Showing posts from 2011

Singing in the pub: The Sheffield Carols

Last Friday night, I went to the other side of town and sang carols in a pub. As my dear readers will know, I'm not at all keen on christianity. However, I do like a good sing, and I only learned last year that I live in a town that boasts a unique folk event, the Sheffield Carols. These are not any old carols; they are traditional words, but sung to locally-written tunes, often unusual and complex, with four-part harmonies and so forth. The groups are very local, and pub-based. Each group writes its own tunes, and works them up to a carol season that starts  in November.  ( )   The Old Harrow hosts other folk traditions too, including Sword Dancing ( . An idea of a carol session can be got at and On Friday, the opening song was 'While Shepherds Watched', bu

USA travels

England to Texas: It all started with a nightmare journey, the plane half an hour late out of Heathrow, leaving 1 hour and 20 minutes to get myconnecting flight at Chicago O'Hare. They kept us waiting in the first immigration queue for an hour, leaving just 20 minutes to get through the next 3 procedures. These were: get baggage from reclaim, get it security checked and then put it back on again. They didn't spare any farting about - the laptop had to come out of baggage, etc etc. Anyway, no time to recheck bag, had to run up to departure gate, where the excellent American Airlines staff sorted it for me. I was the last on board, 2 minutes before it left the ground. Deep joy, to be away from O'Hare's miserable incompetence and hostile security. Staying at my friend's place in Smithville, a hamlet near Bastrop, central Texas, we had a heatwave. 80+F all week, and a plague of biting insects. One morning in the bathroom, I noticed a brown scorpion about 15 in

Raise a glass to the memory of Philip Harper

On Tuesday I learned of the death of my friend Philip Harper. He was a truly extraordinary man, who lived his life in the quest for higher consciousness. Having been born with cysteinosis, he knew his life would not be long, and he packed more into his twenty-something years than most people manage in twice that or more. Right up to the end, he was still struggling: a few months ago, he ordered a very demanding esoteric study package. His final blog entry: 'I have now been told that their are no medical treatments options left to cure my cancer. At this point you reflect on the fact that although they or us may think doctors are gods, they are not. Whats left, all the non-medical options and a will to live.' For those who never had the privelege of knowing him, his blog is still up at  . His website is also still visible at   There is a lot more that I could say about Phil, but I want to get t

The Crowned and Conquering Brat: Some reflections on nippled cups, Grab Bags and baby talk

It's time I had a proper rant. Some of the things I dreamed about in the Playpower phase of my youth have come true, and I hate them. Crowley's magick takes us through a succession of Aeons: first, there is Isis the Mother, the Pagan Aeon, in which we are ruled by the laws of Nature. Then comes Osiris the Father, the Aeon of monotheism and, most recently (since 1904 according to Crowley), the Aeon of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, the beginning of the maturation of humanity beyond repressive laws. Yes, much of the old world had to go, such as the sexual repression horror of Victorian society that still lingered on. That was dealt a significant blow by the lifestyle rebellions of the 60s; the Aeon of Horus was still making sense. Fourteen years ago, it still made sense: In Chaotopia! I prized neoteny, which, biologically speaking is when individuals reach sexual maturity without developing all the other adult characteristics of that species; this is of course

More books for the market stall

Hello everyone, I need to slim down my book collection, so am selling the following. With some guideline prices, but any reasonable offer accepted, postage extra. BOOKS Stanton T Friedman - Top Secret / Majic. Hardback, first edition. £8 Ann Druffel - How to Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction, hardback £3 Ken Wilber - The Eye of Spirit, p/bk £5 David Madsen - Confessions of a Flesh-eater (complete with recipes) p/bk £2 Alex Constantine - Psychic Dictatorship in the USA p/bk £8 Robert Graham - Night Vision; The powers of darkness £10 Timothy Leary - Chaos and Cyber-Culture £7 And some CDs: Freya Aswynn - Shades of Yggdrasil. Includes the notorious recording of Crowley's Leah Sublime £8 All other CDs £5 Stuart Davies - 16 Nudes, Live Changes - Legends Blacklight Braille - The Castle of the Northern Crown (2 copies) " - Black Moon Selection &quo

Review of 'Reality' by Peter Kingsley

Reality, by Peter Kingsley A book the size of a housebrick-and-a-half, called 'Reality: now there's an author who's not lacking in confidence. In a nutshell? A 550 page commentary on two pre-Socratic 'philosophers', Parmenides and Empedocles, rooted in a passionate critique of the origins of so much of our culture and its limitations; origins that Kingsley claim lay in a hatchet-job done by Plato on the pre-Socratic mystical traditions. This book was a roller coaster ride for me. Right from the start, it got on my tits, with its attitude of 'your life is a pile of shit because you are not enlightened', the same superior cosmic style that I reacted to so negatively when I first encountered mysticism in my teens. ...Even though I find the idea of a radical deconstruction – no, scratch that, a radical rejection – of normal reality absolutely irresistible. In the language of this book, I still linger at the three-ways

Chap-ism: an appreciation.

Seldom have I ever been accused of sartorial elegance, and most of those few occasions have fallen in the last year, since I decided I was just too old to go on getting away with being... casual? louche?... no, just plain scruffy. Not that I was ever really scruffy - at least I always shaved. The current fashion, for neither having a beard nor not, gives us the unedifying spectacle of 50-something Oxbridge academics desperate to deny their age and just ending up looking like they could use a bath; but I have had a chequered relationship with the fashions that ran alongside my life. As a 60s teen I was a proto-punk anarchist, a bright soft tie worn as a headband in ironical reference to hippie style. I wore my hair down to my shoulders and felt I was part of a youth vanguard. A year later I cut it short, when I woke up to the fact that longhairs were not guaranteed to espouse radical, countercultural ideas, and so the longhair gesture was meaningless. In the 70s I sported a leathe

Review - Is There Life After Death? The extraordinary science of what happens when we die. By Anthony Peake,

This book was thrust into my hands by a fellow magician, because she'd found it interesting and thought it might be my kind of thing. I think the author would have me believe that this was significant, a signal from my Higher Self who reincarnates endlessly into the same body, the same life-cycle, again and again. For this is Peake's thesis - that we are each in one of the runs of our own personal, solipsistic, endless Groundhog Day. These repeats are an Eternal Return that differs only in tiny or great differences that increase with the degree of experience of the re-incarnating Self. This book follows a pattern familiar from the science-mystic fringe: introduce a wacky and exciting idea, back it up with an unusual stretch of interpretation from quantum physics, then proceed to contrast 'Western thought' unfavourably with some interpretation of Eastern mysticism. Peake kicks off with a dubious leap from the double slit experiment and the Copenhagen Interpretat

Adventures in Ireland 2: The pilgrim's mountain, Irish hyperreality and the island sanctuary

On Lughnasadh Sunday we walked up Croaghpatrick, the mountain from which the notorious St Patrick is supposed to have banished the snakes from Ireland ('What's that guy got against reptiles anyway?'). Over 15,000 people ( ) go up every year on that one day, and you can believe it – the long track is as busy as the Old Kent Road. It was a pretty unpleasant climb, especially after we ascended into the fog and rain, but an incredible spectacle: people of all ages and dress styles, being helpful towards each other. An old man with two sticks fell in front of me, and people gathered round to help him up, I got one of his sticks back to him, and he proceeded another three steps before falling again. And it didn't stint on weirdness: up on the summit, in fog, a speaker system blared out Mass and the confession queue snaked up to the tiny stone church. On the way back down I saw a little old man in suit and tie and brogues, strolling up th

Adventures in Ireland 1: Localism and the satnav; bathing in slime

I've now had my phone (destroyed by Irish rain) repaired, have devirused the main computer, welcomed another laptop into our home and taught it the house rules, had the car fixed following the breakdown it politely waited for us to get back from Holyhead to have, and fixed the shelf that fell off the wall in the middle of the night we arrived back. Yes, to a Ragnorok of household appliances. So now I can spend time writing my blog. Stuck in Dublin traffic we have time to discover our satnav's map is not just Britain, but the British Isles, so we use it to get out of Dublin and on our way to County Mayo. By nightfall, we are in Ballina, and, flushed with our earlier success, attempt to get the machine to direct us to Bonniconlan, the nearest village to the hamlet our friend Donal lives in. Judy tries various spellings (we're already alerted to the range of spellings employed as Gaelic turns into English), but the device is having none of it. So we try 'Knockroe', t

Review of 'Exhale: an Overview of Breathwork' by Gunnel Minett I first experienced connected breathwork at a workshop led by Ramsay Dukes at the 1991 IOT World Seminars in Lockenhaus, Austria. It was such an impressive experience, that 20 minutes of breathing differently, that I went home determined to learn how to do it. I bought the only books available at the time - 'Rebirthing in the New Age' (Yes; none of us is innocent) by Leonard Orr and Sondra Ray, and 'Vivation - the Science of Enjoying the Whole of Your Life', by Jim Leonard and Phil Laut. These were the in-house manuals of Rebirthing*, and its lineal descendant Vivation. The other great lineage of connected breathwork descends from Stanislav Grof, whose fascinating books do not tell you anything about how to do breathwork, so those two books really were the only ones at that time. A few more books have come out since then (see my website under 'Breathwork Resources' for a brief

Two Energy Magic workshops

Two posts in a day - I'm catching up, not setting a new pace for myself! The pilgrimage attitude: I bring something. This is the opposite of tourism, where I go to consume something, the something being ‘differentness’. (All travellers – read Hakim Bey’s ‘Overcoming Tourism’, at ) So I went on a ridiculously early flight to my Austrian workshop. Well, 7.15 is not in itself ridiculously early but factor in the 'arrive 2 hours early' acrobatics of current security and the fact that London's underground does not run all night, I had to get up at 3 in order to get 2 night buses. But at least it wasn’t Ryanair - no food ban, the flight is not packed (with people who’ve never been on Ryanair before), and the seats have pockets in the back for your books. There is no sense that you're a victim lured onto one of their flights to be bamboozled, tricked, and ripped off. And for no difference in price either. So I'm definitely

Heavens to Murgatroyd exhibition - some thoughts I know, the exhibition's been closed for weeks, so why am I bothering reviewing it? Well, certain features of this show and how it portrayed itself stuck in my throat, so here goes. First, check out the above, still-live link, the description of this exhibition - or just take my word for how grand it all sounds. Remember a day when art didn't need a slew of justification, an ocean of context, a swaying stack of theories? And I had reservations about the title - it's the expression of the 50s cartoon character Snagglepus. Wikipedia lists no magical dimensions to this pink lion, so unless the presenters of this show have some personal thing going about the magic of Snagglepuss, this title strikes me as shallow and lazy. Still, we're all acrobats of the double- and triple-bluff these PoMo days, so we went anyway; the whole shtick promised a real breakout thing. - but 8 pieces? And the 'installation'

Robert Leihy's Trip Manual

Robert Leihy's Trip Manual I posted my review of 'Psychedelic Information Theory' on Amazon, and, having retrospectively bemoaned the lack of non-dogmatic trip manuals in that review, I was pointed at this one by Mr Leihy. He has some very worthwhile things to say about the psychedelic experience. One of them is his contrasting of the rational mind with a 'spontaneous thought generator' that generates new content in psychedelic experience. This is like a concretization of the functions Kent (Psychedelic Information Theory) ascribes to spontaneous self-organization of the subunits that make up top-down consciousness, after the top-down control has been disrupted by psychedelics. He goes on to pull together the rational mind and the spontaneous thought generator into a single system, in which both new psychedelic content and rational thought are 'output from the spontaneous thought generator ... Rational thoughts pop up ju

More Energy Magic events plus a brief rant

In a couple of weeks I'm facilitating a workshop on practical energy magic, at the Hagazussa pagan festival in Austria ( This will be the other end of and hopefully a culmination of my first year of teaching energy magic, not to mention experimenting much more rigorously with it. The weekend after that I'm leading a one-day breathwork intensive in my home town of Sheffield. You can book at: Then the weekend after that, I'm back teaching energy magic again at the Pendle Witch Camp, my first visit to that festival. Looks like some good things happening, check it out at: While on the subject of 'subtle energies', I'll take the opportunity to resume my rant about parascience. Some of what science is doing to interface with 'subtle energies' is very good, like Chinese researchers making sense out of qigong in terms of physics.

Robin Williamson and John Renbourn in Sheffield

Robin Williamson and John Renbourne, Friday 15th April, The Greystones pub, Sheffield. The first time I saw Robin Williamson play was with the Incredible String Band, in Cardiff, in 1970, on an all-day bill which also included the Four Tops. For me, the String Band were the archetypal British Acid Folk band, and that had a lot to do with Williamson's strange, fey songs and his skill with numerous instruments, many no-one in this country had heard of until then. Between then and this gig I've seen him twice more, and both performances were different again - jug band style with Clive Palmer, bardic storyteller with harp. This performance was a bit of all of those, salted with amusing anecdotes from his long and interesting life. The gig was sold out and, in fact, heavily over-sold - there wasn't even any standing room by the time the players were on stage, and this made for a rather spiky, irritable crowd. All that changed, as people consumed their sacraments of bitter b

Review of 'Psychedelic Information Theory' by James Kent

Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason. James L. Kent, PIT Press / Supermassive LLC, 2010. My acid-drenched late-teens spanned the very end of the 1960s. I longed for ways to describe and understand my highs and, at that time, the only book that claimed to interpret psychedelic experience was Timothy Leary's book of that name, which, modelled on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, handed the entire thing, lock, stock and goofy (but superior) grin, over to oriental mysticism. What's more, the illegalization of acid in 1966 meant that book was left high and dry, washed up by the first wave of research, and so, by default, acquired a much more canonical status than it deserved. Another phase of investigation didn't emerge until the late 80s, when the MDMA craze catapulted psychedelics into the public domain again. Since then we've seen a cautious re-appearance of studies on psychedelic experiences; we seem, at

Spirituality Redefined for the Publishing World - Watkins's Top 100 In the Spring issue of the Watkins Review, that venerable bookshop shared with us their list of 'the 100 most spiritually influential living people'. Can we learn anything from this unusual claim? What new meanings of 'spirituality' can we work out from this list? Well, starting with numero uno, the top of what they refer to as 'The 100 Spiritual Power List', is someone I'd never previously heard of, Eckhart Toller. This list is mainly of people I've never heard of (63 of them), and of the other 37, I've mostly not read their books. But that's just me. The Dalai Lama is at #2; no surprise there; he would certainly fit most people's profile of the term 'spiritual'. Ken Wilber is at #9; that also doesn't surprise me - he tries to make sense out of culture and higher consciousness, so that qualifies as spiritual. I started getting puzzled, with Oprah Winfrey at

Review of Breaking Convention

Breaking Convention: a multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness. Fri April 1st to Sun Apr 3rd, University of Kent, Canterbury. I only made up my mind to go to this three weeks before the event, and by then the only B&Bs left vacant in Canterbury were in the £50+ pppn bracket. I took a look at the conference forum (isn't the internet marvellous), got a place to crash and acquired four passengers for my London-Canterbury drive, a motorized pilgrims' route through the gravel-island floodplain of Southwark and out along the Old Kent Road. The first night, there was a screening of 'DMT, the Spirit Molecule', the record of Rick Strassman's work with experimental volunteers. This film illustrates a major problem in every area of internal work which leads to staggeringly ecstatic states - that so many blissed-out people literally believe they are meeting angels, extraterrestrials and so on. They project the glory and r

Review of The God Instinct by Jesse Bering

The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life, by Jesse Bering In 'The God Delusion', it seems that Dawkins would like to give believers a good, sensible talking to about their irrational belief, in the faith that the searing light of reason will banish those ideological shadows. Jesse Bering's book is of a refreshingly different stripe; basically, he is telling us that we are stuck with a tendency to God-related thinking. He points out that our proneness to believe in God come not from ideology but biology. He takes the main elements that contribute to religious thought - the idea of a personal God, the idea that every life has a purpose, and the idea of life after death - and shows how our mental proclivities add up to a massive pressure to engage in such beliefs. Why? These behavioural features conferred selective advantages and, as many have pointed out, evolution produces survival, not tr