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! 😉


Of Babies and Bodhicitta

Following my recent article on Trolls, Terrorists and Petty Tyrants I received more that the usual level of positive feedback (thanks guys 🙂 ). I even had the opportunity to dialogue with one person who said they had recognised their own petty tyrannical behaviour, in part as a result of reading this post. Wonderfully they had used this insight as an opportunity to seek advice from others and to apologise to people they felt they had mistreated. Now that really is a win, for all concerned!

In my post I mentioned the Tonglen practice of meditation and with this in mind I’d like to give a small variation on the technique. Tonglen itself is a Tibetan word which literally means ‘giving and receiving’. The technique is attributed to Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna, an 11th century Buddhist teacher who was an important figure in the spread of Vajrayana Buddhism. The technique contains a range of benefits for the individual but more than this it is about demonstrating our compassion for others. In essence, one breaths in the suffering of others and seeks to transform it, emitting feelings of compassion and care for others in our shared humanity (and beyond this to include all forms of mind and self in the universe).

My variation of the technique was one I happened upon while recently holding my infant God/dess Son in my arms. This method, which I discovered while rocking him during a sleepless night (while looking after him so his folks could take a break) was to strongly bring my attention to the compassion and care I feel for him. This can then be extended to imagining all those other children, cradled in the arms of their loving caregivers, of which we are being the exemplar. This could include imagining ourselves as infants, and members of our ancestral lines as babes-in-arms, including of course those people with whom we may have had difficulties. Bodhicitta arising in this practice, intent on realising the swift liberation from suffering of all beings, is rooted in the actual act of caring for another life.

living star dust

living star dust

While practices like the above don’t apparently fit into the spooky hardcore image of chaos magick, in fact they are deeply congruent with it. Techniques such as this weave our magic into the very fabric of our worlds, rather than only being something that happens when we’re surrounded by candles, circles and esoteric bling. Moreover, as well as being results oriented (albeit a ‘result’ which is concerned with the grand project of collective illumination), this technique also serves to ‘intensify the normal‘ as Austin Spare puts it. Cultivating an awareness of the beauty and power of the fact the child I hold in my arms, like everything on this earth, is the product of aeons old exploded stars, fashioned by the awesome powers of chemistry and biology. That I am honoured to support and care for a new human consciousness coming on-line. That I am but one moment in this story of how – whether our own parents and care-givers were good, bad or indifferent – we humans reproduce and go on our own miraculous, unsteady way, into the future – how could one fail to notice the magic in that?


Death to Fanatics!

I’ve written before in this blog about the importance of humour and of course laughter plays a key role in the style of occultism known as chaos magick. Embracing ideas cribbed from Discordianism, Terry Prachett and fringe cosmology the chaos current, current 23, should be somewhere were there are few, if any, sacred cows (or ‘caos’). This multi-perspective view hopefully leads to a generosity of spirit rather than a haughty hubris. For even when we think we are ‘liberated’ in some sense from personal, social and spiritual conditioning, we remain part of culture and our narrative continues. One of the insights of chaos magick is that even when we think we have it all sorted out, that this too shall pass: And, if we allow them to, new insights into the ourselves and others can arise; potentially radically re-shaping our views. In the words of the awesome Steve Dee:

Dark Matter flows through gnostic machinery
Metaphysical truths
Now patent absurdities.
Strip it back
Strip it right back,

Chaos magick strives to hold a meta position about the world, summerised by the epithet, ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted’ or, in the latest reformulation, ‘nothing has absolute truth, anything may prove possible’. However in much human culture there are a large number of ‘absolute’ structures which claim to be able to define truth. These range from scientisms through to the subtle ‘givens’ of culture, and the claims at religious truth made by various faiths. Such ‘truths’ become fixed points in the psychic structure of an individual or a group and can easily be used (unconsciously or with pre-meditated malice) to manipulate the world.

The recent attack at the offices of a French satirical magazine is an example of this process in action. This incident put me in mind of an idea I had some years ago about voting. My suggestion is that before being given the right to participate in the democratic process individuals should have to undergo a test to see if they are fit and proper people to engage in collective decision making. My idea is that potential voters enter a booth where some cunningly crafted technology scans their brains and establishes what their most cherished ‘truths’ are. Brilliant computer software then creates an episode of South Park which lampoons that ‘truth’, sending it up, questioning this ‘truth’ through the power of cutting satire. Those people who exit the booth laughing, or at least with a wry grin, are permitted to vote. Those who get angry don’t get the vote until such time as they can pass the test. (Obviously there are a number of paradoxes embedded in this suggestion, but that is to be expected).

"Super Best Friends"

“Super Best Friends”

Going back to the recent attacks in Paris; it’s certainly possible to use humour to mask what one friend called  ‘…vested interests in provocation to make racist statements under the guise of satire.’ As someone who has only a minimal grasp of French it’s hard for me to make any judgement about about the content of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, however the first cartoon they printed featuring an image of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) weeping, saying “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (“it’s hard being loved by jerks”). While it’s essential to be mindful of the cultural context (ie European and American relations with the Middle East, and increasingly in reaction to a ‘radicalised’ Islam) I’m not sure that the words of this blasphemous image imply that all Muslims are necessarily bad people, or even that Islam is inherently dangerous, stupid or whatever. Frankly, one could run the same cartoon with Buddha in the lead role (weeping about the civil wars in Myanmar), Moses (weeping over the bodies of Palestinians killed by soldiers wearing shirts like these) or Jesus (crying over, well quite a lot of stuff).

Events such as the recent attack can easily lead to ignorant racism and what the writer Jan Cole has called ‘sharpening contradictions‘ where ‘…an insular and hateful minority will take advantage of this deliberately polarizing atrocity to push their own agenda. Europe’s future depends on whether the Marine LePens are allowed to become mainstream. Extremism thrives on other people’s extremism, and is inexorably defeated by tolerance.’

Looked at from an esoteric perspective it’s also interesting to note that the French have a long history of (mis)representing, albeit indirectly, the Prophet Muhammad, sometimes in visual form. In the early 14th century it was two Frenchmen, Pope Clement V and King Phillip ‘The Fair’ IV of France who busted The Knights Templar. They accused the Knights of worshipping an idol and they called this image ‘Baphomet’. It may have been the case that the Templars did use ‘simulated’ idol worship in their Order rituals. Wikipedia teaches that the “…Chinon Parchment suggests that the Templars did indeed spit on the cross,”…that these acts were intended to simulate the kind of humiliation and torture that a Crusader might be subjected to if captured by the Saracens,…they were taught how to commit apostasy “with the mind only and not with the heart”.

The word ‘Baphomet’ has diverse etymologies (remember, ‘nothing is true’ kids!), but perhaps one of the most likely is that it arises from a derivation that goes Muhammad > Mahomet > Baphomet’. Cut to 500 years later and Eliphas Levi is drawing his interpretation of this Chinese whispers game as his famous Goat of Mendes.

Become a Living God!

Prophetic vision

However the French are not the only folks in the business of publishing taboo breaking images derived from Islamic culture. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker also blaspheme on a regular basis, and have explored the limits of the ban on representing Muhammad in their work. However even as far as the image of Muhammad is concerned it isn’t a simple binary story (of forbidden vs transgressive). In Muslim culture itself this ban does not exist equally in all places and times. As is often the case taking a longer (in time) and wider (in cultural terms) view can help us make sense of things.


Muhammad delivering The Farewell Sermon, 17th-century Ottoman copy of an early 14th-century Persian image.

But the recent situation in France is indeed about manipulation of images. The (variable) prohibition on images of the Muslim Prophet and the desire to break that prohibition (it is claimed in the name of free speech) are being used by people who wish to set up a ‘them and us’ narrative; Islam verses the West. The reasons that some of us desire this division are long and complex, much like the narrative of the Charlie Hebdo case itself. However as magicians perhaps we may have something to offer.

A large part of magick is about learning to use the imagination, to organise it in certain ways. With this in mind an interesting practice could be to imagine yourself into the mindset of one of the attackers. Imagine what it was like, laying in bed the night before the attack, waiting to drift into sleep. What would have been going through your mind? What would have led you to this place and helped you to determine your course of action on the ‘morrow? With such a practice one can begin to see that the actors who killed those cartoonists also have a narrative as individual people and as players within a much larger set of socio-political processes. Moreover while the act of killing cartoonists may seem crazy to you, given the right circumstances the majority of people can be manipulated into any number of ‘monstrous’ acts. And while we all like to think, ‘yes but I wouldn’t be one of those nasty people’ statistically we’re unlikely to be correct about this.

As well as discovering the underlying, and often flawed humanity of the actors in the Charlie Hebdo story through out imaginations perhaps we can be skillful enough to find ways to destabilize the emergence of the Us vs Them discourses? One step in this process may be to step back from the simplistic polarised narratives of about free speech, racism, Islamic radicalization and the rest, and to wonder instead what acts of transformation may be possible? Maintaining a mind which is confident to be in world without falling into simplist (and generally wrong) dualist narratives seems to me to be a crucial starting point.


The Spheres of Chaos – Geosphere

In addition to the eight Sabbats of Chaos Craft another motif we’ve continued to use in our work has been that of the Five Spheres. This conceptual device, developed by Pete Carroll in consultation with Nikki Wyrd, links to the vowel sounds (I,E,A,O,U) that are incorporated in the ‘middle pillar’ part of the Gnostic Banishing rituals.  In these practices attention is given to the crown of the head (the Chaosphere), the throat (the Noosphere), the heart (the Anthrosphere), the belly (the Biosphere) and the base (the Geosphere). The whole system is described in detail towards the end of The Book of Baphomet.

We’ve started a series of rituals to explore each sphere. The first in the sequence is the Geosphere; the world of the rocks, the stones and the crystals (as the old Pagan chant puts it). This is place of the Elder Gods, and of our sense of hunger.

His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn.

His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn.

Each ceremony itself (so far we’ve done three rites) has included simple shamanic style techniques; the use of poetic text, drumming and silent meditation. Our aim; to commune with these different interpretations or layers of reality,  while bringing a distinctly Left Hand Path and Setian mindset to this work. I plan to post some of the material used in these rituals on this blog.

The Geosphere, imagined in terms of the life of a person, is our intrauterine and infantile existence. Looked at in cosmological terms, it is that great dyad of space and time. It another sense it is the realm of raw physics;

Hydrogen begat Helium,

Helium begat Carbon,

Carbon begat Oxygen

In terrestrial terms the symbol of this sphere is the equal armed cross + representing the physical earth upon which we stand. From the magnetosphere that shields us from the solar wind, down through the depths of the ocean, riding upon the backs of tectonic plates, and deeper, to the core of our planet (which glows at the same temperature as the surface of the sun). For our lived experience, as dwellers on the surface, it is the four directions, the crossroads.

The spirit of this sphere (in a Typhonian stylee) is the monster Leviathan and the poem we used is taken from The Book of Job. It is also the place of Apep or Apophis, the great dragon-serpent whom Set keeps at bay, protecting the sun in its nightly journey through the underworld. I sometimes imagine Apophis as entropy, that mighty stooping dragon who, within the narrative of the cosmological Standard Model, seeks to drag down complexity into a vast uniform heat death of elementary particles and radiations. Space and time gives birth to all things, and in the end (it seems) will destroy everything too. The all potential womb is also the all embracing tomb.

But for all this, biology and mind rises up (like Set) against (and within) this inky black darkness. We are mud that sat up and became sensate.

(In a perhaps less Setian style one might also point out that the universe, for all its faults, seems peculiarly adapted to the needs of the kind of physics and chemistry that allows for life. Our cosmos seems perfectly set up not only to permit but to encourage life. Were the weak force (or the others in that great fundamental quadruplicity) just a little weaker, and it could all have gone horribly wrong.)

If you fancy doing your own meditations on the Geosphere you could use the poem and soundtrack below. The recording was made during the ritual. Part of the background is a NASA production of the song of the earth in space. There’s also the sound of stones being ground together in the temple, resting upon the bones of a mighty whale.

Go Deep & Enjoy!