Magic in Between Times

The September Equinox is a time of balance. Occurring under the auspices of Libra this is the season of Adjustment, of Justice, and a time to measure our harvest. It is a time for looking at relationships, the interplay between the dark and the light, and that which connects these polarities.

This year has been difficult for many people and so, as we in the northern hemisphere slip into the dark half of the year, we are faced with the need to address these shadows. To help us in our transition, one approach is to look not only at the ‘things’ in our lives, but also to be attentive to the ‘between spaces’. This work can, and should, unfold on may levels.

The body is the first temple and so, as we in the north head into the dark, we can prepare our bodies for this time by attending to our physical ‘spaces between’. One example of this would be in our bodywork where we can focus on the fascia, the connective tissues that attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate our muscles and organs. 

We can pay attention to the fascia using any number of approaches including yoga, tai chi, massage of self or others. We can use supplements, notably hyaluronic acid, and good diet to support these tissues. We can consult a healer if necessary. The fascia can be regarded as the primal matter of the body, from which the tissues of bone, muscle and other organs differentiate as the embryo develops. As such it isn’t just the ‘padding’ between structures but rather the foundation of our form. Paying attention to this ‘in-between’ aspect of our organism helps our whole being emerge in a good way. As a wise friend of mine remarked recently; ‘focus on the fascia and the chakras will sort themselves out’.

Emerging centres

For magicians, bodywork is crucial because, well, as above, so below. Bodywork implies acting with the aspiration to be as fit as we are able to be in our current context. This investment, in what these days is usually described as our wellbeing, is for the benefit of ourselves and others. Bodywork, however we do it, helps us have more capacity when we face the slings and arrows of Fortune. It’s a good investment. As they say in the memesphere; ‘make time for your wellbeing or you will be forced to make time for your illness.’

Moreover if as magicians we are to stay in tune with the patterns in the wyrd we must be able to listen, and bodywork trains listening the body. In my own approach to this work I’ve been exploring Butoh, inspired by a friend’s investigations of this technique. This way of movement that originated in Japan proceeds from a deep listening to the tides in the body. As with shamanic transformation into animals, we quiet our minds, allowing a spirit to enter us, embodying that force in our dance. (Or at least that’s how I’ve been approaching it at the moment.). Have a look at this example of the practice and, more importantly, give it a go:

Seeking balance includes becoming aware of opportunities in daily life that I can use to support my practice; especially in the busy autumn and new academic year. When I teach students I often suggest that they look for these opportunities, so their magic becomes seamlessly blended with daily activity. For example; when we brush our teeth, which we probably do twice a day, we can do so while wondering if the toast is burning, or thinking about what we did last night or whatever. But we can also recognize this simple, almost automatic act of self-care, as an opportunity to work with our awareness. We can simply brush our teeth. Remaining fully present in the act. When out mind wanders we notice this and return to awareness of brushing our teeth. Thus we have turned a straightforward act of dental hygiene into a chance for mindful awareness.

Noticing and using these little opportunities for finding the magic in daily life is essential. While of course sometimes we may find ourselves doing more or less elaborate ceremony, daily chores like cooking, cleaning, mending and making can all be magical acts if approached in the right way.

The equinox period also provides a chance to pay attention to personal points of inbetweeness and transition. This could mean doing practices at the interface between sleep and wakefulness. Recommended reading on this topic includes the excellent Liminal Dreaming by Jennifer Dumpert (also a contributor to the My Magical Thing series). In her book Jennifer brilliantly updates the use of the traditional black scrying mirror by suggesting you use your ipad or phone screen while it’s turned off. The tech, whether you’re doing it with an digital tablet or obsidian mirror, is simple. Having done any preparations for the work you deem suitable, sit or lay down so that you are holding the black mirror in front of you. Allow yourself to dream, to doze (this technique works well just before bedtime). As you fall into a microsleep the hypnagogic state, with it’s boundless creativity and complex brainwave patterns, emerges to generate images, ideas and sensations. As your hands drop the mirror to your lap you’ll jolt into wakefulness. Simply repeat the practice; gazing into the mirror, slipping into the liminal state noticing what’s there, and then jolting back into awareness. Repeated over multiple sessions this is a very effective approach to scrying. The images may begin to appear in the mirror itself as the duration of the hypnagogic state extends. Suitable incenses can be usefully employed to increase the potency of this method.

Making offerings
Black mirror

I’ve also been getting to the liminal state at the other end of the day. Over the last few months I’ve been doing online wellbeing teaching under the auspices of the National Health Service. Some of these sessions happen in the mornings from 7 to 8 am. To make sure I’m in the best state of mind to help others, I’ve been spending half an hour each morning before I teach in meditation. While most of the time I do my meditation practice seated or standing, for these 6 am sessions I use Shavasana while still in bed. Obviously some mornings I slip back into sleep but then hover in the hypnopompic state, as my meta awareness notices that I’m sleeping, and I return to conscious attention on my breath. This practice also allows dreams, that may have been brutally banished by the alarm clock, to gently seep back into memory. More broadly, as the duration of the light changes this alters melatonin production in the pineal gland. This makes the equinox season a good time to start a dream diary and to explore dream magic.

Experiments with liminal psychedelics, such as orally consumed Salvia divinorum, nitrous oxide and ketamine may appeal to psychonauts at this time. However chief among the magical medicines of the autumn is of course psilocybin. I was honoured this month take part, for a second year, in the Tam Integration Psilocybin Summit. If you missed this stellar, richly diverse event you can catch the recorded presentations online. I’m also working on a course for the Fungi Academy on Psychedelic Journeywork with sacred mushrooms. Now the proud possessor of studio lights, teleprompter and high end camera, we’re working to create some real quality material. I’ll keep you informed as the project progresses.

Reflecting in this way – on what we have done and where we’re going next – is also part of the equinox process. We look back at what we did over the summer, we consider what we have harvested from this year, and we prepare for the period ahead. Though we may wince at idea that winter is coming, especially in this time of pandemic, the skillful person will try to re-frame the situation. We can look at this moving inwards, into the dark, as a challenge. Therefore this is time to take stock, to enumerate our resources, our allies, to work on our health, and built our resilience. And to do so does not mean slipping into some kind of alt-right survivalist nonsense, for if ‘I’ am to survive then it must be ‘we’ that survive together.

Back in the temple of the body we can use this equinox time to pay attention to the biology of our gut. This is another good way to do this work of ‘in-between’ magic. After all about 50% of the cells in your body are the intestinal flora. The human gut is, according to some, one of the most densely packed and potentially diverse ecological niches on our planet. Feed your gut, however this works for you, and pay attention to the feelings and needs of the millions upon millions of tiny spirits in your body without whose collaboration you would die. Make a healthy alliance with your gut feelings, listen to what they tell you. If your equinox is one of springtime that’s where spring tonics come in. If you’re passing into the dark this may mean eating microbiologically enriching foods to set you up for winter.

Spirit realm

By recognizing ourselves as a microbial biome we bring into focus our inter connectivity rather than our (apparent) sovereign self of separation. Our gut creatures are the ‘inbetweeners’, the interface between self and the nourishment we need from the world.

The equinox season invites us to notice connections where previously all we perceived was separation and distance. I am reminded of this teaching by the marvellous spider webs, spanning improbably wide gulfs in my garden, binding things together.

Though we may be located apart let us be cognizant of the connections between us, change what no longer serves us, and nourish our Great Work. Let us celebrate the turning of the year. Let us acknowledge the entering of the dark for some, the emergence into the light for others. We are different, we are connected, we are together.

Julian Vayne

Online magics

I’ve doing a whole bunch of workshops via Treadwell’s Books. We’ve got a packed program right through until December, I hope you can join me there.

The awesome Dave Lee is also doing online stuff these days. To find out more the best plan is to subscribe to his excellent newsletter, check his website for details and for info on current courses.

Nikki continues as Editor of the Psychedelic Press quarterly journal; the autumn issue is now available.

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.