Spiritual Freethinking

Being a human often involves the construction of stories. In trying to make sense of our own lives, those of other beings on the planet and the Universe more generally, we create narratives to help us order what might be going on. We respond to the information we receive and fuse it with our existing perspectives in order to make decisions about how we wish to live and the potential risk things pose to our current experience of being alive. Most of this time we do this amazing work without even knowing that it is going on, but sometimes we have moments when we realise that we are doing it, and that we might want to make conscious changes to our method and style.

Most religious movements and schools of philosophy lay claim to providing tools for waking us up from the automatic reliance on assumptions. The process of becoming aware of the lenses we rely on for viewing the world can be both shocking and disorientating as we try to incorporate any new insights gained. The problems for most religions come when the incoming of new, enlightening knowledge (Gnosis) begins to disrupt the presuppositions that they themselves rely on e.g. that God either doesn’t exist or is radically different from how they were initially understood to be.

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Sapere aude!

Many of the posts on this blog are penned with a view to promoting a process where we begin thinking about how we think and consider the risks involved in stepping outside the lines of received orthodoxy. If we start to question “received truths” and embrace the heretic’s path of choosing our own way, then we must realise that we will increase discomfort for both ourselves and those around us. For the freethinker, to refuse to question is often an even less desirable, stultifying path, but we would be naïve if we underestimate the disruptive force of heretical thoughts and behaviour.

Part of the creative, disruptive power of the heretic, is that they take existing received truths and they bend them. It would be bad enough if we adopted an antithetical position, but the fact that we take an image or language and inject it with a new, nuanced or odd meaning, truly infuriates those seeking to maintain their monopoly on perceived truth. The gnosis of the heretic triggers a creative process in which their artistry reveals strange variants of reality. While on one level we reject the easier answers of Faith, we often retain a symbiotic relationship with those beliefs and images. In our heresy we internalise these ordered creeds and transform them in to something both far stranger and more interesting.

For me, the adoption of such bold new readings allows the possibility of inhabiting a place of greater spaciousness that often feels more congruent with the lives we wish to live. Such territory is often at the outer edges of familiar maps and requires a level of wit and will that many of us experience as demanding and exhilarating in equal measure.

While each of us need to discover our own optimum means for accessing spaces of cognitive liberty, I have noticed that my own is often facilitated by allowing apparently disparate sources to sit alongside each other. I have been aware of my own journey in allowing the different aspects of my personal religious history to dialogue with each other. The Witch and the Cleric have been sitting down together for a beverage and conversation in the hope that new meaning might be discovered. All too often I have tried to rush them in the hope of a tidy resolution, but thankfully they have resisted my efforts!

In seeking to allow the unique parts of my own story to have a voice, I have often found more help in dreams and art than I have in theological concepts and reformulations. Of course I find great value in thinking and writing, but they often face the danger of overly concretising those states that are more subtle, subjective and sensed. In seeking to resist the urge to prematurely reconcile, synthesise or harmonise this multiplicity of voices and ideas, I have often found that artistic experimentation within a ritual context is a powerful tool.

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Occult art experiment

While others may gain greater stimulus via extended textual analysis and linear debate, on their own these have not been enough to allow me to access the type of psychological integration that I long for. The Queer and transformative states that I need in order to challenge the bulwarks of orthodoxy in my own life, have been found more readily in the images of Abraxas, Baphomet and N’Aton than in attempts at systematic theology. For me these part-made gods embody the ongoing dialogue between idealised androgyny and the complexity of Queer experience. The Queer aspirations of “Postdrogyny” and “Pandrogyne” are the first fruits of an artistic exploration of the possibility of identity. This is an Aquarian age in which our neat categories are troubled and disrupted by the bold lives of those seeking a more authentic way.

The use of sigils, collage, and altar sculpts can all be means of allowing us to inhabit a type of magical space that allows for a personal alchemy that I hope will catalyse change on a wider, societal level. This zone is the place of the crossroads, and as I have observed elsewhere:

If we journey to the crossroads in our attempt to rediscover our magic, we are inevitably entering a realm of liminal possibility. The crossroads is a meeting place of apparent opposites and seeming contradictions. The dynamic tension generated by the friction between these polarities makes it the place of initiation.
A Gnostic’s Progress p. 155

The crossroads is a place of incarnation and inspiration, and the word must become flesh (John, 1:14) in order for us to experience its fullness. May our art, inspiration and willingness to explore, allow access to such fullness! This is rarely an easy peace, but as we allow ourselves to tune into the complexity and mystery of our lives, may all of us experience greater authenticity and freedom.

So Mote it Be!

SD

Retreating to the future, in an ancient British valley; BOOM!

Over the last few weeks, I went travelling, to two mountainous places. To Portugal, to attend a psytrance festival, and to Wales, to help run a weekend retreat. A thought provoking pair of experiences, with similarities and contrasts worth exploring.

Chronologically paired, here are some parts of my tales…

Armed with a guest pass, courtesy of my involvement with Breaking Convention (we did a ticket swap with BOOM!), I set off to the mainland. Filled with trepidation (I speak no Portuguese, had no idea how to get to the festival site, and had very little money), the journey began with many unknowns, not least exactly what part I would find to play. Unaccustomed as I am to being a punter, I planned out a couple of quests for myself; investigate the signage, and, see if interesting people there could be persuaded of the opportunities of BC. Fortunately my travelling companion Rob Dickins, of Psychedelic Press UK, proved excellent company throughout our eight days together. The weather forecast was hot, sunny and dry.

My journey to Wales was preceded by contrasting feels. Invited along as a workshop facilitator by the organiser of Neuro-Magica, Dr David Luke, I had a clear sense of my role to play in this venture (and do know a few words of Welsh!). My emotional approach was therefore one of happiness, confidence, and joyful anticipation at the prospect of seeing several familiar faces amongst those attending, as well as wondering who the new friends I would make could be! The retreat centre, Cae Mabon, looked unbelievably beautiful from the website, and I had heard only good things about it. The weather forecast was cool, cloudy and wet.

 

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Earth & Fire

BOOM! was spread out over a mile along the lakeside. Dusty ground, with small trees dotted around providing much needed shade from the relentless sun. Taps were ample, and so refilling the bottles so necessary for pouring over one’s head every few minutes was not too hard. The pounding rhythms were continuous, and by the end of the week had all mutated (in my head) into the chorus of “No Limit”.

 

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Water & Air

The tiny valley of Cae Mabon is carpeted with soft green grass, and the light birch trees of the space stand in contrast to the sessile oak forest of the surrounding mountain slopes. Only one tap can be used for drinking water, as this comes direct from the river (Afon Fachwen) and so to comply with regulation needs filtration. The sounds here were of the wind in the trees, and the rush of the river over rocks; often indistinguishable from each other. Flurries of strong winds on a couple of the days shook the leaves and branches, energising and clearing minds.

Having set the scenes, rather than relate all I could about these retreats, I shall instead give a few remarks, comparing and contrasting…

BOOM! gave me a week long sauna, temperatures around 40°C, reduced food intake, constant thoughts of water, gentle exercise and a 24 hour choice of pleasant, immersive diversions (talks, dancing, listening, looking). I swam in the lake twice. I will never feel so hot in usual conditions in comparison with this; yet the intense heat was most enjoyable. I saw thousands of people, the effort of the festival organisers to provide shelters and artworks over the previous months, evoked a state of presence in the place and time where I drifted from one enjoyable existence to another, moving as the moment presented itself. Doing this for over a week, with no particular need to go anywhere at any time, yet still moving effectively between places and events, provoked a state of internal silence which stayed with me for three days after my return home. Zero internal dialogue. I functioned as normal, did work, bought food, performed adequate self-care, and entertained myself, etc, all without any narrative.

Neuro-Magica was watery. Rain at times, but even when the sun came out and flooded us all with its warmth and revealed the stunning beauty of the mountains around, the fluid theme was carried by the river and the lake. And the hot tub. I swam in the lake two times, once as the sun was setting and the moon hung above Snowdon’s slopes in the distance. The hot tub (wood fired) is placed beside the Little White river, with large smooth rounded slate steps allowing safe access to the water as it speeds past at a rate of knots. The river water was cold, very cold; screams of raw existence filled the air each time someone clambered into it. This was at night, as I was occupied in the daytime. Submerging my body, feeling the power of this flow, I pictured myself growing cold in death, the cells ceasing to make the heat, growing still and solid before their next phase, relaxation into a more fluid state. Then hauling my flesh away, and back to the (now) ever-so-hot tub. I will never feel so cold in usual conditions in comparison with this; yet the intense cold was comfortable, non-threatening. With seven dwellings representing styles of building (e.g. cob, reticulated roofs, logs), the rooms were cosy and small (compared to the giant open canvas spaces of the festival!) and had enormous character. The days were a barrage of words, as ideas and playful conversations jumped amongst us all. Talkings, listenings, and a breathwork session of astounding effect, filled my storytelling brain to overflowing.

The crowds of BOOM! (33,333) meant my quest to find interesting people was thwarted by sheer numbers; I could hardly approach each of them, but selecting any one was equally impossible, so I spoke with only a small handful. Meanwhile those few who were fortunate enough to attend Neuro-Magica (26) were all unbelievably fascinating, and I had conversations with each person there.

It turned out, in that small world way of things, that more than one person had attended both of these gatherings. Notably Eric Maddern, who had been the Wisdom Keeper representing the European traditions amongst the indigenous cultures from around the planet, and who (coincidentally) owns Cae Mabon. His telling of the chase of Taliesin, which I heard him tell in both locations, took very different forms; a large, lightly covered sunlit space big enough for several hundred people contrasted with the dark, intimate, firelit roundhouse. The Saturday evening party included him giving a spirited rendition of his version of the traditional tale about the search for Mabon (from the fourth branch of the Mabinogian); this will stay with me for years as a particular highlight.

So what did I learn? In what ways did I change?

I grew as a person, after the atmosphere of kindness and co-creative spaces flowed inexorably into my heart. I felt surrounded by fellow creatures, each one unique yet recognisably the same as myself. The structures and the activities filled me with delight at their aesthetics and their functionality, and at the knowledge they had been built by people’s hands with willing co-operation. My appetite has reset itself, to less food less often, and a change of taste towards mostly minimally processed produce (e.g. vegetables). Weather now feels less of an issue when planning what to do. Emotionally I feel rested, ready to get my head down to all the work which has been piling up over the last weeks! Resting in itself is all very well but nothing works quite so effectively as being somewhere which means you cannot work.

The things and people I have interacted with, from all over the world, have left their fingerprints on me (metaphorically speaking!). Phrases, expressions, bits of knowledge, ways of moving; all spread through groups of people as they meet and part, meet again. I truly feel part of the global population, one spark of awareness amongst so many. Part of this has been recognising the wisdom I carry (in my own way), and seeing effects it can have for others. I feel valued, and cared for.

To finish by returning to the beginning; retreating to the future. Once upon a time, there was a list of products you could buy via mail order, called The Whole Earth Catalogue. Those who bought in to this paradigm dreamed of a world where we live in mud huts with computers (to grossly oversimplify). Fast forward to now, nearly fifty years later, and technology is starting to allow this on a widespread scale. Even if only temporarily at festival sites, many young people are growing up with the knowledge that they can make their own places in the world, creating and building for themselves. This awareness is leaking out to all systems, to food growing, mutually beneficial economic systems (especially local based exchange systems), reusing and repairing even making clothes, we are re-capturing those skills industrial production robbed from us. Moreover, these communities offer a step change in how human animals live, and could well usher in new patterns of behavior which will alter the face of the Earth rapidly; towards one with the right amount of trees, sane resource usage, and a co-created ecology.

NW

(Further blogposts on various experiences at these events to follow! Baphomet showed another side to me during these adventures, and I feel the need to share.)