Digging in the Dirt

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel…

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

Peter Gabriel  Digging in the Dirt

When we enter onto a path of initiatory magic that seeks to transform the Self it can be easy to lose perspective. In exercising the antinomian bravery of putting our own evolution before the concerns of the gods (real or imagined), we can still get caught-up in becoming overly attached to our own reflection. In the project of awakening and self-sovereignty we can easily become delusional about where our humanity and divinity intersect. Even so-called “living Gods” have to clean the litter tray and push the shopping cart!

In seeking to assess the potential value of the plethora of resources claiming to offer progress along the Left-Hand Path, I would be highly skeptical about any source or school that doesn’t account for failure. Organisations and Orders may well want to emphasize the potential greatness of what their methods might help you attain and obtain, but we still need to show discernment in evaluating the actual method in getting there. While I may be drawn to night-side aesthetics that Kennet Granholm helpfully described as “the Post-Satanic” (cf. his article in the anthology The Devil’s Party), we still need to answer the question: “what is actually required of me for such feats of alchemy to be accomplished?”


Getting dirty with Peter Gabriel  

The initial Faustian act of taking responsibility for our spiritual development can be fuelled by a healthy dose of adolescent punk-rock rebellion or Black Metal grimacing, but without a depth psychology they eventually risk becoming little more than posturing. For such transformational work to have authentic power and true sustainability it needs to actually engage with the darkness that it is so keen to espouse. As the above quote from Jung maintains, the roots of our being need to be deeply engaged with the dark soil of the unconscious and the shadow aspects of the self.

One magical curriculum that I feel successfully embodies an engagement with these dimensions is the Nine Doors of Midgard that is used within the Rune Gild. This work authored by Edred Thorsson outlines a somewhat terrifying course of work that can take anywhere between 3 and 5 years to complete. The Nine Doors demands a profound engagement with the elder furthark and requires extensive use of body, mind, emotions and voice as a way of internalizing these mysteries.

In the early phases of the Nine doors (the first door), the new apprentice is required to reflect on both their strengths and areas of difficulty. These are termed “Bright” and “Murk” aspects of the self and for me there is significant wisdom in the placement of this activity at the beginning of such a potentially arduous journey.

Often in the early stages of any new relationship (whether friendship, a romance or an initiatory connection), we are keen to emphasize the positive aspects of who we think we are. Whether consciously or unconsciously we have maximized those bits of ourselves that we deem most attractive and desirable to others. This is completely understandable at a human level, but the maintenance of such a relentlessly positive persona will inevitably fail to bring about psychic maturity.

In contrast to the penitent believer, the acknowledgement of such weaknesses need not entail compulsory repentance. This is not about the pardon of an imaginary friend, but rather a challenge to self-examination and an honest assessment of what we need to do in order to create change. While we will certainly be required to refine our strengths in the course of any serious undertaking, it is inevitable that our areas of fragility will be the place in which we either falter or find new dimensions of being.

Whatever cosmological map we use to track our progress, be it Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life or chakras, the enduring value of such schemas is that they embody the challenge to pursue balance and eventual holism. If our eventual goal is to fully actualize our potential as a human being, it would seem inevitable that the keys to our liberation lie with those aspects of self that we are currently most likely to reject or shy away from.


The Nine Worlds (illustration by Alexis Snell)

To embrace these fragile and fractured aspects of who we are represents a profound act of self-compassion. This is far from glorifying our failings or wallowing in dysfunction, rather it represents a profound realization that the hope of becoming something new is fueled by the potency of what is currently blocked or stuck. Your explorations may take the form of ritual, artistic play or via seeking therapy, but when our heroism allows us look clearly at the shadows, so transformation begins to become possible.

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Carl Jung  “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

Steve Dee


Enchant Long…

The maxim to ‘enchant long and divine short’ is one of the many bits of wisdom from the work of Pete Carroll. The suggestion is simply that if we want to create magical effects we’re generally better off casting our desires into the reasonably distant future, into situations where there are lots of variables that might be tweaked by our spells. Meanwhile divination is best done ‘short’. As with predicting the weather it can prove reasonably successful a few days ahead for a given region, but long range forecasts (especially over larger areas) are no more accurate than simple guesses. While flashes of insight can and do occur for the skilled diviner, divination tends to be primarily about allowing the querent to reflect on their own situation at the moment of the reading, and to empower them to understand their possible options in a given situation.

from a book of long enchantments

from a book of long enchantments

If we consider a Left-Hand Path style of magic the injunction to ‘enchant long and divine short’ can result in some interesting ethical effects. Let’s take the example of long-term enchantment. We know that our self changes and, whilst it’s true there is a ‘narrative centre of gravity’ (to use a term borrowed from phenomenology and hermeneutics) our needs, desires and our identities can and do change. With this in mind a long-term enchantment requires the magician to see the problem (their desire) not in terms of the (immediate) self but as part of a much bigger picture. This transforms what can initially arise as a grasping, outcomes-driven personal need, into something greater and more inclusive.

As an example; a couple of magician friends of mine, some years ago, were diagnosed with viral hepatitis. This is a blood borne infection for which, at the time they contracted the virus, there was no known cure. Obviously as magicians we wanted to address this problem; and while sometimes ‘miraculous’ healing does take place (in my experience this typically manifests itself as the patient discovering that they have been ‘misdiagnosed’ and that the illness that threatened has literally vanished), it’s best to take advice from Mr Carroll and learn to play the long game.

In this instance the work that we pursued was not limited to healing our friends but instead focused on finding a cure for hepatitis. As anti-viral technology developed it also became necessary to work on affecting the cultural and financial side of the pharmacological industry (there was, for example, one period when two firms were peddling rival drugs that actually worked best when taken in combination). The long-term result of this work is that both my friends are now thankfully clear of the hepatitis virus and all the health problems associated with that infection.

While it’s impossible to be certain that our muttering of spells, invocation of spirits or deployment of magical Clingfilm (really) helped these scientific developments (we can’t of course re-run the control experiment of this bit of medical history where we don’t do the magical work) the bottom line is my friends are now healthy and well. The bigger benefit is that tens of thousands of other people on the planet are well too, and it’s this process that lifts the ‘narrow’ desire-oriented LHP style magick into something that looks much closer to a Vajrayana path; we use our own personal desires (for specific outcomes or for illumination/enlightenment) and skilfully deploy these in order to achieve an outcome where all beings become liberated.

When you’re doing ‘results magic’ for yourself why not consider how to play the long game and if there is a way of getting not only what you want but helping many others into the bargain? The example above involving healing magic is ideal; rather than working simply for your own (or your clients) health, consider all those others who share the same problem. Conversely when doing divination, rather than trying to scry the actions of complex networks, focus your questions on what you (or the querent) can do in a given situation. Considered through the lens of a LHP  approach any divination will emphasise personal responsibility, empowerment and agency.

Perhaps this allows us to expand Pete’s dictum to: ‘Enchant long and global, divine short and personal’. In works of enchantment let go the individual desiring self, consider the bigger context of your magick and, by skilful means, get much more bang for your esoteric buck. In works of divination give up the illusion that you are without agency and discover the most empowering way to adapt to the situation in which you find yourself.