Want Magic? Just Do It!

There are certain perennial questions asked by people that are new to magic (and indeed any aspect of human endeavour) which basically boil down to variations of ‘where should I begin?’. This is a perfectly reasonable inquiry. Before plunging into anything new we like to know where we can find support (good books, reliable online sources, helpful organizations and peer networks), and what are the first steps (what practices to do). The issue of support, especially peer support, these days is perhaps easier than it was in ye olden dayz (i.e. before teh internetz). Even though there are undoubtedly a range of opinions (and of course some card-carrying crazy folks) online, the intelligent user (by checking sources and looking at how relationships are between a given person or group and the wider esoteric community) can usually sift the wheat from the chaff. However the problem of ‘where to begin’ is perhaps trickier now than it was in the past simply by dint of the vast range of ideas on offer.

When I started exploring magic there were perhaps hundreds of books available on the subject (back in the late 1970s). These had to be bought (in specialist shops or via mail order catalogues) or obtained through the slow process of inter-library loan. (I remember how excited I was, age 13, having requested The Key of Solomon on receiving the letter informing me that this grimoire was ready me to collect at local library.) While my access to esoteric texts was much easier that it would have been for my ancestors (especially for someone like myself from a working class background living in the provinces), I certainly wasn’t drowning in a sea of data. If I had a book that captured my interest I would read and re-read. If I wanted to try some occult practice it was a case of studying the few texts I had available and picking something from there. As a kid (when frankly I should have been out climbing trees and riding my bike) I worked through tattvic visualizations given in books on the magic of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I did yoga by following the instruction of Lyn Marshall and my first try at candle magic was informed by the writing of Michael Howard (Peace Be Upon Him). I used what I had, it wasn’t much but it got me started.

As I reached my teenage years I began to save funds to buy the items of ritual paraphernalia I wanted. This was the early 1980s. I had read about Wiccan ritual and various ceremonial styles (as described by Crowley, and in texts such as The Flying Rolls and Seasonal Occult Rituals by W.B.Gray). This provided me a wishlist of stuff; athame, white handled knife, cords, pentacle, chalice… a whole collection that I imagined would be my essential magical tools. I obtained a ceremonial sword, of the classic Solomonic design, from Lois Bourne (spending a fortuitously uneventful afternoon wandering around the Hertfordshire town in which Lois lived with the weapon until my Dad came and picked me up in his car) along with a lovely heavy copper pentacle inscribed with the traditional Wiccan signs.

sword1

“First the Magic Sword…”

pent1

“Fifth the Pentacle…”

I bought my chalice from the fabulous Seldiy Bate and Nigel Bourne at a psychic fayre event. (Surrounded by white light and crystals, we three gathered in a corner full of witchy darkness and pungent resin-on-charcoal style incense.) I filled in more blanks on my occult paraphernalia shopping list; a wand courtesy of Dusty Miller and sundry items from the wonderful Occutique in Northampton. Then I was ready to obtain what I considered to be the most important ritual item (as someone strongly in tune with that Witchcraft style); my athame.

As the witches ‘magical weapon’ I knew that I needed something that was really awesome. Finally, after much searching of cutlers and the few occult shops who sold that sort of stuff, at a psychic festival in London, I came across the marvelous Elizabeth St. George. Elizabeth was a real radical, I guess in some ways a chaos magician before that term had even been coined. I recall visiting her home in London and noticing a bust of E.T. in her temple, ‘a wonderful spirit to work with, ideal for interplanetary magic’ she assured me. It was from Elizabeth that I purchased my athame. A cool looking knife with a dark Toledo steel blade, turned ash wood handle and lunar crescent guard.

ath1

(My athame – a bit like this design only better).

I’d been rather discombobulated by my visit to Elizabeth’s home though. Sure I kinda got the idea of working magic with E.T. but there was more, ‘I don’t really cast a circle’ Elizabeth informed me. ‘I make the whole of this temple protected’. I guess it took me a while to realize that a ‘magic circle’ is an imaginal construct. Unlike if one were to draw a literal circle in a square room, casting a magic circle would not either leave the corners of the room unconsecrated or extend beyond the room to include part of the house next door.

There I was with this totes magic item, my athame, and I knew that before I used it, it would need consecration. I understood consecration to be a process of a) removing any previous vibes from the object so that it was ‘virgin’ and ready to be b) charged with magical power and dedicated to the Great Work. The banishing bit was easy. I recall (following the advice in one of those 1970s occult coffee table books) sticking the blade of the athame in the earth while the sun shone. I guess the sympathetic magic was something along the lines of ‘bright sunshine burns up any lingering ‘shadows’ in the object’. (The UV component of sunlight of course has the literal effect of bleaching and killing bacteria and this cleansing effect was commonly employed by our ancestors long before microscopy). I plunged the blade into a flower bed in the back garden of my family home, the sun beat down. I assumed the process was working.

The next stage was more complex and that’s where I hit a problem. I had various books providing rituals for consecrating objects – from The Key of Solomon through to Mastering Witchcraft. The difficulty was that I felt such an important, indeed central bit of the witches kit, needed a consecration process that was super powerful. The relatively simple rituals given in the books I had simply didn’t seem grand enough. Had I had access to the internet I would have been submerged in even more suggestions on how to accomplish this magical act. I had access to the instructions given in the Book of Shadows that had been published at that time (this was before Janet and Stewart Farrar released The Witches Way), yet nothing seemed quite impressive enough. I imagined a ritual that addressed my own cosmology, maybe including a few of my fave deities such as Thoth and Set, Cernunnos and Hecate and Baphomet. I felt such an important ceremony had to be outstanding and full to the brim with occult symbolism.

kos13

Cutlery lore

Having banished my athame with sunlight I wrapped it in silk (using an old scarf belonging to my Mum, on reflection probably made of nylon) and put it to one side. I carried on doing yoga and meditation and candle magic. I began to make forays into rune signs and sigils, I made myself (rather inexpertly) a robe. But my witches blade lay unused, shrouded in fabric, on my bedroom altar.

By the time I was 16 I was invited to join a coven. A remarkable event that saw the High Priestess of the group thoughtfully speaking with my parents in order to confirm that they knew what I was up to. I remember that first ritual in a large room in a house in north London; it was magical.

I also recall how the High Priestess of the coven asked if I had an athame. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘though it’s not consecrated yet’. I handed her the knife.

‘Better get it done then!’ She proffered me the pentacle from the altar and placed the athame on it. Muttering some words about power and blessing the High Priestess sprinkled my knife with consecrated salt and water, she wafted incense over it, smoke curled round the pentacle and over the blade. She took an altar candle and waved this over the knife and beneath the pentacle. I could feel the warmth on my hands.

“There it’s done.’ She said, “ready to use!”

Later that evening I had the honour of performing the consecration of the wine with my now fully activated athame. I was told to keep the knife under my pillow for at least a month so it could soak up my vibes and we could bond. I was also told to ‘use it!’

I’d become stuck in that ‘where to begin?’ when it came to what I imagined to be the terribly important business of consecrating my athame. This ‘option anxiety’ led me to procrastinate. I was waiting to do the Work until I found what I thought would be the best (i.e. most super-power-majix – the ideal) way of consecrating this tool. By cutting the Gordian knot of my own confusion the High Priestess had released me from this self-imposed paralysis (and of course this was the powerful magical act I needed!). 

Fast-forward thirty three years and I observe similar behaviours among occultists and psychonauts. While it’s sensible to solicit advice, and to consult the terabytes of esoteric data online, there is nothing like cutting through those Gordian knots and getting on with the Great Work – for that is where the magic is; in the act. That’s one of the reasons I rather like the chaos magical approach, where practice wins over theory, and doing is emphasized over being.

We may not have what we think of as the optimum conditions to practice. We may have all kinds of pressures, of time, of not feeling we know enough yet, of waiting until we can find a teacher, whatever. But to do magic we must ‘dare’, and though our first steps may falter we will at least have begun our journey.

As the Goddess Nike might say, ‘just do it!’ Or to quote from one of the idiomatic versions of ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted’ that Nikki Wyrd and I collected for The Book of Baphomet ‘It’s all bullshit, just pick something!’

(As an epilogue to this story, when I consider the magic bling I purchased, I notice that the only thing I still regularly use is my incense burner. A lovely cast iron bowl with a figure of eight serpent coiled beneath it, head rearing up into the perfumed smoke. This item cost me a grand total of £2 from a junk shop in London and ironically has never been formally consecrated.)

JV

The Queerness of Gnosis

It’s probably not very surprising that I find myself trying to write a reflection on how Queerness and Gnosis intersect given the importance they both play in my life. My blog posts, and the book A Gnostic’s Progress, bear witness to my attempt to explore the complexity of human life and how we utilize experiences of direct knowing in our attempts to manage the dilemma of existence.

While others may view the conflating of Queer experience and Gnosticism as being a personal eccentricity or indulgence on my part, I would ask for your patience as I try to unpack some of the resonances that I experience. For me the starting point for both the Queer-identified and the Gnostic is a sense of discomfort and dislocation in response to binary attempts at classification.

While the Gnostics are often typified as dualists, for me a large part of what lies at the heart of gnostic exploration is dissatisfaction with attempts to divide our experience of the world along binary lines. An orthodoxy that seeks to classify things in terms of the works of God or those of Satan made little sense to those religious free-thinkers who wanted to embrace complexity more fully. Rather than being satisfied with the simple answers of faith, the Gnostic sets out into deep space in order to explore  the tension, complexity and contradiction that seems to lie at the heart of life’s mystery.

The Gnostic is the sacred scientist in the truest sense in their attempts to openly explore; question and pressure test their findings. Their metaphysical insights may fail to meet the rigour of the strict reductionist, but their attempt to map the weird cosmologies experienced through inner perception still provide us with much of value. These strange inner landscapes had a clear resonance with depth psychologists such as Carl Jung as he felt that they provided insight into the nature of human experience and how we might work with the process of personal transformation.

Somewhere over the Bifrost

Early Gnostic cosmologies such as those mapped out by early groups, for instance the Sethians and Valentinians, contain a wide variety of spiritual couplings (or syzygies) that seek to convey the dynamic dance at work in the process of creation. For the Gnostic, the numinous realm is full of a wide array of beings such as Aeons, Archons, Powers and Principalities, all vying for expression and manifestation into both matter and the realm of human consciousness. While diagrammatic attempts to depict such systems usually come off looking quite linear, in reading the oft-confusing description of them in primary Gnostic texts, the heavenly host often feels far more fluid, over-lapping and multi-directional.

For me the Gnostics embody a type of heretical free-thinking that seeks to challenge a form of certainty that relies on blinkered tunnel-vision.  Neat delineations that require us to ignore the messy complexity of our deepest longings are challenged by the heretics’ brave act of choosing. While the pedlars of certainty proclaim loudly that their polarised, black and white world is either the result of natural order or God’s will, the heretic is listening to a quieter inner voice.

The awakening to Queerness can of course happen in a whole host of ways. It might be an internal awareness of the complexity of desire or (as was in my case) communication from the straight world of the demi-urge that my way of presenting was not working for them! These realisations may happen suddenly or in a more slow-burn fashion in which you become increasingly aware of dissonance. Whichever speed it happens at this is a profound unfolding of who we sense we are and for me it definitely had a Gnostic dimension. If the admonition to “Know Thyself” was to have an authenticity then it needed to account from the outsider experience that I experienced as a Queer person.

Gnostic explorers of most stripes are usually willing to question what we mean by the natural. In trying to grapple with the discomfort associated with our experience of living, they sought to question the narratives about this transmitted by both Church and State. These organs of authority have been keen to get us to believe all sorts of ideas, in the name of their being natural. Whether it’s the inevitability of reproduction, the subjugation of Women or the exclusion of Black people, both Church and State have the potential to become archonic in their restriction of personal expression and liberty. In their attempt to control and contain they seek to minimise the complexity of our life experience and to present a dominant narrative that limits the possibility of a deeper connection based on a truly rich diversity.

The syzygies so loved by the Gnostics often sought to embody a richer story in which the binaries experienced were held together as they moved through a process of reconciliation. Manifestations of this unification often pop-up in androgynous figures such as Adam Kadmon or Abraxas, but I think that we risk losing something crucial if we see them as fixed icons and fail to appreciate the Queer dynamism that they embody. Queerness often presents a disruptive challenge to our attempts at neatness. At best it moves beyond mere hip theorising and compels us to enact, perform and intensify the often blurry reality of who we are.

In this fluid dance, Queerness can be experienced as identity, mood and the dynamic that exists in the interactions between people, objects and organisation. For me it provides a way of knowing that provides not only a space for inhabiting the present, but also a lens for viewing the past.  In asking us to stay awake to sensitivity to context and process, Queerness provides a necessary challenge to the type of brittleness that can come when we get overly invested in fixed identities.  In my view, such a dynamic creates a type of optimism as I see glimpses of the type of human creativity that Jose Esteban Munoz refers to as “Futurity”.

I have already spoke of the inspiration that I have gained via Nema’s description of N’Aton as an embodiment of our future magical selves, and part of my attraction to this figure is in the way it manifests a type of magical optimism and Futurity. Depictions of N’Aton often hold together the individual and collective perspectives and for me such images embody a type of spiritual awakening that allows for a multiplicity of perspective. When we step away from the tunnel-vision of either Christian or Orthodox Thelemic eschatology, we can begin to explore the Queer possibility of our aeonic utopias overlapping, blurring with and potentially strengthening each other as they balance and inform each other’s insights.

This is a tightrope walk in which we try to balance the reality of both our individual and collective struggles with the need to explore the possibility of what hope might mean. When the Archons shout their “truth” so loudly, we must dare to keep the richness of our stories alive! I’ll end with this great quote from Sara Ahmed in which they discuss the possibility of what we might create when we radically reappraise the type of future we might have:

To learn about possibility involves a certain estrangement from the present. Other things can happen when the familiar recedes. This is why affect aliens can be creative: not only do we want the wrong things, not only do we embrace possibilities that we have been asked to give up, but we create life worlds around these wants. When we are estranged from happiness, things happen. Hap happens.
The Promise of Happiness p.218

SD

Contact High

Getting Higher is turning into something of a wild ride! As well as a mention in The Guardian and the opportunity to appear on several podcasts (most recently with Mikedelic), I was also invited to formally launch the book at the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness salon at the October Gallery (haunt of cool folks like William Burroughs, Pablo Amaringo and Nnenna Okore). I was delighted to find the event sold out and indeed there was a waiting list! So, for those who couldn’t attend on the night, here is the text of the lecture that I delivered – enjoy! 🙂

“I’m an occultist; that is someone who studies the occult, the hidden. This means the twilight of human experience; extraordinary states of consciousness, spirit entities, trance states, telepathy, flying saucers, black magic, there must be something in astrology, gay liberation, the Loch Ness monster, the abominable snowman, the Surrey panther, copper bracelets for rheumatism, levitation, water divining, poltergeists – all that jazz. More than this I’m a magician (like a shaman but without so many anthropologists staring at me), someone who uses the methods of magic; rituals, initiatory ceremonies, meditative and imaginal practices and all that stuff.

october

Me banging on about drugs

Magic, shamanism, occultism et al are systems of thought concerned with the real imaginal. That is the lens of perception through which we experience the universe and through which we act. These imaginal technologies, which sometimes look like religion, sometimes like psychology, are ways of changing and directing awareness to make transformations in the inner and outer worlds.

Drugs were part of this territory of magic for me, inspired primarily I have to say by the life and work of the notorious Aleister Crowley. Crowley as I’m sure many here know had a life full of sex, drugs and magick, and died tragically young at the age of 72. He experimented with, among other things, mescaline, as did several of his chums from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn such as the writer Arthur Machen and poet WB Yeats. Years I later I would encounter mescaline, not in Thelemic magical ritual, but rather through American shamanism as it entered Europe.

I am a native of the British Isles. I like to think of myself as a shaman from Stevenage (a town with the strap line ‘Where Imagination Takes Hold’) but the entheogenic traditions of my own country are lost to me. There are shadows in the landscape (in the cunningly arranged acoustic effects of chambered tombs) and folklore (the stories of intrepid adventurers in the fairy realm). There is the bright re-imagining of practices in modern paganism. But there is no tradition in the historical record of the entheogenic use of our native plants, even the blessed liberty cap. So I’ve had to look to techniques of changing awareness embedded in the Western occult tradition and then further afield, primarily to India and the Americas.

In Getting Higher I present something which I guess could be looked at as the ‘chaos magic’ approach to entheogenics. Chaos magic is a style of occultism that emerged in the late 20th century and was characterized by a highly eclectic occulture that incorporated multiple belief structures within an envelope of experimental practice.  Getting Higher attempts to explore both traditional and novel practices of entheogenics and present what I consider to be shared core teachings. This is perennial wisdom for psychonauts, a ‘core shamanism’ where sacred drugs are permitted.

I’ve been into magic for some 35 years and actively practicing with other people for only a few years less. For, while I have my own practice, I really enjoy working with others and collaborating on projects, which is why many of my previous books are co-authored. For Getting Higher I worked with many amazing people. I’m very grateful and honoured to have worked in ceremony with practitioners from a variety of traditions. As a Westerner I particularly acknowledge the contribution to my own practice from those cultures in places such as India and the Americas, who have been attacked by the structures of the culture in which I live. I hope that I can use their wisdom to help me, and anyone who reads this book, to create a society in my native land that is less inclined to exploit and destroy. This is why we need this medicine, for while there are indeed many amazing and uplifting things about Western cultures, there is a sickness in our soul which I suspect may be due our millennia long disconnection from the psychedelic gnosis.

I’m also honoured to have had the foreword written by the fabulous David ‘Agent of Chaos’ Luke. My teenage hero, the illustrator and cartoonist Pete Loveday, has provided the great cover art and illustrations to the text. The wonderful team at Psychedelic Press UK have done so much outstanding work that it really feels like a team effort. I’m particularly grateful to my lovely partner Nikki.

When Getting Higher was first written I had terrible trouble. You see, the thing with the psychedelic state is that, as you all know, everything is interconnected, so where to start? For a number of years this book was no more than a skeleton of notes. But during that time, and the years that followed, I tried to pay special attention as I took part in a variety of different ceremonies. What should I pass on from this? What would have been helpful to know here? Since then, I’ve passed the book via a few friendly psychonauts to see if they feel I’ve missed anything out, and while more can always be said of anything, and any explanation expanded, I think we all felt that the core material was there. Hence I could legitimately claim that this was the manual of psychedelic ceremony.

As well as describing what I see as the core technology (to use a phrase that turns up in chaos magic) of various non-European entheogenic traditions, I’ve also been exploring approaches to psychedelics that are informed by our current scientific understanding of these substances. I’m fortunate that through my work with Breaking Convention I’m connected with current research, allowing me to blend insights from ancient cultures with data from the latest brain imaging studies and studies of synthetic psychedelics.

GH artwork medicine circle

Medicine Circle by Pete Loveday from Getting Higher

Ketamine is one of the synthetic substances I talk about specifically in Getting Higher. This is for two reasons; the first is that ketamine is usually associated with stupefied folks sprawled out by the side of the dance floor covered in snot and smelling faintly of urine rather than refined spiritual pursuits. The second, is that ketamine is, as far as I’m aware, a molecule that has yet to be discovered anywhere other than inside human laboratories. My point is that it isn’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that matters. Artificially synthesized psychedelics, traditional herbs, as well as newly discovered botanicals – they all have their value.

I also place quite a bit of emphasis on having a good time. In many of our cultures there is the idea that spirituality is work, and religion is something you do out of duty. That fun is, at best wasteful and at worst sinful or destined to debilitate us. However if you’ve ever been to an ayahuasca session where the music transported you into an ecstatic state, or where the grin on your face the morning after the peyote circle just won’t go, perhaps it makes sense to accept that joy is good. The fact that we enjoy a good rave, a festival or simply getting high with friends is not the opposite of what I’m saying. The ‘medicine’ I’m speaking about could come as part of a delicious peak experience on the dance floor surrounded by good friends as easily as it could come from within a more formalized ceremony. We are allowed to have fun, we can have mirth and reverence and receive the ecstasy of these medicines with as much appreciation as we receive their ability to transform and challenge us. What nourishes our souls is good.

Getting Higher gives examples of rituals but these are just serving suggestions. What I really want is for people to discover their own practice. To do so by learning a few basics and then listening to the medicine. Sure it’s great if you can come and sit with a visiting American shaman, or nip over to Mapia for a couple of glasses or five of ayahuasca. But for other people, who maybe have access to the drugs though the internet but don’t have mentors who can be physically present, I hope this book can help them dream up wonderful, supportive and transformational ways to meet the spirits that they’ve summoned via incantations over the darkweb.

These are powerful medicines, so powerful that they have twice tried to break on through and radically reshape culture in the two previous summers of love. Drugs like LSD have caused huge changes in our culture and while it’s not possible to be empirically certain a good historical case can be made to support the assertion of Michael Randall from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love who says, in the film Orange Sunshine: “Today you see health food shops and places selling good organic food in every town; that’s because of LSD!” The use of entheogens can, has, and will, change the world.

Now remember kids ‘the medicine’ is the message, not just the drugs.

I’m an advocate for the medicine. I have experienced the fact that these drugs, intelligently used, are powerful methods for transforming us. They can transform us from damaged, alienated, grief-stricken and fearful people into thoughtful, caring, curious and joyous individuals. Critically ‘the medicine’ as a whole is the combination of psychedelic experience within a set and setting designed to enhance its entheogenic potential. The medicine is the complete psychedelic triangle of set, setting and substance. This is context engineering for chemically augmented awareness. We need this medicine, to heal us from our divisions that perpetuate the illusion of isolation, to allow us to transform our bitterness and form better relationships with ourselves, each other and the planet.

I want to nurture settings in which the self-administered and autonomously interpreted psychedelic experience is open to all who seek it. Imagine then what our species could achieve if we turned on the world to the medicine? The simple fact that we know these drugs help hot-wire our neurology, creating minds better able to work with complexity, to discover new solutions and appreciate new perspectives, should give us hope. Perhaps with sufficient ramping up of the simian wetware we can discover ways to address the challenges that face us as species? Perhaps we can boot our intelligence up to the next level? Many people have observed how individual people can be totally fine whereas groups of humans often exhibit much more stereotyped behaviors. Maybe if we have sufficient people operating with minds informed by the higher processing capacity of the psychedelic state we may begin to behave more mindfully as a species? And we can choose to explore inner and outer space together for ever!

But these are just a few wild speculations about sacred sacraments, the point is that the medicine – the set, setting and substance of entheogenics – certainly has the potential to be a great ally for our species. Overcoming the legal, economic, environmental, cultural and social problems associated these substances is essential work. This means supporting licensed scientific and medical research, and bearing witness to the value of the psychedelic experience, and demanding it as a point of cognitive liberty, an essential part of our humanity, and a legitimate spiritual practice.

We need to realize that, as Nick Sand (Peace Be Upon him) says in The Sunshine Makers, “freedom is not about being in chains, it’s about not having your mind enslaved”. The intelligent use of psychedelics can liberate us from this slavery, the slavery of psychic distress and restricted cognition. Psychedelics can alter us and in turn our culture; they teach us both acceptance and the importance of intention, the value of challenge and of ecstasy, of self-awareness and of empathy.

sand1

So I say take your drugs and turn them into medicine for yourself, your community and all beings. Liberate yourself and others! Ahoy!”

JV

Typhonic Strands and AMOOKOS

What follows is far from definitive, but hopefully allows for further reflection and an appreciation of the unique contribution that the Amookos (Arcane and Magickal Order Of the Knights Of Shambhala) current has made to the current magical revival.

In considering my own magical development, and the role that the Amookos work has had in shaping my evolution, I was struck by some of the often unspoken commonalities that seem to be shared between some of the main practitioners within the tradition. When assessing the contribution and histories of those adepts whose work I have come to respect, I have been struck by the significant influence of what we might broadly describe as the Typhonian tradition.

While we may gain much from an in-depth discussion as to what we mean by the descriptor ‘Typhonian’, for the purposes of this reflection I am using it to broadly categorize those people who have been shaped significantly by the work, ideas and writing of Kenneth Grant. As I hope will become clear, the people who have been involved with the Amookos work have each taken his inspiration in unique and interesting directions, but have a shared appreciation of the spiritual terrain he was seeking to map.

The genesis of Amookos is often considered to be the result of Mike Magee’s (Sri Lokanath) initiatory relationship with Sri Mahendranath (Dadaji) and the seismic impact that this had on his personal magical universe.  While the encounter with Dadaji was undoubtedly powerful in setting Mike along a path via which he came to be recognized as an expert Sanskrit scholar and translator of key Tantric texts, I have often wondered whether the richness of the Amookos current is derived from a more complex interplay.

kennethandmike

Mike writes: “This picture is of Kenneth and me in 1978 in our flat in Golders Green, just round the corner from where he lived. I am missing him. He was a master of wisdom.  I venerate his memory.”

Prior to this shift Mike had worked for some seven years with Kenneth Grant and while he was clear on the profound change wrought by contact with the Dadaji, it would be fair to speculate as to the degree that his earlier work with Grant continued to be foundational. We know from Grant’s history (as depicted within At the Feet of the Guru) that he himself had had direct contact with Yogic teaching and technique, and Mike is quite open about how the presence of this material in his work with Grant catalyzed his own journey eastwards. Prior to travelling to India and encountering Dadaji, Mike had already begun mantra work, embarked on in-depth studies of Sidereal astrology and Sanskrit, and was familiar with Kashmir Shaivism. While the work with Grant was undoubtedly rich and challenging, he was unable to offer Mike the type of direct initiatory experience he was seeking in order to affirm the knowledge he had gained.

Far be it from me to make comment on the internal dynamics of a Guru-Chela relationship and the whole complex of relationships and community politics that resulted from Sri Lokanath’s work with Dadaji. As some may know, much ink has been spilt and opinion expressed as to how Dadaji’s declining health impacted on his relationships with those close to him. What I feel to be worthwhile, is to describe my own sense of why I and others continue to experience the idea and curriculum of Amookos as having spiritual value.

Having spent significant parts of my adolescence exploring the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, when I began training as a magician in my mid-20s, the East-West synthesis that I experienced in the Amookos work made a great deal of sense to me. Here was a magical group that made use of Yogic technique and perspectives while at the same time incorporating the liberty and self-determination associated with the philosophy of Thelema.

My own route into the Amookos work was via the writing and inspiration of Mogg Morgan. I was fortunate to receive some mentoring from Mogg over a number of years and was eventually given diksha by him. Mogg’s work with the Egyptian God Set is well known and he is quite open about the early impact that his time in Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian Order (the then Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis, TOTO) had on his magical development.

Having made some links with Mogg via the Oxford Golden Dawn Society, I dug into his Tankhem writings that sought to draw parallels between the God Set and the path of Tantra. What could the recovery of the myth of this “Hidden God” reveal about the diversity of the Egyptian tradition; and how might Tantric and early Hermetic traditions cross-fertilize? This is heady territory, and part of my own desire for closer links with Amookos were significantly influenced by Mogg’s interest in the early history of these Typhon-Tantra links.

As I dove into the Amookos grade papers (published as Tantra Magick) I was struck by the helpful way in which Mike sought to lead the aspirant through a process of self-understanding that would allow for the cultivation of Svvechacharya (true Will). The path of Tantra is often described as that of the Virya, or hero, and when expressed within the tribe of practitioners of the Nath sampradya, the Thelemic goal of awakening and self-sovereignty seemed especially to the fore.

KalachakraSera

Kalachakra thangka painted in Sera Monastery, Tibet.

For me, the beauty of Tantra Magic as a curriculum is that rather than being left with a vague sense that we should pursue “Peace, Freedom and Happiness”, we are given some clear exercises to help us in developing a more Tantric appreciation of our lives. Time does not allow a full exposition here, but Sri Lokanath does a masterful job in exploring themes as wide ranging as the awakening of the senses, the nature of time, and the conscious use of the persona in interacting with the world. Mike does a gallant job in wrestling with the Tantric project of engaging with the realm of the body and life’s earthiness as a means of awakening, and seeking to answer the question of what it might mean to become more fully human.

The heydays of Amookos in the early 1980s provided both inspiration and direction for innovative magicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only do we have the emergence of Chaos Magic (again heavily influenced by Grant), but we also have the Voudon-Gnostic research of Michael Bertiaux (see Cult of the Shadow) and the Post-Satanic work of Michael Aquino as manifest in the Temple of Set. For me personally, one key figure to emerge from this occult maelstrom was Maggie Ingalls.

Known more commonly as Nema, Ingalls worked directly with Grant within the TOTO and her inspired engagement with Frater Achad’s work with the Aeon of Maat is described in some detail by Grant in Outside the Circles of Time. Via her work with Maat, Nema received a channelled work via an androgynous figure from the future that she identified as N’Aton. For her, the Aeons of Horus and Maat formed a complementary whole or “double current”, with the scales of Maat providing a feminine counter-balance to the surging energy of the conquering child. In addition to working with a collective of ritual magicians in the Cincinnati area,  Nema was also an initiate within the Amookos tradition. While I may be unfamiliar with many of the adepts working at this time, figures such as Denny Sargent (Hermeticusnath) and Jan Fries were also instrumental in articulating a fusion of Typhonian, Maatian and Nath-Tantric currents.

n'aton

Horus-Ma’at Lodge – N’Aton

I hope what this potted history is helping to illustrate is that there seems to be lots of thoughtful, creative magicians finding inspiration from both the Yogic approach of Amookos and the more creative, nightside explorations of the Typhonian current. While this is an interesting intersect to note, perhaps the more pressing (and interesting) question is to why these approaches are experienced as being complimentary?

Like his teacher Crowley, Grant’s genius is arguably that he was both a great innovator and a great assimilator of other sources. In his desire to explore mystery, Grant engaged with a broad range of occult practitioners (Crowley, Spare, Bertiaux and Nema) and filtered their insights through his own magical imagination. In considering the commonalities between the luminaries that inspired him, I am struck by their shared engagement with the unconscious and their use of visual art as a means of accessing it.

Grant’s magical exploration of both dark Stygian depths and weird stellar realms seem to embody a more Lunar-Vaginal Thelema in contrast to Crowley’s Solar-Phallic one. Of course we are grappling here with binaries and the dangers of over-simplification, but it does feel that Crowley’s somewhat outdated, linear Victoriana was counter-balanced brilliantly by Grant’s strange, writhing surrealism.

For me this is where the strength of something like the Amookos work comes into its own. While Kenneth Grant’s work is strong in the evocation of mood and sense of how strange the magical universe can be, arguably he is weaker at communicating what precisely one does (in terms of technique) to actually get and remain there.

If Crowley (and Parsons) introduced us to the way in which the pursuit of Babalon can fuel our personal Grail quest, then Grant confronts us with the disturbing cost that the pursuit of Shakti might entail. If we seek an experience of the Goddess that moves beyond two-dimensional wish-fulfillment, then it is likely that we will need to make contact with those sources that have evolved a deeper appreciation. For me it feels likely that part of the attraction to Tantra for second and third generation Thelemites is the way in which it offers richer, time-tested means for experiencing She who births, loves and destroys.

Balance is always difficult to maintain, both in terms of our own personal equilibrium and in addressing the various domains of magical development within the context of an Order. Active skills versus cultivating receptivity, prescription versus personal liberty, and group versus solo practice are all competing needs that we seek to balance in ensuring a holism to our learning. In my experience curriculums such Liber MMM and Tantra Magick tend to have an enduring value in that they provide substance and suggestion without demanding adherence to material that may not fit too well with individual disposition.  As Mike himself states in Tantra Magick:

This expression of the I Ching reveals the dynamic magick of AMOOKOS. The Ridgepole is the fluid yet equipoised point existing between the two states of active/passive. Tantra Magick, p93.

Having waxed lyrical for over 1,500 words about the benefits that working with this curriculum offers those wanting a deeper experience of the Thelemic and Typhonian currents, one may rightly wonder, “Well, why isn’t Amookos that functional as an Order anymore?” The answer to this question is complex in that it is connected to the question of whether we believe formal magical Orders remain valuable; and also, which measure we use in quantifying success.

While formal Orders may have a specific and valuable role in the early stages of a person’s magical development, I would wonder whether longer term involvement is essential as a universal aspiration. Social media and a greater espousal of “Open Source” philosophy, mean that for many there is far easier access these days to both arcane information and the possibility of discussing its meaning with others. While I still personally believe that there is much to gain from experiencing the demands and checks that Orders can provide, I am also aware that much energy can be expended in political struggles and in perpetuating ideas that while once helpful are now largely irrelevant.

Many of those people who were members of Grant’s TOTO report the rather strange experience of having made progress and then having been kicked out.  Now while on one level this might appear a bit odd, it may be an initiatory masterstroke! If we reflect upon the way in which a variety of adepts have taken their initial inspiring experience of the Typhonian current and then dispersed it more widely into occult culture, then we might begin to wax lyrical about dandelions succeeding at the point at which they manage to disperse their seed to the wind.

In many ways I see the current role of Amookos as being quite similar to this. As a functional Order that convenes lots of lively gatherings it’s frankly a bit of a failure (at least currently in the UK!). What I do think it succeeds in doing is in providing a node of practice, thought and inspiration around how we integrate Yogic thinking with Thelemic philosophy in its broadest sense. It is my hope that it can still offer some supportive mentoring and friendship to those wanting to evolve a more balanced Magical path in which solar, lunar, light and shadow are allowed to dance together. By seeking to make transparent the ongoing influence of the Typhonian tradition on its form of Tantra, it is my hope that we can move beyond over-dependence on idealized teachers, or the pursuit of a style of Hindu re-enactment that fails to bring us closer to greater freedom. As Mike wisely observes in the introduction to Tantra Magic:

If the work of the Amookos grades was successful, an individual would finally realise that the grades and work were simply a means to an end, to be discarded once the essence was extracted. … Names such as Nath, and groups such as Amookos, could only remain as relative things. When spirit is free, what matter the name its outer form is given?

SD

Many thanks to Mike Magee and Mogg Morgan for giving this piece the once-over and filling in some historical gaps. J

Journeys into Deep Space – a review of ‘Black Horizons Perspectives’, by Dr Lloyd Keane

Books on magic and spirituality are often full of people on journeys. Some folks head into the desert (like the Hero of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho), while others head up mountain paths or take to the sea in ships. To pursue change or self-discovery one moves from where we are now in the hope that our travelling will somehow shift our sense of confusion and supply us with meaning. Such metaphors can be helpful when employed skilfully, or they can turn into a mammoth cliché-fest that is essentially without real content.

lloyd2

Lloyd Keane wants you to take a road-trip with him into deep space and he is completely unapologetic about how weird this shit is about to get. As a Jung scholar and Master Cosmonaut within the Esoteric Order of Beelzebub (an order within the Temple of Set), Lloyd is used to traversing some fairly strange internal terrain. Having known Lloyd for the past seven years, I can attest to his dogged commitment in pursuing the type of initiatory magic espoused by the Temple of Set and his willingness to do so using both the creative and intellectual tools at his disposal.

In Black Horizons Lloyd introduces us to the insights that he has gained in working with the concept of deep space travel as a means of understanding our processes of inner awakening. The Esoteric Order of Beelzebub makes significant use of the teachings of Gurdjieff within their school and those acquainted with these ideas will be aware of the way in which space travel is used to convey a sense of strangeness and the potential challenges connected to such journeys.

lloyd1

Explorer by Lloyd Keane

As we well know, getting lost in space is easy to do! While Lloyd makes no attempt to spoon-feed the reader he does provide some meaningful markers that the budding cosmonaut might use in attempting such treacherous voyages. While not being overly prescriptive in trying to dictate what stages of exploration must look like, he identifies a process of initiatory change in the following terms:

  1. Tyro – How do we stir our inspiration and desire as a means of fuelling our journey?
  2. Seeker – Having left the launch pad, how do we actively engage in the early stages of exploration and creativity while avoiding potential pitfalls?
  3. Explorer – How do we begin to express what we are experiencing so as to create a powerful feedback loop for self-transformation? Here we begin to dig-in to engagements with dark-matter and the deeper dimensions of internal exploration.
  4. Watcher – How do we begin to exemplify these transformations so that they impact upon others? For me this is the challenge of integrating insights gained and continuing our alchemical work within the more mundane aspects of our lives.

What I find so refreshing in his approach is his willingness to side-step the well-trodden paths of occult language and metaphor in helping us gain new perspectives on accessing our own process of Xeper or becoming. While having been deeply immersed in the language of Hermetic Kabbalah and Thelema, Lloyd has been able to use the black flame of his own creativity to access new insight into the challenges and potential rewards that such work offers. As a testament to his own process of inspiration, the book features numerous examples of Lloyd’s weird and inspiring art work.

Through the structure of the work described, Lloyd asks us to experience the very real and existential dimensions that we experience in the face of mystery and the vastness of deep space. Rather than trying to minimise the sense of terror that we might encounter, he encourages us to actively explore our sense of awe in the face of darkness and the unknown. As we embrace the type of bravery that allows us to remain open and curious in the face of vastness, so the initiate begins to cultivate a new sense of poise for engaging with their life.

lloyd4

Watcher by Lloyd Keane

Throughout this work, Lloyds style is clear, humorous and for a Left-Hand Path magician, refreshingly self-effacing. At the end of each of the 4 main sections he provides suggestions for further reading and inspirational films with which to fan the flames of our own work. While not being dictatorial about rituals or technologies that one must use, this work is full of intriguing suggestions and Lloyd provides us with some helpful vignettes of his own ritual work within the Temple of Set.

I would highly recommend this work for those interested in gaining an intimate and honest reflection upon a Priest of Set’s initiatory work, and how a contemporary magician can creatively evolve new, future-oriented metaphors for exploring the path of human transformation.

The book is currently available via Lulu

Here’s a link to Lloyd’s personal website:

http://www.lloydkeane.com/

SD

 

 

Working with Recent Ancestors

In my recent re-exploring of the Ma’at current, I have been struck by the importance of how we work with concepts of balance and time within the magical project of personal and collective alchemy.  As already considered, for me part of the genius of Nema’s work is the way in which the scales of Ma’at seek balance in the present by consciously engaging with the future (as embodied by N’Aton), and the history of our primal drives (the forgotten ones).

maat-scales

The moment of Truth

As part of my day-job I run a small family therapy clinic that aims to help groups of people consider how they communicate with each other. When I sit with families of all different shapes and sizes (some formed by biology and others by intention), I try to invite them to be curious about how they connect to each other and also whether there are ways in which they would like to improve communication. Part of what we do together is to adopt a detective-like interest in the often unspoken principles that shape our interactions. When these principles are applied to the practicalities of daily life they often become manifested as ‘scripts’ that determine the way people relate to each other. As with scripts in a play, we are often given rules about a whole range of things (such as who cooks the food and who resolves the arguments) that have been handed to us by previous generations. These scripts are often shaped by deep-seated beliefs regarding gender, illness and success, and within families we can be warned against departure from these via cautionary family legends regarding disasters that will befall us if we do.

In exploring with people why they think this type of therapy might help, our initial piece of work is often focused on trying to bring these previously buried beliefs above ground. One tool that we can employ to unearth this material is a genogram, or family tree. By mapping out the members of a family through three or four generations, we can begin to gain a picture of how styles and stories have been co-created over time. The scripts we inherit aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but often the people who attend family therapy are doing so because these scripts are no longer functional and are causing people to get stuck.

This is a process of externalisation where (at least for that moment) we consciously consider a difficulty as if it were separate from the group or individual reflecting upon them.  When we can name the scripts at work and the principles that might lay behind them, so we can create a small sense of space to explore within. In being able to stand slightly Meta to these narratives, we can begin to consider the possibility of improvising new styles of interaction that allow different types of behaviour to be considered.

sigil

Genogram, or Sigil; or both?

As you are reading this description of this style of work, I’m hoping that you as magically curious folks are beginning to spot parallels with some of the ritual processes that you are engaged in. Magic that has a focus on the initiatory transformation of Self almost inevitably has to engage with some of the baggage and conditioning that we have inherited. If my magic is focused on allowing more liberated and peaceful versions of who I am, then I will need to begin a process on naming those inherited scripts/thought forms/entities that I experience as limiting. Whether we describe this conditioning in terms of Tantric Kleshas (shells) that need breaking down, or as parasitic entities that need to be ritually contained, by magically externalising them, we create the possibility of engaging with them in a more creative manner.

This process of trying to understand repeating patterns of behaviour and how they have been manifested within an individual’s history has also been helpful in my own work with my ancestors. At the beginning of our monthly Zen Hearth we consciously honour “Our Gods, Our Ancestors and the Spirits of this Place” and like many people not every ancestral relationship is an easy one. For me, being able to take one step back in trying to understand the origins of difficult dynamics has allowed me to gain some insight on any positive values they have passed to me. This does not absolve anyone of abusive behaviour, but it does provide a potential opportunity for gaining a new and wider perspective.

For me the therapy room and the magical circle have a number of similarities. Hopefully both provide the opportunity for safe exploration, the gaining of insight and the potential for healing. Both of these environments invite us to take risks, but hopefully the scaffolding of solid theory and good practice allow us some degree of confidence in stepping out. In my experience, both work well when there is a high level of transparency about the process being undertaken and sensitivity to the dynamics of power at play.

Part of why I continue to describe myself as being as a magician as well as being a bit of a mystic, is that in contrast to some forms of mystical encounter, I work hard at naming and understanding the process of what I do. Yes emotional and/or mystical stuff may occur as a result of my framing of my ritual activity, but the scene setting and conscious structure of the work allows me a more conscious process of integration. I have lots of builders and crafts’ people in my family line, and although many of them might struggle with the strange path I have followed, I hope at least that they can appreciate my attention to detail!

SD

Getting Higher: On Coming Up

Well, after some years of writing and polishing the manuscript, incorporating feedback and observations for innumerable friends and allies, and spending long hours at the computer my, ahem, magnum opus, is ready for publication!

Phew!

Getting_Higher_by_Julian_Vayne_1024x1024

Check out the cool mandala on the cover!

While my name is on the cover, this work is another collaborative venture. It includes a range of strategies to hold and direct the psychedelic experience and many of these have been things I’ve learnt from shamans, witches, magicians and many others. I’ve been honoured to take part in ceremony with people who hold lineages in the use of psychedelic medicines going back thousands of years. I’ve also learnt methods from some fabulous people in the more modern esoteric schools of Thelema, Wicca, Druidry and Chaos Magic. What I offer in Getting Higher is my understanding of the wisdom of these various practitioners.

I’m also very pleased to have my practice and understanding informed by people working in the fields of medical and scientific research on psychedelics. I’m especially grateful to the organizers of Breaking Convention which biennially provides a conference of three days of glorious intellectual and cultural reflection on psychedelic consciousness. If you want to understand and connect with the emerging psychedelic renaissance then you need a ticket now.

I’m very pleased to have had the support of the wonderful Psychedelic Press UK, and their arch editor Nikki Wyrd. I’m also honoured to have the legendary Pete Loveday as the illustrator for the book. Pete is a wonderful chap and frankly something of childhood hero. His Plain Rapper and Big Bang comics in the latter part of the 20th century cast a wry psychoactive eye over the culture of festival scene, The Peace Convoy, drugs, and authoritarian Tory rule (plus ça change). All Pete’s work is hand painted and the detail of the design is amazing. If people are interested I’ll see if I can get prints (or even perhaps blotter art) sorted out.

We’re having a book launch at The October Gallery in London on the 25th of April and you are warmly invited. The evening will be convened by the phenomenal Dr David Luke who graciously provided the foreword for this book.

Advanced orders for Getting Higher are being taken now for a May 1st publication date. Kindle and all that jazz will follow in due course.

Eagle eyed visitors to this blog (and thank you gentle reader, we’ve had over quarter of a million views to date) will have spotted the Getting Higher link. This is where I’m hoping to post resources for people who are engaged in entheogenic ceremony. As it says on the page, if you want to contribute to these resources in any way please get in touch.

Finally another thank you. To all the medicine carriers, all the spirits, all the magic that surrounds us everyday. Whether we use entheogens to notice this magic, or breathwork, or silence, or gardening, or a thousand other ways, may we all wake to remember the wonder of the world. Thank you Great Mystery for this.

Ahoy!

JV

PS – here’s a video trailer for the book. Enjoy your marketing experience, and thank you 🙂