From the Vastly Deep – the reality of DMT entities and other spirits.

The question of the ‘reality’ or otherwise of aliens/elves/spirit beings seems to be a perennial one.  At two of my recent lectures, to The Birmingham Psychedelic Society and this month at the Nova Stella moot in London, this was a subject of concern. Aficionados of N,N-DMT, ayahuasca and some other psychedelics (notably high doses of psilocybin) also get to wrestle with this problem.  What are the ‘spirits’ that we may encounter when in these altered states?

Perhaps one of the greatest modern commentators on the Western encounter with the entheogenic spirit realm is Terence McKenna, he famously and carefully engineered our appreciation of the entities from DMT space.  He developed a highly open-ended mythology that permitted multiple interpretations of his nevertheless emphatically held ideas (the importance of psychedelics in the evolution of humans, the existence of intelligence in the DMT experience, and of a world heading towards an apocalyptic omega point). McKenna remains, in much of his writing and lectures, radically uncertain (or perhaps unwilling) to advance a simple single answer to the question ‘what are these DMT spirits really?’.

DMT heads

DMT heads

Earlier, in the 20th century, Aleister Crowley also addresses the question of the ‘reality’ of entities such as gods, angels, spirits and demons. He counsels the student of magic to be simultaneously respectful of the phenomena and suspicious of its ultimate origin and meaning.  And while Crowley, like McKenna, got swept up with an apocalyptic narrative (that of being The Beast 666), much of AC’s work espouses a significant degree of indeterminacy when it comes to the ‘reality’ of these things.

Crowley writes in Magick in Theory and Practice:

“In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.”

Psychedelic chemist and counter-cultural hero Casey Hardison, in conversation with Andy Roberts, considers this issue too. In an interview in the forthcoming book by Roberts, Acid Drops (out later this year through Psychedelic Press UK), Casey is asked for his views on the objective reality of these entities. In a characteristically brilliant answer Hardison opines thus:

Andy Roberts: Some people have claimed that during a psychedelic experience they have had contact with/been contacted by what might be termed intelligences or entities. Have you had any such experiences? If so can you give an example?

Casey Hardison: I have no certainty this has ever happened to me. I have, however, made shit up to this effect. I tend to think that the molecules themselves are entities. And, they have given me great insight into the vastness of my intelligence. Sure, I’ve seen the typical machine elves laughing at me and thought ayahuasca was an alien being that resides in my brainstem but I was high at the time.

AR: Do you think these experiences represent objective/real experiences involving entities external to the mind/body, whether their origin is earthly, extra-terrestrial, inter-dimensional, aspects of our mind/psyche or a mixture of any of these and more?

CH: No. I think that these experiences are personifications of the DNA instincts innate to us. They appear to be generated and sensed by our own brains. Jung would call them manifestations of the archetypes. Plato had his perfect forms. I tend to keep it simple and not tool off about possible alien intelligences. In short, I do not know. If there are aliens, I can’t wait to try their drugs.

 

DMT and related tryptamines may flick a neurochemical switch in our heads that induces a sense of ‘the real’,  but that is not the same as saying that the subjective experiences generated by this medicine are real in the same way that the screen you’re reading these words from is real. While many DMT visions may contain similar content, and while psychedelic drugs may promote conditions where phenomena such as apparent telepathy take place (leading to shared visionary experience), the notion that these chemicals allow us to interface with a ‘separate reality’, as Castaneda might have put it, is sparse.

Break on through

Break on through

Such notions of an ‘astral plane’ (existing as an ‘objective’ realm in the way our apparent world does) are not only the preserve of popular shamanism. Neurologist Andrew Gallimore hopes that one day we can get the dose and duration of DMT right so that; “we can envisage a time in the near future when a brave voyager might spend hours in their [the DMT elves] realm, asking specific questions, performing experiments, and bringing us closer to an independently verifiable relationship with citizens of an alternate universe”.

The curious thing (for magicians) is that DMT entities are trumpeted as ‘real’ denizens of some imagined (but in no way objectively supportable) alternate universe, whereas gods, ghosts, servitors, nature spirits and all the rest get (perhaps conveniently) forgotten. This says more about researchers’ lack of sensitivity to other ‘entities’ not encountered through psychedelics, and the continued use of facile real/not real conceptual models to understand imaginal entities, than it does about the entities themselves. Sure, when we have our ontological noses tweaked by the dance of a ‘jewelled, self-transforming basketball’ (as described by McKenna), while high on drugs, we may be shocked by what we encounter. However, when people report spirits in other contexts (such as hauntings, channellings, UFO abductions and evocations) some folk are more prone to dismiss them as purely subjective perceptions.

Aside of the proposal of getting super high on intravenous DMT, there are other methods to explore the reality of spirits. One of my favourites is the so-called ‘Philip Experiment’ conducted by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research in the early 1970s. To cut a long and fascinating story short, the group created a fictional entity (‘Philip’) who they proceeded to ‘contact’ by deploying the usual technology of spiritualist séances. As one might predict, even though the spirit was ‘imaginary’ (including a backstory that deliberately contained logically contradictory information), the team soon end up getting ‘actual’ psychic phenomena. Thus the spirit became ‘real’ and, following media attention such as the book Conjuring Up Philip and more recently the film The Quiet Ones, is now a global phenomena. For all I know there are places in the world where ‘Philip’ is worshipped as a god (aside of the Island of Tanna).

A conjurer's grimoire

A conjurer’s grimoire

So how might we as magicians, as people that work with spirits (with or without the administration of strange drugs), make sense of what’s going on and escape the dead-end of Cartesian dualism that demands that spirits be either ‘real’ (in the way that ravens and writing desks are real) or imaginary (by which we really mean ‘not true’)?

When we begin to unpack the ideas contained in words like ‘spirits’, we can get closer to a more nuanced appreciation of what may be really going on. ‘Spirit’ is a small word with a vast collection of potential meanings. Wikipedia observes:

The word spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to the consciousness or personality. The notions of a person’s spirit and soul often also overlap, as both contrast with body and both are believed to survive bodily death in some religions, and “spirit” can also have the sense of “ghost“, i.e. a manifestation of the spirit of a deceased person.

So let’s take that example of the ‘spirit’ of a human person. Where does that spirit live? What creates it? Out of what stuff does it emerge? Where does it go when the person dies?

Let’s start with the body. (This is particularly relevant since the word spirit is from the Latin ‘spiritus’ meaning ‘breath’.) The physical body of a person exists in intimate relationship with the environment.  People are be born, nourished and raised. As we develop physically we are admitted into the collective conspiracy of language and culture. Our minds emerge through this network of relationships. The physical architecture of the body itself is also about relationships, it is a vast interplay of electrochemical interactions. If we say that there is a ‘spirit’ here, that spirit consists of the sum total of these socio-cultural and electrochemical processes. We might say that the spirit is the name we give to our recognition of the entity that arises from this complex web of interactions. While alive we typically imagine that the spirit dwells somehow within the body of the person we associate with it, but in the event of illness or death that spirit may be released from the confines of the body.

For example; it may have been the case that at least one person in ancient Israel was the human individual that inspired the Gospels to be written. If that person existed they had a body made of interacting physical forces existing within a cultural space. After death (especially when powered by the miraculous story of a resurrection) they inhabit only the cultural space.  This postmortum entity grows and becomes branded as the ‘Spirit of Christ’.

Once we understand that ‘spirit’ is the word we give to personality or entity that apparently emerges from a series of processes (physical and cultural) we can see why we apply the word in so many contexts. We can meaningfully talk about the spirit of a place, an epoch, an ancestor and more. Does this mean the spirits are ‘real’? The answer is clearly ‘yes’.

We often encounter this approach in magic where the practitioner is encouraged to embrace their perception of these spirits as (real) entities. As Ramsey Dukes and many others have pointed out, imagining that the recalcitrant office photocopier has a personality (as does your car, boat, computer or whatever) confers a variety of advantages as a strategy to interact with the world. This is hardly surprising because interacting with self-aware entities is what the human nervous system is designed to do so. Our brain has evolved to recognise faces above all else and our whole organism is geared up to interact with other humans. We are a deeply social species. In ceremony when we invoke the gods we interact with them as though they are ‘real’ independent beings because that viewpoint provides the best results.

Facial recognition

Is your facial recognition software working?

However there are other times when we may be only interested in one small set of interactions within a system. By way of an example; if I were a doctor helping a patient with diabetes, while I would want to talk to them as a thinking, feeling, intelligent entity, I would also want to approach the measurement of the level of insulin in the blood as a predominantly mechanical chemical process. It’s about using the most appropriate conceptual tool for the job in hand. To give another example with a slightly different emphasis; if I look at a painting I could describe the image in terms of its position within the canon of Western art (the art historical view).  I may decide to talk about the image in terms of what it means to me and how it makes me feel (the personal aesthetic view). If I’m a conservator of paintings I may be primarily interested in the chemical composition of the paints (a purposeful, reductionist mechanical view).  Like the wise men feeling the body of the Elephant, each view is ‘a truth’ a ‘reality’. Truth is inevitably partial. Depending on what we want to achieve the person (and especially the magician) selects the approach that is the most helpful. Inside the ritual we interact with ‘the gods’; outside we may choose to view them as psychological constructs or convenient fictions.

The dichotomy of real/unreal is dissolved by this way thinking. Breaking down this dichotomy allows us to admit the reality of subjective perception (of ghosts or DMT elves) but doesn’t seek blunt Occam’s razor and postulate a different order of reality populated by entities that exist in some vaguely hypothesised alternative universe.

A close look at all disincarnate entities, from Father Christmas through to Aeonic Word transmitting Holy Guardian Angels, shows how these things emerge from the cultural experience of the person experiencing them. In the case of the haunting of Philip this imagined being was conjured into a certain setting (1970s spiritualism and parapsychology) and true to form behaves in ways that make sense in that context.

So in summary we can suggest:

  1. A spirit is our perception of an external (ie non-self) entity.
  2. This spirit emerges from a complex set of interactions which may include physical processes (eg the spirit of a living person that dwells in a body) and cultural forms (eg a character in fiction).
  3. We can choose to interact with the spirit as a separate entity without assuming that it has any kind of ‘objective’ reality.
  4. We can choose to interact with one or more of the processes that appear as a spirit entity, and disregard the idea of its apparent personality.
  5. We can admit the real subjective experience (‘I met a ghost’) and simultaneously recognise that cultural and other factors inform our experience (in Medieval Europe people met fairies, in modern America they may encounter grey-style aliens).

As I told the audience when I spoke at The Birmingham Psychedelic Society, during my first journey with ayahuasca I encountered the spirit of the brew as the Queen of the Forest. While I was dancing in the ceremony a giant mantis-like entity descended from the ceiling and, amusingly, in a voice that sounded rather like Kenneth Williams, said, ‘well, how nice to see you here!’ Now it may be the case that in some imagined spiritual-quantum-woo alternate universe this being has a separate existence. However I would suggest that the spirit was the emergent property of Banisteriopsis caapi + Psychotria viridis + the ceremony (which was Santo Daime style, containing songs about the Queen of the Forest) + my mind. This isn’t the same as saying the spirit wasn’t ‘real’, for it was undoubtedly a genuine experience for me of an objective entity. Rather, I suggest that the ‘spirit’ is the sum total of these interactions (including presumably my familiarity with the genius of the camp-Cockney comic) expressed in my awareness, at that time, as an apparently external talking entity.

Ooh Madrinha!

Ooh Madrinha!

Remember Casey says, ‘I tend to think that the molecules themselves are entities’ which is another statement of this magical approach. DMT entities are real but they live not in a different dimension but instead emerge when human brains meet this molecule. For me this is a much more satisfying (though admittedly more subtle) answer to the perennial question of real/not real. This approach places magic and spirit realm within the universe we inhabit and chimes in more closely with many animist and panpsychic views of reality both ancient and modern. This approach explains the confusion that ethnographers sometimes face when interacting with animist cultures (whether they are researching in ‘traditional tribal’ or ‘modern (post) industrial’ contexts); that there often seems to be no hard and fast distinction between people, animals, spirit beings, ancestors and gods. While the Cartesian tradition in Western thought desires neat distinctions this isn’t how many (and perhaps most) cultures actually work.

We should, as Dr Gallimore suggests, continue to explore the DMT realm, but I wonder if framing this exploration in terms of a quest to discern whether the elves are ‘real’ or not, is to misunderstand the phenomenology of spirits. Or, as The Queen of the Forest in her incarnation as Kenneth Williams might say, ‘stop messing about!’

JV

 

Start your day the Baphomet Way

It’s rare these days that I get a lazy Sunday at home but sometimes it happens.

On these occasions I like to start the day with a little ritual activity. At around 10am, as the Church bells ring on the far side of the river, I like to perform my own Sunday morning service.

Typically this consists of around a few tai chi stretches followed by some mindfulness meditation. After this, a brief sojourn into an altered state of awareness is, I find, the perfect way to start the day. Techniques that one might use to attain such a state include (where it’s safe and legal to do so) the use of short-duration entheogens (eg frankicense, cannabis, nitrous oxide, smoked Salvia divinoirum or the DMT family of spirits).

Rise and shine

Rise and shine

The audio recording here is suitable for use with this kind of approach or could be included as part of another perhaps longer practice. If you don’t fancy the use of chemognosis (which of course could also simply mean a really nice cup of tea) then dancing, shaking trance or other freeform bodywork would also be suitable during the section of chanting and drumming (the style of the chant used is derived from The Circle of Baphomet ritual described in The Book of Baphomet).

The first section of this recording includes the Ouranian Barbaric invocation and The Charge of Baphomet, both of which are described in more detail in Chaos Craft (book and Kindle formats available). Occult nerds will spot that this Charge is, like the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess, a mash-up text. You get extra majix points if you can figure out the names of all the authors.

No need to wait until Sunday! Have an initial listen and see if this approach floats your esoteric boat, and if it does, gather your ritual paraphernalia, press play, and enjoy!

PS. The Baphomet image used here was created by Luke Brown, check out his amazing artwork.

Magic in the Darkest of the Seasons

The Wheel of the Year spins, towards the darkest phase of the year here in the far north (i.e. Britain) .

Yesterday I was at a funeral in the local crematorium, to say goodbye to someone that I’d known in the course of my museum work. Within that garden of well-trimmed yew hedges, punctuated with sober brickwork structures, I stood out of the rain in the tiny waiting room. Drinking the vending machine coffee, and feeling emotions rising in me. This time last year I was swept up in that surreal swirl of organisation which attends the end of a human life. My Dad having passed away after a brief illness, I went with my Mum to speak with funeral directors, to make formal registration of the event. I helped her enter data into Governmental web forms.

A midwinter spirit

A midwinter spirit

It is during the winter months that most people in Britain die and, while some of this may be put down to infections, most of those deaths are not, at least overtly, directly caused by the darkness and harsh weather. Yet the correlation between death and the winter has remained true for hundreds of years. It is this fact that gives the death and rebirth of the solstice added poignancy. Thus there are those bitter sweet stories of the relationship between sacrifice, death, winter and spring, from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to The Selfish Giant.

Christmas, or Yule, or Mithrasmas (or whatever you like to call this feast) is the pivot point of the sun’s journey. It is overflowing with symbolism; there is the iconography of everything from the Messiah through to the Krampus; there are stories of hope and redemption, gifts brought at midnight by an aerial shaman, and ghostly tales from Christmas past.

The actual human deaths that occur in the deep midwinter enrich the symbols we absorbed as children; the Christmas tree, singing auld lang syne, then singing about the birth of magical child here to bring peace – as we mature as people, our reading and relationship with these symbols becomes deeper and more complex. Christmas becomes bitter sweet; an assertion of life and joy in the face of pain and heartache, but (if we are fortunate) we can continue to see the underlying message of renewal, of transformation and hope. Opening our-selves up to that Midwinter spirit, with all its sadness and joy, its blend of longing and elation, can be a difficult thing. For many people the black dog of depression follows them about in this season; echoing the outer darkness within their mindscape.

Given my own story at this time of year I can fully appreciate some recent writing by Anglesey Druid Kristoffer Hughes about the death of his Father, John Hughes, on the 11 of December:

This day, 10 years ago, was a dreadful day. We sat and we waited for the edges of forever to open and allow him respite and freedom from the pain of cancer. It is a day that none of us will readily forget. As twinkling fairy lights lit the streets beyond the hospital, as carolers took to singing, my Dad turned his face from this world and ventured into mystery.

The mystery of life and death was the subject of recent meditation I shared with folks at The Psychedelic Society of London (where I took part in a collaborative ritual event).

Psychedelic supper time

Psychedelic supper time

After an excellent evening of food and simple, highly accessible ceremonial practice, one participant asked whether, as an occultist, I had special powers. Where had all my years of magical ceremony, gnostic states and spiritual adventuring really got me? Could I leap tall buildings in a single bound, or perhaps control the weather with my mind? What was the kind of power that magic provides to those who practice it successfully?

There are lots of potential answers to this perfectly legitimate question. But one special ability many magicians aspire to, is to be able to live this life fully. To engage and connect intimately with the universe in which we find ourselves. This is the work of living a fully human authentic life (and the praxis of magic is a great way to approach this process). Come this time of the year, this time of death and of tinsel, this authenticity for me is about being able to hold the paradox of midwinter, to be empowered by it, and to express that insight in relationship with others (as Kristoffer did in sharing his writing about his father).

We can describe this aspiration (or, to the degree we manifest it, this ‘special power’), to be authentic, fully alive, in terms of doing our (True) Will, manifesting our inner nature, being in tune with the web of wyrd and all that (should we wish it to sound properly esoteric).

Of course, in answer to the question about ‘special powers’ one might offer stories about the many and varied ways that magic works. I’d claim magic is capable of making all kinds of transformations in the world (from things that look like applied psychology, through to proper parapsychological and synchronistic effects). However if the Great Work of Magic is really that, Great, it has to be about more than gaining skills in spells that increase the probability of accomplishing some simple desire.

But are such Taoist musings simply a cop out because sane people generally don’t claim to have any demonstrable superhuman abilities? What’s the use of doing magic if you can’t do literalist Harry Potter style spells? The difficulty is that real magic, outside of the imaginal world, does not often look like ‘special powers’. Magic is much more subtle and indeed far-reaching, which is why it is so difficult (and often meaningless) to empirically test. Any magician worth their consecrated salt is also aware that there are always multiple ways of reading any event in the universe. (Even something as ‘nuts and bolts’ real as the brain structure changes that appear to be the result of mindfulness and other practices). The most effective of magicians generally hold lightly to their accomplishments, not because they do not believe in their agency, but rather because they believe that ‘as above, so below’, and they know that the simple cause-and-effect/linear chain-of-events view of reality is only a partial truth.

What magic looks like (in your head)

What magic looks like (in your head)

Moreover when we are faced with human scale reality, for example the inevitable death of those we love, this is where our magic needs to be at its most powerful. Not in trying to hold back the tide of reality, like some kind of death-defying comic book character, but rather to learn how to flow with the way the world is; with grace, kindness and strength. To use the challenges we meet as humans in our work to make our soul.

So what might the star-following, wise magus want for Christmas? What gift of siddhi or mystical insight might we hope that the Santa Shaman might present to us? (Especially if we’ve been good all year; done our meditation and body work, done Priest work for others, deployed our magic in day to day acts of sorcery, undergone powerful initiatory journeys etc etc…)

For myself I’d like the power to enter that Mystery of the Darkness (a mystery glyphed in the Chaos Craft system by octarine). To fully know, at all parts of my self, the potential and power of transformation possible at the time. To pay attention to, and be inspired by the stories of this season; in myself, in the landscape, in the communities I meet; and to communicate that wonder to others.

At a human psychological level this darkness works its magic by transforming the loss I feel when I think of my Dad. Instead I am thankful for the fact that these feelings arise because I loved my Dad and he loved me. I notice the loss, the darkness, acknowledge it. Then I become aware of that tiny, but bright light of hope. This is my gratitude to the universe for having this good man in my life. I reach out through the web of wyrd to those others who sit with loss at this time of the year and wish that they too can find their own light in this long night.

At the end of his writing Kristoffer likewise goes beyond this own sadness into an affirmation of his connection to his father; a clear act of magic:

“…I sense that part of the Universe that holds his experience of being Alan John Hughes, my father…
And that for today, is enough comfort for me to hold his memory close and know that a part of him lives on.”

Christmas is a time for magic. Part of the magic of this time is that we come together, friends and family and share our company and stories. We feast in the darkest of seasons, we shine the light of our humanity through our communities and this illuminates us all. As magicians we seek to place our attention into this time, for ourselves and the liberation of all beings, we step into the octarine unknown of the new year. We tune in to the tides within the micro and macrocosm and use these to empower our Great Work of transformation, in whatever way makes sense for us. Not as superheroes but as fully realised (and ‘realising’ – it being a process) flawed, mortal, fabulous humans.

Seasonal Shiva; Yuletide intervention by Number One Son

Seasonal Shiva; Yuletide intervention by Number One Son

May you be blessed with the magical gifts of this midwinter spirit; with peace, delight, joy, empowerment, transformation, and may these manifest in your life in the way that serves your unique humanity in the best way possible.

JV

 

An Audience with Jake Stratton-Kent

Could you give us your superhero backstory please? How did you get involved with occultism?

It was very spontaneous, hanging out with some guys in a log cabin one of them said ‘Jake, you’ve got the soul of a warrior’. This was a life changing catalyst from out of the blue, and I rapidly hunted down a magical manual; luckily enough the first one I found was Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, and I balanced research and practice from then on, never assuming moderns knew better on an a priori basis. As the saying goes, I’ve never looked back.

Goetic Adept

Goetic Adept

Could you tell us a little about your work with the English Qabalah and the Thelemic current more generally?

When Ray Sherwin handed over ‘The New Equinox’ I contacted the editors, particularly the late Jim Lees (attended his funeral recently, complete with jazz band, a good send off). English Qaballa (there’s reasons it is spelled that way) rocked my world: it was very modern, assumed nothing on the basis of previous systems (including the numeration of letters, which wasn’t decimal but serial) and was extremely productive. The approach was radically different from the GD/AC qabalah; if there is a Hebrew analogue it’s more Abraham Abulafia (who connected so called ‘literal kabbalah’ with *practical* Kabbalah rather than mere number crunching. Other affinities range from Dee (who saw cabala as universal rather than limited to Hebrew, see Hieroglyphic Monad) to Austin Spare’s practical use of the English Alphabet. It was majorly focused on esoteric exegesis (deep immersion in scripture, which is dangerous but properly conducted very powerful too). From these ‘interpretations’ various magical formulae were derived, leading to revolutionary approaches to astrologically timed ritual. Some of this work broke the old rules, for example not avoiding the ‘unfortunate’ Via Combusta (the Moon’s  transit between particular degrees of Libra/Scorpio), but using it. The 93 Current was understood to be destructive, and SCORPIO=93 in EQ. Solar conjunctions, also traditionally avoided, were a strong focus of this work also, often with ecstatic ‘Tantric Worship in English’, which, with astro-timing a given, was essentially the definition of magick within this paradigm.

It didn’t hurt that the group concerned included several scientific types and was very capable and practical: making swords, growing herbs and test driving all manner of plants, even making their own paper – an intense and highly educational period. Had no resemblance to Edwardian Lodge magic either, which also helped!

You’ve written extensively on goetic magic, what is it about this approach to spirit work that appeals to you? What would you say have been the key discoveries from your historical/applied research and how have they informed your practice?

There’s another approach? <grin>

It’s been a while but a couple of things kicked it off, other than my long standing interest in the grimoires, and the Grimorium Verum or True Grimoire in particular.

One was the dawning realisation that the darker grimoires tended to involve more ‘primal gnosis’ and were closer to the ancient approaches as in the papyri and elsewhere. There were historical aspects to this, the shift in Western magic from images (often involving animal forms), to words and particular ‘sacred alphabets’ was a given to me from my reading of Frances Yates &c. This initial insight only deepened and widened as I proceeded.

Another was my response to Ron Hutton shooting down modern witchcraft’s pseudo history; balanced with his rider that it also had a real heritage: the ritual magic tradition. Another spontaneous statement by a friend provided the final spur in the right direction. Oddly enough she has the same surname as the friend whose words kickstarted my magical career. Anyhow, she mentioned the connection between the Idaean Dactyls and goetia (a reference to them in ancient Greek is the first mention of goetia in the literary record).

So I worked my way through the process of the Grimorium Verum very thoroughly, making more pacts than is strictly necessary or sane. Much of this ‘overkill’ was necessary to better understand the system and its pantheon, which is essentially how I view a ‘spirit catalogue’. Also wrote a commented reconstruction of the grimoire based on my interest, experience and so forth. Much of this work took place in England, but some large scale group rites in the US played an important role. My appreciation of the ancient background of goetia was developing rapidly during this intense work phase. Ultimately what began as an intended appendix to the True Grimoire turned into a two volume sequel detailing the origins of ALL Western Magic in ancient goetia!

Connecting goetia with necromancy, a connection it never shrugged off even when actual work with the dead diminished in the Middle Ages &c, was a critical insight. From there it is a small leap to realising that ideas about the Afterlife  eschatology in short – are and always were connected with our ideas about spirits.

It is this which always provided a context in which spirits and magicians have a basis for working with one another which is mutually beneficial. Rather than the modern but dated ‘unpaid shopkeeper’ approach which is lacking in depth in a big way. Mugging an entity to supply your wishes is so philosophically unsatisfying, but with modern Western Magic being largely from a secularised Protestant culture, it doesn’t occur to most of us how inadequate this perspective is. The briefest possible definition of magic is in fact ‘practical eschatology’; it is interesting how much explanation such an obvious point requires sometimes!

Allowing for whatever secrecy is required by your practice, could you share what techniques do you tend to use in your magick? (ie the predicable chaos magic question ‘what do you *do*?’)

It varies. I started out with a similar toolkit to everyone else, have worked the IOT curriculum solo and with a mentor, as well as the GD/AC stuff etc etc.

On the other hand, I’ve generally had an eye on ancient methodologies as well as what little an English lad could learn about New World Traditions in 70s England onward.

One of my major bendings of the modern toolkit is definitely worth mentioning. Assumption not of godforms but animal forms (bestial deities &c or ‘theriomorphs’ to coin a term).

That always packs a punch for me, and I’ve worked it in a variety of ways with consistently good results. In the process I’ve adopted ‘animal alphabets’ connected with particular constellations and lunar mansions. Originally the magical images of the decans were of a similar type, before getting ‘laundered’ and made more human and/or allegorical.

Warping myself or my ‘astral body’ into the appropriate animal or beast headed deity &c to – say – consecrate a talisman, connects with deeply primal magical currents. It also works a treat, which is the main issue.

Could you explain your current understanding of what a spirit is (or ‘does’)?

I’ve found working with them as autonomous entities is the most straightforward and effective method. I remain largely agnostic as to the hows and whys.

Yes, as a fairly sophisticated Westerner I’ve pondered possible scientific explanations. Coming from an EQ background, or my take on it anyway, I find a ‘psycho-linguistic’ model provides a possible ‘scientific’ explanation. With leanings toward Chomsky & Monod; no Cartesian dualism involved!

Language is the vehicle of consciousness and culture, and has always been deeply linked to magic. Whether this model explains everything or not, it at least shows that the ‘Jungian archetypes’ are only one possible take, and one with more dodgy overtones. Gods, heroes, myths and spirits are present in every aspect of normal life; especially the media: sport, politics, war, drama & the arts, and our responses to them. Essentially though I’m an Instrumentalist philosophically speaking, the autonomous entity model works best and also shuts off the cop out clause. Once you begin a relationship with a spirit you have to see it through; a ritual is much more than a quick fix to some problem or other and then forget your partner in crime.

You’ve been doing this magick lark for some considerable time. Do you think esoteric practice/culture has changed since you first picked up a wand, and if so in what ways?

Yes and no – while the more aware practitioners who keep up with their peers have definitely opened new directions or rediscovered stuff the early Revival neglected or got wrong. Meanwhile, the same old same old is never hard to find. I still occasionally have to tell people goetia is not just the name of a book Crowley pinched from Mathers.

That aside, some of the fuddy duddy stuff has definitely slackened off, but there’s still plenty of market led consumer magic around.

How do you see the relationship between (your) occultism and wider culture (eg politics)?

There is no shortage of elitist, right wing & self-centred takes on magic; it isn’t anything like the whole story. Hecate – the archetypal witch goddess – was patron of the poor, and *need* is one of the most potent drivers and amplifiers of magic. I rarely do magic for personal gain, unless there is some experimental purpose to be served. Politically I’m wary of the State and lean more towards anarchism among the modern political philosophies. I don’t particularly like socialism, and certainly don’t glamourise communism, but while they may not be the solution, unbridled capitalism is still the problem. Both socialism and capitalism have their problems, but in a democratic society balancing the two makes a deal of sense. In practice I vote against the Tories consistently, and see the world trying to drift towards corporate fascism and a less free world than the one I grew up in, Cold War notwithstanding. Hopefully the ‘inevitable’ triumph of the Right will prove to be as illusory a tunnel reality as the old Mutual Assured Destruction was.

What current projects are you working on?

A couple of things in the writing line, one of which will compare the spirit hierarchies of several major grimoires. One purpose is to clarify the identities behind the seemingly wildly different names. Also to shift the view from text and apparatus towards the real stars of the show, the spirits; who have represented magic far longer than any of us have been involved in it.

Thanks again for your time Jake, really appreciated.

JV

You can find more information about Jake’s work here, here and here.

Hallowing The Halloween Spirit

The season of the witch is once more upon us. The shops are filled with the spooky accoutrements of Halloween; devilish tridents, ghost masks, spray-on cobwebs and of course tumescent pumpkins. Halloween (or Samhain, or Samuin or whatever reconstruction/neo-Pagan name one prefers for this event) is for me the most archetypally occult of the eight sabbats. Whatever its imagined roots, this festival, for many people across the world, represents a time for us to celebrate the weird, the uncanny, the mysterious.

Don't fear The Reaper

Don’t fear The Reaper

Halloween is a commemoration of the universal fact of death and a time to remember our ancestors, but also and crucially, a time for children, for spooky fun and for practices such as trick-or-treating. As callow youths we naturally become interested in death and, as a former goth, I was no exception. However as we get older and we experience the fact of death – the ageing and death of beloved parents, the tragic demise of our peers that have lost their battle against mental and other illnesses, our view of death may become less devil-may-care, better informed by the reality of our mortality, and perhaps more sombre.

Halloween is a counter-point to this. The significant role of children as participants in the folk customs of this time (and in Britain as the key group who (re)imported Halloween activities such as trick-or-treating from North America culture into Europe) is emblematic of this. Today many young people in the west are strangers to death and that’s probably not a bad thing. Depending on when and where we look kids in the past had, by-and-large, a much higher chance of dying in infancy, of having a least one deceased sibling, or of encountering death through infectious illness, industrial injury or a thousand thousand other means. So while death still stalks the land in many nations (not least those currently wracked by war), it is outside the commonplace experience of many of us, and outside the ken of many of our children.

Some people, perhaps those who do not yet have personal experience of death, or who suffer from a reduced imaginative capacity, may seek to engage with death vicariously. For them the adult horror industry of gory movies or novels maybe their preferred style. They may fetishise serial killers or other mentally and socially damaged people. Wishing that, in the fact of their emotionally numb life, they were an actor (or viewer) of some terrible twisted drama. While I’m sure that some folk who dig the horror genre may have other reasons to be fascinated by these things I can’t help but think that a knowledge of history and a sense of human empathy is probably all you need to conjure more than enough tragedy into one’s mind.

Meanwhile, in one of the museums in which I work we are preparing for our Halloween celebrations. We switch off the main lights; deploy a range of scary sound effects, atmospheric illumination, prepare the gallery where kids will meet the witch (a costumed member of staff with a cauldron full of trick-or-treat goodies) and Mexican style cut-out and colour skull masks for our younger visitors to make as they listen to ghost stories in the museum cafe.

Skull mask template and Halloween gifts from my Mum for my children (contains chocolate!)

Skull mask template, and Halloween gifts from my Mum for my children (contains chocolate!)

For those of us who are older; having lost loved ones that have passed into the realm of the ancestors – this child-like delight in death, the gruesome, the frightening, is a way of shaking us out of a funereal, perhaps depressed mindset in the face of this festival. The carnivalesque, wild delight of Samhain, whether that’s expressed by children donning fearsome costumes and going stalking the night in search of candy, or of adults dressing up as anything from zombie pirates to sexy witches – for me these things are as much part of this festival as altars to Guédé, prayers to our ancestors and silent time spent scrying in the cauldron on the night when the veil between seen and unseen worlds are at their thinnest.

Guédé family altar

Guédé family altar

Halloween itself, and the wider season of this time, are full of (apparent) contradictions; the young dress like skeletons, we buy our poppies to remember the war dead, we celebrate (at least in England) the attempted destruction of Parliament by gunpowder with fireworks and bonfires. We burn effigies, we bob for apples, we enjoy the darkness and yet also fear it, as the day length is sharply cut back here in the far north. Children roam the streets (ideally with a caring adult in tow if they are young ones), out and abroad (even though it is night-time!) looking for strangers (typically indicating that their house is ‘fair game’ by displaying Halloween decorations at the window) from whom they can score sweets. We celebrate death by engaging with the thrill of being alive, like Guédé (patron loa of both death and fertility) at a cultural level we create a cut-up of contrasting iconography.

This is Scorpio time; the sign of sex and death, the chaoists’ favourite astrological 8th house that rules magick and the occult. Outside it’s time to do the last harvest, the apples drop from the trees in my orchard and are brewed up on the stove. Stewed with cinnamon and cloves and honey we feast on the fruits of the year. Orion the hunter rises in the sky, winter is coming and we play with the edges of excitement and fear as the dark rises and the wheel of the year turns again.

JV

Inspiration from the Darkness – the psychology of magick

As well as the theoretical material here at theblogofbaphomet we also like to include examples of practical esoteric technique. So here’s a recent example of a ritual that I did with Steve Dee and Nikki Wyrd. The aim of this practice was to enter the darkness of the coming year, and be nourished by that time in order to empower the writing work that we’re all engaged in at the moment. This is particularly helpful for me as, like many folks who live here in Britain, I sometimes find the darkness of the year psychologically challenging. While my own story isn’t medicalised into ‘seasonal affective disorder’ I do sometimes wish that my work pattern was one where I could spend more time outside in the light (and of course working in museum environments means I’m often out of reach of daylight) and more of the dark part of the year hibernating and dreaming.

For some people this kind of magic looks perilously close to psychology. I’ve certainly seen (for example in response to Steve Dee’s recent article about sculpting and altars) folks getting exercised about how their gods are not ‘just archetypes’ and their mystical path as something much more profound than neurological hacking plus a pointy hat. In my view this kind of opinion (also voiced by Nick Farrell in his article) perhaps misses the point that psychology is, of course, literally the study of the mind. I’m not sure that there is anything much more magical than the psyche and, solipism notwithstanding, all magical acts (even those with apparently measurable parapsychological effects) require a mind somewhere in their operation.

There is also the confusing idea of ‘real’ (Nick in his article says “Personally I would like an NLP “expert” to try to explain a real Daemon as an extension of their unconscious as it strangles him or her with his own intestines.”). The problem with ‘reality’ is that it is inevitably mediated through inter-subjective consensus (ie people’s minds). But anyone with an appreciation of psychology will appreciate that the mind is also ‘real’. Placebo, psychosomatic illnesses and the power of positive thinking are all real, and indeed have hard-science measurable effects. However whether a demon (however arcane our choice of spelling) can, in a literal measurable sense, strangle someone using their own gut  is, I would suggest, open to debate (and a request for proof).

Reasons to be fearful

Reasons to be fearful (probably)

Those familiar with the four models of magic proposed by Frater U.’.D.’. will also recognise that the ‘psychological paradigm’, rather than being a species of ‘magic lite’ is actually just one way of describing what is going on. No less useful (or true) than the energy, spirit or information models. However it is currently the dominant model in our culture (most people believe in psychology whereas belief in occult energies or demons is perhaps less common). There is also lots of very useful research that has emerged from psychology (in its many forms, from transpersonal psychology to sociology, neurology and more) and the wise magician is likely to find much of value in the grimoires of those disciplines.

And so, to Work!

In robes we descend to my subterranean temple space. Here under the earth we have prepared candles, a strobe light, smoke machine, incense and music (specifically this). We begin by holding hands (because that’s always nice). We take four breaths together; one for the sky above us, one for the earth within which we sit, one for the water that surrounds our island of Britain, and one for the fire in our hearts.

I strike the singing bowl and read the invocation of Baphomet (from The Book of Baphomet).

We sit for a while in silence.

Still seated in the circle we being playing drums, manjïrà, blowing a conch, striking singing bowls and using our voices. The music is loud, the strobe machine flashes bright pulsing light in the underground chamber. As the smoke swirls around us we contact the darkness, the earth, bringing our attention to the fact that, as they say,  winter is coming.

Shamanism going underground

Shamanism going underground

The music ends and we go upstairs, into the light and the brightness. We light incense and more candles. An image of Thoth, god of writing, graces the altar. We begin by shaking our bodies, loosening up and then dance using this music.

Finally we laugh and embrace, the ritual ends.

This basic technique; a movement from dark to light was done on the day of the September equinox. Our rite is both a celebration of this time and a way of orientating ourselves to the coming experience. We could have dressed it up with more bells and smells, more favourite deities and even demonic seals and other old skool majix. We could have added mind-expanding substances or barbaric languages but sometimes magic can just be simple. As simple as psychology, but no less magical for all that.

JV

Crowleymass and the Cannabis debate

As a supporter of an end to the war on (some) drugs I’m very pleased to see that the British Parliament is finally going to have a debate about the current prohibition on the use of cannabis.

My own interest in this matter is that I believe that cannabis is a sacred plant, a religious sacrament. I also think that it’s enjoyable and that, as a Pagan, I don’t need to see the ideas of (as the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess puts it) ‘mirth’ and ‘reverence’ as mutually incompatible states. Add to this the excellent arguments for the medical and technical use of cannabis and hemp, and the history of racism (which is both the reason for the prohibition on this plant, as well as a method used to inflame people’s opinions against it) and the case for changing the law is a strong one.

This green and pleasant land

This green and pleasant land

The massively successful petition to the British government calling for the legalisation of cannabis was formally replied to by simply restating, without any references for evidence, the current government’s position – namely that ‘drugs are bad’ (except alcohol, and tobacco; plus, for the political classes cocaine, and, er.., cannabis).

Snorted!

Snorted!

However the large number of signatories means that supporters will get this discussed in The Commons. The good news for those of us who don’t want this debate to be simply an opportunity for our public servants to trot out the usual (evidence poor) opinions of prohibitionists, is that the discussions are to be led by Paul Flynn. Flynn is part of the committee that looks at petitions made using the government website (which was set up after the MPs’ expenses scandal to make government appear to be listening more successfully to the people ). He’s also a long-time supporter of cannabis law reform. In addition we have Jeremy Corbyn (Peace Be Upon Him) as leader of the opposition, who is also on record as being in favour of removing the ban on ganja.

Perhaps with a few Tory libertarians in tow, with the single Green MP on board, and maybe others, we may see some real developments towards ending these wasteful (of money), distressing (in terms of making otherwise lawful citizens outlaws) and pointless (prohibition simply doesn’t work at curbing drug use) laws.

I’d encourage people to write to their MP to ask them attend this debate and press for reform. Have a look at this link which gives an outline letter, and information about how to contact your MP. If you’re like me, you may also wish to add something to the information given about the right to use cannabis being a religious issue, and one of cognitive liberty.

You may also choose listen to this soundtrack while you do this important magical work. The mix includes the original trailer for the film Reefer Madness, The Orb, Junior Mervin & Dillinger with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and a classic track by HÖH & Current 93. I’ve selected the Current 93 track as the date of the debate just happens to be the birthday of one Aleister Crowley; what a lovely present for the 140th anniversary of The Great Beast!

Beastly law

Beastly law

Time to contact your MP is limited, the debate is fast approaching. If you’re going to do this, why not do it now? Copy the info from the CLEAR site, paste it into an email for your MP, add your own points and send that message. Enjoy!

JV