The Slow Burn of Initiation

We all want things yesterday; quicker service, faster broadband, shorter travel times. If something is good surely it will be even better if we can get it in half the time? In the busyness of our day-to-day lives wouldn’t it better if we could apply the aesthetics of our drive-through, take-away culture to our spiritual aspirations as well? Being a Shaman sounds so cool! Surely a couple of weekend workshops should do it or even better could I do it via Skype?

Most of us know deep down that this isn’t going to get it done. In a disposable age of quick fixes, fast food and bodge jobs, something at the root of our souls wants substance, and in our hunger for something truly nutritious we have a hunch that the thing that we seek will require real effort.

I have previously written on the blog about the influence of the Slow Movement and the way that it may help contemporary magicians cultivate maturity. Rather than increased mindfulness being limited to a set of internal practices, the Slow Movement challenges us to wonder what would happen if such a mindful perspective was brought to bear on the whole of our lives. What would our eating habits look like, our transport arrangements, our approach to child-care?

In my own pursuit of initiatory work I was reminded of this perspective once again as I reached an apparent impasse. After an investment of over 20 years of working with the type of non-linear, improvised form of sorcery know as Chaos Magic, was it time to call it a day and move on or was I able to find another gear, a deeper level from which I could continue to practice with a sense of integrity and personal congruence?

When something becomes as all-consuming as the pursuit of awakening, it can be hard to pause and take stock. When our internal fires are ignited, the pursuit of gnosis can expand to fill both our waking hours and dreamscapes. The gift of consciousness pushes us to expand and transcend the parameters of nature, and yet to do so without respecting both our physical and psychological health leads us vulnerable to burn out. As much as we may lust to the see the fruition of our own Great Work, wisdom seems to ask that we seek times when we surrender the work back to the earth and its cycles.

This concept of a necessary pause and rest first came to my attention via the work of Edred Thorsson. In his Nine Doors of Midgard he provides the seeker of mystery with a magical syllabus that can easily involve between 3-5 years of sustained engagement. In the course of pursuing such a heroic undertaking, it becomes critical to step back from the work; to bury it so that it might re-emerge invigorated. The depth of work set out in the Nine Doors is both awe inspiring and daunting. Looking back, my own failure to complete it in a sustained burst initially felt like an affront to my success driven ego, but now I realize I had something important to learn.

When we get to the point where we feel burnt-out or our practice feels stale or broken, it can be a profound opportunity to tune in to our deepest motivation. As a Chaos Magician, it would be all too easy to fill this unease with the pursuit of a different paradigm or the shiny baubles of new techniques, but for me I knew that this would have been missing the point. For me I was faced with the far more daunting task of reconnecting to initiatory “need-fire” i.e. when life circumstances strip us back, what remains as our vital drives and motivations? What is it that I have to do?

flasks1

Working with Slow Change

In pursuit of my own initiatory work I recently took a trip to Prague to meet with a group of magicians from around the world. Prague is an amazing city that feels like a heady meeting place of East and West, the modern and ancient and it was a fitting context for my own attempts to slow down and reconnect to the deep motivation for my own work.

Prague has its own wealth of occult history and lore; the legend of the Golem, the adventures of Dee and Kelly being but two. As you walk among its streets, its baroque and gothic buildings feel fully in keeping with the pursuit of the hidden and the nightside. Via Rudolph II’s obsession, Prague has long been associated with the art of alchemy and this alongside its love of absinthe’s green fairy created for me an enjoyable sense of romantic seediness.

These rich references to alchemy seemed to mirror the slow change and transformation that I am seeking. The Spagyric processes of drawing out and bringing together via fermentation and distillation require time, space and attention. Recently this process of Solve et Coagula (“To dissolve and concentrate”) has felt especially present at both the level of self via initiation and within the macrocosm of the natural world through the loss of beloved family members. This is a slow-burn process that has required patience and an awareness that artificially rushing things is likely spoil the intended goal.

In the spiralling gyre of my own initiatory work, it feels as though I am continually seeking to refine this process of stripping back and slowing down. Definitely not easy, but in doing so I allow the possibility of tuning in to the essential fires of my work and an acknowledgement of what my head, heart and body need to make this journey sustainable.

Prague-Astronomical-Clock-2
New Perspectives on Time: Astronomical Clock- Prague

Steve Dee

 


 

Don’t forget you find more Steve Dee deliciousness in his new book A Heretics Journey: Spiritual Freethinking for Difficult Times.

Properly Prepared – Initiations into Freemasonry and Chaos Witchcraft

This week I took my Third Degree initiation and became a Master Mason, which was nice.

As someone who has already gone through Wiccan, OTO, IOT and other initiatory rites I found the Masonic initiation process fascinating and deeply moving. As anyone who has been paying attention to the history of esotericism knows, many key elements of contemporary ‘western’ initiatory ritual (being blindfold and bound, actual or symbolic nakedness, a challenge with a weapon at the threshold of the sacred space) along with much of the specific language (such as ‘The Charge’, the formal presentation of ‘working tools’ and phrases such as ‘So Mote it Be!’) are derived from Freemasonry.

For those of a salacious (or insane) persuasion Freemasonry undoubtedly conjures up fantasies of a baby-eating, one-world governing, lizard brotherhood. The truth is rather less outré. Freemasonry exists primarily as an inclusive (ie multi-denominational) ritual structure at the core of something which is essentially an affinity group based on mutual aid. That’s why there were so many Freemasons (and indeed other organisations such as the Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, the Ancient Order of Druids and the Ancient Order of Foresters) in early modern Britain. These groups provided their members with financial and social support in times of trouble before the creation of welfare state and social security systems. (Which, it’s worth remembering, is a valuable all-inclusive structure: One my ancestors fought for having endured exploitation by the plutocratic class during the times of enclosure and the industrial revolution.)

Woodland regalia

Woodland regalia

The rituals within Freemasonry, whether they are the Three Degrees or the side-degrees (such as The Royal Arch) are typically initiations. This emphasis on initiation is continued by the Masonic-Thelemic mashup of practice provided by the OTO, and indeed this focus on initiation found in some styles of Wicca. (In its most curious manifestation this shades off into, in my view, a bizarre emphasis by some ‘hard Gard‘ practitioners on maintaining an imagined lineage of practice back to Gerald Gardner who, as any fule kno, along with Crowley, made up Wicca in the first place, predominately out of his own head.)

Freemasonic rituals are learnt by heart, and this is key to the practice. In a chaos magic sense the ‘esoteric tech’ being deployed is that of achieving memorisation, while at the same time, keeping the ritual sounding fresh and alive (especially when these words are spoken to the candidate during initiation).

The corpus of Masonic ritual texts is extensive, with much of the material being contained in The Blue Book (which naturally comes in many variations depending on the Lodge, region and nation in question). Unsurprisingly, given the period in history in which this system was developed (the United Grand Lodge in Britain is about to celebrate its 300th year anniversary) the art of memory is central to the system. I’ve met Freemasons who have memorised The Blue Book completely and, when examined, can recall the text, in any order, with >97% accuracy. Now that’s certainly one way to ‘build the temple’ (or pyramid, see below) of practice!

While Freemasonry relies on the cultivation of exact memory my own practice is usually quite different.

Another day, another initiation; This time with me as one of the initiators.

I was approached by a magician from London who asked if he could undergo an initiatory process within the envelope of Chaos Craft. His motivation wasn’t so much to be part of ‘our club’ but rather to use an approach to magic he digs (ie that witchcraft meets experimental magic vibe) as part of his own self-transformative process. Sometimes an initiation isn’t into something, as much as it is about a process; a desire for a ceremonial act that both recognises where we are at, and instigates a new cycle of change and development at an individual level.

Challenging times

Challenging times

Our candidate having completed his preparatory work, bravely made his way from the big city to deepest darkest Devon. That evening we read through the ritual, a variation of the one given in Chaos Craft. Since our candidate had also read the rite (and because we tend to favour an open source approach) we took a little time in my kitchen to run through the ceremonial plan with him present:

“So, we make the space. Do some stuff to open, maybe the chaosphere banishing.”

“What 8.1?”

“Or is it 1.8? Anyhow, yeah, up and down once, then 8 thingies at each direction widdershins”

“Then say some stuff about the wheel of the year and pull in the powers from each direction…”

Our informality was obvious. In our group (in this case me, Nikki Wyrd and Steve Dee) we’ve worked together for so many years we can use a simple short-hand. But as I explained to our guest and candidate:

“Don’t worry, we talk about this like it’s throw away stuff, but we’ll be using some serious focus when we’re in the temple.”

(And we did.)

Star system

Star system

At the end of the Chaos Craft initiation the new initiate is asked to declare an identity for themselves with a (magical) name and (personally chosen) title. In advance of the rite I could see our candidate diligently reading through this section of the text (and generally looking for those places in the order of ceremony where he had to say stuff), so I explained:

“Each piece of text here is a guide to what might be expressed at this point in the ritual. Don’t worry about the exact words. Think of the writing more like place-holders for what we hope will be expressed in each part of the ceremony”.

This free-form approach to ritual is much more common in (for want of better words) ‘shamanic’ styles of work, in contrast with the rote-learning Hermetic-Masonic styles of ceremony. While shamanic style rites may require memorisation (many archaic cultures have great traditions of learning stories, geologies and songs by heart, and the Chaos Craft initiation itself requires the memorisation of a Barbaric Invocation) the emphasis is on what I call ‘saying what needs to be said in the moment’. The words on the page are like guidance notes; serving suggestions for what happens as the ceremony unfolds. In terms of the esoteric tech this is a method-acting, spontaneous approach.

Obviously contrasting these approaches isn’t a value judgement; memorised ritual has it’s place, as does a more improvised style. And a good blend of both approaches is what the successful occultist aims to cultivate. Like Crowley says:”The Magician must build all that he has into his pyramid; and if that pyramid is to touch the stars, how broad must be the base!”

May your pyramid touch the stars!

JV