time to look around their online presence.

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Lurid old skool Baphomet

I’d been aware of the Museum for many years (if nothing else through those brilliantly lurid photos of Baphomet in occult coffee table books of the 1970s). But it wasn’t until fifteen or so years ago I went there for the first time. These days I’m closely involved with the Museum, including as Chair of The Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, a registered charity that supports the museum, in particular with its mission to educate and engage people. One aspect of engagement is to encouraging people to visit spaces like MWM. Visiting museums, especially places of the quality of MWM, can be a powerful, authentic, moving experience. Sure you can see many items from the MWM collection using their online database. However the physical experience of walking down the path, towards the wild Cornish sea, turning right and there, nestled against the rock, is the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic – that embodied experience takes some beating!

MWM’s work includes supporting the increasing appreciation, in academia and wider culture, of the influence of occultism (as I mentioned here). They’ve recently loaned objects to some internationally important shows, such as Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution. There are the many ways in which the MWM collection is relevant to wider culture. One of my own interests in this field is in the social phenomena of witch hunting as a form of scapegoating. The way in which communities, of many different sorts, go about hunting and killing ‘witches’ says something very important to all of us. In order to understand, mitigate and perhaps transform our scapegoating behaviour, we have to understand how it happens. Collections such as that at MWM can directly help us do this by bringing us up close and personal with objects that are the anchors for stories of prejudice, misunderstanding and punishment. (You can see some examples of the educational resources I helped to create, enabling young people to explore these issues on the MWM website.  If you’re a teacher, especially of teenagers, you may like to check these out).

Inside MWM there are many wonderful things; the material traces of many expression of occulture. The galleries themselves are a cunning interplay of dark and secret with bold and well-lit spaces. The standard of presentation is second to none (and I’ve worked in many museums over the past 15 years). This excellent curation isn’t surprising given that museum director Simon Costin is something of a creative genius.

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Tasteful modern Baphomet

(Talking of Baphomets, it was also during this week that I helped transport a rather famous Baphomet mask from London to its new home at the Museum. But more of that later…)

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Baphomet, last seen in public on The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

For my week in residency I got to hang out in the library. This is, as you might imagine, another wonderful space. There are wooden desks, a gigantic witches ball in the window to repel the evil eye, and many, many books. I set up my office here; runes, two decks of tarot cards, crystal ball, special magic A4 white paper for sigils, sage smudge, some magical pointy things from the Himalayas – and we are good to go!

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In residence

I’d imagined that I could spend much of the week writing and maybe doing a spot of research. In addition to an amazing range of books in the MWM library it houses hundreds of files containing everything from facsimile editions of Gerald Gardner’s original Book of Shadows, through to collections of obscure short-run occult ‘zines from the 1980s. However my research plan was not to be. Rather than reading the books I spent most of my time that week doing tarot readings for visitors.

This was both enjoyable and an honour. People often open up in a divination session and place their trust, to some degree, in the diviner. I encourage this, as an important benefit of having a reading is the confidential, candid, even confessional opportunity that this setting provides.

When people come to me for a reading I explain that I can’t divine the future with any great certainty. I usually joke that were this one of my special powers I’d divine six numbers, win the lottery and spend all my time on holiday. (Actually the problem with this analogy is I do generally to get to spend my time doing what I love, but anyhow…). Instead I explain that my role is primarily to work with clients to explore how things are for them, and to look at what possible futures and courses of action might emerge from their present circumstances. This makes the whole process about discovery; the reading becomes a space for mutual investigation and reflection. The querent is not the passive recipient of advice, but an active agent in their own narrative. For while there may be some circumstances where our options are limited. we do usually possess some degree of freedom; this realization is often a key outcome. Cultivating this awareness of freedom, in a realistic way, and exploring the options for change, are for me what tarot readings are all about.

Now I won’t lie, even within this broadly psychological paradigm of divination things with a distinctly parapsychological flavor do happen. For example, my usual practice is ask the querent to draw three cards. On the basis of these I begin a story, then together we explore how this might relate to their situation. Sometimes, especially when I’m on a roll and have been doing lots of readings over a short period of time, I say things in this opening section that the client responds to with surprise. ‘How could you have known that?’ they say. Then there are moments, perhaps halfway through reading (sometimes accompanied by a sense of having something speak through me, or some sense of ‘absence’) where a rush of words comes out. Again the querent may be impressed; I’ve perhaps articulated the problem we’ve been discussing in a radically new way that helps them see a totally new picture, or perhaps I’ve revealed how one character may be acting and what can be done to make things better. These intuitive insights may be surprising, including to me. But however spot on my words are I always bracket what I say. I explain that one reason we call this stuff ‘magic’ is because none of us (perhaps least of all magicians) really known how any of it works. I acknowledge that this is how things may appear in this moment, in this reading, but that the future is uncertain and new information and possibilities may well arise. I may be ‘inspired’ but I’m also quite clear that my impressions may be wrong or incomplete in any number of ways. Sure listen to the oracle, but take it all with a pinch of salt.

I’m pleased to say that I got really nice feedback from some of the folk I read for during my residency and I’m glad they found the sessions useful. For me whether a reading is heavy on the psychological exploration, or has significant parapsychological moments, isn’t what matters. What is important is that the consultation provides an opportunity to empower the querent; allowing them to find their own way in the world. This is the magic of it.

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In the magicians chair

An additional delight of this week was to be able to spend time with many of the members of my extended family, enjoying this magical landscape and each other’s company. (Which is why each morning on those rocks I gave thanks to the Great Spirit – whom I call Baphomet – for those lovely people and the magic in my life.)

I’ve  recorded a few thoughts towards the end of my residency about the role of the proverbial village witch on my Youtube channel too.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at the Museum for welcoming and supporting me during that week, and to all those people who came to see me over those days; may the royal road rise to meet you!

Blessed Be

Julian Vayne

PS Our next Deep Magic Retreat at St.Nectan’s Glen will take place from 27th September-1st October For more details please visit our Facebook page.

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Labyrinth at Rocky Valley, where the river that runs through St.Nectan’s Glen meets the sea.

 

 

 

 

An Audience with Christina Oakley Harrington

I was fortunate to catch up with the wonderful Christina Oakley Harrington while at Treadwell’s Books for my second Psychogeography workshop.

Christina is Treadwell’s founder and presiding spirit. She was voraciously interested in spirituality and magic since childhood, and grew up in West Africa, Burma, and Chile, only moving to the West at the age of 15. In her early twenties she was heartened to discover Europe’s own native religious traditions, and has been a pagan ever since. A former academic, she left university life in 2001 to establish Treadwell’s. These days she serves as a consultant for programmes and projects but is usually at the shop somewhere during the week.

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Christina presents Golden Dawn magician Florence Farr

Here you can listen to the conversation that Christina and I had which ranges across the subjects of women in magic, the importance (or not) of visualization, the use of mescaline in witchcraft, the feminist history of psychedelics, post-modern (or metamodernist) magical paradigms and other stuff!

Enjoy!

Julian Vayne

Schumacher College – Where Ecology and Spirituality Meet

Set in the South Devon countryside on the Dartington Hall Estate (famed as place of radical socialist ideas) stands Schumacher College. The College takes it name from the environmentalist, educator and ecomomist Ernst Schumacher, author of the ground breaking book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. This May I was invited by Andy Letcher (author of the seminal Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom) to teach a module on the MA in Spirituality and Ecology; my area of expertise being the history, theory and practice of British Paganism and occulture.

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Schumacher in the Summertime

The academic study of what is usually called ‘Western Esotericism’ has been growing apace over recent years. For instance, the vital role of magic in the work of many artists is today being recovered and celebrated in the academy (whereas mention of occultism was strictly forbidden within the prevailing materialist vocabulary of late 20th century artistic criticism). Meanwhile the relationship between esotericism and many other domains of culture are now seen as legitimate territory for scholarly engagement.

In teaching at Schumacher I was joining  an august list of former lecturers including  Fritjof CapraStanislav GrofJames LovelockLynn MargulisArne NaessRupert Sheldrake, StarhawkVandana Shiva, etc etc. This was a great honour especially since my qualifications are primarily those of esoteric practitioner and writer rather than those of academia. It was a residential week, so I was invited to stay in the beautiful college building and eat wonderful food, much of it grown and prepared by the students. Each day I would come into work, walking past a quote from Goethe, writ large at the college entrance: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

The week’s teaching began with a brief overview of British history, focusing on the previous 200 or so years. It’s hard to understand the emergence of British paganisms (such as Wicca, Thelema, Druidry, Chaos Magic et al) unless one appreciates something of the history of the British Empire and the social impact of the Industrial Revolution.

Thereafter we plunged into the story of various forms of pagan spirituality; the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Thelema, Wicca and witchcraft, Druidry and, towards the end of the week, chaos magic, Discordianism and neo-shamanism.

Each day started with a seminar to provide context, explore origins, key concepts, characters and events.

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Fabulous history

As you can see from the (incomplete) diagram above, the general history of modern British paganism is deeply indebted to the Romantic movement. The Romantics initiated a reappraisal of all those groups of people considered inimicable to the then dominant (religious) discourse. The Romantics looked to the witches, the druids, the heathens and the magicians, re-imagining these groups in powerful ways; seen by some as standing against (repressive) Christian culture. They (witches, druids et al) were more authentic, more spiritual, more in touch with the land, more magical, more matrifocal etc etc than people are today (‘today’ being the 18th and 19th centuries). Thus the devils of the dominant religion become the heroes of the new.  And this process has a powerful magic in it. Druidry, for instance, is successfully re-imagined by the Romantics and antiquarians into inhabited reality. That is, there are people who start to call themselves ‘Druids’ and claim some form of lineage, spiritual or cultural connection with the Druids that Tacitus writes about. As this re-imagination unfolds polymorphously through time, making all kinds of twists and turns. Druidry becomes both a form of LARPing for Anglican ministers and an identity for protest (at Seahenge and Stonehenge) and for a sporting nation (at the Olympics and Paralympics).

Magical history is full of such wyrd transformations: one of my favorites being the way that Margaret Murray sacrifices her academic standing on the altar of Gerald Gardner’s (supposedly ancient) Wicca (by writing the Introduction to Gardner’s Witchcraft Today) and, in doing so, helps to give rise to an actual religion of pagan witchcraft. (A curious historical artefact observed by Wiccan practitioner and scholar Melissa Harrington.)

The afternoons at Schumacher were given over to practical exercises (from Hermetic pathworking through to eclectic-shamanic-style ritual). Through embodied practice I aimed to demonstrate that the techniques of imagination, of ceremony and of attention, that get grouped together as ‘magic’ actually underpin many (apparently non-magical). things. Identity, marketing, economics, religion, all pivot, not on the material stuff of the world, but primarily on our ideas about the world and ourselves. Therefore the fact that we can use these ‘magical’ approaches to stir up and change our awareness is deeply relevant to how culture happens, especially when we consider how our beliefs (our spirituality) relates to the communities and planet we inhabit (ecology). Magic also rests on the axiom ‘As Above, So Below’, or more generally that ‘everything is interconnected’. Such a world view is natural to the ecologist. With that in mind it is important to equip those studying ecology and related disciplines not only with ideas, but with embodied practices by which they can modify awareness so that this ‘holistic’ world-view becomes a deeply felt experience.

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At the Entrance to the Underworld, shrine space decorated by students on the Spirituality & Ecology MA programme.

Naturally I learnt lots as a teacher at Schumacher. One insight was a renewed appreciation of how the history of British occultism can initially appear like a tiny (irrelevant) scene, a cul-de-sac of culture. But dig a little deeper and it is soon becomes apparent that, not only does magic respond to and reflect wider culture, but it also acts to change it; often in far reaching ways. Another lesson was something I’m often reminded of when I teach magical techniques and that is this; the process of doing ritual, of creating ceremony, is a deeply human need. It’s a process which, for many people, is linked to experiences of orthodox religion and its associated oppressions, and so they (understandably) distrust it. But ritual need not be like this; empowering ourselves to understand and use this approach for purposes such as spiritual exploration, group bonding and social transformation, on our own terms, is essential.

My heartfelt thanks to Andy Letcher and the staff at Schumacher, and to the students for being up for everything from constructing the Qabalah from tarot cards through to rune singing and the gnostic pentagram rite! I look forward to my next visit 😀

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Exploring the Tarot and the Tree

Use this link find out more about the MA in Spiritual and Ecology.

Julian Vayne