Author Archives: Duncan

The Retreat

The Retreat

From pain and irritation to bizarre insights and transcendent bliss. This book offers unique advice on how to tackle meditation retreats – and how to practise well in spite of them.

A frank, quirky and humorous memoir, its contents will speak to first-time retreatants as well as seasoned retreat veterans.

Paper copies can be obtained from Amazon US, Amazon UK or from wherever you like to buy books.

Handbook for the Recently Enlightened

Handbook for the Recently Enlightened

Enlightenment is easier these days than ever. You don’t even have to travel to the Far East, thanks to the discovery that in the West we have traditions every bit as effective. But how do we recognise enlightenment? What are the common errors to avoid? And what role should religion and philosophy play?

Whether you’re already enlightened or just starting out, be perplexed no longer! From meditation, chakras, past lives and the astral plane, to the recognition of emptiness, absolute truth and the nature of the divine, Duncan Barford shares his experience of the Buddhist and western occult traditions, offering unexpected insights into how to become enlightened with a minimum of fuss.

Paper copies can be obtained from Amazon US, Amazon UK or from wherever you like to buy books.

A Desert of Roses

Done is what has to be done… This is the third and final volume in a classic trilogy of magick that began with The Blood of the Saints and then The Urn. It comprises the writings of two contemporary magicians as they rediscover the true meaning of the western magical tradition and hurl themselves towards completion of The Great Work, also known as ‘enlightenment’.

Paper copies can be obtained from Amazon US, Amazon UK or from wherever you like to buy books.

Occult Experiments in the Home

book cover

Using occultism to understand the paranormal sounds like diluting water or burying earth, but in this thoughtful and unusual book Duncan Barford draws on a deep familiarity with modern magick to provide a valuable toolbox of concepts for exploring the relationship between consciousness and the paranormal. Writing in an accessible and humorous style, Barford examines intriguing first-hand accounts of poltergeists, telepathy, communication with the dead, religious phenomena and astral projection. The essence of his unique exploration is that the paranormal does not happen only to special people and on rare occasions. In fact, to experience the paranormal we need simply turn our attention to the nature of our consciousness itself.

This book describes magic as I know it: teasing, tricky and never quite as expected, and yet it leaves our lives so much richer in colour and meaning. Read it, do it, and take a new look at your world. —Ramsey Dukes, author of SSOTBME and The Little Book of Demons

Available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, or from wherever you like to buy books.

The Albadine and Other Stories

A boy with a doomed crush on his computer science teacher… A dying father haunted by strange memories of a beetle… A reclusive writer discovers how to impress a vampire… Survivors of a zombie apocalypse find safety in a seaside town… And a bizarre cult that hides beneath the floorboards of suburban homes…

In this collection of fifteen short stories Duncan Barford blurs the boundaries of literary and genre fiction to produce some unique and disturbing visions.

Paper copies or a PDF download are available for purchase worldwide.

Advanced Magick for Beginners

Advanced Magick for Beginners

This book delivers a genuine transformation of occultism.The author assumes no previous knowledge, only a willingness to explore what magick offers, yet it’s apparent to anyone with a background in the subject that Alan Chapman is drawing on a wide range of experience, from classical Crowleyean Magick, to eastern metaphysics, and back again to Discordianism and Chaos Magick. Chapman’s writing-style is humorous, direct, seductively logical, and his enthusiasm for the benefits of magick is both tangible and infectious. The novice magician will indeed find themselves equipped to commence all sorts of magickal operations: trance work, enchantment, divination, and even some of the higher forms of spiritual development. To experienced magicians, Chapman offers a subtler challenge: he revitalises magick by cutting it free from the extreme relativism Chaos Magick bequeathed, provocatively redefining it as: ‘the art, science and culture of experiencing truth.’

Copies are available from Amazon UK, Amazon US, or from wherever you like to buy books.

The Urn

Chapman and Barford are two contemporary magicians who have transformed the face of contemporary occultism by reviving the notion of ‘The Great Work’ and setting modern magick free from the dead-end of post-modern nihilism. The Urn is the second in the three-volume series of their uncensored magical exploits. Having successfully crossed the abyss, the two authors now set their sights on the goal of full enlightenment, setting out in detail their findings and techniques. On the way they encounter a guru who can enlighten people just by being near them; receive prophecies from an astral representative of The Great White Brotherhood; and explore the true significance of love and the meaning of life. Like the first volume (The Blood of the Saints), this compelling collection of essays, articles, rituals and interviews contains utterly unique material that lays bare the true meaning and purpose of magick in a straightforward and humorous style. It will prove an invaluable guide for anyone interested in understanding how the Western Magical Tradition remains an authentic source of wisdom for seekers after truth in the Twenty-First Century.

Paper copies can be obtained from Amazon US, Amazon UK or from wherever you like to buy books.

You Can’t Be Serious!

Are Alan and myself really claiming to be enlightened?

Yes, we are.

Are we serious?

Completely.

But we're also up for answering queries and criticisms from anyone who's interested enough to have any. In fact, I've taken the liberty of answering a couple that no one has even put to us yet. (But I bet they're thinking them!)

Why do you claim to be enlightened when everyone knows that's impossible?

The Buddha got shirty sometimes when people asked him this. He would reply with similes of blind men presuming to tell sighted people there's no such thing as colour. A declaration that enlightenment is impossible from someone who hasn't made the proper efforts to see for themselves carries no authority, of course. But the general question whether enlightenment is possible is completely valid and deserves a considered response.

Enlightenment entails an encounter with something that lies beyond experience: the Absolute. The assumption that enlightenment is impossible arises from the contradiction in the proposition that this unknowable can be known, or that that which is not a part of experience can somehow be sensed.

I used to hold this view myself, and no one was ever more astonished than me to discover that the confrontation with the Absolute simply makes this everyday logic of 'this or that' redundant.

If we wonder that something outside our experience can be available to our experience it's because we have identified a particular range of our awareness as 'us', as 'our experience'. Yet, in reality, we are simply not what we appear to ourselves to be. When we take the trouble to look, the self cannot be found in any sensation, idea, feeling or thought, but is something beyond all of these. The self, therefore, is already not any part of experience. The encounter with the Absolute, then, does not bring us into contact with anything alien to or in contradiction with the true self. Enlightenment is the moment when we realise that this everyday logic of 'this or that', 'self or other', does not apply to our true identity.

Buddhism teaches that there are six realms of existence: hell realms, hungry ghosts, the animal kingdom, the human world, the realm of the warring gods, and the heavenly gods. But it states that to be born in the human world is the most fortunate of births, because only in the human world is there the possibility of enlightenment. Clearly, there is something special about being human with regard to the process of awakening.

I've started to wonder whether this special human attribute isn't something specifically to do with our cognition, something to do with how we can know and react to truth. Because the attainment of enlightenment turns on realisation: the truth we arrive at through our understanding doesn't remain at the level of ideas, but enters into experience, into our existence. At the moment of realisation all of our efforts to get enlightened are finalised into a new relationship with reality. We become the fruit of our efforts.

If we understand magick as the art of experiencing truth, it might be said that human beings can become enlightened because they have the ability to practise magick.

You've simply deluded yourself by meditating too much!

This one, I imagine, is likely to be levelled at us by the green meme, postmodern crew. If you believe you're enlightened, they might say, then that's how it will seem to you; it's 'true' from your perspective. They might even add: And that's okay, because there's nothing worse about that reality tunnel than any other, as long as it's the one you've chosen to go down.

Unfortunately, the critic who assumes that being enlightened simply entails believing yourself to be so is probably going to be the least inclined or able to grapple seriously with the practices that actually lead to enlightenment, and thus unlikely to gain a direct understanding for themselves that this is not how things stand.

It took me three and a half years to arrive at that moment of awakening which occurred last month. Three and a half years spent meditating every day, or going off on retreats. During those sessions I looked closely at my moment-to-moment experience and disciplined my mind away from fantasies, speculation, idle philosophising, to concentrate exclusively on what was there in front of me, in immediate awareness. And the rest of the time, when I wasn't sitting in meditation, I was trying to do exactly the same thing in my daily life.

Does looking at what's right in front of you seem likely to lead to delusion? Does it seem likely that someone who has dedicated him or herself to this practice for a number of years and continues to do so will be more 'deluded' than someone who, on the basis of no experience whatsoever (because, according to him or her, there couldn't be any authoritative experience) has simply assumed they know better?

You decide!

Enlightenment

On March 6th, 2009, a Twitter message from Alan in India lit up my screen at work: It is finished.

This could mean only one thing: he'd attained arahatship, that degree of understanding traditionally described as 'enlightenment'.

Wonderful news. But now what? One of us getting enlightened meant The Baptist's Head had fulfilled its aim. So what would follow? And strongest of all were the feelings about how this impacted upon me: envy, frustration, fear that I might never achieve the same level understanding.

Bodhi svaha! I tweeted back to Alan, at the same time resolving to bring myself to the same level as soon as possible.

The Powers That Be

The last couple of fruitions in my meditation practice had been biggies. I'd sensed I was close, and had even wondered whether I might get there before Alan. (That would have been sweet! I'm pretty sure I beat him to stream-entry, by the way, but I've been trailing ever since.) It was time to obtain some heavy-duty guidance so, that same afternoon, I lit some incense of Abramelin, banished the temple, and invoked my Holy Guardian Angel.

The presence of the angel came through very strong. In answer to my question 'How can I make the grade of arahat as quickly as possible?' it gave me three runes: TYR (reversed), BEORC and WUNJO.

TYR (reversed) BEORC WUNJO

WUNJO was easy enough to decipher. It symbolises joy. In all communications my angel has used it to represent fruition or enlightenment. The outcome seemed assured, then, but how to make it happen quickly?

TYR reversed, according to the book I consulted, symbolised impatience and effort incorrectly applied. I had stepped up my practice recently in a bid to precipitate a final breakthrough. This was worrying; it was evidently the wrong approach. BEORC, however, was more positive: it represented a birth or coming into being. 'Any schemes in the works should be implemented right away', the commentary advised me.

I asked for a sign from my angel. The sky outside the window, which had been empty, instantly filled with birds.

Arahat Weekend

For the weekend of March 14-15th I'd reserved a place on two workshops with dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss who, I imagine, is no stranger to enlightenment. I'd also booked a two-week residential retreat at the beginning of April at a Buddhist centre. These would form the elements of a new plan: I would ease up on my meditation practice and try to relax into enlightenment, rather than forcing it through; and I would try to use the retreat and the contact with Titmuss as catalysts.

Yet even before deciding this – in fact, right from the moment I'd received Alan's message, a softening in my practice had already begun to set in. It had already begun to seem absurd to attempt to 'pressure' Emptiness into a conclusion. But after only a couple of sittings, this softening itself also became problematic.

I was confident that I was well-established at the level of realisation before enlightenment, known as 'third path' or anagami. This stage is characterised by the appearance of Emptiness to the meditator over extended periods, or 'in real time'. The apprehension of Emptiness, however, was limited to a particular point in my field of awareness, specifically associated with with my brow (ajna) chakra. Emptiness always gave a strong impression of being on one side, with me on the other side, set against it, although there was a paradoxical awareness that both were actually on the same continuum, as if situated at different points along a mobius strip. There had also been experiences – usually at or approaching fruition – when me and Emptiness would flip places, sometimes with Emptiness seeming 'over here' and me on the 'other side'. From my reading and my contact with highly-realised practitioners, I'd been led to believe that enlightenment comes when 'me' is completely identified with Emptiness, or – in other words – the process of identifying the self with sensations comes to an end through its having been seen for what it is.

So how was I to make that final jump from identifying with sensations to identifying with Emptiness? The softening tendency had already led to my abandonment of formal vipassana practice. It simply seemed more natural just to sit with Emptiness. But what was I supposed to do with it? If I focused my awareness on Emptiness, it solidified into an object of concentration, and I would find myself moving up and down through the various concentration states, or jhanas, which was pleasant enough but wasn't leading to any new insights. Yet if I left Emptiness alone and just sat, this seemed to go nowhere either, except into increasingly more contentless states that at times seemed to slip into that almost utter cessation known as nerodhi samapatti.

When in doubt, ask someone who's been there and done it! The workshops with Christopher Titmuss synchronistically rolled around. Titmuss doesn't teach meditation on these dayschools; instead he talks, and encourages people to talk to each other. Probably he's learnt the hard way that people don't themselves tend to like to learn the hard way, but talking about psychological stuff is the most likely inroad to the dharma that most modern westerners would be willing to follow. His themes for the weekend were: 'Does Anything Really Matter?' and 'The Powerlessness of Now'. Titmuss is a compassionate and lovely man who oozes realisation from every pore. By the end of the weekend I was so calm and focused on the dharma that in itself this seemed to have an effect. At the end of the first workshop, I asked if he would listen to a question about my practice. I briefly described where I'd got to. Instead of the struggle I'd had explaining myself to teachers in the past, he seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and what I needed.

'You don't need to practise anything,' he said. 'Just attend to that which is not Emptiness.'

That was it. I was confident this advice would prove correct. It was Saturday evening, and I sat two further sittings in which I put Titmuss's advice into practice. I noticed no particularly unusual states during these, except the feeling that my practice was moving forwards again. It felt 'right'.

The Eye in the Pyramid

A few days earlier, at the beginning of the week, I'd had a vision during my morning sitting. First, I'd seen an eye: unblinking, persistent and staring. Then I'd felt myself picked up and moved. My 'soul' was being transported. It was taken to a pyramid and ushered directly through the walls into the innermost chamber. Radiant white light filled my being as I entered. Inside, also bathed in white light, Alan's soul was waiting.

It was so cheesy it made me chuckle, but there was no denying the unusual power of the vision. Success seemed assured, but there's no oracle I've ever come across that seems able to put accurate timescales on its predictions. It might be years before I joined Alan in our gay Egyptian hideaway.

The timescale that Destiny was working to turned out to be far different from anything I'd expected.

Completely Unexpected

On Monday 16th March I woke at 2.50am wondering if someone in the building had put their washing machine on maximum spin. There was a sensation of heat and a strong, fast vibration in my solar plexus. It was a moment before I grasped the cause of the feeling was internal. And then, a moment afterwards, I noticed consciousness had changed in some strange way. There was a feeling of collapse and relaxation. A peculiar absence of striving.

I waited for a few minutes. If this were a dream or trance, then it would pass. But although the vibrations faded, the alteration in consciousness remained; in fact, it grew, and a sense of utter certainty established itself.

I knew it was done.

I got out of bed to meditate. Looking inward, I saw the configuration of the mind had changed to a degree I'd only experienced before after gaining a new path. When I tried to resume the practice that Titmuss had given me – 'attend to that which is not Emptiness' – I couldn't, because the practice had become redundant. Emptiness was apparent, but it was no longer set against or beside anything. The structure of my mind had shifted so that now, wherever I looked, everything was Emptiness.

My personality being the thing it is, I was gripped with doubt, anxiety, fear. Was this what it seemed? Would it last? But the doubts, anxieties and fears were arising against the background of this new configuration, where there was no sense of a separate me set against anything. So although my personality was doing the kind of thing it usually does, its products were seen through effortlessly as soon as they arose, or with the merest reflection.

Often, indeed, there are still things I experience that include a sense of 'me'. But under the new configuration these have become just that – i.e. they are experienced not as 'me', but as sensations giving rise to that. The whole, entire field of awareness is shot-through with Emptiness, which seems the most salient aspect of the new understanding. It is this that prevents 'me' from setting itself up in opposition to anything, as it used to. The old solid and separate 'me' has been stifled at its very root, and seems unlikely to return. This domination of the field of awareness by Emptiness is what is meant – I assume – by the saying 'Emptiness is Form', which is the realisation upon which arahatship depends. There is, then, a sense that all phenomena (including the sense of a perceiver) arise against a background of Emptiness. It might be described as seeming as if phenomena were 'blocking the view' of Emptiness; as if true seeing would occur if it weren't for all these impressions of objects in the way. From this perspective I understand the saying 'in the seeing, just the seen; in the hearing, just the heard', etc., which supposedly describes the moment-to-moment consciousness of the arahat.

A few minutes after 4am I returned to bed and slept. I dreamt that someone brought me a selection of nice PVC trousers to try on. I chose my favourites, then stood and performed the song 'Bombers' by Tubeway Army. I was aware that probably I looked absurd, but I enjoyed the song and the singing anyway. Why hadn't I done this sooner? I wondered.

I woke again at 6am and everything was in the same new state. I got up, meditated, and my observations were again the same.

The teaching and the workshops with Titmuss had created the space for the most unexpected thing to occur. I'd never expected it to come so soon, nor for it to be like this – which is a good indication that it really has occurred, because I still remember how third path (anagami) was completely beyond my wildest expectations. As this is too, with its bizarre mix of the ordinary and the strange. Of all the paths this one bears the strongest resemblance to no path at all.

Nothing has ceased of its own accord. Rather, an understanding has been arrived at that enables a view through and beyond everything that continues to arise same as it ever was.

I can't pretend the last week has been a blissful joy-fest. There is a lot of integration to be done. My obsession with enlightenment is unfortunately still in place: I catch myself obsessively scanning my inner processes for traces of unenlightened behaviour, checking I still 'have it', even though this makes no sense. The habits and obsessions are seen through as they arise, yet the tendencies that give rise to them are still fully active. My mind gives the impression of a flywheel mechanism that's no longer needed to carry the strain it used to, and now it's spinning super-fast, out of control, because there's nothing else for it to do.

On the two nights following awakening I was again disturbed by vibrations and heat in the solar plexus. Each night was weaker than the last, and there has been no recurrence since. I've also been bothered by headaches and migraine-like symptoms for a few days. These, too, seem to be passing. What remains at the moment are anxiety-dreams, which, I'm hoping, are a means for all the obsessive tendencies and unhelpful impulses that have grown up around my dogged pursuit of enlightenment over the years to blow off some steam and perhaps one day cease.

In the meantime, I intend to get on with things, just as I've always tried. I'd be untruthful if I said there's absolutely no change to everyday awareness. This path seems to have a very subtle background sensation, like the mental equivalent of constantly falling backwards. It reminds me of looking up into a colourless sky and watching snowflakes come tumbling down.