At the Heretic’s Altar

Having just passed the 12 month anniversary of The Heretic’s Journey being published, I thought I would share part of the Foreward with you all as a blog post. Also, one of the many magical exercises that are peppered throughout the book – enjoy!   Steve Dee

This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy! The territory I invite you to explore is that of the spiritual free thinker who is no longer satisfied with the easy answer. The literal definition of Heretic is “to choose” i.e.  to make a conscious and active choice rather than merely accepting an opinion due to it being espoused by the mainstream or by those in authority. To walk such a path is far from risk-free, but in my view the rewards of such self-sovereignty are powerful and profound. It is my hope that this work (The Heretic’s Journey) will act as a catalyst for your own exploration of your heretic self, and in that exploration you will experience the unfolding of who you truly are.

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Spiritual Freethinking during Pride month

Such an unfolding can take time. The magical axiom “To Dare, To know, To Will and To Keep Silent” for me points to a circular process of refinement where the daring Mage receives new insight, which when proven through practice is internalized (kept silent) so that this incubation then gives birth to further development/mutation.

This internal alchemy can birth things within us that at first seem monstrous. As our freethinking allows us to conceptualize and articulate ideas beyond the realms of orthodoxy, so we will be viewed as Monsters. Witches, Werewolves, Vampires and an assortment of other freak-labels were at times applied to those who questioned the limits of what we thought we knew. 

While the mundane world may conspire to keep us small and within a form that makes its control of us more possible, as explorers of awakening we have a more formidable task ahead of us. Our own initial response may be to flinch when we see the possibility of who our deepest self might become; these glimpses at the edges of sight may demand too much of us; too much sacrifice, too great a transformation. Dear traveller, be of stout heart! The inner genius of your daemon doesn’t require that we reach the goal before the journey has begun; rather it asks of us the bravery to stop and truly look at the possibility of who we might be…”

 

Exercise 1: Sculpting the Heretic’s Altar

One of the techniques that I employ during my day-job (as a Systemic/Family psychotherapist) is that of the Sculpt. Sculpting is a tool for making an external picture, or ‘sculpt’, of an internal process such as feelings, experiences, or perceptions.  It can use both items and bodily postures as ways of experimenting with the relationships between things and how their proximity or orientation might express the dynamics of communication and power.

In this activity I am proposing that we create an altar as a means for exploring the interplay between different aspects of our heretical selves. So often religious or spiritual altars express something of our aspirations and longings, and it is interesting to note the changes we make to them (or the time we spend in front of them) depending on which guiding principles or realities we wish to experience more of.

The first part of our task is to collect a series of objects, pictures and texts that embody those heretical, rebellious and inspirational figures and ideas that mark us as outsiders and inspire our processes of free thought. At this point it is important that we don’t over-think this process. 

We may draw our inspiration from a broad spectrum or it may reflect the narrowness of our current obsessions. In my case I had everything from an icon of St Francis, a Gurdjieff book, a leather-clad Catwoman figurine and a Henry Rollins CD. I made little attempt to rationalise why I needed this collection of heretic heroes together, I was simply aware that they embodied important markers in my own journey of personal liberation.

As a person with strong devotional tendencies, I then spent some time offering incense to the assembled representation of free-thinking and undertook my normal meditative practice. This felt less like an act of worship and more a process of acknowledging and aligning myself with these embodiments of freedom.

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Heretical Heroes

If you choose to undertake this task, I would recommend an initial period of simply sitting with the choices that you have made. Maybe note their presence and position within a journal or magical diary so that any future changes can be noticed.

Working with sculpts can be accomplished in many ways, and it may be interesting to note how this altar-sculpt evolves over time. You may want to shift the objects to change their proximity to each other (interestingly, Cat Woman currently seems to be whipping St Francis; but it looks consensual) or we may want to introduce new elements to either maximize a component or to provide a sensed need for counter-balance (in my case a black feather representing Ma’at).

However you choose to work with this exercise, as with most sculpts, the aim is to externalise those key aspects of who we are so that in seeing them “out there”, we can gain a greater sense of clarity having brought them more fully into the conscious parts of self. The purpose of beginning such work is usually far more beneficial if we view it as an unfolding process of questioning and exploration for ourselves rather than attempting to rush towards answers prematurely.

More about The Heretic’s Journey can be found here: https://theblogofbaphomet.com/the-heretics-journey/

Steve Dee


In other news…

Julian is teaching Sigils at Treadwell’s Books in July and Magical Words and Signs at The Museum of Witchcraft in August

Our dear friend Lucia is offering a Tai Chi retreat in the magical Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury. Lucia is an awesome practitioner and a great teacher. Find out more here.

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Wyrd Relationships

When following a path of initiatory magic, however much we may want to emphasize our rugged individualism and uniqueness, most of us eventually come to the realization that we can’t do this on our own. However potent our initial gnostic insights regarding the need to take a radical degree of responsibility for own salvation, we soon realize that we will need to connect to the others for this process to be sustainable.

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Creating New Connections

I have already written on this blog about the influence of Gurdjieff/Fourth Way ideas on my path generally, but I have been especially influenced with regards to that tradition’s focus on the importance of finding dynamic spiritual relationships, in order to challenge and deepen our own explorations. Learning something by one’s self is of course possible, but most of us realise quickly that everything from Tai Chi to foreign language learning is made easier (and ultimately more fun) if we have a competent teacher or teachers. In having an experienced mentor, our learning becomes more rounded as pitfalls are avoided and the full range of sensory and kinaesthetic information becomes available to us.

Learning within an esoteric or magical context is usually associated with groups of other humans who organise themselves into Orders, Schools or networks centred on a shared philosophy, lifestyle or ritual aesthetic. This is often how we do things as Homo sapiens and however much our politics and aspirations hope to flatten hierarchies, we usually self-organise into something that looks like a tribe or family system. When we enter such environments, inspired by our search for meaning, it is unsurprising that most of us look to the longstanding members of such groups both for guidance, and evidence that the group’s claims have some degree of validity.

Okay, so far so good, but if such groups can be beneficial why is it that they can also be a complete pain in the arse? For me, part of why Schools and Orders can be challenging is they often have profound tensions at their core. In reflecting on this, here are a few of them that seem critical:

Openness versus Discernment

Most religious and philosophical groups require the internalization of a certain amount of information and adherence to specific behavioural requirements. When we enter this as a newcomer to a group we can often feel that we re-enacting those scenes from our childhoods in which we were seeking approval. When this is going on alongside the message that we should be aspiring to become powerful, competent initiates we can be forgiven for becoming somewhat confused and disheartened.

For me, the saying attributed to Christ is helpful: “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are too naïve we risk exploitation and buying into a type of group-think that can run contra to the aims of initiation, but if we are too shut off and not willing to unlearn then there is little point in being there.

Most of us don’t get it right upon the first time of trying and it is also possible that part of our difficulty lies in bringing the same expectations to the School that we would to other (more conventional) religious contexts. Many enter a School seeking a Church and then seemed shocked that it feels more like a dojo!

Freedom versus Structure

Working with others can be tricky. By definition most magical practitioners are free spirits with anarchic tendencies. We can experience a deep desire to work with others in order to empower and sharpen our work, but most of us are prone to experiencing claustrophobia when we feel our agency and liberty is being threatened!

In traditions that involve truly transformative perspectives there is a certain inevitability that we will need to challenge existing values and certainties. While they will never be perfect in their execution, many Orders out of necessity have had to spend time reflecting on how they provide boundaries and guidance to ensure that ethical standards are understood and respected. Such reflection often takes decades of shared work to develop maturity and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Groups will always make mistakes in the doing of the Great Work, but what feels critical is that they have mechanisms for feedback and reflection so that the inevitable mistakes are learnt from. The presence of such processes for self-reflection are vital in ensuring that a School’s core philosophy is both truly life promoting and able to counter any organizational excesses.

Personally speaking, being part of a more formal magical Order has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn. Even if I might not agree with some of what’s being proposed, the content and structure of such systems provide me with something solid to bash up against and thus refine my own initiatory understanding. The pursuit of grades and curricula may become yet another form of “spiritual materialism”, but at best they can fulfill our need for structure and a way of mapping our development, especially in the early to intermediate stages of training.

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Something clever about trying to think outside the box

Personal versus Impersonal

While undertaking any deep spiritual work will inevitably lead to the forming of close relationships with others, one of the strengths of an Order is that they usually provide a corpus of techniques and perspectives to engage with. Without a solid body of ideas and practice with which to engage, there is a danger that our involvement becomes overly reliant on interpersonal connection. While warm rapport and friendships can be a major strength in the sustainability of group involvement, if we become overly dependent on this, then our own motivations for doing the work can become distorted. People inevitably come and go from magical and initiatory groups as their own focus changes or the costs of involvement outweigh the benefits. Finding like-minded souls can feel amazing after perhaps years of feeling isolated, but we must remain clear about our own goals, and alive to where we may need to go next.

These tensions are likely to remain in play while we choose to take the risk of working magically with others. The probability of finding some imagined perfect balance between these polarities is both unlikely and frankly a bit dull. Like the perfect job or the perfect relationship, the perfect group or school simply doesn’t exist, but in recognizing the dynamics at work we may become more conscious of the push and pull of such forces and how we might play with and respond to them more skillfully.

Steve Dee

 

Human Beings in Space

The maps that we create as human beings are usually attempts to avoid confusion and the inevitable sense of distress we experience when we lose our bearings. In trying to deal with the complex experience of being alive, we undertake cartographic projects to help us feel more secure. Whether our adventures are geographical or psycho-spiritual, we hope that our maps (whether self-created or inherited) will bear some resemblance to the landscapes we move within.

In my last two posts, I have been musing over the potential value of the maps that various World Trees might hold in connection to our spiritual aspirations. These trees can provide us with powerful images for exploring what balance and growth might mean as we dig into the deep places of personal and ancestral memory. When we engage with them consciously, they can provide not only a macrocosmic map for comprehending the mythic currents of history, but also a microcosmic plan as to how we might experience the complexity of self. As roots might reflect our longing for nutrition via connection to history and place, so our branches stretch upwards seeking light, space and the new.

Ironically this stretching, yearning impulse often feels as if it is taking us “off the map” and into unknown territories that might need new skills. Rather than pouring over the minutiae of hill contours and grid-references, we might need to look up and fully take in our surroundings. Inevitably we will view new experiences through the lens of what we know, but the challenge and clear air of the new often provides us with an opportunity for awakening:

“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
Duke Leto Atreides (Dune)

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Compulsory Viewing.

As we reach upwards, we are often seeking to grapple with the mystery and vastness of space. These branches are often our attempts at entering the realm of Asgard as we seek to interact with the numinous world of the gods. Whether we view our deities as actual or imagined, they often represent our longings and aspirations. They often embody key aspects of our future magical selves, and our attraction to them often reveals important dimensions of our own becoming.

Now this is all well and good, but it prompted me to wonder how I might maximize my own internal state, so that I might be more receptive to the incoming of such gnosis or new insight.

I have written previously about the ways in which we might work with our awe at the vastness of space as a way of gaining perspective on our existence and in managing our terror. For me, the wonder of space is that it simultaneously provides a glimpse into an unknown future while also plunging us into a primal void from which the possibility of creation can occur. We are at once viewing the place where our branches will grow while experiencing a vastness that exists before consciousness and the uttering of the first word.  When we first enter into this territory it can feel decidedly challenging as the uncertainty and sense of emptiness threaten to overwhelm us.

Different traditions describe this type of space as the Pleroma, Sunyata or the primary Chaos of the serpent Apep. Even when these states of being/non-being are viewed more positively, the question still remains as to how we should work with them. Unsurprisingly such territory can seriously mess with your head, but here are a few things I have been working on so as to stay rooted; and to avoid losing my shit.

1. Sitting practice/working with silence: Perhaps the most radical way in which to work with space and its uncertainty is to befriend them. The easiest temptation to give in to when we experience this void-space is simply to fill it with more thinking, more interpretation or more spiritual toys to play with. Chogyam Trungpa described this tendency as “Spiritual Materialism” and as a magical practitioner with Chaos tendencies, I’m all too familiar with my ability to use the clutter of occult theory and practice as a way of avoiding the harder work of sitting with the not-knowing.

If we can set aside our constructs and schemas in order to embrace a Zen-like “beginner’s mind”, what might we find ourselves encountering? When we let ourselves experience a greater sense of space, we create the possibility of truly hearing new words arising from the depths.

2. Using Creativity: When seeking to work with uncertainty and the emergence of new insights, the use of visual art, music and dance can be powerful ways of accessing both the deep roots of the unconscious and the incoming of the numinous future. As we let go of the linear and the known, so new insights become possible. Cut-ups and Collages especially have provided me with a dynamic set of tools for exploring the dynamic tension between ideas and images emerging from the unconscious/superconscious aspects of self.

3. Working with the Spacious Body: In seeking to work with our sense of the incoming and unknown it can be easy to tie ourselves into knots of anxiety as we try to anticipate an avalanche of what ifs.  As with our sitting practice and creativity, when we engage the body through conscious movement it becomes more possible to turn down the volume on the voice of our internal critic. Like our minds, our bodies too can become full-up with those familiar, automated patterns that can leave us feeling stiff and armour-plated. For me, gentle dance, Qi Gong and shaking practices have provided the opportunity to explore movements that disrupt machine-like tendencies, and create a greater sense of spaciousness and opening out. It would seem fitting to conclude with a quote from that mighty Tantric sage Abhinavagupta:

Thus one should think of the body as full of all the Paths (to enlightenment and cosmic emanation). Variegated by the workings of time, it is the abode of all the movements of time and space. The body seen this way is all the gods, and must therefore be the object of contemplation, veneration and sacrifice. He who penetrates into it finds liberation.

From  Tantraloka. Quoted by Mark Dyczkowski in The Doctrine of Vibration.

SD

The Queerness of Gnosis

It’s probably not very surprising that I find myself trying to write a reflection on how Queerness and Gnosis intersect given the importance they both play in my life. My blog posts, and the book A Gnostic’s Progress, bear witness to my attempt to explore the complexity of human life and how we utilize experiences of direct knowing in our attempts to manage the dilemma of existence.

While others may view the conflating of Queer experience and Gnosticism as being a personal eccentricity or indulgence on my part, I would ask for your patience as I try to unpack some of the resonances that I experience. For me the starting point for both the Queer-identified and the Gnostic is a sense of discomfort and dislocation in response to binary attempts at classification.

While the Gnostics are often typified as dualists, for me a large part of what lies at the heart of gnostic exploration is dissatisfaction with attempts to divide our experience of the world along binary lines. An orthodoxy that seeks to classify things in terms of the works of God or those of Satan made little sense to those religious free-thinkers who wanted to embrace complexity more fully. Rather than being satisfied with the simple answers of faith, the Gnostic sets out into deep space in order to explore  the tension, complexity and contradiction that seems to lie at the heart of life’s mystery.

The Gnostic is the sacred scientist in the truest sense in their attempts to openly explore; question and pressure test their findings. Their metaphysical insights may fail to meet the rigour of the strict reductionist, but their attempt to map the weird cosmologies experienced through inner perception still provide us with much of value. These strange inner landscapes had a clear resonance with depth psychologists such as Carl Jung as he felt that they provided insight into the nature of human experience and how we might work with the process of personal transformation.

Somewhere over the Bifrost

Early Gnostic cosmologies such as those mapped out by early groups, for instance the Sethians and Valentinians, contain a wide variety of spiritual couplings (or syzygies) that seek to convey the dynamic dance at work in the process of creation. For the Gnostic, the numinous realm is full of a wide array of beings such as Aeons, Archons, Powers and Principalities, all vying for expression and manifestation into both matter and the realm of human consciousness. While diagrammatic attempts to depict such systems usually come off looking quite linear, in reading the oft-confusing description of them in primary Gnostic texts, the heavenly host often feels far more fluid, over-lapping and multi-directional.

For me the Gnostics embody a type of heretical free-thinking that seeks to challenge a form of certainty that relies on blinkered tunnel-vision.  Neat delineations that require us to ignore the messy complexity of our deepest longings are challenged by the heretics’ brave act of choosing. While the pedlars of certainty proclaim loudly that their polarised, black and white world is either the result of natural order or God’s will, the heretic is listening to a quieter inner voice.

The awakening to Queerness can of course happen in a whole host of ways. It might be an internal awareness of the complexity of desire or (as was in my case) communication from the straight world of the demi-urge that my way of presenting was not working for them! These realisations may happen suddenly or in a more slow-burn fashion in which you become increasingly aware of dissonance. Whichever speed it happens at this is a profound unfolding of who we sense we are and for me it definitely had a Gnostic dimension. If the admonition to “Know Thyself” was to have an authenticity then it needed to account from the outsider experience that I experienced as a Queer person.

Gnostic explorers of most stripes are usually willing to question what we mean by the natural. In trying to grapple with the discomfort associated with our experience of living, they sought to question the narratives about this transmitted by both Church and State. These organs of authority have been keen to get us to believe all sorts of ideas, in the name of their being natural. Whether it’s the inevitability of reproduction, the subjugation of Women or the exclusion of Black people, both Church and State have the potential to become archonic in their restriction of personal expression and liberty. In their attempt to control and contain they seek to minimise the complexity of our life experience and to present a dominant narrative that limits the possibility of a deeper connection based on a truly rich diversity.

The syzygies so loved by the Gnostics often sought to embody a richer story in which the binaries experienced were held together as they moved through a process of reconciliation. Manifestations of this unification often pop-up in androgynous figures such as Adam Kadmon or Abraxas, but I think that we risk losing something crucial if we see them as fixed icons and fail to appreciate the Queer dynamism that they embody. Queerness often presents a disruptive challenge to our attempts at neatness. At best it moves beyond mere hip theorising and compels us to enact, perform and intensify the often blurry reality of who we are.

In this fluid dance, Queerness can be experienced as identity, mood and the dynamic that exists in the interactions between people, objects and organisation. For me it provides a way of knowing that provides not only a space for inhabiting the present, but also a lens for viewing the past.  In asking us to stay awake to sensitivity to context and process, Queerness provides a necessary challenge to the type of brittleness that can come when we get overly invested in fixed identities.  In my view, such a dynamic creates a type of optimism as I see glimpses of the type of human creativity that Jose Esteban Munoz refers to as “Futurity”.

I have already spoke of the inspiration that I have gained via Nema’s description of N’Aton as an embodiment of our future magical selves, and part of my attraction to this figure is in the way it manifests a type of magical optimism and Futurity. Depictions of N’Aton often hold together the individual and collective perspectives and for me such images embody a type of spiritual awakening that allows for a multiplicity of perspective. When we step away from the tunnel-vision of either Christian or Orthodox Thelemic eschatology, we can begin to explore the Queer possibility of our aeonic utopias overlapping, blurring with and potentially strengthening each other as they balance and inform each other’s insights.

This is a tightrope walk in which we try to balance the reality of both our individual and collective struggles with the need to explore the possibility of what hope might mean. When the Archons shout their “truth” so loudly, we must dare to keep the richness of our stories alive! I’ll end with this great quote from Sara Ahmed in which they discuss the possibility of what we might create when we radically reappraise the type of future we might have:

To learn about possibility involves a certain estrangement from the present. Other things can happen when the familiar recedes. This is why affect aliens can be creative: not only do we want the wrong things, not only do we embrace possibilities that we have been asked to give up, but we create life worlds around these wants. When we are estranged from happiness, things happen. Happiness happens.
The Promise of Happiness p.218

SD

Surreal Christology (Part 2): The Mirror

It’s hardly surprising that mirrors get used a lot in magic; frankly they’re a bit weird. When we look at them they extend space, they reverse and they potentially distort. Whatever we think we look like in our heads, when we look into a mirror we are pushed into a dialogue between that internalised self-perception and the version of self represented in front of us. We may be delighted by what we see or we may become flooded by dysmorphia. Our dis-ease may be skin-deep or it may reveal deeper truths about who we want to be and how we wish to interact with the world around us. Whatever we think is driving us, if we see ourselves more fully we may be confronted by aspects of our daemon that are as likely to shock as they are to empower.

The magical use of mirrors can be manifold, ranging from aids for spirit evocation to scrying tools that allow the diviner greater access to their own unconscious processes. To explore a mirror nocturnally, via candle-light, is to journey to occult edges, and the practice of covering mirrors following a recent death alludes to a need to stabilise our environment in the midst of grief. Given the way they seem to play with the nature of time and space, it’s of little surprise that the Surrealists found them so fascinating.

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Self-portrait in Spherical Mirror, 1935. MC Escher.

The Surrealists on occasion had mirrors explicitly within their art (often as puddles of quicksilver or mirrored melting clock faces) but more often their presence seems far more implicit. Via their use of depth of field and inversion, when we engage with surrealist art we can often feel that we are gazing at a reflection, with all the subtle strangeness innate to that process. Like the melting clock we are required to relinquish our hold on our sense of time and solidity; i.e. things get a bit wobbly and dream-like.

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Self-portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse, 1937-38. Leonora Carrington.

In many ways myth and mythic heroes can act as powerful mirrors for viewing ourselves. When we consider those stories or figures that we are drawn to, they can often reveal some significant aspects of who we are at both a conscious and unconscious level. While our initial attraction to a myth may reflect a need or a connection that seems quite obvious e.g. a promise of liberation or an exemplar of individuation, when we renew and revisit this process over time, arguably something subtler takes place. When we truly engage with and internalise these spirits, their strangeness starts to haunt and shape our dreams and outlook.

In terms of my own experience, while my initial flight into Christianity was largely related to my adolescent confusion about the fluidity of my sexuality and gender identity, the Queerness of mystery still managed to break through via my interactions with the myth of Christ. While recognising my personal projections onto the gospel narrative, I eventually uncovered in my reading of Jesus a blurry ambiguity that remains inspiring. Yes this was still the radical who threw over tables in the temple, but he was also the mother hen who wanted to gather the lost underneath his wings.

In a personal world where the versions of maleness, certainty and force made little sense to me, my own gnostic encounter allowed access to a gentler, more mysterious experience. This Christ became a mirror through which I could view myself more closely. Such looking can be far from comfortable, but over time it allowed me to engage with deeper truths about who I needed to become. For me this magical process of engaging with the Christ myth allowed me (somewhat ironically) to become accepting enough of myself that I no longer wished to call myself a Christian.

This Gnostic Christ seems to be asking me to both take more responsibility for my path, while at the same time doing less violence to the core of who I am.  This reflective process is most definitely a work-in-progress and has been far from tidy or pain-free. To walk a magical path requires that we “dare”, even when it means the willed deconstruction of those stories and heroes we hold as precious. This is a narrow road, but it holds the potential of liberty from the claustrophobia of childlike sentimentality.

Whichever mythic mirror feels most attractive to you, I would recommend revisiting it with a Zen-like state of beginner’s mind. Find some great art concerning these myths, or better yet create some art of your own. In my own recent explorations of the Queerer dimensions of Christ I have been inspired by some of the art on sites such as Kittredge Cherry’s  “Jesus in Love” blog. Often these creative explorations into the surreal and less-lateral aspects of ourselves provide us with gateways to discovery and the possibility of further evolution.

Find art that feeds your soul and allows greater insight into who you are and who you can become. Seek the Mysteries!

SD

Smells like Queer Spirit

Being the parent of two teenage humans can often prove to be quite thought provoking in terms of trying to articulate what I actually “believe” in terms of my own metaphysics. My eldest helpful summarised my spiritual path as being “some sort of weird druid, meditation thing”. Credit where credit is due, that’s probably not far off!

While I have had some past attempts at spiritual brand loyalty, they have often ended in consumer dissatisfaction. My path has always been a blurry one, a fuzzy inexact ramble along a path that is much more about exploration and the privilege of travelling with some rather excellent companions. I can understand why others like certainty, and given the current scary state of the UK, I can appreciate why such apparently vague, postmodern and Queer perspectives don’t appear to be muscular enough to confront our current difficulties. But hey! It’s not my fault, I blame Magic.

Queerness and Magic are a bit of a chicken and egg thing. It’s hard to know whether Magic’s strange ways are innately attractive to the fey, liminal shape-shifters within a culture or whether it makes the curious even Queerer; as a lover of strange loops and circularities I’ll take both ☺

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Queer loop

To engage with Magic is to engage with the whole of life. It is art and it is science, it is both acceptance and change. It is many things, but I’m pretty sure that it demands a heroic pursuit of curiosity and a willingness to question almost everything we thought was true of our lives and selves, as I have said elsewhere:

Whatever else Magic may or may not accomplish it aims to transform our own awareness so that we become more effective. By self-willed mimetic infection, the change that we seek becomes more likely as we sensitize our perception to themes and opportunities.” (Deep Chaos part deux)

To enter the circle or to cast a spell means to lift anchor on what we thought we knew about ourselves. Whatever scripts and stories that we may have inherited about what our lives should look like, are called into question as we are sailing more uncertain seas

Many find the descriptor “Queer” problematic because of its historic associations as a homophobic slur or because it is viewed as attempting to summarize the complex terrain of “non-straight” identity (LGBT+) with a single (albeit complex) word. I certainly don’t wish to imply any form of flat-land homogenization of people’s lives and politics. Language and self-identification are important markers and means for both self-understanding and collective response. Part of why I view my own magic as Queer (as well as being that of a Kinky, Bisexual and gender fluid person), is the way in which Queerness for me embodies the role that we as magicians have as edge-dwellers who question oppressive catergorisation and help pull our cultures forward.

Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography

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Queer discourse

While some may  view the conscious deconstruction of category as being overly hip or laboured, for those of us who find liberty within Queer’s punk rock attitude, Queerness challenges us to experience relationship and uncertainty in new ways. Rule books that rely on clear categorisation and the safe assertion that problems are located in “the other” can longer be as true. While the urge for individual emancipation and freedom seem innate to the human project, a Queer awakening might also attend to the complex tendrils of connectivity between self and other. Indeed our liberty may ultimately be within context as much as it about liberation away from it.

Part of my own current context is as a human who lives in the United Kingdom. Recent weeks have been a bewildering and deeply saddening time for many of us who (despite its many imperfections) view remaining in a larger Europe as being an important factor in seeking to reduce ignorance, hatred and less effective communication. Whatever economic arguments that “exit” advocates might have been able to proffer, for me my identity as a magician and Queer limit my ability to embrace the lax, childish worldview that Britain’s current difficulties can be located in those other people over-there.

Whichever framework one employs in trying to understand how Magic works, most magicians seem to rely on concepts of connection, alliance and symbiosis. Over 20 years of frontline social work may well and truly kicked most naivety out of my system, but I still know that my own Magic seems to be maximised when I have the possibility of exploring creativity from a position of flexibility and relative fearlessness. For me it’s hard to reconcile such freedom and connection with a siege mentality that imagines safety behind a balsa-wood drawbridge.

In recent times I have been working with the Goddess Sophia and the way she is made manifest in Gaia. In offering devotional practice to Gaia-Sophia, my coven-mates and I have been seeking to promote greater connectivity and Wisdom. This prayer is still on my lips:

“Praise to the Wise one,

The Connected One,

The Whole one,

The Holy One!

Gaia-Sophia!”

Sublime Strange Attractor-

Illuminate our intuition and give us neither-neither genius!

Help us to spin our webs of connection with silver and gold

Help us to seek Wisdom and apply its insights with kindness.

We give thanks to you and to each other

For this time of nurture and deep listening!”

SD

A Gnostic’s Progress: A book from our own Steve Dee

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The word ‘gnosis’ was adopted by early explorers of what became known as ‘chaos magic’; essentially as a synonym for ‘altered (or ‘extraordinary’) states of consciousness’. Gnosis is imagined as the engine of magic; a radical awareness where the relationships between self and other are destabilised and a visceral, direct and unmediated knowledge can be encountered. Within A Gnostic’s Progress Steve Dee provides a reflection of this understanding and asks instead what insights chaos magic can bring to the tradition of Gnosticism?

The usual Gnostic universe consists of a top-down, hierarchically framed series of relationships between principles such as the Pleroma (the spiritual universe as the abode of God and of the totality of the divine powers and emanations), the Demiurge (the creator of the world, sometimes imaged as a power antithetical to the purely divine), and Sophia (the spirit of wisdom and allegedly the reason we’re trapped in material reality). Such models come with plenty of value judgements about good and evil, spiritual versus material but how, asks Steve Dee, can we make sense of the relationships between these concepts if we use in its place the relativist and questioning approach of contemporary chaos magic?

Steve

As a professional therapist Steve Dee leads the reader into the territory of Father Gods, Divine Feminines, Archons, Aeons and all the rest and, rather than repeating patriarchal conclusions, instead approaches these divine players as members of a family. How, asks Steve, can we re-imagine these relationships in a way that acknowledges the differing perspectives and insights of these forces?

Looking into the relationships between the actors in the gnostic universe isn’t just a cerebral practice and Gnosticism ritual doesn’t need to look like a pseudo-High Church ceremonialism. Rather our author provides a range of practical methods for gnostic/chaos magic unapologetically postmodern exploration including stripped back ritual technology, contemplative and meditational methods, along with tales of gnostic practice from other practitioners (the book features an interview with and art work from Jung scholar and Temple of Set initiate Lloyd Keane).

Written from the perspective of contemporary magical practice and informed by depth psychology and artistic process, this is gnosticism, but not as you’ve ever seen it before…

JV

A Gnostic’s Progress can be found on Amazon. British sales here, US here; other countries please search on the appropriate Amazon site for your location. A Kindle edition is also available, with some illustrations in colour.

 

 

From the Foreword:

Steve, on the other hand, is demonstrably eager to do something with Gnosticism. Anyone who feels the same way will find plenty of examples of devotional and magical approaches to the legacy of the Gnostics here.

These essays may be delivered in bite-sized chunks but these are nourishing savouries not quick-fix sugar bombs. He is very aware of being a modern or postmodern spiritual explorer: “We make no claims to lineage or secrets shared on Grandma’s knee, rather this is a Witchcraft born of a connection to a raw coastline, the beating of drums and a desire to awaken.”

So enter a world filled with speedo-clad yogis and surfer fundamentalists, in which the ancient Nag Hammadi text Thunder Perfect Mind is declaimed to a backdrop of trance drumming. Steve’s writings do not merely reflect a lowest common denominator of the above influences, a Venn diagram intersection of three or four contemporary spiritual trends. His tastes are more eclectic than that, perhaps, but more importantly I sense that he is always bringing his experience to bear and is always trying things out. As the reader will discover, Steve even encourages us to try things out too.

Andrew Phillip Smith

Editor of The Gnostic: A Journal of Gnosticism, Western Esotericism and Spirituality.