Thursday 16th June 2016, North Devon, UK.
Having Julian Vayne over for the PFI Netherlands Conference on 16th April 2016 gave me a chance to talk with him at length about his current work and interests. He also gave me a copy of the book “Chaos Craft” to review for Wiccan Rede Online.
I also suggested to him that it would be great to interview him at length and he agreed 🙂
So a couple of months later we arranged a meeting in North Devon, UK, together with Steve Dee, co-author of Chaos Craft.
Steve describes himself as “a chaos magician, Amookos initiate and gnostic explorer who lives in Devon. He likes cats, drums, body surfing and very loud music.” He also likes tea, a lot of it 🙂 as I found out during our talk. As a child, his family moved to Queensland, Australia. He would return however to England to study.
(Steve in his spare time)
On the subject of mindfulness and early influences
For me, Jung provided me with a framework, for understanding aspects of the self really. Although I had been involved with yoga at an early age – those were sorts of things connected to bodily practices, but also to ideas about divinity and theological questions. To me Jung opened the door to understanding, understanding the Self. And so I think his work, obviously based on the work of Freud – but his ideas about the Unconscious and the Shadow, the Collective Unconscious, and of course Synchronicity, I found hugely fascinating.
Morgana: we were talking about early influences and you mentioned that you wanted to study to become an Anglican priest. Can you tell us more about your experiences?
I was at this college – I started there at the age of 19 and I had, what was effectively a breakdown, toward the end of the first year. I was increasingly unhappy with, I suppose, the exclusivity of that version of Christianity. The way it was being expressed in that context. That sort of psychological pressure, between who I felt I should be and who I actually was, in the end, caused me a great deal of difficulty and a lot of problems and anxiety, and some hallucinations. So it was quite a distressing, a tough time. But, one way or another and with the help of some patient friends and engaging in contemplative type practice, helped to quieten things down. My earlier experiences of meditation etc. as a young teenager really helped too. I managed to get through it, although it was tricky.
Morgana: so you ended up leaving college?
STEVE: No, I kept going. I got to the end. I met my partner, now my wife, at the college and she was thinking of becoming an Anglican Priest as well. So although I was going through this process of change I was still really enjoying the study. I also wanted to get my degree and get it done. At that point, I decided that I felt too young to go into the priesthood and also I was interested in social work, especially with adults with learning disabilities. So I decided that I was going to do that. So yes, I got through it.
Morgana, what was the official study, Divinity or Theology?
STEVE: technically it was a BA in Theology specialising in Biblical Studies. So it’s quite good to have that foundation. So much of Western culture – even unconsciously – is going to be shaped by Christianity and Christian ideals.
Morgana: so after graduation, what happened?
STEVE: Then I went to work with adults with learning disabilities – teaching things like Sex Education, Arts and Literature, Music (I am quite musical…) So I was doing that – at the same time entering a deeper level of esotericism, a period of esoteric exploration. Really through the Tarot, Cabala. I was trying to find a way forward with that and came across a more pagan, Druidry view. And also things like OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids). For me, that was probably a kind of nice gentle way of marrying some of the Hermetic Christian stuff with the pagan stuff. So rather than jumping into a coven or feeling that I would – it wasn’t a jarring shift. It was more like a transition across – which is probably good from an integration point of view.
Yes, so that happened, and eventually I ended up training as a Social Worker and doing a Masters in Social Work. I have spent the last 18 or so years working in Adult Mental Health Services. I was also training as a psychotherapist, working with families primarily. I worked with a lot of people who are struggling chaos commotion, self-injury and so on. I like the challenge of that kind of work. Dealing with their darkness, traumas.
Morgana: Many of my friends are interested in – or have in fact studied Psychology. In some cases, they have tried to integrate Craft/ Wicca practices in their profession as Psychologists. There has also been a big shift in our attitudes towards “Altered States of Consciousness” / ASC. And things like Gender Identity – always raising the question of “Who am I? And how do I fit in society?”
STEVE: Yes, certainly the idea of Identity as played a big part in my journey; wondering about sexuality and in some respects that triggered some of the crises in relation to Christianity. As long as I can remember I have identified myself as being bi-sexual – and also someone for whom certain ideas of maleness don’t sit very comfortably. Always the questions about duality – so I’ve always been exploring that territory. Psychology and modern psychology have helped me with some helpful tools.
Both myself and other people – as is the case with many people who work in my trade – we often heal ourselves, learn to understand ourselves.
Morgana: who are the other psychologists who influenced you?
STEVE: yea Jung; but also different people for different things. In Family Therapy, people such as Salvador Minuchin, and more recently people like Michael White, a Narrative Therapist, a post-modern form of therapy in which “the story of people’s lives” is focused upon. Also, earlier people like Wilhelm Reich and Eric Erikson, both students of Freud, who like Jung branched off to a more esoteric territory. People like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers – some of the early Humanistic Psychotherapists.
Morgana: I too have an interest in psychology having a background in teaching. Certainly, when working with people in a coven setting. How do you deal with certain psychological processes? After all, we are dealing with the human psyche. So it’s not surprising that people have been interested. I think there is always a moment – maybe you recognise this too – that when you are working in a Wicca or OBOD context, that you are not actually the therapist. That the coven is NOT a therapy group. But when is there a moment when we advise people to seek professional help? Or can we within our own circle actually help each other? What do you do in this situation?
STEVE: yes, it’s an interesting situation. Julian and I have been involved in running a magical group together, for about 7 years. The book “Chaos Craft” is a reflection on a lot of that work. In that group – although the size varied – we had people who you could see they had mental health issues. Thankfully, I think it was a fairly self-selecting process because of the people we invited, that they were taking responsibility for their own well-being. I think when you are the leader of a magical group, Julian and I co-lead it together, you have a priestly kind of responsibility towards people and you want to ensure, especially after a transformational magical practice, where people are grounding themselves and they are feeling in a good place, feeding them, both spiritually and literally. But I wouldn’t have any reservations about saying that ‘we are here to do magical practice together and perhaps you need to get some help’. You know people need to look after themselves.
Morgana: yes if we see that people are neglecting themselves we would worry about them. Maybe it’s our maternal side speaking – but also that people can trust us. That we do care about their well-being. The element of trust is part of our ethical code. It is, however, I think, a very tricky thing. How do we achieve “Perfect Love, Perfect Trust”? How do we stand back and not become emotionally involved? As Jung pointed out – to paraphrase – if you become involved in the problem – you too are then part of the problem.
STEVE: I think this is why co-leadership is important. If you have someone leading, someone alongside you like a priestess, or two people together, you have that sort of reflection – a safety net, where that person can go, can handle their bull-shit really and you can ask if they need help? I know that when Jools and I have been working together that there have been times when we both had stuff going on and being able to support each other in that. Also that we can discuss some of the group practice and process away from the group meetings and look more closely at the interactions. What can we do differently?
Morgana: would you like to tell us a bit more about how you and Julian got together?
STEVE: yea absolutely 🙂
I’d been in this part of Devon for about 18 years. Julian had been living here for about 14 years. We hadn’t met or made the connection. Basically, we had a connection via Mogg Morgan (of Mandrake of Oxford, publishers). He was my initiator into a kind of East/West lineage called Magickal Order of AMOOKOS (Arcane Magick Order of the Knights of Shambhala) which is more-or-less in hibernation these days. It’s an East/West Tantric lineage which is very Thelemic, which traces its lineage back to a western man called Lawrence Miles who went to live in India and became the recipient of two lineages. Then another westerner called Mike McGee met with this guru and received these lineages and then AMOOKOS was formed. It’s called the Nath lineage, Nath meaning Lord. It’s a kind of Shiva/Shakti – wild tantric, magical lineage. At least that is what it aspires to be. I received that lineage through Mogg. We had had a connection over a few years. Jools also had an interest in that material and had worked with some people from that lineage. He was also in a Chaos magic group.
But once I had done the OBOD ‘thing’ – my gentle introduction to more esoteric things – I quite quickly became interested in Chaos Magic, as an approach, just because of the struggle I had had with Christianity. I had disliked the ‘exclusivity’ – I was naturally more drawn to diversity and multiple ways of perceiving reality. For me, encountering CM was a very dynamic, very punk-rock and a complex way of doing magic. It was also a very shamanic way of doing magical practice.
So Julian and I had a ‘natural’ connection with our tantric, yogic approach, which given my background in yoga resonated. It made sense. This was about 8-9 years ago. (2007) At the time Jools had met with another novice who was living near to us. So we invited them to join forces, which they did for about 5-6 years. We had a very intense working group meeting very regularly to do a magical practice of an experimental nature.
Eventually, because of Julian’s background in Wiccan practice and initiation – and also my own interest in Wicca and the witch current –my own (self) initiation into witchcraft via Marian Green (Natural Magic) and Doreen Valiente’s later works when she was emphasising self-initiation as a witchcraft path. I read “Witchcraft for Tomorrow” and so Julian and I started piecing some things together, probably about 5-6 years ago – and looking at how we could work with the witch current, but integrating it into a more Chaos Magical way.
[Morgana: We had a short conversation in which I mentioned how I had met Julian & Pete Carroll at the Colours of Magic conference in 2008 (London). How my Wicca path had crossed the CM’s path too. Also the role of CM in new trends in magic.]
On historical influences of and trends in modern magic and Slow Chaos.
STEVE: When I think about the archetypal Wise Woman and Cunning Man of the 18/19th century. They were masters of improvisation, using what was in front of them, whether it was the Bible, Psalms, Science books etc., they used anything they could get their hands on to do their magic.
Morgana: Yes although it is often forgotten that many people were illiterate. Folk magic was not written down. It would have been handed down as particular customs and stories.
STEVE: yes, the CM approach is really consistent for me with the good sorceress, thaumaturgical magic.
Morgana: During an interview I did with Peter Carroll he said that (paraphrasing) “to do good magic, one has to understand the mindset of the person you are working for”. That really resonated with me because I realised that I was already doing that intuitively.
Also being in the Netherlands I realised that my English-ness was not the same as being Dutch. Later working within PFI and meeting people from different cultures I understood what Pete was saying.
Within academia, there was also a growing awareness that Animism was not confined to “deepest darkest Africa”. Graham Harvey, in particular, was active in this field. He argues, amongst other things, that Animism is the interaction with “‘other-than-human persons”.
Coming back to the development of Chaos Magic and the book “Chaos Craft” –
STEVE: Yes, although I didn’t attend the “Colours of Chaos” conference (2008) I was aware of what was going on, also because of the working group with Julian. The conference sounded like a great event. Also, it was an effective attempt to present a ‘Public Face’ via workshops and talks. I’m sure Wicca too suffers from negative publicity, being branded as a cult, magical order, coven network etc. Sometimes the most effective work for a magical current is communicating it out to either the wider occult community or even wider culture such as academia. It expands the idea of the occult experience, the numinous insights, be it as Art, or Psychology. It is an encouraging evolution – synthesising previously quite segregated fields.
Morgana: there are a couple of concepts which I would like to ask you about in the book. One of the concepts is “Slow Chaos”.
STEVE: One of the things, when people think about CM, as we have already mentioned, is this idea of it being punk-rock, a sort of accelerated, fairly smash-and-grab ‘take any paradigm, any mythology’ and work in a fast-and-dirty way. So when people talk of CM they tend to think of it like that. It’s potentially consumerist, with an attitude of ‘I can do whatever I want’ free-style and I suppose I wanted to show a different approach … slow chaos. Almost as if it was the second, or even third wave of CM, when you have people like Julian and myself, being part of another religious tradition and we are trying to think how we DID CM, trying to slow it down. So bringing the innovation of CM, but also perhaps recognising that – thinking about Jung again – in terms of the development of Soul and thinking about the engagement of things like archetypes and the unconscious, and myth. Rather than it being purely of a Tradition, or purely CM – what would happen if you tried to integrate the two? So it was a slowing down of the dynamic of CM and the play on the word SLOW as in the SLOW movement, for example, slow cooking, slow sex, slow work etc., trying to bring a degree of mindfulness to the process.
Morgana: How do you relate to the whole concept of ‘mindfulness’?
(From: A taste of mindfulness meditation)
STEVE: It’s really interesting, mindfulness has really become prevalent in the last 5 years as a cultural concept, but actually, when you look back to the early 1980’s and the work of Jon Kabat-Zin, at the beginning we were trying to integrate meditative practices into formal psychological therapies. The question was – how can we take these meditation techniques and use them in a non-religious context to aid people – for example with chronic pain conditions, and management of those, depression and so on? On some levels I welcomed the idea of mindfulness and, to put it in its wider context, everything post-Carl Jung has made use of spiritual ideas in psychology. So you have things like Gestalt work being influenced by some Zen and the Mindfulness. All the humanistic people like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, who we have already mentioned. These are really spiritual people. And psychology has always made use of visualisation techniques, relaxation exercises – basically magical things. What we would call “Path Working”.
I suppose for me the danger with Mindfulness is that it is becoming overly commodified and there is some interesting critique. Mindfulness has, primarily, its origin in Buddhist practice and the thing about Buddhism is that it’s very much existential in terms of confronting the difficulty of life. And that life is about suffering, discomfort and impermanence, so there has been some thought about – for example – people with a depressive illness. Do you want to be increasing their contact with ideas about despair and emptiness and the Void? Or do you want other techniques which can provide a temporary scaffolding to support them?
JULIAN joins the conversation and adds: Also to allow them to, or assist them with the production of meaning, because although you may have that sort of idea of emptiness those practices can provoke, it’s also about having and recognising that there is a human need to construct meaning. So even if there is no meaning there is still a requirement to create one at a human individual level.
(Continued – see part 2)