Do you believe in magic?

Happy belated Halloween!

I’ve just returned home from a family holiday in Barcelona staying within sight of the magnificent Sagrada Familia. Over the previous 25 years I’ve seen this remarkable building grow, having visited it several times (once with Rodney Orpheus during a particularly dramatic electrical storm) . It’s quite something to encounter such a multi-generational project, a fitting setting to reflect on ideas of ancestors and families.

 

Upon my return to Britain I’d been asked to speak and MC an evening of talks at Real Magic, part of the Do you believe in magic? exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. This was a delightful way to spend my birthday, with over 720 people attending. The evening featuring wonderful presentations from speakers Esther Eidinow, Kurt Lampe, Vikki Carr and Ronald Hutton. Do you believe in magic? is a very engaging exploration of the occult and it’s relationship with science and religion, do go along to see it if you have an opportunity.

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Mind manifesting in the Enlightenment Gallery at Bristol Museum

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Ronald Hutton and me chatting before his magnificent presentation on The Wheel of the Year.

 

Here’s the text of my talk that evening on Psychedelics, Shamanism and Magic – enjoy!

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We live in interesting times, one sign of which is perhaps the renewed engagement by academia and museums with the subject of magic. We have interdisciplinary conferences, most recently Trans-States at the University of Northampton, bringing together magical practitioners, artists and academics. The Victoria & Albert, Ashmolean and now Bristol Museums are working to widen the cultural conversation about what have often been excluded or even forbidden aspects of the human experience.

Tonight I’ll be speaking about an aspect of the human experience which has, until quite recently, remained occult, hidden, and even forbidden, namely the use of psychedelic drugs.

Psychedelics Shamanism and Magic

witches and alchemists

The role of mysterious substances is deeply embedded in the iconography of western magic. Where would the witch be without her bubbling cauldron, or the alchemist without the arcane paraphernalia of their laboratory? In European herbalism correspondences between plants and astrological forces informed diagnosis and treatment. Malevolent witches were imagined by some to make use of poisonous plants; henbane, datura and deadly nightshade. Scattered references in the grimoires of ceremonial magic suggest the use of mind-altering incenses. 

While ongoing research gathers together these fragments of our indigenous tradition, it is primarily through the encounter between European culture and the peoples of the New World that the modern story of psychedelic substances emerges.

The term psychedelic ‘literally mind manifesting’, was coined in 1956 by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmand in conversation with writer Aldous Huxley to refer to a particular class of drugs. Their principal effect is to radically transform awareness, inducing a state of consciousness with some very curious, some might even say magical properties. The word Osmand coined was first applied to the effects of a  cactus.

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Classic psychedelic people and plants

The peyote cactus has been used for over 5000 years by communities in the Americas. The principle psychedelic alkaloid in peyote is mescaline, isolated and identified by western chemists in 1897, and first synthesized in 1918. Two other cacti also containing mescaline are used in the Americas for a variety of purposes which could be described as medical, religious and magical. Mescaline can include visionary phenomena, synesthesia-like effects where music might be perceived as visual patterns as well as evoking a range of very profound feelings including personal insight, euphoria and peak mystical experience. The effects of mescaline, like all psychedelics, are highly responsive to what has become known as ‘set and setting’ that is the mindset of the person taking the substance and the setting or environment in which the drug is consumed. Ritual specialists use ceremony to curate the set and settings for specific purposes, such as divination or healing. While these practitioners use various words to describe their work and social role their practice is often labelled as  ‘shamanism’. Shamanism is a complex and contested term which some feel should be limited to the Siberian and central Asian areas from which it derives. For others, the word has a broader pan-cultural use and indicates a certain style of what we could call ‘magical’ practice that often includes interactions with spirits and the use of altered or ‘ecstatic’ states.

In some shamanic traditions these ecstatic states are induced by practices such as long periods in darkness or solitary mediation, or through the use of drumming or chanting. All these methods are effective but psychedelic substances provide one of the most reliable ways of inducing ecstatic states and perhaps for that reason are central to many of the shamanic traditions of the Americas. This doesn’t only mean states that are pleasurable, though they may be. The etymology of the word ‘ecstasy’ points to a feeling of being ‘outside of ourselves’, to be ‘out of one’s mind’. In the psychedelic state we are propelled outside of our usual way of thinking into a form of cognition that is rich and strange.

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Mind the drugs

We can see this change in these two brain scans made during research in 2014 at Imperial College London, using the psychedelic psilocybin found in magic mushrooms and also used in New World Shamanism. On the left we see the brain in it’s ‘default mode network’ state. This arrangement is, in some respects, our sense of self, our egoic identity, the pattern that consciousness habitually adopts when we are alone, ruminating on the past and thinking about the future. The right hand image shows the same brain on psilocybin. We see that the self-identity pattern is turned down and novel connections between previously discrete systems in the brain emerge. We remain conscious and aware but our perception of reality is dramatically transformed.  To use the language of shamanism – we might take flight and soar over an innerworld landscape, looking down from this new vantage point to gain new insights about the world. We might encounter spirits such as ancestors or mythological figures. We have a sense of going on a journey, a trip.

On our return to everyday awareness we can bring these insights with us, leading to transformations in our social relationships and effects such as the healing of sickness. In the psychedelic state we experience the deep truth that all things are interconnected or, as the Hermetic magicians would say; ‘As Above, So Below’. 

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Beastly rites

In the early 20th century the use of psychedelic substances, began to filter into European culture. Aleister Crowley dosed the audience at his Rites of Eleusis, a series of publicly performed rituals,  with mescaline. His rituals, which included music, clouds of incense and epic poetry, were performed in London in 1910 making them one of the first attempts to formulate a ceremonial setting in which to ingest a psychedelic sacrament outside of the Americas. Crowley’s rituals can also claim to be the first psychedelic art-happening. In this sense Crowley’s rites were the forerunner of the Be-In’s of the beat generation and the LSD enhanced concerts of the Grateful Dead and Hawkwind.

The trickle of interest from artists, medics and researchers exploring mescaline became a flood in the mid 20th century with the discovery by Albert Hoffman in 1943 of LSD  Hoffman’s new psychedelic substance initiated seismic changes in culture. These included the development of the rock music festival which aimed to provide a cultural container for the psychedelic state which had suddenly become available to thousands of people.

Within European occulture of the late 20th century, while psychedelics informed the cultural context, they were not central to the emerging esoteric styles of Wicca and neo-paganism. However they were enthusiastically integrated into the practice of some occultists, notably those influenced by the work of Crowley. 

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Peyote circle and Castlemorton festival

A third wave of psychedelic exploration occurred in the late 20th century as a novel chemical, closely related to mescaline, began to hit the headlines; MDMA or ecstasy. The development of the rave, like the emergence of the music festival decades earlier, provided a setting in which the psychedelic state could be held. The emerging rhythms of acid house music (a term arguably coined by the occultist Genesis P.Orridge) matched those used by other ‘shamanic’ psychedelic communities such as Native American Church.

The Native American Church developed in the late 19th century in North America. The central sacrament of the Church is peyote consumed during an all night vigil which features singing, drumming, prayer and other ritual activities. The Native American Church flourished because one of the effects of psychedelics is healing. In the context of the plains dwelling First Nations people this healing was a response to the genocidal damage caused by European colonialism. In particular many Native Americans sought to self-medicate their pain with whisky and this lead to much suffering. The peyote ceremony had the power to help people see things from a different perspective and this often led to them stopping drinking. The medicine of the ritual; that is the intention of the participant, the structure of the ceremony, and the psychedelic cactus – or more succinctly the ‘set, setting and substance’ came together to effect radical personal and social transformation.

Humphry Osmand and his colleague Abram Hoffer attended a Native American Church peyote ceremony in 1958 and this inspired them to wonder if LSD could be used to help people escape their additions. Their informed speculation was correct and, until the advent of Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs, many hundreds of people underwent successful psychedelic therapy using LSD.

In Britain, one might suggest that the emerging popularity of  MDMA served to address the cultural wounds caused by post-industrial dislocation. This was the time of Margaret Thatcher, mass unemployment, the ever present threat of nuclear war and the miners strike. The emerging traveller communities and rave culture came under censure in much the same way that the Native American Church had done in the USA. The difference was that without an identifiable ‘shamanism’ or indigenous psychedelic tradition there was little possibility of legally defending the right to party, the sacred music defined in the UK Criminal Justice bill of 1994 as  “…sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” was driven underground. 

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Healing the harm

But the times are changing. Whether we consider the remarkable transformations that a suitable set, setting and psychedelic substance can generate as magic, shamanism or science matters very little. For these mind-manifesting materials are being re-discovered as allies in healing a range of illnesses that are present at epidemic levels in our culture.

Today MDMA is being used in Bristol within licensed settings to help people overcome chronic alcohol addiction. In the USA it is being licensed to treat Post-traumatic stress disorder. Other psychedelics such as cannabis, ayahuasca and psilocybin are also being recognized as having potent healing effects on conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to autoimmune illnesses. The current wave of research, often described as the Psychedelic Renaissance, a term coined by Dr Ben Sessa who works in Bristol doing MDMA therapy, includes studies on the potential of psychedelics to aid creative problem solving, to helping us face death with equanimity, and to develop ways to resolve interpersonal and social conflicts.

To the Mexican Curandera or the Siberian Shaman the discovery that ecstatic trance carries with it magical transformative potential isn’t news, but for European culture this is a radical change. For European, and by extension much of Euro-American culture was disconnected from the use of  substances that could safely induce ecstatic states when the great Temple of Eleusis closed in the 4th century AD. 

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Mystery trend

Eleusis was the principle Mystery initiation of the Ancient World sacred to the goddess Demeter. In her temple 3000 initiates at a time would experience was many regard as the core elements of the shamanic process. They would undertake ritual purification, they would make a pilgrimage, they would fast and, crucially, they would ingest a sacred potion before descending into a vast darkened temple full of drumming and chanting. There they would face their fears and emerge into the light for a party to celebrate their rebirth. This annual ritual went on for thousands of years with its participants being drawn from all ranks of society. This shared psychedelic experience of crisis and rebirth shaped the pre-Christian pagan world. After Eleusis and the loss of the shamanic psychedelic experience European culture, one might suggest, started to behave just like an addict, rampaging across the globe in search of tranquilizers like opium and stimulants like tobacco and cocaine. Later that culture would give rise to two World Wars, the creation of weapons of mass destruction, and the poisoning of the biosphere.

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Connected future

While we celebrate the return of the magical to academia, to museums and to a wider cultural setting we may also like to consider that the return of the psychedelic state to mainstream cultural as part of the same movement. A movement to value again the importance of the subjective, the magical and the ecstatic if we are to successfully cultivate our individual wellbeing and find better ways to live together. To find a medicine in these difficult times that heals us and, as they say in the Native American Church, all our relations.

Julian Vayne

 

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Do you believe in magic? is open until 19th April 2020 at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

The Tendrils of Sacred Time and Space

In the course of deepening my own engagement with the Druid tradition, I have recently been thinking further about the way in which stone circles and standing stones shape the way in which I think about sacred time and space. For me, my own use of the self-descriptor “Pagan” is innately connected to my pursuit of a spiritual path that consciously embraces the limitations of time, context and place. Whatever weird dimensions that I seek to ascend to or access, the pagan orientation of my pursuit of Gnosis necessitates an ongoing connection to the earth and the animal.

Magical acts often begin with the practitioner demarking a space and time so that their ritual practice might become more effective. Whether we journey to a location associated with power or we cast a circle in our front room, these acts and intentions become a psychic funnel via which our longings (both conscious and unconscious) can be focused more directly.

When, as a Chaos magician, I started exploring the wide variety of techniques that could be used for creating or entering sacred space I quickly became aware of the way in which my chosen paradigm profoundly affected my expectation of what such demarcation needed to achieve. If for instance I wanted to engage in a piece of Goetic magic my desire for protection and banishing might be profoundly different from a Puja dedicated to a deity with whom I have a deep and ongoing connection. What I started noticing through these explorations were the varying degrees of permeability that these approaches represented, and also the potential naivety in viewing any approach as entirely protective.

To undertake an act of magic is to invite change at both external and intra-psychic levels. As much as I might imagine that my banishing of a spirit or a great old one cleanses my spiritual palate, it clearly doesn’t negate the spiritual or psychological drives that caused me to do that work in the first place! If, for example, I choose to enter the realm of Red magick it is likely that the combative aspects of myself have been activated with all the adrenal, “fight” based responses innate to such territory. Whatever spell, sigil or servitor I use to express these impulses, I still have to contend with the reality that they arose from me in the first place. These desires and longings extend tendrils deep within our personality structures and as magicians we cannot dismiss them lightly.

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Cosmic Connections

The marking of sacred space via beginning and ending rituals allows a process of punctuation where we are trying to contain those events and energies that are potentially more risky. As magicians, we often make use of this approach to create a sense of control and agency in relation to life’s chaos. While such an approach is understandable, it is also susceptible to our all too human delusions of omnipotence. Our magic can be key in shifting our consciousness so that it can become more congruent with our goals, but I would also argue that the nature of such transformation can be as much about the need to accept things and to relinquish “the lust for results”.

The creation of magical space often provides us with a way of externalizing those aspects of self that we find problematic or challenging. I have previously considered some of the parallels between the Circle and the therapy room as environments in which we can explore ideas or qualities in more personified form,  and I continue to believe that this recognition and naming of parts is critical to our initiatory work. While I think that sacred space provides a helpful lab-like environment for such exploration to take place, I believe that our banishing and attempts at separation can only ever be partial. Yes banishing can be vital to prevent us becoming swamped and destabilized. but we must also recognize the ongoing web of connection that enables a slower, less conscious process of alchemical change.

Whatever perception we have of our magic enabling probability enhancement, we are still contending with a mysterious realm in which our intentions must interact with the complex dimensions of causality. For me, part of the genius of the sigil-based approach of Austin Osman Spare is that he recognises the importance of surrendering our longings to the ocean of the Unconscious. As much as our needs and longings need to be valued, we also need to acknowledge that the exertion of magical will through gritted teeth will only get us so far.

As we enter sacred space via our intentions, our magic often asks us to attend to a profound paradox that often lies at the heart of the Great Work that we undertake. Often we bring to our endeavours a desire to activate profound change to either aspects of ourselves or, the circumstances that surround us. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough for magic to happen through us, we can begin to understand our own motivations more fully and perhaps experience a greater acceptance of who we actually are. When we embrace the maxim “to dare” and turn to truly face our deepest drives, so we can begin to understand the next challenges in our initiatory journey. This can be difficult work, but for me it goes some way in unpacking what it means to engage with the challenge found at the temple of Apollo at Delphi:  “Know Thyself!”

Steve Dee

 

Pagan Roots

I was recently reflecting at a Queer book group that I attend, about the issue of how we communicate about aspects of ourselves and the process of “coming out” and what this might mean. Whilst in that group we were specifically thinking about descriptors regarding sexuality and gender identity, it also raised for me the issue of how I adopt religious labels for myself.

Given that my own spiritual path is probably even more complicated than how I experience my sexuality and gender, it has caused me to ponder why in the 2011 UK census I chose to describe myself as a Pagan. In all honesty my decision was partially prompted by activism by groups such as the Pagan Federation that were seeking to increase awareness regarding the growth of minority religious communities. I was momentarily tempted to self-declare as “Jedi” (or possibly Sith), but in pursuit of the greater good I opted for Pagan.

Part of the reason that I take at least partial refuge in the self-description of being a Pagan, is the creative way in which many of the communities under that umbrella seek to engage (and wrestle!) with polarities and seek balance between them. Those of you who have read my recent series of posts about Androgyny will be well aware of my personal journey in exploring apparent dualities and how we as magical explorers dance with them.  Male/Female, Light/Dark, Internal/External all represent different attempts at trying to map and classify our experience of life’s complexity.

One such dichotomy that I have been considering recently has been the contrast between the vertical and horizontal aspects of religious expression.  Pagans of varying stripes (Druids, Wiccans, Heathens etc.) are hardly unique in trying to consider the tension between our relationship with the numinous realm of the vertical (gods, spirits, celestial beings etc.) and the horizontal plain in which we experience time, space, matter and relationships. Almost all religions seek to mark the year’s calendar with festivals that reflect the emergence or revelation of their given truth, but in my view, most Pagan paths go further in making use of sacred time and awareness of place in a way that brings the vertical and horizontal closer. The wheel of the year is not only a matrix in which the specific events of a salvation history can be placed (as in, say, Christianity), rather the changes in Nature during the course of our planet around the Sun is a divine revelation in and of itself.

Many forms of contemporary neo-paganism have at the heart of their theology a cosmological map that views matter less as something to be moved away from, and more a realm of experience in which our connection to the natural, the relational and the horizontal is explicitly the realm within which the vertical and numinous is experienced. It may seem obvious to state that our experience of the Gods inevitably happens within the realm of the life we know and experience, but I would argue that Paganism goes a step further in paying attention to the process in which the vertical and horizontal directly feed each other. Maps such as the Norse Yggdrasil are rarely realms of cosmic harmony that promise utopia, rather these World Trees hold realms in a dynamic tension whose frisson creates a Cosmos-driving energy.

For me, this more interactive process is perhaps part of Paganism’s appeal in owning its identity as a more emergent rather than revealed religion. While Paganism has its fair share of prophets laying claim to revelation and channelled material, over time (and through scholarship) it seems to be becoming more open in acknowledging the human soil from which these new religious expressions have grown. While our Gods are inevitably co-created as their archetypal patterns meet the challenges of our lives, these divine beings are no less real for having come through the filter of our contexts, our longings and our struggles.

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Networking

The beauty of these World Trees is that while their branches reach towards heaven in an attempt to connect the divine realm to our daily lives, so also their roots delve deep into the soil of our unconscious in search of sustaining nutrients. If our Gods are to have true depth, they will hold a rich darkness alongside their light. Without depth and mystery they will be little more than two dimensional pop-icons that while momentarily distracting, fail to exemplify our own longings for authenticity.

As in the example of the All-Father Odin, such explorations are not without sacrifice and as we delve into the roots of our lives and contexts, our engagement with Mystery (Runa) may well produce both roars of triumph and screams of anguish:

I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded by a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.

No bread did they give me or drink from a horn,
Downwards I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
Then I fell back from there.

Havamal 138–139

I guess for those of us who are magical practitioners, our relationship to the vertical was always going to be more complicated. If the simpler task of faith, worship and subservience alone were going to satisfy, we wouldn’t be walking this path. While my own magical work has strong currents of Bhakti yoga and devotion within it, I am aware that such acts are less about worship and more about the active use of body and emotion to gain alignment with the principles these deities embody. I engage with these divinities not just to further my personal solipsism, but rather to amplify those narratives and ideas that I wish to see in the world. For me these generally represent a guarded optimism and a desire for the mysterious and heroic that comes from the deep roots of our full humanity. I continue to grapple with the challenge that any insights that I gain, must be embodied at the horizontal level of my interactions with other organic beings and the planet we inhabit together.

SD

A tree speaks…

I recently attended a meeting of the Council of All Beings, a Deep Ecology practice which aims to embody the emotional awareness of our current environmental situation. A dozen of us took part, and spent the afternoon making masks and tuning in to the particular organisms which had chosen to appear through us, before meeting deep in the woods at the twilight hour to talk to some humans:-

I am a tree. An Acacia tree, of the African savannah. I speak for all my kind, and for trees in general.

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I stand and life comes to me. Big cats rest in my branches, birds perch, dropping food for other plants and creatures who nestle beneath and around me. Giraffes eat leaves from between my long thorns, with tongues specially long and twisty to reach between them. Fierce ants help protect me; they live in specially adapted thorns, which swell to accommodate them, making their houses in my defences.

Sun falls, so hot. Some of my family are chopped up to make fires, by humans; why the need to create more heat when all is so hot already? I do not understand this.

Some acacias provide food for humans. Our seeds in particular are highly nutritious. Our bodies give medicines, perfumes, gums, our bark is rich in tannins; we make timber for furniture, tools, musical instruments. So much matter, so many wondrous ways to transform!

We give so much to human people, as well as to the other peoples of this vast landscape, and they bring so much to us.

This relationship, this interweaving, is the heart of our existence. We make a flat plain extend into another dimension, give height and shade. I love to grow into shapes which flow around the broken parts of me, when an animal knocks or claws a small part away. This is my art. To grow in response to my history, my life story. This twist in my branch, is a lion jumping after a leopard’s catch 23 years ago. The asymmetric shape of my crown is an elephant visit, six years past. The circular bulge in my trunk is from a snapped branch in my youth, when weaver bird nests were so heavy it broke. These shapes are my memories. My joy is to adapt, to grow strong around these times. My memories only exist as these physical remains. I have no other way of recalling past events. I have no imagined future. Only Now, an eternal moment, sensing shifting light and shade, of wind moving me, of water filling me, of roots pulling in minerals. Carbon enters through my leaves, and I make wood from thin air.

So many of my ideas I cannot put into words. You must remember, words are not present for any other creatures. Yet, we think and reason with chemicals just like you, who are our relations; our sense of total presence in the here & now can be shared by you if used wisely.

I never move from this spot I took root in. I touch the trees near me, through under the ground networks, and by catching airborne messages.

Our way of living has worked since before the continents separated. Acacia trees have co-evolved with many other organisms, each shaping the other, flowing behaviours, functionality, and materials between us. Some say we may have shaped your people, giving you words and ideas with our medicines; I do not know. I am just a tree, growing.

My gift to you, humans, is an example of how to flourish in a potentially harsh world.

The above text was written after I went to a weekend moot of chaos magicians, where amongst other things a Council of All Beings was held. Thanks to all those present, especially the facilitators of this powerful ritual.

NW

A Solstice Fire

I’m sitting alone by a roaring fire, a glass of delicious ale nearly finished, and all the fairy lights twinkling throughout the house. The darkest nights are upon us, regular as clockwork the Earth swings around the Sun, now our planet’s northern axis points 23.5o away from our constantly shining star. The ivy strands bedecking the walls are dark green signs of the eternal forces of nature alive even in the darkness.

The hearth of the home

The hearth of the home

This time of night’s pre-eminence has much to teach us; the preciousness of daylight hours, with the amount of things we can do outside currently restricted to a few activities, such as chopping wood, a brief walk by the sea, a few minutes staring at the sky and the birds.

Despite being alone physically I feel the warmth of my communities, electronically delivered words and pictures connect us (in addition to the more aetheric links that provide constant attachment). I see in my mind’s eye all the bonfires, ceremonies, parties, and people beside their own hearths, both with others and alone like myself. Some will have raised a glass to the Dies Natalis of the unconquerable sun, others barely aware of the imminent turn to lengthening daylight.

During these few days, the day length stands (to the casual observer at least) still. Solstice, a pause in the usual, a time outside of time. A chance to look at Life, our own and the world at large. A more homely festive day than the official New Year, a less pressured one than Christmas. This ancient anniversary gives us, whether secular or pagan by inclination, a chance to spend it as we Will.

My own ritual is described, in early 21st century style, by my facebook status: “Celebrating Solstice tonight (astronomically correct moment 2303h, or, 1503h down south). Gonna light a fire, say thankful words and direct attention to what I want to happen in the next cycle around our nearest star (ie prayers). Also, a good time to bring to mind those who existed in my past, those who will exist in my future, the ways life paths intertwine. This year I feel especially aware of how people we never meet can affect us so deeply, in their influence upon those we do. Hoping that I am mindful of how my own words and actions may spread out. Wishing a Merry Yule etc, to all my fabulous fb friends.”

We have talked of this practice of thankful prayers before on the Blog of Baphomet, and whilst I do this near enough every day at present, this night has a special significance.

Setting aside special time, sacred space, to stand aside from the tracks we run along everyday, gives us a chance to reflect upon whatever role we take in the timeless play that we can regard as the Mythic. What do you do? Not in your job, or even your family; what do you do when you perform your own unique skillset amongst the communities and groups you frequent? In your neighbourhood, in online forums, in social gatherings? I have lucky to have had my role given a title by others, as The Oracle, humorously meant yet appropriate; I say what I see, a quality which has not always made me many friends, but has kept me those whose worth I value.

Tonight, I shall take time out to give thanks for the many great mythic characters who surround me. The storytellers, the bards, the creators and organisers, the artists and music makers, the talkers and listeners, those who really know about mechanics, information flows, group dynamics, communication, style, movement, health and food, who generously share their knowledge. The tidy people who I have learnt much from in recent years, and those for whom sprawling chaos gives great joy. The kind ones, the comforters, the bestowers of gifts both tangible and otherwise. Those who have shown me the value of sharing one’s emotions. as well as thoughts. And of course those who taught me to make the fire, in so many ways.

I could give these friends names from myths, and dress their figures in the raiment of gods and goddesses, of priests and priestesses, I could compose paeans of praise to them for their glorious richness of engagement with life.

For now though as I type this in front of the fire which I lit from the candle flame which I lit as the daylight faded, I can only give what I write here now,  a pencil sketch of what I might do later on.

Merry Solstice to the amazing characters who I am lucky to share this world with, those I have met, and so many I have yet to meet!

And I also think of those who I will never meet with in days to come, their memories aglow with the fires they tended whilst alive. All of us influence so many more people than we can ever know. My own intention for the next year; to bear this in mind; well, as often as possible… 😉

NW

Season of the Spiders

Autumn comes to the valley in which I live. The warm sunshine is still (Sunna be praised!) with us, but the pivot point of the September equinox has passed. Mist shrouds the trees in the morning  the leaves of the willows fill up with yellow and fall down upon the moist green earth.

This is the season of the spiders, when these miraculous beasts spin their webs between the fast dying stems of grasses. In common with many humans I deeply admire the tenacity and technical skill of spiders. I watched one recently in a still-scented honeysuckle bush, dealing with a yellowed leaf that had become entangled in its web. She (I usually think of spiders as ‘she’, because reasons) carefully made fast some gossamer lines. She ran new strands from her spinnerets and carefully cut other silks. The leaf went swinging out from the face of the web, dangling, quite literally, from a thread. Then she sat for a while, me watching intently to see if she would slice the final connection. She didn’t, and looking down, I could imagine why she had stopped. The leaf hung now away from the prime killing zone of her trap, it was no longer an impediment to her. Had she cut the final strand there was a distinct possibility that the leaf would have become caught on one of the lower main strands supporting her web. If the leaf landed in this position it would have been very hard to remove, and she could have risked the structural integrity of the whole network. Instead she chose to let this now minor irritation stay, to make the calculation between risk and benefit and decide she had done enough.

Araneus diadematus hangin' out

Araneus diadematus hangin’ out

As in the fabled story of Robert the Bruce the spider is an instructor. In the context of the spider I observerd, she teaches an approach to the things in your life that are irritations, things that get in your way. These things may be social issues (your tiresome ex-partner is still obsessively bad-mouthing you), physical difficulties (you notice that your back problems are getting worse, inevitable as you age) or more esoteric problems. The lesson of the spider (in the honeysuckle) is that you really don’t always need to finish the job. Sometimes good enough is simply good enough. If you’ve already done all that’s needed to get your irksome ex out of your circle of friends, if you’re doing exercises aimed at strengthening your poorly spine and so on, then that may be sufficient. Save your energy for what matters (in her case sucking the life blood from flies) and strengthen your core. Don’t waste attention on that which is good enough, especially if, by trying to completely resolve the problem, you risk ending up with diminishing returns or even upsetting what you have already achieved.

Meanwhile inside my house another lesson from the spiders. A voluptuous garden spider had spun her web right across my kitchen window while I was away at a conference in Cambridge. Upon my return I noticed her handiwork, a lovely circular web of almost Platonic perfection. While I do groove on that Goth style I was minded to remove her until I considered the implications of doing so. On my windowsill (which is pretty deep, it being an 18th century building) sit a number of pot plants. These include aloe vera (essential medicine for minor burns), various exotic cacti and more delicate plants. One in particular is very susceptible to insect attack (this beautiful herb reproduces by getting humans to make cuttings of it, and rarely flowers or sets seed). So why move my arachnid guest, especially when she is protecting my indoor garden?

Another spider who made an appearance in my living room last night was a giant house spider. As autumn arrives so the males of this species leave dark and unmolested webs in the corners of buildings. They race across the prairie of the carpet in the hope of finding a mate. Typically we encounter these chaps when they get stuck in the bath. Whether spotted in the tub or on the prowl along the floor there is a tendency for folk to capture them and ‘set them free’ in the garden.  This reaction is understandable. We think of our homes as ours, they are the modernised caves in which we dwell. We’ve bought and paid for them and any other living things inside (pets, plants, children etc) are there because we’ve put them there. Spiders are also, for possibly evolutionary reasons, creatures than many of us are nervous of. Best get their weird eight-legged forms out of our house.

However again the spider has a teaching, and that is that all our spaces are in fact shared. Whether we’re talking about the immense amount of microbial life that swarms inside and upon our bodies, the dust mite denizens of our beds, or our much bigger (and therefore more obvious) eight-legged housemates. We are actually surrounded by other lifeforms all the time.  There are very few environments in which humans find themselves where other lifeforms don’t exist (there are perhaps even bacteria on the outside of the international space station as well as those in the guts of the crew). Typically you’re never more than a couple of meters away from an insect and of course the very air we breathe is seething with bacterial beings. Speaking of spiders, several species are specifically linked to human dwellings. We are part of nature, we make and shape habitats, and in any given environmental niche lifeforms will find a foothold; fleas, silverfish, rats, pigeons, foxes, hawks, mice….the list goes on…

Eratigena atrica on the prowl

Eratigena atrica on the prowl in my front room…

While some of us might imagine that we have few dealings with other creatures in our day-to-day lives actually, if we stop and look, other non-human persons are all around us. These facts are one of the considerations that makes that old chestnut, that modern pagans are necessarily cut-off from nature, untenable. We can learn from the attercop racing across the kitchen floor, that this is his territory too. Paying attention to our needs, as I did with the arthropod who now protects my house plants, we can often enter simple, mutually beneficial relationships. And as we observe and interact with these beings, these spirits, we can learn from their wisdom.

JV

 

 

I Who am All Pleasure and Purple – Polymorphous Sex Magick

Beltane (as profilic as one should expect in its spellings and derivations) is the season we celebrate sex. As the bluebells thrust through the leaf litter and the sun is already long in setting (at least in the British Isles). This is the time of May dances, of showers of blossom and the earnest buzzing of the bees.

Our evening of Purple magick, fortuitously coinciding with the waxing half-moon, began with a round of greetings and a banishing ritual.

Our South American Sister brings a guided visualisation. In this we strip back the blockages, imagined as a layer of slime on the skin, and emerge into our new selves. We honour what we have emerged from for it too is part of our story. In my imagination the discarded puddle of restriction is absorbed into the earth, composting into rich soil.

Sexy slime

Sexy slime

Following this practice is An Annointing for The Lover, each participant performing a nyasa style placement of the bija mantras into each chakra. Marking each point with perfumed oil. A simple but powerful practice to acknowledge the sacred as expressed through our bodies.

Having thus prepared ourselves it’s time for The Ardhanarishvara Brain Re-wiring Rite. Using the dual form of Shiva-Shakti we each create sigil from that divine name and these are installed into out non-dominant hemispheres. In order to prevent unpleasantly weird physiological effects (experienced by the developer during the alpha test of the ritual) a horizontal double-ended Shiva trident is visualised, connecting both hemispheres of the brain. We dance the sigil into our nervous systems, connecting the masculine and feminine aspects of ourselves and bringing these into unity.

The Polymorphous Elvis Transformer Ritual is next. This rides on the gnosis of the millions of orgasms which are happening across the planet right now. Moving our hips in the transgressive motion of The King and imagining the paparazzi flash-bulbs of erotic ecstacy all around us we:

“…key into the energy waves that are being generated, regenerated and amplified even as we sit here now. This ritual is also a tribute to Genesis Breyer P. Orridge who introduced me to the ideas of Sex Magick via the Temple of Psychick Youth and continues to break gender and push ideas of sexuality into new areas.”  TP808

Our sexuality, like everything else in the universe, is a flow rather than a static thing. For the closing ritual each person gets to fill in a form (and, frankly, how sexy is that?). By doing so they are reflecting on how their sexuality emerges in that moment. This is done using the sexuality play spectrum HERE. We share these with each other, taking an intimate and funny moment together to disclose our (current) sexual identity in a safe space.

We sit together, silently acknowledge this intimacy, this trust. Then it’s time to get up and dance (to tunes HERE), laughing and joking we step outside and light the Beltane fire, burning up the forms, the fixed notion of who we are. Realising the ebb and flow, of on and off, is a continuous process, like sex itself; always mixing things up, stirring the genetic cauldron. And though sex can make us think of dualities – God and Goddess, male and female, chalice and cup – it is actually much closer to a cloud of possibility. The erotic can, as Susan Sontag observes, erupt in a bewildering variety of expressions. Our own indentities flux and flow and even down at the genetic level things X and Y chromosones can morph and shift, responding to hormones in different ways, and expressing themselves in a wide varities of forms.

Perhaps this is an axiom of a ‘Baphometic Witchcraft’; rather than a simple polarity model of sex we acknowledge that we are all, at different times and different degrees, in the flow of sexuality. Like Baphomet we are cut-up entities manifesting sex in a muliplicity of forms (including asexuality). Thus we free ourselves from the simplistic (apparently) fixed duality of forms and become something rich and strange. Our morality becomes rooted in a sensitivity to issues of consent and coercion, not in a priori stereotypes of what men or women should or should not do to express their sexual nature.

Hardcore mollusc action

Hardcore mollusc action

The plant sex organs that are the apple blossom envelop the penetrating sisterhood of hungry honey bees. Dandelions proliferate through kinky apomixis. Horned and hermaphroditic, snails stab love darts into each others’ flesh – everything, as Austin Spare would say, fornicates all the time.

JV