Psychedelic Ecology

Gods dwell amongst us, and have done so since before the dawn of time.

Shh! Can you hear…? The distant sound of footsteps, careful steps, of a creature trying to move stealthily, making the footfalls irregular. But we can spot the subtle pattern of left, right, left right. And the breathing, you hear that too? On the edge of your perception…

Goddesses and gods, walk the world.

Sometimes, we hear them singing. Not with words like those a pop star would use, not Taylor Swift. More, soaring melodies with powerful emotional key changes, free of standard musical motifs like birdsong is free, to move at will between tones, as the breath goes.

Psychedelic Ecology is the field of psychedelic entity study, when entities are regarded as having an existence of their own, treating them as creatures which live in the perceptual experiences of all Life.

Any persona could be viewed as an emergent property of the material base it inhabits. From stone to human, the difference is only one of complexity. Everything can be said to perceive, or rather is aware of the world outside it, according to its abilities. A stone is aware of gravity, of other things resting upon it, of temperature, and reacts accordingly. A human is aware of far more in the immediate world, and has memory and imagination to allow it to time-travel.

Entities which we notice whilst in psychedelic states grow from the abilities they have at such times. We notice what we are able to at such times. Somewhere in this double approach, we might be able to describe their phenomenological reality.

Beginning before the beginning of humankind, entities existed. Eyes need to be noticed, odd movements must be picked out from the background, movement through the outside world has to have an internal construct. We have always carried these hardwired Important Things. Entities, representations of these deep patterns, were already old when that ancient fish dashed away from the glint of awareness in the rippling body of the eel. That tentacular movement, that enormous eye, lived beyond the animal that carried it, and away from the animal that saw it too. All of us, for billions of years, have to know what to look for; and when we look for something whilst tripping, we tend to see it.

With thousands of eyes, tentacles for legs, numerous arms, strange movements… all these parts deeply embedded in our biology, a collection of physicality with deep associations. Many arms do many things, thousands of eyes demonstrate wide awareness, moving unlike a human, demanding our attention. When we cause ourselves to pay attention really, really pay attention, we summon entities. We see eyes in trees, rocks breathe, the mountains and rivers have characters.

Psychedelic states reveal things to us. They lift the veil of interpretation we add to the raw sensations around us. This brings to mind Aldous Huxley’s metaphor of our senses acting to restrict input. What Huxley did not know of, is the Default Mode Network.

Briefly, the DMN acts as a running commentary on what is happening in our worlds. It overrides the actual world around us, changes the evidence of the present to suit the past narrative, and generally smooths out any kinks or unexpected glitches we encounter from our easily confused sensory inputs.

Our DMN could be said to contribute to our persona. The patterns that establish themselves, the waves of neurological activity which pass through hemispheres, triggering intellectualisations and emergent noises form our organisms, this is what, who, we are. Take away the DMN and we all resemble each other, reduced to immediate awarenesses, raw sights and sounds overwhelming the past stories we arrived with.

Emotional set becomes our personality whilst we trip (at high enough doses). In good settings, we play, dance, smile, feel good. Past and future, those identical not-nows, cease to have meaning. Sometimes they vanish so convincingly that we forget events, confuse names, release belief from all we knew for sure in ordinary life. If we can relax into this, safe in a space held by those we trust to care for us, the confusion lifts us to flights of imagination and make-believe.

In these psychedelic states, we are open to habitation from the spirits, the entities. They come to us in guises and disguises, speaking to us with still small voices, with thunderous roaring, with telepathic messages that arrive without needing soundwaves. They appear in costumes built from echoes of our expectations, clothed with whatever is to hand; I once asked to meet the spirits of Ayahuasca, who appeared as two cartoon characters, borrowing mice from Speedy Gonzales (a childhood hero of mine). They talked with me for a long time, about the collapse of barren concrete cities, and I talked with them too, trying to describe how to inform Westerners in order to achieve their mission of plants regaining greater importance than human-built creation. (Persuade them, I advised, show them the better alternative, please don’t add more fear to the future we are told to see!) They showed me skyscrapers covered with vines.

Image result for vines skyscrapers

I know that ayahuasca is not two cartoon mice. But the vision was there to allow for my hero worship, coupled with a childlike delight in the overthrow of boring, authoritarian society. The voices matched, high pitched, enthusiastic, fast, full of clever wordplay.

Entities take shape from what we can give them.

They sound like, something else; they sound outside of us.

The challenge we face as a rational bunch of people, who nevertheless clearly encounter otherworldly beings whilst tripping, is how to allow ourselves to believe fully in their existence beyond the limitations of our own perceptions and knowledge base. They tell us things we did not know, and possess qualities and abilities we lack.

Since time began we have tried to make sense of their presence within our minds, their manifestation out of and into nothing, puffs of smoke, mirror creatures that dwell in impossible places, out of time. A popular metaphor of current usage is that of ‘another realm’, a kind of sideways step dimensional shift to a world separated from our own by some kind of perceptual cloaking screen, through which we (or they) can pass in certain conditions of altered consciousness.

I find this solution unsatisfactory. It reduces these majestic beings, these goddesses and keepers of eternal knowledge to mere equivalencies of ourselves, elves over there instead of here. I want my spirits up close and personal, ever present, not in a side room to physical reality.

They are at once more easily explained, and more powerfully endowed, by open our minds to the possibilities of wider concepts. I’ll try to paint a picture…

Hear me now! I am the voice of Pan, echoing across these lands for all of time! I am the movement of the smallest creature that crawls, I am the stirring of a leaf, and the raging storm that fills the sky. I dwell wherever life watches and listens. I am awareness, the prickle of your skin when something approaches. The rise of joy within y0our heart as friends draw near, the flow of smooth skin on skin, the strength felt by muscles as they flex and stretch. I bring to you the eternal now, a moment as old as the world. which lasts for ever. This is the moment in which we can do.

Whether we refer to Pan as a god, an archetype, a personification of an abstract concept, we can allow for his existence in the moment, as a useful way of communicating outside our usual frames of reference. Escaping the reality tunnels of our individuality reveals existence without standard labelling; a semiotic chaos, of undifferentiated ground from which emerge all apparent forms anew, ready for reappraisal.

And we need this reappraisal of Normality so desperately.

Less activity in the DMN correlated to the sense of ego-loss felt by people after being injected with psilocin. Psychedelics also cause an increase in the global traffic between regions, whilst a decrease in local activity, within brain areas dealing with discrete tasks, occurs.

The judging part of us disappears. We process inputs and internal processing at a global level. The functionally discrete parts loosen their boundaries, and we find poetic truths dwelling beneath the surface of what looks like home.

We need, as biological organisms, to differentiate between ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘this cup’. How can I pass the cup to you, if those three objects are merely aspects of one substance? That would be stupid.

As soon as deliberate movement became possible, our ancestors needed to know which way was up. Clues as to what lay ahead of them proved incredibly advantageous. Remote sensing became all the rage, back in prehistory, with eyes and vibration sensing apparatus catching on. Upon our heads we bear the latest version of this technology, vibrating air passes through holes originally intended as gill slits, and tiny bones (which evolved from jaw bones, bones for eating) move, minutely, leveraging further membranes attached to the brain’s nerve endings.

From these oh so subtle twitches, the neurons of auditory centres cause cascades of chemicals, and some how, these patterned forms make us think we hear.

Reaching forward in time and space, to what lies ahead of us. We must have a plan, a map. We see, we create, a future world which is not yet our present. We can move towards this future over that world, or maybe that future over that other world; we hold multiple worlds, in order to compare the more desirable. These worlds are real, we make them as we make the world of now, from our sensory inputs and our internal processing. We feel them, we feel how they feel, do we want to move towards this world, or away? No time to rationally assess them, we move according to our will and whim.

Our emotional responses to sensory inputs, and our internal processing, have to be prioritised by hardwiring them together.

Be attracted to this!

Move away from that!

The complexity of this and that should not be underestimated; after a few billion years of practice, we are getting quite good at complexity these days.

Default_Mode_Network_Connectivity

Default Mode Network connectivity

Wedded for millions of lifetimes, emotions and actions. Unexpected intrusions, which appear as if from nowhere to stand before us plainly upon our world maps, demand a lot of attention. Contrariwise, when we have a lot of attention, we find ourselves confronted with unexpected intrusions, standing in front of us…

These are no phantasms however, nor yet visitors from another physical dimension next door. They exist, they live, as creatures which have inhabited our senses for longer than we have. The voice of the siren luring us onwards. The terrifying noise of silence broken by a footstep where none was before. Shrill shrieks, calling for our notice. The regular breathing of a body sleeping beside us, snuggled together in the dark. Water falling, that most promising sound!

From these ancient strands are woven our entities, combined with the visual clues we might have to hand.

Waterfalls sing to us, notes at first, then words. We hear them clear as day.

Auditory hallucinations, clearly heard sounds, with no external source. I hear them all the time, tinnitus attends my every hour, a faint high-pitched tone as if a tv is left on. Buzzing noises often precede spirit encounters for me, I hear them fly past my ear, just before the magic happens. Have you heard the far away voices, that speak from beneath the ground, from behind the hills, from the sky above? They talk and sing so quietly, yet you perceive every word.

mantis

Praying formation

Perceiving other entities as other entities, rather than conceptualising them as ‘thought forms’ or ‘archetypes of the psyche’, has huge benefits in the moment of interaction. Our brains are set up to evaluate incredibly complex social evaluations, to assess the motives of others, to recall factors influencing fair division of resources and task allocation. Entities, whether we call them spirits, deities, aliens, elves, animal familiars, genii loci, ghosts, faery, and so on, whatever we categorise them as are best treated as separate actors on the world stage to ourselves. They have an identity wider and deeper than our individual encounters. We represent our species evolutionary past, embodied in this body at this moment, and we hold the programming of our cultural surroundings as the lens through which we can intuit, hear, and see.

Each one of us is far more than ‘one of us’. As such, the psychedelic encounter with an entity becomes a meeting in the mythical realm, where we become aware of ways of understanding and acting which we could not have considered beforehand.

Realising that these entities have purpose, history, future existence, and a right to their own world view, places the centre of the discussion outside our self. Outside our species’ collective identity. We escape the trap of anthropocentric motives. Given the results of categorical, human centred planning of the past centuries in the dominant world cultures, perhaps this is the most intriguing aspect of meeting otherworldly characters. Just as children come to the astonishing revelation that their parents have a need for happiness, as we mature out of the squabbles of territorial demarcation and fighting over toys, we are learning that we are not the only intelligences which inhabit this planet.

This is not to say there are invisible creatures occupying some kind of parallel dimension to our own, another literal world, which we could reach by stepping through some kind of portal as beloved by so many tv writers of the late 20th century. This particular mythological construct appeals to our childish imaginations, and is very easy to understand, but to my mind diminishes the vastly more rewarding poetic truth I have outlined here, of entities as truly ancient, astonishing collections of perceptual patterns embedded deep within our sensory apparatus, which live in each of us, and which we believe often create what we call paranormal or magical events, whether by information downloads that are impossible to account for by rational means, or even by causing material effects in the world around us (e.g. weather magic). (Most magical traditions explain the magic powers by referring it outwards to an other, a helper spirit, an ancestor. God told me to do it.)

It is worth comparing the view of these commonly held perceptual patterns as entities in their own right, with the way we view other people as entities in their own right. We are happy to attribute personhood to a collection of biological cells, constructed of chemistry, which arose from physics. We are often happy to extend this personhood to animals, or plants (oh, you look sad, would like some water?). Often we relate to places as persons; hello house, nice to be here again! Or events; the figure of father Christmas being the prime example from northern European culture.

Regular engagement with this kind of encounter leads to a more open-minded attitude to the non-psychedelic state. People tend towards a lack of preconception about people, places, and situations. It is likely that this attitude creates the luck with which many psychonauts seem blessed. Richard Wiseman’s research on luck strongly indicates that those who look around see more (unsurprisingly!). it is of course possible to cultivate this open mindedness without psychedelics, but they present unavoidable opportunities for us to practise this skill…

Look around you.

NW

Abridged from a presentation at Beyond Psychedelics conference, 21st June 2018, Prague.

Neuro-Apocalypse,  by Danny Nemu – A Review

This work by the Reverend Nemu is a heady brew that plunges us into a world of deep Kabbalah. In this second part of a planned trilogy, he leaps headlong into the realm of neuroscience and the way in which language development shapes consciousness and human evolution. Like I said, it’s deep!

neuro-apocalypse

Danny’s writing is lucid and engaging and he cuts between personal travel log, biblical exegesis and riffing about the joys of neuroplasticity. It made me think that if Robert Anton Wilson knew his Bible better he’d probably have written like the good Reverend. Nemu admits that his textual interpretations are unorthodox, but he is a serious exegete who while paying close attention to cultural context also engages in creative use of rich mythic concepts.

As much as Danny clearly enjoys playfully interacting with how language has shaped him both personally and spirituality, he has a more far-reaching exploration in mind. Not only does our learning of new languages shape us as individuals, but the incoming of the logos into the grand narrative of human evolution is central to differentiating us from other primates. Danny transports us into the deep time of Eden’s Garden and treats us to a director’s cut of what was really going on with that wiley serpent of consciousness.

While some might find the radical juxtaposition of material disorientating, personally I felt that it induced a psychedelic state of awareness that felt resonant with the type of conscious brain-change that he was seeking to describe. Yes this work is at times dense and demanding of concentration, but the author does well to intersperse his theory with some entertaining experiential vignettes.  Danny provides us with some vivid personal biography regarding his experience of the ayahuasca community and then builds upon this in seeking to draw parallels with other forms of ecstatic and contemplative spiritual practice.

danny-nemu2-458x458

Serious exegete

I especially enjoyed his examination of what we might learn from the experiences of folks who are more atypical in their neurology (people on the autistic spectrum or who voice-hear) and what these lessons might mean more widely for human potential. While understandably speculative in places I enjoyed the positivity of this as a re-frame for mental health experiences that are so frequently problematised.

In many ways I experienced Neuro-Apocalypse as a deeply Gnostic work, as the Rev. Nemu allows us to accompany him on a roller-coaster ride through his rich personal mythology. While such journeys can be fraught with either narcissism or excessive eccentricity, I felt that Danny did a great job in remaining true to his personal vision while ensuring that we, as his readers, can glean riches that are applicable to our own paths.

Rev. SD

Dionysus’ Doorway

Thousands of years ago, Plato attended the Rites of Eleusis. He stood in the crowd, and had a deeply meaningful experience which set him, and us, on the road to the split of mind-body duality. He writes:

For, as has been said, every soul of man has by the law of nature beheld the realities, otherwise it would not have entered into a human being, but it is not easy for all souls to gain from earthly things a recollection of those realities, either for those which had but a brief view of them at that earlier time, or for those which, after falling to earth, were so unfortunate as to be turned toward unrighteousness through some evil communications and to have forgotten the holy sights they once saw. Few then are left which retain an adequate recollection of them; but these when they see here any likeness of the things of that other world, are stricken with amazement and can no longer control themselves; but they do not understand their condition, because they do not clearly perceive. Now in the earthly copies of justice and temperance and the other ideas which are precious to souls there is no light, but only a few, approaching the images through the darkling organs of sense, behold in them the nature of that which they imitate, and these few do this with difficulty. But at that former time they saw beauty shining in brightness, when, with a blessed company—we following in the train of Zeus, and others in that of some other god—they saw the blessed sight and vision and were initiated into that which is rightly called the most blessed of mysteries, which we celebrated in a state of perfection, when we were without experience of the evils which awaited us in the time to come, being permitted as initiates to the sight of perfect and simple and calm and happy apparitions, which we saw in the pure light, being ourselves pure and not entombed in this which we carry about with us and call the body, in which we are imprisoned like an oyster in its shell. So much, then, in honour of memory, on account of which I have now spoken at some length, through yearning for the joys of that other time. But beauty, as I said before, shone in brilliance among those visions; and since we came to earth we have found it shining most clearly through the clearest of our senses; for sight is the sharpest of the physical senses, though wisdom is not seen by it, for wisdom would arouse terrible love, if such a clear image of it were granted as would come through sight, and the same is true of the other lovely realities; but beauty alone has this privilege, and therefore it is most clearly seen and loveliest.
Plato, Phaedra, 250 a-e.

Plato can rightly be regarded as the auctor of Western philosophy. His vision of the soul yearning to soar free of the sepulchre of the body has influenced countless generations of those whose world view forms the scaffold of our own individual versions of the body/mind division.

However, he was wrong. Limited by the dichotomy of the Greek language comparing this on one hand, that on the other, he was blind to the multitudinous steps betwixt cup and lip, from objective (out there) to subjective (in here), and slipped up.

I recently read two things posted in close succession on my facebook wall. One was the news of publication of research on the physiological effects of LSD on the brain’s blood circulation. The other was a report on how vision works, how the incoming signals from light striking our retinal cells is smoothed out by the activity of the brain.

Before I draw my tentative conclusions, I’d like to examine these two scientific findings a little more closely.

  1. LSD, similarly to other psychedelic substances such as psilocybin, seems to affect the brain’s blood flow adversely. In contrast to the expected extra activity, stimulating extra colours and shapes, instead the fMRI scanner showed a loss of blood flow (and therefore activity, in its gross sense) in many areas of the brain. Something is not happening which usually does.
  2. Light falls on the cells of our eyes, causing the photo-pigments within the eye to change shape. This chemical change affects the transmission of an electrical signal to the brain. Once the signal has been ‘sent’, the photo-pigment regains its previous shape, and awaits another external input to fall upon it and allow the process to repeat. This takes a measurable amount of time, which if always perceived would cause issues with evaluating the true colour of any thing.  To allow a consistent picture of the colour, the brain averages out the inputs received over some seconds, approximately 15 according to this study. A sensible way of overcoming the refresh rate of our mechanistic system.

It occurred to me that this constant activity of the brain in smoothing out these sensorial flickers could be part of what ceases during the low level of blood flow observed when in a psychedelic state. If so, then under the influence we would perceive a world with waves of intense/fading colours, especially if the gaze rests upon an object meaning that colour perception is our main focus of attention.

painting arm

Freudian

And this seems to be borne out by personal observations. 1P LSD is currently legal in the UK (although probably for only a few more weeks), and having taken one blotter recently in auspicious circumstances I waited to see if my theory might bear fruit. Looking carefully at a painting, I saw the colours appear and disappear clearly, fading in and out of my awareness. Greens, reds, blues, and the mixtures of these, became visible in turns, creating a shifting texture of shape as different elements of the composition revealed themselves in turn.

The painting was a modern one, depicting a hand and forearm. As the colours ‘moved’, the arm came alive. Later, I stood on the doorstep of the house and watched the trees in the front garden shift and sway from the inner breeze originating from my eyeballs’ pigments changing shape.

The experience was profound. Aware intellectually of what was happening at a basic level of my own biochemistry, added to the wonder I felt at the sight, just as the knowledge that the stars are gigantic balls of gas lights years away adds to the magic of the immediate view of them as twinkling pin pricks of light.

There are likely to be analogous effects on other sensory inputs; sound, bodily sensations such as temperature, kinaesthetic awareness, proprioception, taste and smell. So psychedelics, named after the apparent mind-manifesting effects, may actually reveal instead a lack of ‘mind’ as we currently understand this terminology. The reducing valve theory of Huxley has already gained acceptance with regard to integration of brain centres. This visual phenomenon of visible colour waves could provide an easily accessible concrete example of its application. Psychedelics may well reveal the building blocks of our raw state of perception. This could explain that sense of familiarity many people have commented on, the coming home. For really, we ALWAYS see the world this way with our sensory apparatus, the non-psychedelic reality being constructed post-here&now by constant activity within our filtering brain.

Thus, I suggest that the iconography of ‘higher’ levels of consciousness, of the ideal realms beyond our mundane reality, is unhelpful. Rather, we could use linguistic approaches emphasising the physical ground of our existence as those worthy of most awe, exposure to direct lived embodied awareness as the basis of our spiritual awakenings. Shifting our attention downwards, to the felt foundation, could resolve the vertiginous sickness of the last two millennia spent trying to find the Real in the cosmic distance. The ‘other dimensions’ beloved of so many entheogenic gurus may turn out to be the real world, whilst our normal awareness describes for us a practically useful fiction, a steady state narrative within which we see and move.

Ego dissolution, changes to the serotonin system and other physiological effects of classic psychedelic drugs are under investigation. As further results are published, I anticipate greater insights into how our Newtonian mechanistic body, and our idealist Platonic mind, could swirl together beyond divisive labels of classification; this has profound implications for spiritual thinking, panpsychism, and the imminence of the divine. By directly experiencing the bodymind as One Thing, seeing with full cognitive and intellectual awareness even one aspect of how our marvellous complex neural processing creates useful simpler narrative consistency, we may come closer to a unification of this apparent duality into a tangible philosophy.

Previous attempts at describing the numinous have placed it somewhere other, often above us, in higher otherworldly spaces accessible only to those who can climb above others. Top-down hierarchies have given us dry channels to literally non-existent heavens, whilst a model of underground networking provides far more resilience, sustainability, and dare I say it, a better legacy. I posit that instead of shouting our prayers to the stars, we ought to listen to the ground when seeking deeper wisdom. Conceptualise our ‘altered states of consciousness’ as the apocalyptic, revealed, awesome foundation of our beliefs, as the bedrock, the floor of our magick. Sky-dwelling supernatural beings have had their day, and as they fall, the earthly body answers our entreaties. Rise!

Dionysus, god of ecstatic visionary states, Plato’s inspiration, has held the key to this doorway of perception for thousands of years. As the source of philosophical musings, in vino veritas, he seems a fitting deity to honour in naming this observation of mine, regarding the revelation of what is actually seen in these states:- The opening of Dionysus’ Doorway to a truly visionary way of perception.

NW

The Books of Magic – reviews of some top volumes of esoterica

Twister Power is the prequel to Dave Lee’s novel Road to Thule and like that first book this is another heady blend of drugs, magic and future technology set against the backdrop of a world  heading towards economic and environmental collapse. The use of technology to enhance parapsychological powers is central to the plot and there are a number of asides in the novel that explore the history and development of magic. A dystopian cyberpunkesque tale, Twisted Power will be of interest to both sci-fi heads and futurist sorcerers.

Magical future shock

Magical future shock

Defining Magic: A Reader does what it says on the tin. This academic and (by and large) accessible volume explores the repeated attempts by the academy to answer that perennial question/koan ‘what is magic’? From James Frazer and his formulation of sympathetic and imitative magic, through to much less ‘sceptical’ or ‘detached’ theoreticians (such as Susan Greenwood) this book provides a very fine window into the two thousand year old process of people trying to establish what that slippery word magic actually points to. Recommended to both academics in this field and esoteric practitioners who want to gain valuable insight into the meaning and history of their practice.

Noumenautics by academic, philosopher and psychonaut Peter Sjöstedt-H is another fascinating book from the Psychedelic Press UK imprint. The first section deals with an analysis of the psychedelic experience (particularly those states produced by psilocybin mushrooms and LSD), while the latter section of the book presents a close analysis of (neo) nihilism and in particular the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. This volume joins the ranks of those tomes that emerge when you drop psychedelic drugs into the brain of a writer. The particular nihilist spin that Sjöstedt-H provides is fascinating, though I’d like to discover (perhaps in future writings) more about how the author sees the relationship of this philosophical school and psychedelics.

Mushroom philosophy

Mushroom philosophy

Riding out from the serious academic stable of Oxford University Press is The Devil’s Party, subtitled Satanism in Modernity. This is wonderful collection of intelligent papers covering many and diverse aspects of the development of Satanic culture and identity. Highlights for me included the thoughtful and generous re-appraisal of LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, and a  great essay about probably the first self-described Satanist Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Interesting, though in my viewed flawed, is the final paper on The Order of Nine Angles (which seems to exist mostly as a juvenile literary fiction rather than, as the author of the paper imagines, an actual organisation). Overall this is a fascinating, inclusive and well researched exploration of the new religious movement of modern Satanism.

The Museum Dose by the amusingly monikered Daniel Tumbleweed combines two subjects close to my heart; namely cultural spaces and drugs. Daniel takes us on a tour of locations including The Guggenhein Museum and Brian Eno’s exhibition ’77 million paintings’ at Café Rouge. Moreover these adventures happen on exciting drugs such as 25-MeO-MiPT & C-t-2 respectively. In these and ten other places the author invites us to explore, though his excellent prose, the interface between psychedelics, art, history and imagination. This book will be of interest  to both cultural curators and fans of psychedelic literature. Even if exotic drugs are not your bag the engaging authorial voice still makes this a great read.

The final book in this set is the Mutus liber of the tarot, specifically the (Facebook) Chaos Magick Group (CMG) Tarot. This social media mediated collaborative project saw 47 artists and chaos magic practitioners creating a diverse and deep series of images. The whole project took around 2 years from inception to manifestation as a physical deck, with project co-ordinator Paul Nott expertly herding the chaos cats until, as you can see in this video, our collective desire was realised.

 

CMG has  proved to a wonderfully creative space with a collective intelligence capable of identifying and booting out objectionable online nutters but managing to preserve a brilliant Discordian culture. I contributed two cards to the deck as did Nikki Wyrd and we are both really proud to have been part of this excellent venture. Check the deck out (and make a purchase if you Will) here.

Enjoy!

JV

 

Gnostic Musings – Part 3, When Archons become Aeons…

In part 2 of this series I was experiencing serious flashbacks to part of my day job as a family psychotherapist. In seeking to grapple with the dynamics at play within Gnostic cosmology it didn’t feel that dissimilar to the issues that arise in the therapy room. In one corner we have the Pleroma as the somewhat distant father figure, seemingly critical of his wayward son’s attempts in the other corner, to make his way in the multiverse (“Dad you just don’t understand! I just want to create and make stuff happen!”). In the middle of this conflict we have a somewhat care-worn Sophia trying to mediate between these two. It’s not easy being caught in the middle between numinous perfection you respect and a wayward but creative rebel you don’t want to lose.

Is there really only one way to find out…?

Like most families however, drawing in the perspectives of the wider system can bring new and interesting insights that provide balance and richness to stories that can easily get swamped with focusing on difficulty (a “problem saturated narrative”). In the case of Gnostic mythology, I was wondering whether the Aeons and Archons might help.

As intimated at the beginning of this series, Gnostic cosmologies are notoriously complicated and for much of the time it’s hard enough to know what’s going on, let alone what it might signify!  At the risk of over-simplification, Aeons tend to be viewed as extensions or hypostases of the Pleroma (and generally therefore viewed as the good guys) while the Archons are seen as having their origin from the realm of the Demiurge and connected to the “challenges” associated with the material realm. In some Gnostic schemas, those of us awakened to the divine spark within (the “Pneumatic”) must ascend through a number of layers or hierarchies associated with the Archons in order to reunite with the Pleroma. The methods employed on such a journey are manifold – magical passwords may be sought in order to level-up, and groups such as the Sethians seemed to have a complex system of baptisms used for opening up these realms.

For those of us with any connection to the wider Western magical tradition this will hopefully feel like familiar territory. With its heady reliance on Neo-Platonism, the Qabalistic tree of life and various systems of yogic psycho-physiology (Chakras any one?) most “Western” magicians will probably have a fairly ingrained sense that they should be either ascending or descending to something. While the use of such maps may be prone to the danger of getting stuck in taking either them or ourselves too seriously, they can provide helpful tools in seeking to avoid premature maturation.

While we could expend much energy debating whether enlightenment is a gradual or immediate experience of a non-dual nature, I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that it’s probably both 🙂 We may have glimpses of Samadhi or angelic epiphanies, but human nature usually dictates that we want to explore and “unpack” the significance of what such experiences might mean and how we should then live. This idea of a gradual unfolding also permeates psychological models such as Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and Erik Erikson’s “Stages of Psychosocial Development” as they grapple with the challenges we often need to meet in being alive.  Developmental research such as that done by Paul Gilbert (cf. The Compassionate Mind) also point towards the reality that our need to examine such complexity from a multiplicity of angles, is innately connected to the evolution of the human brain as it has sought to understand and prioritise the competing needs of human existence.

Our engagement with these different stages can take either an adversarial or integrative approach, depending on our chosen worldview. The archonic model can be helpful in that it provides us with a means for understanding the pervasive influence of “the spirits of the age” in perpetuating the dominant discourses of the cultures we are situated within. The Gnostics were often keen to resist these forces in that they were viewed as compounding the Demiurge’s imprisonment of human consciousness. Via the adoption of anarcho-magical strategies (including both asceticism and antinomianism) the Gnostic explorer actively sought to limit the impact of these forces so as to realise their true pneumatic nature.

Rulers can be useful

Rulers can be useful conceptual devices

While such an approach may be understandable from a more dualistic perspective, we may want to question its wisdom in relation to our psychological well-being.  If we view these challenges as being largely archonic and problematic, while a combative approach may provide an initial burst of anger fuelled resistance, we may rightly wonder about the sustainability of engaging in such conflict.

In this series of posts we have already touched on the way in which radical dualism was incorporated as one voice within the Corpus Hermeticum, and for myself  it is within the broader Hermetic and Western alchemical traditions that we find a potent synthesis of the integrative and adversarial positions.  Via the process of seeking to transform lead into gold, the practitioner works with resistance at both a macro and microcosmic level so as to bring change. Magicians are often those who choose to walk the treacherous path of transmuting those substances which others seek to avoid. The initiate’s vows of “Daring, Willing, Knowing and keeping Silent” challenge them to confront those obstacles within themselves formed by either genetic make-up or environmental conditioning. Arguably part of the ‘Great Work’ that we pursue in daring to “immanentize the eschaton” is the transformation of our Archons in order to make them Aeonic opportunities of becoming.

SD

Intent, Consequences and Virtue

The use of the Statement of Intent is a common feature of most rituals. This can be couched in Pagan terms ‘We meet here today to celebrate the festival of Samhain…’, in NLP savvy results magick style, ‘We rejoice as the project of fracking is abandoned in the British Isles’ or Buddhist friendly lingo, ‘We dedicate the merit of this practice to the liberation of all beings’. And though it’s undoubtedly important to spend time divining and formulating what it is we want our magick to accomplish, it’s also important to appreciate the rule of Unintended Consequences. There are lots of examples of this principle; the inadvertent increase in bio-diversity in some war ravaged parts of the world, or the increased use of fossil fuels as smoke free pubs put heaters outside to warm their patrons now banished into the chilly night.

Sure as eggs is eggs...

Sure as eggs is eggs…

Living as we do, in a complex world of every shifting inter-connected events, the idea of saying ‘I want X’, can never be the whole story by any measure. In fact I’d suggest that most of our magick operates as much through us, as something that apparently emerges from us. In those ritual moments, where we become conscious of the process we’re engaged in (celebrating Halloween, doing results magick or a spot of Tonglen), we’re actually pointing back towards the on-going process of our lives, reminding ourselves of what we’re doing just as much as casting our desires into the future.

Let’s say that you do a protection ritual for someone. The way in which the ritual is framed will emerge from your psychological state at that time. Do you choose to mirror the nasty stuff coming at you, returning it to it’s apparent point of origin? Do you attempt some cursing sorcery or ill-wishing antics? To generalise; the former policy (setting up protective wards, working to support those who are under threat and make them stronger, deploying blocking and binding spells), these betoken a much more nuanced, long-term and intelligent way of dealing with the problem than wildly stabbing at poppets or similar histrionics.

If you’re a poppet stabber chances are also that you’re caught up in a view of the universe characterised by fear and hatred. In such a state that old chestnut Lust of Result (assuming you think it applies in your model of magic) will probably be at a maximal value. It’s also likely that the law of Unintended Consequences will get you. This isn’t some kind of re-writing of karma or three-fold return but the simple fact that if you set out to do harm you’re quite likely to find quite the reverse taking place.

I saw a great example of this recently following the unpleasant trolling of friend where the anonymous emails sent her way actually galvanised a great up-welling of support on her behalf. This included messages of care and assistance from people she has previously had had minor disagreements with. In swinging his metaphorical club around the troll has stirred up a support group for their intended victim. This process included inadvertently calling allies with specialist computer skills, ideal for tracking down the miscreant. The actions of the nasty troll (who of course made some claims of curse-wielding powers) had had the unintended consequence of summoning a bunch of particularly helpful spirits to my friends aid!

Droll Troll

Droll Troll

Does this cut both ways? What if you act all starry-eyed and trusting in the universe? What of the unintended consequences of becoming a door-mat for those opportunistic, confused or just plain psychopathic people out there? There’s nothing in principle to stop that happening however this is where the idea of Virtue comes in. Developing a Virtue is the deliberate cultivation of a dynamic equilibrium between extremes of behaviour. There is, for instance, the virtue of courage. At one end of the continuum of behaviours we have foolhardiness, and at the other cowardice. Courage stands somewhere between them. By cultivating our virtue we seek to place ourselves in a balanced, yet dynamic relationship with the world, and in practice this means we usually have a wider field of perception. We’re better able to notice the unintended consequences (both positive and negative) or our actions and reactions to the world. We’re more flexible and more likely to be successful in what we do (and able to meet the lessons from our failures more honestly). (My favourite model of virtue is described in Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman).

The person fixated on getting their way in the universe (bellowing Barbaric words at the top of their voice in the street and relentlessly pushing their monolithic interpretation of the world) is likely to be very far from virtuous. They miss the positive unintended consequences of their actions (from which they might theoretically capitalise) and the negative consequences (which could inform them to change tactics). Their obsessive desire makes them quite ignorant of what’s actually going on around them and, amusingly, the more they dig themselves down into their rut the easier it is for the unintended consequences – especially those that diametrically oppose what they want – to proliferate. They literally invoke their own downfall.

Both our daily lives and formal ceremonies may have all kinds of consequences, some of which we will never know (check out the excellent movie Cloud Atlas for a beautiful exploration of this idea). The aim of the wise magician then is to cultivate an on-going project of developing their virtue. This is a pragmatic sorcerous strategy to get us what we want (see my article HERE). Our virtue is reflected in our spells, in what we choose to pray for, and how we choose to act in the world. Those who spend their time Working to screw up the lives of others tend to end up friendless and screwed up themselves. Those who Work for wisdom, justice and humanity in the world actively create the conditions for those experiences to manifest. Such people are better able to weather the storms when times get tough. Moreover when the storm is done they’ve got plenty of capacity in themselves to enjoy the sun, and many loved ones around them with whom they can share it.

JV