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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Top Secret Occult Secrets

Dear readers, I have recently been enjoying Yvonne Aburrow’s excellent All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca published by Avalonia Press. What I have really enjoyed is Yvonne’s thoughtful and inspiring reflection on how a contemporary Pagan path (in this case Wicca) can evolve and become more conscious regarding issues around inclusivity and power. For our magic to be real, it needs to impact directly on issues regarding justice, freedom and seeking political change within society. To meet with the Gods means not only to access archetypal forces from times past, it can also ask that we engage with the on-going impulse of cultural transformation that fed into the Neo-Pagan revival.

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Let Hir worship be within the heart that rejoiceth

Inspired by Julian’s recent musings on Priesthood, I’ve got to thinking about the exoteric dimensions of our occult or esoteric paths. As magicians it can be easy to get lost within the labyrinthine halls of our spooky clubs. In seeking to plumb the depths of mystery and our own process of psychological change we can be endlessly inventive in developing techniques and elaborate symbol systems. While folks may find value in roaming the paths of the Qliphoth or in liaising with denizens of the Nightside, it seems fair that at some point we should ask “and what difference does that actually make?”

Personally I think that the socio-political implications of our paganisms will be as diverse and complex as the religions themselves. It may well be that the libertarianism of a Setian and the eco-collectivism of a druid are equally valid ethical stances generated by their personal philosophies. To me what feels critical is that our claims to personal development or magical advancement need to birth something that contributes to the betterment of humanity.

This is not to suggest that we all need to be reduced to blanket prescriptions as to the focus and shape that our activism should take. The manifestation of our spiritual passion into the realm of Midgard can take many forms. Whether via writing, music, marching, advocacy or innovative financial investment, the forms of our engagement are rightly tailored to our personal preferences and drives.

In Yvonne’s book, we are given a really helpful overview of Wicca’s historical development and the wide variety of theological positions that initiates into that tradition might hold e.g. forms of monism, duotheism, polytheism and animism. These are rarely neatly delineated positions and there are often huge overlap and apparent inconsistency as people seek to live the reality of how they engage with their experience of the Gods.

As with all good books, Yvonne’s work triggered my own reflections as to how my own take on Pagan Theology might help shape my own attempts to evolve a deeper sense of engagement. This list is by no means definitive and each deserves a blog post of its own:

  1. Multiplicity: Even if one’s Paganism takes a decidedly scientific and monistic form, there is usually an engagement with the concept of Polytheism at a mythic/psychological level. The idea that we should understand the divine as a series of differing beings (or principles) that have an interaction or relationship with each other is appealing for many of us. While Polytheism can take many theological forms, what it does seem to entail is a move towards acknowledging the multiple, the complex and the relational nature of how we experience life and contemplate the numinous-what we might call “Pantheonic” consciousness.

In our devotional work we may well chose to focus our energies towards a specific deity within a given pantheon e.g. the God of consciousness, the female destroyer, the Son of new endeavours etc. but we remain conscious of the whole. Similarly in our activism we may focus on a given issue (Indeed we have only such much time and energy) but seek to resist becoming overly narrow in perspective.

In reflecting on this emphasis on theological interconnection, I couldn’t help but think about the general increase in awareness of intersectionality with regards both identity and social issues- issues rarely (if ever) stand in isolation, rather the parts effect the whole in a way that demonstrates the subtle ecology of any given situation. Such awareness helps us more fully appreciate both the weight of multiple struggles and also the positive impact that change in one sphere can have in creating larger scale change.

  1. Localised discourse: In my practice, much attention is given to location and what might loosely be called “the spirit of place”. As much as my being a magician is located somewhere my head and heart, it only really becomes activated within the context of “what’s out there”. I can only really focus and shape magical attention when I am in the place of doing it.

In many ways my activism (i.e. living my life in relationship with self and others) is profoundly shaped by the place I find myself in. Yes I am increasingly connected globally and engaged in struggling to evolve macro scale principles, but “small is beautiful” still has meaning. Yes I may contribute by signing numerous on-line petitions, but what am I willing to do within my immediate communities. How can I use a form of “social animism” to tune-in to how reflection and change might occur at a grass-roots level?

  1. Importance of human drives: In her book Yvonne helpfully seeks to examine ideas of what holiness, piety and sacredness might mean for the modern pagan. In contrasting an integrative Wiccan perspective with potentially more dualistic paths, we can begin to evolve ethical and spiritual positions that have sensuality at their core.

While issues such as sexual liberty and artistic expression may be seen as somewhat periphery when confronted by issues such as poverty, war and terrorism, it is my view that they are often at the very heart of why these conflicts take place. The drives to experience pleasure and to express creativity are central to humanities’ attempt to find meaning in life. Many conflicts and the resulting social inequalities seem to result from trying to overly police these passions via either religious or political means. In seeking such constraint and potential suppression, it is sadly all too common that that those threatened by their own humanity then project onto an “Other” who becomes demonised in the process. For our spiritual paths to take seriously the pursuit of sacredness in its fullest sense, it must call us back to the sensual and provide a challenge to thin-lipped piety.

While there are always dangers inherent in the process of seeking to evolve forms of religion that are more inclusive and liberal (consumerism and over-simplicity spring to mind!), they do offer the possibility of informing any process of social change. Yvonne’s book provides us with an excellent example of how religions can evolve. These are processes that rejoice in the way in which our ever inventive humanity interacts with the divine. To be open about this unfolding does not rob our religions of power, rather they ask us to seek and use power consciously.

SD