Autumn leaves – reviews by Steve Dee

The Night Journey: Witchcraft as Transformation (second edition)
by Yvonne Aburrow

Most of the books that I have read on Witchcraft in the last five years have tended to be either focused on history (e.g. Ronald Hutton’s The Witch) or the spookier reimagining of its Traditional, non-Wiccan manifestations.  In contrast The Night Journey offers something different in its radical re-visioning of initiatory Wicca as a path of personal and political liberation.

I first encountered Yvonne’s writing in their excellent All Acts of Love and Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca which I experienced as a vivid attempt at bringing inclusive and Queer perspectives to forms of Paganism that may have become stuck in our ableist and heteronormative views of human expression. This new work feels like an expansion of Inclusive Wicca; a conscious fleshing-out that provides a deeper, more theological appreciation of what Witchcraft has to offer as a contemporary religious path.

Yvonne has been an initiate of Gardnerian Wicca for almost 30 years and this work represents a distillation of their thinking regarding how Wicca can speak to the challenges of the 21st century. The structure of the book covers a range of themes regarding the validity of Wicca as a religious path and the way in which its initiatory structure helps manage issues such as ego-inflation and spiritual burn out. 

The first section of the book, “Between the Worlds”, moves beyond a simple “how to” book and provides a rich theological reflection on how Wicca provides a living process of shared ritual work via which a relationship with divinity can be evolved. They provide a nuanced engagement with how Pagan magical paths can address our deepest psychological need for contrast and polarity, whether these are between darkness and light or silence and sound. Yvonne has a background in academic religious studies and this feels very present in her deep description of how her own spirituality and beliefs have evolved within the framework that Wicca has provided.

For Aburrow, Witchcraft is an innately Queer path. The Witch is one who inhabits “a liminal zone between the worlds”. This path offers us a shimmering multiplicity of sexual and gender expressions and the Witch by their very definition bends, shapes and adapts. Their theology is unapologetically one of immanence and this is one of the unique features that they believe Wicca (and Paganism more widely) has to offer in the spiritual marketplace. 

In many ways Yvonne’s writing has many parallels with that of Starhawk in very consciously seeing the Witch as an adversarial figure that “endangers the status quo”. Aburrow explores the more Left-Hand Path adversarial dimensions of the Witch path, not as a preoccupation with Gothic aesthetics, but as the outlaw-tricksters who are “the eternal outsiders, the eternal critics”. The Night as the realm of dreams and the Sabbatic journey represents a need to work with ecstasy, wildness and even our own madness as a means of empowering our activism.

The second section, “Bringing it all back home”, provides us with an engaging set of reflections on Yvonne’s experience of running a coven, and these insights regarding ritual forms and working with power in leadership hold relevance across many spiritual paths. How do we seek to work towards more flattened hierarchies while retaining our awareness of the power that we hold via experience and time within a tradition?

Yvonne explores the differing ways that people learn and how we support people in plugging into an egregore while also allowing them to retain the rich individuality that will ultimately add to a tradition and allow it to evolve. For Aburrow, the ability to co-create and change is at the heart of their magic and their self-description as “a relational polytheist” evokes for me the image of a shared cauldron into which people bring their own unique contributions towards a common goal. 

Toward the book’s conclusion, Yvonne returns to the theme of liberation in the longest essay “Challenging Oppression” in which they ask us to consider the implications of our Paganism:

“I became a Witch, a Pagan a Polytheist because I believe all life is interconnected, interwoven, interpermeable.”

If such connection is central to our religious identity, then it has to have implications for our ethics and how we pursue liberty at both a personal and collective level. Yvonne’s work is unapologetically anti-oppressive and anti-racist. Well-meaning inaction is no longer viable. In order to move forward we have to face the implications of racism and colonialism and it is inevitable that such unlearning will be deeply uncomfortable. The chapter also provides some really helpful reflections of the complexities of cultural appropriation and how we might integrate wider traditions in a slow, respectful syncretism.

The Night Journey never promises to be an easy one! As you would expect it can be both disturbing and challenging. At times I felt almost overwhelmed by the concentrated punch of Aburrow’s insights and I consciously chose to slow down to allow a more healthy process of digestion! Thankfully Yvonne provides a series of helpful reflective questions and exercises at the end of each chapter to allow us to consider the implications of these issues in our lives. The brew in this cauldron is a potent one and I could imagine myself spending a year and a day working with these chapters so as to allow the type of reflection, soul searching and deep change that Yvonne’s work is promoting.

Highly recommended.

Buy the second edition of The Night Journey: Witchcraft as transformation here at http://www.shop.doreenvaliente.org/


The Biscuit Volume 1, Issue 1

For me there are few things more Punk Rock than a zine (short for magazine or fanzine). Although having their origin with 1940s sci-fi, for me they really took off as an art form during the heady, DIY culture of Punk and the myriad subcultures that it spawned. Zines at their best are a dynamic cut and paste that juxtaposes art, poetry and philosophy in a way that allow the reader a truly multifaceted take on the topic at hand.

This first edition of The Biscuit produced by Three Bones Society (www.threebonessociety.com) captures brilliantly the joyous chaos of a true zine. The contributors to this maiden edition are drawn from a rich intersect of visual artists, esoteric practitioners, psychotherapists and hedge-philosophers so there is little risk of boredom!

The Biscuit is the brainchild of Eric K Lerner, who is obviously a person of bold ambitions as this first edition is nothing less than a Queer-Feral reclamation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. The whole zine is an attempt to pull back Nietzsche’s work from the hands of fragile egotists and to place his powerful vision back within the current of the post-Christian esoteric tradition. Thus Spake… is the necessary antidote for our materialism and safe complacency: 

“He strives to penetrate the reader’s very being like a virus that takes over the host’s physical essence. His language may bloom within the reader on a subconscious level as a trigger to reinvent him/herself as a higher being.”

David Rankine kicks things off with a concise but unsurprisingly erudite reflection on how Zarathustra has impacted upon Crowley and the evolution of Thelema. Rankine rightly argues that an appreciation of Zarathustra’s message is key to illuminating the Thelemic ideal that “every man and woman is a star”. Sean Woodward’s striking poetry and artwork similarly brings a vivid magical voice to the party.

The Biscuit is full of dynamic and iconoclastic visual art: Tightrope by Charlotte Rodgers provides us with a dancing bone creature whose toppled cruciform calls us to boldly embrace spiritual autonomy: “Thou has made danger thy calling: Therein there is nothing contemptible….” The woodcuts of Thomas van der Krogt, the collage of Vanessa Sinclair and the Gnostic icons of Dolorosa de la Cruz all provide visual sustenance that is both provocative and playful.

A good zine never promises linearity, and The Biscuit unapologetically shunts us between Ron Athey’s gritty performance art cut-ups and Eric K Lerner’s reflection on the challenges of translating Nietzsche from the German: “Gott Todi Ist” is as likely to be rendered “God death is” as it is the iconic “God is Dead!”

Given my own bent as a Queer therapist I greatly enjoyed Vanessa Sinclair’s psychoanalytic reflection on the parallels between compulsion to repeat and Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return i.e. through repeating patterns we often create the space for deeper, more subtle reflection. This edition ends on a bang as Paul Bee Hampshire provides us with a joyful “Zarathustra-the Sequel” and without spoiling the ending we get to see Zee grappling with the complexities of Queer theory ☺

Zines are rarely for the fainted hearted, but this is one of those really great ones that manages to convey more in 45 pages than many a dusty tome.

Highly recommended.

Steve Dee


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Review: Hine’s Varieties Chaos and Beyond by Phil Hine

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Cover by Strutz & Hine

As a latecomer to Chaos Magic in the mid-1990’s, Phil Hine’s Condensed Chaos provided an excellent guide to the Neophyte Steve Dee. Having been spiritually burnt out by my previous struggles with belief and attempts at religious faith, the iconoclastic approach of Chaos Magic articulated in that work felt like an invigorating breath of fresh air.

In this latest collection spanning over 40 years of magical practice and reflection, Phil has brought together not only a rich smorgasbord of his writing that has previously been featured in Zines, collections and his on-line presence, he also intersperses these pieces with illuminating snapshots of magical autobiography and reflections on his inspirations at the time they were written. In addition to Phil’s written work, the book also features evocative linocuts by Maria Strutz at the beginning of each of its major subsections.

He provides us with a vivid recollection of his own beginnings in Magic that reference the impact of Austin Osman Spare, Theosophy and some bold experimentation with the pantheon of HP Lovecraft. Early occult group work came in the form of a rather bumpy experience with a Wiccan Coven, and we also see him giving his playful and non-conformist streak expression via more experimental work with the Discordian Goddess Eris. Things clearly lit-up during his involvement in the vibrant Pagan/magical scene in the North of England during the 1980’s and his involvement with the enigmatic Lincoln Order of Neuromancers provides a Segway into the books first major section containing writing on Chaos Magic.

Even with the passing of time, Phil’s writing from this period still contains both a vibrancy and a relevance. Pieces such as the channelled Erisian Stupid Book and the brutally honest Fracture Lines provide clear insight into the magician both at work and struggling with the emotional realities of being a human being. In Cthulhu Madness he challenges the sanitised safety of our overly psychologised magic and our attempts at control. “Real Magic is Wild” insists Hine and yet he also asks us to use on whole of our beings in balancing magic and mysticism, work and play: 

“Chaos Magic is a process of mutation…the deconstruction of Identity from the beleaguered Ego into the legion of Selves requiring only self-love”

In his section on Paganisms, we find Phil in full activist mode using both his writing and group ritual to challenge the hysteria of alleged satanic child abuse and the ecological threat posed by industrialisation. This a Paganism unbolted from the politeness of social conservatism and in his writing for Pagan News we see a clear embodiment of the magician-shaman as social disruptor. In his Must we Love the Golden Bough? I sensed the beginnings of Phil’s role as erudite historian of religion and critic of Western Occultisms lazy reliance on the Universalistic assumptions that reflect an insensitivity to cultural context.

Phil’s section on Practice provides some rich anecdotes and some very down-to-earth principles for magical practice. He provides valuable thoughts regarding the power dynamics present within the student-teacher relationship and how the paradigm of mentorship might provide a less lopsided model. I was especially struck by his piece on Leaving Magical Groups and was aware of the parallels in my own experience of how such departures can have long lasting impacts on friendships, personal psychology and the shape of on-going spiritual work.

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Phil throwing down some organic Tantra   Portrait by Asa Medhurst

Somewhat organically Hine takes us with him on a voyage into his exploration of Tantra. We are treated to tales of his meeting his Guru, involvement with the AMOOKOS tradition and a description of a deeply personal embodied Kundalini experience. Phil openly wrestles with what it might mean to let the complex traditions of South Asia speak for themselves and inform his efforts to create a “hybridised Tantra”. Through a number of nuanced pieces of writing he invites us to become detectives with him in trying to experience the complex layers of meaning of Tantra’s twilight language rather than coarsely pillaging concepts around rebellion, antinomianism and sacred sexuality. However these concepts are present, they need to be able to speak on their own terms.

His sub-section on Sexualities was a personal favourite of mine, as Phil provides a robust challenge to much of the heteronormativity and phallo-centrism that is still present within certain quarters of western occultism. In exploring the fluid and evolving concept of Queer Paganism we encounter Baphomet as an “unfinished” deity who contains “a multiplicity of shifting planes and horizons”. These aren’t merely theoretical constructs but rather profound explorations of when the personal is the political and pieces such Sodomy and Spiritual Fulfilment and Biography of a Kiss provide us with some truly tender insights on how we unfold in becoming more human.

The final two sections of the book are given over to Histories and Fiction and in this juxtaposition we see Hine in both his most incisive and playful modes.  In his analysis of the work of Lobsang Rampa and Elizabeth Sharpe’s writing on The Secrets of the Kaula Circle we have Phil in full religious historian mode challenging us to stay sensitive to context and to appreciate the complexity of contributions within the timeline. In Fiction (probably the section that appealed to me least), we see the blurring of the lines between story and history and the weird tales described could quite feasibly be chapters from his own biography.

In his writing on Masters, Mentors, Teachers and Gurus Hine advises us to let go of our fixation in seeking parental authority figures and to “seek friendship instead”. Finding such magical mentors can take time but I feel that Phil has provided us with a warm and authentic version of this albeit in print. This collection provides us with a rare, raw and at times hilarious insight regarding what it might mean to be a magician in the 21st century. While playful and irreverent it also contains a moving story of the search for meaning, the fluid nature of identity and also a desire to find the Goddess in all their multiplicity of forms.

Highly Recommended!

Steve Dee

Book Launch of Hine’s Varieties

At Treadwell’s Books, London on 13th February.

Details HERE


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