Retreating to the future, in an ancient British valley; BOOM!

Over the last few weeks, I went travelling, to two mountainous places. To Portugal, to attend a psytrance festival, and to Wales, to help run a weekend retreat. A thought provoking pair of experiences, with similarities and contrasts worth exploring.

Chronologically paired, here are some parts of my tales…

Armed with a guest pass, courtesy of my involvement with Breaking Convention (we did a ticket swap with BOOM!), I set off to the mainland. Filled with trepidation (I speak no Portuguese, had no idea how to get to the festival site, and had very little money), the journey began with many unknowns, not least exactly what part I would find to play. Unaccustomed as I am to being a punter, I planned out a couple of quests for myself; investigate the signage, and, see if interesting people there could be persuaded of the opportunities of BC. Fortunately my travelling companion Rob Dickins, of Psychedelic Press UK, proved excellent company throughout our eight days together. The weather forecast was hot, sunny and dry.

My journey to Wales was preceded by contrasting feels. Invited along as a workshop facilitator by the organiser of Neuro-Magica, Dr David Luke, I had a clear sense of my role to play in this venture (and do know a few words of Welsh!). My emotional approach was therefore one of happiness, confidence, and joyful anticipation at the prospect of seeing several familiar faces amongst those attending, as well as wondering who the new friends I would make could be! The retreat centre, Cae Mabon, looked unbelievably beautiful from the website, and I had heard only good things about it. The weather forecast was cool, cloudy and wet.



Earth & Fire

BOOM! was spread out over a mile along the lakeside. Dusty ground, with small trees dotted around providing much needed shade from the relentless sun. Taps were ample, and so refilling the bottles so necessary for pouring over one’s head every few minutes was not too hard. The pounding rhythms were continuous, and by the end of the week had all mutated (in my head) into the chorus of “No Limit”.



Water & Air

The tiny valley of Cae Mabon is carpeted with soft green grass, and the light birch trees of the space stand in contrast to the sessile oak forest of the surrounding mountain slopes. Only one tap can be used for drinking water, as this comes direct from the river (Afon Fachwen) and so to comply with regulation needs filtration. The sounds here were of the wind in the trees, and the rush of the river over rocks; often indistinguishable from each other. Flurries of strong winds on a couple of the days shook the leaves and branches, energising and clearing minds.

Having set the scenes, rather than relate all I could about these retreats, I shall instead give a few remarks, comparing and contrasting…

BOOM! gave me a week long sauna, temperatures around 40°C, reduced food intake, constant thoughts of water, gentle exercise and a 24 hour choice of pleasant, immersive diversions (talks, dancing, listening, looking). I swam in the lake twice. I will never feel so hot in usual conditions in comparison with this; yet the intense heat was most enjoyable. I saw thousands of people, the effort of the festival organisers to provide shelters and artworks over the previous months, evoked a state of presence in the place and time where I drifted from one enjoyable existence to another, moving as the moment presented itself. Doing this for over a week, with no particular need to go anywhere at any time, yet still moving effectively between places and events, provoked a state of internal silence which stayed with me for three days after my return home. Zero internal dialogue. I functioned as normal, did work, bought food, performed adequate self-care, and entertained myself, etc, all without any narrative.

Neuro-Magica was watery. Rain at times, but even when the sun came out and flooded us all with its warmth and revealed the stunning beauty of the mountains around, the fluid theme was carried by the river and the lake. And the hot tub. I swam in the lake two times, once as the sun was setting and the moon hung above Snowdon’s slopes in the distance. The hot tub (wood fired) is placed beside the Little White river, with large smooth rounded slate steps allowing safe access to the water as it speeds past at a rate of knots. The river water was cold, very cold; screams of raw existence filled the air each time someone clambered into it. This was at night, as I was occupied in the daytime. Submerging my body, feeling the power of this flow, I pictured myself growing cold in death, the cells ceasing to make the heat, growing still and solid before their next phase, relaxation into a more fluid state. Then hauling my flesh away, and back to the (now) ever-so-hot tub. I will never feel so cold in usual conditions in comparison with this; yet the intense cold was comfortable, non-threatening. With seven dwellings representing styles of building (e.g. cob, reticulated roofs, logs), the rooms were cosy and small (compared to the giant open canvas spaces of the festival!) and had enormous character. The days were a barrage of words, as ideas and playful conversations jumped amongst us all. Talkings, listenings, and a breathwork session of astounding effect, filled my storytelling brain to overflowing.

The crowds of BOOM! (33,333) meant my quest to find interesting people was thwarted by sheer numbers; I could hardly approach each of them, but selecting any one was equally impossible, so I spoke with only a small handful. Meanwhile those few who were fortunate enough to attend Neuro-Magica (26) were all unbelievably fascinating, and I had conversations with each person there.

It turned out, in that small world way of things, that more than one person had attended both of these gatherings. Notably Eric Maddern, who had been the Wisdom Keeper representing the European traditions amongst the indigenous cultures from around the planet, and who (coincidentally) owns Cae Mabon. His telling of the chase of Taliesin, which I heard him tell in both locations, took very different forms; a large, lightly covered sunlit space big enough for several hundred people contrasted with the dark, intimate, firelit roundhouse. The Saturday evening party included him giving a spirited rendition of his version of the traditional tale about the search for Mabon (from the fourth branch of the Mabinogian); this will stay with me for years as a particular highlight.

So what did I learn? In what ways did I change?

I grew as a person, after the atmosphere of kindness and co-creative spaces flowed inexorably into my heart. I felt surrounded by fellow creatures, each one unique yet recognisably the same as myself. The structures and the activities filled me with delight at their aesthetics and their functionality, and at the knowledge they had been built by people’s hands with willing co-operation. My appetite has reset itself, to less food less often, and a change of taste towards mostly minimally processed produce (e.g. vegetables). Weather now feels less of an issue when planning what to do. Emotionally I feel rested, ready to get my head down to all the work which has been piling up over the last weeks! Resting in itself is all very well but nothing works quite so effectively as being somewhere which means you cannot work.

The things and people I have interacted with, from all over the world, have left their fingerprints on me (metaphorically speaking!). Phrases, expressions, bits of knowledge, ways of moving; all spread through groups of people as they meet and part, meet again. I truly feel part of the global population, one spark of awareness amongst so many. Part of this has been recognising the wisdom I carry (in my own way), and seeing effects it can have for others. I feel valued, and cared for.

To finish by returning to the beginning; retreating to the future. Once upon a time, there was a list of products you could buy via mail order, called The Whole Earth Catalogue. Those who bought in to this paradigm dreamed of a world where we live in mud huts with computers (to grossly oversimplify). Fast forward to now, nearly fifty years later, and technology is starting to allow this on a widespread scale. Even if only temporarily at festival sites, many young people are growing up with the knowledge that they can make their own places in the world, creating and building for themselves. This awareness is leaking out to all systems, to food growing, mutually beneficial economic systems (especially local based exchange systems), reusing and repairing even making clothes, we are re-capturing those skills industrial production robbed from us. Moreover, these communities offer a step change in how human animals live, and could well usher in new patterns of behavior which will alter the face of the Earth rapidly; towards one with the right amount of trees, sane resource usage, and a co-created ecology.


(Further blogposts on various experiences at these events to follow! Baphomet showed another side to me during these adventures, and I feel the need to share.)

Push Me Pull You: A short, enlightening meditation

Once, while meditating upon my actions, a reverie occurred where I found myself wondering about whether I was the source of my movements, or the world around me was manipulating me into those movements.

From one perspective, I was deciding to move my arm, shift my centre of balance, place my gaze in a certain direction.

From another, my physiology was reacting entirely to external cues, both those present immediately in the environment around me, and those stored in my neurological patterning and muscle memory from previous situations.

So which of these was correct? To keep you reading this essay, I shall withhold the answer until a later point.

Talk with the animal

Talk with the animal

This meditation, wondering about where the causal motivation arises from in a situation, has become a habit for me since then. Spending time trying to attribute initiative frees one from other trains of thought, in itself an interesting output of this methodology. Other questions become apparent as one ponders: What do I understand as ‘external’? Do chance fluctuations in the biochemical electric soup that ‘is’ my mind affect my choices? Or that flicker in attention when the sunlight falling in the room alters, as the wind moves a branch outside the window; deos that make me think differently?

The old puzzle of (individual) free will vs (divinely ordained) destiny presents a similar thought process, though my version is more materialistically science based. But, they share the same base question of “Do I do this because I choose to or, because outside forces make me do it?”.

The answer of course lies firstly in considering where the border is between oneself and the outside. Once this has been identified, the scoresheet of factors originating in either domain can be drawn up.

My own conclusions to this part of the meditation are ongoing, my choosing of boundaries altering as I investigate further. Some days I can’t quite even believe there are any.

I have found my own satisfactory resolution to this, a kind of flow state where the push/pull are illusory perspectives meaningless in any context other than the human animal’s desire for narrative. Holding on to this perception for more than a short time proves tricky, and tbh I don’t know that it actually helps! Such is the way with enlightenment results/processes. They are, as my daughter would say, a thing.

And then I start to wonder, whether the urge to question this kind of thing; does it arise within me, or from external cues…?


Baphomets in the High Street!

As I walked through the crowds on New Year’s Eve, and looked around on the last day of term before Xmas, I saw a strange sight in the streets; dozens of young people dressed as animals. Pandas, dogs, cats, tigers, bears, reindeer, wandering the high street with human faces. Inverse Egyptian deities, they embody the deep seated need for humans to be animals.

The Baphometic current is strong in these children of those of us who grew up with the plethora of wildlife upon our screens courtesy of that great demi-god, David Attenborough. They are happy to align themselves with the fur covered bodies of their relatives. While a few mythological creatures appear, with dragons a favourite, alongside various odd coloured monster types, the overwhelming majority of onesies depict real life mammals.

Contrasting with the cosplay/furry/otherkin mindsets, onesie wearing does not change the human centred internal identity of the wearers. They go shopping, talk with friends, attend school, go out with family and friends to watch fireworks, lounge on their sofas surfing the web, and generally do normal stuff. Teenagers go out of an evening to pubs and clubs as lions or zebras with scarcely a second glance from their companions who wear jeans or dresses. Ordinary people, that simply look like animals.

Baphomet is conventionally represented by a human figure with furry legs, and the head of a horned mammal. In aeons past, the costuming of the human head was our way of identifying with the animals around us, as we tried to put their intelligences onto our bodies that we might learn from them. Then, for thousands of years, we only used animal costumes rarely, and human animals became distant figures absent from our daily lives. Nowadays, we seem to prefer to dress up the body as animal, placing our human selves into the animal kingdom while still human; this change betokens a flip in relations with Nature, keeping our own individual faces while simultaneously dressing ourselves as mammals, and not in human clothes.

Does today’s surge of identification with animals (manifested in the onesie craze) emerge from a deeper felt need to come out as ‘animal’? Or does it merely reflect the popularity in mainstream culture of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’?


A human animal, in the wild

I tend towards the former view; young adults today (in this island at least) are well aware of their common ancestry with all mammals, and must have a greater sense of kinship with their cousins than previous generations who, even for those of us in our 40s, were brought up with the Book story of Adam’s dominion over the beasts as an early childhood formative legend. We were told we were different, above the animal kingdom, unique, special and better. Today’s youth has had Life On Earth available to them on DVDs and other media since birth. They know in their bones that humans are just another form of the flourishing of this Life. This is their Normal.

They know their place.

This heartens me greatly: An emotional connection to our furry friends, our bluds, means a different take on issues such as ‘the environment’; when ‘those creatures over there’ fit within the terminology of ‘us’, we make different choices. Whether this might affect future decisions on behaviour, or influence policy decisions, I do not know, though it seems like a positive change of perspective.

As with all such cultural shifts, the phenomenon itself became possible only through the appearance of technologies which allow it to occur. Fluffy fabrics easily manufactured en masse, and distributed across the world, were not a feasible option a century ago, hence the fads for various real animal furs added to clothing. Whilst the clothing industry of here and now does have many ethical questions to answer, the days of thousands of beavers etc slaughtered to satisfy fashion are long gone. The recent abandonment of angora by so many stores, shows we do not like to feel that actual animals have been treated cruelly in the production of clothing items.

Will we one day see onesies depicting other branches of the animal kingdom, or members of the plant/fungi/microbe kingdoms? No one can say. However I feel it is only a matter of time before we see starfish, oak trees, and fly agarics shopping in the High Street, and I look forward to that immensely.


Human Animals

Magick has as one of its results the creation and promulgation of paradigms. For me, Magick represents the free space beloved of lateral thinkers, a playground where we try out ideas without restriction, realising novel words, terms and models of thought & behaviour.

One of the major paradigm shifts (apologies for getting Chaos Magick stereotypical!) I’ve worked on for some years involves nudging the inclusive view that our species can, in fact, identify itself as a type of animal. Man and Nature, indivisible.

We have made great strides towards this perception, however a programme on the telly reminded me the other day we still lack the linguistic habit that allows us to maintain this view on an everyday level. The presenter used the phrase, “people and animals”, when of course he meant “people and other animals” or even, “animals including people”, or, perhaps, “animals”…

I sighed, and turned off.

Apart from those poor benighted souls who have been brought up to disbelieve in evolution, I would hope that most of the readers here would accept some version that origin of our species, indicating our great great great great … great great grandmothers and grandfathers were non-human animals. Hominids, yes, but not like the average man in the street. And their ancestors were yet more different, right back to the monkey squirrel frog fish creatures posited in South Park.

Looking at cell biology, we see identical chemical processes in ourselves and, e.g., trees. I brought up my children to know, really viscerally feel, the relatedness of themselves with all forms of life. Not as an abstract concept, but as a simple fact. For them, our family includes trees. And everything else of course, I picked trees as my flagship because they are very different visually to us, and inspire a certain amount of awe and affection that might prove harder to evoke if I had picked slugs… although maybe not…

This commonality with Life, gives a worldview somewhat at odds with much mainstream culture as it gets portrayed to us through the screens. The dichotomy of Man-made vs Nature, used as a highly emotive divisor of groups, vanishes. I wish, for a wildlife programme that includes people. David Attenborough has come close in some of his series; pictures of ancient rice terraces on The Natural World last night made me marvel at the amazing ways we, as animals, have engineered the world in the same way (though a different scale!) as beavers or termites.

I love, to see youtube videos of human animals leaping, dancing, scaling walls, having control and abilities in their bodies. Human beauty has so much more to it than a static picture. Now we have moved our representative arts technology beyond oil paintings, perhaps our awareness will catch up with this.

Do we realise just how vast a gulf these moving captures of beauty will take us across? Look at the effect of drawings when they first occurred. Whether causal or correlative, the emergence of representative drawing and sculpture tens of  thousand years ago marked the shift from living purely physically in the Now, to a way of concretising the Other-times, the then, past & future alike. We could see what others saw, from their eyes, from another time. That provided a huge leap into a type of objective thinking. Now, with this ease of video capture for so many of us, not only in the affluent industrialised parts of the planet but also beyond that, to desert tents, jungle huts, open beaches and peasant markets, we have immense scope for re-visioning how we see the world. Literally and metaphorically speaking.

So far, so philosophical. Where’s the magick in this?

Well, there’s the rub. I can’t tell you about the fantastic rituals and the successful results because, when Magick works well, it’s as if it hasn’t done anything. Of course the idea of us as another species of primate (& therefore more clearly animal) has a growing sense of inevitability. Naturally we accept our place as creatures of the planet, as complex, troubled, and creative as many others. We easily see ourselves as embedded in the world, rather than above it in some mythical realm of Difference. Many animals can do language, forward planning, laughter, tool preparation and usage, farming, enjoy intoxicants, indulge in sex for pleasure (including homosexuality), etc. Further examples appear on facebook regularly, and we rejoice in these findings. How long until we discover animals doing things we can only file under that catchall phrase, ‘ceremonial purposes’?!

Looking to the future, I see that robots/AIs have got a nice start to their own mythic origins as magicians. Hyperritual’s Robomancy project proposes utilising robots as tools of the magician, no doubt one day they will wave their own wands without our prompting, acting in response to environmental cues or internal algorithmic cues. Once this kind of meme starts to replicate, our own view of Man as separate from Nature crumbles into ash; from which we can perhaps distil salts to use as medicines to heal the hurt that this separatist perspective has caused.

The place of a magician intrinsically arising from the matrix of the natural world does present an issue for those who like the ancient ‘Man as God’ version of how it works… how does one earn the right to command shadowy powers if not by the favour of an Higher power? Do we adopt the hard earned right of the siddhi wielding saddhu, after thousands of hours of meditation, or gain access to the cheat codes of reality via a lineage from other ancient magicians, or does possession of a book/talismanic object confer this mysterious ability?

What will convince us to believe in our identity as magicians in this new 3D video capture realm of global communications? The number of viewers, reblogs, referential links to our viral spells & memes? Has a tv programme aired explaining our New World Vision, have media reports on changes in legislation or public opinion appeared?

Does standing in a chalk circle in a black robe (without a video camera) do it for us in the 21st century; can we maintain that strong belief in our efficacy without an omniscient eye upon us, do we choose to replace the sky god with the watchers of youtube?

As someone who works in groups often, I find enough reflection in the eyes in of my colleagues to allow me to hold the belief for long enough to make magick that works. I carry that belief via props to the times when no-one else accompanies me. By bearing witness, gods/other magicians/spirits shore up our actions, validating their efficacy. I would suggest that as we move into a ever more material world view, the technologically created gaze of the interweb plays that role, as indicated by the immense coverage of celebrity personas. (No I didn’t notice any occult imagery in Madonna’s SuperBowl show,  but, one could argue that she does indeed have ‘magical’ influence on the world.)

Wait though, have I discovered the quality unique to the human animal, namely doing this bizarre seemingly purposeless thing we describe as magick, bending reality to our whim; does this mark out our special status as god (or the current vogue, prehistoric alien) appointed stewards/exploiters of the planet? For me, this need to feel special finds greater fulfillment in recognising how special Life itself is, as a  phenomenon, and taking our place as one amongst many versions of its manifestation.

Only time will tell. Watching the ‘for ceremonial purposes’ antics of other animals in our millions will increase their influence on our shared world. We already like animals playing at other anthropogenic behaviours (sneezing, skateboarding, getting tickled). I await mongoose rain dances, elephant mourning rituals, and chimpanzee invocatory videos with eager anticipation. Please send me links of these so I can share them on Facebook 🙂