From Acid to Eleusis: in praise of Bicycle Day

A few reflections on the ritual that I led last night in London on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Albert Hofmann’s historic LSD enhanced bicycle ride.

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Me and Gaia and the grain of the Goddess

Big shout out to Gaia Harvey Jackson who held space with me, V2 for her generous contributions of hospitality, musical instruments and marvellous blotters badges, and all participants who came with us on the journey through wartime Europe to ancient Eleusis and onward to our psychedelic future.

Respect to the psychonauts, the medicine carriers, the alchemists and all the advocates for the beneficial use of  psychedelic sacraments.

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Altar of the magical medicine LSD 25

Ahoy!

Julian Vayne

The Hardcore Bard

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

Caboose by Snapcase (1997 Victory Records)

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

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A Hardcore Bard at Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Eye of Every Storm  Neurot Recordings 2004

Steve Dee

Natural or Artificial Psychedelics – Which are Best?

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

And a few extra points…

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

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Shamanic journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chemical romance

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

Ahoy!

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Summer programme

Stuff we are doing…

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you soon!

Julian Vayne

The Tendrils of Sacred Time and Space

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

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

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

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

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Cosmic Connections

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

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

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

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

Steve Dee

 

On Making Offerings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahoy!

 

Julian Vayne

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Magician

As a rule I generally find polarities quite difficult. I’ve spent much time on the blog wondering about where the boundaries between apparent opposites lie. Whether masculine/feminine, gay/straight or magician/mystic, I keep trying to explore those queered places inspired by my devotion to those fluid dynamics embodied by that strange god Baphomet.

Another binary that interests me, is that of Introvert and Extrovert. Somewhat predictably I take some comfort in the idea of an ambivert who is able to incorporate aspects of both poles, but I am also aware of the danger of seeking a premature synthesis that doesn’t properly value my introvert self. While people may debate what we mean by the term introvert, for me it connects to my need for space, quiet and relative solitude as a means of topping-up my psychological tanks. This space provides a greater possibility for reconnection to an internal world, within which I can gain the resources I need for dealing with the external world.

Part of my initial love of the work of Carl Jung was formed by his articulation of the differences that might exist for the introvert and extrovert. I bumped into Jung while I was both studying theology and exploring a possible monastic vocation. Jung’s formulation provided a vital key in my own process of understanding why I had always felt this need for quiet, self-isolation and space. Undoubtedly there were some less functional drives lying behind this need—shyness, confusion about self, and shame generated by bullying—but in embracing the introvert, I felt that I was giving myself permission to express a more authentic version of self.

The pull towards monasticism was in part inspired by the dual images of St. Anthony and St. Francis seeking a simpler, more stripped-down path in their pursuit of the divine. St. Anthony as one of the founding desert fathers and mothers, fled to the desert in response to the growing respectability of the state sanctioned expression of church. For Antony the sparseness of these desert places provided the ideal geography for encountering the vastness of God, and to do battle with forces he perceived as demonic. In contrast Francis provided me with a more accessible role-model in his pursuit of simplicity, and vision as an inspiration to service and social change. Francis (at least in my imagination) was an example of the introvert, who when refreshed by silence and space, was able to utilise that energy in his engagement with others.

This experience of space and silence can also contain negative connotations when our experience tips over into one of loneliness. In his excellent The Soul’s Code the psychotherapist James Hillman seeks to explore the experience of isolation and loneliness as central to the alchemical process of “soul making”. He seeks to contrast a mythic approach to loneliness that differs radically from either Judaeo-Christian depictions of it as a form of punishment, or as indulgent revelry in some form of Existentialist ennui. For Hillman, a more heroic/mythic engagement with loneliness and space allows the possibility for us to discover and attune with our unique daimon or life’s purpose. The sense of separation engendered by this positive use of loneliness allows us to challenge the conditioning and control that we may have imbibed via either family or societal scripts.

One example of such heroic separation that I’ve recently found inspiring has been via the character of Ragnar Lothbrok in the series The Vikings. For the uninitiated, the first four seasons of The Vikings is largely focused on the unfolding fate of Ragnar as he becomes a leader within his community. Predictably the show deals with the brutality of Northern European life in the 9th century and the interactions between the Old (Norse) and New (Christian) gods. What struck me about the programme’s depiction of Ragnar was that despite (or perhaps because) of his leadership role, he often seeks periods of silence and solitude as a way of reconnecting to his wyrd. In a number of episodes, Ragnar is seen undertaking a practice of “sitting out” (Utta Seti) in which he seeks both the quiet and sharpness of nature as an opportunity to hear and realign with his Gods. To some extent this is the territory we seek to explore in our monthly Zen Hearth, using both trance and deep listening as a means of gaining gnosis. We use the discipline of mindfulness meditation as a means for creating the space in which the whisperings of the deep self can be heard.

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Sitting with Intensity

One of the greatest challenges for those of us who feel compelled to explore these spacious (and potentially darker) dimensions of self and cosmos is how we return from our isolation so as to communicate any insights gained. The truly misanthropic may choose to reject such as role, but often the magician/shaman/witch has been the one who takes the high risk role of speaking prophetically to the norms of a given culture. Often we dwell at the outer edge of what is known and can at times become conduits of both mystery and the unorthodox.

When we take the risk of sitting with the pregnant void of silence, new insights and words may arise and we are often asked to become the midwives at their birth!

Steve Dee

Sharing this Magical Life

The community of practice—the sangha, coven, temple or wider network of esoteric practitioners (such as the IOT)—is really important to me. I know myself well enough to know that, while I can do solitary work (including my ‘baseline’ practices of yoga and mindfulness mediation) it’s in community with others that I thrive.

One example of this is how, while I’ve written 12 books, most of these works have been co-authored with other writers. Bouncing ideas off each other and working collaboratively is what I love and I’ve been fortunate to have been doing this with my dear friend Greg Humphries since we met in 1998 (beginning with a sequence of rituals that culminated at the total eclipse of the sun in Cornwall in 1999). Greg and I have now produced our second book. Well, really Greg has done most of the work—the lion’s share of the text is his, as are all the wonderful artworks, drawings and photographs that accompany the words.

This new book is about one of our favourite practices, psychogeography. For us this a series of tactics in walking that allow us to come into a special type of relationship with landscape. These methods allow us to reveal the occult ‘hidden’ aspects of reality; the sacred in the everyday, the possibility of multiple narratives in spaces accessed by disrupting the dominant discourse (like what you are ‘supposed’ to find interesting when you wander round a historic house as we were doing earlier this week).

(There will be a limited number of full colour copies of Walking Backwards or, The Magical Art of Psychedelic Psychogeography available now. After Midsummer the edition will be available only as a monochrome text.)

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Texts of drifting, walking and wondering…

Psychogeography was the theme of a workshop I ran recently at Treadwell’s bookshop, from which I received some great feedback (like the review here). An interesting thing about psychogeographical explorations is that they attract a wide variety of people who sense that there are many possible relationships with the world we inhabit besides the narrow-bandwidth that is often served up as ‘being normal’ (or ‘acceptable’ or ‘permitted’ or similar). Excellent examples of both practical techniques for engendering these new states of awareness, as well as a deep theoretical exegesis of psychogeography, are to be found in the new work Rethinking Mythogeography… by Phil Smith. Phil is a seasoned traveller in non-ordinary spaces, creating plays and site-specific installations amongst other things. In his new book (which like the one by me and Greg, is replete with evocative photographic images) he explores the town of Northfield in Minnesota, counterpointing it with observations of the hidden histories of locations such as A la Ronde in Devon.

Phil writes beautifully, capturing in his prose the mythic intent and surreal outputs of ‘disrupted walking’.

The magic of the ordinary may at first strike you in flashes or by the sudden falling of a shadow across a scene; but if you can hold onto those moments for a while, stay calm and not grab for the first wonder, then—like the passing freight train—the magic will begin to steam around you in unfolding loops, in strings like movies or stories or chains of DNA.

The book by Greg and me comes out just as Greg (finally!) gets a major exhibition of his work. This will be happening at the Penwith Gallery in Cornwall (23rd March to 6th April) as part of the 80th celebration for St Ives School of Painting. Visitors will have the chance to see some of the amazing objects that Greg creates. These include a handmade, exquisitely carved longbow, with hand-stitched leather bow case and hand-forged and fletched arrows. This magical object, from an imagined Albion (‘Bring me my bow of burnished gold…’; part of the weapon is indeed gilded), is part of a series of pieces that bring together Greg’s skills in bushcraft and green woodworking with his magical world-view. Get along to the show if you can.

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Greg Humphries, the artful woodland wizard

In other news, the Black Mirror Research network (exploring how ‘…artists have used esoteric, magical and occult philosophies as sources of inspiration’) and the Plymouth College of Art have a conference next month Seeking the Marvellous: Ithell Colquhoun, British Women & SurrealismOver two days in sunny Plymouth some of the leading academics in the field will be speaking about important female surrealists and occultists including both Ithell Colquhoun and blogofbaphomet favourite Leonora Carrington.

Foregrounding (to use a contemporary expression) women’s voices is something I’m pleased to say is happening more and more, especially in the psychedelic scene. I’ve just been listening to the first Psychedelic Salon podcast hosted by Kat and Alexa Lakey; The Family that Trips Together, Sticks Together. As well as a fascinating interview with Scott Olsen they also present two conversations between the sisters and their Mum and Dad, reflecting on their psychedelic experiences, both individually and as a family. This fascinating and beautifully comfortable conversation breaks new ground in the field of psychedelic podcasting; we are after all 50 years on the from the first, and 30 years since the second, Summer of Love. We now have two, even three, generations of psychonauts in some families who can compare notes and share an understanding of these most profound and potentially liberating of experiences. (And now we’re on to the Third Summer of Love.)

I’m pleased to say that Alexa and Kat have invited me to work with them on some forthcoming podcasts. Stay tuned to The Psychedelic Salon and this blog for details!

Meanwhile I’ve been writing about psychoactives for a forthcoming collection of essays on psychedelics (I was pleased to be asked to contribute by the erudite and playful Erik Davis who interviewed me recently for his podcast). Writing longer stuff means that I’ve had less time for blogging here so I’m planning to start some vlogging (as I believe the young people call it…). There is an initial video here and more to follow. Please like, share and subscribe and all that.

Away from the virtual world, Nikki and I are looking forward to running a series of retreats at St.Nectan’s Glen. I’ve written about this space many times before on this blog so to have a newly built retreat centre there that we are helping to develop, and to hold space at this sacred location, is a great honour. Details of our May retreat can be found here.

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Prayer ribbons and fairy towers at St.Nectan’s Glen

Nikki is also going to take part in a panel discussion alongside Dave King and Danny Nemu at the inaugural meeting of the Durham Psychedelics Society (for those who don’t know, Durham University is famous for its learning and researching in the fields of Biblical studies, Christian theology and the sociological and the anthropological study of religion). We’re both super excited to be speaking at the wonderful Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague, (the call for papers is open now but closes soon!) and later this year at the Ozora festival in Hungary (7 days, 25,000 people and 24 hour psytrance, what’s not to like?).

On a more one-to-one level I’m also really pleased to find myself in a situation where I’m being asked to mentor and support people as they explore their own spiritual development. Part of the delight of this has been to be able to share my knowledge and experience but without adopting any kind of guru role. I offer my services in this respect as a Kalyanamitra (Sanskrit) or kalyanamitta (Pali), that is as a ‘spiritual friend’—someone who is walking a similar path and can provide support and encouragement to others, along with suggestions for practices and technique—but without any pretence to ‘knowing the answer’.

I get a huge amount out of this sharing of ideas. It’s great when this happens in a formal academic context (I’ll be teaching this year on the Spirituality & Ecology Masters Degree at Schumacher College) as well as in less formal learning settings (check out our Deep Magic pages for updates) and in peer-support environments too. Like many of us I understand things best when I’m exploring ideas with others.

As social creatures making these interpersonal connections, we have the possibility of developing both a collective intelligence (a group mind) and also of allowing the community to enable our own individual understanding. There’s a simple example of this; you may have had the experience of calling IT support and explaining the problem with your computer. As you do the explaining, even if the helpdesk person says very little, you are creating a new neural connection and often realize how to fix the problem as you are speaking. Making words to describe the problem to another person creates a new pathway for information to move through, often leading to insight and discovery. (You can try a similar process when looking for your keys by simply repeating ‘keys, keys, keys…’ which measurably increases how quickly you find your keys). Holding space with and for people, so that they can speak their truth, and come (like finding our lost keys) to moments of self-realization, is a real privilege. I think having a background in chaos magic helps, since while I have my story to tell and experiences to share that may inspire others, I’m not a ‘better’ or a ‘more powerful magician’ than anyone else. I’m also not interested in cheerleading for any particular paradigm, so while there are pagans and magicians who attend the sessions I curate, there are plenty of participants present who would not identify with those terms.

For me, as a group person and as an individual who thrives on collaboration, this diversity is wonderful. While I enjoy those more ‘inward facing’ conferences and meetings (where everyone is dressed in black, sporting various spooky bits of jewellery and making niche gematria jokes), making occulture accessible, intelligible and relevant to new audiences is, at least for me at the moment, where it’s at.

Julian Vayne