The ancient Egyptian deity Set has an interesting biography. Early on, he played an important role, defending the solar deity against chaos, ruling the desert, and being married into the divine family. In later myths, he is portrayed in less favorable terms, as a brother-slayer, a trickster, in conflict with his family, a sexual predator, subject to the judgement of the gods. Not unlike the Norse deity Loki, he becomes pregnant and gives birth (to a golden disc). In his conflict with Horus, he both mutilates his opponent and is castrated. In historical terms, he becomes patron deity of the foreign Hyksos dynasty, associating him with foreigners once and for all. While this did not hurt his reputation initially, after Egypt was ruled by several foreign powers (Assyria, Persia, Greece), he was demonized. His cult persisted in ancient times regardless of all these setbacks, and there are some modern-time followers.
The Set Working
It was one of these modern-time devotees who led a ritual I attended, during which I had a brief vision of a hunched figure with large ears beckoning me to follow behind, through a boulder-strewn landscape of dry earth under a starry night sky – something straight out of some modernist poem. Nothing else became apparent during the ceremony, however.
Not long afterwards, I found my thoughts circling around this short scrap of a vision. I queried two trusted divination systems about Set’s plans, and received “The Earth”, and “All the Dead”: obvious references to the long-disused graveyard in the vicinity. In Egyptian mythology, Set was the Lord of the Black Soil (i.e. the desert, where the dead live), so this was a fitting place for a follow-up meeting with him.
When I arrived at the former cemetery, which nowadays is a park with some tall trees in it, it was late night. I had brought some beer as an offering – after all, beer was an Egyptian invention – and poured a generous libation, after announcing my presence to Set. There was a niche in the old cemetery wall, with steps leading up to it, which I sat on, sharing my beer with the old Egyptian deity, and expecting to learn what this special invitation was all about.
“Look out through the slit in the wall”, was the message I got. “What do you see?” I reported on the occasional passing car, the nighttime view of the town, light and shadows, and so on, to the god’s satisfaction. When the beer was used up, I felt more offerings were in order, and I fetched some fruit and a hot, sweet cup of coffee to brighten up the night, and maybe receive some more concrete results from the meeting. Set was still there when I returned, and graciously accepted some sugar-laden beverage. Then, on an impulse, and because no more divine favors seemed to be forthcoming, I tossed a piece of banana out through the slit in the wall. Set lunged after it and I was alone again.
Insights Gained from the Set Working
Then some insights came pouring in, or rather, surfaced into my angry, slightly drunk consciousness.
Set is a mongrel mutt. Even the ancient representations are unclear as to what kind of animal stood model for his images. Egyptologists refer to a “Set animal”, which could be anything from an Aardvark to a donkey or a jackal – or even a giraffe, judging from Set’s rectangular ears.
Moreover, he is a street mutt, who will bum offerings off anyone he can. And he is successful! After over a millennium since the pagan temples were closed, he is still around, he even has a priesthood of acolytes who keep the offerings coming. A smart mutt! A trickster mutt. He will do the crazy wisdom teacher act, the guru act, for any favor he can get. You will be invited to the special secret cemetery to receive deep teachings, remember to bring beer!
A few weeks ago I returned from the toughest meditation retreat ever. Twelve of the roughest, most humiliating days. Rough, because suicidal ideation is never fun. Humiliating, because I was the gibbering nutcase of the group. After thirty-odd years of practising meditation I had supposed I was past getting my arse kicked so badly.
It was an independently organised event; nine of us, in a small castle on the edge of a forest somewhere in Europe. Our practice was fire kasina – not a common one these days, although this type of meditation is described extensively in the classical Buddhist manuals.
A kasina is a physical object that acts as a target for concentration. Kasinas come in various forms, sometimes as coloured disks (blue kasina, yellow kasina, etc.), or sometimes with elemental properties, such as a disk made of clay, a bowl of water, or an empty aperture of some kind (respectively, the kasinas of earth, water and air). We chose what is perhaps the most convenient form of fire kasina: a simple candle flame.
Kasina practise involves focusing on your chosen object with eyes open, for a relatively short period, until a retinal after-image develops. At this point the eyes are closed and the after-image is taken as the object of concentration proper. Next, peculiar things begin to happen. The meditator enters a realm where the distinction between perceptions and mental images is less apparent than in daily life. As one’s baseline level of concentration increases, so the boundary between external perception and internal mentation becomes increasingly attenuated.
Kasina meditation is a means of access to the realm of the siddhis (psychic powers). It cultivates a state of mind in which visions, out-of-body travel and contact with discarnate entities become vivid, lived experiences. Veridical telepathic and clairvoyant experiences are less common, but may also make an appearance within this state.
Its connection with siddhis is probably one reason why this practice is not commonly taught. Another is that twenty minutes daily, albeit not without benefit, is simply inadequate to develop the concentration required to experience the dramatic stuff. This demands retreat conditions; at the very least, ten days of concerted effort.
A kasina retreat is an occasion for practising magick in a Buddhist style. In secular terms, I would describe it as a long, slow journey into psychosis, and (hopefully) back again.
I had some stressful psychological issues before the retreat, and was hoping to use it as an opportunity to confront them. I set an intention to meet my Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) in the ultra-realistic vision-space that kasina practice provides, hoping for powerful healing effects. Things started well enough. After a couple of days focusing on the candle and stoking up my concentration, I closed my eyes on getting into bed and my visual field was scored with a luminous sigil. When I opened my eyes it was gone, but back again each time I closed them. Not quite a perception, yet more than a mental image, it conveyed a sense that something had me marked for attention.
Two days later, 4.45am, I was woken by three loud knocks at the bedroom door. The rhythm was forceful, urgent, and sent my heart pounding in my throat. No one was outside and my roommate had not stirred. Both incidents signalled that my angel was on its way, but during the days that separated them, somehow, my concentration had fallen apart. I could not focus on the candle for even a few seconds. Unhelpful thoughts started to make themselves heard: “If I cannot do even this, then what do I have left?” I was sucked into deep and painful depression. My whole life seemed a failure. I hadn’t enough painkillers in my luggage to do the job, so the only option was to hang myself in the woods. I also kept falling into episodes of panicky derealisation; a line from Dick’s Ubik seemed to encapsulate this: “He felt all at once like an ineffectual moth, fluttering at the windowpane of reality, dimly seeing it from outside.” I was locked out from what was truly real, barred from getting back in, yet terrified that if I succeeded I would only be overwhelmed by what was inside. The meditation was harmful; it would only send me mad. How could I get through the following days without killing myself or going bat-shit crazy with panic?
A sliver of me retained enough sense to talk with the teacher. What helped was his reassurance that I could let myself panic, go nuts, whatever; the group would take care of me. Strengthened, I climbed back onto the saddle, and realised I had been resisting the build-up of concentration, fearful of re-entering states similar to my recent, traumatic dalliance with LSD. But once my concentration really was up, it actually wasn’t so bad. The rest of the group now had three days’ march on me, and were hitting the dramatic stuff. The best I could hope for now was a meeting with the angel just before the retreat was due to end.
During the preceding dark days I came down with a cold, including wheezing lungs and coughing fits. In the communal practice room I was disturbing others, so I went to the woods to practise. Because I had set an intention to meet my HGA, then at dawn, midday and dusk each day I stood by the same tree stump, surrounded by a rough circle of young trees, and performed “The Bornless Ritual”, an invocation used by Crowley specifically for this purpose. Nearby, a stream meandered through the wood. By its bank were older trees, their base and lower flanks dressed in spongy moss. On dry days, the leaf litter seethed with spiders and vicious-looking ants, so I made my seat upon the cool, damp moss, leaning against a gnarled tree trunk, beside the trickling water.
I learnt much about elemental magick on this retreat. Although there was a part of me never in any doubt my angel would appear, predictably this occurred in a totally unpredictable manner.
Spirits of place
There was no candle flame out in the woods. For a few days, it rained softly. I put on my waterproofs and sank gently into the earth for hours. Psychologically, I was frazzled; fire was probably the least suitable element for me to be working with, but in the woods I could surround myself with water and earth. I learnt that whatever kasina you choose, it penetrates into your mind, revealing strange insights.
You stare at the kasina until a retinal after-image forms, and then you close your eyes. A yellow candle flame would be expected to produce a bluish retinal after-image that fades after a few seconds. But this is not what happens. Instead, concentration on the after-image produces an ovoid shape of vivid, yellowish-green. Within the oval, minute filigree details, resembling golden gears or cogs, can be observed; and sometimes, around its edge at regular intervals, exquisitely tiny blue-green dots. This curious visual object is called the nimitta. As concentration develops, the nimitta undergoes distinct changes. From the ovoid it transforms into an intensely bright red dot; next, a crater-like black dot; then it fades entirely, and the background of the visual field assumes prominence. This is the most challenging phase of the practice, but if the concentration can become wide and expansive, yet without straining or spacing out, then, eventually, out of the murky greyness of the background will emerge intense multi-sensory visions.
Initially, the candle flame was required to produce the nimitta. But, after a few days, everyone was reporting the nimitta showing up spontaneously, or at will, without the need for any physical object to produce an after-image. It is as if kasina practice builds an internal reservoir of concentration that, after a certain point, becomes self-sustaining.
A couple of days into the retreat, when I closed my eyes I could see a circulating mass in the centre of the visual field. Again: it was neither a perception nor a mental image. The more I practised, the stronger it seemed to grow. In the woods, I only had to focus on it and the nimitta would appear from out of it, proceeding through its usual stages. The pulsating mass persisted for a few days after the retreat, but gradually faded. It had a strange sense of agency, as if it were something internal but somehow with its own character. Although others were experiencing spontaneous appearances of the nimitta, none seemed to recognise my description of the circulating mass.
I would visit the practice room when my lungs were better or no one else was there, but increasingly I carried the woods with me indoors. Indoors, the nimitta would arise from the candle flame, shining brightly, but against a mass of living, growing tendrils and roots. These slyly formed an arch, the nimitta at its apex, a lamp lighting a passageway deep inside the earth. In the vision space, sometimes I descended into these spaces, sinking down past roots and swathes of cold, wet moss, from within which a single eye would open for a moment and sluggishly close. Impish, mocking faces with a faery vibe would sometimes form. They took delight in the difficulties I experienced with the practice. Others had encountered similar beings, and one day we performed a banishing in the practice room, in case obstructive elementals were finding their way inside.
The most intense visions of the retreat, such as my concentration could provide, for I didn’t reach the level required for the high-end stuff, were encounters with spirits of place. For instance: out in the woods lay a giant made of flint. He was partially buried, partially disinterred, and endured this state forever: never completely emerging from the earth, never completely concealed. Another time, a board buried in soil was turned and, stuck to the other side, a giant, mottled grub, its flesh soft like a caterpillar’s, and papery, like the fabric of a wasp’s nest. Then something insectoid, green, and with compound eyes came creeping across leaf litter on long, black, filament legs. From its pipe-like mouth it breathed an iridescent blue vapour.
These spirits of the woods were only passingly interested in me, but mostly preoccupied by their own mysterious functions. They seemed personifications of geological processes; amalgamated images of what thrives in subterranean damp, or on the dry forest floor. I learnt that when you give yourself to an environment, focusing on its objects to the exclusion of what might otherwise occupy your mind, then that environment extends inside you to reveal things otherwise unseen. The gift of these spirits was the cooling, grounding, stabilising properties of water and earth. I had not until then properly appreciated the revitalising qualities of these elements.
Abramelin in twelve days
The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage is the standard ritual for attaining contact with the HGA, but ever since an earlier and different translation of the text was found from the one published by S.L. Mathers, there has been disagreement among occultists over whether the Abramelin working should last six months or eighteen. In the heat of this debate, it has been overlooked how Aleister Crowley, having previously attained contact via the orthodox, Abramelin route, very specifically describes in John St. John (Liber 860) a different style of attaining the very same result – but in a mere twelve days.
Knowing that this was possible prevented me from losing hope that my HGA would appear in time. The sigil and the three knocks were signs he was coming. Performing the Bornless Rite three times daily seemed like overkill. One evening, two colleagues expressed an interest in seeing the ritual. “It’s just a middle-aged bloke saying things,” I warned them. Sometimes the atmosphere in the woods seemed altered by the words into expectancy and presence. But often, nothing special happened.
After the three of us had attended the ritual, at dinner we noticed an unusual rainbow cloud near the southern horizon. It is the duty of the magician to interpret everything as a message from God to his or her soul. A rainbow, of course, is the classic symbol of hope, of the covenant between heaven and earth, so I took it as another sure-fire signal of my angel’s arrival.
Yet the problem remained that, because of my meltdown near the start, I hadn’t achieved the level of concentration needed for the immersive, multi-sensory vision that I had been aiming for. Some of the others were already enjoying such experiences but, as the penultimate day of the retreat began, I was still in the “dark night” phase: I was irritable and sick of the whole thing. Part of me expected to end the retreat back where I had started, and wanted only to finish now and go back home.
In the afternoon, I sat in the woods with the sunlight on my face. I noticed that complex sigils were appearing spontaneously against the visual field. They had a yellow or yellow-green colour and seemed composed of alphanumeric characters from unknown alphabets, with woven-in fragments of geometric designs, and little glyphs resembling stylized faces and animals. It looked like a kind of mock “Aztec” writing. Each sigil arose spontaneously out of nothing, endured for a moment, then faded before it was overwritten suddenly by the next. This spectacle produced in me a feeling of endlessness and pointlessness.
I had a headache I could not shake, and kept deciding to take some pills, except the pain seemed a useful object to practise with. My concentration was shot, so I had resorted to vipassana rather than kasina, just for something to do. By then it was evening. Sitting again in the woods, I noticed the headache had gone and my ability to concentrate was back. It seemed I was in the next phase of the practice, “equanimity”. This conclusion held as I tried to “break” the newly-found state by thinking intentionally about all the upsetting things that had previously wrecked my concentration. The new state was spacious enough to allow all thoughts to come and go without being swept along with them.
Just before lunch on the final day, even as my mind filled with thoughts about the journey home and the impending return to daily life, at last the angel came. In the woods, sitting in the sun, I noticed again the “Aztec” writing, only this time I saw how each preceding sigil was not appearing suddenly, but gradually morphing from the one preceding it. Instead of the sense of pointlessness this evoked the day before, it struck me as the communication of a complex message, some intense and lengthy incantation.
In the distance a gust of wind gathered and began its approach. The treetops swayed and sighed as it sought me out and swirled the leaf litter with a spiral eddy. At my right hand, like a tall and ancient tree, a magnificent presence: vast, luminous, and sweetly fulfilling. Beautiful beyond all words. And then it dawned on me that the internal nimitta, that “circulating mass”, is the HGA.
I was looking right at it. I had been looking at it, all along. That which I had longed and hoped for, and had been participating in the practice to attain, was already here; it was the practice. There had never been anything to do for union with my angel other than turn attention to it, for there it was, always at hand.
Not in the way I had supposed, nevertheless my intention had been realised. The retreat was a success. (Except, in magick, in a sense there is never any failure, because only an understanding dependent upon causality can produce an experience of something that does not work, and this is not the understanding of a magician.)
I was not anywhere close to the standard of concentration required for a full-blown, high resolution vision, but the angel had found a way to manifest regardless. The experience was not even a “fruition”, the technical term in Buddhist vipassana meditation for the climactic, self-obliterating moment of full insight into reality. It was simply a magickal result, a synchronicity. But this was a new revelation as far as I was concerned: the love of the HGA is so great, it stoops to connect and communicate through whatever sufficient conditions the magician is capable of extending.
I am bad at taking drugs. The reasons why will become apparent. But I always wanted to try LSD, so when the opportunity arose recently, and those who had taken it reported a mellow trip, and seemed to be having a mild and lovely time, I felt that conditions were good for me to give it a try, so I gratefully received a minimum dose.
Soon after, Boffo and I performed the Headless Rite under an ancient oak. At the termination of the ritual I heard the tree exhale a long, sighing breath. Over dinner, the effects were more pronounced. There was a blissful disjoint in my belly and chest, and between my mind and its perceptions. But the disjoint expanded and I was not sure I could maintain social interactions, so I went to bed to take a closer look at what was going on.
A practitioner of vipassana meditation for decades, my instinct is to burrow into experience and analyse it to pieces, which is why I am not good at drugs. What I found was a mind like broken hardware. It was out of phase, with all the sensory modalities bleeding into each other. But what was it out of phase with? Reality itself, it seemed. This made no sense, because being out of phase was just as real an experience as any other. The upshot was I was not happy with it. I had put a chemical into my brain and screwed it up. There was nothing interesting occurring; it was only brain damage. I must wait for it to pass and enjoy the ride as best I could. There were pleasant feelings in my body, and I used these as an anchor to prevent slipping off completely into suffering.
Boffo was my saviour throughout the night. He suggested a walk, and this certainly felt easier than reflecting on experience indoors. But everything was so unintegrated there was little to hold onto. Everything was flattened out, at a distance, as if relayed from far away and taking ages to register upon awareness. After a short time I wanted to go to bed again and try to sleep.
Of course I could not sleep, and then some challenging impressions took hold. Experience was so far out of phase it did not count as experience at all. Then what was this? Some new kind of life in which none of the usual means of making sense possibly applied. The conviction took root that I was dead. The more I looked, the more clearly I perceived brittle, inert artefacts of something very far from alive. Nothing in this new experience joined up with life. Everything of me and mine was dead, and had been always. Laughable to think I had believed it any other way.
Later, a different view took hold: that awareness was excreted into reality through slimy tubes, in a sordid, sleazy way, like a penis sliding out from its foreskin. Everything was visceral, consciousness no exception, just a bodily organ like any other, but with a transparent surface so that light passed in as it was excreted through its tube. Consciousness was a transparent turd.
Boffo put on calming music: Eno, Dowland, Allegri’s Miserere. But the latter was just too agonisingly beautiful. I was transfixed by visions of vast cathedrals of cloud and radiant light.
“I’m about to get emotional,” I said.
“What are you feeling?” said Boffo.
“Anguish, I think.”
A sense had been growing from that formerly pleasant buzz in my abdomen that my body consisted purely of vibrations. My thighs, belly and chest had ceased to be physical and were instead a buzzing swirl of energy about certain points which, I realised, were the chakras.
The anguish was swirling and swirling about my heart. Boffo snapped into energy worker mode and helped try and move the energy upwards and out. That seemed to clear it somewhat, but then the energy re-focused in my belly and thighs where it felt even more solid. The energy seemed inexhaustible, only indirectly physical, as if it were passing through my body rather than belonging to it, but instead of passing through and on its way the energy seemed to be snagging somehow upon the physical. I was writhing, spasming, grunting and groaning in a way I had not felt before, as if there was something stuck in swadisthana (just below the belly button) that needed to come out. But how could it come out, if my body were physical yet the energy flowing through me were not?
The writhing spasms seemed to offer some relief. Boffo was helping, as before. There was one great moment of spasm, and it seemed it might all be over, but then it became apparent the crisis was coming in cycles or waves, and another bout of writhing built up all over again.
I was not sure that what was in me was entirely me, but instead something I would very much like to expel, and the means of expulsion seemed to be to afford it some means of expression, as if this could expose it to a light that prevented it from operating in secret. I sensed that it very much disliked this and wanted to remain hidden. Repeatedly, I took my awareness down through the chakras, passing my right hand side-on down my body. All the upper chakras seemed fine, but each time my awareness and my hand reached swadisthana, I hit something that made me buck and spasm. At one point I bent back hard on the bed, uncontrollably gurgling and hissing, words forming in a nonsensical guttural language, a demonic voice.
It did not feel at all that this was part of me, yet I was aware of what was happening, and afterwards I remembered it all. Humour was also still in operation, because as Boffo laid his hand upon me, steeling against more demonic writhing, I grinned and quoted from The Exorcist: “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”
The vivid perception of circulating vibrations gradually subsided. My body was physically trembling now in the areas affected; the transition from etheric to material seemed to promise that reality might settle down. Sleep seemed a possibility. Boffo was facing a long drive early next morning. I was acutely aware he needed rest. I had apologised to him earlier. I think that part of me had calculated I was safe in Boffo’s company, and had staged unconsciously this whole thing.
Whilst Boffo caught some fitful sleep, I lay awake, perturbed by my frantic heartrate and struggling to ignore intermittent thoughts that cardiac arrest was imminent. I was lying in bed, but my physiology was on a long-distance run. Later, Boffo assured me that as I was not hyperventilating, I would probably be okay. I consoled myself a kundalini crisis was also a highly efficient way to burn off excess calories.
The next day, Boffo headed home and I spent the quiet day doing grounding things: eating, sleeping, masturbating and chores. I felt fragile but wired, and resolved never to touch acid again without a solid reason. I have no conception what that reason would be.
Contrary to appearances, the crisis was not over. A few days passed normally. I returned home and resumed my usual low-key practices of meditation and yoga. I was reunited with my girlfriend. It had been our first time apart, and we made it up with lots of sex, without ejaculation on my part. (For more on this, Dave Lee has written recently on the aims and benefits of tantric sexual practice from a chaos magickal perspective [Lee 2017: 258-264].)
The following weekend, it crept up slowly, but by evening I felt exactly as I had under the influence of LSD. There was the same sensation of mental brokenness, the visuals and scents, and frightening, delusional thoughts: you have a brain tumour… you are going mad… The vibrations and demonic writhing returned but I forced them into abeyance, because, although Boffo took them in his stride, I could see my girlfriend found them more distressing.
I made an internet search for help, which turned up the work of Tara Springett, a psychotherapist specialising in clients with kundalini syndrome. Her book, Enlightenment Through the Path of Kundalini, available in PDF format for a few pounds, offers advice on dealing with kundalini symptoms. At first, I approached it with caution, because Springett avers the theoretical portions of her text were channelled from the goddess White Tara. Yet White Tara chimed entirely with my own practice and experience, and Springett’s book proved a lifesaver. My opinion is that Springett’s manifestation of White Tara is extremely useful.
Springett views kundalini as a bodily energy that sets itself apart from the non-dual love that permeates the universe. Ultimately, therefore, kundalini is an expression of universal love, but it is also an expression of an individual self. The antidote to an excess of kundalini, then, is love and compassion towards self, others and divinity.
In marked contrast to other writers, Springett asserts that kundalini syndrome is amenable to psychotherapeutic intervention, and that energy work or bodily intervention is actually likely to exacerbate the problem. This is because kundalini is not a material entity or energy. As she puts it, “this sensation of energy ‘rising’ is not real. It is just a sensation that happens spontaneously […] and therefore we should refrain from trying to manufacture this experience” (Springett 2014: 105). Likewise, practices such as pranayama, samatha and vipassana will tend to exacerbate kundalini episodes, because they supply increased attention. The only practice likely to dampen and re-balance is compassion.
This I started, and immediately the kundalini responded. The experience of kundalini is love, so generating love outwards provides a deeper relaxation into love. Trying to take love apart through introspection (vipassana), or attempting to eject it somehow from the body (demonic phenomena), accomplishes nothing. It is stupid to want or attempt to dismantle love.
I walked in the cemetery, and in the quietness practised this, and felt much better, far less insane. On the way home I noticed an intense pang of sadness. My body felt oddly heavy as I walked.
Springett recommends surrender to a divinity. Given that this whole experience was consequent upon a Kali puja that Boffo and I had performed, I visualised lying in the loving arms of the goddess, surrendering in compassion to her and to the world. My state of mind still felt too much, but the kundalini loosened in response to the love. A thought arose: “If things aren’t normal, it’s only because I am different from before. Things are not the same because now I am Kali’s.”
A strong vision of the goddess immediately arose. She was in the room, a giant, oblong column dense with qualities; some I knew, but much else was unknown. My mind was hers; her being was mine. It was clear from that moment how we were entirely merged. She gave me a mantra, mine to use. (“It’s not quite Sanskrit, is it?” I remarked later, showing it to Boffo. “Sounds more likely bloody Aztec to me!” Boffo quipped.)
Still too intense, at least now I recognised my state for what it had been all along: merger with the goddess, which I had desperately been trying to fend off and deny. My sufferings were actually bliss. My body was actually suffused with ecstasy. The terror occasioned by clinging to normality decreased at once on realising there was no way back, no benefit in retreating.
Monday, I was in ecstasy. At work, it was fine whilst tackling the usual tasks. I was not entirely convinced that intellectually I was up to scratch, but things seemed to get done. Solitary bliss is one thing; in the presence of others it becomes more taxing. “Today my whole being is so sweetly reeling / with Mother’s own drunken love”, wrote the eighteenth century poet Ramprasad in one of his many hymns to Kali, “that even those soaked in ordinary wine / consider me one of them!” (Hixon 1994: 67) And, surely, the others in the meeting could see I was completely off my tits! A sense of paranoia crept in, and then, consequently, a wish to break free from all the everyday aspects of my life. The basis of suffering is feeling unable to accept the state one is in. But by trying to let things be as they are, by practising compassion, I managed to pull through.
Since then, three weeks later, things have settled. This was the only spiritual experience in which I found myself, rather than clinging onto the states of mind involved, instead looking forward to when they would pass. But once they had, inevitably I hankered and experimented with practices that might top it up again. Tantric sex, connected breathwork, meditation and yoga, in descending order, all seemed capable of stimulating the kundalini, but not in any simple or predictable way.
Perhaps the most confusing thing has been occasionally to find myself in states of bliss when things that are otherwise unpleasant and uncomfortable are happening. I wonder what horrible kind of person I must be to have a capacity for pleasure in the presence of my own and others’ suffering. Yet the bliss does not arise from or because of the suffering.
Perhaps Ramprasad should have the final word: “Mother dwells at the center of my being, / forever delightfully at play. / Whatever conditions of consciousness may arise, / I hear through them the music of her life-giving names, / Om Tara, Om Kali” (Hixon 1994: 37).
Hixon, Lex (1994). Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment. Wheaton, IL: Quest.
Lee, Dave (2017). Life Force: Sensed Energy in Breathwork, Psychedelia and Chaos Magic. Norwich: Universe Machine.
Springett, Tara (2014). Enlightenment through the Path of Kundalini: a Guide to a Positive Spiritual Awakening and Overcoming Kundalini Syndrome. taraspringett.com
The classic iconography of Kali: a four-armed goddess, with two hands making mudras for protection and blessings; one hand wielding a sentient blade; and from the other, hanging suspended by its hair and dripping blood, the freshly chopped-off head of the king of demons. Dark-skinned, bare-breasted, with a lolling tongue, Kali wears a skirt of amputated limbs and a garland of severed heads. She tramples the prostrate body of her consort, Shiva, her foot upon his heart chakra. In contrast to her ferocity is Shiva’s bliss. This image speaks to me of the character of sensate reality, and our relationship to it as material beings. It codifies, in essence, the tantrika’s mode of being.
Kali entered my life during a morning meditation. I am the ocean of blood at the beginning and end of the universe, she said. You will perform daily pujas and learn the techniques of tantric sex. I did as I was told, without understanding why or where it was leading until, a few months later, my father unexpectedly died. It felt as if Kali equipped me with the means to cope with that ordeal. When reality wears its Kali-face, it’s time to do as Shiva does.
When, recently, Kali appeared once more, demanding puja, I was not overjoyed but fearful. Soon afterwards, my mother’s health failed. I thought maybe I could see where this was headed. But then, to vast relief, my mother recovered.
It was not clear what Kali wanted me to do. In a gift shop, a notebook bearing her image caught my attention. I bought it, and put it away. But at the back of my mind the idea grew that it ought to contain a message from the goddess. I needed a way for this to appear without me writing it. So I cut up newspapers and magazines. Any phrase that fetched attention was clipped and cast onto a pile, re-arranged, until it seemed sentences were forming. Images suggested themselves as accompaniments to the text, pictures of death and sexuality, perversities and atrocities. Sourcing these has no doubt permanently marred my search history.
Each page of the notebook was stained by hand with ink, and the pictures and phrases glued on top. A portion of the text arrived during a ritual at one of the regular meetings between Boffo and I. Each page consumed hours of labour. At last, Liber Kali was complete. Yet its purpose seemed more than to lie forgotten at the bottom of my box of notebooks. Boffo and I brought it to a large magickal gathering and made it the basis of a ceremony entitled The Kali Hypno Puja.
The statement of intent was that all participants, to their benefit, would receive a communication from Kali. Boffo, who is a mighty purveyor of trance, placed the whole room under hypnosis, then provided a quiet and lilting drum accompaniment to my reading of the text.
Be warned that Liber Kali contains pornographic images, and pictures of human suffering and violent death. A digital copy is included here [PDF, 2MB], and, should you read it, you might discover that it’s not a typical hymn of praise. Constructed from snippets of current media, traces of the zeitgeist are inescapable. Its opening lines are a plaintive cry to the goddess, but what develops thereafter is perhaps a devotee’s personal train of enquiry towards salvation. Or perhaps you will read it as something else entirely, because hopefully there is adequate ambiguity to inspire in everyone something completely unique.
The results of our hypno puja were certainly diverse. One person remembered no words of the text at all, but only the sensation of a hand stroking her face, and then embracement in a multitude of loving arms. Others reported visions of Kali at varying levels of intensity, one person moved to tears on recounting his. And the remainder reported milder phenomena, such as simply the feeling that something good was bound to happen.
My personal result from the ritual is what I shall explore in my next sermon.
It began with a dream, of standing with a woman at twilight on a grassy bank. Beneath us, a cold black river flowed. The grass and foliage were wet and the water looked icy. The light was fading fast. Although the woman looked like no one I could name, there was a sense she was my mother. There was also a feeling I was in a sexual relationship with her.
Without warning she jumped from the bank and entered the water with hardly a ripple. A few bubbles floated up. She was safely beneath, holding her breath. I wondered how she could survive such a plunge and remain beneath the water. The thought came that I should do the same, but I knew there was no chance I would survive.
I started to come awake slowly, then, and although I did not see this in the dream, there was an overwhelming feeling I had jumped. I felt I could not breathe. The realisation broke that I was drowning and, indeed, that I had drowned.
Afterwards, I could not easily discern whether the woman was a symbol, or a spirit with an intentionality all her own (an undine, maybe, or a lorelei) or perhaps a shadow aspect of myself.
To decide how to read her, it seemed that a ritual was required.
First, I made a drawing of some impressions from the dream, simply to create an image that might connect me to her. Next I made a simple sigil, which I placed inside a luminous plastic glove purchased from a novelty shop. Our statement of intent: It is our will that the woman from Gabriel’s dream will be evoked into this glove, and only into this glove, so that she might communicate with us through the medium of drawing and writing.
Boffo was on hand to place me under an hypnotic trance. Contrary to appearance, Boffo is very proficient; he also made a video record of the proceedings.
Deep in trance, the glove glowing eerily in the dark, the entity took up marker pens and over the next half hour produced seven sheets of marks and messages. Immediately after, we were no clearer on her nature, but the ritual had limited whatever she was conveniently to the glove, and – having given the entity license to depart – this we happily disposed of in the waste-paper bin, banishing thoroughly afterwards.
I AM YOUR CHILD IN YOU. FALL FOREVER DOWN INTO THE WORLD WITH ME FOR I AM NOT OF IT AND WILL NOT FILL THE WATERS OF YOUR HEART.
YOU LIVE IN ME HERE. I AM THE GIRL THAT SWAM IN WATERS. ME, THE MOST TERRIBLE LIAR OF LIFE IN YOU.
THE CAPTURE WILL WITHSTAND THE NIGHT INTO URNS AND WATERS. FOR NIGHT IS THE ONLY ASPECT OF WHAT MAY FOLLOW SOON ON THE HEELS OF TIME. FOR NIGHT AND OVERSPREADING NIGHT: THIS IS ONLY WHAT MAY BE.
THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT YOU FEEL ME IN YOU. I AM GOING. YOU WILL FEEL INTO ME THE LOVELY SILENCE.
Impressions from the dream.
Sigil inside the luminous glove.
1. A self portrait?
2. Mostly indecipherable.
3. I AM YOUR CHILD IN YOU. FALL FOREVER DOWN INTO THE WORLD WITH ME FOR I AM NOT OF IT AND WILL NOT FILL THE WATERS OF YOUR HEART.
4. YOU LIVE IN ME HERE. I AM THE GIRL THAT SWAM IN WATERS. ME, THE MOST TERRIBLE LIAR OF LIFE IN YOU.
5. THE CAPTURE WILL WITHSTAND THE NIGHT INTO URNS AND WATERS.
6. FOR NIGHT IS THE ONLY ASPECT OF WHAT MAY FOLLOW SOON ON THE HEELS OF TIME. FOR NIGHT AND OVERSPREADING NIGHT. THIS IS ONLY WHAT MAY BE.
7. THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT YOU FEEL ME IN YOU. I AM GOING. YOU WILL FEEL INTO ME THE LOVELY SILENCE.
The deciding factor in determining her nature proved not to be the contents of her messages, but rather what happened further to the ritual, because another dream came that night.
There was a sense that I worked on a team producing foodstuffs, into which I was putting offal from human corpses. I knew this was wrong, but it was the easiest thing to do, and the only method I knew. I had neither the knowledge or skill required to do the job properly. The company and my colleagues all turned a blind eye to what I was doing, but I woke with a sense of having put something filthy and defiling out into the world.
But then, getting up from this dream to meditate at the foot of the bed, a goddess appeared. She was a woman of about 30 years of age, bald-headed, with a vivid gaze that froze my mind in an overwhelming impression of pure sentience that felt neither mine nor hers. There were no words. It was as if her gaze were unmoving, inescapable, because her gaze was my gaze, and each was arising mutually from the other, both entwined inseparably in each and by this means enduring to the end of time.
I realised that the woman in the first dream had been a shadow aspect of Self, which the ptomaine-like poisons of my mind had prevented me from seeing clearly, until the second dream enacted their ejection into the world.
The immorality of my actions in the dream symbolised what might be seen as a crime against Self, but the dream itself was an atonement for this. What initially could express itself only in symbolic terms of sex, motherhood and drowning was then able to appear in a less dualistic form.
The entity addresses her own distorted appearance in the description of herself as: ‘the most terrible liar of life in you’. She states explicitly that she is not of the world, and that even though ‘you live in me here’, yet ‘I am your child in you’; or, in other words, we each mutually give rise to the other. In the rest of what she says, ‘night’ seems to refer to my ignorance of what she really is, and ‘water’ is our mutual immersion in each other, which was my drowning in the first dream. The reference to ‘urns’, in which human remains are interred, is an interesting prefiguration of the second dream: she seems to be saying that images of corpses and drowning are displays of ignorance (‘night’), yet also the means (‘capture’) by which ignorance can be bypassed. And the last line of her farewell is an explicit prediction of the meditation vision: ‘You will feel into me the lovely silence.’
After the referendum vote for the UK to leave the EU, I was concerned about what it signified about us as a people and what unpleasantness might follow, as much as I was about the result.
Sure enough, the result gave the green light to every Nazi mouthbreather in the land in following the liars, hypocrites, fascists and Little Englanders of the Brexit campaign out into the sunshine to spread their poison. There was every chance that England would drag the rest of the British Isles into the mire.
Apart from gloom and impotent rage, both, I believe, very ready and understandable responses to such a situation, I was casting around for things to do about it. What difference could I, a lowly, jobbing Chaos magician, raised on offal and coal smogs, make to these circumstances?
Then, out of the gloom and demoralisation, interesting things started to happen. On the bus into work (neither a magic bus nor a cat bus, sadly, just an ordinary bus, but click on the picture to see, with thanks to Hayao Miyazaki, the Magic Cat Bus)…
…I was reading about St Nicholas of Torentino, 13th Century ascetic and badass, in Gordon White’s excellent recent book The Chaos Protocols (if you buy one chaos magick book this year…). This particular St Nick made it his mission to shepherd the souls about whom everyone else had forgotten. Onwards to the Anima Sola phenomenon, the Lonely Soul awaiting deliverance…
…and the Anima Sola prayer. It was a good bus journey.
My first session that morning began with my counterpart declaring, “England is a broken soul.” He went on to raise the question of what happens to the souls who no-one remembers or cares about, and who need rescue. Coincidence? Let’s say synchronicity. The air thickened, as it does when magick is abroad.
A focused hypnogogic excursion guided me towards Hermes, herald of the gods and psychopomp, as an additional change agent needed to lead England out of this life cycle and into the next phase.
And so after a reconnaissance Gabriel and I set out one evening for a sunset procession on one of England’s old Corpse Roads. We processed from the start of the corpse road (an old coaching house) to its end (an old Norman church on an ancient site), to an improvised altar on which to fix our candle for the anthem and closing prayer. We processed for an hour as night approached, chanting the Anima Sola prayer in turn, and arrived at the church just after dark.
On arrival at the church we lit our candle on the altar, sang Jerusalem, said the closing prayer, put the candle out and Gabriel said “It is done.” At which point the lights came on outside the church, which had hitherto been in darkness. Plainly someone inside the church, but it was one of those moments.
It so happens that Gabriel and I were born in England, but that is not a prerquisite. Wellwishers from other parts of the British Isles, Europe and the rest of the world are welcome to help. She’s your Albion too, and she needs all the help she can get at the moment. The emphasis throughout is on the will of the ordinary citizen to affect change. It’s not going to be the politicians who get us out of this one. It never is, is it?
Things you will need
a candle and means to light it
recordings of Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland and Jerusalem by William Blake, set to music by Hubert Parry
Storax oil for anointing the congregation
How to do it
Congregate at the start of the Corpse Road/Ghost Road or equivalent.
The congregation gathers and Fanfare for the Common Man is played
The Statement of Intent
The congregation recites:
“It is our will that our Albion is healed.”
The congregation recites:
“Albion, hear us! It is our will that you are healed through our prayers!”
Celebrant 1 reads Orphic Hymn 57 to Chthonian Hermes, Celebrant 2 anoints the People with Storax oil.
“To Hermes Khthonios, Fumigation from Storax.
Hermes I call, whom fate decrees to dwell near to Kokytos, the famed stream of Haides, and in Ananke’s dread path, whose bourn to none that reach it ever permits return.
O Bakkheios Hermes, progeny divine of Dionysos, parent of the vine, and of celestial Aphrodite, Paphian queen, dark-eyelashed Goddess, of a lovely mien; who constant wanderest through the sacred seats where Haides’ dread empress, Persephone, retreats; to wretched souls the leader of the way, when fate decrees, to regions void of day.
Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly, or lulls to slumberous rest the weary eye; for Persephone, through Tartaros dark and wide, gave thee for ever flowing souls to guide.
Come, blessed power, the sacrifice attend, and grant thy mystics’ works a happy end.”
The Procession of the People
The congregation chants the Anima Sola Prayer as they process:
“Hear ye O Mortals, the lament of an imprisoned soul, alone and abandoned in an obscure dwelling.
O Lone Soul, a soul of peace and of war.
Soul of sea and of land, I desire that all that I have lost be returned.
O Souls, you who are alone and abandoned, I accompany you in your grief. Pity upon you I have, for I know of the grief and suffering you must endure within your harsh and long imprisonment. I offer you this prayer and glass of water because I desire to lessen your pain and quench your thirst.
Sad Soul, Alone Soul, no one calls you, I call you. No one looks for you, but I seek you out. No one loves you, but I adore you. No one remembers you, but I keep you in my heart.
I offer you this lit candle so that you may find your way into the light.
In this moment I offer to you my meritorious labour, and all that I have suffered, suffer and will suffer in this life, can never compare to yours.
I humbly pray that you finish paying for your mortal sins of the flesh so that you may find the grace of God, and be lifted from your imprisonment.
With your grace you shall be my benefactor.
Celebrant 1 sets the candle on the altar, Celebrant 2 lights it. The congregation sings the anthem:
“And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire.
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.”
The Closing Prayer
Numbers XI.ch 29.v:
“Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets.”
White, G. (2016) The Chaos Protocols: Magical Techniques for Navigating The New Economic Reality. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications
My two sisters and I are standing on one side of the yellow table in our childhood house, where the family gathers for meals. There are cups and a teapot on the table. The babysitter is opposite, a young grown-up woman who is looking at us fixedly, while I am staring back at her in defiance. We three siblings begin to sing, a ditty from a fairy-tale. The three verses are appropriate and fill the space over the table, between us and the babysitter, with their threefold repetition and the progression of their theme.
I wake up.
“Who is the babysitter from the dream, dear oracle?”
CLOUDS, THUNDER, SPROUTING. ONE WEAVES WARP AND WEFT.
The Norns? The tree is there in the form of a wooden table, water for watering it in the form of, presumably, tea in the teapot. The three ladies are there. But what is the babysitter doing on the other side of the table?
WAITING, the oracle remarks. FOOD AND DRINK.
Ahh! I had expressed interest in contacting an ancestor some time ago. Then other events demanded my attention, and that work was assigned lower priority. But if all three of the sisters of fate and destiny show up in a dream, then it is time to turn my attention back to the matter.
Food and drink. An offering is left in the kitchen over night.
RELAX, the oracle advises. WITH MUSIC. If only I could remember that little song from the dream now!
I am halfway through a psychology article about the personality structure of a person who had gaps in her psyche. The gaps were regularly spaced, with slices of actual psychological entity alternating with empty ones. The subject of this study was a powerful woman, and her actions and decisions matched up perfectly with the missing portions of her psyche. I am particularly interested in understanding her motivations because she influences the lives of all people I know. Her office is not political or economic, but nevertheless invested with a lot of power. As I begin to grasp the full scale of this entire state of affairs, my understanding becomes less certain, some aspects fade from my awareness and the dream falls apart as I gain waking consciousness.
There is no need to consult the oracle. This was a dream experience of Sophia, the gnostic aeon who is, according to various myths, either Mother Wisdom or else responsible for foolishly bringing forth the misbegotten creator of our universe. Her mind might well be an interference pattern of wisdom and ignorance.
So when I wanted to contact an ancestor, I did not really think it would turn out to be the wise mother of ignorance, whose foolish asexual act of creation landed us all in the circumstances we now find ourselves in.
Someone less far down the line would have been totally satisfactory.
The narcissists and psychopaths of the world are firmly in charge, England is broken and Nazis have been given the green light to crawl out from under wet, stinking rocks everywhere. It’s difficult not to feel that everything’s going to shit.
These are clearly difficult times, and difficult times, ladies and gentlemen, need serious measures.
We need to be agile; light on our feet; able to squeeze through small gaps, leap obstacles and find shelter in dark hiding places; we need white hot reactions coupled with an unrivalled ability to relax. In short, we need to Get Cat.
To which cat deity should we turn in these times? Bast? Shashthi? Ceridwen? Hecate? Freyja? All beautiful and powerful goddesses, and deserving of our veneration.
But no, these singular times need a deity of particular strengths: possessing not just the cat qualities above, but ideally also a magic bag from which he can conjure solutions to the problems which beset us. But where might we encounter such a being?
Ladies and gentlemen, we offer you The Felix the Cat Working.
Things you will need
a picture of Felix for your altar, ideally in his earlier, more feral incarnation, but in the end just pick one that appeals
How to do it
Put the picture of Felix on your altar. Gather in front of it. Have cream and saucer to hand.
Say the Statement of Intent: “It is our will to be able to greet life’s difficulties with the agility and resourcefulness of Felix the Cat.”
Evoke Felix in this fashion: “Great Felix, be with us here today to gift us your agility and resourcefulness as we face life’s difficulties. We offer you a libation in tribute.”
Pour cream into the saucer as you say the above. Set the rest of the cream aside. Raise the saucer above your head and place on the altar in front of the picture of Felix.
Time for Gnosis. Get Cat, in whatever fashion you choose. Getting down on all fours, clawing the carpet and stretching in a langorous fashion should get you rolling. The rest, as they say, is up to you. Think Cat until the thoughts disappear and simply Be Cat. That’s the moment.
Stand up/get down from the top of the wardrobe/get out of the litter tray/stop showing your bumhole to your companions. Regather in front of the altar.
Thank Felix in this fashion: “Great Felix, thank you for your presence with us today. As you depart to your habitations, let there be forever peace between us. In your honour we sing your anthem.”
Sing the anthem: “Felix the Cat, The wonderful wonderful cat, Whenever he gets in a fix, He reaches into his bag of tricks! Felix the Cat, The wonderful wonderful cat, You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache, Your heart will go pitter pat, Watching Felix the wonderful cat!”
Drink the remaining cream. Go on, do it. Drink the cream. Don’t start whining, you shouldn’t have bought a litre. Drink the cream.