Priesthood and Service

During my recent reflections regarding the path of Druidry, one issue that I have found myself returning to is how we manifest maturity on the spiritual path and what this might mean in relation to what we give to others. While it remains open to a degree of debate, one of the characteristics that might be imagined to define a Druid –  as being distinct from the role of either Bard/Poet or Ovate/Seer – was the way in which they helped mediate specific social processes within their given communities. Whether via legal adjudication, philosophical consultation or by acting a celebrant during major life-rites the role of the Druid/Priest requires that they embody specific principles or perspectives within the external world.

druid1

#Life Goals

Having spent the last 40 years ensconced in a spiritual journey that has allowed me to encounter a wide variety of folks who have laid claim to concepts of Priesthood, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the shared concepts that seem important to those who minister with varying degrees of esoteric intention.

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to observe, is that a Priest (whether Male, Female or non-binary) is usually a Priest of something or someone! Priests of virtually all denominational stripes are seeking to mediate and embody a deity, a principle or a process. Even if the mission of our Priesthood is broad, there needs to be a certain degree of clarity regarding the perspective they are seeking to represent to the wider world. Some may be attracted to the status or accouterments of the Priestly role, but without a clear sense of vision as to who or what our service is being offered, such Priesthood is likely to be little more than cosplay. For our Priesthood to have depth it feels critical that we have internalized our goal to a degree that it has truly transformed us; we have moved beyond merely articulating truths and more profoundly we are seeking to become them.

Most forms of Priesthood seem to incorporate both the function of Priesthood i.e. what you actually do and the ontology of Priesthood i.e. how you as a person have been transformed internally by having Priesthood conveyed upon you.  When we examine different traditions, we can see the way in which they place varying degrees of focus on either part of this vocational equation. For some schools Priesthood is predominantly sacramental and initiatory in that the goal of ordination is the alchemical transformation of an individual spiritual DNA. For others Priesthood is less about identity and a person may move in and out of a Priestly function depending on the role or function they are adopting at a given time.

In seeking to comprehend ministerial roles that are more defined by function, I was aware of my own background as a former Christian and the way in which the Protestant emphasis on “the priesthood of all believers” sort to minimize any unique status or intermediary role for those who sought ordination. I am aware of the way in which my own biases have been formed by a good dose of Welsh anti-clericalism, but I’m glad to say that this has slowly softened over time as I have been more fully able to appreciate the initiatory and transformational power of having such vocations acknowledged.

My own journey into Priesthood has been a long and winding one. In my late teens I became a seminarian with a view to become an Anglican Priest, but this was eventually derailed by the crisis of faith that pushed me to explore a more magical-gnostic path. Eventually my exploration of magic and the Thelemic-Tantra espoused by AMOOKOS led me into an intense encounter with the Egyptian deity Sekhmet and I became increasingly aware of the obligations that this experience carried with it. During my own in encounter it was made abundantly clear that if I wished to continue a working relationship with these forces, it would entail both cost and obligations in representing her reality to others. While I am a firm believer that vocation can take manifold forms that are uniquely shaped by the individual and their context, based on my own experience I would question the validity of any call to Priesthood that doesn’t have its basis in both marked intensity and sacrifice.

doyle

Will you have a cup of Tea Father?

Although we should be cautious about any insistence that a person’s Priesthood must involve service to a physical community who hold similar perspectives (this is especially the case if adherents are spread over a large geographical area), we mustn’t underestimate the impact that our presence and embodiment might have on those in our more immediate sphere. The very magical act of someone pursuing a deep vocation and the creative flame of the daimonic-self can be both inspiring and potentially disruptive for those who feel they are simply going through the motions of day-to-day life. This in part is the challenge of our service as a Priest: the ideals and forces that we are seeking to manifest, become intensified and crystallized within ourselves as we take the risk of mediating them to those around us.

In the last 10 years my own Priesthood has found expression via mentoring, writing and more publicly in naming ceremonies, hand fasting and delivering eulogies at funerals. Often those seeking such support have been less concerned about the fine detail of my wyrd theological preoccupations and more drawn to the way in which my own initiatory process has enabled me to sit with challenging life processes. It feels as if what I have to offer is less about metaphysical certainties and far more about an ability to explore Mystery. For me those who manifest Priesthood most readily are those for whom their offer of service to others is as a natural overspill of the work that they are embodying in their own lives. This is at once the challenge of feeling called to such vocations but also the powerful initiatory role they can have in forging our magic.

Steve Dee

 

Walking the Narrow Road

Most contemporary Western magical traditions, at some point in their curricula, make use of pathworking as a technique for inner exploration. By making use of an imagined journey, the aspirant is encouraged to move through any number of different landscapes and domains as a means of gaining a fuller, more vivid appreciation of the icons and symbols that are central to a given path.

I was recently chatting with Julian over tea about his teaching on a Master’s course on ecology and spirituality at Schumacher College and his attempt to communicate the way in which a variety of occult traditions had been shaped by historic processes such as the Industrial Revolution and the birth of Romanticism. In seeking to convey the importance of the Golden Dawn’s role in providing the esoteric underpinning for many of the subsequent manifestations of Neo-Paganism, Julian decided to take his willing students on a pathworking through the Tree of Life. In moving through the various Sephiroth and by incorporating the occult rich imagery of the Crowley-Harris Thoth tarot deck, Julian was able to provide a vivid and immersive means for his students to access these central ideas. As a masterful communicator, he was well aware that such experiential ways of learning are a far deeper and more exciting way of promoting both understanding and curiosity; certainly more effective than handing over a well-thumbed edition of 777 and wishing someone “best of luck!”

As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I have recently been revisiting my own engagement with the Druid tradition. Such explorations have been a way of deepening my own connection to the landscape I live within and also my own sense of Priesthood in the magical contexts I currently work. In contrast to many paths that have a more Hermetic or Neo-Platonic emphasis, much of the pathworking that I have undertaken during my training within Druidry has been rooted in the raw glory of Nature’s immanence. Sacred groves and holy wells are visited, dark caves are explored and snowy peaks are scaled in pursuit of wisdom and inspiration.

narrow path

Narrow path on the Holy Mountain

While there may be some benefit in my trying to lay down in detail the imagery and sensory information that would make for a vivid pathworking in the Druid tradition (see the works of Philip Carr-Gomm, Emma Restall Orr and Philip Shallcrass for suitable inspiration), I thought it would be of greater benefit if I described the component parts that I feel might be helpful for effective journeying more generally, so that you, dear reader, can construct your own within the mythological paradigm of your choice:

  1. Grounding in a place of safety: Magic can be a risky business that often asks us to question certainties and re-evaluate the person(s) we think we are. When we set out on a journey it can be good to start by connecting to our breath and body within an imagined setting that allows us to get our bearings and to connect to the values and allies that provide the motivation for the work. In the Druid tradition this is often described as a sacred grove, but it could as easily be by the side of the Nile or within the grounds of Apollo’s temple at Delphi.
  2. Descending to the underworld: Now this might reflect something of my dodgy Luciferian tendencies, but I often like an initial period of connecting to the Chthonic, underworld powers. Whether it involves the roots of trees, stygian tunnels or dragon infested caves, I gain great benefit in reconnecting to the dark and unconscious dimensions that such places often represent. We often enter such realms quietly in acknowledgement of their power and the desire to use such serpentine energy to ensure a rich depth to the insights that we hope to gain.
  3. Connecting to a source of Inspiration: When we re-emerge from the underworld blinking as our eyes readjust to the sunlight of the conscious mind, we may wish to connect to a primary source of inspiration within our mythic universe. Whether our encounter is with the guardian of a sacred well or the Priestess of a temple, we may be met with a challenge as to why we wish to access these places, and we may need to reconnect to our motivation for pursuing this work and the extent to which any Gnosis gained will be put into the service of the greater good.
  4. The Ascent: Having restated our motivation and reconnected to the heart of our work (Tiphareth if you will) we are then ready to ascend in order to gain new insight and challenge. You may wish to frame this journey to Shambhala in any number of ways, such as an encounter with the Holy Guardian Angel or our future magical self. Here we must expect the unexpected and we may also wish for portents and signs in future days as a means of “testing the spirits” and ensuring a balanced integration of new knowledge gained.
  5. The Return: Having gained wisdom and/or new insight, it’s important that we return to base so as to ground these new perspectives and to ensure that we can attend to other day-to-day matters without spinning off into space. Returning to our sacred grove and reconnecting to body and breath allows this process to begin and we may wish to formally conclude by giving thanks to our guardians and by ensuring that we do something that grounds us such as eating. Most magical groups eat and drink together after magical work because they’re hungry and the reality of these mundane acts ensures that we don’t lose our shit/get lost in the realms of faery.

Anyhow, hope that this is helpful! Safe travels!

Steve Dee

The Hardcore Bard

“Do you know yourself, do you know the others? Can you pull the weight that rides on another’s shoulders? Once you’ve lost yourself to the acceptance mask, well could you find yourself, it’s not a simple task. Self-inherence, freedom. Comes from within.  Take a different track. It’s time to see what you are made of. Can you expose yourself? Can you peel away another  layer? Will you make the time, the time to take control? Because only you can save yourself, only you can save your soul….come on, can you let go, can you, be you?”

Caboose by Snapcase (1997 Victory Records)

One of the criticisms that I often hear levelled at Druidry as a path is that it’s a bit polite! Having spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Chaos magicians, Thelemites and Left-Hand Path folks, when I discuss my connection to the Druid path, the question is often asked about what it has to offer in terms of methodology beyond its very public rituals and solar orientated aesthetics. In circles where darkness, intensity and the spilling of bodily fluids are potential measures of commitment, it could be easy to dismiss Druidry as being overly ordered and lacking in changed focused techniques. In my view such a reading is superficial and fails to account for subtle currents of inspiration that allow for a slower more sustainable form of personal evolution.

bard

A Hardcore Bard at Work

While works such as Ronald Hutton’s excellent The Druids highlight the struggle that modern Druids might have in uncovering what their ancient forebears actually did, we still have a rich body of both Celtic lore and the last two to three hundred years of reconstruction to draw from. While some may look down on the pseudo-masonic and Christian influence on the Druid revival, I personally feel that it holds some truly rich examples of the human spirit seeking to explore Mystery beyond the confines of the prevailing religious orthodoxies.

One of the aspects that I love in most forms of reconstituted modern Druidry is the way in which the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid are seen as interacting with each other. While most contemporary Druids view these roles as being a progressive hierarchy, it is important to acknowledge that some present-day adherents elect to remain as a Bard or Seer (Ovate) if they feel that this best captures their calling. For me the adoption of this three-fold scheme is less about moving through a stage in order to reach the next level, and more about an essential group of experiences that make the stage of the journey possible.

The work of the Bard often involves a reconnection to the spirit of creativity. The three drops of inspiration (Awen) that Gwion Bach ingested from Cerridwen’s cauldron, catalysed a process of alchemical change in which he eventually became the great poet Taliesin. Gwion’s transformation was far from easy as he was forced to adopt multiple animal and even vegetable forms in order to escape the pursuit of the dark Goddess in the form of Cerridwen.

The process of re-contacting our inspiration and creativity often involves a descent into the roots of our unconscious. Without this journey into the rich loam of our dark dimensions, our art and creativity risks a thinness that robs our work of its true magical potential. As I considered in my last post, we need to utilize the mirror as a tool for self-examination in meeting the challenge to “Know Thyself!” Our dreams need to be attended to and I have gained much benefit in revisiting old magical journals in order to comprehend the repeating patterns and ideas that revealed the deep drives that were shaping my magic.

In thinking about Bardic inspiration one could easily lapse into the stereotype of a harp-strumming longhair wandering through sun-dappled forests. As awesome and evocative as such images are, my own reconnection to Awen took a far noisier form. Dear reader I confess that I was a childhood metal head and that my own desire for increasing musical heaviness drove me into the sweaty tattooed arms of hardcore punk.

Any attempt to define musical genres will always be fraught with purism and border skirmishes, but broadly speaking, hardcore Punk (especially in its North American form) tends to integrate the rebellion and aesthetics of Punk while also capturing the heaviness and speed of more extreme Metal. Alongside its distinctive musical style, Hardcore often sought to convey a message of positivity, self-actualization and a desire to question societal norms regarding the food we eat, the drugs that we take and the things we consume.

Within the world of Hardcore, themes connected to the spiritual search are rarely far below the surface. Whether in the Heathen brutality of bands such as Neurosis or the Krishna-based longings of Shelter or 108, the desire to find both discipline and vision have driven artists down some intriguing by-roads.

As with any musical movement advocating change, there is often a distance between these ideals and the actual scene that espoused these goals. Although Queercore and the Riot Grrrl movements have gone some way in challenging the homophobia and misogyny within the Hardcore scene, it would be naïve to deny their presence. At it’s best however bands such as Fugazi, Quicksand and Neurosis have been able to maintain integrity and the evolution of their musical sound.

Each of us will have our own aesthetic styles and artistic media from which we can draw the waters’ of inspiration. As much as I love musical heaviness, regular readers of this blog will also be aware of my passion for both dance and Surrealist visual art. What feels important is that we give ourselves permission to embrace a holism in which the sacredness of all things is allowed to disrupt any secular/spiritual dualism. For me as a Postmodern Bard, my own journey to find inspiration, vision and discipline has enabled me to appreciate the way in which Hardcore at its best embodies these qualities and plays an important role in sustaining the flame of alchemical transformation.

I’ll end with some with some great lyrics from the Neurosis’ track “Burn”:

“You lie in the snow, cold but not dead
Stare into the sun, long since its last heat

Feel the freeze burn skin
Salt your open wounds
A burning desire clears your eyes
A willful air fills your lungs

You choke your first breath of wildfire and oceans depth
Climb out of your hole, see your spirit take form

This world of cold stone gives nothing in return
To those who sleep while the restless burn
There are those few driven to flame
Most are content to drown in the wake of dreams

The trail lies overgrown
Across the years fade out of light
Ever growing dim to an age in the dark
Grasp from your soul and don’t let them steal your eyes”

From The Eye of Every Storm  Neurot Recordings 2004

Steve Dee

The Tendrils of Sacred Time and Space

In the course of deepening my own engagement with the Druid tradition, I have recently been thinking further about the way in which stone circles and standing stones shape the way in which I think about sacred time and space. For me, my own use of the self-descriptor “Pagan” is innately connected to my pursuit of a spiritual path that consciously embraces the limitations of time, context and place. Whatever weird dimensions that I seek to ascend to or access, the pagan orientation of my pursuit of Gnosis necessitates an ongoing connection to the earth and the animal.

Magical acts often begin with the practitioner demarking a space and time so that their ritual practice might become more effective. Whether we journey to a location associated with power or we cast a circle in our front room, these acts and intentions become a psychic funnel via which our longings (both conscious and unconscious) can be focused more directly.

When, as a Chaos magician, I started exploring the wide variety of techniques that could be used for creating or entering sacred space I quickly became aware of the way in which my chosen paradigm profoundly affected my expectation of what such demarcation needed to achieve. If for instance I wanted to engage in a piece of Goetic magic my desire for protection and banishing might be profoundly different from a Puja dedicated to a deity with whom I have a deep and ongoing connection. What I started noticing through these explorations were the varying degrees of permeability that these approaches represented, and also the potential naivety in viewing any approach as entirely protective.

To undertake an act of magic is to invite change at both external and intra-psychic levels. As much as I might imagine that my banishing of a spirit or a great old one cleanses my spiritual palate, it clearly doesn’t negate the spiritual or psychological drives that caused me to do that work in the first place! If, for example, I choose to enter the realm of Red magick it is likely that the combative aspects of myself have been activated with all the adrenal, “fight” based responses innate to such territory. Whatever spell, sigil or servitor I use to express these impulses, I still have to contend with the reality that they arose from me in the first place. These desires and longings extend tendrils deep within our personality structures and as magicians we cannot dismiss them lightly.

strands

Cosmic Connections

The marking of sacred space via beginning and ending rituals allows a process of punctuation where we are trying to contain those events and energies that are potentially more risky. As magicians, we often make use of this approach to create a sense of control and agency in relation to life’s chaos. While such an approach is understandable, it is also susceptible to our all too human delusions of omnipotence. Our magic can be key in shifting our consciousness so that it can become more congruent with our goals, but I would also argue that the nature of such transformation can be as much about the need to accept things and to relinquish “the lust for results”.

The creation of magical space often provides us with a way of externalizing those aspects of self that we find problematic or challenging. I have previously considered some of the parallels between the Circle and the therapy room as environments in which we can explore ideas or qualities in more personified form,  and I continue to believe that this recognition and naming of parts is critical to our initiatory work. While I think that sacred space provides a helpful lab-like environment for such exploration to take place, I believe that our banishing and attempts at separation can only ever be partial. Yes banishing can be vital to prevent us becoming swamped and destabilized. but we must also recognize the ongoing web of connection that enables a slower, less conscious process of alchemical change.

Whatever perception we have of our magic enabling probability enhancement, we are still contending with a mysterious realm in which our intentions must interact with the complex dimensions of causality. For me, part of the genius of the sigil-based approach of Austin Osman Spare is that he recognises the importance of surrendering our longings to the ocean of the Unconscious. As much as our needs and longings need to be valued, we also need to acknowledge that the exertion of magical will through gritted teeth will only get us so far.

As we enter sacred space via our intentions, our magic often asks us to attend to a profound paradox that often lies at the heart of the Great Work that we undertake. Often we bring to our endeavours a desire to activate profound change to either aspects of ourselves or, the circumstances that surround us. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough for magic to happen through us, we can begin to understand our own motivations more fully and perhaps experience a greater acceptance of who we actually are. When we embrace the maxim “to dare” and turn to truly face our deepest drives, so we can begin to understand the next challenges in our initiatory journey. This can be difficult work, but for me it goes some way in unpacking what it means to engage with the challenge found at the temple of Apollo at Delphi:  “Know Thyself!”

Steve Dee

 

Mystery at the Roots

In my last post I spent some time thinking about the concept of World Trees as cosmological maps. These maps are vital to the evolution of our theologies and also the mechanisms via which we see personal transformation happening. Whether we view such change as “magick”, initiation or psychological change, the maps provided by these mythic trees often highlight those key components that allow the shifts to be both balanced and sustainable.

Living in North Devon (in South West England, close to both moorland and rugged Atlantic coastlines), it’s hard to escape the impact that the winds of winter have on trees. With many stripped of leaves and being forced to bend in the face of sharp winds, they rely on flexible trunks and deep roots in order to survive. This combination of being flexible while retaining depth seems to hold wisdom for those of us feeling buffeted by gusts that we feel we have little control over.

To find our roots means to journey into the dark and the soil from which we sprang. When I seek to help families and individuals understand their current behaviours in therapy, it is inevitable that we have to adopt some archaeological moves in uncovering past role models, patterns and stories. When we dig down into these places that often feel lost and poorly understood, so the shape and speed of our growth can be understood more fully.

These roots are often unseen (or unconscious) and their depth and critical role is easy to underestimate. Anyone who has ever tried to uproot or move a tree will know of what I speak! Approaches that focus on present tense problem-solving and changing day-to-day cognition are of great value, but even these have to attend to those deeper roots in order to address more longstanding issues.

This journey of descending, searching and then ascending is hardly new and the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries bear witness to the human need to contend with the dark, the animal and the chthonic in order to provide a more mature blossoming of any initiatory work. This motif of descent became crucial to Jung’s depth psychology, the grand mythic arcs of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” and in turn the scripts of the first Star Wars trilogy. In order for our transformational work to be both rich and sustainable, we need to be drawing on nutrients that only darkness and decomposition can produce. The alchemical stage of nigredo and Jung’s concept of the shadow provide us with insights into this realm; as much as we might aspire to transcendence and states of eternal permanence, we must ground our endeavours in the reality of death, the body and our struggle with uncertainty.

dark1

Confronting the darkness

In the face of such stark challenges it can be easy to seek false refuge in either metaphysical projections or our technology-driven attempts to control and escape from discomfort. Both of these approaches are fully understandable, but often prove to be fragile and disappointing in the face of life’s brutality. In having previously considered the example of Odin on the World Tree Yggdrasil, we can see the something of the cost involved in seeking those mysteries (Runes) that seek to capture the wholeness of human experience. Whether we see his gaining of gnosis as being of triumph (“I took up the Runes roaring”) or terrifying revelation (“I took them up screaming”) it is clear that these insights came via ordeal and struggle and that such travail was lengthy.

With the degree of hyper-acceleration that seems so endemic within Western culture, it can be hard to hear that something is going to take both time and significant effort. I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone in wanting things faster and wanting them now, but when we journey to the roots we can begin to appreciate a slower approach. For me it feels that this more gradual, organic form of emergence takes us beyond the realms of spiritual consumerism and seems to allow what James Hillman describes as the “soul making”.

My own attempts to slow things down and locate deeper roots have recently been via a reconnection to the path of Druidry. When I started exploring the path of magic over twenty years ago it was to Druidry that I was initially drawn. Perhaps because of the apparent gentleness of its style, and the way in which it allowed the Christian and Pagan to converse with each other, it provided me with a less jarring route into occult practice. Alongside my more daring adventures in Chaos magic and Tantra, I have had this slow burn affection for a path that seeks to hold together creativity, magic and wisdom (bard, ovate and druid).

Of the little we know about the druids from early sources (interested readers may like to check out the excellent The Druids by Ronald Hutton), it seems likely that it took at least twenty years to complete one’s training. For me this is good news as I’m just about on schedule! If all this was about was some obsessive attempt at Celtic reconstructionism I’m sure it would have taken far less time, but my hunch is that my deeper relationship with the druid tradition has been about the discovery of what my own expression of Wisdom and Soul should look like in the world around me. The roots of this work are deep because they are as much about my creativity, my social work and my relationships as they are about some well-choreographed wand waggling.

SD

The Typology of Magic

I was at a museum private view recently when a colleague from a partner organisation told me that she’s been looking me up on-line. ‘I didn’t realise you were a chaos magician,’ she remarked, and then ‘is it quite dark?’

I’m pretty lucky in that I’m out (as a Pagan and occultist) at work and am employed within a sector in which religious or philopshical beliefs (that don’t conflict with our policies about equality of opportunity, anti-racism, an LGBT-postive agenda and so on) shouldn’t be a problem. In fact in an area such as Northern Devon (where over 95% of the population identify as ‘white British’ of which the vast majority describe themselves as ‘Christian’) my own beliefs perhaps add somewhat to creating a more diverse culture.

In my brief explaination of chaos magic (CM) to my colleague I touched on ideas such as fractals and chaos mathematics (self similarity at different scales and the analogous observation that different spiritual traditions exhibit similar techniques of praxis even where their exoteric credo may appear very different). I mentioned the idea of Khaos in the ancient Greek sense of the term; the unknowable void from which arise the many formed manifestations of the universe.

Santa Maria Chaos

Santa Maria Chaos

CM can also be described in terms of its historical development, a particular approach of style of spiritual endeavour. One that developed from a confluence of late 20th century ideas; ceremonal magic, neo-paganism, Discordianism and more. As a style it was influenced by the punk, do-it-yourself approach; an intensely personal quest to discover magic for ourselves rather than having it filtered through the theology of Thelema or Wicca or whatever.

The use of the term ‘chaos’ does (in its modern sense) suggest, as my colleague had surmised, a certain darkness. But what in practice does this mean? One way of understanding this might be to consider CM as having a particular flavour, a style in the sense that there are styles of clothing, of music or martial arts.

As humans there are different trends that appeal more or less to each of us at certain points in our lives. As a younger man I experimented with dressing in punk, chapish, goth and other styles of clothing (and these days I’ve added museum professional, Freemason and crossdresser to the list). So while chaos magicians (in terms of their practice) might draw on different paradigms or expressions of spirituality (or other methods of esoteric investigation) there is, never the less, a certain style or flavour to something we designate as ‘chaos’ magic.

Of course humans being humans it’s pretty common to find some people (mostly those who are rather new to occultism in my experience) asserting the primacy of their own preferred style ‘CM is just superficial punkery’ or ‘Wicca is just fluffy faggotry’ or ‘Thelema is only for Crowley fan-boys’ etc etc. Yet more experienced practitioners tend to realise that while there are differences in forms of occultism these are outweighed by their similarities. Even apparently über-radical-traditionalist styles of magic (such as the rites described by groups such as the Order of Nine Angles or various forms of Traditional Witchcraft), when one drills down into the guts of the practice, one finds methods for changing consciousness, magic circles, spooky barbarous words and songs etc etc. As they say in the Orient: Same same but different.

Another way of thinking about the relationship between esoteric styles is that of music. Music comes in different genres. It typically consists of sounds (and the absence of sounds) placed into relationships and while it may be challenging to specify exactly what music is we can all recognise the various forms in which it appears (ie what it does).

All those are just labels we know that music is music

All those are just labels we know that music is music

As a former graphic designer one of my favourite ways to consider the relationship of different magicultures is as styles of lettering. A chosen font tells us something about the aspirations and sense of self of any given tradition. It also tells us how that tradition (especially in these days of self-publishing) would like to present iteself to the world. Thus the word ‘chaos’ in the example below is a bit alien/futurist/goth – this is a youthful font, wild and certainly ‘dark’. Then we have ‘Druid’; folkish and friendly. ‘Shaman’ is strong, ‘ethnic’, perhaps carved, delighing in the simplicity of only upper case. ‘Thelema’ is classic, authoritative; perfect for a religion with a sacred book and reams of texts catalogued into classes A, B, C etc. ‘Witch’ suggests a wildness (the letters don’t sit evenly on the line), perhaps a slightly retro feel with those serifs, and a human-scale sense that this writing may have been produced by hand.

Many faced magic

Many faced magic

Taking this method of analysis a little deeper we can focus our attention on just one sector of occulture and see how fonts reflect the various flavours which that style contains.

Mysterious writes

Mysterious writes

The first font (and yes it is actually called ‘Wiccan’) again suggests something very much at the human-scale, hand Crafted and simple (and the moon like ‘C’s may subtly allude to the the nocturnal aspect of witchcraft). The next reversed out text is more authoritative but maintains an olde worlde feel (the ‘W’ and ligature of the ‘f’ and ‘t’ put one in mind of early modern type). The more elaborate grey text on black goes for that spooky vibe. Based on an imagined late medieval Gothic illuminated lettering, this text has an additional sprinkling of fairy-dust scroll work. The lines ‘The quick brown fox’ is the kind of font one finds in the seminal book Witches by Erica Jong (illustrated by Joseph A. Smith) and similar texts. Again human-scale, romantic and with a suggestion of days of yore. Meanwhile the red lettering reprises the above observations, providing a font that is old skool, hand-written and gothy. By taking examples of fonts like this we can discern the things that appeal to people who like witchcraft.

Take a browse round the library, the bookshop or on-line and one can easily see how the fonts we choose reflect our identity and the spells we hope to cast (through writing) on the world.

So when people ask me ‘what is chaos magic?’, especially if they know something about occulture, the letter style analogy is one I often use. What we are all doing, in our different ways is ‘magic’, the wrapper we choose for our practice, like the selection of typefaces, is about the style we find most evocative and inspirational (at any given time) as we make our journey into the Mystery.

JV

Finding your Way in the Woods – an audience with Greg Humphries

Greg Humphries is one of my closest friends. I met him over 15 years ago  in the Watershed Arts Centre in Bristol. Our meeting was set-up by the wonderful and wise Ronald Hutton who said we simply had to get to know each other. I remember carrying a copy of Crowley’s Magick (the Routledge & Kegan Paul edition, affectionately known as ‘The Big Pink Stiff One’ back in the day) to identify myself. We got on like a temple on fire, soon agreeing that an acid test of a good magician was their ability to interact successfully with spirits. And since the most frequently encountered spirits are other humans the measure of a mage is often nothing to do with their ‘occult powers’ or dark-n-spooky look, but rather their social intelligence, thoughtfulness, and standing in their community. We started doing magick together very soon after that meeting (with a big set of rituals on the run up to the major solar eclipse of 1999, but that, as they say, is another story). We’ve continued to do magick together ever since.

Many years later we wrote Now That’s What I Call Chaos Magick, Volumes I & II. I wrote volume I and Greg the second part of the book (although it was many years before someone pointed out to me that nowhere in the book do we say who wrote which bits). This book detailed our differing but complimentary approaches to the process know as Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

Greg in his natural environment

Greg in his natural environment

At the time Greg was already a practising artist (an early digital artwork of his is on the cover of Now…). I’m lucky enough to own several of his paintings. Artworks where the paint is often mixed with pigments and materials from the landscape they are inspired by. But then Greg’s art underwent a transformation. Away from visual art, and into what for him is a deeper practice. These days he makes artists’ charcoal, coppices trees, fashions powerful bows with hand-made arrows fletched in the traditional manner. He carves, builds, makes fire with a bow drill and works with the land. More than this, as an artist, as a magician, he passes these skills on to others. You can find out more about his work and the courses he offers at www.futuretracks.co.uk and via his page on facebook.

This interview was conducted as we sat by the wood burner in my cottage (if you listen carefully you might be able to hear my Guinea pigs rumblestrutting in the background). The music used at the beginning and end of the interview is by Munacuyki Sumaqta.

Enjoy!

JV