A Magician in Residence at The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

For a while, before the office opens, I’m sitting in a hollow on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. I plan to meditate and sing and do some yoga for an hour or so. This will ensure that I’ll be in the right frame of mind for work. Below me is Boscastle harbour. I am sitting on the eastern side of that long inlet, a snaking chasm of rock, half barred by two gently curving sea walls (built in the 16th century). Behind this there are a few boats, some sand and seaweed. On the seaward side there are great cliffs. In undercut hollows, carved by the restless waves, blow-holes form, squirting jets of spray back over the rising tide. This is a deeply magical place, for me and many others. Boscastle is the beautiful, sometimes dangerous confluence of the River Valency and River Jordan. It is one of those deep wooded valleys (‘coombes’ we calls ’em in Devon) that are typical of the north Atlantic coastline. It is also the setting for the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, where for one week in June I was the ‘Magician in Residence‘.

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Beautiful Boscastle

The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) is a collection that is locally adored and internationally recognized. If you’re not already familiar with the amazing range of things they do (from supporting international academic research, to commissioning new artworks) then please take some time to look around their online presence.

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Lurid old skool Baphomet

I’d been aware of the Museum for many years (if nothing else through those brilliantly lurid photos of Baphomet in occult coffee table books of the 1970s). But it wasn’t until fifteen or so years ago I went there for the first time. These days I’m closely involved with the Museum, including as Chair of The Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, a registered charity that supports the museum, in particular with its mission to educate and engage people. One aspect of engagement is to encouraging people to visit spaces like MWM. Visiting museums, especially places of the quality of MWM, can be a powerful, authentic, moving experience. Sure you can see many items from the MWM collection using their online database. However the physical experience of walking down the path, towards the wild Cornish sea, turning right and there, nestled against the rock, is the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic – that embodied experience takes some beating!

MWM’s work includes supporting the increasing appreciation, in academia and wider culture, of the influence of occultism (as I mentioned here). They’ve recently loaned objects to some internationally important shows, such as Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution. There are the many ways in which the MWM collection is relevant to wider culture. One of my own interests in this field is in the social phenomena of witch hunting as a form of scapegoating. The way in which communities, of many different sorts, go about hunting and killing ‘witches’ says something very important to all of us. In order to understand, mitigate and perhaps transform our scapegoating behaviour, we have to understand how it happens. Collections such as that at MWM can directly help us do this by bringing us up close and personal with objects that are the anchors for stories of prejudice, misunderstanding and punishment. (You can see some examples of the educational resources I helped to create, enabling young people to explore these issues on the MWM website.  If you’re a teacher, especially of teenagers, you may like to check these out).

Inside MWM there are many wonderful things; the material traces of many expression of occulture. The galleries themselves are a cunning interplay of dark and secret with bold and well-lit spaces. The standard of presentation is second to none (and I’ve worked in many museums over the past 15 years). This excellent curation isn’t surprising given that museum director Simon Costin is something of a creative genius.

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Tasteful modern Baphomet

(Talking of Baphomets, it was also during this week that I helped transport a rather famous Baphomet mask from London to its new home at the Museum. But more of that later…)

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Baphomet, last seen in public on The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

For my week in residency I got to hang out in the library. This is, as you might imagine, another wonderful space. There are wooden desks, a gigantic witches ball in the window to repel the evil eye, and many, many books. I set up my office here; runes, two decks of tarot cards, crystal ball, special magic A4 white paper for sigils, sage smudge, some magical pointy things from the Himalayas – and we are good to go!

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In residence

I’d imagined that I could spend much of the week writing and maybe doing a spot of research. In addition to an amazing range of books in the MWM library it houses hundreds of files containing everything from facsimile editions of Gerald Gardner’s original Book of Shadows, through to collections of obscure short-run occult ‘zines from the 1980s. However my research plan was not to be. Rather than reading the books I spent most of my time that week doing tarot readings for visitors.

This was both enjoyable and an honour. People often open up in a divination session and place their trust, to some degree, in the diviner. I encourage this, as an important benefit of having a reading is the confidential, candid, even confessional opportunity that this setting provides.

When people come to me for a reading I explain that I can’t divine the future with any great certainty. I usually joke that were this one of my special powers I’d divine six numbers, win the lottery and spend all my time on holiday. (Actually the problem with this analogy is I do generally to get to spend my time doing what I love, but anyhow…). Instead I explain that my role is primarily to work with clients to explore how things are for them, and to look at what possible futures and courses of action might emerge from their present circumstances. This makes the whole process about discovery; the reading becomes a space for mutual investigation and reflection. The querent is not the passive recipient of advice, but an active agent in their own narrative. For while there may be some circumstances where our options are limited. we do usually possess some degree of freedom; this realization is often a key outcome. Cultivating this awareness of freedom, in a realistic way, and exploring the options for change, are for me what tarot readings are all about.

Now I won’t lie, even within this broadly psychological paradigm of divination things with a distinctly parapsychological flavor do happen. For example, my usual practice is ask the querent to draw three cards. On the basis of these I begin a story, then together we explore how this might relate to their situation. Sometimes, especially when I’m on a roll and have been doing lots of readings over a short period of time, I say things in this opening section that the client responds to with surprise. ‘How could you have known that?’ they say. Then there are moments, perhaps halfway through reading (sometimes accompanied by a sense of having something speak through me, or some sense of ‘absence’) where a rush of words comes out. Again the querent may be impressed; I’ve perhaps articulated the problem we’ve been discussing in a radically new way that helps them see a totally new picture, or perhaps I’ve revealed how one character may be acting and what can be done to make things better. These intuitive insights may be surprising, including to me. But however spot on my words are I always bracket what I say. I explain that one reason we call this stuff ‘magic’ is because none of us (perhaps least of all magicians) really known how any of it works. I acknowledge that this is how things may appear in this moment, in this reading, but that the future is uncertain and new information and possibilities may well arise. I may be ‘inspired’ but I’m also quite clear that my impressions may be wrong or incomplete in any number of ways. Sure listen to the oracle, but take it all with a pinch of salt.

I’m pleased to say that I got really nice feedback from some of the folk I read for during my residency and I’m glad they found the sessions useful. For me whether a reading is heavy on the psychological exploration, or has significant parapsychological moments, isn’t what matters. What is important is that the consultation provides an opportunity to empower the querent; allowing them to find their own way in the world. This is the magic of it.

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In the magicians chair

An additional delight of this week was to be able to spend time with many of the members of my extended family, enjoying this magical landscape and each other’s company. (Which is why each morning on those rocks I gave thanks to the Great Spirit – whom I call Baphomet – for those lovely people and the magic in my life.)

I’ve  recorded a few thoughts towards the end of my residency about the role of the proverbial village witch on my Youtube channel too.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at the Museum for welcoming and supporting me during that week, and to all those people who came to see me over those days; may the royal road rise to meet you!

Blessed Be

Julian Vayne

PS Our next Deep Magic Retreat at St Nectan’s Glen will take place from 27th September-1st October 2018 For more details please visit our Facebook page.

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Labyrinth at Rocky Valley, where the river that runs through St.Nectan’s Glen meets the sea.

 

 

 

 

Enchant Long…

The maxim to ‘enchant long and divine short’ is one of the many bits of wisdom from the work of Pete Carroll. The suggestion is simply that if we want to create magical effects we’re generally better off casting our desires into the reasonably distant future, into situations where there are lots of variables that might be tweaked by our spells. Meanwhile divination is best done ‘short’. As with predicting the weather it can prove reasonably successful a few days ahead for a given region, but long range forecasts (especially over larger areas) are no more accurate than simple guesses. While flashes of insight can and do occur for the skilled diviner, divination tends to be primarily about allowing the querent to reflect on their own situation at the moment of the reading, and to empower them to understand their possible options in a given situation.

from a book of long enchantments

from a book of long enchantments

If we consider a Left-Hand Path style of magic the injunction to ‘enchant long and divine short’ can result in some interesting ethical effects. Let’s take the example of long-term enchantment. We know that our self changes and, whilst it’s true there is a ‘narrative centre of gravity’ (to use a term borrowed from phenomenology and hermeneutics) our needs, desires and our identities can and do change. With this in mind a long-term enchantment requires the magician to see the problem (their desire) not in terms of the (immediate) self but as part of a much bigger picture. This transforms what can initially arise as a grasping, outcomes-driven personal need, into something greater and more inclusive.

As an example; a couple of magician friends of mine, some years ago, were diagnosed with viral hepatitis. This is a blood borne infection for which, at the time they contracted the virus, there was no known cure. Obviously as magicians we wanted to address this problem; and while sometimes ‘miraculous’ healing does take place (in my experience this typically manifests itself as the patient discovering that they have been ‘misdiagnosed’ and that the illness that threatened has literally vanished), it’s best to take advice from Mr Carroll and learn to play the long game.

In this instance the work that we pursued was not limited to healing our friends but instead focused on finding a cure for hepatitis. As anti-viral technology developed it also became necessary to work on affecting the cultural and financial side of the pharmacological industry (there was, for example, one period when two firms were peddling rival drugs that actually worked best when taken in combination). The long-term result of this work is that both my friends are now thankfully clear of the hepatitis virus and all the health problems associated with that infection.

While it’s impossible to be certain that our muttering of spells, invocation of spirits or deployment of magical Clingfilm (really) helped these scientific developments (we can’t of course re-run the control experiment of this bit of medical history where we don’t do the magical work) the bottom line is my friends are now healthy and well. The bigger benefit is that tens of thousands of other people on the planet are well too, and it’s this process that lifts the ‘narrow’ desire-oriented LHP style magick into something that looks much closer to a Vajrayana path; we use our own personal desires (for specific outcomes or for illumination/enlightenment) and skilfully deploy these in order to achieve an outcome where all beings become liberated.

When you’re doing ‘results magic’ for yourself why not consider how to play the long game and if there is a way of getting not only what you want but helping many others into the bargain? The example above involving healing magic is ideal; rather than working simply for your own (or your clients) health, consider all those others who share the same problem. Conversely when doing divination, rather than trying to scry the actions of complex networks, focus your questions on what you (or the querent) can do in a given situation. Considered through the lens of a LHP  approach any divination will emphasise personal responsibility, empowerment and agency.

Perhaps this allows us to expand Pete’s dictum to: ‘Enchant long and global, divine short and personal’. In works of enchantment let go the individual desiring self, consider the bigger context of your magick and, by skilful means, get much more bang for your esoteric buck. In works of divination give up the illusion that you are without agency and discover the most empowering way to adapt to the situation in which you find yourself.

JV