Getting Higher by Julian Vayne - a review

Getting Higher - The manual of psychedelic ceremony

Julian Vayne,

This is a unique book, which I have been waiting for the likes of for some time.

My first adult-life experiences of events that I framed as magical happened in my late teens, under the influence of acid. It wasn't until my mind-20s that I embarked on daily study and practice. This was in the late 1970s, and the world of magical writing - the serious sort rather than the various New Age dilutions - was dominated by the works of Crowley. I found Crowley's work interesting partly because he saw no basic problem in using psychoactive substances in the course of magical work. Most other magical writers seemed to shrivel up in horror at the mere thought.

However, Crowley was ultimately a disappointment to me in this area, as in a few others. He had used mescaline, one of what I thought of as the most interesting class of drugs, the psychedelics, but had written almost nothing about his experiences of it. Compare this to the essays on cocaine, opiates and even hashish, which he didn't particularly like. Even his attempts to revive the Eleusinian Mysteries using a kykeon that was probably part-mescaline are not really written up. Somehow, mescaline just gets left out. Somehow, Crowley ends up leaving no guidelines or even useful reports for the use of psychedelics in magic and mystical practice.

As magicians, in the end we have to work things out for ourselves. This is indeed what people have been doing, and finally Julian Vayne has come along and collated this useful knowledge of how to get the best out of these precious substances. This book is a report from years of solo and group experimentation.

The topics covered include: an exploration of why we might want to get high, discussions of set, setting and substance, introducing the terminology used by Shulgin and other experienced trippers, and a nicely-nuanced view of synthetic vs natural.

Over the years, one of the questions that got asked again and again was: Do we just appropriate a traditional ritual structure lock, stock and barrel, or do we use it is a template, testing each aspect of it so that we understand why each part is there, and then re-envisioning it according to our own culture? In Vayne's book, magic is introduced for the psychedelic experience by breaking down the usual elements and noting what is useful - so for instance there's a discussion of dress, lighting, the best attitudes for a group working and ceremonial speech. Magical techniques from breathwork to movement and drumming are looked at, as are issues of posture. Pathworkings for internal journeys are suggested, and things to do and make for more outwardly-directed phases of experience. Some of Vayne's own rituals are described, including his version of a Medicine Circle, in which a traditional structure is used as a starting-point.

Vayne's style, as in his previous books, embraces a good deal of anecdote, which is perfect for this kind of book. One keyword that comes to mind is 'inclusive', in the sense that Julian does not sneer at, for instance, rave culture, but instead explicates its structural similarity to other kinds of psychedelic ceremony. This inclusion is extended to the idea that there is nothing wrong with taking these drugs for fun. The word 'recreation' must at one time have meant something along the lines of 'remaking ourselves', and it is only the puritan mindset that is still amazingly prevalent in our culture that conditions us to think that enjoyment alone is not a good reason to engage in something.

Now, this is quite a slender volume, with a lot packed in. At £10.99 for 125 pages, pocket-book format, it would be an expensive book, but for the fact that there are illustrations - by the awesome Pete Loveday. (Check out the 'Russell' comics - highly recommended for countercultural humour and wisdom.). This connection is a nice link to the free festival scene, which all through the 1970s and 80s hosted much collective experimentation in the sacred and profane uses of psychedelics.

So buy this book. It connects things up. It is a new kind of thing, and long-awaited.


  1. Getting Higher by Julian Vayne is a nice book and everybody should read this book. Highly recommended to all. You will have good time while reading to it


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