A harvest of magics – tools, text and talks to feed your head

I’ll start this Lammas-tide gathering of top mind-manifesting resources with the books. First up is Ayahuasca Shamanism: In the Amazon and Beyond a cutting-edge collection of ethnographic academic papers edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate & Clancy Cavnar. This is a wonderful book that describes and analyses the ayahuasca culture in South America and internationally. Many of the essays focus on the interface between western ayahuasca or shamanic tourists and native users.

Detail of cover artwork by Clancy Cavnar

Snake Shaman

Here we see a subtle series of explorations; nothing as simple as native=good and western=bad, but a far more nuanced and well evidenced collection of observations about the meeting of these worlds, and the creation of a shared culture. What’s particularly cool about this book is that it overturns the simplistic view that all Amazonian tribes have used ayahuasca for n-thousand years for y-spiritual purposes. In fact for many of the tribal Amazon cultures ayahuasca has just arrived, being spread through social changes such as the rubber tapping boom of 1879 to 1912, and even as an unintended consequence of missionary activity. In some cases knowledge and use of ayahuasca has come to indigenous forest people via the cities, through the emerging religions of the Santo Daime Church, the União do Vegetal and others. It’s also the case that while some cultures use ayahuasca for ‘shamanic’ healing, there are also documented examples of societies that use it to get everyone fired up before going hunting, to war, and other cultures that pretty much think of it as a nice recreational buzz.

Even in context of what we may think is an agreed idea of shamanism (between indigenous and visiting cultures) there can be some amazing misunderstandings which, paradoxically, can lead to a newly emerging shared culture. A simple difference is that in an indigenous context a shaman will often try to sell their skills in removing curses, banishing bad spirits and providing magical protection. However western ayahuasca pilgrims (or tourists if you prefer) don’t want that freaky stuff, they want to meet spirit guides, to address a sense of ennui and perceived lack of wholeness; to explore who they are and what their lives mean. These very different perceptions of what ayahuasca shamanism can achieve get blended into a curious mash-up of intentions and cultural meanings that leaves both sides thinking they are understood by the other.

The next offering is Neurotransmissions: Essays on Psychedelics from Breaking Convention. This is a collection of texts derived from talks presented at the 2013 Breaking Convention conference. There’s a wonderful range of writing from the cutting edge of this field. My personal favourite is the long exploration of the ‘reality’ (whatever that means) of DMT entities, as well as a potted history of this fascinating material, provided by David Luke and Andrew R.Gallimore There’s a great download about MDMA therapy by Michael Mithoefer and one by yours truly; Stoned Temple Pilots – Set, Setting and Substance in Contemporary Entheogenic Spirituality, and much more.

In addition to this printed record of lectures past you can also now begin to catch up on any of the amazing presentations from Breaking Convention 2015 that you may have missed. These are starting to be posted here. First uploads include a Q&A with Russell Brand and Daniel Pinchbeck. I strongly recommend the talk by Rick Doblin of MAPS (to be added soon) where Rick provides a well considered strategic vision of how his organisation is working towards the end of prohibition and to create spaces where psychedelics can be used, not only for therapy, but more broadly.

Russell chin wagging with a deligate at BC15

Russell chin-wagging with a deligate at BC15

This road-map to a brighter, psychedelic-positive future aims, eventually, towards establishing locations where people can go to experience a psychedelic initiation and, once they have completed this and demonstrated that they are trustworthy, be licensed to own and use psychedelic drugs. Such a model is very similar to that proposed by Timothy Leary in The Politics of Ecstasy all the way back in 1971. Thing is, this isn’t just a DMT-pipe dream. MAPS, along with other organisations, have the money, the nous, the allies and the vision, to make this possible. As Rick Doblin said in his talk; if you’re in the audience thinking that you’d love to work legally with psychedelics then today you actually have a very good chance of this happening.

Another forthcoming filmic release of a lecture is one by chaos mage Dave Lee, held in July at Treadwells in London. In this talk he provides a history of The Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros. Dave writes:

“People interested in watching a video of my recent talk at Treadwells on the History of the IOT shoud email me at info@chaotopia.co.uk

If you’d also like to join in a discussion about the talk and IOT history, you can join me at 6pm (BST) on August 16th 2015, to watch the video then talk on Google Hangouts. (This will require your having a gmail address.)”

(I’m also doing a workshop at Treadwells on Saturday 26th September btw, details from Treadwells – JV.)

In addition Dave has kindly provided a photo of his altar, and a little description to share, following our articles about altars (here and here). Mr Lee tells us:

“This is very much a Chaos Magic altar – Baphomet has pride of place. To the left, you see Bast – we did some recent work around cats. The blue disc with a pencil through it is a Wheel of Wealth – anyone who is curious about that working, which is ongoing, is welcome to ask me via Facebook.

The big entity at the front is very special. Its name is Izawa, and it is an egregore entity, made by a group, to protect, sustain and nurture the psychedelic gnosis. As things are at present, it has its work cut out for it, but there are some hopeful signs in the offing. “

Psychedelic installation

Psychedelic installation

Our spirit of the psychedelic gnosis, Izawa, would certainly approve of our next item, the Ploom PAX Vaporizer.

I’d done extensive research on-line with a view to finding a suitable hand-held vaporiser for smoking mugwort, tobacco and, where it’s safe and legal to do so of course, cannabis. After only few days use I’m quite sold on this little baby. The unit itself charges from the mains (my only gripe being that a US to UK plug wasn’t supplied). Plug the device into the docking station and the X shaped light glows red as it absorbs power. Once ready to go herbal material may be loaded into the chamber (which uses a cunning magnetic closure). Set the temperature, wait for the illuminated X to change from purple to green, and then suck.

Green for go!

Green for go!

What happens next is, apparently, nothing; hardly any smoke (except on the highest of temperature settings and with the chamber quite full), it’s just like breathing in a straight forward lung-full of air. No coughing, no carbon monoxide, no particulates. But does it work? Certainly! Moreover the lack of the usual body load associated with using joints or pipes means that high provided by cannabis is much ‘lighter’, in some respects more intense but with less of a ‘drunk’ or ‘dopey’ feeling. One can taste the herb but there is very little smell as the material is vaporised. The battery life from one charge is pretty good and the build quality excellent. Add to this the fact that the machine is guaranteed for 10 years and you’ve got a real winner. There’s a nice show and tell video about this product here and purchases can be made from here. Highly recommended 😉 (British voters who may like to use this product with cannabis may wish to sign this rapidly growing petition to end cannabis prohibtion here.)

The final sheaf of goodness for this Lammas is totally free. This is the second offering in the Secular Sermons project by Leipzig based scientist Daniel Böttger.

In the First Sermon Daniel created a long poem that skilfully uses cosmology as a stimulus for the numinous imagination; crafting a text that has a religious sensibility but is explicitly grounded in the scientific reality that many of us inhabit. In this Second Sermon: The Games of Entropy Daniel takes us on another rhyming journey through the intimate space of the biological cell and that intricate complexity of chemical reactions that we call life. The poem elegantly presents what we know about these processes in well-phrased rhythmic text, and calls upon us meet these facts with an attitude of wonderment.

Good news from science

Good news from science

The Secular Sermons project is following a seven-fold model meaning we’ve still got another five amazing texts still to come, so as Böttger explains, this work is unlikely to be completed for several years.

There is a nicely typeset pdf of the first two poems at the website and the work is copyright free. Divested of any explicit religious iconography, this is a perfect holy book for those agnostic or atheists out there who appreciate the human capacity for awe, reverence and spirituality, but want to move beyond the superstitious aspects of conventional religion. Science be praised!


Breaking News: Breaking Convention 2015

BC15 banner brown

Breaking Convention (BC) is a biennial international multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness. (Not to be confused with “Breakin’ Convention”, which is an international festival of hip hop dance theatre at Sadler’s Wells…)

Dealing with “psychedelic consciousness”, this conference has much of interest for any psychonauts of a chaos magickal persuasion; i.e., those who use altered states as one way of exploring trance/magickal awareness, or as a tool for improving the efficacy of reaching gnosis. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of certain plants and other substances to affect awareness.

Nigh on four years ago, I attended the first BC, held at the University of Kent in Canterbury, as I thought I might meet some interesting people and hear some cool talks. I knew only three of the hundreds of people who would be there, and arranged to go with a friend of mine so I wouldn’t feel too alone (and, to share the B&B costs…). Cut to three days later; I had not stopped talking with a vast range of people for the entire time I was there, and I had met some now very dear friends. To take a rest between all the socialising I occasionally escaped into the lecture theatres, and had my mind entertained/ affronted/ expanded by such a range of topics that only an hour spent pouring over the conference program with a magnifying glass could possibly give you a hint of the incredible diversity of subjects and approaches.

I had been unsure of what the atmosphere of a scholarly conference on psychedelic research would be like, but any concerns were set to rest immediately upon entering the main lecture theatre for the inaugural address, to find every person greeted with a smile and a large colourful flower; the hundreds of smiling faces and the fun of deciding what to do with these monsters instantly put us all at our ease (I put mine in my hair). During the conference we heard from activists, artists, practitioners, scientific researchers, archaeologists, magicians, freaks, writers, shamanic types, festival goers, historians, musicians, philosophers… of course many of these categories were far from mutually exclusive.

Flower power changing minds

Flower power, changing minds since the year dot

BC had me in its grip, and I wanted more; at the second one, at Greenwich University in London in 2013, I had the cheek to present a talk myself (“Psychedelics as a Tool for Directing Cognition to Enhance Embodied Awareness of the Kinship of All Life”). The atmosphere was once again buzzing with intellect, amazing tales, meetings with long lost friends I had not realised I knew, sunshine, beautiful words, some, er, Art, and several forays out into the high streets of next-door Greenwich for quality food and coffee. The excitement peaked on the Sunday evening with a last-minute, several hour long performance in the entertainment space by Hawkwind members (Nik Turner’s All Stars, that is), which blew me away. And I’m not even a Hawkwind fan…

The third BC takes place at Greenwich again, in the glorious surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College, in July 2015.

The conference proceedings which are published after each BC, are a veritable cornucopia of important writings about psychedelics, and the potential uses they have in many arenas of human existence. From curative medicines (as we in the westernish cultures would stereotypically imagine a medicine) to tools for appreciating links when analysing vast datasets (as more than one scientist/academic/professional could tell you), via a wide ranging landscape of clinical tests, stories from the jungle, personal accounts of moving events, chemical intricacies of our marvellous organisms, cultural and social uses we have and are discovering anew, all feature.

And whilst all present may not have agreed on many things, they all held high regard and mutual respect for this multi-faceted tangled web of an Indra’s net within which we found ourselves, marvelling at the thousands of universes we share.

I have learned at BC11 and BC13 of psilocybin research, both the subjective and objective accounts of what happens when you put volunteers in an fMRI machine.  I listened enthralled to tales of how psychedelic insights had advanced the contributions of intrepid psychonauts in both their theoretical and practical fields of study, over many decades. I was told of how gut fauna influence our moods, by chemically influencing our neurochemistry. I tried hard to understand some talks which veered off into a vague meandering through what I could not quite count as science, and I got some value out of the effort that took me. I loved one Sunday morning, hours spent hearing of Ayahuasca from so many angles, from an art therapist,  a shaman, enthusiasts, patients. I conversed with dozens of fellow attendees, sprawled outside on the lawns, queued on the stairs to get in, squashed together in the sauna like auditoriums (there was a heatwave, the buildings are all listed so have no AC; plans to ensure more open windows are afoot this time round, if we are blessed with similar weather!).

I perused the stalls of artworks, and books, and helpful leaflets. All in all the scholarly presentations are the core of this event, but without the fleshing out of them with the surrounding culture of a, well actually very much NOT a festival, definitely not; maybe, what one would wish for in an idealised version of a festival, where all are thoughtful, active, kind, and a sense of community grows each time, as we recognise faces and memes from years past.

It has to be said that to my mind the most valuable parts of these presentations often concerned the sensible attention paid to the set and setting of therapeutic usage of psychedelics, whether in a laboratory or shamanic context; unsurprisingly the bare medicine has very different effects compared to the medicine with added inputs, and all the speakers seemed clear about the importance for successful healing to occur of creating narrative around the central experience, as well as the innate physiological efficacy of some substances. Taking mushrooms alone, will not necessarily stop your PTSD overnight… Attending a conference like this does of course showcase the success stories (a much needed balance to the incessant negativity of last century’s media coverage), but it should be considered that like any other drugs, psychedelic substances are neither good not bad in and of themselves; rather it is how we use them, and other factors, which contribute to the outcome of any trip. Even the ubiquitous alcohol can damage lives if misused by susceptible individuals. So, the more we can research, and share our research across disciplinary boundaries, the better for all.

Several panels/ symposia on different topics are scheduled, watch the BC website for more details of these as the date approaches. BC has always sold out in advance, so if you think you need to go, buy your tickets as soon as you can. Tickets are not yet available… keep your eyes open for more breaking news!

I love BC, as you can tell, so I feel it only fair now to say that others may have found its somewhat ad hoc approach towards self-organising structures as the best model a tad unprofessional. It was at times hard to find rooms, the programme was difficult to make sense of, and the talks were not all scintillating (including mine!). To focus on these minor imperfections however would be to miss the point of the event, in all its lively joy at meeting with others who do the same work all over the world.

For chaos magicians, who are by and large people who have a great interest in the theories and practices of how and what consciousness/awareness does in creating our worlds, research into psychedelic consciousness surely forms a pool of knowledge we would be dumb to ignore. Investigating the perturbations of neurochemistry provides one window into the mechanisms of thought, identity, mood regulation, and so much more. Going to BC provides a rich mine of information at the very least, and for many, a greatly enjoyable journey.

BC15 confirmed speakers include:

David Nutt
David Nichols
Robin Carhart-Harris
Rick Doblin
Amanda Feilding
Roland Griffiths
Daniel Pinchbeck
James Fadiman (Skype)
Stan Grof (Skype)

[Source: personal communication with BC committee.]

There will be in excess of 130 speakers over the three days of the conference. While some speakers are invited, a second tier of presenters are invited to submit their abstract asap, deadline 28th March.

“Abstracts must be pertinent to the overall theme of the conference: the mechanisms, uses and implications of altered states of consciousness, particularly those occasioned by psychedelic compounds and practices.”

Breaking Convention has achieved registered charity status, as of earlier this year. Congratulations to all those behind the scenes, who continue to work so hard between the biennial eruptions of the visible fruiting body!

As a charity, to keep costs low and increase the strong sense of camaraderie, the conference requires a few dozen highly motivated volunteers to help organise and inform the delegates. If you are interested in being part of this dynamic crew please apply online now.

To apply for either of these opportunities, see the relevant section on this webpage:


You will also find there forms for those wishing to submit: visual art, music, film, workshops, performance or installation art. The cultural aspects of psychedelic consciousness both inform and complement the more purely research aspects.

In a time when near daily media reports emerge of favourable ways to apply psychedelic consciousness, and the issue of drug legislation commands considerable attention, BC15 looks set to include some lively discussions, and ground breaking presentations by the world’s top researchers, practitioners, and thinkers. Be there, or…


(NB Talks should all/mostly be filmed, and will be put online subsequent to the event.)