Weird Shit not Bullshit Because Spirituality is too important for us to waste our time with Bullshit

Where to start with magick – Part 2 Getting things sorted

July 26th, 2016

In my last post I mentioned what I think of as the three phases of the magickal career. I think you should really start with messing around – don't have a particular goal, just experiment and see what happens.

There's no time limit on this – the point is to build up experience, see what works, see what doesn't, see what you enjoy. Above all to realise that you're dealing with a reality that includes weirdshit, spiritual forces, and magick that actually works. Flipping over your sense of reality is essential – and may go through a few phases, some of which may be a bit embarrassing.

However, you've messed around, maybe for a few months, more likely for a few years – no time pressure. What comes next?

In my experience what comes next is getting things sorted. And by things, I mostly mean yourself. Although, as an extension to this, I mean your life, and beyond that your skill set.

We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, broken. We have issues, ego problems, psychological problems, emotional damage from childhood, false beliefs and misunderstandings about ourselves and others. This is perfectly fine – growing up is hard, being incarnate is hard, and no one does it without picking up some damage and confusion along the way. But… that damage is going to get in the way of spiritual progress and magickal ability.

I think this realisation comes naturally to most magickians. One of the main questions we will ask ourselves over and over is "Why do I demonstrate seemingly god like power somedays, and utter, complete, abject failure on others?" Asking this question over and over is, I think, one of the most important parts of 'messing around'.

One answer that we frequently come to is that there are areas of our life in which we display wisdom and insight, and those where we are confused and in pain. Funnily enough the former area is generally where we find most success at magick, and the latter the least.

I generally divide life into three parts when considering magickal efficacy – those areas that I demonstrate insight and understanding, and which generally don't require any magickal operation. Those areas where I am so blocked, and lost, that magick almost certainly won't be effective anyway (and which I probably don't know what I need anyway), and the area between the two, a sliding grey area, where things aren't how I wish, but magick can help push in the right direction.

The point of the 'Getting things sorted' phase is to increase your insight and wisdom, and decrease your confusion. It's the time of working primarily on yourself – build skills, overcome blocks, face your demons and work towards stability, happiness and personal strength.

There are many approaches to this and it is the start of the spiritual path proper. It's time to start seriously looking at the state of your life and the way you treat people. It's time to notice your weaknesses and begin work to overcome them. Where are you a failure, what are you not able to do, when does fear overcome reason, and anger block out love? You can't ignore this anymore, it's time to do the work. It's time to start to heal.

This work is wonderful, in that it pays dividend almost immediately. It simply leads to being happier, more content, more success, having better relationships with yourself and the world, and, generally, it will help you thrive. Sadly, however, it's not easy. But working with others makes it much, much easier.

Find friends who are also committed to self development, who are prepared to challenge themselves and work to be better people. Find a spiritual group who emphasise self insight and personal progress. Work with a good therapist if you are in a position to.

This is also the time to develop your magickal skills – become competent at the things you've messed around with, develop confidence in your abilities, know where your talents lie and learn a set of techniques that are effective.

You need to have skill, stability, knowledge and understanding before you push ahead – soon it'll be time for the ascent.

Good ways to get things sorted – Therapy (it can be hard to find a good therapist, and hard to afford one, but trust me the work repays itself in so many ways); initiation (if you resonate strongly with a particular path, being taken through initiations by a knowledgeable, compassionate, group can bring terrific self insight and growth); meditation (time to go deeper); divination (go deeper – find where the problems are); talk, really talk, with friends and loved ones – everyone who loves you wants to succeed, learn from them.

Bad ways to get things sorted – decide you're perfect just the way you are (no, that's your ego talking, listen to what other people are saying about you), decide you are stuck just as you are (no, you may feel blocked and stuck, but you can achieve amazing things – messing around should have showed you how complex and strange the world is, there's help for you everywhere), practical magick for success (a bit now and again is helpful and fun, but it can be a crutch – develop your powers in the real world, get good at living, and magick will be needed less and less).

Where to start with magick and weirdshit?

July 26th, 2016

A friend recently expressed an interesting in beginning to pursue and explore magick. This, naturally, without her really asking, inspired me to come up with a vast amount of advice on how to start and what to consider doing. So as not to unduly burden her, I thought I'd write it down here instead.

I think the magickal process can be divided into three main phases –

        Messing around
        Getting things sorted
        Making the ascent

Let me take them in turn.

Whilst 'messing around' sounds pretty frivolous, I think it's an incredibly important phase. You've reached a point in life where you are prepared to conceed that things spiritual may have some reality, that weirdshit may actually be a real thing, that this magickal stuff you've been hearing about might actually… work? So what do you do?

The burning question I had at the start of my journey was quite simple – what's possible?

I wanted to know what I could do, what could be achieved, how far would reality bend, what could *other* people do, how did it all work? Just how weird would reality get…

I think messing around is the best way to find this out – by which I mean 'try stuff'. At first I don't think it's necessary to have a particular goal in mind, or even a particular interest, philosophy of creed. If anything, this may get in the way. Start off by trying, and seeing what works, what doesn't, what makes you feel good, and what gives you a burning sense of embarrassment. Almost every magickal worker has a number of things in each of these categories locked away in their memory.

Most importantly, however, the purpose of 'messing around' it to warp, twist, and maybe even break your current sense of reality. The world is way weirder than you think it is, but you're not going to believe it until you see it. More than once. To fully embark on a spiritual journey you have to fully know that it's real. You may believe it's real now, but you don't know it's real. Knowing takes direct, first hand, experience. Books and interesting conversations aren't going to do it – you need to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you need to shiver in fear and excitement, you need to have a "I just can't believe it…" moment. Messing around is what will get you there.

Good ways to mess around – try divination (Runes are a great place to start, as they are quick to learn, then maybe try some tarot), try some direct magick (sigils are an old stand-by – quick to learn, hit and miss, but you'll have some weird experiences), pray to a god (get over yourself and just try it – you'll probably be surprised), get out into the magickal landscape (meditate at stone circles, visit sacred sites in the middle of the night, go to places that feel 'spooky' and see what happens).

Bad ways to mess around – complex ritual magick (too slow to learn, you'll get bored), Crowley (too hard to read), Goetia (don't even think about it – it really will fuck you up), dedicating yourself permanently to a single path of godform (no matter how good an idea it is – don't get married on your first date. Play the field for a bit).

The Queen is dead

October 12th, 2014

A very old and close friend of mine died a week ago. She'd been ill for a long time, but this still came out of nowhere. This is one of the biggest shocks I've had to deal with.

The PriestessThose of you reading this who have been fortunate enough to have had long term spiritual companions and magickal partners will know that the kinds of things that happen in a ritual, in the open and accepting space you create, deepen and enrich a relationship – create a type of connection, and bond, which is something different from the bonds of romance, of friendship, of family… But with Kate it went way beyond those things as well.

To give an idea of the impact she had on my life, it was a single conversation with her twenty years ago that pushed me from hardcore arrogant materialist, to someone who had a lot more questions about the nature of reality and what was possible, which in turn opened a door through which a whole and fundamental part of who I am emerged.

It was Kate who bought be my first Tarot deck – the same one I still use today. After worrying back and forth about what deck I should use, about what deck 'suited' me, only the deck of Thoth seemed 'enough' for me. I announced this to Kate, and the next day she bought it for me. I remember it cost £15 – which back in the day when we were broke-arse students who a supreme sum to spend on a gift, and no small sacrifice. It's probably suitable then, that of all the people I've read for over the years, I've done more readings for her than for anyone else.

In the early days it was Kate I was reading for when I touched one of my cards in the spread and I 'felt' something. I described it at the time as 'like an emotion coming into my hand'. I sat fascinated touching one card, then another, and realising that they 'felt' of different emotions – I connected to the emotion when I touched the card. It was a fascinating discovery… with time I discovered I could 'feel' the cards by just looking at them, but at the time (when my scepticism still waxed and waned) the distinct physical sensation really helped me connect to the cards and trust them.

Kate was driving the car the time I idly wondered aloud if the beautiful, naked, red-head I'd seen in dreams and visions of late was a goddess, and saw a single bolt of lighting strike the ground on the horizon directly ahead of us.

When people ask "So what can you actually do with magick?" I often tell a particular story, and of course Kate was there at the time.

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Synchronicity and random weirdshit

September 25th, 2012

Over the last six months my computer has switched itself on whilst in 'sleep' mode about three or four times. It's often happened in the middle of the night, which is a bit irritating. I've never known it to spontaneously switch itself off again.

Last night I was doing a magickal ritual in my room. At the exact moment that I performed the invoking pentagram of active spirit, my computer switched itself on from sleep mode. Five minutes later, at the exact moment that I performed the invoking pentagram for passive spirit, my computer switched itself off again.

When you're less experienced at magickal doings this is the kind of thing that can a) freak you out a bit, b) make you ask 'what does it all mean?' or c) having you dismissing it straight away as 'just a coincidence.'

When you're more experienced you tend to think 'Yeah… weirdshit happens.' It's a relatively minor, meaningless coincidence. The action itself – a computer coming on and going off – isn't that startling. The exact timing of the events was more startling, but still not world changing.

However, it is possible to 'use' this kind of event. When my computer came on I got a 'woo… spooky' trickle of energy in my spine. When it switched off again, that trickle came again, and was more powerful. I chose to interpret these events as 'magick is happening' and took that trickle of energy and emotion and incorporated it in what I was doing.

One of the problems of doing magick is that the pull of the mundane is very strong – we get dragged down into day-to-day rubbish very easily, we lose ourselves in jobs and housework and pictures of cats on the internet. We forget that there is a mystery which we are taking part in, that there is spirit, that there are gods, that there is wonder in our own consciousness. Magick tends to be easiest, and work best, when we are fully aware of the mystery, of the strange, of the weird. Magick is also spookier, more challenging, and more psychologically dangerous under those circumstances. But still… generally we suffer from a dearth of weird, not an excess. So even really minor events – minor but well timed events – can be grist for the mill. They make our lives a little more strange and mysterious, move us out of the mundane and towards the spiritual. They don't have to 'mean' anything' they don't have to tell us anything, they don't have to be practical or useful… we just need to embrace the weird, walk into these small cracks in reality, and use them to enhance the magick of the moment.

Making sense of the symbolism of Seidh

August 23rd, 2012

As I just posted, I was involved in a Seidh ritual this week.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the material that I received during this ritual as a way of exploring the difficulty of interpreting symbolic and intuitively received material. A problem which can really plague occultists.

One issue that's been on my mind a lot recently is my career, so during the Seidh session I asked "How can I best progress forward in my career?" For background, I've been feeling fed up with my 'day job' for some time now, but I've felt very 'stuck' when it comes to finding something new. I want to change the direction of my career, but I've not thought of anything that really interests me: looking at available jobs doesn't excite me, I just don't seem to have any drive to get on with doing all of the sensible, practical, things which one would do if one were serious about getting a new job. So I thought I'd ask an oracle, and see if it could guide me, if not to a job, then to some insight as to how to more effectively go about the inner process of moving towards a new job.  What I was told was this (paraphrasing a little as I didn't write extensive notes at the time):

You are at the bottom of a deep well, neck deep in water. It is deep, the sides are sheer, there is no way to climb. You are looking up at the light at the top of the well.  You must turn around. Sink down and turn around, go in the opposite direction. Hold your breath. It isn't far. You will be surprised and find a lit area. There you will find treasure.

So… that all sounds very meaningful, certainly ripe with symbolism. The problem is… how to interpret it? Or rather, which interpretation to put on it? At least three interpretations suggested themselves to me immediately:

  • I feel deeply fed up, up to my neck in frustration with my job at the moment. Perhaps this vision was telling me to sink deeper into that feeling of frustration and that insight will come if I allow myself to sink further down into what I'm feeling, perhaps I need to visit the dark feelings in order to see my way clear (i.e. do nothing and allow negative feelings to build)
  • I've talked recently about feeling that my income is only just good enough for the lifestyle I want at the moment, so that I can't afford to take a job with a lower pay even if it would open up a new career path forward. Perhaps this vision was referring to this, that I've only just got my chin above water, but I need to go down in order to find a new path out and onward – i.e. accept a lower income, maybe even go into debt, in order to find a new path onwards. (i.e. take action and accept a lower paid job to get out of the current hole)
  • I don't like my current job, I feel frustrated and fed up with it and I want to get out – but perhaps this vision was saying don't try to get out, turn away from that and go deeper in to where you are, by embracing and going through your current job you will find a new opportunity, or a new direction (i.e. don't look to change career at all, but go deeper into this one until it produces a new opportunity)

And that's just three possibilities (each leading to a different, and contradictory, course of action) – I'm sure there are more. 'Sink down into it' is a really tricky piece of advice when you don't know what 'it' is.  Likewise, a few weeks ago I received an I-Ching reading on a similar question which also contained "change direction" as a central message, and when discussing this again it became clear that that's an annoying piece of advice when it's not clear what 'direction' it's referring to. The direction you want to be heading in? The direction you are currently heading in? The direction your mind is currently working in? The direction you feel you should be going in? Frequently these are different things to each other, and all can feel like 'your direction'.

So how to turn a variety of potential interpretations into a single real one? Well, this is what I do all the time when I'm reading the Tarot – every card has a whole set of possible meanings to it, and I have to figure out which of those possible meanings is most accurate and most useful in a particular spread at a particular time. I do this by 'feel' – one of the interpretations will 'feel' like it fits best with the other cards and with the question I'm considering. The trouble is, I'm lousy at doing this with questions about myself – I can't get enough distance on the question to get my intuition working correctly. So I have to work with other techniques. Like…

When heading home at the end of the evening, the Scarlet Girl and I got into a discussion about the meaning of this particular vision. Quite rapidly I got quite spikey, getting quite argumentative and trying to shoot down her ideas. I didn't want to accept what she was saying and was trying to point out the flaws in her ideas. This, I have learned, is a good sign that I'm in the presence of some insight. It's a funny thing, but if an idea is important, touches us on a deep level, we'll often try to defend ourselves against it, try to fight it off, not want to 'hear'. I noticed I was doing this, (I was being 'ego defensive') and with time I tried to stop fighting so hard and to listen a bit more.

She pointed out that I am very fixed on 'looking at the light' at the moment – trying to see the way out of the 'well' I feel I've gotten myself into. And, quite logically, she pointed out that in actual fact the chance of me taking any action about my job in the next couple of weeks is pretty unlikely. So, she said, perhaps it was simply suggesting I sink in to my current situation, I stop struggling (in a futile way) to get towards the light and just see what's around me. Sink down, experience things, and then… well, perhaps events will happen that will make my direction clear.

When I referred this back to my I-Ching reading I realised that the 'direction' I was going in, and which I was being told to change, was quite probably the direction of fretting. I was 'limping forward' in an uncomfortable way but not really getting anywhere. I was worrying, but not really taking action. I needed to stop trying to push forward at a time when I clearly wasn't really ready to make a move, as all I was doing was grinding the gears inside my mind and making myself uncomfortable.

Having accepted this as a probable interpretation I found that it made a difference. I felt calmer. I felt less prone to fret. I felt like I was okay with just allowing things to 'be' for a time, just allowing them to progress and seeing what emerged. I felt the vision had become a 'part of me' in some way – internally I felt different.  Which is a pretty good sign that my inner thoughts and feelings are in line with this interpretation – i.e. I've got it 'right' for now.

Whether this will lead to me seeing a new light, seeing a treasure, or indeed gaining access to the rather nice car in a later vision, remains to be seen. But for now I'll work with it, and try to be calm as my face drops beneath the dark well-water, then try to turn and swim on…

An experiment with Seidh

August 23rd, 2012

This week I was able to take part in my first Seidh ritual. Seidh is a form of Norse shammanism that involves a seer entering a trance, journeying to the underworld, and receiving visions in order to answer the questions of the participants and hopefully give useful advice.

I'm lucky enough to have a close friend who has proved herself to be really rather good at this kind of thing, and has been practising Seidh recently with the heathen community. As I've had a few things on my mind recently she suggested we take part in a Seidh ritual as a way of getting some insight. The Scarlet Girl was happy to join in, so she and I joined our experienced Seeress in our first Seidh ritual.

The Seidh ritual we used is pleasingly simple – we set the scene by lighting some candles, then banished the area we were working in, and raised some energy (using an Elemental Cone of Power ritual for both jobs – we've developed our version of it over the years and it has proved to be a great, simple, ritual for use with a small group). The Seeress then simply sat on a chair, somewhat separated from the rest of us, head veiled, staff in hand, sheepskin beneath her feet. We then sang her into a trance, encouraging her to seek the answers to our questions.

We used a simple four line song, repeated over and over, for about ten minutes to induce the trance. We butchered the melody somewhat, but that really that isn't the point – you sing with intent, and the repetition and emotion lulls the seeress into a trance state.

This is both the strength and weakness of this form of Seidh ritual. It is very simple, quick, and easy to do – this means that if you have a good and experienced Seeress who knows what she's doing, you can get a good, powerful, effect quite quickly. However, if you were working with a less experienced Seer then they have less to 'work with' in the ritual in order to enter the right state of mind. Rituals are a structure  for inducing change, and can be great guides for altering a person's consciousness and placing them in a useful state – if a person is familiar with the transition that is the goal then a simple ritual will probably do the job, but if they are unfamiliar with their destination, inexperienced at trance, or not used to taking the journey, a more complex ritual may be required to really 'get them there'.

One of the things which was interesting to explore was that Seidh is used most often by the heathen community (those who work with the Norse traditions), and whilst our Seeress is a heathen the two of us asking the questions were not. From the heathen perspective Seidh involves travelling to the underworld to commune with the ancestors, but the underworld and ancestors don't really feature in my paradigm, or world view, so we were interested to see how the visions differed from those received for a purely heathen crowd. Apparently the visions were indeed rather different – our Seeress had got used to seeing a particular destination as part of the ritual, but this time she ended up somewhere rather different (involving caves and a bloody great serpent). Also there was more evidence of gods (including a 'Red lady' who I can only assume is my dear Babalon), rather than ancestors, arriving to deliver the messages that were passed over to us. I'm not sure what this would mean at a metaphysical level (I often assume that the Universe adopts whatever shapes and forms are most helpful to us when communicating) but it was interesting to note the difference.

I found the ritual to be both interesting and useful. Asking any kind of oracle for insight is… somewhat frustrating. You are very rarely going to get a straightforward answer (although one entity seemed to be rather direct with the Scarlet Girl) and you're going to have to do some interpretation work which always introduces the possibility of error. Seidh seems to give mostly symbolic visions (with occasional direct verbal messages) which one must interpret. But… and here's the very subjective thing… these images and visions seemed to have 'weight'. I've done quite a lot of 'journeying' over the years, I've done guided meditations, I've listened to the pronouncements of those in trance, I've done a lot of intuitive work and used oracles of one sort or another a good deal. This stuff 'felt' different to me. When I think about what I heard now it sits deeply within myself, calling to me to understand more. The symbolism was rich and complex, and some of what was said (particularly regarding my Holy Guardian Angel) seemed to make a kind of immediate sense to me – although the kind that I couldn't immediately put into words.

That's what made this session particularly interesting – the weight of the experience. Nothing happened that I would easily or readily dismiss.

My only real concern from this experience was the toll the trance appeared to place on our Seeress. When she spoke it seemed to be with considerable physical effort, like the words were taking a great deal of strength to verbalise. At times the visions seemed almost overwhelming for her, and returning from trance (which was again accompanied with singing) looked very taxing. However, she soon reported that she was feeling fine, all be it tired, and that she had really enjoys the experience. Whilst I'm envious of her talent, I am perhaps less envious of the price of it…

To summarise – Seidh, with a good Seeress, seems to be a remarkably simple way of producing some quite impressive results.

Maybe they are(n't) out to get us

August 12th, 2012

Just one final dump of conspiracy theory related ideas before I get back to the magick and Tarot stuff that you're probably actually here for: I was wondering a while back about the seemingly higher prevalence of conspiracy theorists in America compared to the UK. Part of this is certainly cultural – the myth of the creation of America is very much based around throwing off a dangerous controlling power and the need for eternal vigilance against the like again; or alternatively one could see the creation myth as being a small band of powerful and influential intellectuals laying down the foundation of an entire culture. These myths both lend themselves to the idea that great power can lay in the hands of the few, and that we must be vigilant against their machinations against us.

But I think another issue with America is simply the proximity of power. America is bloody big, and most people are a hell of a long way from the seat of power. Distance – and the lack of familiarity it brings – allows you to imagine all manner of odd things.

I've been lucky enough to know someone who has worked extensively inside the UK parliament, I've known a CEO of a top UK media company, I've met millionaires, Master Masons, and got to know members, and the leaders of, a few 'secret' occult organisations. This isn't particularly special, just the kind of thing that happens if you live in London, hang out with Oxford graduates, and move in the UK occult scene. As a result, it's really hard to imagine there is an effective, secret, elite out there manipulating anything with any effectiveness. The kind of people that are in a position to do so they… they just aren't all that special. Clever, hardworking, on occasion very ambitious, but… when you've met them it's just hard to visualise them having the kind of super-human powers of organisation and ruthlessness that would be required for an effective world spanning conspiracy.

However, if one had never met a member of the 'elite', never spent time with a politician, if all you ever saw was TV pictures, and read hints of the workings of occult orders… it's easier to project on to them all manner of powers, abilities, potential and, well, evil.

The familiar just isn't that scary. It's hard to want to bomb Iran if you know a few Iranians, it's hard to think that all Muslim's want to destroy the West when you've argued about cricket with a few of them, it's difficult to imagine all occultists wield huge power and sacrifice babies when you've seen them trying to dance at a social event. Distance creates suspicion, and makes fear easier. Familiarity is comforting and brings people down to size.

The kind of conspiracies most often discussed require a level of organisation, structure coherence, secrecy and power I have never seen in anyone. People just arne't that competent. There are too many instances of people screwing up, whistle-blowing, leaking, launching investigations and all the petty rest of it. I can understand why the Bilderberg group worries people, but I imagine it worries people who have met some of it's members a hell of a lot less.

Which reminds me, I think one of the best books on conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists is Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (who has met members of the Bilderberg group). He's a great journalist and writer, and his book is compelling, funny and reveals a great deal about much that underlies conspiracy theories. It does, also, provides some great insight into the Bilderberg group (and produces one of the best David Icke quotes ever).

And as a final note – my conviction that there is no single, powerful, shadowy organisation of occult power guiding the direction of the world remains anchored in one powerful and important fact: they've never asked me to join.

Conspiracy theories can strike down even the cool amongst us

August 7th, 2012

previously wrote about why I think occultists are more prone to getting the conspiracy theory bug, but I think there are more reasons than I outlined in my previous post.

One recent experience was instructive. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the baptist's head project. Smart, insightful, dedicated magickians doing really worthwhile work, and recording it very honestly and openly. I recommend getting hold of their books and simply going from one end to the other – there's a vast amount one can learn from them. However, as I made my way through the second book something horrible happened. Chapman and Barford started to sound like conspiracy theorists. I remember my reaction as I read: "Oh god no… not them too…" I felt… let down. That henceforth my enthusiastic and committed support for them and what they were doing would have to be tempered, would always have a caveat, would now be "You should read them, they're great, but…"

However, as I said, one of the things I really liked about the baptist's head was their honesty. They weren't afraid to say 'Oops, we got a bit carried away there, we were wrong'. And thus, in the third book, that's just what they did. During book two they were receiving a lot of spiritual and visionary information, and were interpreting it as best they could. At the time they had clearly been talking a bit about conspiracy theories, and a 'us verses them' attitude towards the world ('us' being those who seek enlightenment and initiation, 'them' being those who would prevent the propagation of these ideas, presumably in order to maintain their elite status in society). This coloured their interpretations, and they created a 'story' based on the visions they received which had a strong conspiracy flavour.

Looking at their own experiences of becoming conspiracy theorists for a while, a few things suggest themselves: Firstly, and it can't be emphasised enough, doing a lot of magick can make you go a bit peculiar. The nature of this peculiarity varies by person, but magickal work puts a lot of strain on the mind. You are dealing with powerful emotions, energetic shifts, drawing complex concepts from deep within the unconscious mind. If you're doing a lot of it it may be difficult to fully integrate the experiences and keep on an even emotional keel. For me, this often expresses itself through bouts of depression or negativity, but it can also make you prone to accepting beliefs and ideas that in other circumstances you would reject as being a bit silly (there's a reason that there are a lot of people on the spiritual scene who believe they are destined to save the world, are the reincarnation of Crowley or are the second coming. For most people this is a phase they go through… for others it can be a bit more serious and devastating). A more fluid sense of self, less robust filters to reality, are necessities for effective magickal work. But they can… well, make you seem a bit peculiar the rest of the time. Occasional breaks from magick are a healthy way of retuning to the way the rest of the world actually operates.

Secondly, symbolic language is extremely difficult to interpret accurately. The baptists eventually went back to the material that they had received from the entity Tempe, and saw that rather than giving them information about about some dark and scary conspiracy, it instead seemed to be saying "You're really starting to lose it, stop misinterpreting what I'm saying, maybe you should take a break from all this." But because that wasn't the sort of message they were expecting, it wasn't the sort of message that they were able to receive. (Exactly the same issue exists with interpreting Tarot readings you do for yourself – if you are been given really unexpected information the chance of you accurately understanding it at the time are really small)

Finally, it demonstrates that any spiritual worker has to be prepared to admit that they are wrong. It is almost inevitable that, dealing with the rare and unusual ideas which we work with, pushing outside of 'normal' ways of seeing the world, allowing ourselves to be taken by strange notions so that we can explore them for a while, we will get stuff wrong on a fairly regular basis. It certainly keeps happening to me. That's fine, that's good, and that's positive. As I say to clients when explaining the meaning of the 5 of Swords, 'Defeat', card – realising you're wrong is a good thing. The only alternative is never realising you're wrong, and just carrying on being wrong about stuff.

Being right about things is a powerful ego trap. Of all the personal qualities that put me off the work and ideas of spiritual practitioner, I think a 'brittle' attitude is one of the greatest – the inability to question their own beliefs, the insistence that they are definitely right. Sometimes a conspiracy theory, an exotic explanation, a feeling of paranoia, can just get lodged in your mind for a bit. The key is not to avoid contemplating strange and exotic ideas, the key is to know how to ground out, re-evaluate, and kick out the ideas that are not obviously ridiculous.

Card of the Day – 9 of Swords, Cruelty

August 1st, 2012

I'm going to write about the meaning of the Tarot cards in my deck, but rather than doing it in some dull old logical order I thought I'd just cut one out of the deck when I have the time and see which one turned up.  With time this may even turn into a complete, if slightly eccentric, guide to how to read the Tarot.  

Card of the Day – 9 of Swords, Cruelty

Tarot Card: 9 of Swords - CrueltyI see this card a lot when I read, and I don't think anyone is unfamiliar with the concept it represents. Cruelty simple represents pain and suffering inflicted through thoughts. Whilst it can represent the cruelty of others, it more often than not represents the cruelty that we do to ourselves.

Being of swords this is a card primarily about thoughts and mental processes. At some point we have all found our own minds a very unpleasant place to be – full of anger, recrimination, criticism, negativity and hurtful ideas. Whilst we may sometimes feel that we are suffering from the cruelty of other people, one of the important messages of this card is that the only words and ideas that can hurt us are the ones in our own mind – it doesn't matter what is said to us, it only hurts us when we make those words a part of ourselves, when we repeat them in our own mind, when we hold on to them.

Cruelty comes up in a range of situations in readings – it is remarkable how often we are cruel to ourselves. It often appears as a 'current state' if someone is stressed, or as a limitation when someone is getting in their own way through constant self criticism. It will occasionally appear as part of a relationship spread, when someone in a querent's life is causing them to constantly question themselves.

It has become a cliche to say 'be more kind to yourself' or 'treat yourself gently' but like so many cliches there is great truth in it. Self recrimination so rarely helps. We may tell ourselves that we need a 'kick up the backside' in order to get on with things, but that rarely actually helps us be more productive. More often in provokes inner rebellion which slows our progress further, and we have simply hurt ourselves for no reason.

There's a thought experiment I often do with clients to illustrate this point. Think about the boss, or leader, or teacher who has made you the most productive, the most effective, who has got the best work out of you. Who in your past have you enjoyed working with the most and do you feel you worked the best for? Now, how did they speak to you, what tone of voice did they use, what kind of feedback did they give you? Now, compare that image of a person who really helped you achieve more with the way you speak to yourself when you feel you need to motivate yourself.

Almost universally people tell me that their 'ideal boss' was a person who was positive, optimistic, encouraging and enthusiastic. And that their internal voice is critical, negative and disparaging. We know, damn well, that we respond best to positively and encouragement, yet we often create an internal landscape of criticism and recrimination. Worse, when we are exposed to positivity from those around us we often filter it out, whilst negative comments and criticism we hang on to, repeat to ourselves, replay in our lowest moments.

Cruelty achieves almost nothing of any worth. It's a bad habit, a result of feeling it's what we 'deserve', what we 'need' to prevent ourselves from being a bad person. This is utter rubbish. We aren't animals who can only respond to threats. We thrive on encouragement, positivity, optimism, compassion, understanding and love. This isn't weakness, this is simple sense. The card Cruetly is a warning sign – it says something has gone wrong, and we need to change our internal monologue. Cruelty never helps.

A theory of conspiracy theories

July 31st, 2012

I've been amused, entertained and exasperated by conspiracy theorists since getting into the work of Robert Anton Wilson many years ago. There's an undeniable appeal to their world view – it's just so much more interesting than the way I normally see the world. Shadowy cabals controlling events, manipulating public opinions, slipping messages into the media. A group of elite individuals who play events throughout history to bring about a great aim. That's just so much more dramatic than my usual sense that history is just a bunch of people trying to do the best they can according to their current level of knowledge, understanding and a mixture of self interest and moral commitment.

Thoughts of conspiracy theorists came to mind again when I saw a link to this wonderfully creative article about the Illuminati symbolism in the Olympic opening ceremony. It's hard not to enjoy the deliriously creative craziness in this article.

The above seems to be an example of the more Christian end of conspiracy theories, but occult circles see a higher proportion of such theorists than the general population. This, frankly, doesn't do our reputation any good at all, but I was wondering why this might be the case. Does fringe belief just simply attract fringe? Or is there another mechanism in place?

I tend to think there is – that there is a way of thinking which is useful in magickal and spiritual pursuits but, when misapplied, can produce some really unfortunate effects. When working spiritually we quickly learn the importance of working with symbols, and dealing with material in a metaphorical way. This is familiar to anyone who has done even relatively basic dream analysis – it isn't about what happens in the dream, but about the meaning of the events, the meaning of the objects, places, and people within the dream. Dream analysis can provide very rich, meaningful and helpful material if it's done well – and many spiritual practices produce equally valuable material that needs to be worked with in a similar way.

In some cases this is quite obvious – if one is doing a 'spirit quest' or a guided meditation the experience one has is quite dreamlike, so it's natural not to take material literally. If, say, it turns out your spirit guide looks like the Cat from "Red Dwarf" wearing his penguin tuxedo (yes this consistently happened to a friend of mine), it's best not to assume you should dedicate your life to the wisdom of Danny John-Jules, but instead ask the question "What does the Cat represent to me? What is the meaning of this character, and what archetype is it fulfilling in my mind?"

However, many other practices lead to events and material that should be dealt with at symbolic level. Magickal practice often leads to an increase in synchronicities – coincidences start popping up. You could take these at face value, along the lines of "Cool – I'm living a more magickal life and odd stuff is happening." Or you could ask what these particular coincidences – at this time, place, in these circumstances – might mean to you in your journey.

Likewise, visions, divination output, communications from entities – rarely should these things be taken at face value. They need analysis, they need question to be asked about what further meaning is being conveyed. Add this to the fact that historically many occult authors have deliberately written work using extensive metaphor, symbolism and hidden meaning, and… well, you end up getting used to working with symbols.

Problems come, I think, when you take this mindset and apply it to the mundane world. Rather than looking at the logo of a company and thinking "Yup, that's their logo" you start asking "What symbolically does this logo convey?" Rather than hearing a piece of music on a TV program and experiencing it, a part of your mind goes "What message has this music been chosen to communicate?" If you're good at converting symbols into meaning you will find yourself generating an enormous amount of data. If you then have a pre-disposition to believe that the world really works in a particular way, you'll easily find enough data to support your belief (a simple case of Confirmation Bias, which we are all guilty of one way or another).

This idea was really brought home to me when I was listening to an interview with an occultist who was talking about the moon landings. Always a splendid topic for a creative theory. Anyway, one of his arguments roughly ran like this: The badge for the Apollo missions contains the constellation Orion, which has nothing to do with the moon. Orion is a myth of death and resurrection. Were they therefore trying to tell us that this was the resurrection of a moon mission? That we've actually been there before and that this is a return flight?

This is, at least, more interesting than the idea that hundreds of people faked a moon landing and not one of them has said anything about it. If one were doing a guided meditation and one saw the constellation of Orion, I think it would be good practice to think about the myth of Orion, about the symbolism in it, and perhaps the concept of 'return' might come out of that. But applying it to a logo? Firstly, assuming that there is a deeper meaning to a logo is a pretty bloody big leap. Secondly, we accept the idea that there is a massive, huge, secret – like the fact that humanity has already been to the moon – that someone knows this secret, wants to keep it secret, yet wants to tangentially hint at it in one of the logos they use for the mission?

Is there a recorded case in the second world war, say, where one country had a big secret that they wanted to keep (like the fact that the Enigma had been broken, or that D-Day would be on the 6th of June), where they repressed all knowledge of the secret, prevented hundreds of people from speaking of it, yet decided to make veiled references to it in letterheads, or in the music they played over official broadcasts, or to lay out very, very obscure clues here and there just to taunt the enemy? Where there moments, at the end of the war, where allied generals went up to their German counterparts are mocked them by revealing that the clues were all there if only they'd been clever enough to see? "If you had only bothered to count the letters in our official communique on 14th of April, laid the RAF roundel over a scale map of London and used the angles from the "Dig for Victory" poster, our invasion plans would have been clearly revealed! Churchill's V was a key to all of it! All of it! How could we have made it more blatant? You fools!"

Intuitive, symbolic, thinking is very useful when working spiritually, internally, and with psychic material. The Universe tries to talk to us, but rarely is it kind enough to put material into words. Literary and artistic works are also improved by a certain level of understanding of the symbolism they contain (whether their creator was conscious of putting it in place or not). But constantly seeing the world in this way? One would become rapidly overcome by a vast flow of data, of possibilities, of interpretations. The Olympic Opening Ceremony is a great example of this – it was, in my opinion, bat-shit crazy, piled full of… well, of stuff. Huge amounts of stuff happened, often with other stuff happening in the background and in the sky at the same time. Even if you did know what it was all about it was pretty damn overwhelming. But if you started asking yourself about the symbolic meaning of giant baby heads, dancing children, smoke stacks, flying fictional nannies… The amount of stuff just climbs and climbs exponentially. You can't process it all, so you have to use a pre-existing filter to make sense of it. Play connect-the-dots with enough points and you can draw any damn thing you want. Go deep enough into the symbolism of any complex event and you can find enough stuff to draw any conclusion you want. If you have a cognitive bias towards a particular way of seeing the world (and lets face it, which of us isn't a little paranoid now and again?) and you find evidence to support it.

I think occultists are prone to conspiracy theories because we find value in intuitive thinking. But intuitive and symbolic thinking can introduce massive cognitive errors. Sometimes we just have to deal with the world as-is. Sometimes it's simple, straightforward, and there's no deeper meaning than "I just thought it'd look pretty" or "I wanted to represent shit I like about Britain and make it really sparkly and wooshy at the same time."