Author Archives: Duncan

Magick and Enlightenment: A Recap

During the introduction to some dharma workshops I attended at the weekend, everyone was invited to say something about their practice and their connection with Buddhism. Explaining myself to a Buddhist group was an interesting exercise in making clear the relationship between magick and the dharma.

The aim of the Western Magickal Tradition – I explained – is the same as that of Buddhism: enlightenment. The specific act of magick that fulfils this aim is known as The Great Work. The magician achieves The Great Work through the invocation of an entity known as The Holy Guardian Angel. The angel leads the magician across the Abyss, which is the gap between our ordinary perception and metaphysical experience. This culminates in the magician's first awakening, a temporary experience of enlightenment. By engaging in further work with the angel, eventually the magician achieves union with it – which is equivalent to 'full' or 'final' enlightenment.

In Buddhist terms, the angel is a representation of Emptiness. Angel and Emptiness are the same thing. Magick is the art of experiencing Truth, so the Western magician uses the angel as a dualistic representation of non-dual, unrepresentable Emptiness in order to bring about a direct experience of Emptiness through magical means. Because it employs magick, the Western Tradition often proves the most direct and fastest route to the realisation of enlightenment, but it is not without certain risks to the ignorant and unwary.

Where the Western Tradition has fallen down, however, is in the clarity of its teachings. The Buddhist teachings are more straightforward, whereas western occultism has been subject to vigorous suppression by exoteric religion, and has also been corrupted and misunderstood by its own supposed practitioners.

The most common corruption of the Western Magical Tradition is the practitioner's inability or refusal to use magick in the realisation of The Great Work, but instead to limit its use to sorcery or 'low' magic. The Buddhists texts on meditation accept the development of psychic powers or siddhis as a corollary to awakening, and include similar warnings on the dangers of mistaking these powers as an end in themselves or a substitute for enlightenment.

In the Western Tradition, however, competency in magick is an absolute prerequisite for The Great Work. The reason for this is simple: to summon the angel, one must be familiar with the technique of invocation; to communicate with the angel, one must know how to work with spirits; to make decisions about directions to be taken, divination is essential, etc. In short, The Great Work demands proficiency in all areas of magick.

When properly understood as a genuine tradition, the Western Magical Tradition places magick in the service of enlightenment. As the magician moves surely and swiftly towards the realisation of the aim (which is inevitably successful because it is the expression of a magical act) then his or her magical abilities are developed and perfected at the same time.

It is for this reason that the Holy Guardian Angel is often described as 'the future magical self'. Union with the angel – let us remember – is the realisation of Emptiness, and so magick placed at the service of enlightenment bootstraps the magician into awakening to his or her ultimate nature.

What LAM Did for Us

Looking back through my magical diary, I was surprised to discover the important role played by the extraterrestrial entity LAM in the foundation of The Baptist's Head and my embarkation upon The Great Work.

Remember LAM? The egg-headed alien, assumed by many to be the prototype of our modern-day 'alien grey', inadvertently summoned into our dimension by an ill-considered magical working of Aleister Crowley? The very same whom Alan argued (convincingly, I think) is in fact only an inept invention of Kenneth Grant, spawned from his misinterpretation of an equally inept 'portrait' by Crowley of the Chinese sage Lao-Tzu [1].

LAM

A nest of synchronicites, with LAM at its centre, brought Alan and I into each other's orbit. I was new to magic at the time, but had joined a group of which Alan was also a member. I had been reading Promethea by Alan Moore and remember being struck by how Moore rendered the tarot card 'The Judgment' as Harpocrates, 'the silent god', with the face of Harpo Marx [2].

On the way to a meeting of our group I listened to a podcast by The Viking Youth, which contained the first references I'd heard to the supposed connection between space aliens, LAM, and Crowley's Amalantrah Working.

At the meeting, one of the rituals involved making contact with a 'machine intelligence' from the future. During this I received a vision of a alien 'grey', with its lips sealed – hardly surprising, perhaps, considering what I'd been reading and listening to. I mentioned my vision to Alan, who I hardly knew at the time. 'Have you done any work with LAM?' he asked. 'Funny,' I answered, 'I was listening to a podcast about him on the way here.'

Later in the same meeting, Alan presented a ritual that involved a petition to the Egyptian god Heru-pa-khered. As the name suggests, this god was the forerunner of the Greek Harpocrates and shares the same iconography: a finger against his lips in a gesture of silence. Both gods are also strongly identified with Horus.

It seemed that LAM was calling me, so on March 5th, 2006, I made contact with him for the first time, following the specific instructions provided by Grant. Immediately I obtained some odd results: such as opening my eyes as directed by the instructions, only to discover that temporarily I could not see; and reaching up to touch my face, only to discover I appeared to have no head! At the end of the working, I requested LAM to make a sign in the sky that contact had been established. A couple of days later, I found myself staring in wonder out of the office window with my colleagues, at a strange rainbow-coloured light in the daytime sky [3].

With results like these, no wonder I went back for more! The second working, March 8th, was less intense. I began to realise how LAM is not a 'personality' but more 'the idea of an operation; that one must do certain things to obtain a result'. Among other stuff, I was advised of the importance of the heart chakra and given a vision of 'black wine' that I must drink in order to change myself forever.

This last theme reappeared in the third working, March 12th, as a 'black sea' that I tried to enter, but caused a stir among the gods because 'I was not advanced enough'. I was advised to aquire an ankh, to meditate upon it and to wear it – which, later, I did. A boat came towards me, and this I took to mean that by working with the ankh I might cross the black sea.

The fourth working on the 15th included a prophecy: the arrival of a person. 'Look out for them and listen to what they say,' LAM was telling me. I was then told explicitly: 'Ask Festoon'. At the time, this was Alan's magical name. (Hey, I can't knock him: in those days I was going by the monicker of 'Frater Vacuum'.) The vision then presented an image of Alan looking through a microscope.

It was this explicit instruction from LAM that led to Alan and I discussing the possibility of working together, making podcasts and setting up a website – long before either of us harboured any explicit notion of 'The Great Work'.

Perhaps LAM's work was done at this point, because the fifth working (March 19th) was vaguer and inconclusive, and I began to wonder if he was actually having a positive effect.

The sixth (March 26th) was vaguer still. I had a sense that messages were being passed to me, yet I was – again – 'not advanced enough' to decipher them.

The seventh, and the last, on April 9th, was also unclear: 'a strong sense of silence about to be broken. Of a voice about to be heard… He expresses that which is on the borderline of communication'. And: 'there is information in the air and in the sky. It is in a material that we have not managed to decode yet… The communication is all around us, but appears in a form so mundane or indistinguishable that we do not perceive it as a signal'.

That was the last I ever heard from LAM – and the last he ever heard from me. Looking back, however, it seems there are clear precedents in these workings of what would follow: the crucial alliance with Alan; the 'black sea', as an abyss that I would cross (into 'stream entry'), but at the time was not sufficiently advanced to comprehend; the silence and the overlooked communications, which now could perhaps be read as a naive inklings of the notion of emptiness.

Thanks, LAM! You helped me a lot! Not bad, considering your origins in the insane ravings of Kenneth Grant. It would seem that even the most contrived and ridiculous imaginings have something to offer if approached in the right way. Or perhaps it was simply in his true identity as Lao-Tzu that LAM was guiding me along.

Notes

[1] Alan Chapman, 'Who Let The Greys In?', Fortean Times, No. 231 (January, 2008). Or see the version of the article on this website.

[2] Alan Moore & J.H. Williams, Promethea: Book 2 (Titan Books, 2003).

[3] After some Googling, the material cause of this seemed to be sunlight on ice-crystals in the atmosphere.

Spirit Communication: An Interpretation of ‘The Cross Correspondences’

The Cross Correspondences are often described as the best evidence ever produced for the survival of the personality after death. They are a voluminous collection of writings or 'scripts' produced by a group of mediums between the years 1903 and 1931, purportedly representing communications from a group of dead people. Chief among this group were three prominent and founder members of The Society for Psychical Research (SPR): Henry Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney and Frederick Myers.

The SPR was founded in 1882 and marks the beginning of organised research into the paranormal. Back in the day, paranormal phenomena attracted the interest of the brightest minds. Presidents of the SPR included professors, members of The Royal Society and even a Nobel laureate. Sidgwick, Gurney and Myers were themselves exceptional bright-sparks and after they passed on, members of the SPR reasoned that if anyone could produce evidence of survival then these three were probably better placed than anyone else – assuming, of course, they had survived. And so, a series of sittings with a talented medium was arranged, and – sure enough – communications from the three of them started to come through. However, these weren't your standard 'Fred wants you to look after his garden' type of communications. For starters, they arrived through a group of mediums, some of whom were aware of each other, but some of whom weren't and – in addition – were widely separated from each other geographically. What's more, some of these mediums contacted the SPR unprompted with messages from the dead individuals concerned, even though the project was a secret within the organisation.

The messages themselves contain floods of strange imagery and disjointed phrases, which were a puzzle even to the mediums who channelled them. Yet when they were examined by interpreters appointed by the SPR they were found to consist of allusions and quotations from an astounding range of classical and literary texts. Some of the scripts only yielded their full meaning when read in conjunction with other scripts, which – it should be remembered – had been produced by different mediums in different locations with no knowledge of what their colleagues were producing. The communicators from 'the other side' had been formidably versed in the classics, to such an extent that the interpreters were still teasing out obscure meanings years after the scripts been produced. Many of the references that emerged had highly specific relevance to the lives of the individuals from whom they had supposedly originated.

Star bedecked the head – the broidered robe – the stars singing in their spheres. You have made a mistake about the robe, but never mind – I want a simple sentence known to you and you will not write it. The love that waits beyond Death. Say that – try again – she looked long, gazing, gazing – piercing the distance with eager eyes, that is better the plighted troth – roses for a maiden dead say that try again Gurney – let the pencil move freely – Help – there is one who asks your help – try again. (Roy, 2008: 201)

This is just a tiny sample. Although the messages on the surface seem vague, senseless, or at the very least wildly indirect, this allusive and distributed form of communication had the advantage of validating itself against its supposed origins. It couldn't all be due to the imagination of the mediums concerned, but indeed appeared to be originating from several specific – albeit disembodied – personalities.

Yet if these texts are really the overpowering evidence for after-death survival that some people claim, why hasn't everyone heard of them? There are various solid reasons why not. Firstly, the scripts and their interpretation are complex: anyone who wants to form an opinion is going to have to take time out and study them and the context in which they were produced. (I certainly wouldn't relish writing up the topic for Wikipedia.) Secondly, although partial accounts of the scripts have appeared in public (for instance Heywood 1978: 75-87), for years the SPR kept researchers at a distance, because some of the material was of a highly personal nature. These days, however, everyone who might have been personally affected by the revelation of this 'personal material' has sadly passed on. For the first time ever, the complete saga of the Cross Correspondences has been told in The Eager Dead: A Study in Haunting by Archie E. Roy. The full story is more bizarre than anyone could have imagined.

Archie Roy is a conservative soul. His book is partly a eulogy of the Victorian era and it's hard to criticize him for this, because back then it seems people really did know their place and behaved themselves, yet had big ideas and achieved great things, and – due to precisely this attitude – Britannia well and truly ruled the waves. The original members of the SPR likewise were drawn from the ranks of the great and good among the British establishment. But the image of gentlemen scientists fearlessly confronting the great question of existence breaks down decisively, in my opinion, once the communicators beyond the grave started to reveal 'The Plan'.

To describe 'The Plan' demands a sketch of the relationships and personalities of some of the people involved. Members of the illustrious Balfour family were active participants on the SPR scene. Henry Sidgwick had married a sister of Arthur James Balfour, who himself subsequently became one of the sitters, thus adding a British Prime Minister to the roll-call of luminaries connected with the SPR, for he indeed fulfilled that office between 1902 and 1906. Arthur Balfour never married and was a very private individual. When you think of how Gordon Brown did the decent thing and got hitched as soon as it looked half-likely he might get the top job, you realise that Balfour wouldn't have stood a chance of election these days. However, he had fallen deeply in love in his younger days, with Mary Lyttleton, who died prematurely of typhus. For the rest of his life he remained faithful to the memory of Mary.

The entities sending their communications through the scripts implored that Arthur Balfour should sit with one of the mediums, a 'Mrs. Willett', whose real name was Winnifred Coombe-Tennant, at the time a well-known public figure involved in various aspects of social reform, and a British delegate to the League of Nations – who safeguarded her credibility by keeping her mediumistic activities a closely-guarded secret. The scripts that resulted from this sitting and subsequent sessions convinced Arthur Balfour – because of their references to intensely private matters that no one living could have known about – that the communications were genuine, and were indeed originating from his lost love Mary who was waiting for him beyond the grave. Mary afterwards became a regular member of the group of communicating entities.

Not content with reuniting divided lovers, the dead, it seemed, wanted to get even more 'hands-on'. Edmund Gurney declared his love for medium Winnifred Coombe-Tennant through the scripts, and slowly 'The Plan' was revealed: that Winnifred should bear a child, whose paternity would be shared among the dead communicators, although chiefly by Gurney. And this child would be no ordinary baby, but a messiah who would lead humanity into a new golden age of peace.

At the time, Winnifred was locked in a loveless marriage to an older man; happily, however, she discovered a mutual attraction to one of the sitters, Gerald Balfour, brother of Arthur. Gerald was also married – but no matter; the result of their liaison in 1913 was a son, Henry Augustus Coombe-Tennant.

Henry's true paternity was also kept secret – although the undisguisable ph
ysical resemblance and some dropped hints enabled various people to work out that Gerald was really Henry's dad. Gerald's wife eventually came to terms with what had happened; the reaction of Winnifred's husband, however, has gone unrecorded. So what of the new messiah, Henry Coombe-Tennant? I know what you're thinking: the fact he's not a household name doesn't bode well for the authenticity of 'The Plan'.

Given his pedigree, it's unsurprising that Henry turned out to be another bright-spark. He went to Eton, then up to Cambridge, and from thence into the army. He saw active service during the Second World War, was taken prisoner by the Germans, escaped, and parachuted back into active service again, this time as a secret operations agent in occupied France. What Henry did after the war is not a matter of public record, because he worked for the British intelligence agencies, particularly in the Middle East. By this stage of his life he was aware of the grand destiny that had supposedly been mapped out for him, yet the people close to him and 'The Plan' began increasingly to despair of how he seemed less and less likely to realise it. The final blow to their hopes came in 1960, when Henry underwent a religious conversion, became a Roman Catholic, and entered a monastery. Major Henry Coombe-Tennant became Dom Joseph Coombe-Tennant. He died at the monastery in 1989.

The full story of the Cross Correspondences is indeed a very tangled web – and this summary isn't the half of it! Archie Roy's book runs to almost six hundred pages and involves far more than the outline I've presented here. But let's break down what we've got so far:

1. Members of the British establishment engage in communication with spirits.

2. The spirits communicate in a specific kind of language, and assist in the decoding of the message as part of their communications.

3. The spirits issue prophecies and injunctions for the purpose of bringing about historical change.

4. The communications culminate in an injunction to perform a sexual act that contravenes the moral codes of the era.

We can call this work 'psychical research' if we like, but in 1582, when John Dee and Edward Kelly undertook something strangely similar, it was regarded differently.

Unsatisfied with his progress in the fields of science and mathematics, Dee, a close advisor to Queen Elizabeth I – and probably a spy in her service – began seeking contact with angels and to this end enlisted the services of Kelly as his scryer or medium. The results of their work included books of prophecy and magick dictated in the angels' own language, 'Enochian'. The angels also instructed Dee and Kelly to travel around Central Europe and reprimand its monarchs for their ungodly ways. Amazingly, they did so, and yet somehow avoided execution. The end of their association came shortly after the spirits instructed them to swap wives. Dee was horrified by the prospect of this 'cross-matching', as he called it, but was convinced it was the will of God, and so in May 1587 it went ahead. The traditional interpretation of the breakdown in the magical partnership of the two men is the failure and embarrassment caused by the wife-swap, but this is perhaps debatable (Tyson 1997: 32). A circumstance not often mentioned is that a son was born to Dee's wife the following February (Woolley 2001: 295). Dee never raises the question of the child's paternity in his diaries, but he must have wondered.

And perhaps we're left wondering too: whether it's inevitable that anyone attempting sustained work with spirits, whether in the name of 'science' or 'psychical investigation', will eventually be talked into committing some kind of faintly absurd sexual faux pas. By the time the participants find themselves considering whether they should make a baby so he can become a messiah and save the world, or should swap wives in order to realise the will of God, perhaps they also need to admit they abandoned scientific method a long way down the road behind them.

What they're doing is dubious science, but possibly effective magick. Sex magick, of course. Imagine if the spirits had asked Aleister Crowley to perform a similar act. He wouldn't have batted an eyelid, because the advantage of Crowley's approach is clearly visible in this context: by consciously freeing himself from the taboos of his culture through sex magickal practice (he was, after all, a contemporary of the SPR researchers) Crowley side-stepped the neurotic torments of guilt and disgust that Dee endured and the SPR sitters also had to contend with. Crowley also forearmed himself against the embarrassment, the disappointment and sense of anticlimax that possibly scuppered the Dee-Kelly working, and perhaps also spoiled the outcome of the SPR communicators' plan. Crowley's approach immures the magician against a further possibility: that the spirits are simply dicking the participants around. Whether you understand 'spirits' to refer to independent entities, or repressed psychological complexes, in the cases of both Dee and the SPR it looks suspiciously as if the spirits were pushing the sitters beyond the limits of what was considered acceptable behaviour, just so they could roll about laughing.

Meric Casaubon (1659) was among the first to express in writing the opinion that the spirits with whom Dee trafficked were devils, not angels. It's difficult to decide whether the 'cross-matching' was proffered to Dee as a practical joke, or an authentic tantric working that might have widened his spiritual consciousness. However, the SPR communicators' plan for making a baby that would save the world is certainly – I'd suggest – tending toward a corrupted teaching. The idea that another person can eradicate your suffering is naïve. (Too bad that a great deal of modern Christianity is based on precisely this interpretation of the life of Christ.) A teacher might be able to point the way, but – putting aside wishful thinking – each of us must do our own work to liberate ourselves. Depending on someone else for this leads only to the dead-end of blind faith.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a strong messianic impulse at work in the culture. Within the Theosophical movement this took the shape of the belief that the child Jiddhu Krishnamurti was destined to become the World Teacher. In European society at large it might be argued that the ultimate manifestation of this messianic current was the fascist dictatorships of the 1930s. That Krishnamurti eventually rejected his role as World Teacher, and spent the rest of his life teaching 'you must become liberated not because of me but in spite of me', suggests that the Theosophical messiah had far more spiritual weight behind him than the fascist ones.

The SPR communicators always claimed they were the surviving personalities of Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney, but the sitters were never completely able to eliminate the possibility of what they called 'super ESP' – the possibility that the communications came from a telepathic source that had access to the personalities and experiences of dead people, but was not those dead people itself. In other words, could something have been pretending to be the people concerned?

If the messianic nature of the teachings doled out by the spirits seems suspect, the question of the spirits' identity is doubly so. Here we arrive at the central paradox of trafficking with dead people. To affirm their identities as the dead, the spirits had to demonstrate they possessed the more or less intact personalities of the people in question. Yet if those personalities were indeed still active, then in what sense could they be said to be 'dead'? It would be more accurate to describe them as merely 'disemb
odied'. But then if they were disembodied, why did they demonstrate such a concern with earthly, bodily issues – the spirit of Gurney professing its love for the medium Winnifred, for instance; or Mary wanting to sort out hers and Arthur's relationship issues? The karma (in its proper sense) of all these dead people was still very much active. What's more, by engaging with it, the sitters were allowing that karma to continue to spin the wheel of suffering upon earth.

Our confidence in the dead is perhaps undermined even further when we consider the following description by the spirit of Gurney of the state that he finds himself in:

The nearest simile I can find to express the difficulties of sending a message – is that I appear to be standing behind a sheet of frosted glass – which blurs sight and deadens sound – dictating feebly – to a reluctant and very obtuse secretary. A feeling of terrible impotence burdens me – I am so powerless to tell what means so much – I cannot get into communication with those who would understand and believe me. (Roy, 2008: 178)

He seems to be implying that he's still subject to perceptions of some kind (sight, sound), to desire, to a division of self and other… If he's really dead, he doesn't seem to have made a good job of dying! Certainly, he doesn't strike me as a wise entity whose advice I'd be confident to trust; he simply sounds like a man with 'issues'. But what else could we expect of a personality that has survived death? It's just a personality, after all. And don't we have enough of those to contend with on this side of life – our own personalities included?

Dee adopted a preferable approach, electing to talk to spirits that had never been human. If their injunctions seemed bizarre at times, this was presumably because the sphere of earthly concerns was the only domain in which they could make their extra-human intentions intelligible to us.

I began Roy's book with anticipation, because I'd read impressive things about The Cross Correspondences, and I do believe they represent a magickal working on a comparable scale to the angelic workings of Dee and Kelly. But I never expected I would come away more suspicious of the SPR work as a consequence.

One of my suspicions is positive, however – and that concerns the assumption that the SPR working was a total failure. When Henry entered the monastery, there was still some forlorn hope that he might one day become Pope and change the world. He didn't, of course. But, like Jiddhu Krishnamurti, the Theosophists' intended messiah, there is the possibility that he attained personal liberation and in this sense transformed the world. It's too bad that Henry's upbringing and his work for the secret services instilled in him the habit of keeping silent about his personal experiences. However, among the effects left at the monastery after his death, Roy recovered the script of a talk Henry once gave about his life. It contains the following reticent yet suggestive passage:

[W]hen I was serving in Baghdad, I became involved in a sequence of events and experiences whose significance seemed to me to transcend their actual content. I don't want to be questioned about these events or experiences. It will be sufficient to say that there was a period of profound mental and physical suffering, during which (if I may put it this way) my own ego, which had for so long been the self-sufficient centre of my inner life, disintegrated. I have grown a new ego since, of course, though not a self-sufficient one, but at that time there was nothing to hold me together. I was in pieces, and if the pieces were to be reassembled, a new principle of unity would have to be found. (Roy, 2008: 538)

If Henry during his time as a monk attained personal liberation, it might be argued that the SPR working was the most glittering success imaginable. If so, then maybe the universe itself had the last laugh, for from the reanimated karma of undead spirits Henry had been born, and had been considered a failure by all concerned because he failed to live up to his promised destiny. Yet perhaps, in Henry, that undead karma at last found its cessation, and he attained a form of fulfilment that the dead souls who fathered him simply couldn't match.

References

Heywood, Rosalind (1978). The Sixth Sense: An Inquiry Into Extra-Sensory Perception. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Roy, Archie E. (2008). The Eager Dead: A Study in Haunting. Brighton: Book Guild Publishing.

Tyson, Donald (1997). Enochian Magic For Beginners. Woodbury MN: Llewellyn.

Woolley, Benjamin (2002). The Queen's Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr Dee. London: Flamingo.

When Magic Turns Paranormal

This is a loose transcript based on my notes for the talk I gave at The Colours of Chaos (Conway Hall, 6th September, 2008). Some of the themes covered I've previously addressed elsewhere on this site, from a slightly different angle, in: 'Synchronicity, The Paranormal, Psychotherapy and Magic.'

Two Types of Magic

I would like to suggest that results from magical acts come in two flavours.

Sometimes people say to me: 'I got a spectacular result from some magic the other day. I wanted a new job, so I did a ritual. Then I looked in the newspaper, saw some ads, sent off for an application form, had some interviews, and then I got a new job.'

My reaction: 'Oh. That's really amazing. (Not.)'

But then a part of me thinks: Well, it's about the person's experience. They experienced the result as amazing, so that's what happened for them.

But then I see sense again, and I just can't help concluding: 'No. That's not magic. That's just getting your shit together and acting like you've got half a brain.'

It's only the second flavour of results that I would bother to call 'magic'. This is the type that also makes good stories. The first type doesn't, because they simply follow the rules of everyday cause and effect: you get a job by applying for one, whether you've done a ritual or not. Good stories are based on screwing about with events, or unexpected coincidences and significances.

I did a working recently to get myself abducted by aliens. (I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.) Various things happened (I don't want to bore you) but it reached a climax when, a week after the working, a friend and I were treated to a procession of UFOs right outside my window. In fact, half of Sussex saw them; there was a wave of UFO sightings across the south of England that weekend, which was reported in the local press.

Now that's what I call magick! Okay, it's not fair to compare an intent to get abducted by aliens with an intent to get a new job. Agreed. So, instead, let's compare the relationship between the intent and the result in each case.

Regarding the aliens, I'd expected the result to be a vision, maybe, or a lucid dream. Instead, I saw three UFOs and half the county got involved in a UFO flap! (The fact that the 'UFOs' were actually Chinese lanterns isn't relevant, because I don't believe in flesh-and-blood aliens anyway; but a UFO flap is a UFO flap!)

Case One: I want a job, I do a ritual, write-off for and get a job. The everyday laws of cause and effect are not being stretched.

In the case of the aliens, the probabilities against the result that manifested seem much higher. You get that wonderful buzz – the thing that keeps a lot of us doing magic, I suspect – that feels as if the whole universe is being levered into position, as a consequence of the working that we've done.

Actually, it hasn't, and later on I'll suggest why not.

The Paranormal

Question: Should any result gained through magic be viewed as a paranormal event?

Does it depend on how you define 'paranormal'? Perhaps you're expecting me to do that here, but I'm not going to, because I'm guessing we're already broadly in agreement: telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, clairvoyance.

What these boil down to, I'd suggest, is a violation or bypassing of the laws of cause and effect that usually obtain in our experience of mind, time, matter, and the mundane senses.

It's not that I want to big-up these 'laws of cause and effect'. All I mean by them is a set of assumptions by which we normally make sense of the happenings in our daily lives.

Paranormal phenomena, on the other hand, do not belong among these everyday happenings. For most people, the paranormal arises spontaneously, unexpectedly, and is generally unwanted. However, magicians are not 'most people'. Most magicians, I'm guessing, have experienced the paranormal. Some of them as the direct result of magical workings; although many, or perhaps most, as the unexpected side-effects of magical workings. What sets magicians apart from 'most people' with respect to the paranormal is this intentional aspect. We set out to make something unusual happen. Most people do not invite these sorts of things to happen to them.

So, there's a relationship between magic and the paranormal, but it's not as simple as saying that magic is the means by which the paranormal is caused. For instance, there are other kinds of people besides magicians for whom the paranormal manifests through intention.

I want to examine one of these groups of people: they don't use ritual, instead they use experiments. They don't have ouija boards or go into trances, instead they have various bits of hardware and – most importantly – statistics. They call themselves parapsychologists. But just like magicians, sometimes they persuade the paranormal to manifest in their laboratories.

Parapsychology

The history of parapsychology begins with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which was founded in 1882. Early paranormal research now reads to us like after-dinner parlour games. Interesting, but anecdotal. A shift occurs in the 1930s, coming from Duke University in North Carolina, where J.B. Rhine for the first time concentrates exclusively on a quatitative approach toward the paranormal.

Whately Carington

I want to concentrate on a parapsychologist from the transitional period between the two approaches, by the name of Whately Carington. An unsung hero. Obscure. Most likely to be mentioned in connection with the researcher Samuel Soal, the British equivalent of J.B. Rhine.

Soal set out to replicate Rhine between 1936 and 1941. He had 160 subjects. More than 128,000 trials. After five years of results he'd discovered nothing above chance.

It was Whately Carington who suggested to Soal that he re-examine his results and look for 'displacement effects'. By this, Carington meant that although the subject might give an incorrect guess to the card they were supposed to be guessing, how did their guess compare with the (also unseen) card that had been turned up in the previous trial, or the card that was about to be turned up in the next trial?

When Soal did this, he discovered that two of his subjects had scored hits several millions above chance – but on the trial before or after the one they were supposed to be guessing. Soal was able to replicate these results in subsequent experiments.

Hang on! If a subject is correctly guessing not the current card, but the one that comes after it, in the future, is this telepathy or precognition?

Carington had recognised the importance of displacement effects as a consequence of his own experiments, which were as follows: he collected a couple hundred volunteers; gave them a pile of prepared questionnaires; every evening at the same time he opened a book in his study and made a drawing based on a random word; he left the drawing over his fireplace, then he locked the room until next morning.

These days we'd call it 'remote viewing'. Carington's subjects were invited to remote-view the drawings (they lived all over Britain) and record their impressions on the forms. The results were assessed independently, and were found to indicate
scores significantly above chance.

After a while, Carington decided to enclose a photograph of his study in with the forms. He simply wanted to heighten his subjects' sense of participation in the experiment. He did not expect what happened subsequently: the number of hits jumped up dramatically.

The photograph was playing the part of what Carington would later call a 'K' object or 'K' idea. The 'K' object increased the number of hits – Carington theorised – because it supplied a link between the subject and the drawing. By showing them the study in which the drawing hung, it seemed to have the effect of putting the subject more fully in mind of the target, the drawing.

'K' Objects

Carington's view of the paranormal gets around the alternative view that the paranormal relies upon transfer of information, or energy, or particles between people. Or that it depends upon some kind of latent or exotic sensory ability. Instead, he held the view that entities are linked and give rise to one another in a manner similar to how ideas are linked to one another in the mind. Carington looked to the classical philosophical notion of 'The Association of Ideas' as the key to understanding paranormal phenomena. The 'K' object works because it forges a link between between the subject and the drawing.

In magic, 'K' objects are everywhere!

A ritual is a 'K' object: the symbolic link between an intent and the magical result.

The ritual often involves further objects acting as 'K' objects, usually in one of two flavours: (a) sympathetic magic ('like attracts like'; a symbolic representation, such as an effigy of the person who is the target of the ritual); or (b) associative magic ('the part is connected to the whole'; such as hair, or blood of the target, or a possession of theirs). You don't need these things; often the ritual itself is enough of a 'K' object – Carington didn't need the photo to score above chance. But it helps! And I've often heard magicians express the view that you can't beat a good magical link in order to really nail a result in sorcery.

Parapsychologists and Magicians

Hang on! The magician has ritual, the parapsychologist has their experiment, but it looks as if they're both doing magic! Both are expressions of intention, setting up an intentional situation in order to create a link to a desired outcome.

The paranormal is the violation of classical cause and effect. So, it seems, is magic. If I command a goetic demon to bring me cash and I discover a wad of twenties in the street the next day, this is not the usual relationship of cause and effect that obtains between myself and money.

But the laws of cause and effect are never violated to the extent that what happens ceases to have meaning. (Is that possible?) As Carington suggests: the paranormal adheres to the laws of the mind. ('The Association of Ideas.') A demon is a 'K' object; a concept to form a link between me and some cash. This makes no sense in terms of classical physics. But the idea of a demon fetching me some cash is perfectly comprehensible in terms of how our minds work; what's not to understand?

Carington was writing in the 1930s and 1940s, so didn't have the benefit of a later idea, which squarely addressed the notion of meaningful, non-causal correspondences between events: synchronicity.

Synchronicity

Carl Jung published his essay 'Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle' in 1952.

Synchronicity is a very useful idea for thinking about magic and the paranormal. Without it, you tend to be left with many loose ends. For instance, how do you tell the difference between telepathy and precognition? What seems telepathy may be someone remote-viewing the result of the trial in the future – i.e. precognition + clairvoyance.

Arthur Koestler, another key figure in parapsychology, was one of the first to suggest how synchronicity helps us out of these kinds of problems. Koestler was interested in quantum physics as a model for the paranormal. Trouble was, each type of phenomena seemed to require a different quantum-physical model to explain it. In the case of psychokinesis, where everyday objects start rolling around, some kind of interface between the quantum and the level of classical physics would be required.

It can't be right to have different explanations for different bits of the paranormal when, as we've seen, those bits aren't really distinct anyway. Luckily, synchronicity does all of the job in one go.

Jung suggested there was a separate force at work in the universe apart from causality. We don't have to look only for a causing b. It might be, Jung suggests, that given a, then b sometimes likes to happen with it. ('Likes to happen' is probably the best our language can do to describe the synchronistic relationship between things.)

Telepathy can be viewed not as a biophysical mechanism, but as a correspondence between my intuition and thoughts in someone else's mind; precognition as the correspondence between my intuition and events in the world; even psychokinesis: a correspondence between my intention and the physical behaviour of an object. I concentrate. It moves. A cause? Or a correspondence?

Lovely. But unfortunately acausal, meaningful correspondences between mind and matter are very difficult to conceptualise.

An example of synchronicity: the famous dream of the gold scarab. A patient of Jung is telling him her dream of a gold scarab, when a golden beetle flies through the window.

The scarab in dream is matched with scarab in reality. The meaning of the scarab hieroglyph kfr (rebirth, renewal) is matched with the effect it has on the patient.

It's this same idea we found in Carington: the idea that events give rise to one another not only through cause and effect, but also through the meaningful affinities they share, which Carington referred to as The Association of Ideas. Related more in the way that ideas in the mind are related than the way that objects in classical physics are related to each other.

Synchronicity: great idea. Unfortunately Jung doesn't always handle it particularly well. Acausality is not an easy concept to handle. Sometimes Jung seems to suggest that synchronicity occurs because of the activation of an archetype. In the case of his famous patient: the activation in her unconscious of the archetype of rebirth (scarab) led to the synchronicity. But that has to be wrong, because in that case the archetype would have caused the synchronicity (no matter the exact mechanism), and causal is supposedly the one thing that a synchronicity isn't. Beware the Jungians!

The practice of magic, psychotherapy, parapsychology can be said to 'cause' synchronicity only in a very limited sense, in that they provide a context in which synchronicity is invited to arise. In the same way that going to school provides a context for learning; going to school doesn't cause learning to occur.

We have to distinguish this 'context' from what occurs within each specific example of a synchronicity, or within each act of magic. Having a dream about a scarab can't be said to have caused a golden beetle to fly into the room – that's a truly acausal event – but the practice of Jungian psychotherapy certainly did provide a context for this to happen.

Synchronicity and Magic

The most common outcome from magic is synchronicity pure and simple. Fairly commonly a synchronicity will arise as an unexpected side-effect, alongside or instead of the exp
ected result. The type of thing which, when you first start magic, leaves you thinking 'it's just a coincidence that would have happened anyway, even if I hadn't done a working'.

After about a hundred of these, you might stop talking about 'coincidence' and start to enjoy the feeling that your magic is able to lever the whole of reality into an altered shape all around you. But this attitude is just as dim because, once again, it's causal. I really don't advise you to go around believing that you or your magic causes the acausal.

But rituals can in themselves cause certain things to happen, and I think this may account for the 'lame' type of magic I mentioned at the beginning. Someone may perform a ritual, and the act may cause them to focus their efforts seriously enough to actually apply for a job, which they may not have done otherwise – and surprise, surprise, they get one.

Is this magic? I'm still loathe to admit it. The ritual may be said to have caused a result, but it caused it in a way that (a) was definitely causal, albeit on a psychological level; and (b) doesn't need any explanation outside of a bit of ego psychology.

The Transpersonal Factor

Where a true synchronicity occurs the 'K' object acts at a transpersonal level. All I intend by that is that there's no immediate cause – physical or psychological – at the individual level to account for the result. In the case of Jung's patient, no amount of personal development, visualisation, imagination, going to the gym, reading books by Ken Wilber could 'cause' a golden beetle to fly in through the window. And yet a beetle flew in.

What is this factor that somehow takes the K object onto a transpersonal level?

(You're expecting me to tell you, aren't you?)

Well, it's a mystery. In magic, it has been called 'True Will' (by Aleister Crowley) or 'Kia' (by Austin Osman Spare). In Buddhism, 'buddha chitta'. In Daoism, it's 'the Dao'. In Platonism, 'the One'. In Jungian psychology, 'The Self'.

Sometimes it arises in magic, sometimes not. If it could be guaranteed, then it probably couldn't be said to be acausal, because in that case we would have found a means to 'make' it happen. Nevertheless, as one progresses along the magical path its appearance becomes more common, and the experience of it becomes more integrated into everyday life. It even starts to have effects outside of intentional magical acts. One's whole life begins to become synchronistic. In Daoism there is the term 'wei wu wei' – 'doing without doing' – which seems to be describing this state.

Two things about this transpersonal factor are clear: (1) it's acausal; (2) any amount of wanting or willing it to happen guarantees that it won't. This is why the dreaded 'lust of result' has such a deadening effect on magic. Wanting something to happen fixes the 'K' object on the individual, causal level, and you get no result, because all the 'K' object does is put you in mind of how badly you want a result – or perhaps you get only an egocentric, psychological result.

Conclusion

Are all magical results paranormal?

No. Some are psychological.

What is the relationship between magic and the paranormal?

At the risk of sounding cheesy, reality is stranger than our habitual ignorance allows us to perceive. The paranormal arises out of the influence on our daily lives of this realm beyond our ignorance. Magic is one means, among others, that enables us to shed our ignorance and experience the transpersonal reality that lies beyond it.

I hope this has provided food for thought, and some structures for thinking around the relationship between the paranormal and magic.

Sources

Carington, Whately, Thought Transference (New York: Creative Age Press, 1976).

Heywood, Rosalind, The Sixth Sense (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978).

Koestler, Arthur, The Roots of Coincidence (London: Pan Books, 1974).

Mansfield, Victor, Synchronicity, Science and Soul-Making (Chicago & La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1995).

The Shadow of Carl Jung

If I told you that Carl Jung, originator of the collective unconscious, synchronicity, the anima, the shadow, and other concepts indispensable to contemporary spirituality, was a pseudo-initiate – well, perhaps you wouldn't be all that surprised.

Carl Jung

There are a lot of pseudo-initiates about: chaos magicians, new agers, transcendental meditators. They provide apparent frameworks for spiritual development, but each framework stretches only so far and always falls shy of providing experience of the absolute.

Jung's developmental framework is his notion of individuation. In a nutshell: the ego stands in opposition to the shadow, which consists of contents opposed to the contents of the ego. Individuation consists in bringing the opposites of ego and shadow into harmony. This leads to a realisation that the ego is not the centre of psychological life. Sounds good so far? However, the true centre, according to Jung, is what he calls 'the Self', which is the fundamental archetype of meaning.

The 'Self', therefore, is all about meaning, not 'truth'. Notice also that the result of individuation is meaning and the balancing of opposites between ego and shadow, not enlightenment. Jung states: 'Everything requires for its existence its own opposite, or else it fades into nothingness' [1]. According to Jung, final transcendence of the opposites (i.e. non-duality) is impossible because 'life' (he really means meaning) depends on tension between them: 'Complete liberation means death' [2].

Truth, for Jung, has meaning. Therefore it lies in the contents of experience, and in the archetypes that lend experience its structure. Now, anyone who has had a brush with non-duality will see that Jung is selling us way-short on his notion of 'truth'.

Verdict: pseudo-initiate.

Well… I was shocked to discover it's almost even worse than that!

Jung had the good fortune to live as a contemporary of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, probably one of the most enlightened beings ever to walk the planet, whose spiritual calibre was also apparent in the sheer tonnage of people he managed to enlighten through his presence and teachings. Jung had the chance to visit Maharshi, but he turned it down. His reasons are given in various letters that he wrote, but boil down to these:

1. Any sage is simply living out the expression of an archetype [3]. (Remember: no transcendence of archetypal meaning is possible for Jung; the closest thing is the archetype of the one who has transcended, and this is what Jung understood a sage to represent. Therefore, Jung had no need to visit Maharshi when he could simply talk to anyone who lived as a sage.

2. It is unhealthy for anyone to attempt to identify with the Self, which would demand a kind of life that Jung regarded as 'utterly inhuman' [4].

Wow. So far, then, Jung has denied the possibility of absolute truth, and declined the opportunity to put himself in the presence of the most fully realised person alive. Even if he believed Maharshi was kidding himself, surely it would have been worth the effort to go and check?

Guess what? It gets even worse than this. In his writings, Jung specifically exhorts us not to practise yoga, not to meditate, but to practise 'active imagination' instead, which concentrates on the contents of our thoughts in order to appreciate how they play themselves out through the opposition of ideas:

I say to whomsoever I can: 'Study yoga – you will learn an infinite amount from it – but do not try to apply it, for we Europeans are not so constituted that we apply these methods correctly' [5].

I can't be alone in concluding that all this bad-mouthing of yoga and the advocacy of 'creative visualisation' above meditation almost earns Jung the title of counter-initiate or Black Brother. Technically, he's a pseudo-initiate; his system sells us short on enlightenment. But using his influence to urge people not to take up genuine practices on the grounds of some dodgy racial theory puts him right on the borderline, in my opinion. Viewed in this light, he has done more damage than your average Black Brother by steering people down a path that looks like enlightenment but actually takes them nowhere near. Instead, it simply leads to huge therapy bills, and decades of verbal wallowing.

Notes

[1] Carl Gustav Jung, 'The Holy Men of India', Collected Works, vol. 11, p. 584. My source for all the quotations in this article is Victor Mansfield, Synchronicity, Science and Soul-Making (Chicago IL: Open Court, 1995). Whilst I also follow the inferences that Mansfield draws from these quotations, I'm using them to argue more forcefully against Jung than Mansfield chooses to.

[2] Carl Gustav Jung, C.G. Jung Letters, vol. 1, edited by Gerhard Adler and Aniela Jaffé, translated by R.F.C. Hull (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 247.

[3] 'I doubt his uniqueness; he is of a type which always was and will be. Therefore it was not necessary to seek him out. I saw him all over India…' Jung, 'The Holy Men of India', p. 577.

[4] Carl Gustav Jung, Letters, p.477. In full: 'I consider a man's life lived for 65 years in perfect balance as most unfortunate. I'm glad that I haven't chosen to live such a miracle. It is so utterly inhuman that I can't see for the life of me any fun in it. It is surely very wonderful but think of being wonderful year in year out! Moreover I think it is generally much more advisable not to identify with the self. I quite appreciate the fact that such a model is of high pedagogical value to India.'

[5] Carl Gustav Jung, 'Yoga and the West', Collected Works, vol.11, p. 534.

Interview With The Witch

'Raven Woman', by Raven.

Duncan talks with Raven, an eclectic witch, about the influence on her life of paranormal experiences and Spiritualism.

childhood experiences • Raven’s astral-projecting mother • curse of the Toby jugs • head of a white horse • Roman remains • visits from spirits • a room shunned by pets • choked by a ghost • yoga and a first out-of-body experience • a grounding in the Spiritualist Church • Raven the weirdo magnet • trance mediums and channelling • ‘the nine who are one’ • dead people and psychic links • astounding mediums (and wannabes) • Raven’s first reading from a Spiritualist • why Christians can’t do death • why the Spiritualists have death sorted • rescue work and the cold zone • ‘I am a sceptic!’ • alien abduction is 95% bollocks • Betty and Barney Hill • Roswell • Spiritualist healing: cheaper than Reiki • the joy of hauntings • an astral rottweiler • the containing function of ritual • a haunted attic • invasion of the paranormal • a bodily reflex • ‘I’m not clairvoyant’ • fight or flight • is spirit ‘objectively real’? • this pathetic shell • magicians as ‘crime-scene witnesses’ • putting a handle on ‘the other’

Download MP3 file.

The Blood of the Saints

In their ongoing effort to unleash magick from the dead-end of extreme post-modernism, and re-invigorate the notion of 'The Great Work', the authors climb onto the ladder of enlightenment and haul themselves across the abyss, detailing their techniques and experiences as they go. This compendium of articles, essays, dialogues and magickal rituals contains all you need to know to replicate that process and cross the abyss for yourself, plus plenty more besides: spirits, angels, demons, aliens, Aleister Crowley, Robert Anton Wilson and Austin Osman Spare. The book is written in the usual down-to-earth and humorous style of the authors' award-winning occult website, The Baptist's Head, where most of this material first appeared. It has been lovingly revised, referenced and indexed for this collection.

Paper copies are available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, or from wherever you like to buy books.

I Was Molested by a Phantom Nun

In April, 2008, I spent two weeks on a working retreat at Gaia House in Devon. The place is a fantastic resource for insight meditators (even beginners) and has some world-class teachers. For this reason, I'm going to preface this article with a disclaimer.

In what follows I describe encounters with a 'ghost' that took place during the retreat. I offer this purely as a personal account of something that happened during a period of intense meditation practice, because I think it casts interesting light on the possible nature of 'ghosts' and the relationship between spiritual development and 'psychic' activity. I do not intend to imply that the spirit of a dead person haunts the corridors of Gaia House – although that might be possible, for all I know!

After my arrival, a member of staff mentioned that Gaia House was once a convent. Walking in the grounds, it was impossible not to notice fragments of Christian iconography decaying gently back into the gardens and small wood that surround the house. One morning, I passed a fenced-off area that bore a sign: PRIVATE. Peering inside, I realised it was a burial ground for the nuns who had lived there. There appeared to be twenty or thirty graves inside the fence, each headed with a modest wooden marker. Seeing this, I imagined the nuns wouldn't be happy if they could see how their convent had been overrun by hordes of tofu-munching Buddha-botherers, myself among them.

I wouldn't dream of going in there... Honest...

When you're sitting on your arse meditating for hours every day, you tend to need less sleep than usual and your sleep-patterns alter radically. I started having intense dreams almost as soon as I arrived, many of them lucid. In one, I dreamt that I was sleeping in a strange place. Suddenly someone pulled the bed-cover over my head and held it down tight. At first, I thought it was my girlfriend playing games, but there was no answer when I called out. Instead, there was an odd silence and a creepy sense of absence. I tried to move, but the unseen person pushed down hard and each time I struggled the pressure became intense. Slowly, I started to wake and realised this was no dream: I was actually being suffocated in my bed!

Remembering the last time something like this happened, I tried to make the sign of a pentacle with my arm to banish the evil presence, but I was cruelly pushed down. Instead, I visualised a blazing pentacle. This worked instantly; the pressure released and I awoke.

The dream that followed was about two children to whom the spectre of a nasty old nun appeared. My journal entry for that day concluded: 'I wonder if Gaia House isn't haunted by a former resident?' If the Buddhists hadn't made her angry enough already, how pissed off she must feel now, having been repelled by an occultist and his cheesy pentagram!

A Turn of the Screw

Two days later, things turned really creepy. In the dead of night I heard someone get up (to use the toilet, I assumed) but instead of continuing down the corridor, the footsteps stopped outside my door and someone knocked.

Gaia House is a silent retreat centre. In certain situations it's okay to talk with managers and teachers, but under the house rules retreatants have no reason to talk to one another. So, like the good little Buddhist I am, I stayed schtumm, figuring that if someone had something important to say then they'd speak first.

I lay in bed, expecting them to move on, but instead – to my complete surprise – the door opened. Dim light from the corridor spilled in and someone stepped inside. I was so gobsmacked I forgot completely that I'd bolted the door from the inside before getting into bed. My main concern was that it must be one of the managers, come to tell me that something awful had happened at home and my family needed me.

A 'de-Christianised' crucifix.

I sighed – to let the manager know that I was awake. Whoever it was moved to the foot of the bed and sat down. They reached out, stroked my forehead sympathetically, and I was certain then that they were going to break some horrible news. But things took an even more bizarre turn: my visitor lay down, squeezing into bed next to me, and pulled me close in an embrace that was unmistakably sexual. A delicate hand stroked my chest. A woman's hand.

Okay, I was thinking. I wasn't expecting this to be part of the Gaia House experience – but, hey…

I wondered to which of the women staying along the corridor that delicate hand belonged. But then, as soon as my thoughts turned in this direction, there was suddenly no one there. I was alone in the dark.

Now, almost certainly, I must have lucid-dreamed the whole event. But unlike a usual lucid dream, at no time did I experience waking up. As far as I was concerned, I'd been awake throughout. I had no sense whatsoever of when the dream had started or when it ended.

If this doesn't count as an experience of a 'ghost', then I don't know what does.

Even the Night Hag Just Wants to be Loved

After that, I slept with the light on. It seemed that whatever was disturbing me lost its power under the glare of an electric bulb. (They were all eco-bulbs at Gaia House, of course.) I raised the issue – half-jokingly – with one of the teachers, who surprised me by taking the matter seriously and expressed concern that it shouldn't distract me from my insight practice.

He advised me that the Buddha had lots of experience dealing with ghosts, and had taught that the most effective method was to approach them with metta – a term usually translated from the Pali as 'loving kindness'.

Four days after the previous incident I was having trouble getting back to sleep, having woken at 4am.

I'll just switch off the light for a bit. It's almost dawn, I thought.

Duh. Big mistake.

This time, whatever it was made no pretence at a human form. There was suddenly something immensely heavy on the foot of the bed, and then a shapeless, hoarsely panting blob of inhuman malevolence was on my feet, moving as quickly as it could up my body. I sensed it was trying to reach my chest.

This was so indescribably horrible that my first reaction was to scream. Loud and repeatedly. But in my paralysed state I didn't succeed in making much noise. As the thing reached my stomach, however, I remembered the teacher's advice: instead of a Western Hermetic pentacle, I visualised metta as a golden radiance from my heart chakra, bathing the horrible creature in compassion and kindness.

May you be well. May you be happy. May you be full of joy, I chanted internally, and tried my hardest to mean it.

It worked a treat! It didn't simply repel the thing, the way a pentacle does; it dealt with it. The metta seemed to dissolve the entity. It had wanted my heart, but instead the metta gave it something it needed just as much – only it hadn't known it. (Later, I remembered a previous incident where I'd instinctively used loving kindness to deal with a threatening spirit, with similar results.)

The metta worked so powerfully I even started to giggle, although I'd been screaming the moment before. It just seemed so absurd: here was this horrible thing trying to suck my heart dry, and I was lying there wishing it all the best…

Yeah? Eat metta, you evil dipshit!

Good Night, Ladies

After that, the light stayed on until the end of the retreat. There was serious meditating to be done, and it wasn't worth letting ghosties and freaky psychic issues get in the way of ultimate awakening.

But as the last full day drew to a close, I knew it was bad magical form to leave things unresolved between me and my bedroom invader. The time for meditation was all used up, so it wouldn't be a distraction if I turned out the lights for the whole of the final night. If the thing showed up, maybe I could even communicate with it in some way.

It was an anti-climactic conclusion, I suppose. I woke frequently during that night, with a creepy feeling that seemed to presage the thing's impending arrival. Each time, I began the metta practice (gold light from my heart centre, the internal chanting) and kept it going until I fell asleep again.

Boundary stone with shepherd's staff.

There was something knocking on the window. I woke up, with the realisation that it had been tapping on the glass for some time. As soon as I woke the knocking stopped. This time, there was no doubt that I was awake and the sound had been physical. I looked at the window. The very dimmest glimmer of dawn came from behind the curtains, and against that light I saw something move away. Again: this was a definitely physical perception.

My heart pounded in my chest. I began the metta practice. And then – that was the end of it, really… Seconds into the practice, the first bird began singing from the trees outside and the dawn began to strengthen. Considering that my visitor couldn't operate in daylight, she'd left it to the very last moment to manifest. It's still not clear to me what that knocking on the window meant, but it didn't feel malicious. I'd spent a good proportion of the night projecting metta into whatever she was; it didn't feel quite as much as a 'thank you', but it seemed some kind of acknowledgment. Maybe it was intended simply as a 'goodbye'.

I didn't feel as if the entity had gone forever or been neutralised, but I sensed that she and I had reached an understanding. A resolution of sorts.

What anyone makes of this I'll leave to the reader: a haunting; simply a lucid dream; or a borderline psychosis triggered by the strain of too much meditation. But I shall note that much of what I experienced fits squarely two classic patterns: the night hag and the succuba, which many people view these days as forms of sleep paralysis.

My own suggestion is that maybe the meditation had sensitised my mind, and it was somehow picking up environmental traces of ideas and emotions left by previous occupants. The entity – I'm inclined to believe – was not the spirit of a previous occupant (there was nothing much 'human' about 'her') but was something that manifested by drawing on these ex-human traces and on my mind to give it a form.

The reason I say this is because of something I noticed during my meditation. Unfortunately, the rule of silence meant I couldn't check whether anyone else had noticed it too. When I was a teenager, I used to listen to night-time radio shows on the medium wave band. As darkness fell, radiation from the earth's surface would affect reception: the signal would phase slowly out and back again, and voices from far-flung stations, which weren't audible during the day, would start to interfere.

Each night in the meditation hall at Gaia House, when darkness was falling and the blackbird that always perched in the bush outside had broken off his song, I noticed a similar affect on my practice. The sensations I watched arising and passing turned big, blurry and fuzzy as it got dark. The impermanent aspect of things always became much easier to see at night, because the sensations seemed to move in and out of phase, looking bigger and baggier and emptier than they ever did during the day.

I'd never noticed anything like this anywhere else before. Could physical environmental factors produce an effect like this? Or perhaps each place on earth has some kind of psychical environment too. Maybe even darkness has a mental as well as a physical aspect.

No Room for Me in the Universe

It's time to log a progress report on my meditation practice, as it's been a while. I sit on weekdays for two hours per day: an early-morning sitting and an evening session. At week-ends I generally manage one hour per day. Mostly, I'm doing straightforward vipassana: choiceless awareness of sensations in the body; but I do occasionally go for some centred prayer, or a little bit of Ramana-Maharshi-style self-investigation.

The last fruition was a few weeks ago. They're getting more subtle, but again I reached non-dual awareness as a peak experience, for several minutes.

During this episode there were very clearly two ways of being: one involved identifying with stuff; the other didn't. I decided not to identify with stuff for a while, but then switched back and forward a few times, so I could gain a better understanding of what the difference was. It was all perfectly clear at the time.

Previously, I've puzzled over 'that thing' which made an appearance in my consciousness after what Alan and I now refer to as 'The Cohen Event'. It's still interesting, but my attitude toward it has shifted: it has nothing to do with enlightenment. I had a good look at it whilst non-duality was still available, and I saw how it originates from the ajna chakra ('thrd eye'), whereas the non-dual state proper 'belongs to' sahasrara (the chakra above the crown of the head). The non-dual state does indeed 'feel' like shifting the centre of consciousness 'above the head', just as the yogis say; or 'thinking without using your brain', as Steiner put it. (Bless him.) At least, this chakra-talk is one way of describing it.

It wasn't as long or as intense as the last fruition I logged, but it was more stable.

As the fruitions have become subtler, the dark nights are getting tougher. Even before fruition, I had begun to doubt the importance of 'the thing' after an experience in the dark night of it morphing from all that's perfect and good into a persecutory lump of absolute evil!

This was indescribably unpleasant and difficult to sit through. When it finally passed it was, however, clear to me that something capable of switching sides so rapidly – or that possesses such diverse facets, simply depending on viewpoint – couldn't possibly fall into the non-dual category.

The dark night of my current cycle was also pretty tough. I noticed myself becoming fearful and depressed every time I came home from work. Instead of offering safety and relaxation, my home was making me feel threatened and vulnerable. There was no real reason for this. After my similarly edgy meditation sessions suddenly released into ease, these feelings abruptly passed also.

Uniquely, the breakthrough into equanimity came with another taste of the non-dual. I'm currently re-reading Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. (It's probably fair to say that I'm always re-reading it.) A passage on noticing the difference between physical sensations and their mental representations caught my attention. I've never really nailed that, I realised, so I decided to apply myself.

A dog barks

There was a dog barking in the park nearby. I took the opportunity to investigate the auditory sensation of 'barking dog', and watch it give way to the arising mental representation of 'a barking dog'. It was subtler and harder than I expected, but finally I seemed to be getting there. And then I saw how indescribably stupid I had been!

For a long time, I've been confusing the mental representation of sensations with the idea that there's an 'I' having the sensation. In other words, I had taken the way sensations arise mentally as entailing there is an 'I' that 'contains' them.

This is so stupid, it's embarrassing to admit! In fact, I don't understand how I've managed to get even as far as I have, given this gross and inept mistake.

Ah, well. That's the way it works. Even though I've now recognised the mistake, I still keep making it. Sad to say, I'm still mostly incapable of seeing through the illusion that mental sensations are more 'me' than physical ones. But when I heard that dog bark, and (for once) accurately experienced the arising of the idea of the dog barking as simply another sensation, in no way different from its physical counterpart (except in its content), that was enough to throw me instantaneously into the non-dual, because between sensations and just more sensations there was no room for a 'me' anywhere in the universe.

Woof-woof. Kapow.

Nothing beyond that realisation was new to me, however; I'd been there before, which once again confronts us with the fact that progress through the stages of enlightenment is attained through Grace at least as much as effort and intelligence. Sweetest of all, this wasn't a fruition. It wasn't even an 'arising and passing away event', as far as I can determine. It was a bog standard insight, a moment of understanding. I had just 'worked it out'.

I'm disappointed that this realisation hasn't granted me a foolproof ladder into the non-dual whenever I fancy it, but that's a 'disappointed' in the special sense that vipassana has taught me – i.e. a simple demonstration that that's not how it is.

I've got a two-week retreat coming up shortly and I'm looking forward to being disappointed a lot more.

The Secrets of Kundalini Yoga

The shaman was not the first great mystic sage… he was simply the first master of kundalini / hatha yoga. – Ken Wilber [1]

Friday Night

It was Yogi Bhajan [2] who exported the secrets of kundalini yoga to the West, and turned it into a movement. The tantric basis of kundalini yoga dates back many centuries. [3] Yogi Bhajan himself was a Sikh, which is the reason western kundalinis often sport turbans and rename themselves Singh or Kaur. There are a lot of kundalinis in Brighton. None of the yoga halls, alternative health venues or community halls in the town is without its kundalini yoga class.

Since Yogi Bhajan died, no clear leader of the movement has emerged, but Karta Singh [4] must come close. When I heard he was coming to Brighton, and that – perhaps worried the number of Brighton kundalinis-in-training wasn't high enough – the organisers had decided to open the event to the public, I took the opportunity to attend. Now, I'm no stranger to a bit of kundalini. It's good stuff, and I recommend you give it a try. But I wasn't prepared for the effects of four solid hours under the tutelary auspices of a master.

Karta Singh's plane was delayed, so Ishwara Kaur, Brighton's foremost yogini, got us started. After ninety minutes it became apparent she's no fluffy bunny either.

The aim of kundalini is to awaken the energy that slumbers in the form of a snake coiled at the base of the spine. Exercises are grouped together in sets, known as kriyas, which are designed to fulfill specific purposes – for example: to strengthen the spine, stimulate the immune system, or cleanse the aura. The exercises themselves consist of yoga poses or short sequences of movement, mantras, breath-patterns, hand gestures (mudras) and body-locks (bandhs) served up in various combinations and sustained for longer or shorter periods. 'Shorter' is preferable, because keeping the exercises going is challenging and often painful. That's the whole point. Kundalini works on the ego as welll as the body, breaking down the ego's hold over the mind in remarkably short order. Frustration, anger, tears, despair, trembling, cramps, exhaustion: these are sure signs that it's working. As US Marines are reportedly wont to say: 'Pain is weakness leaving the body.' Kundalinis would probably replace 'weakness' with 'ego'.

By the time Karta Singh showed, I was already in an altered state. No other form of yoga I've tried gets me as high in the same way. My vishuddha and ajna chakras were glowing and spinning, and my ether body buzzing like a neon display sign.

'Good evening,' said a voice.

I opened my eyes, and there was Singh in his guru's robes, turbaned, bearded, every inch the spiritual mentor. (Apart from the French accent.)

Although I didn't receive an 'enlightenment vibe' from Singh (in the way I did from Andrew Cohen) he struck me as serene and wise, far more approachable than photos of him on the web suggest. He's fond of laughter, and has a habit of making wacky remarks – during one of the exercises assuring us our hands were being kissed by angels. This reminded me of passages I'd read from Yogi Bhajan's lectures.

Karta Singh began his discourse. It concerned pranayama. Great, I thought, we're just going to sit and breathe. Little did I realise the gruelling hours that lay ahead. It was billed to finish at 9pm, but gurus seem to make up their own timetable as it suits. We simply kept going and going. As I lay on my back, legs widely parted in the air, describing circles in opposite directions whilst obeying Singh's injunction to 'breathe through the feet', I finally realised that 'a little bit of pranayama' had never been on the agenda.

My memory of those hours is a haze of pain and ecstasy, but one exercise sticks out: I was standing, legs apart and knees bent, leaning forwards straight-backed, hands on knees, performing a version of 'breath of fire', where the focus of the breath was higher up than usual – at the top of the stomach. At first, I couldn't work out how to do this breath. Suddenly, I stopped thinking and my body took over. It started panting violently through the nose, every breath as strong as a sneeze. I shook all over. And then I realised this wasn't even the half of it: I was holding onto something. Cautiously I let go, and the panting grew more violent, as if an energy in my stomach were trying to vent itself. An energy so limitless, it felt as if it would've reduced my body to jelly long before it exhausted itself. But even then, I knew I wasn't being totally honest with myself: a tiny part of me was still holding on.

No doubting it, kundalini yoga has powerful and interesting effects. Yet I haven't donned a turban and joined the crew, and here's why: I find it a tease. It breaks down the ego and splits you wide apart, so you leave behind mundane awareness and become hypersensitive to your body and the transpersonal.

But then you stop. Time to go home.

Kundalini sets me up – like nothing else – for some serious meditation. It supplies rocket fuel, and a solid launch-pad that a subsequent hour of vipassana meditation would've ridden to the centre of the cosmos. But once they're cleared for take-off, the kundalinis seem to call it a day.

My personal inclination upon finding ecstasy is to take it apart. That's what vipassana meditation does. But for the kundalinis, with their tantric leanings, ecstasy on its own will do just fine. They know what they want and they know how to get there quickly.

My experience concurs with Wilber's suggestion at the head of this article – that kundalini yoga can't get you enlightened, because it doesn't press beyond ecstasy. But it will transport you with ease into those subtle, shamanic, transpersonal, psychic realms.

At the end of the session with Karta Singh that familiar frustration was waiting: I was all jizzed up, but denied my money-shot. Just like tantric sex, there was a definite climax, but it was something more subtle. It was as if, before I'd started, I'd been like a bottle of salad dressing, all shaken up and cloudy. In the serene place to which Singh had taken me, the constituents of my being had separated out. For a while, I perceived acutely – in a way like never before – the distinct differences between my physical, ether and astral bodies. There was the physical body, mute and dark; the etheric, also localised, but buzzing with sensate energy; and the astral, vehicle of thoughts and consciousness, which belongs to no place.

Maybe it's high time that instead of pointing out the shortcomings of kundalini I simply incorporated it into my practice, combined with vipassana. It's certainly a technique I intend to keep on using – more than ever, considering the powerful reminder I received the next morning of the sorts of experience and powers kundalini confers.

Saturday Morning

I woke at about 7am, full of energy and raring to go. My girlfriend was fast asleep, and her response to my suggestion that we might get up made it clear we wouldn't be going anywhere for a while. Fine, I thought, wrapping her in my arms and settling down. I'll meditate for a bit. Ken Wilber meditates in bed. Why shouldn't I?

All was going well. Lying in bed presented
me with a different set of sensations from usual, and I was investigating these, until suddenly I heard myself breathing heavily, on the verge of snoring. This surprised me, because my mind was clear and I'd assumed I was awake. I realised, however, that I'd entered the lucid dreaming state.

Excellent, I thought, abandoning meditation and turning my intention toward an interesting lucid dream. I found myself outside a Co-op, in Brighton town centre at night. The police had arrived, called by a woman being hassled by a man in the checkout queue. The queue was long, and tempers were becoming frayed.

I floated up and down the pavement with delight, overjoyed at lucid-dreaming again. But unfortunately my excitement spoiled the concentration, and I felt the dream-state slipping beyond my grasp. I clung on, but the decay was unstoppable. After I'd woken, I tried to get back in again. I lay awake, then hit on the technique of imagining I was spinning around and around. This brought me to the threshold of another lucid dream, but didn't quite take me in. Then I became aware of an intense buzzing sensation spreading all over my body, which I'd experienced before, and recognised as the tell-tale sign of an oncoming out-of-body experience. Unfortunately, this also failed to get off the ground. But I had entered some kind of interesting state nonetheless. I found I was capable of putting my 'body' in a different position from my physical body. At one point, I was even standing by the side of the bed, aware that my physical body was lying in the bed. (Maybe this counts as a 'full' out-of-body experience. What holds me back from declaring it so is that I wasn't able to perceive my physical body from the other body. I only felt my other body, whilst retaining the knowledge of what my physical body was doing.)

That's when it happened. I gradually became aware of voices and sensations crowding around. They were spirits, all talking at once, some closer than others. The way they chattered compulsively about mundane things convinced me these were voices of the dead. One of them talked about Margaret Thatcher, in a way that made me assume she (the voice) had died during Thatcher's premiership. Another was the voice of a woman from Brighton. Some of her children had been taken into care. Someone had died: whether it was the owner of the voice, or one of the children, wasn't obvious. What was clear was that the voices – all of them – belonged to very unpleasant people. The woman who had lost her children talked insistently about her right to have them back. She didn't recognise it was her cruelty that had resulted in them being taken away in the first place.

The voices crowded closer and multiplied. I grew scared, and realised this is what true mediums must experience and deal with all of the time. These spirits were using me, feeding on my energy. It was like logging onto the astral internet, and every evil hacker had seen I had no spiritual firewall and was trying to hijack my equipment. I felt the spirits begin to 'penetrate' me. It was horrible; a sensation like cold fingers reaching into the back of my head.

My first inclination was to make a noise, in the hope my girlfriend would hear and wake me. But, as is often the case when trapped in sleep paralysis, all I could muster was a feeble: mmmm mmmm! I heard my girlfriend's sleepy breathing, and knew it hadn't worked. So I opted for the novice's favourite; the thing they teach you in Magick 101; a Phil Hine special [5]: I visualised a pentacle.

The spirits didn't vanish in a satisfying flash of octarine, but they stood back. They quickly regrouped at the perimeter of my mind, from where I heard them still, but they couldn't penetrate me any longer. When they started to scream at me that the pentacle was pathetic, that I was a useless magician and they would break through again, I knew I'd got them beaten. So I woke up gently, at my leisure.

I lay this experience solely at the door of Karta Singh. Kundalini yoga might not get me enlightened, but it seems a sure-fire way to make me psychic! The experience of being able to discriminate between my physical, etheric and astral bodies seemed to provide the platform for what happened the next morning. Those spirit-voices were so strong and clear, I didn't doubt for a second their authenticity, or that I hadn't – for a moment – tuned into a level of consciousness that genuine mediums are receiving twenty-four seven.

Some confirmatory synchronicites – as if any were needed – showed up after I'd turned on the radio, and immediately heard a news report about Margaret Thatcher being taken into hospital.

I commented to my girlfriend that it seemed especially odd, how all the voices I'd heard were female.

'Is it March 8th today?' she asked.

I did the calculation: 'Yes.'

'It's International Women's Day,' she grinned.

Notes

[1] Ken Wilber, Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution (Varanasi: Pilgrims Publishing, 2004), p.87.

[2] For a biography of Yogi Bhajan, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi_Bhajan.

[3] See Julius Evola, The Yoga of Power: Tantra, Shakti, and the Secret Way (Rochester VT: Inner Traditions, 1992).

[4] For a web biography of Karta Singh, see the website of his kundalini yoga school: http://www.amritnam.com.

[5] See: Phil Hine, Permutations, p.9. This is an eBook available at: http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/pdfs/perm13.pdf.