Inspiration from the Darkness – the psychology of magick

As well as the theoretical material here at theblogofbaphomet we also like to include examples of practical esoteric technique. So here’s a recent example of a ritual that I did with Steve Dee and Nikki Wyrd. The aim of this practice was to enter the darkness of the coming year, and be nourished by that time in order to empower the writing work that we’re all engaged in at the moment. This is particularly helpful for me as, like many folks who live here in Britain, I sometimes find the darkness of the year psychologically challenging. While my own story isn’t medicalised into ‘seasonal affective disorder’ I do sometimes wish that my work pattern was one where I could spend more time outside in the light (and of course working in museum environments means I’m often out of reach of daylight) and more of the dark part of the year hibernating and dreaming.

For some people this kind of magic looks perilously close to psychology. I’ve certainly seen (for example in response to Steve Dee’s recent article about sculpting and altars) folks getting exercised about how their gods are not ‘just archetypes’ and their mystical path as something much more profound than neurological hacking plus a pointy hat. In my view this kind of opinion (also voiced by Nick Farrell in his article) perhaps misses the point that psychology is, of course, literally the study of the mind. I’m not sure that there is anything much more magical than the psyche and, solipism notwithstanding, all magical acts (even those with apparently measurable parapsychological effects) require a mind somewhere in their operation.

There is also the confusing idea of ‘real’ (Nick in his article says “Personally I would like an NLP “expert” to try to explain a real Daemon as an extension of their unconscious as it strangles him or her with his own intestines.”). The problem with ‘reality’ is that it is inevitably mediated through inter-subjective consensus (ie people’s minds). But anyone with an appreciation of psychology will appreciate that the mind is also ‘real’. Placebo, psychosomatic illnesses and the power of positive thinking are all real, and indeed have hard-science measurable effects. However whether a demon (however arcane our choice of spelling) can, in a literal measurable sense, strangle someone using their own gut  is, I would suggest, open to debate (and a request for proof).

Reasons to be fearful

Reasons to be fearful (probably)

Those familiar with the four models of magic proposed by Frater U.’.D.’. will also recognise that the ‘psychological paradigm’, rather than being a species of ‘magic lite’ is actually just one way of describing what is going on. No less useful (or true) than the energy, spirit or information models. However it is currently the dominant model in our culture (most people believe in psychology whereas belief in occult energies or demons is perhaps less common). There is also lots of very useful research that has emerged from psychology (in its many forms, from transpersonal psychology to sociology, neurology and more) and the wise magician is likely to find much of value in the grimoires of those disciplines.

And so, to Work!

In robes we descend to my subterranean temple space. Here under the earth we have prepared candles, a strobe light, smoke machine, incense and music (specifically this). We begin by holding hands (because that’s always nice). We take four breaths together; one for the sky above us, one for the earth within which we sit, one for the water that surrounds our island of Britain, and one for the fire in our hearts.

I strike the singing bowl and read the invocation of Baphomet (from The Book of Baphomet).

We sit for a while in silence.

Still seated in the circle we being playing drums, manjïrà, blowing a conch, striking singing bowls and using our voices. The music is loud, the strobe machine flashes bright pulsing light in the underground chamber. As the smoke swirls around us we contact the darkness, the earth, bringing our attention to the fact that, as they say,  winter is coming.

Shamanism going underground

Shamanism going underground

The music ends and we go upstairs, into the light and the brightness. We light incense and more candles. An image of Thoth, god of writing, graces the altar. We begin by shaking our bodies, loosening up and then dance using this music.

Finally we laugh and embrace, the ritual ends.

This basic technique; a movement from dark to light was done on the day of the September equinox. Our rite is both a celebration of this time and a way of orientating ourselves to the coming experience. We could have dressed it up with more bells and smells, more favourite deities and even demonic seals and other old skool majix. We could have added mind-expanding substances or barbaric languages but sometimes magic can just be simple. As simple as psychology, but no less magical for all that.


Adapting our Religions and our Pacts

I was told an amusing and instructive story recently by my Brother. He was relating an experience of a Mexican shaman we know who had been leading a ceremony in Miami. In the style of ceremony being performed it is conventional, after a person has finished speaking, to say ‘Aho‘. This is a contraction of the Lakota phrase ‘Aho Mitakuye Oyasin‘ which translates approximately as ‘I understand this [the prayer/offering/song etc] is for all my relations [ie all the beings of the universe], so be it! These ceremonies are typically very heart-felt, devotional and thanks-giving styled affairs, and so the presiding shaman felt he needed to find out what was going on with the Japanese guy in the circle. You see every time someone said ‘aho’, even if this was at the end of a powerful and emotional prayer, the Japanese man would giggle uncontrollably. The reason my shaman chum discovered was a simple trick of language. ‘Aho’ in Japanese means ‘stupid’ and that was the joke. Every time someone said something poignant or passionate they would finish by saying ‘stupid’! (And be echoed by all the rest of the circle.) Moreover when I checked this out the Japanese ‘aho’ (あほ), actually one of several possible ways of saying ‘stupid’; means something (as I understand it) less like ‘silly’ and more like ‘retard’!

This is just one of many examples we can find where particular religious customs don’t travel very well in our global culture. Another might be the fact that in British cities with high levels of immigration from the Middle East and North Africa traditional religious dress may be responsible for health problems. Long sleeves, robes and even veils mean that people (presumably especially women) don’t get sufficient exposure to the sun, and this means a lack of vitamin D. Various regional authorities have issued health guidance and, where necessary, vitamin supplements to address this problem.

alchemical sun-substance

alchemical sun-substance

Texts from religions which had their genesis in the arid regions of the world are of course full of prohibitions and practices which worked perfectly well there (and then) but make no sense, or are even actively dangerous, in other latitudes (and times). Not eating pork, keeping milk and meat separated when preparing food – these and other traditions made sense thousands of years ago, in the days before refrigeration, canning and many other inventions. But not when these behaviours are transplanted to places where rain and mould are more in evidence than blazing sun.

When we speak of tradition we’re always talking about something that imagines it’s conservative but, when considered over time and geography, is actually something highly diverse and adaptable. No matter how much literalist fanatics (and fantasists – since, as I said ‘traditional’ change is inevitable) claim that one must stick to some imagined letter of the law (be that law of Moses, Muhammad or even perhaps the Master Therion), praxis will and must adapt (or die).

Maybe the only issue (of the fitness of the belief ‘meme’) is whether that religious impulse – whatever inspired it and holds it as valuable in the mind of believers today – has the skills to adapt. The same may be said for beliefs such as Wicca or chaos magic. These traditions (which inevitably claim to be distinct and special – chaos magic for example claiming that it is not a belief but a ‘meta-paradigm’ and therefore super cool, and different, when compared to anything else…) inevitably have their roots in a specific time and place (in both cases cited – the 20th century British Isles). However these esoteric beliefs too must, perforce, adapt and change if they have, and are to have, any longevity and meaning.

In the case of Wicca this may mean the change from the apostolic succession of Gardnerian/Alexandrian lines and the absorption of a healthy dose of the earth-centred approach and pragmatic spell-craft of ‘Traditonal’ witchcraft and shamanism. In the case of chaos magic this may mean that new ‘Pacts’ (in the sense of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ to politeness and mutually beneficial working relationships) may be formed. (And of course ‘pacts’ are binding, like ‘religio‘ that binds us into our shared beliefs). While I have no doubt that Orders such as the IOT will remain useful networks for (primarily) in person group collaboration, other pacts (the full name of the IOT is actually ‘The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros‘) are being created (especially where face-to-face interaction may not be possible or desired). A great example of this is within on-line communities such as the wonderful Chaos Magick Group (CMG) in Facebook.

The morphing banner of chaos

The morphing banner of chaos

In the (embrassingly recent) past I’d opined that I hadn’t seen much collaborative action emerging from such virtual groups. Sure there had been alliances within those spaces (including for shared ‘results’ workings) but nothing (that I’d seen) emerging beyond those groups to enrich wider occulture. However this is changing (or perhaps I’m finally noticing what’s happening and getting with the program…).

A recent collaboration within CMG has produce not one but two excellent albums of music (ranging from beautiful songs, through to ritual soundscapes). You can check these out HERE and HERE. There’s also a fabulous tarot deck which, through the power of the mighty Admins (in a manner reminiscent of herding numerous punk majix Nyan cats…), has been collectively produced by tens of artist/chaos magicians. This deck will be available for purchase soon, and details related to it, plus a sneak preview of a few cards, may be found HERE.

I’ve also been deeply impressed by the collective intelligence demonstrated in CMG and a number of other on-line chaos magic(k) pacts. CMG, for example generally maintains a wonderful level of ribald humour, deep respect for diversity, but also the strength of collective character to be able (even in such a liberal space) to eject people who are currently unable or unwilling to not be arse-holes when communicating with their peers. I’ve seen people (certainly including myself) learn in those this virtual space. Plan, plot and execute cooperative actions, have fun, argue (respectfully), fall in love and even find Illumination (as well as posting some hilarious cat/rabbit/boat/other memes…).

Let’s celebrate rather than bemoan these adaptations, of our religions, our beliefs, our practices, and our pacts as magicians. Let’s notice where we are, in different language communities, different lands on the earth and locations in cyberspace, and let these environments inform what we do. May these new forms of faith, and the pacts we make to explore them, flourish in all their exciting diversity!

Aho! 😉