A Harvest of Magics

We hear the geese now. They fly in great chevron shaped groups, along the valley I live in, following the river. They are the heralds of the autumn as high summer tips over into the fall. Leaves litter the paths, releasing the rich, complex scent of organic decay. Children in the neighborhood gather blackberries, coming away this year with an abundant harvest. They carry plastic bags and containers, their lips stained with purple juice, eager beneficiaries of food foraged from the liminal spaces of the land.

In the northern hemisphere we sit poised to spiral inwards, into the darker half of the year. A few weeks will bring us to the September Equinox. One of the fascinating features of the equinoxes is that on these two days a year pretty much everyone on our planet experience the same thing; twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of night. While we can link the equinoxes to the flow of the agricultural year – in Britain it’s around this time that lots of Harvest Festivals happen – this celestial aspect of a global coherence is one of the things that fascinates me about this time.

Of course we’re also living through another shared global event, the COVID-19 pandemic. However while the broad experience of this time may be similar, there are many devils in the perceptual details. The coronavirus outbreak is rather like a Rorschach inkblot. Some folk see in it all the hallmarks of governmental repression, state control and nefarious conspiracy. Some perceive it as a wake up call indicative of our species’ poor relationship with the ecology of this planet. Some see it as an opportunity, some as a threat. We perceive the pandemic in multiple ways, like gazing at an abstract image in which we discern what we want – or have been told – to see.

Say what you see

Erik Davis makes a savvy comment in this respect when he talks about the psychedelic aspect of the pandemic. One of the definitions of a psychedelic is a non-specific amplifier of experience and in some respects the pandemic does just this. Many people perceive it, and the handling of it by various governments, as a vindication of their position. It turns up the volume on their beliefs, providing clear confirmation that what they always thought was going on actually is. Certainly for many the pandemic has amplified their situation – the isolated have become more solitary, the unwell have become more ill, the radical have been further radicalized, the community minded have become more engaged with people around them.

The turning of the year sets us on course for northern hemisphere mushroom season and mushrooms – mostly of the psilocybin variety – have been very much on my mind recently. As far as the pandemic goes psilocybin offers a valuable tool to help us come through this time in a good way. Psilocybin is well established as a way of helping people heal a range of psychological ailments. To promote the positive use of this medicine I’m looking forward to being part of the forthcoming Psilocybin Summit, which this year features the fabulous Paul Stamets.

I’ve also been working with the wonderful people of the Fungi Academy to build a course on psychedelic journeywork and have been really inspired by a recent event celebrating the life and work of Kilindi Iyi. For those who may not know him Kilindi was, among other things, a regular speaker at Breaking Convention and an advocate for the use of sacred mushrooms. The online gathering held in his honour was an excellent opportunity for people inspired by Kilindi to share stories of the man as well as insights from their own engagement with psilocybin. Check out this wide-ranging session which is available on the Breaking Convention Youtube channel.

The colour of magic which I relate to the September Equinox is Blue Magic (see Liber Kaos and Chaos Craft). This is the magic of ‘wealth’ which of course can be understood in numerous ways. Wealth can be imagined as the rich harvest as seen in the swelling fruits of blackberries and mushrooms. The colour blue is associated with the sephira of Chesed in the Hermetic Qabalah. This sphere, the first below the supernal triad and the Abyss, has a correspondence with Jupiter, King of the Gods like the (blue) sky deity Zeus. There is also that link to lightning and thunder which, as any fule kno, makes mushrooms grow.

One of the key processes for Blue Magic is the use of gratitude, the conscious recognition and expression of the things that are abundant and good in our lives, noticing and celebrating our wealth. My gratitude overflowed recently when my friend William Leonard Pickard was released from jail after serving 20 years for crimes related to the manufacture of LSD. I’m pleased to report that I’ve spoken with Leonard by phone; a call in which he recounted a few tales of his release. Profoundly moving stories such as his encounter with a roadside flower – having not seen any growing plants for two decades. He sounds 20 years younger and describes himself as feeling reborn. Leonard’s release is great news but there is much more work still to do in order to end the barbaric War on Drugs and liberate all those in jail (or facing death) for drug crimes. I’ll be taking some time this autumn to update the Scales of Justice website with details of other pressure points for anti-prohibition activists.

Blue magic also invites us to find our stability; just as wealth, in several senses of the word, confers stability and strength. This work is particularly important as we head towards a time when big cultural changes are afoot. This stability includes ideas of justice and discrimination. I’m reminded here of the wisdom of Solomon, or the ruler of the North Sea Empire King Cnut. Cnut is often misunderstood as a haughty monarch who tried to order the tide to stop coming in, but the truth and lesson of his tale is quite different from this misrepresentation. Cnut’s example is brilliant in that it points to the fact that, in order to have power, we must have a realistic understanding of our limits. Solomon is an excellent figure to meditate on at this time. I once did a series of magical rituals calling on this renowned king that led to a miscreant in a court case falling right into a judgment of Solomon situation. Frothing madly at the mouth, they demonstrated to the court they were more concerned with being proven right about their crazed conspiracy theory than the wellbeing of a person they claimed to care for. The judge was not impressed.

To find stability we need to be sure of things, our circumstances, our friends and ‘the facts’. But is such stability of knowledge even possible within a chaos magical approach? Commentators sometimes question this by pointing to the  ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted’ phrase. How can you have stable facts when ‘nothing is true’? But stability can be dynamic as well as static, think of the way that gyroscopic equilibrium works, or indeed the way you stand up. Lots of tiny ongoing adjustments give the illusion of stillness whereas, looked at in more detail, there is plenty of change going on. Of course the claim ‘nothing is true’ claims to be a ‘truth’ and so it’s quickly apparent, to thoughtful people, that this statement is closer to a koan than a post-modern guide to living. Aside from the phrase’s specific meaning in terms of Islamic culture (see Chris Bennett’s excellent Liber 420 for more on this) it points to the process of meaning making. The phrase indicates the importance of not forming fixed, absolute ideas but rather adopting attitudes like those proposed by Robert Anton Wilson, where we remain open to the possibility of new evidence. 

Meanwhile, while it’s true that the map isn’t the territory it’s also true to say it is a map. If we have the right map we can use it to help our journey, even if it is not literally true (like the lines on the London tube map). 

A useful simplification
Another way of seeing things

Stability comes, like in walking, for an ongoing engagement with many senses and multiple feedback loops. It comes down to sifting out what may be irrelevant data in order to make meaningful choices. As a practical example; when it comes to making decisions in the face of a global pandemic it’s wise to seek our information from multiple sources; to sift these and make decisions that we recognize as provisional, while remaining open to changing our minds as a result of new information. This is the way judgment works best – as an ongoing process of discernment as experience unfolds, rather than remaining devoted to a fixed set of a priori assumptions. It’s also vital to consider what might be the intentions behind the stories we are told? Like a wise judge, like Solomon, we need to look at the evidence presented to us, noticing not simply the overt story, but the subtexts too. Cultivating that skill in discernment helps us, at harvest time, to sort the wheat from the chaff, making judgements and taking actions that are well informed, considered and wise.

Julian Vayne


Online workshops and services

I’m providing online workshops through the wonderful Treadwell’s Books. These tend to sell out pretty quick so please book your place early. Next courses that are still open for registration are The Magical Qabalah, Advanced Elemental Magic for Beginners and Cleansing, Banishing and Centering. I’m also available for individual consultations, tarot readings, psychedelic support and mentoring. Over the next few months I’m going to be releasing more courses on my teaching site. Please sign up to my mailing list if you want advanced information about these releases and the chance to join the courses at a reduced rate.

The wonderful Dave Lee is also teaching Rune Magic via Treadwell’s. Dave is one of the heroes of practice when it comes to chaos magic. You can find out more in this interview and can connect with his work by signing up to his Chaotopia newsletter which is an excellent far ranging read.

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.

JV