Sunday, 26 April 2020

Covid Special 2 from Chaotopia Newsletter

This is the Covid part of my last newsletter. You can sign up at



No two days are the same. I brought forward the date of this newsletter because it's all shifting so fast, so there's no shortage of necessary new thoughts to fill these pages. I don't think I ever truly expected to see times like these, when the irreversability of the flow of human life is so obvious, when there is no turning back to what went before.

None of what follows pretends to completeness.

An old family recipe for the Spring: how to make Dire drink. 

Be Like Odin, by Matthew Frederick (@putmyspellonyou)

Last newsletter I featured a tune composed from the DNA sequence of the coronavirus. Now people are doing something similar with the virus's protein structure, and for a different purpose. Audio sequences are helping scientists get their heads round the complexities of the virus's spike protein, which is how it attaches to human cells. 'This, the researchers say, is faster and more intuitive than conventional methods used to study proteins, such as molecular modeling.'

A book called The Knowledge: How to rebuild our world from scratch came out a few years ago, but of course is having a popularity surge. I have it but haven't had time to read it yet, but it looks interesting. Even if you're not planning to build a toaster from raw materials, you may still be curious about what it takes for such a thing to exist at all.


Now for the good news: Spain is introducing Universal Basic Income. Better still, 'the government’s broader ambition is that basic income becomes an instrument “that stays forever, that becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument”'.

In November 2019 David Graeber in Against Economics was wondering what it would take for the political world to come to its senses:
'Breaking through neoclassical economics’ lock on major institutions, and its near-theological hold over the media—not to mention all the subtle ways it has come to define our conceptions of human motivations and the horizons of human possibility—is a daunting prospect. Presumably, some kind of shock would be required. What might it take? Another 2008-style collapse? Some radical political shift in a major world government? A global youth rebellion? However it will come about, books like this—and quite possibly this book—will play a crucial part.'

That was just five months ago. Obviously, no-one in their right mind would have chosen the covid-19 pandemic as an ideal means to a better society, but now it's here, it'd be criminal not to make use of the opportunities it presents for change. Now we are seeing even the Bank of England admitting that 'money is just an IOU', and therefore the economic theory that has supported decades of neoliberalism is a fraud.

The bad news: some governments are of course enjoying the new powers that they are taking to themselves to 'flatten the curve' of infection. Emergency powers acquired by those in charge are seldom relinquished willingly when the emergency is 'over'.

Following up thoughts on the theft of the commons, and why we need and deserve UBI, here's an excerpt from Prof. Guy Standing's The Idler article.


Bear in mind that authoritarian script when you are enchanting for the next stage of the world. We have to be careful about how we define an emergency and how we judge when it's over. What is an emergency? How bad does it have to get to qualify?

To answer that question, we need to keep in perspective the whole covid-19 pandemic, and the high probability of similar pandemics in the future. We need to understand pandemics as just a part, albeit a very big one at the moment, of the business of life and death.

I'm definitely not suggesting as some are that 'the economy' is more important than people's lives. If you need to sacrifice people who' ve become vulnerable because of a broken social contract, then you've got a broken society and some kind of mantra of economic growth is a symptom of that dysfunction.

Rather, we need to keep in mind how big a demon coronavirus is compared to other diseases, or, say, to road accidents. Or to bad government. After all, we've been sold a crock of crap with the 'War on Terror'; off the top of my head, the figures go something like this: you are seventeen times more likely to be killed by your own furniture than by acts of terrorism. In lipservice to that tiny extra risk we spend extra hours on pointless security theatre every time we catch a plane, and that's a pretty minor inconvenience when laid aside what some deranged authoritarians would like to do to us using covid as an excuse.

So when you cast your next spell for a better world, remember to consider carefully the freedoms we have now and which we stand to lose.

The Reverend Danny Nemu writes: 'And here we are again, with front row seats as the curtain draws back on the biggest #apocalypse since the Early Modern period!
'Keep your hands sanitised and your sanity handy as you dig into that panic-purchased apoca-poca-popcorn and enjoy the show.'
Danny is well worth reading. Follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Claude Lecouteux - Demons and Spirits of the Land

Lecouteux is a deep scholar who is interested in the mysteries, principally the European stream. I've read another of his books, The Tradition of Household Spirits, which was very interesting but quite different to this one. I never had a sense with that other book of his having a thesis, a particular thing to prove. In this book, he has: the way that numinous experiences of the natural world are the bases of gods, and that the layer closest to this cultural process is where we find spirits of the land. He then traces how they got mutated, particularly by Christian theology, into demons.

Those of you who have wondered at such beings as elves and the various forms they are portrayed in will have some of their curiosity satisfied by Lecouteux's demonstrations of how such terms changed in meaning over the time of the Christian occupation. But it is in the cultural layers prior to this that he makes his boldest assertion, of where the gods and spirits come from in the first place.

If you read mythology, you are probably familiar ad nauseam with the 19th century academic notion that gods and spirits are the responses of 'primitive' peoples to the natural forces which toss them around; Lecouteux's thesis is not of that ignorant imperialistic stripe. Rather, he quotes Christian scribes who forbid worship of idols, citing trees, fountains and stones; people are understood as quite literally worshipping the numinous power of a place, not a named idol. He is suggesting we take literally the Christian notion that the Germans worshipped 'groves'.

This centres his argument on the raw experience of natural power in the environment. This notion of spirit is closer to Aldous Huxley's idea of mind-at-large - that intelligence is something we are embedded in rather than something we have inside our skulls. 

The naming of these spirits changed over the centuries. The author show us how giants, dwarves and dragons conceal land spirits. And our ancestors got mixed up with the land spirits too. A founder of a house might be buried there, and over a few generations becomes the guardian spirit of the household. In a similar way, bodies of kings and heroes were buried to protect the land from invaders.

He leads us through how our ancestors paid for their invasion of the wild places and kept on paying, by making sacrifice to the spirits of the land that he had displaced. The church decried those spirits as demons, and many are the tales told of Christian holy men who overcame these spirits and made the land habitable for Christians. In other words, people were then able to live in that place without respecting its numinous intelligence any more. So this Christian abolition of nature-sacrifice is the origin of our present despoliation of the land.

The depth of the sacredness of a person's relationship to the land they live on is emphasised by the author. In old Germanic law, 'the proscription of a man sought to expel him from his domain, thereby stripping him of his sacred nature (mannhelgi), which means to make him óheilagr, 'devoid of sacred nature'' (p110).

It is not a big leap to see how this happened on a vast scale with the enclosures of the commons in Britain; the souls of a large proportion of Britons were stolen, a sickness which still runs like a bloody wound down the middle of British politics.

If you are fascinated by the history of spirits in the lives of humans, check out this book. Lecouteux is a one-off, and very worth reading.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

From the March 2020 Chaotopia Newsletter Covid Special

I thought I'd republish this in my blog, so it's there for those who don't get my newsletter.


Welcome to Chaotopia in the season of plague. And thank you, all you readers, for signing up and reading these newsletters. It's gratifying to know that people find them worthwhile.

In this issue you'll get more than the usual one-paragraph intro, and the lower sections cover things from more than two weeks ago, that are already part of another world. Here are some thoughts and a few resources I've gathered.

I'm no youngster but this is a new and unique experience for me. The other plagues I've lived through, such as the early stages of HIV/AIDS, affected friends tragically, but this is the first one that's threatened everyone. Things really have changed; there's no going back to the old world.


When I was a child my parents used to say how much they missed the solidarity and community spirit of the war years. I asked, do you prefer war to peace? They said no, of course peace is better. But I was impressed by their nostalgia.

Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I might just be starting to understand what that felt like.

I think I first noticed this when I went to a music gig at a friend's place less than two weeks ago, pretty much the last social event I attended. The people there seemed to be appreciating each other more than usual. Eye contact was longer and with warmer smiles. We were valuing each other's company more.

Then there was the delivery man who brought a parcel I had to sign for to my door, the most cheerful delivery person I've ever met. I started to notice that people on the streets were smiling and saying hello more than they used to. And in fact that I was getting more sociable myself. I even overcame my dislike of Facebook and started using it for lighthearted socializing, rather than for just publicizing my writings and events.

Of course, not all behaviour has improved. The other day I asked the owner of our well-stocked corner shop if there was anything he was having difficulty getting enough of. 'Just toilet tissue,' he said. So that's the sector of the population whose thinking runs along the lines of 'I may die, but at least I'll die with a clean bottom.' John Higgs lampoons this with his usual elegance in his newsletter, which I strongly recommend you sign up for:

'In the twentieth century, the isolated individual was seen as a heroic, romantic figure. Now, the isolated individual is a fat guy with 72 rolls of Andrex and only one arsehole, which is his primary focus of concern.'

Which I think hits the nail right on the head and leads into:


For 40 years there's been just one political philosophy running everything. The world's idea-space has been throttled down to so-called Neoliberalism, the idea that the only form of organization which can possibly work is extractive capitalism, where everything is up for grabs by the greedy and powerful. The philosophy behind this is that we are all just selfish individuals struggling against each other to grab what we can before we die miserably in a pointless universe.

I'm old enough to remember a time when most people thought that the government's first duty should always be to its people rather than to big money.

As we see with the present crisis, the most valuable workers are those that are paid and respected the least, and that many of the best paid are worthless parasites. As David Graeber puts it:

Graeber wrote an excellent book called Bullshit Jobs. I'll be reviewing it soon, but basically it demonstrates that around half of all paid work, and maybe much more, is unnecessary. He also shows that, with few exceptions, the more important the work, the lower the pay and status it carries. Being a decent anarchist sort of chap he is also giving the book away here

This idea is followed through by Azrya Cohen Bequer who writes in his 'What Psychedelics Told Me about the Coronavirus':
'I see a tremendous extinction of the nonessential sweeping across our economy'

Other resources for thinking about the future include this, which suggests that the time has come for governments that will actually take some control again and rein in the lethal effects of unrestrained capitalism.

And then there's Universal Basic Income. A few centuries ago, the commons were stolen from the people with the Enclosure Acts, leaving a large proportion of the population with the choice of starvation or wage-slavery. This process continues with companies such as Nestle stealing water supplies. As automation reduces the need for human labour, we need to demand support for all. Do they owe us a living? Those old punks Crass would answer thus.

Once the temporary version of UBI is in place, maybe people will want it to stay there. Here's a petition to that end. 
Just learned that Scotland is considering UBI. It's no longer unthinkable.

One appealing suggestion is to just stop worrying about 'the economy' for, say, three months. Give everyone UBI, freeze rents and debts and just make sure essential services are maintained. After all, governments are quick enough to notice the Magic Money Tree when banks are in trouble, and they produce nothing. This will of course not happen, because it would basically give the whole game away, showed that the emperor of 'the economy' is not clothed in anything from the real world.

Another lesson we're learning is that current governments are incompetent and that we are therefore on our own when it comes to important matters such as survival. So we have to practice:


All sorts of organizations have sprung up or extended themselves to help those more vulnerable to covid-19. On my street, there's a WhatsApp group called Here to Help. We're leafleting the street, so people who are more vulnerable have someone to talk to and maybe get help with their shopping dropped on their doorstep and so forth. Then there's Sheffield's local alternative magazine Now Then, which link will lead through to a Facebook group Mutual Aid.


So how do we live and how do we feel during all this? Only total morons and scumbags hypnotized by money are suggesting we ignore the pandemic and get on with life as usual. On the other hand, it makes little sense to panic about it. Use this time to do something special with your life. Maybe even connecting with people in ways you've not done before. 

Lockdown gives us the opportunity to work on what kind of world we'll emerge into. Magical writers are coming up with some great stuff. Julian Vayne has written three covid-related posts on his excellent Blog of Baphomet. I suspect he's not the only magician who's suggested framing the isolation experience as a magical retirement or retreat. That's certainly how I'm looking at it.

These posts include a superb suggestion for coordinated workings, with this sigil:

And a tune composed from the DNA sequence of the coronavirus.

My partner's and my spin on this is at the bottom.

Gordon White has a few suggestions in Prescriptions for the End of the World. One of my favourites is: 'Remember a brave thing you did'.

So get enchanting, people. Don't waste a good crisis.


Connected Breathwork:
All my breathwork coaching is online for the duration of the pandemic. I've been coaching breathwork via Skype for years, so I know online coaching works great.

Free classical music concerts in your home
OK, Classic FM do run golf adverts, which gives an unflattering picture of their core audience, but forgive them, this is good.

Breathing, Biofeedback, Group coordination:
Just before the pandemic reached here, I met Kira Zhigalina, an artist who has had this made:

'SYM is a light biofeedback device for deep diaphragm breathing entrainment. It is for everyone from mindfulness and meditation practitioners to anxiety sufferers, and anyone who is looking for tools to tune in rather than tune out.' 
'It is an offspring of Symbiosis, - an interactive art installation. Using sensors, the participants' breathing is visualised in moving LED lights. Having the capacity of 8 active participators, the LED filled dome is an immersive magical environment that people can walk into. Once inside they sit on benches equipped with sensors. The installation is designed to guide participants to use slow diaphragm breathing, through the location of sensors and software response.'
Check it out here and here.

I've had a go with the single use version and Kira is now putting an online option together.
This will be perfect for getting people into synch for doing group magic. And very much fits the time of plague.

And of course there's always the Virtual Pub; why not (not) go to the Staying Inn?

And while you're in the Staying Inn you can listen to folk singer Nigel Pennick's new song about the coronavirus - Never Say Die.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

An old Spring drink

When I was a kid one of the things I loved about April-May was the drink my mum made. A golden-brown liquid, fizzy and sweet and a little murky with yeast. She would pack me up a small glass bottle of it for me to take to school.

Just as much, I loved collecting the ingredients. It'd be a family outing on the weekend, to somewhere the London suburbs started turning into countryside. We'd look for the four herbs, two of which were very familiar, one less so and one I'd never heard of till mum showed it me.

Then there was the fragrant cooking up of all this greenery in a massive pan with the sugar and then the yeast, baker's yeast from the bakery spread on a slice of toast and floated on top of the lukewarm liquid. A couple of days later, it was bottled and left in the cupboard to fizz up a few more days.

Mum called it Dire, and had different names for two of the herbs, names from her Northampton village. What I later learned was generally called Goosegrass she called Scratchweed, and Germander Speedwell she knew as Gill.

Germander Speedwell used to grow all over the place, apparently. You'll probably have more trouble finding this herb than any of the others, unless you live in the country. This may be connected with its history as a medicine - it was drunk as a tea in 18th century London for lung, skin and blood problems, to the extent that it was practically eliminated from the capital's green places. If you can't find it in your neighbourhood, you may be able to order the plants online. I pre-ordered some small plants for delivery late April.

Dire was in all probability a herbal health drink for the spring, a broadside of herbal goodies to banish the sicknesses of winter. Here's the recipe, in honour of my mum and the lineage she drew upon, and in honour of the spirits of springtime.

Dire Drink

Dandelion heads, picked when open: 4 pints (these are all Imperial measures)
White deadnettles, or stinging nettles, stems and leaves: 2 pints
Scratchweed stems and leaves: 2 pints.
Gill: 1 pint.
Sugar 1lb
Yeast (beer yeast is good)

Boil herbs for 1/2 an hour or more. Strain liquor off, dissolve sugar. Make up to 1 gallon.
Allow to cool to blood-warmth. Add yeast.

Allow it to ferment in a covered crock or brewbin till it's fizzing. Siphon off from the yeast deposit and bottle in strong screw-cap bottles. Leave a few more days until it's clear-ish and fizzy.

Added after this year's brew:
I had a vague memory of my mum maybe using a lemon in it. So, added a teaspoon of citric acid to the brew - flavour is definitely more as I remember it from childhood!