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.

painting arm


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.


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.


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.


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.



  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).