THE ELEPHANTS IN THE SPIRIT ROOM
I’ve decided to initiate a series of discussions about magic on its most mundane level.
Rather than instructions on how to work a specific praxis, these dialogues will be about ordinary subjects that can have huge impact on personal practice. They will relate to the people that work with the spirits, rather than relating to the spirits directly.
I’ll be looking at subjects such as drug and alcohol use within practice; politics and fascism; group dynamics and misogyny. Elephants in the room that can have monumental effect on our work, but are largely left unspoken about.
In many ways these potentially problematic issues, can create an initiation of sorts. Surmounting difficulties with your beliefs and convictions still in place is a test of both faith and self. Challenged, processed, worked through and survived, they make the person stronger on all levels.
I’ve always believed that the realms of Gods and Spirits makes more sense than the human world, which in many ways is trickier to navigate.
I decided that rather than articles I would present a series of discussions and interviews with experienced practitioners that I respect, but don’t necessarily agree with. This is because discussion allows more space for evolution and progression of the subject matter than essays or articles, which tend to be more static.
These practitioners will come from varying backgrounds and traditions, and the aim is not to just present a single perspective, but instead give a variety of opinions.
Strange Drugs and Heady Spirits
Hi Diane. So pleased you were up for talking about this subject.
I’ll give you a bit of my own background, relevant to the topic, and we can go from there.
As with you, I was born with magic in my bones. I started practically exploring these natural predilections in my early teens with a study of divination, got into Crowley and joined a group then left said group and went solo for many years, before starting group work again.
I was also born with addiction and alcoholism in my blood, something which was and is both a family and personal curse. I was a burned out street addict by the time I was thirty and was lucky enough to manage to change my life for the positive, however I found that could only do that through complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
When I started to mix with other magical practitioners again- people with my own approach which essentially is very earthy and eclectic- I found my peers were generally like myself, sensitive creative people with a strong compulsive obsessive streak who often were more comfortable operating on the outskirts of mainstream society.
Drug use and drinking was often considered a given for many traditions: from tantric practice, to Sabbatic journeying to exploratory hallucinogens – then of course there is the post ritual partying!
I found these aspects of the practice to be a bit of a personal quagmire. I needed to be very aware of what was right for me in order to keep my head above water, and often I would find myself going against the basis of traditions I was following. I tried working within the proverbial new age frame work as it seemed a little safer, but it was SO not me and also was more about spirituality than actual magical practice. I also needed to step away from judging people and accept everyone has a different process of using or being used by substances.
The few recovering addicts and alcoholics that I knew with similar spirituality found it less problematic to have a solo practice, however I felt the need to work with a group structure for quite a few years, something which wasn’t easy but was very worthwhile.
What’s your story Diane?
As is no secret I discovered Lucifer and the pagan pantheons very young around 6 or 7. Curiously I also began to have seizures at that point. From what I have learned from my Mother, only the first of these was convulsive, the rest were absences with the official diagnosis being petit – mal. Like yourself I was born with addiction in my blood and am very much a believer in ‘the addictive gene’. This has been reinforced by what I have seen in others over the years including some very close relatives. My biological father (with a small ‘f’) was an alcoholic and I have often concluded, somewhat flippantly, that this combined with my Mother (with a capital ‘M’) who divorced my father when I was very young being a science teacher meant the only path available to me was Witchcraft!
Of course this is a flippant response and my path, that of a witch and ritual magickian, had far more to do with those on both sides of my family who practiced ritual magick and divination. My Grandfather was an occultist and I had an Aunt who was part of the early spiritualist movement in London. My family still has her crystal ball which we found in my Grandmother’s house hidden away in an old hat box. Yet parallel to my magickal path, the dark addictive gene was ever present and waiting for an opportunity to present itself. As I said previously my early years were scarred with epilepsy and I was not given the ‘all clear’ until I reached 16 years old although from 11yrs old I was slowly weaned off the prescribed epilepsy medication; Phenobarbitone and Zarontin. Because of this chemical drugs were of no interest to me … It was a simple equation my brain was made up of chemicals, some of which had malfunctioned therefore adding more chemicals probably wouldn’t go anywhere good and may in fact have very dire consequences. That said like all teenagers my thinking was askew enough to allow me to already have a cigarette habit and to have tried alcohol and cannabis by the time I reached 14. Aside from tobacco I still tried very hard to limit my alcohol and drug use to that of a recreational standard although there were many times when through boredom, my circle of friends or just my own addictive gene I became dangerously close to it controlling me, finally achieving it at 23. I had moved to Bournemouth after my first marriage to an alcoholic had failed and I had hitched up with an ex-boyfriend. For whatever the reason I stopped practicing magick although I still read cards when asked and settled into a cannabis habit…’Of course I’ll read your cards just cross my palm with weed!!” Fortunately, this didn’t last too long and I moved away, left boyfriend and let myself recover by returning to my normal life as the wife of an alcoholic. Around the time of getting married to my second husband, also an alcoholic, my epilepsy returned and I was back on medication. At this point I drank minimally as an alcoholic father, two drunk husbands and a daughter following in their footsteps meant alcohol was the least of my interests and weed I had managed to keep to a minimum. I had four kids and was trying to lead by example but it’s a lot of years later when you look back and consider the possibility that perhaps you are addicted to the addict! There appears to be a family history on My Mother’s side of strong women who marry alcoholic men, I can trace this back to my great grandmother at least and on my father’s side my Gran’s creative, obsessive and at times fantasy world seemed to manifest in my father as purely hedonistic and in my one of my cousins likewise who became a drug addict and later a businessman with an obvious penchant for booze.
You can see then why I had tried to keep my inner addict suppressed to the point of unacceptance, which is when you can easily get lost and for a little while I did.
What do you think about necessary use of drugs in magical practice? I’ve known a few vulnerable people who felt pressured to use drugs in order to enhance their trance or vision work. I’ve also known others who pressured themselves that to really show commitment, they SHOULD use certain drugs.I’ve done some of my work whilst on various substances when I was younger, and though it’s possible that I’m a bit ‘shot’ I’ve found my work over the last twenty years without drugs, is stronger…but perhaps the route was opened to me by the early experiences.
I think that because of my early life, epilepsy and the knowledge that I have that addictive gene I feel no need to use drugs to enhance my trance work. Without a shadow of a doubt there have been times in my younger years when I would have sworn blind that cannabis or even opium would have expanded my mind and thus enhanced the experience. However, this is not the case and it is around 20 years since I last smoked weed and my perception is much clearer for it. As for things like peyote or fly agaric, the opportunity has never really presented itself in any forceful way and perhaps in my youth I would have taken it, as my sideways thought pattern would have seen it as natural not chemical (manufactured by man) as such but not now. I feel more committed to my work as a magickian than I did 20 years ago, certainly less distracted being able to maintain focus for longer periods of time and I’m happy with that. I am the sum of my parents with the strength of my Mother’s side and the obsessive, hedonistic behaviour from my father’s side. Therefore, I have an artillery of strength, obsessive determination and a deeper understanding of my inner addict …. Magick is as addictive as any drug!
One thing I have had great difficulty with is the ‘pagan party; Pagans notoriously know how to have a good time, especially when relieving tension post ritual, or celebrating festivals, especially at Yule. However, I’ve generally managed to get through things no problem as I’m so close to the people I work with, and also as we all get older, peoples tolerance for consumption drops a lot! It’s difficult reconciling these contradictions but I have managed, although I’ve wondered how it works for others. As a Priestess of such a huge group, and one that is very celebratory, do you have any thoughts on this?
I have had mead shoved in my face following Yule open access at Stonehenge although generally by people who don’t know me very well. I usually politely decline as apart from the fact that it’s around 8 o’clock in the morning, I don’t like honey or mead. While many around me do party and are as you say, are very celebratory, my drinking is far from in excess and I have been Chairman a while now, so they just know me, respect my decisions and are as a group, very accepting of others choices. I think my biggest gripe regarding the ‘pagan party’ is those smoking weed usually at open events around kids who have no choice as to what they are subjected to. Because our camps are very family oriented we do not condone the use of recreational drugs at them, nor do we have alcohol for sale on the campsite. We operate as a large family or tribe where children are a very important part, I wish all groups thought the same way.
Well despite our own experiences we seem to have found a way of following both our physiological dictates without sacrificing our spirituality. I know many people that struggle with this though; are we a minority or an aberration do you think? Is it possible to truly practice magically if you are an addict or alcoholic, or is the depth of your practice always going to be dictated to by your ‘dis-ease’?
I suspect for those who are truly addicts or alcoholics there will always be times of extreme intoxication or indeed chronic withdrawal where magick is not a consideration. Addiction can be a very selfish disease where families and lovers are often not on the addict’s agenda, therefore it is unlikely that magick can be the highest priority. That said while I am a great believer in the addictive gene we are not born with the addiction just a predisposition towards it. For me my time in active addiction was shorter than many and throughout that time, in my more lucid moments I still read cards and still surprisingly accurately. Like all addicts I did a large amount of philosophizing and for all I know that too may have been accurate; unsurprisingly I don’t remember! I did practice magick from an exceptionally young age so perhaps that by my early twenties that was well and truly ingrained on my psyche allowing me to still be able to read cards and focus my intent during the brief period between withdrawal and complete incapacity. I have equally met those who having gained an awareness of their addiction they somehow manage to drink or use drugs as maintenance, in much the same way they use Methadone or Librium; to keep the edge off. In many ways magick itself is as addictive as any drug, I certainly missed it when I wasn’t practicing it and ‘making do’ with card reading is a poor magickal methadone when you know there is so much more. In truth I believe the ability, and desire of the addict to practice magick depends largely upon which came first the Magickian or the Addict!! There is always the thought that those who work with angels and demons should perhaps at least have control of their own demon
O I’ve always agreed with that! In fact, I’ve been interested in performing the Chod ritual with the concept of my alcoholism/addiction being my consuming demons…stripping me down but leaving my core transformed and strengthened (hopefully)
Thanks so much for this Diane, as always its illuminating talking to you. To round off this article, I’ve included comments from other practitioners from a variety of paths, I haven’t posed any specific questions, just given an outline of what I’m writing about and let them talk at will.
“My relationship to the use of drugs and alcohol in ritual practice is a complex one. As a dedicated consumer of caffeine it is rare that I undertake anything without some degree of stimulus! In relation to those substances that may be viewed as more expressly psychoactive or mood altering I would describe myself as being accepting while being at the same time personally cautious.
Given that I often work with other magicians who are part of the entheogenic community, I am quite happy to participate in ritual practices that might involve other people making use of substances in a conscious and sacramental fashion. So long as they are able to interact coherently (at least for the bits I need them to) and they are taking responsibility for their own safety then I am generally happy for this to happen providing I know clearly what’s going on.
On a personal level, the use of psychoactive substances in ritual is something that I have little interest in and currently am not wanting to pursue. Having had some mental health difficulties in my late teens, I tend to err on the side of caution when considering the introduction of anything other than a glass of wine or a prodigious amount of tea.” Steve Dee
‘I have used drugs in a ritual context: LSD and mescaline, when I followed Tim Leary’s parallels to the ‘Tibetan’ Bardo planes to levels of awareness in psychedelic drug experience; entering the chikai Bardo as high dose sessions kicked in, then coming down through the intermediate ‘magical’ chonyid Bardo, and reprogramming into everyday consciousness with the sidpa, reincarnation Bardo. For more everyday work I have used cannabis in various forms and tied its use into pranayama yogic breath control feeding into meditation and creative visualisations as a source for Art.’
John Power Preceptor of the Western Order of Uttarakaulas
‘What exactly ARE the chemicals we ingest in our magickal work? At first it rings into mind the illegals-acid, pot, MDA, or the shaman arsenal-peyote, ‘shrooms, mescaline. Most are best taken on an empty stomach or else vomiting becomes a part of the experience, albeit not the most pleasant, but purifying all the same. And then, there are the subtle drugs -the water over which an invocation has been whispered, our breath rippling across its surface, or the intake of incense.
The body demands a purity much like the hearts purity of purpose. One might suppose that it is the demanded fee of the spirit of the drug, that you may prove a worthy vessel, preparing it for the vision to come. Without cleansing previous to the Working, locks in your energy body may not be dissolved, too much energy can be trapped in one place, and disastrous consequences may occur.
Observe the effect on sleeping just after a heavy meal. You may fall into a ‘dead sleep’, from which little will be accomplished. This is especially true for your body of light, your astral body. It lives within a constant flux with the universe, changing, re-balancing, as the worlds, both inner and outer naturally strive to maintain a balance with each other.
However, due to our wide variety of personal bodily needs, you may require some sustenance. If so, try to stay away from red meat or processed foods. Even better, stay away from all forms of meat and eat subtler ‘light’ foods such a quinoa, which will fortify the body, or a light, living salad. Realize that the lighter your diet, the clearer your energy field will be able to perform.
Then there is the past-your colon. One light meal will not erase your previous diet. If you are still processing that food, it can still hold you down. This is true for most of our bodies magicks, with or without the use of drugs to jump start us on our journey. I do not know why meat and meat products affect the quality of the experience, I only know that it does.
I was lucky enough to find a teacher to help guide me through my journey. Here I set beside you a tale of his own which he gave to me.
He had been on pilgrimage through India and Nepal, where he had met his teacher and gathered his wisdom. He followed the same route as taken by Padmasambhavas during his spiritual life. It was a goal of his to journey to a certain cave in the Himalayas, where much of his magick had taken place.
He reached it three days before the anniversary of that day and found it occupied with two lamas and two monks. He asked permission to stay during such an auspicious time. One of the lamas looked him up and down, studied him, and finally said ‘no’. My teacher was devastated. He pleaded with him to please allow him to stay, to no avail. Shortly before the time was to be, the lama relented. “But”, the lama said, “you must eat some of our cheese soup!” My teacher agreed, full of joy. He happily ate the cheese soup (which was very good!) that the lamas had been cooking. When he had finished it, they gave him another. He handed back the bowl. The lama (you guessed it) -filled it with more cheese soup! My teacher was very full by this time. All he could feel was his stomach! He ate the required cheese soup yet again.
Finally, the soup was gone. He didn’t have to eat anymore! And the sacred day began. The Lamas and monks began to chant, to speak with and become one with the power of the moment. (Anniversaries are very important. During this time, the past, present and future line up, creating a semi-permeable membrane, so to speak, between events and allowing the power of one into another). The power grew, as did the chanting…. Visions began to spontaneously arrive. Rainbows and dakinis and Padmasambhava himself…. they became one Bliss, and the gates of enlightenment opened. Spirit/mind/body was one.
But my teacher remained. He experienced these wonders, but could not leave his body to integrate into Light. While his true seeing opened his spirit, his body held it down.
Now the reason for the cheese soup became clear. Without it, he explained to me, he would have floated off permanently, leaving his body behind. The lamas had prepared themselves for that in other ways, through the meditation practices they kept themselves nailed to the ground. For my teacher, cheese soup took its place.’Mishlen Linden
A Drug and a Vow.
“I will not discount or minimize any experience/insight by attributing it to the presence of a drug in my system.”
While this vow is a bit formal in tone, it does communicate an essential message and point to a great danger inherent in the use of drugs in ritual; in particularly those rituals which broaden the sense of self to that of Self. The “I” is a messy little can worms that is apt to resist any disruptions to its ingrown ecology. That said, it is also a great tool in the garden of initiation; a wonderful fertilizer.
But… The lid of the can must come off before its contents can be of practical use. Drugs can pry this lid loose and, if of sufficient quantity and quality, remove the lid completely if only momentarily. At this point the concept of “state” and “stage” is relevant. A state can be viewed as a level of attainment that comes and goes. It gives us a glimpse of what can be. A stage differs in its stability. A stage stays for a good amount of time.
In my early magical experience, I was all too prone to attribute internal and external happenings during rituals to the presence of some drug I had taken. This kept the lid on the can and forfeited an opportunity to validate a state that could be nurtured into a stage. An unfamiliar, uncomfortable largeness of self was denied in favor of a more familiar, more comfortable, smaller sense of being. It was all too easy for the “I” to explain away the state as “drug induced” and once again firmly close the lid.
Thoughts on Thoughts
Drug is a term interesting in its malleability. Various magicians I know use it in different ways. Frater PVN sees food as a drug. He is apt to eat a slab of bloody flesh before a rite. Frater L aus F, a medical doctor, identifies drug with pharmaceutical and acts accordingly. Something as common as tea can become a drug as referenced by Mishlen Linden when she mistakenly drank a cup of tea offered to Mahakala.
Personally, I am apt to refer to “thought patterns” as “drugs.” The willed thought patterns that can spark ritual attainment are “good drugs.” The constant, discursive thought patterns that pervade, solidify, and dull the everyday mind are “bad drugs.” I notice that I am not overly creative when I am “downed out” on worry or “jacked up” on some repeating thoughts concerning a momentary triumph.
Interesting Abstract…. louie
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 2007 Jan-Jun;37(1):69-80.
Evolution of drug: a historical perspective.
Wadud A, Prasad PV, Rao MM, Narayana A.
To trace out the first person who discovered the first medicine is extremely difficult. Perhaps the origin of medicine and drug and its early history has been lost in myths. The use of medicinal plants dates back not only to human civilization but to ancient people also. Plants have been crucial in sustaining human health and wellbeing of mankind. The word Drug, taken from French word Drogue which means Dry Herb, strongly suggests that earliest drugs were taken out from plant sources. Earliest people used to treat diseases by some unconventional methods, using plants, animal products and minerals, of them plants were given priority. World’s ancient systems of medicine e.g. Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Greek Medicine, despite, having wider differences in their principles of treatment agree upon the point, that disease is due to imbalance within the constituents of the body and that the aim of treatment is to restore the balance with the help of herbs. So, herbs played vital role in the development of Pharmacology and Pharmacy. The splendid architect of today’s advanced Pharmacology was not built in a day, but its foundation stone has been laid on old base. Pharmacology from its very beginning to the age of Chemotherapy and on words, has traversed long voyage. In this article travelogue of the Pharmacology has been discussed briefly.
PMID: 19569453 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]