At the Heretic’s Altar

Having just passed the 12 month anniversary of The Heretic’s Journey being published, I thought I would share part of the Foreward with you all as a blog post. Also, one of the many magical exercises that are peppered throughout the book – enjoy!   Steve Dee

This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy! The territory I invite you to explore is that of the spiritual free thinker who is no longer satisfied with the easy answer. The literal definition of Heretic is “to choose” i.e.  to make a conscious and active choice rather than merely accepting an opinion due to it being espoused by the mainstream or by those in authority. To walk such a path is far from risk-free, but in my view the rewards of such self-sovereignty are powerful and profound. It is my hope that this work (The Heretic’s Journey) will act as a catalyst for your own exploration of your heretic self, and in that exploration you will experience the unfolding of who you truly are.

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Spiritual Freethinking during Pride month

Such an unfolding can take time. The magical axiom “To Dare, To know, To Will and To Keep Silent” for me points to a circular process of refinement where the daring Mage receives new insight, which when proven through practice is internalized (kept silent) so that this incubation then gives birth to further development/mutation.

This internal alchemy can birth things within us that at first seem monstrous. As our freethinking allows us to conceptualize and articulate ideas beyond the realms of orthodoxy, so we will be viewed as Monsters. Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and an assortment of other freak-labels were at times applied to those who questioned the limits of what we thought we knew. 

While the mundane world may conspire to keep us small and within a form that makes its control of us more possible, as explorers of awakening we have a more formidable task ahead of us. Our own initial response may be to flinch when we see the possibility of who our deepest self might become; these glimpses at the edges of sight may demand too much of us; too much sacrifice, too great a transformation. Dear traveller, be of stout heart! The inner genius of your daemon doesn’t require that we reach the goal before the journey has begun; rather it asks of us the bravery to stop and truly look at the possibility of who we might be…”

 

Exercise 1: Sculpting the Heretic’s Altar

One of the techniques that I employ during my day-job (as a Systemic/Family psychotherapist) is that of the Sculpt. Sculpting is a tool for making an external picture, or ‘sculpt’, of an internal process such as feelings, experiences, or perceptions.  It can use both items and bodily postures as ways of experimenting with the relationships between things and how their proximity or orientation might express the dynamics of communication and power.

In this activity I am proposing that we create an altar as a means for exploring the interplay between different aspects of our heretical selves. So often religious or spiritual altars express something of our aspirations and longings, and it is interesting to note the changes we make to them (or the time we spend in front of them) depending on which guiding principles or realities we wish to experience more of.

The first part of our task is to collect a series of objects, pictures and texts that embody those heretical, rebellious and inspirational figures and ideas that mark us as outsiders and inspire our processes of free thought. At this point it is important that we don’t over-think this process. 

We may draw our inspiration from a broad spectrum or it may reflect the narrowness of our current obsessions. In my case I had everything from an icon of St Francis, a Gurdjieff book, a leather-clad Catwoman figurine and a Henry Rollins CD. I made little attempt to rationalise why I needed this collection of heretic heroes together, I was simply aware that they embodied important markers in my own journey of personal liberation.

As a person with strong devotional tendencies, I then spent some time offering incense to the assembled representation of free-thinking and undertook my normal meditative practice. This felt less like an act of worship and more a process of acknowledging and aligning myself with these embodiments of freedom.

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Heretical Heroes

If you choose to undertake this task, I would recommend an initial period of simply sitting with the choices that you have made. Maybe note their presence and position within a journal or magical diary so that any future changes can be noticed.

Working with sculpts can be accomplished in many ways, and it may be interesting to note how this altar-sculpt evolves over time. You may want to shift the objects to change their proximity to each other (interestingly, Cat Woman currently seems to be whipping St Francis; but it looks consensual) or we may want to introduce new elements to either maximize a component or to provide a sensed need for counter-balance (in my case a black feather representing Ma’at).

However you choose to work with this exercise, as with most sculpts, the aim is to externalise those key aspects of who we are so that in seeing them “out there”, we can gain a greater sense of clarity having brought them more fully into the conscious parts of self. The purpose of beginning such work is usually far more beneficial if we view it as an unfolding process of questioning and exploration for ourselves rather than attempting to rush towards answers prematurely.

More about The Heretic’s Journey can be found here: https://theblogofbaphomet.com/the-heretics-journey/

Steve Dee


In other news…

Julian is teaching Sigils at Treadwell’s Books in July and Magical Words and Signs at The Museum of Witchcraft in August

Our dear friend Lucia is offering a Tai Chi retreat in the magical Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury. Lucia is an awesome practitioner and a great teacher. Find out more here.

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Everyday Magic – how to find time for occult practice in your busy life

For those of us from post-Protestant culture the notion of discipline in our practice often looms large. There is a sense that magical or spiritual practice is an obligation, something that demands a fierce activity and tenacity; this is ‘Work’ with a capital ‘W’, indeed it’s ‘The Great Work’.

As magicians we may wrestle with these feelings; the anxiety to get on with it, to do, to act, to turn up the heat on our practice. After all, if 20 mins of mindfulness meditation is good then seven hours of meditation must be better right?

Phil Hine in Prime Chaos expresses these feelings beautifully in the opening to this seminal work:

“A friend said to me recently, “I’m just not doing enough magical work at the moment.” I nodded, thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” There is a kind of creeping Protestant Work Ethic implicit in modern magic, a view that you have to work at magic before you get anywhere, doing your regular practice-visualisation, meditation, daily banishing, muttering your chosen mantra on the train, controlling your dreams etc.- until it becomes ‘hard work’ accompanied by a guilt trip if you slacken off or take a break. Some time ago I was reading a basic magical training programme in some book or other and I thought, “Yeah, I bet this guy went to a public school”- the kind of place where you get up at dawn for a cold bath, run round the playing fields and get beaten senseless at every opportunity. The way the guy was going on, I wouldn’t have been surprised if some Archangel had appeared, thundering, “HINE! You didn’t do your daily banishing this morning! Stand in the corner boy until you can recite all the godnames in Assiah!” That sort of thing.”

It’s true that self-discipline matters and that magical practice is just that, a practice, something that needs to be enacted to be real. Chaos magic’s emergence into late 20th century occulture was predicated on this observation. You want to be a magician? Great! start doing something about it! Don’t wait until the guru, the Order or the Holy Book turns up. Pick up your wand (or just use your finger) and start experimenting. The attitude of punk and D.I.Y. culture informs this approach; sure your guitar playing, at least initially, may suck, but you’ve started a practice that potentially will lead to mastery.  Lao Tzu, who knows a thing or two, points out that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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Khaos Punx – Keeping it real since the late 20th century

Those feelings of practice inadequacy apply to many people. While some of us might have the luxury of spending weeks on silent retreat or months chowing down on Master Plants in the jungle – unless we adopt a  monastic lifestyle – we inevitably return to the day-to-day world and often the day job. After the ecstasy the laundry, as they say.

We can feel that once we are back at home, back in the office, that the magic fades into the distance. These feelings can result in us imagining that ‘the sacred’ is dependent, by contrast, on ‘the secular’. We feel that we’re doing magic when we do rituals, when we do our tai chi, when we meditate but not necessarily when we answer our business emails, when we walk the children to school or when defrosting the fridge.

If these feelings emerge it can be helpful to set goals and to recognize that even tiny steps towards achieving our intentions are important. We can seek the support of our community and find opportunities to practice together. This support may be in person or online and the very act of signing up to a course of study (and perhaps telling our friends and peers we have done so) can be just the spur to action that we need.

Another approach is to remember that perseverance is a virtue too. For while seven hours of meditation may be great in itself  it’s better to do 20 mins when you can over a longer period of time. In my own case; my hatha yoga practice is something that I’ve done at various levels of intensity for 40 years. Doing yoga irregularly but persistently has helped me be more aware of my bodymind and develop my interoceptive awareness. My formal yogic practice conditions me to stretch when I’ve been sitting for a long time as an automatic reflex. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to have received teaching for some formidable practitioners of yoga and other body arts. At times I’ve joined classes. I’ve had opportunities to teach and share what I know with others, and to and to learn from Youtube teachers (my go-to practitioner is Adriene). In other periods I’ve done very little formal practice; just a few morning stretches and deep breathing. My overall approach to yoga is informed by the action of water; an irregular drip-feed of practice, variable in its details from week to week, but gently persistent over time.

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“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” Lao Tzu

Finding ways to keep our practice up when we are householders can certainly be a challenge but it’s also an opportunity since by bringing our magic into the everyday we aspire to recognize the everyday magic of the world. We can aim to notice what we do naturally, what actually arises, and then discover ways to formulate these everyday, even humdrum occasions, as practice. This isn’t  a new aspiration as indicated by the  words of the ancient tantra dedicated to the Goddess Parvati the Saundarya Lahari (‘Waves of Beauty’).

“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity is mine be some form of worship of you.”

Here are a few more thoughts on embedding our practice in daily life…

…and a few reflections on mindfully moving through the landscape (psychogeography) – providing us with an opportunity for practice with every journey to work and each time we walk the dog.

May we each find ways to discover the magic in every moment!

Julian Vayne

 


Coming soon…

Saturday 31st August

Magical Words Workshop 

@ The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

Boscastle, Cornwall

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In this one day workshop Julian Vayne will help you discover your own magical words. We will use a range of practical techniques, including working with the spirit of the fabulous library of The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. Explore the power of magical words and signs; from Enochian to mantras, from sigils to poetic invocation. Bring writing materials and your curiosity for this adventure into the magic of text, language, symbol and literature. View details of this and other events here..

 

BREAKING CONVENTION 2019

5th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PSYCHEDELIC CONSCIOUSNESS

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I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking at Breaking Convention, the mother of all psychedelic conferences, at the University of Greenwich, 16-18th August. This is going to be a massive, multidisciplinary event hosting more than 150 interdisciplinary presentations over three days, across FIVE simultaneous academic tracks. The conference expands this year and features more than a dozen interactive workshops, a visionary art exhibition, installation gallery, psychedelic film festival, a comedy night, theatre and performance programme, evening banquet, and celebrations every night at the new Student Union bar within our Telesterion building!

At Breaking Convention there’s something for everyone, with contributions from cutting-edge neuroscience, clinical psychology and psychiatry, pharmacology, sociology and criminology, policy analysis, anthropology, archaeology, ethnobotany, music, art, history, literature, theology, mysticism, indigenous perspectives, parapsychology, and much else besides. Hope to see you there!

Get your tickets here.

A Spring Clean for the May Queen

We welcome the summer here in the northern hemisphere in many ways, from public folk dances to intimate coven or solitary rituals. (For me this includes a ceremonial screening of The Wicker Man, a lineage tradition I received from Peter Grey.)

On the run up to May Day this year, across the world, we’ve seen some remarkable actions by Extinction Rebellion and other groups. This in the context of British politics, where we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of climate change, while wittering on about Brexit.

With the intention that our community can find ways to transcend current divisions and to unite in the face of the collapsing biosphere I’ve created this audio track. Feel free to deploy it in ritual that seeks to build common ground among all those demanding change and those who don’t get it yet. The core ritual technology in this tune is a recording of a wonderful naked protest action in the House of Commons. Why not sing along to the Padstow May Day carol and using the ‘Extinction Rebellion!’ chant, focus some positive vibes in the direction of these timely transformations. By all means go skyclad if you like 😀

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“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you.”

Beltane is the celebration of sexuality and so, from the archives, here’s another folky offering:

You may fancy a bit of dancing to celebrate summer coming in, so here are some tunes used during our Purple Magic rituals in the Chaos Craft Coven the Western Watchtower.

And last by not least, Beltane is the season to worship Pan; the god called from an imagined Arcadia into the heart of the late 19th and early 20th century literature as The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, ‘The Great God’ by Golden Dawn magician Arthur Machen and in many other guises.

In ancient times Pan was a dependable minor deity (once charmingly referred to, by Professor Ronald Hutton, as ‘the Citroën 2CV of Gods)’. By the dark dawn of the industrial revolution, when the ‘peasants’ got re-branded as the ‘working class’ of Britain this all changed. People flooded into the cities, driven off the newly enclosed land as the long haul of climate change began its exponential curve. The subsequent sense of loss for the countryside and rural life conjured Pan into the pens of poets, the brushes of painters and the temples and groves of occultists and witches. Let us reclaim and replant the wild wood from which we were untimely ripped by oppression and industrialization!

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Edward Burne-Jones Pan and Psyche, 1874

Io Pan!

Hail the Queen of the May!

Julian Vayne

Wyrd Relationships

When following a path of initiatory magic, however much we may want to emphasize our rugged individualism and uniqueness, most of us eventually come to the realization that we can’t do this on our own. However potent our initial gnostic insights regarding the need to take a radical degree of responsibility for own salvation, we soon realize that we will need to connect to the others for this process to be sustainable.

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Creating New Connections

I have already written on this blog about the influence of Gurdjieff/Fourth Way ideas on my path generally, but I have been especially influenced with regards to that tradition’s focus on the importance of finding dynamic spiritual relationships, in order to challenge and deepen our own explorations. Learning something by one’s self is of course possible, but most of us realise quickly that everything from Tai Chi to foreign language learning is made easier (and ultimately more fun) if we have a competent teacher or teachers. In having an experienced mentor, our learning becomes more rounded as pitfalls are avoided and the full range of sensory and kinaesthetic information becomes available to us.

Learning within an esoteric or magical context is usually associated with groups of other humans who organise themselves into Orders, Schools or networks centred on a shared philosophy, lifestyle or ritual aesthetic. This is often how we do things as Homo sapiens and however much our politics and aspirations hope to flatten hierarchies, we usually self-organise into something that looks like a tribe or family system. When we enter such environments, inspired by our search for meaning, it is unsurprising that most of us look to the longstanding members of such groups both for guidance, and evidence that the group’s claims have some degree of validity.

Okay, so far so good, but if such groups can be beneficial why is it that they can also be a complete pain in the arse? For me, part of why Schools and Orders can be challenging is they often have profound tensions at their core. In reflecting on this, here are a few of them that seem critical:

Openness versus Discernment

Most religious and philosophical groups require the internalization of a certain amount of information and adherence to specific behavioural requirements. When we enter this as a newcomer to a group we can often feel that we re-enacting those scenes from our childhoods in which we were seeking approval. When this is going on alongside the message that we should be aspiring to become powerful, competent initiates we can be forgiven for becoming somewhat confused and disheartened.

For me, the saying attributed to Christ is helpful: “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are too naïve we risk exploitation and buying into a type of group-think that can run contra to the aims of initiation, but if we are too shut off and not willing to unlearn then there is little point in being there.

Most of us don’t get it right upon the first time of trying and it is also possible that part of our difficulty lies in bringing the same expectations to the School that we would to other (more conventional) religious contexts. Many enter a School seeking a Church and then seemed shocked that it feels more like a dojo!

Freedom versus Structure

Working with others can be tricky. By definition most magical practitioners are free spirits with anarchic tendencies. We can experience a deep desire to work with others in order to empower and sharpen our work, but most of us are prone to experiencing claustrophobia when we feel our agency and liberty is being threatened!

In traditions that involve truly transformative perspectives there is a certain inevitability that we will need to challenge existing values and certainties. While they will never be perfect in their execution, many Orders out of necessity have had to spend time reflecting on how they provide boundaries and guidance to ensure that ethical standards are understood and respected. Such reflection often takes decades of shared work to develop maturity and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Groups will always make mistakes in the doing of the Great Work, but what feels critical is that they have mechanisms for feedback and reflection so that the inevitable mistakes are learnt from. The presence of such processes for self-reflection are vital in ensuring that a School’s core philosophy is both truly life promoting and able to counter any organizational excesses.

Personally speaking, being part of a more formal magical Order has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn. Even if I might not agree with some of what’s being proposed, the content and structure of such systems provide me with something solid to bash up against and thus refine my own initiatory understanding. The pursuit of grades and curricula may become yet another form of “spiritual materialism”, but at best they can fulfill our need for structure and a way of mapping our development, especially in the early to intermediate stages of training.

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Something clever about trying to think outside the box

Personal versus Impersonal

While undertaking any deep spiritual work will inevitably lead to the forming of close relationships with others, one of the strengths of an Order is that they usually provide a corpus of techniques and perspectives to engage with. Without a solid body of ideas and practice with which to engage, there is a danger that our involvement becomes overly reliant on interpersonal connection. While warm rapport and friendships can be a major strength in the sustainability of group involvement, if we become overly dependent on this, then our own motivations for doing the work can become distorted. People inevitably come and go from magical and initiatory groups as their own focus changes or the costs of involvement outweigh the benefits. Finding like-minded souls can feel amazing after perhaps years of feeling isolated, but we must remain clear about our own goals, and alive to where we may need to go next.

These tensions are likely to remain in play while we choose to take the risk of working magically with others. The probability of finding some imagined perfect balance between these polarities is both unlikely and frankly a bit dull. Like the perfect job or the perfect relationship, the perfect group or school simply doesn’t exist, but in recognizing the dynamics at work we may become more conscious of the push and pull of such forces and how we might play with and respond to them more skillfully.

Steve Dee

 

Queer Magic in Theory and Practice

The relationship between magic and queer is something that Steve Dee and I have explored in multiple articles on this blog (do a search for ‘queer’ to find them). Recently I had the opportunity to put some of these ideas into practice during my Queering Magic workshop at Treadwell’s Books, London.

The word queer relates, among other things, to notions of sexuality, gender and identity. More broadly it can be taken to suggest liminality, uncertainty, curiosity and the disruption of (apparently) fixed systems, through to what Freud would call the ‘uncanny’ and others might describe as ‘the weird’ (or wyrd).

With such a broad and morphing constellation of meanings it’s interesting to attempt to articulate these, and at the workshop that’s what we did, both in writing and through colour and form.

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Queer connects us to mythical and historic figures; bisexual deities such as Pan, the Divine Androgyne of Hermetic mysticism, and our queer ancestors from Aleister Crowley to Tove Jansson. Identifying these allies makes a real difference when it comes to claiming our own identity as queer people and especially as queer occultists.

Seeking historical exemplars helps us recognize that we stand in a lineage of queer folk. Knowing this history helps challenge the view that wyrd-kids-today are adopting non-binary identity simply as a fashion statement. That was the kind of thinking behind Clause 28, a bit of British law from the 1980s designed to stop regional governmental bodies “…intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any State funded school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. (Those who find this kind of repressive legislation repulsive should know that they are not alone. This law was repealed by the then new Scottish Parliament in 2000 as one of their first legislative acts, and in England and Wales in 2003.)

Rather than something ‘new’ growth of the queer in Western culture represents a recognition that human identity, social roles, gender and sexuality have actually always been multiple and complex. The queer isn’t something original, as much as a recognition of what has actually always been the case. Supporters of this increasingly visible culture (like me) enjoying pointing out that many other societies (notably those of many Native American nations) include much richer, often more fluid, vocabularies for describing gender and sexual identity. Physical gender is a continuum or field of possibilities, sexual preference or social role even more so. This is why I like queer, it’s a useful umbrella term which reminds us to keep in mind – or in ‘play’ as Jacques Derrida might say – the mutability and flexibility of human nature. This isn’t necessarily a rejection of words like ‘gay’ or ‘male’ but rather queer acts as a reminder that these labels are convenient, contingent fictions and subject, like all things, to flux.

Magic, according to Crowley in 777, is ‘energy tending to change’ and more famously “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Thus the relationship of magic, change and queer(ing) is apparent at a deep esoteric theoretical level as well as in the actual lives of many occultists.

As we explore the meanings of queer we find it in contact with many other words of magic. Take for example the etymology of the word ‘witch‘. Grimm suggests that *weik- “to curve, bend” and *weg’h- “to move” (in a “mysterious” way) are concepts at the root of ‘witchcraft’. Such an imaged etymology of ‘witch’ contains ideas of bending or twisting both as demonstration of mysterious control (‘the witch bent men to her will’) or a turning away from the right/true/moral (ie socially acceptable) path and instead following of the a ‘road less traveled’ or a ‘crooked way’. ‘Witch’ exhibits Similar negative associations of spoiling or going wrong that have been linked to queer. The potentially transgressive, antinomian and outsider qualities of ‘witch’ are echoed in ‘queer’ in that both words have been reclaimed, recuperated and re-imagined not as epithets of denigration but instead identities of celebration, empowerment, transformation and resistance.

In a mythological context the ‘cut-up’ deities of Baphomet and Abraxas can also be considered pretty queer.  These spirits have obscure backstories and yet, especially in the case of Baphomet, a wild proliferation of forms, imbued with multiple meanings. ‘Baphomet’, like the ‘queer’ is a placeholder for an uncertain, powerful, morphing ‘energy tending to change’. At Treadwell’s we decorated our ritual space with Baphomets generated through the ‘picture consequences’ or ‘exquisite corpse’ method. Here are a few of the chimeric beings we spawned:

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Queer Truth is mutable and multiple.

There are of course those folks who, for whatever reason are unsure of all this queerness around magic. A few esoteric writers, typically of the probably-gay-but-unable-to-admit it type are hostile to queer cultures. Heteronormativity is writ large in the worlds of polarity structured occultures (such as Wicca) and also Medicine Path groups (where the language of familial heteronormativity often appears in ceremonial songs) – but this is changing. (By Medicine Community I mean folk using psychedelics such as ayahuasca, peyote and other sacraments as part of their spiritual process, often in a way informed by ‘native’ practices.)

Wicca has proliferated into many forms where queer identity is welcomed, celebrated and included. There are indications too that in Medicine Community contexts where previously there was only a relative mono-culture of male-female tropes, a richer linguistic ecology is developing. We can see how people wrestle with the boundary crossing experience that ayahuasca and other psychedelic drugs induce, sometimes in cultural settings where diverse sexual identity doesn’t necessarily get acknowledged. For more on this check the work of Clancy Cavnar for instance this article and this presentation.

Back at Treadwell’s, part of our practice was to collectively offer our thanks to the artist, queer icon and Golden Dawn initiate Pamela Coleman Smith. ‘Pixie’, as she was affectionately known to her friends, lived in the Cornish town of Bude where I’d previously done magical work intended to re-ignite interest in her phenomenal oeuvre.  Following recent repairs to her former home Treadwell’s was able to acquire Pixie’s original fireplace. This charming ovoid hearth now stands in the basement of one of the leading bookshops and venues for the sharing of magical practice in Britain. A fitting place of power to house this magical object. Our group took time to appreciate Pamela Coleman Smith, the woman who designed the best-selling classic modern tarot. A woman who lived for many years with her female companion. A person, I’m pleased to report, increasingly recognized and celebrated as a key figure of the Western magical tradition. (Check out this wonderful new collection of writings on, and art by, Pamela Coleman Smith.)

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Fireside conversation with Pamela Coleman Smith

Whether we wish to claim an identity such as ‘queer’ for ourselves or not my feeling is that occultists of all stripes can benefit from an exploration of these ideas. For those who apply the word to themselves and their work, seeking out mythic and historical allies, and recovering, creating and honouring their stories is vital work. For the queer spaces in culture are not themselves inevitable or irrevocable. For this is ‘energy tending to change’ – it is all those ongoing acts of witness, of rebellion, or bravery and of ‘queer truth’ that act together to create and maintain this space. A queer space in culture where the diversity of human experience can be shared and valued rather than repressed and feared.

Thanks to all those that came to the workshop and respect to all those queer wyrd people wherever and whenever they may be!

Julian Vayne

A few more thoughts on ritual process, magic and queer here

 

PS I’m doing another workshop at Treadwells in May on psychogeography, hope you can join me for some magic in the streets of London. 🙂

Digging in the Dirt

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel…

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

Peter Gabriel  Digging in the Dirt

When we enter onto a path of initiatory magic that seeks to transform the Self it can be easy to lose perspective. In exercising the antinomian bravery of putting our own evolution before the concerns of the gods (real or imagined), we can still get caught-up in becoming overly attached to our own reflection. In the project of awakening and self-sovereignty we can easily become delusional about where our humanity and divinity intersect. Even so-called “living Gods” have to clean the litter tray and push the shopping cart!

In seeking to assess the potential value of the plethora of resources claiming to offer progress along the Left-Hand Path, I would be highly skeptical about any source or school that doesn’t account for failure. Organisations and Orders may well want to emphasize the potential greatness of what their methods might help you attain and obtain, but we still need to show discernment in evaluating the actual method in getting there. While I may be drawn to night-side aesthetics that Kennet Granholm helpfully described as “the Post-Satanic” (cf. his article in the anthology The Devil’s Party), we still need to answer the question: “what is actually required of me for such feats of alchemy to be accomplished?”

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Getting dirty with Peter Gabriel  

The initial Faustian act of taking responsibility for our spiritual development can be fuelled by a healthy dose of adolescent punk-rock rebellion or Black Metal grimacing, but without a depth psychology they eventually risk becoming little more than posturing. For such transformational work to have authentic power and true sustainability it needs to actually engage with the darkness that it is so keen to espouse. As the above quote from Jung maintains, the roots of our being need to be deeply engaged with the dark soil of the unconscious and the shadow aspects of the self.

One magical curriculum that I feel successfully embodies an engagement with these dimensions is the Nine Doors of Midgard that is used within the Rune Gild. This work authored by Edred Thorsson outlines a somewhat terrifying course of work that can take anywhere between 3 and 5 years to complete. The Nine Doors demands a profound engagement with the elder furthark and requires extensive use of body, mind, emotions and voice as a way of internalizing these mysteries.

In the early phases of the Nine doors (the first door), the new apprentice is required to reflect on both their strengths and areas of difficulty. These are termed “Bright” and “Murk” aspects of the self and for me there is significant wisdom in the placement of this activity at the beginning of such a potentially arduous journey.

Often in the early stages of any new relationship (whether friendship, a romance or an initiatory connection), we are keen to emphasize the positive aspects of who we think we are. Whether consciously or unconsciously we have maximized those bits of ourselves that we deem most attractive and desirable to others. This is completely understandable at a human level, but the maintenance of such a relentlessly positive persona will inevitably fail to bring about psychic maturity.

In contrast to the penitent believer, the acknowledgement of such weaknesses need not entail compulsory repentance. This is not about the pardon of an imaginary friend, but rather a challenge to self-examination and an honest assessment of what we need to do in order to create change. While we will certainly be required to refine our strengths in the course of any serious undertaking, it is inevitable that our areas of fragility will be the place in which we either falter or find new dimensions of being.

Whatever cosmological map we use to track our progress, be it Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life or chakras, the enduring value of such schemas is that they embody the challenge to pursue balance and eventual holism. If our eventual goal is to fully actualize our potential as a human being, it would seem inevitable that the keys to our liberation lie with those aspects of self that we are currently most likely to reject or shy away from.

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The Nine Worlds (illustration by Alexis Snell)

To embrace these fragile and fractured aspects of who we are represents a profound act of self-compassion. This is far from glorifying our failings or wallowing in dysfunction, rather it represents a profound realization that the hope of becoming something new is fueled by the potency of what is currently blocked or stuck. Your explorations may take the form of ritual, artistic play or via seeking therapy, but when our heroism allows us look clearly at the shadows, so transformation begins to become possible.

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Carl Jung  “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

Steve Dee

 

Vision and Discipline

Once upon a time my spiritual path was firmly situated in a type of theism that viewed all human activity as flawed. As a result we lowly worms were reliant upon the grace and favour of a rather changeable deity/demiurge. His book told me that not only was I doomed, but I was doubly doomed if I chose to exercise the Faustian audacity to question his divine authoritarianism.

Although my adolescent longing for identity and certainty made me vulnerable to the promises of orthodoxy, I have never responded well to bullies and attempts to control, and it wasn’t too long before the cracks in my faith grew from being hairline to truly cavernous. Ironically it was study of Christian theology itself that hastened my departure from the fold. Amongst the inevitable deconstruction that occurred via Biblical criticism and the irrational claims of systematic theology, one of the key books that helped me expand my understanding of spirituality was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

While this book is written by a devout Christian who is unapologetic about the language and imagery he uses, what affected me was the way in which he highlighted effective habits and practices that were able to allow the development of psychological and spiritual fitness. The disciplines of study, meditation, fasting, ritual and pilgrimage were all means for increasing ones’ openness to the incoming of the numinous. Such an approach had a profound resonance for me given the value I had found in the structure and discipline of the Yogic practice I had explored in my early teens and the way they sought to engage all aspects of being.

Throughout the meandering journey that my personal religious instincts have taken me, I have often been suspicious of the type of vulnerable subservience that can feel innate to those paths that have a heavy emphasis on the grace and largesse of supernatural beings. Whatever metaphors or masks that I seek to employ in engaging with Mystery, I am more interested in developing a relationship that allows for the co-construction of meaning rather the wholesale consumption of a “revealed” truth.

I don’t want to minimize the potential importance of strange revelations and non-ordinary states of consciousness, I love a weird gnostic experience as much as the next person. Non-linear insights coming out of the blue? Check! Profound devotional needs expressed to dark deities? Hold my coat. My own practice as a magician has always been as much about what I do and might experience as it has been about the acquisition of arcane lore.

heads

Okay…that was weird!

For me the visionary dimensions of initiatory development acts like a trail of bread crumbs leading me along a path that has often been hard going and overgrown; and yet on their own they are not enough. While this incoming of gnosis and insight has been essential I am still left with the question of how I might create the ideal environment to receive and sustain such experiences so that they might be translated into patterns of change within myself. For me this is a question about the development of character, the quality of my self-awareness and an appreciation of the combination of qualities that make me uniquely me. For me this a question of Soul.

Theologians and psychologists can argue endlessly about the structure of the Self and whether the Soul is innate or developed. Many of us in the West are slowly unlearning the simplicity of the models proposed by orthodoxies of both the Christian and Freudian variety so as to recover richer languages for our internal processes. Whether via pre-Christian Egyptian or Norse models or the Post-Freudian transpersonal work of Assagioli, we are gradually recovering more functional maps of alchemical self-change. Given this, what feels clear to me is that whether or not we view the Soul as ontologically innate, it is something that can be evolved and strengthened through consciously applied effort.

In Systemic Family Therapy we often talk about first and second order change. First order change is a shift in behaviour in response to a direct challenge or stimulus, while second order change is a change of our scripts or patterns of behaviour so that a new way of being is established in an on-going way. Our visionary encounters may provide the initial jolt away from the routine and mundane, but the application of discipline feels critical if we are fully utilize the shocking energy of gnosis in accessing more profound levels of transformation that are sustainable.

The early stages of applied discipline can feel like hard work. As we try to move from conscious incompetence to the mastery of relaxed competence it is inevitable that we need to grit our teeth in overcoming the forces of inertia. In my own experience, those times where I have been able to persist have been when I have kept returning to my initial motivation and goals. Why did I choose this path? Why this one and not another? What am I hoping to gain via this effort? How would I feel if stepped away from this current path?

henry

Henry knows the score.

Your method of developing soul will inevitably unique to you as an individual, but if I would offer advice I would recommend those models of change that advocate a holism that tries to account for the fullness of our human experience. Models such as Leary’s Eight-Circuit model or Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way ideas have much of their strength in the fact that they seek to actualize the physical, the emotional and intellectual dimensions of who we are rather than advocating lopsided forms of development.

The creation of Soul and magical character is never about merely knowing stuff. The mighty Don Webb in describing the work of the Order of Setne Khamuast rightly identifies the three critical stages in ensuring initiatory change: learning, enacting and then finally communicating about our discoveries. Knowledge and even the divine glimpses of gnosis are vital in providing the spark of inspiration but they will rarely keep the flame alight for long. To stay warm and to survive we also need oxygen and fuel. Here’s to keeping the flame alive!

Steve Dee

 

Things & Stuff – magical happenings…

The Glastonbury Occult Conference is on the 23-24th February and both Nikki and Julian will be there speaking independently and providing a workshop together on Sunday.

Next month:There are still a couple of places available on Julian’s workshop on Queer Magic at Treadwell’s Books on Saturday 9th March in London.

Both Nikki and Julian will be leading a workshop on shamanism in Wales on Saturday 23rd March.

This is the year of Breaking Convention, one of the biggest and best conferences on psychedelics in the known multiverse. Details of tickets can be found here along with how to submit a paper, performance, workshop etc as well as information on volunteering opportunities. This is going to be an amazing event with over 1500 people taking part!

September 13-14th will see the second Trance-States Conference in sunny Northampton at the University. If you fancy a comprehensive download from the leading edge of  occulture this is the place to be.

There will be more events coming up at Treadwell’s and The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic later this year. Please see our Deep Magic page for details

Wishing all our friends in the northern hemisphere a bright new spring!