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

 

Vision and Discipline

Once upon a time my spiritual path was firmly situated in a type of theism that viewed all human activity as flawed. As a result we lowly worms were reliant upon the grace and favour of a rather changeable deity/demiurge. His book told me that not only was I doomed, but I was doubly doomed if I chose to exercise the Faustian audacity to question his divine authoritarianism.

Although my adolescent longing for identity and certainty made me vulnerable to the promises of orthodoxy, I have never responded well to bullies and attempts to control, and it wasn’t too long before the cracks in my faith grew from being hairline to truly cavernous. Ironically it was study of Christian theology itself that hastened my departure from the fold. Amongst the inevitable deconstruction that occurred via Biblical criticism and the irrational claims of systematic theology, one of the key books that helped me expand my understanding of spirituality was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

While this book is written by a devout Christian who is unapologetic about the language and imagery he uses, what affected me was the way in which he highlighted effective habits and practices that were able to allow the development of psychological and spiritual fitness. The disciplines of study, meditation, fasting, ritual and pilgrimage were all means for increasing ones’ openness to the incoming of the numinous. Such an approach had a profound resonance for me given the value I had found in the structure and discipline of the Yogic practice I had explored in my early teens and the way they sought to engage all aspects of being.

Throughout the meandering journey that my personal religious instincts have taken me, I have often been suspicious of the type of vulnerable subservience that can feel innate to those paths that have a heavy emphasis on the grace and largesse of supernatural beings. Whatever metaphors or masks that I seek to employ in engaging with Mystery, I am more interested in developing a relationship that allows for the co-construction of meaning rather the wholesale consumption of a “revealed” truth.

I don’t want to minimize the potential importance of strange revelations and non-ordinary states of consciousness, I love a weird gnostic experience as much as the next person. Non-linear insights coming out of the blue? Check! Profound devotional needs expressed to dark deities? Hold my coat. My own practice as a magician has always been as much about what I do and might experience as it has been about the acquisition of arcane lore.

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Okay…that was weird!

For me the visionary dimensions of initiatory development acts like a trail of bread crumbs leading me along a path that has often been hard going and overgrown; and yet on their own they are not enough. While this incoming of gnosis and insight has been essential I am still left with the question of how I might create the ideal environment to receive and sustain such experiences so that they might be translated into patterns of change within myself. For me this is a question about the development of character, the quality of my self-awareness and an appreciation of the combination of qualities that make me uniquely me. For me this a question of Soul.

Theologians and psychologists can argue endlessly about the structure of the Self and whether the Soul is innate or developed. Many of us in the West are slowly unlearning the simplicity of the models proposed by orthodoxies of both the Christian and Freudian variety so as to recover richer languages for our internal processes. Whether via pre-Christian Egyptian or Norse models or the Post-Freudian transpersonal work of Assagioli, we are gradually recovering more functional maps of alchemical self-change. Given this, what feels clear to me is that whether or not we view the Soul as ontologically innate, it is something that can be evolved and strengthened through consciously applied effort.

In Systemic Family Therapy we often talk about first and second order change. First order change is a shift in behaviour in response to a direct challenge or stimulus, while second order change is a change of our scripts or patterns of behaviour so that a new way of being is established in an on-going way. Our visionary encounters may provide the initial jolt away from the routine and mundane, but the application of discipline feels critical if we are fully utilize the shocking energy of gnosis in accessing more profound levels of transformation that are sustainable.

The early stages of applied discipline can feel like hard work. As we try to move from conscious incompetence to the mastery of relaxed competence it is inevitable that we need to grit our teeth in overcoming the forces of inertia. In my own experience, those times where I have been able to persist have been when I have kept returning to my initial motivation and goals. Why did I choose this path? Why this one and not another? What am I hoping to gain via this effort? How would I feel if stepped away from this current path?

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Henry knows the score.

Your method of developing soul will inevitably unique to you as an individual, but if I would offer advice I would recommend those models of change that advocate a holism that tries to account for the fullness of our human experience. Models such as Leary’s Eight-Circuit model or Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way ideas have much of their strength in the fact that they seek to actualize the physical, the emotional and intellectual dimensions of who we are rather than advocating lopsided forms of development.

The creation of Soul and magical character is never about merely knowing stuff. The mighty Don Webb in describing the work of the Order of Setne Khamuast rightly identifies the three critical stages in ensuring initiatory change: learning, enacting and then finally communicating about our discoveries. Knowledge and even the divine glimpses of gnosis are vital in providing the spark of inspiration but they will rarely keep the flame alight for long. To stay warm and to survive we also need oxygen and fuel. Here’s to keeping the flame alive!

Steve Dee

 

Things & Stuff – magical happenings…

The Glastonbury Occult Conference is on the 23-24th February and both Nikki and Julian will be there speaking independently and providing a workshop together on Sunday.

Next month:There are still a couple of places available on Julian’s workshop on Queer Magic at Treadwell’s Books on Saturday 9th March in London.

Both Nikki and Julian will be leading a workshop on shamanism in Wales on Saturday 23rd March.

This is the year of Breaking Convention, one of the biggest and best conferences on psychedelics in the known multiverse. Details of tickets can be found here along with how to submit a paper, performance, workshop etc as well as information on volunteering opportunities. This is going to be an amazing event with over 1500 people taking part!

September 13-14th will see the second Trance-States Conference in sunny Northampton at the University. If you fancy a comprehensive download from the leading edge of  occulture this is the place to be.

There will be more events coming up at Treadwell’s and The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic later this year. Please see our Deep Magic page for details

Wishing all our friends in the northern hemisphere a bright new spring!

On Having Three Brains

I was recently discussing with Julian and Nikki an experience I had during an MRI scan where its loud, repetitive pulses allowed me to enter a light trance state and eventually fall asleep! As a lover of extreme music, the scanner’s jack-hammer soundtrack was fairly easy listening and reminded me of some of our ritual experimentation with binaural beats. The ever curious Mr Vayne asked whether they had scanned my brain and I told him that given that its focus was on my lower back problems, they were only able to examine my pelvic “brain”. While my reply was in many ways a quip, it did make a connection to some valuable concepts that help shape my own approach to magical transformation.

The concept that the human self is made up of a complex of interacting centres or dimensions is found in a variety of occult and psychological models. Space does not allow a detailed exploration of Taoist alchemy or the wide variety of chakra models deployed in the various yoga traditions, but for me they point to a profound desire to map our spiritual longings more holistically within the visceral, physicality of our bodies. Recently, the awesome Treadwell’s  bookshop in London has been hosting a number of lectures by the ever erudite Phil Hine who has been unpacking the history of how ideas regarding chakras have been utilized in Theosophy and other corners of recent occulture. Phil has now produced some handy chap-books based on these lectures and you can get your paws on them here https://www.treadwells-london.com/shop/wheels-within-wheels-chakras-come-west-phil-hine-signed/ . Work such as Phil’s is vital in capturing the very human process of evolution and adaptation that occurs as our socially formed longings are projected upon traditions romanticized by our desire for the exotic. While such processes may have a degree of inevitability, it feels important to retain an awareness of them so as to limit the violence we might do to primary sources and traditions.

For me in my own magical work, the challenge of such embodied approaches is to accept the limits of what cognition alone can comprehend. It can be all too easy for the Western Occultist to hi-jack these complex symbol-sets in order to provide yet another grid system for piling layer-upon-layer of imagined correspondences. My hunch is that such reductionism, while neat and tidy, makes little headway in accessing the deeper aspects of wisdom that might be accessed if we allowed such traditions to speak on their own terms.

While my own explorations of hatha yoga as a young adolescent have ensured that the language of the chakras has become something of a default setting, my own recent explorations of contemporary Gnostic awakening have been significantly shaped by the insights of the Gurdjieff/4th Way work. Gurdjieff recognised that throughout humanities’ history we have sought to connect to God/HGA/True Self etc. He believed that these efforts could be typified via the centre or starting point from which they began their journey. In short, these paths are the way of the body (the fakir), the way of the heart (the monk) and the way of the mind (the yogi).

Whatever benefit may have been gained in the past through the pursuit of these means, in our age and within a life lived outside of monastery walls we need something more. For Gurdjieff this is the Fourth Way.

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Intense? Who you calling Intense?

The Fourth Way is the way of “the sly man” – the one who seeks to harmonize body, heart and mind as they seek to awaken solar consciousness. This Work challenges us to Self-remember, to become more awake within the bodymind. The methods we may employ, like Beelzebub, are legion, but the goal of awakening from our automatic state of sleep remains.

Whichever map we find most resonant, what feels crucial is that it helps reduce the likelihood of disorientation and the burn-out that can result when we feel that we are going endlessly around in circles. While the process of seeking to manage our uncertainty and fear are a crucial and inevitable part of spiritual maturity, most of us need the structure and language that good maps can provide. Magic without some sense of teleological direction can easily descend into spiritual materialism. In the absence of direction we fill the empty space with a glimmering array of brief distractions that provide little more than a brief sugar-high.

Whichever map we choose, one in which the totality of self is understood and engaged with, is likely to bring the greater success. In the complex experience of being, these schemas seek at once to unify our experience while acknowledging the tensions and competing agendas that we must attend to. These holistic approaches allow us to acknowledge more fully the need to work with a dynamic process of flow in which we move between different domains in pursuing greater health within the ecosystem of ourselves. Like high-wire walkers seeking to hold the line, success is not gained through rigidity; rather we wobble between balance and counter-balance as we journey towards our goal. Our pursuit of magical wisdom seems more likely to bear fruit when our process of reflection (often via the magical diary) allows us strengthen those dimensions of self that may need further development.

Steve Dee

heretics

Available now! In paperback and Kindle editions.

The Heretic’s Journey takes you by the hand firmly and gently, through the by-ways of the author’s life, sharing tales of his younger years and lessons learned. At once forthright and sensitive, Steve Dee is an accomplished magician of the best sort; one who Does. Here you will find instruction in rituals, self-discovery, and deeply meaningful examples of personal praxis. His fascinating flavour of Gnosticism places the body at the centre of spirituality, enjoying the fruits of embodied wisdom found from engagement with Sophia.

A reviewer writes: ‘This is a book that seeks to provoke you to heresy!’ Thus invites Devon-based chaos magician and gnostic explorer Steve Dee in the prelude to his extraordinary new book The Heretic’s Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times. This is no contrived bit of attention-grabbing as proven by the richly rewarding and experiential text that follows. It similarly provides a diversity of extremely well-curated offerings as those found in Dee’s previous book A Gnostic’s Progress—many of which inspire the reader to participate in straightforward and potentially transformational exercises designed to expand heart and soul. Most refreshing is the writer’s admirable ability to present deeply esoteric perspectives in a consistently uncluttered fashion arrived at obviously through decades of genuine exploration.’

 

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Deep Magic

September retreat at the magical St.Nectan’s Glen, North Cornwall

27 Sept at 15:00 to 1 Oct at 13:00

This autumnal retreat will focus on the myths and magic of North Cornwall. We will explore the magical words of Merlin, the mythology of the Once and Future King, and the legends of the Fairy Folk. Participants have the opportunity to undertake a silent solitary vigil/vision quest, and to co-create a group ceremony where we will celebrate with poetry and song this magical landscape. This retreat will also include dowsing, psychogeographical and sacred geometry practices in preparation for the stone circle that will be built at St Nectan’s Glen. Come and help us begin that process!

For more details and to find out how to book please visit our Facebook page.

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