Sharing this Magical Life

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

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

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

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

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Texts of drifting, walking and wondering…

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

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

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

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

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Greg Humphries, the artful woodland wizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Vayne

 

 

An Audience with Charlotte Rodgers

Charlotte Rodgers is a writer, artist and magical person. She kindly agreed to tell Steve Dee more about her life and work.

SD: Could you tell us a little about your own magical background? (How you got into it.)

CR: I don’t think one’s intrinsic being changes much from early childhood, aside from layering up a load of behavioral baggage and experiences to obscure, and hopefully at times to enhance, our essential self. I always had a spiritual world view, highlighted by a personality that had a great deal of difficulty relating to others. At times, I lived with my grandmother where I was overexposed to fundamentalist Catholicism which I found fascinating; but I found the premise of good and evil made no sense to me (I was a precocious child… and looking back perhaps a bit ADD or sociopathic). As a child, I was obsessed with books, my microscope, astronomy, archaeology and mythology; constantly looking for other worlds that I could relate to as this one made no sense!

I was seven or so when I came across Man, Myth and Magic and it was like boom bang…this was IT!

I used to see colours and shapes and always believed in magic. I remember being about ten and walking home from the cinema with my little sister and telling her, ‘I’m a witch, watch… the lights at every crossing we come to will turn green when we approach them’… there were about seven I think on our walk home and indeed each one did turn green.

By age 12 I was into tarot and palmistry and started studying various magickal practices consciously. I also later studied Phenomenology of Religion for O levels and A levels and simply enough, was always searching for something.

As with inherent approaches to learning that tailor for individuals through hearing, seeing or experiencing, people have different ways of understanding their reality. Philosophical (relating to ideas) political (relating to structures) and spiritual (relating to ‘other’). A bit simplistic perhaps but it makes sense to me, and my frame for experience and perception is very much a spiritual one.

So, I’ve always been magical, and constantly been trying to understand and work with this, whilst trying to sort my life out on a mundane level.

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The Hermit by Charlotte Rodgers

You’ve worked in a few different traditions, could you tell us about those and which approaches you currently find most meaningful?

My answer for this is a continuation from the above in many ways. I’m not a group person in that I cannot cope with the structures and power plays that often deviate (some may say develop) a tradition and cause it to lose its original premise. Conversely, I love the inspirational buzz and play I get from working with a group. For a long time, there was a sense of ‘should do’ or ‘should be’ in my practice. I ‘should’ develop discipline in my practice by adhering to a certain tradition and following its rules, I ‘should’ validate myself by reading certain books or following the rules, though my essential magical self just loves to play and when I’m working with the right current, it’s a flow, a key to a lock.

I’m also no good with names and that is a big problem with some traditions… I just can’t get my head around identification of energies with certain titles… works in my head but my magickal self just wants to toss it all aside.

I immersed myself in Crowley’s teachings for many years. It was accessible at the time and very interesting. Parts of them I found very workable and at that time I felt that as a woman it gave me more validity than accepting more nature related witchcraft which came so naturally to me living in New Zealand and later in Asia. I was a member of a few groups, and seemed to work well with certain currents that though I didn’t relate to a specific named god or spirit form, say Set, I could relate to their essence and work incredibly well with them.  Later I was initiated into the Uttara Kaula and AMOOKOS which also made sense to me on many levels but I reached a point of self-confidence where I started stripping back, and realizing that my magic was an intuitive path, and I was trying to follow the rules of others, a method which had become counterproductive.

Some of the traditions that resonate for me, such as Haitian Voodoo or Santeria I’ve learned from and respect but take no further.  Others such as Bengali Folk Tantra press my buttons and made me realize my magic is incredibly simple.

I’m an animist and a generator of energy so whilst I can work well in many spheres, for me finding a tradition and structure had become a very human need to find a place amongst others, rather than finding the right practice for myself.

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Spirit House by Charlotte Rodgers

As an artist who works in a number of differing mediums, could you describe something of your artist process and how it may (or may not!) overlap with Magical work?

O the more I immerse myself in my art the more I realise that art and magic are the same; expressions that can be directed. I don’t plan anything that I do, just amass ingredients then when the time is right I go on automatic and channel the piece as it evolves. My creative process and magic run side by side, different facets of the same thing. The most conscious pieces that I make are charms, fetishes or elemental conductors and my larger pieces tend to be spirit houses or effect orientated portals, although often I don’t realise what I’ve done until it is completed and the piece tells me.

For a long time, I was primarily working with bones and remnants of death as they were the most obvious conduits to certain characteristics or properties, but as I realised that everything has memory, I started working more with discarded and found objects and what was contained within them.

In your (excellent) book The Bloody Sacrifice you explore the way in which practitioners use their bodies to explore and create change; how has your own work with the body evolved since its publication?

Hah! Hugely! I went through a very early menopause and my last period coincided with the completion of the book. Also, the book was written as my own blood was dealing with all the chemo that had been pumped into it to try and rid myself of hep C and which took about two years to be expelled (the treatment didn’t work).

Menopause is fascinating, and my energy is much more contained now. There is all the social stuff that goes with it… aging and perceived power loss etc., but in most ways my body is the strongest it has ever been.

I’m much more aware of the physical impact that magic has on me now, especially on my immune system (for people with long term hep c, your 50’s is often the age it can really kick off and become problematic) and work with that.

I’m more careful about my body at magical gatherings as I find my metabolic rate goes into overdrive (this used to happen to me years ago, when I did readings for people) and I lose way too much weight and get run down.

Yoga is more important than ever for me and dance is a necessary joy.

I still regularly have ritualised tattoo work done on myself but mainly I am aware of an integration of my magickal self and my physical self that I think is a combination of my past work and perhaps just growing older and stronger in myself.

In many ways, my art work is intensely physical in that I am channelling part of myself into the art to bind it together and need to keep my back, hands and shoulders strong… if I want to channel I need to work with my physicality simply enough.

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Family Dynamics (detail) by Charlotte Rodgers

Given your focus on the body and your use of animal remains in your Art, how well do you think contemporary Occultism is doing in its engagement with Death?

I’m not as much in the loop of what’s going on in the occult community as I was… It seems that rituals of death and burial have progressed hugely, although I still think there is a great need of support for pagans and magickal practitioners after they have ‘lost’ someone. The acceptance in Western based occultism of ancestor worship has helped a lot, but I think many feel their beliefs are challenged when someone they love dies and could do with support that is non-denominational and unconditional, but still essentially magickal.

There is still a fascination with darkness and death in certain sections of Occultism that is perhaps blinkered but that is the nature of working with taboo… easier to go for the dark and forbidden rather than something like unconditional love and joy! (I can say this I think because I’ve had that struggle myself!).

Over the last few years there have been some deaths of people who were incredibly important to me magickally, Michael Howard, Donald Kraig and David Blank. There have also been important practitioners who have died that I’ve not had direct personal involvement with and it is worth thinking how their lives and deaths have contributed to the growth and development of the present magickal current, and what changes will occur in it due to their loss.

Lastly, can I ask what your hopes are for the future evolution of both your Magical and Artist practice?

Now there’s a question. Recently I’ve felt a need to go slow (not my usual way!) and make no major decisions.

The world is very crazy with major changes going on, so treading careful seems to be the best option.

I’ve started worked more, both magickally and creatively, with rust and discarded modern objects, and finding with ways to integrate it with nature and ‘the old ways’ to bring forth a progressive evolution.

I’d briefly touched on this in 2011 when I integrated broken glass from the London riots and car accidents into sculptures trying to positively redirect the rage and impotence at injustice, that fuelled these riots.

Now it seems the right time to carry on with this modern alchemy!

Aside from that I’m in the process of a final edit of The Fulcrum Method, a divinatory system that I’ve created with Roberto Migliussi, and also organising a Summer Solstice based exhibition in Bath, ‘Rust, Blood and Bone’.

What I want in the long term and general sense? To carry on progressing with my art and magick, to carry on learning and to have fun.

I want to retain that joy in adventuring spiritually and creatively whilst not getting bogged down by games and infighting and power plays. I’d love to be able to make a living out of what I do, so I can focus all my attention on it and see how far I can take the journey, and to where.

Thanks very much Charlotte. SD.

To see more of Charlotte’s work visit her blog and gallery.

 

 

Surreal Christology (Part 2): The Mirror

It’s hardly surprising that mirrors get used a lot in magic; frankly they’re a bit weird. When we look at them they extend space, they reverse and they potentially distort. Whatever we think we look like in our heads, when we look into a mirror we are pushed into a dialogue between that internalised self-perception and the version of self represented in front of us. We may be delighted by what we see or we may become flooded by dysmorphia. Our dis-ease may be skin-deep or it may reveal deeper truths about who we want to be and how we wish to interact with the world around us. Whatever we think is driving us, if we see ourselves more fully we may be confronted by aspects of our daemon that are as likely to shock as they are to empower.

The magical use of mirrors can be manifold, ranging from aids for spirit evocation to scrying tools that allow the diviner greater access to their own unconscious processes. To explore a mirror nocturnally, via candle-light, is to journey to occult edges, and the practice of covering mirrors following a recent death alludes to a need to stabilise our environment in the midst of grief. Given the way they seem to play with the nature of time and space, it’s of little surprise that the Surrealists found them so fascinating.

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Self-portrait in Spherical Mirror, 1935. MC Escher.

The Surrealists on occasion had mirrors explicitly within their art (often as puddles of quicksilver or mirrored melting clock faces) but more often their presence seems far more implicit. Via their use of depth of field and inversion, when we engage with surrealist art we can often feel that we are gazing at a reflection, with all the subtle strangeness innate to that process. Like the melting clock we are required to relinquish our hold on our sense of time and solidity; i.e. things get a bit wobbly and dream-like.

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Self-portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse, 1937-38. Leonora Carrington.

In many ways myth and mythic heroes can act as powerful mirrors for viewing ourselves. When we consider those stories or figures that we are drawn to, they can often reveal some significant aspects of who we are at both a conscious and unconscious level. While our initial attraction to a myth may reflect a need or a connection that seems quite obvious e.g. a promise of liberation or an exemplar of individuation, when we renew and revisit this process over time, arguably something subtler takes place. When we truly engage with and internalise these spirits, their strangeness starts to haunt and shape our dreams and outlook.

In terms of my own experience, while my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my sexuality and gender identity, the Queerness of mystery still managed to break through via my interactions with the myth of Christ. While recognising my personal projections onto the gospel narrative, I eventually uncovered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that remains inspiring. Yes this was still the radical who threw over tables in the temple, but he was also the mother hen who wanted to gather the lost underneath his wings.

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

This Gnostic Christ seems to be asking me to both take more responsibility for my path, while at the same time doing less violence to the core of who I am.  This reflective process is most definitely a work-in-progress and has been far from tidy or pain-free. To walk a magical path requires that we “dare”, even when it means the willed deconstruction of those stories and heroes we hold as precious. This is a narrow road, but it holds the potential of liberty from the claustrophobia of childlike sentimentality.

Whichever mythic mirror feels most attractive to you, I would recommend revisiting it with a Zen-like state of beginner’s mind. Find some great art concerning these myths, or better yet create some art of your own. In my own recent explorations of the Queerer dimensions of Christ I have been inspired by some of the art on sites such as Kittredge Cherry’s  “Jesus in Love” blog. Often these creative explorations into the surreal and less-lateral aspects of ourselves provide us with gateways to discovery and the possibility of further evolution.

Find art that feeds your soul and allows greater insight into who you are and who you can become. Seek the Mysteries!

SD

Playing with Queer Cut-ups

I’m sitting in Julian’s front room and I’m surrounded by a multitude of artefacts from past rituals and hours spent in meditation. While the wood burner and main altar space provide a natural centre piece, today my eyes are drawn to the array of cut-up collages that deck one of the walls. These are not elaborate or overly wrought attempts at occult art; rather they represent raw, psychic high-dives in order to explore fragments of self and the processes that unfold as we try to explore darker, stranger terrain.

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Cut-up

Having recently read and enjoyed Queer by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele, I started reflecting on the possible connections between how cut-ups and Queer dynamics might interact in our process of exploring Self. I have already written a post reflecting on how cut-ups might interact with aspects of ego psychology, but their book got me to wondering further about how cut-ups might represent a highly queered and magical form of expression. As I observed back then:

“Like collage, cut-ups seek to use existing material in new ways that often involve the combining and juxtaposition of words and images so as to create new insight and meaning.

In tracking the lineage of cut-ups as an approach, from the surrealism of the Dadaists, Brion Gysin, Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge, we can begin to see the depth of magical thinking embedded in this technique. As we seek to engage with and manipulate reality, the cut-up not only embodies the desired efficacy of our sorcery, but also the fluid shape-shifters that our arte forces us, the magician, to become. If our magic has any real depth, then our ego must undergo a similar process of reassembly.”

Cut-ups for me are a potent means of challenging our attempts at fixed certainty and polarity. Ideas and images that we previously kept apart are cast together in potentially abrupt disruption. These cut-ups don’t allow for tidy answers or for a buttoned-up, linear sense of self, rather they represent a bubbling up from the unconscious that may reveal as much about the dynamic tensions at work as they do potential answers. Apparently unconnected images are juxtaposed with stark headline text and so new meanings and connections are made. To me this dynamic process feels potentially unsettling and hugely creative and thus quite Queer:

“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

The Queer self is one that has a profound connection to the constructed and performed. As an outsider position it has had to survive by being magpie-like in pulling together those jewels and glimmering half-truths that help make sense of what it means to live with a greater sense of magic and power. Others may dismiss its rag-tag approach for its lack of coherence, but like the trickster or the holy fool it holds up a mirror to those parts of culture whose attempts at control appear all too reliant on dusty outdated certainties.

For me the playful complexity of Queer identity is one that disrupts my attempts at locating my sense of self in fixed descriptors and concrete identities. Any attempt to side-step curiosity and open-handed questioning is unlikely to withstand Queer’s rainbow-laser side-eye. This type of awareness asks that we acquire and develop skills that allow us to more effectively tolerate process, journey and uncertainty.

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Wild words

Similarly the process of the cut-up requires vulnerability as we step-back, allowing patterns and (potential) meanings to emerge. Techniques such as cut-ups and automatic writing/drawing are certainly more towards the artistic end of the “Art and Science” dialectic, but such creativity shouldn’t be mistaken for laxity. Ironically it often seems that as we seek to make use of approaches that are less linear and apparently chaotic, that we have to exercise a more focused sense of awareness in gaining benefit from them. It may be that those people who are drawn to more scripted workings do so because it provides them with a greater sense of security and control.

One of the primary reasons that I was drawn to the magical path was its sense of collaboration and play. World views and metaphysics that declared absolute certainty were no longer viable but I was still hungry to explore the mystery of consciousness and the glimpses of awakening that were coming in and out of view. Techniques like cut-ups and collage can provide us with potent and creative means for accessing new insights regarding the paths we are seeking to walk. They are rarely complete answers, more often they are snapshots of a work in progress that we may need to slow down and wait for, rather than rushing to a sensible, adult conclusion.

SD

Dionysus’ Doorway

Thousands of years ago, Plato attended the Rites of Eleusis. He stood in the crowd, and had a deeply meaningful experience which set him, and us, on the road to the split of mind-body duality. He writes:

For, as has been said, every soul of man has by the law of nature beheld the realities, otherwise it would not have entered into a human being, but it is not easy for all souls to gain from earthly things a recollection of those realities, either for those which had but a brief view of them at that earlier time, or for those which, after falling to earth, were so unfortunate as to be turned toward unrighteousness through some evil communications and to have forgotten the holy sights they once saw. Few then are left which retain an adequate recollection of them; but these when they see here any likeness of the things of that other world, are stricken with amazement and can no longer control themselves; but they do not understand their condition, because they do not clearly perceive. Now in the earthly copies of justice and temperance and the other ideas which are precious to souls there is no light, but only a few, approaching the images through the darkling organs of sense, behold in them the nature of that which they imitate, and these few do this with difficulty. But at that former time they saw beauty shining in brightness, when, with a blessed company—we following in the train of Zeus, and others in that of some other god—they saw the blessed sight and vision and were initiated into that which is rightly called the most blessed of mysteries, which we celebrated in a state of perfection, when we were without experience of the evils which awaited us in the time to come, being permitted as initiates to the sight of perfect and simple and calm and happy apparitions, which we saw in the pure light, being ourselves pure and not entombed in this which we carry about with us and call the body, in which we are imprisoned like an oyster in its shell. So much, then, in honour of memory, on account of which I have now spoken at some length, through yearning for the joys of that other time. But beauty, as I said before, shone in brilliance among those visions; and since we came to earth we have found it shining most clearly through the clearest of our senses; for sight is the sharpest of the physical senses, though wisdom is not seen by it, for wisdom would arouse terrible love, if such a clear image of it were granted as would come through sight, and the same is true of the other lovely realities; but beauty alone has this privilege, and therefore it is most clearly seen and loveliest.
Plato, Phaedra, 250 a-e.

Plato can rightly be regarded as the auctor of Western philosophy. His vision of the soul yearning to soar free of the sepulchre of the body has influenced countless generations of those whose world view forms the scaffold of our own individual versions of the body/mind division.

However, he was wrong. Limited by the dichotomy of the Greek language comparing this on one hand, that on the other, he was blind to the multitudinous steps betwixt cup and lip, from objective (out there) to subjective (in here), and slipped up.

I recently read two things posted in close succession on my facebook wall. One was the news of publication of research on the physiological effects of LSD on the brain’s blood circulation. The other was a report on how vision works, how the incoming signals from light striking our retinal cells is smoothed out by the activity of the brain.

Before I draw my tentative conclusions, I’d like to examine these two scientific findings a little more closely.

  1. LSD, similarly to other psychedelic substances such as psilocybin, seems to affect the brain’s blood flow adversely. In contrast to the expected extra activity, stimulating extra colours and shapes, instead the fMRI scanner showed a loss of blood flow (and therefore activity, in its gross sense) in many areas of the brain. Something is not happening which usually does.
  2. Light falls on the cells of our eyes, causing the photo-pigments within the eye to change shape. This chemical change affects the transmission of an electrical signal to the brain. Once the signal has been ‘sent’, the photo-pigment regains its previous shape, and awaits another external input to fall upon it and allow the process to repeat. This takes a measurable amount of time, which if always perceived would cause issues with evaluating the true colour of any thing.  To allow a consistent picture of the colour, the brain averages out the inputs received over some seconds, approximately 15 according to this study. A sensible way of overcoming the refresh rate of our mechanistic system.

It occurred to me that this constant activity of the brain in smoothing out these sensorial flickers could be part of what ceases during the low level of blood flow observed when in a psychedelic state. If so, then under the influence we would perceive a world with waves of intense/fading colours, especially if the gaze rests upon an object meaning that colour perception is our main focus of attention.

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Freudian

And this seems to be borne out by personal observations. 1P LSD is currently legal in the UK (although probably for only a few more weeks), and having taken one blotter recently in auspicious circumstances I waited to see if my theory might bear fruit. Looking carefully at a painting, I saw the colours appear and disappear clearly, fading in and out of my awareness. Greens, reds, blues, and the mixtures of these, became visible in turns, creating a shifting texture of shape as different elements of the composition revealed themselves in turn.

The painting was a modern one, depicting a hand and forearm. As the colours ‘moved’, the arm came alive. Later, I stood on the doorstep of the house and watched the trees in the front garden shift and sway from the inner breeze originating from my eyeballs’ pigments changing shape.

The experience was profound. Aware intellectually of what was happening at a basic level of my own biochemistry, added to the wonder I felt at the sight, just as the knowledge that the stars are gigantic balls of gas lights years away adds to the magic of the immediate view of them as twinkling pin pricks of light.

There are likely to be analogous effects on other sensory inputs; sound, bodily sensations such as temperature, kinaesthetic awareness, proprioception, taste and smell. So psychedelics, named after the apparent mind-manifesting effects, may actually reveal instead a lack of ‘mind’ as we currently understand this terminology. The reducing valve theory of Huxley has already gained acceptance with regard to integration of brain centres. This visual phenomenon of visible colour waves could provide an easily accessible concrete example of its application. Psychedelics may well reveal the building blocks of our raw state of perception. This could explain that sense of familiarity many people have commented on, the coming home. For really, we ALWAYS see the world this way with our sensory apparatus, the non-psychedelic reality being constructed post-here&now by constant activity within our filtering brain.

Thus, I suggest that the iconography of ‘higher’ levels of consciousness, of the ideal realms beyond our mundane reality, is unhelpful. Rather, we could use linguistic approaches emphasising the physical ground of our existence as those worthy of most awe, exposure to direct lived embodied awareness as the basis of our spiritual awakenings. Shifting our attention downwards, to the felt foundation, could resolve the vertiginous sickness of the last two millennia spent trying to find the Real in the cosmic distance. The ‘other dimensions’ beloved of so many entheogenic gurus may turn out to be the real world, whilst our normal awareness describes for us a practically useful fiction, a steady state narrative within which we see and move.

Ego dissolution, changes to the serotonin system and other physiological effects of classic psychedelic drugs are under investigation. As further results are published, I anticipate greater insights into how our Newtonian mechanistic body, and our idealist Platonic mind, could swirl together beyond divisive labels of classification; this has profound implications for spiritual thinking, panpsychism, and the imminence of the divine. By directly experiencing the bodymind as One Thing, seeing with full cognitive and intellectual awareness even one aspect of how our marvellous complex neural processing creates useful simpler narrative consistency, we may come closer to a unification of this apparent duality into a tangible philosophy.

Previous attempts at describing the numinous have placed it somewhere other, often above us, in higher otherworldly spaces accessible only to those who can climb above others. Top-down hierarchies have given us dry channels to literally non-existent heavens, whilst a model of underground networking provides far more resilience, sustainability, and dare I say it, a better legacy. I posit that instead of shouting our prayers to the stars, we ought to listen to the ground when seeking deeper wisdom. Conceptualise our ‘altered states of consciousness’ as the apocalyptic, revealed, awesome foundation of our beliefs, as the bedrock, the floor of our magick. Sky-dwelling supernatural beings have had their day, and as they fall, the earthly body answers our entreaties. Rise!

Dionysus, god of ecstatic visionary states, Plato’s inspiration, has held the key to this doorway of perception for thousands of years. As the source of philosophical musings, in vino veritas, he seems a fitting deity to honour in naming this observation of mine, regarding the revelation of what is actually seen in these states:- The opening of Dionysus’ Doorway to a truly visionary way of perception.

NW

Conversation with a Cosmonaut

In my own explorations of Gnosis, one of my friends whose work I have found consistently inspiring has been Dr. Lloyd Keane. What follows is an interview that Lloyd graciously agreed to with regards his own initiatory work:

  1. Could you tell us a little about your own magical background? (How you got into it.)

I hate this question. Answering it brings up some pretty embarrassing moments and yet those moments lead me to where I am now so it can’t be all bad. Still…ugh.

My magical background began with three books: The Black Arts by Cavendish, Modern Magic by Kraig, and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Cunningham. At that early time I was also a member of A.M.O.R.C. So basically I was a very sincere and dedicated White Lighter. Theological thrillers such as The Omen, The Exorcist, and The Prince of Darkness inspired me too. And of course Star Wars was a huge influence! I would have to say it was the notion of forbidden and really super real knowledge symbolized (and commodified) by all the books in the local occult shop at the time that really dragged me in. My journals from that time are remarkably naive and yet utterly sincere. I have been practicing some form of “magical” tradition since roughly 1987-88.

altar

Mixed mediums

  1. You’ve worked in a few different traditions, could you tell us about those and your current affiliations?

Well as my answer to your first question clearly indicates I was setting myself up for all manner of problems. In a strange way Wicca provided me with an emotional outlet for my ceremonial/ritual magic, and the ceremonial/ritual magic provided me with intellectual curiosities like Kabbala and alchemy. Really they both reflected my yearning for Mystery. Later I developed a deep love for Crowley’s writings and Thelema (or rather my mystical non-threatening, non-orgy, non-recreational drug version of Thelema), as well as a connection to Irish pagan revival and Asatru (or rather my mystical non-believing, non-kindred, giant loving version of Asatru). Again, Crowley’s Nuit as well as Odin and the Etins all reflected Mystery and vastness. Off the top of my head I’ve been a member of A.M.O.R.C., two online Golden Dawn groups, B.O.T.A., an associate member of the OTO, a Probationer in a lineage of the A∴A∴, the Troth, and the Rune Gild. I also worked closely with a friend and mentor in Wicca for at least ten years. In some ways this reflects a haphazard approach to Initiation and in another way it demonstrates my systematic search for something that I could not find from any of these organizations and traditions.

One day something snapped in me. Something had changed. I was going to leave an offering to Thor (Odin was far too spooky) and I thought to myself, “This is it? This is what I’ll be doing when I’m 80!?”. I was in an existential crisis and two websites grabbed me by the throat: the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set. I loved the ridiculously and seriously playful aesthetic of the Church of Satan. It was so different from anything else I experienced up to that point. However, the Temple of Set website was, at the time, this strange blue colour. It had an inverse pentagram (or a properly proportioned pentagon… however you want to see it), and the monolith from 2001. Top that off with a quote from Plato and I was utterly confused and fascinated. There was something deep in that imagery.

After much hesitation (and rewriting my application) I applied to join the Temple of Set and I’ve been a member since then. I’m currently a Priest of Set, a Master in the Esoteric Order of Beelzebub, and a member of the Order of Tiamat.

  1. Much of your current practice makes use of visual art and music, can you describe some of these explorations and why you find these methods so helpful?

That’s a really good question. I’ve always been a doodler and I’ve always played around with artistic creation; however my work in the Temple of Set helped my focus my understanding and use of art as an Initiatory tool and form of expression. One of the things that makes the human animal unique (as far as we can tell) is the drive to create. We create things that have no overt, ontological, purpose. This drive to create is stimulated by what we could call the Black Flame. Taking that metaphor, this substance, this flame of isolate intelligence, can (and I would say should) be applied to creating Initiatory works of art (of whatever form or format). I also strive to inspire others to connect with and work with that Flame. I may not be technically advanced in my art but I often communicate and transmit my meaning very well. It can become entertainingly annoying when highly talented artists email me to say that something I created inspired them to begin creating again. Great. So glad I could be of service now go create something that I could never create in a million years. At least that inspires me to keep going. My music is the same thing. I must create. I go squirrely if I’m not drawing or manipulating images, or playing music. Often creating things helps me work through ideas or issues I’m dealing with as part of Initiation (for me Initiation and living one’s life are synonyms). I am able to understand or approach Initiatory issues from various angles by creating something concrete from the stirrings of subjective inspiration.

space

Dark, deep doodling…

  1. Many of your explorations touch on themes around depth, vastness and awe, can you tell us why such themes are important in your own initiatory work?

I think all those aspects are part of Mystery or Runa. At least on one level I think that it’s part of it. Mystery has been with me from a very early time. However, often my experience of Mystery was filtered through other people’s interpretations. I was told Mystery was a God(s)dess(es), Angel, HGA, ancestors…everything except what resonated with me. Depth, vastness, and awe are core facets of the experience of the numinous and that experience of the numinous is another way of describing the experience of Mystery (keeping in mind that there are varying degrees of the experience of the numinous). Another important facet of such themes is that they help to act as a cosmic eliminator of occultnik douchebaggery. I get so tired of people saying how they are living gods (or demons or angels) or how their HGA is uber divine, or that they are an incarnation of Crowley. Just sit still for a moment. Contemplate how vast our solar system is. Then think of how utter miniscule it is from the perspective of the nearest supermassive black hole. Really in the grand scheme of things we are pretty insignificant. I have found that encouraging that sense of awe and dread is a good way to reset my own hubris. Not that I have such problems. Obviously I’m beyond such pettiness.

  1. How do these ideas connect to your work within the Esoteric Order of Beelzebub?

Actually it’s interesting, I find that my work within the Esoteric Order of Beelzebub (EOB) and within the Order of Tiamat both reflect the ideas of vastness and awe in different ways. For me EOB is about exploring the Black Flame. It is about engaging with substance, energy, and purposefulness, and it is about cultivating independence, inspiration, and invention. In this case the deepness and awe comes from experiencing ourselves, who we really are when we are free from what other people have told us we are and are not. EOB uses the term “Cosmonaut” to refer to its members. This is a playful title but it is also very poignant. We are explorers. We want to wander out into the vast expanse of our being and see what we can discover and we bring that knowledge back to share with our fellow explorers. Well at least that’s this Cosmonaut’s perspective!

The Order of Tiamat approaches deepness and awe through dread. In this case we can see Tiamat, mother of the eleven monsters, mother of the Abyss, as something so utterly beyond comprehension as to lead to existential dread. Lovecraft very much captured this idea of dread. The Mesopotamians had a word of it: Melammu. This is the sense of the numinous that their gods were said to exude. By working with this sense of awe we can come to integrate it into our own Being.

The exploration of vastness and the full awareness of our place in the cosmos alternates throughout my art and my approach to Initiation.

sowilo

Sowilo

  1. Many people view the god Set as having strong stellar/cosmic connections, can I ask how such links are important in your own magical work?

This is a difficult question. I don’t work much with how the ancient Egyptians apprehended Set. There is a great deal of evidence linking Set with stars and stellar traditions. I guess I approach this aesthetically or metaphorically. The stellar roots of Setian thought are distinct from say Thelema or witchcraft or Wicca, for example. With Thelemic religion we have the solar phallic, in your face, Ra-Hoor. In Wicca, at least a good number of traditions within Wicca, there is an emphasis on the moon, the Earth Mother, the Goddess. Set has warlike aspects of a solar god but Set is far more alien and unnatural. Again metaphorically speaking, Set is not bound to an earth or lunar perspective. Set is not bound to a solar perspective. Set dwells behind the Constellation of the Thigh (Big Dipper). Set’s playground is the deep vastness of space. I often think of this wonderful quote from The Stars my Destination (by Alfred Bester):

“Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.”

To me this quote summarises my work as a Cosmonaut and as a Setian.

  1. What direction do you see your initiatory work heading in the future?

Another great question. Thank you.

I’m actively working to refine and articulate my own approach to Setian Initiation. This is a difficult, though necessary, task and it is just beginning. This process will have a major impact on my art and my understanding of awe, deepness, and Mystery. What that will look like in the end I can’t say for sure. For now it is in the Yet to Be and when I get there I will let you know! (For more information about Lloyds work click here.)

(Questions asked by SD).

Altar Images 2

I’d like to offer my gratitude to all those people who shared pictures (mostly via facebook) of their own altars following my article on this subject.

Steve Dee, as he explains in this podcast, has recently moved his altar. His newly reconstructed and reconsecrated spiritual focal place looks like this:

Left hand path

Left hand path

The other Left hand path

right hand Left hand path

Steve and I disuss the configuration of a few of his favourite (sacred) things in this podcast. (Dedicated listeners may wish to listen right to the very end of the audio to discover a brief but erudite discussion of certain mind altering substances.)

Enjoy!

JV