Psychedelic Learning

For many years I’ve been interesting in teaching and learning, how these processes happen, and what makes them more or less effective. My university studies were in the field of pedagogy, and my undergraduate dissertation explored the value of a playful approach to learning in hypertext environments. That was in the very early days of the World Wide Web. These days we just call this process ‘online learning’, a process which, like any educational experience has a variety of benefits and limitations.

The Russian pedagogue Lev Vygotsky described learning as a process that takes place in the zone of proximal development (ZPD); this is the conceptual space between what the learner knows, and what they can come to know in the presence of a teacher (a ‘more knowledgeable other’). This concept and the metaphor of a ‘learning space’ reminds me of a definition of magic given by Phil Hine in his seminal work Condensed Chaos:

‘Magic is a set of techniques and approaches which can be used to extend the limits of Achievable Reality. Our sense of Achievable Reality is the limitations which we believe bind us into a narrow range of actions and successes—what we believe to be possible for us at any one given time. In this context, the purpose of magic is to simultaneously explore the boundaries and attempt to push them back—to widen the “sphere” of possible action.’

I’ve written before about the importance of strategies to break out of behavioural patterns, which entails learning something new. Sometimes this new knowing, the wisdom attained in the ZPD, is of such magnitude that the self that arises in it may be profoundly transformed. To make change of this magnitude we need a technology (an approach or method—as in Phil’s definition of Magic) and/or a great teacher.

When it comes to learning, one great teacher that increasing numbers of people are seeking out, is the category of psychedelic medicines. These substances, whether cultivated, wild-harvested, or conjured into visible appearance in the alchemist’s laboratory, can provide a range of new perspectives. They can provide healing by providing us with new ways to understand trauma. They can give us creative insights and help cultivate a new sense of connection between us and other beings (from our family and friends through to the biosphere as a whole). The idea that the psychedelic state can be usefully thought of as a teacher is one that educationalist Lindsay Jordon and I have both spoken about. Like any wise teacher, psychedelic medicines often give us the lessons we need, not necessarily the ones we think we need. The psychedelic state, with it’s ability to generate novel neuronal connections helps us come to realizations ourselves, and it also encourages us to ask more questions.

As an educationalist I was delighted to be contacted by the Fungi Academy and invited to collaborate with them in the creation of a Psychedelic Journeywork Course. The Fungi Academy already provide courses, both online and at their center in Guatemala, on mushroom cultivation. With this new course I had the opportunity to translate the accessible approach of Getting Higher; The Manual of Psychedelic Ceremony into a complete program for people wanting to learn how to work with sacred mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. I hope you’ll have the time to check the course out; it contains some beautiful videography and music, as well as written information to help students connect with the world-wide mycelial network of psychedelic practice. Follow this link to view the course. You can get 25% off the course price with the promo code/coupon ‘Julian’.

The growth of online classes and events that the pandemic has occasioned means more and more people are increasingly confident navigating online spaces. In terms of my own esoteric work I’m part of a group that has been experimenting with online ritual for decades and, while of course there are limitations to this way of working, there are benefits too. I’ve stood in the virtual circle with practitioners from many time-zones, allowing us to collapse chronology and distance, coming together to work our magic and build community across the globe.

As we begin to reconnect with each other in physical space I hope that we can continue to develop our intelligent use of the online space. That we can learn how opinions form, how they can be successfully challenged, and that we can increase our ability to sift useful information from the less useful. I hope too that those international meetings, now so commonplace in Zoomland, can help us grok that we are in fact one global community, however much nationalism and other ideologies claim otherwise.

While we should remain mindful of the echo-chamber effect, and of bad actors, there’s much more collaboration and community around these days than we may immediately appreciate. Much more solidarity and cooperation than the news portrays. The creation and development of these virtual communities can be a great blessing, may it serve us well.

Julian Vayne

Coming up next

Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne are hosting two online events:
A Spring Equinox ritual with The Psychedelic Society, 21st March
two-day intensive session on Psychedelic Magick organized through Occulture, 27-28th March
Nikki and Julian will also be speaking at the Mt.Tam Psychedelic Integration Jamboree April 16th-18th

Julian is taking part in a panel on Morning Rituals with The Psychedelic Society, 6th April
Julian is also teaching online with Treadwell’s Books, check their events page for details
Nikki is holding an online workshop, The Structure of Psychedelic Ceremony, 25th April; details to follow

The Mind’s Eye – Psychedelics vs Hallucinogens

As the psychedelic renaissance continues the language we use about these substances frames how they emerge from ‘traditional’, underground and research contexts and into wider culture.

For example, it’s worth pointing out that psychedelic substances, indeed all drugs for that matter, are not and have never been ‘illegal’. While this point may seem like splitting hairs to some it’s vital to understand how drugs are controlled, by whom and for what reasons (mostly Richard Nixon’s paranoia). Sure, in day to day parlance, we may speak of ‘illegal drugs’ but understanding the deeper truth of their juridical status helps us appreciate key nuances. What we are dealing here with isn’t outlaw substances, but rather the politics, policy and underlying ethical positions that support prohibition.

Another important aspect of pharmacolingistics is how we choose to describe the class of drugs being investigated in clinical and academic settings world-wide. While ‘hallucinogen’ has been used in this past this term has serious flaws.

Hallucinogen is now, however, the most common designation in the scientific literature, although it is an inaccurate descriptor of the actual effects of these drugs. In the lay press, the term psychedelic is still the most popular and has held sway f,or nearly four decades.”

molecule pic

Psychedelic drugs, not just active in the mind’s eye…

The comment above is from David Nichols, one of the leading psychedelic chemists on the planet, who knows a thing or two about such matters (see hallucinogen in Wikipedia). Luckily David’s wish to change that ‘inaccurate descriptor’ has been granted.

The quote from Professor Nichols dates back to 2004. These days a brief glance at contemporary research shows how ‘psychedelic’ has now become the preferred nomenclature in scientific circles . There is for example The Journal of Psychedelic Studies, a leading academic peer-reviewed publication that brings together scientific research concerning these medicines. Then there is Psychedelic Press Journal that publishes ethnographic research, rare historical material and experimental writing. There’s nothing remotely equivalent out there with the ‘hallucinogenic’ tag and for very good reasons, as I explain here…

The book I name check in this video is Mike Jay’s wonderful Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic; a meticulously researched and moving account, especially in relation to the development of peyote ceremony within Native American communities. Highly recommended.

Wishing you all a fabulous December Solstice!

Stay high! Stay free!

Julian Vayne


Yuletide shopping opportunity!

I’m really pleased to announce that Getting Higher has been published in Polish! You can get your copy here 🙂

Polish version Getting higher

I’m also running a workshop at Treadwell’s Books in London on Spaces and their Spirits on the 1st of February where I’ll be sharing techniques to enable us explore a metamodern animism. Expect spirit beings of all sorts, from genuis loci and faeries to chaos magic servitors and ancient deities!

Nikki and I will be running more Deep Magic retreats in 2020. If you want to be kept up to date with our plans please get in touch and we will add you to our mailing list.

I’ll be presenting at the Conjuring Creativity conference in Stockholm in March. The theme for the conference is art and the esoteric in the age of the anthropocene.

Have a magical 2020!