Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Amorphous Albion, by Ben Graham

I'll start with a declaration of interest: Ben is one of the founders of Festival 23, so I got to know about this book on the Discordian grapevine.
But it shouldn't stay in that particular community (or echo-chamber). It's too good for that, and it's needed out there!

Amorphous Albion is an heroic tale set in an impoverished future England in which a group of magical people called the Hove Space Programme take on, against overwhelming odds, a militaristic government, themselves lackeys of evil Illuminati-figures. This dystopia is underpinned with magic - on both sides. We are in the realm of earth energies as materiel, magical concepts as strategy.

We are also in a ream of shameless fantasy and a glorification of freak lifestyle: heroes that survive a battle check to see if they can still roll a joint. (Yes, it's 'freak', not 'hippie'. The latter words always stank of newspaper-ink. Welcome to True Freakdom!) Another main character made me think of the Mutoid Waste crowd. The realm of gods is occupied mainly by pop culture deities -  old KLF items as power objects, the Beatles as immortal magicians.

There is quite a bit of enjoyable satire on countercultural magical scenes: Leeds as a foggy city of steampunk chaos magicians, Liverpool as home of the archetypes, Sheffield as a fine Discordian high-tech ruin.

The satire is mostly tender, but a bit less so when it comes to the smugness of Glastonbury. Kept happy and subservient to dark forces, the inhabitants live in a land of sweet meadows and abundance, which is down to life-energy being siphoned away from the rest of England. I read it while there for the Occult Conference early this year, a lovely clash of levels.

This is a lighthearted tale, but with dark bits. The characters have bad pasts and inner pain. And the satire makes it ultimately a serious book - all dystopias are reflections of the evils of current culture, and this is no exception; except that the battle for the world has shifted onto the level of magic.

Verdict? If you are a Discordian, magician, art-as-resistance person, counterculture enthusiast or freak, buy it. If you don't really get what I am talking about, buy it anyway, and experience the VR of a different dream of culture. A very different one. At the very least you will never again see Glastonbury High Street in the same way.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue #23

Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue #23.

Nikki Wyrd writes a beautiful intro to a superb collection of historical, poetic, magical and fantastical offerings. The contents are carefully framed between the opening item, the first published account of mescaline intoxication, by Havelock Ellis in 1898 and a mescaline trip record by Discordianism founder Gregory Hill.

Next up is John Constable on '23 and Me'. John is a man whose work proves that one man's vision can change the world for thousands of people, resulting in an extraordinary injection of wisdom about death, celebration and magic into counterculture. He tells a story which takes in his early connections with the Discordian world via Ken Campbell, his life-changing acid-soaked night with the spirit of the Goose, and some very sound advice on living magically.

Ben Graham's 'Is This For Real?' is a great survey of the Discordian scene and the creation of Festival 23. It also checks a bit of cultural philosophy: thank you Ben for the concept of Metamodernism. I had been wondering for a while about when the corpse of PoMo was going to be dragged out and given a decent burial.

Adam Gorightly's 'Sex, Drugs and Discordia' is another precise fit for this issue - a history of the psychedelic involvements of early Discordianism and how those stories played out over subsequent decades.

The article that had the biggest effect on me is Catherine Kneale's 'Don't Be A Hero', an exploration of alternative narratives to the Hero's Journey. This isn't the first time I've heard people criticize that archetypal structure, but it's the first time I've been able to make useful sense of the argument. Kneale points out that our identification of the transformational power of some experience may only happen a long time after we originally assigned some kind of significance to it. In other words, we cannot expect our lives to conform to narratives that always demand closure. This approach makes space in your life for what some would call Chaos (and others Grace?). It suggests a relationship with experience in which you accept that you cannot force every single significant event into a straitjacket of heroic meaning. The significance is there - you know something important has happened, but you can't relate it to a conscious idea of yourself and where you are going. None of the narratives you already know and are practiced in will help in assigning meaning to it. Some of the experiences I have had on psychedelics are of this kind - I know something exceptional has happened, but afterwards I cannot parse the experience into any form that does not strip it of its primal irreducible significance. In fact, I cannot even recognize it among other kinds of experience until I encounter it again, which may be years later, and then there is an undeniable ring of familiarity.

My brief history of how Chaos Magic, Discordianism and psychedelics are all mixed up together is followed by Adrian Reynolds's 'We Flirted With Muses'. This is a highly personal take on some wonderfully leftfield, non-corporate-style applications of NLP and how they linked the author up to Eris. I also enjoyed being reminded of that London show in 1996-7, where Richard Bandler was accompanied by Robert Anton Wilson, who got to sit in Marilyn Monroe's chair.

The penultimate piece, 'Hold On 2.0' starts off with a pun on the Sam and Dave lyrics of the title, then erupts into a narrative which eluded me completely until I realised that it must be an allegorical blow-by-blow account of the JAMs Welcome to the Dark Ages Liverpool event of Summer 2017.

No.23 is a fabulously freaky issue of this fine journal, from the beautiful Pete Loveday cover, with its affectionate caricatures of counterculture stereotypes to the rich variety of ideas so thoughtfully assembled inside. A feast for the mind, buy it now!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Greeting the Unconquered Sun in Grenoside

Yesterday morning's Grenoside Sword Dancers' Boxing Day dance, in the road outside the Old Harrow, Grenoside village, greeting the Unconquered Sun.

This is a very old tradition, not a re-enactment. It has been kept alive continuously, but now they need new members. If you are interested in dancing this two-centuries' old dance and can get to the Sheffield area of an evening, get in touch with them at

Here's a short sequence where they are weaving through the swords.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Review of Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue 22

Available from

The stated theme of issue 22 is the integration phase that happens after a psychedelic experience, the delicate protocols of coming back to the world. The articles 'all play with this theme in various ways'. PPJ in general plays with themes as a way of structuring the vast surge of psychedelic writing that is emerging at the moment, in science, literature and other areas. And it does this very well; I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in psychedelics and the culture and issues around them. It has an immensely readable mix of academic-type discourse, trip reports, poetry and history.

This issue has two outright trip reports. Julian Vayne writes this issue's My First Trip, in which he tells a hair-raising tale of taking 4 times as much LSD as he intended to, how he dealt with a rather intense metaphor that erupted into the trip, and what he thought about it all afterwards. Sam Ross's 'AnOther Dead Hippy ReBirthday' is a lengthy and thoughtful mushroom trip report, much of it in free-form verse. I know... the times one has gazed with dread upon such writings... but fear not, this is very good. His warped language gives the precise feel of that stage of a trip when your speech centres just feel like molten plastic. Writing of the fabulous lichen he ignored on the actual trip then went back to engage with, he comes up with a beautiful and powerful notion: 'I went back and found, among the many trees in that small wood, the very lichen (I am sure) and I contemplated it and documented it and together we processed each other into art.'

In the arts corner, Aaron Oldenberg in 'Altered State Machines' writes of computer games which attempt to recreate some aspects of a salvia divinorum trip. This idea was a genuine novelty for me - my contact with computer games is pretty much limited to a single, decades-ago experience of playing Sonic the Hedgehog and wondering what all the fuss was about, followed by a suspicion that some games were actually interesting enough to waste too much time on, time I'd rather spend reading. It seems things have progressed a bit since then, and I look forward to trying out something like this.

One area of the politics of the psychedelic scene is covered by The Rev. Danny Nemu, with an engrossing report on the divided worlds of ayahuasca. Danny's writing gives a real sense of knowing what he's talking about because he knows some of these people. Anyone who has wondered about the different 'rules' for the use of cannabis with ayahuasca has something to learn from this article.

In the area of magical technology, Elio Geusa offers 'Master Plant Dieta', which is just the medicine for those of us who have been wondering at the apparent variety of pre-ayahuasca 'diets'. He distinguishes clearly between the health and safety issues that are covered by the avoidance of certain foodstuffs and the spirit-magic practice of relating to the spirits of various cleansing jungle plants.

Rob Dickins reviews 'The Tawny One' by Matthew Clark, a view of the constituents of soma that is much more believable than any I have yet come across.

And finally the history slot: our very own British acid historian Andy Roberts reminds us that, back in the day, flying saucer imagery was widespread among British trippers. In fact, it was so ubiquitous I'd kind of forgotten about it. Which is why we need historians like Andy to draw posterity's attention to these things.

One thing I love about PPJ is that it is not beset by the rigidly dogmatic scientism of some psychedelic discourses, the sort where any mention of inner work, transformation or awakening is sneered at. This is because it is run by interesting people, including freaky people such as magicians, who recognize and do not dismiss the multiple realities opened up by the psychedelic experience. Maybe PPJ will play a part in saving psychedelia from becoming too straight when psychedelic medicine goes mainstream!

Thursday, 7 September 2017


I was going to write a much longer review of this, because there is so much to it if, like me, you are fascinated by smells. However, it closes in a few days, so I wanted to get this out there to encourage other smell fiends to go.

This is an exhibition about modern perfumery using ingredients that imitate a far greater range of smells than the traditional flowers, fruits, woods and musks. These perfumes imitate, amongst many other things, creosote, bodily fluids, hot desert air, chlorine, stagnant water.

Thee are ten perfumes in this exhibition. Each has its own room, themed to the perfume; the blurb mentions the idea of creating 'narratives' with perfume. That may sound pretentious, but bear with it - there is something very interesting going on here. Here's the room for Giacobetti's En Passant, an outdoorsy perfume.
Each perfume is presented without comment other than the silent commentary of the room's design. We are given cards to write down our impressions. At the end, we can go to two rooms where there are descriptions of what each perfume is 'about', with further samples. So the show also has the delights of a mystery tour. Here's a card with a few of my comments on it.

Of the ten, there were three I particularly liked. One was set in a church-like room, hymnals in the back of old wooden seats, a screen which suggested the confessional. Redolent of frankincense, one of my favourite scents, it was to be sniffed from leather bags. This was Avignon, by Comme des Garcons. To me, it suggested sex in a church.

Another was set with a work bench littered with strange things. The perfume had a creosote-like note and was sniffed from tetrahedral structures that suggested a high-tech/magic mix. This was El Cosmico, by Moltz.

The third was Molecule 01, by Geza Schoen. Uniquely, amongst all the perfumes I've ever smelled or studied, this had just one ingredient, Iso E Super, a molecule discovered by the perfumer. This substance is bigger than most smell molecules, a poor fit for many smell receptors, so not everyone can smell it. I could, my companion could not. Delicious, but not much use except as a talking point!

Unsurprisingly, considering how extreme these scents were, there were two I disliked. One a little - Dark Ride, which just stank, really, and the truly offensive Purple Rain, which was the most aggressively cloying scent I've ever smelled.

The exhibition catalogue has essays about each perfume and an introductory essay by notorious amateur perfumer Brian Eno. That's how I found out about this exhibition, being an Eno fan.

If you like weird scent, book a ticket! Now!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Spirit Andromalius: Part 2

Part of my deal with Andromalius was that I paint five stones with his Seal and give them to magical folk who would be likely to use them. The first of these stones I gave to a friend who runs a café-bookshop. She accepted it happily and said she didn't really have any problems losing things at home, but that things got lost in the shop. So she put it up on a high shelf in the shop, for the benefit of anyone who wanted to try working with the spirit.

I mentioned that anyone who wanted to do that would have to form their own relationship with the entity - just the obvious basics to start with, like asking nicely, and thanking him if you get a result.

The next day, she texted me to say that her assistant in the shop had found her debit card, which had been missing for some time. Great result!

Then the day after that, she texted again to say that her assistant had forgotten to thank the spirit and had lost the card again. IT seems that the card never turned up again; it would be hard to imagine a more pointed message about how to deal with spirits!

The second painted stone I gave to another friend, who has a little experience of working with spirits. He loves a busy life and had no plans to get close to the spirit in the near future.

However, the next time we spoke, he told me that he found something he didn't even realise was missing: a pair of socks appeared under his bed mattress.

I think we can all agree that that was a low-value find. But one way to look at what happened there is to see this as a low-level demonstration by Andromalius of his powers and his readiness to relate to my friend. This is a friendly spirit, along the lines of, 'Here, I can help with that.' But like any human helper, he expects acknowledgement, he wants to be appreciated.

And he expects a bit more than some publicity on Facebook, and some painted stones. He expects me to change.

To be continued...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Composting For All; the enigmatic poems of Hubert Tsarko

This is less an objective reviewer's review and more a plug for a friend's book. But my friend John, the man behind Hubert Tsarko, really is a decent poet, and worth a look if you value mysterious wordcraft.

John has been growing as a poet for the thirty-odd years I've known him. This is his first collection, which goes to show what a long time poets take to mature. I travelled with him back in our youth, through the South of France, picking grapes and drinking their pressed fermented product, talking about writing and occasionally doing some.

On our way to castrate maize in Riscle (the title of one of the poems in this collection), in the wake of an ill-advised Mercury invocation intended to speed up the hitch-hiking, we got our lift, with a man who stole our bags and papers. On the table in the café he left us a plastic diary, which I took up and used as my own diary until it was full. I still have it somewhere. That summer and autumn was a richly interesting chain of experiences, but I never took up la vie routiére as a lifestyle the way John did.

This is a collection of the realistic alchemized into the thoroughly dreamlike. Or more accurately: the inner world as it is painted upon towns, lovers, bars, rooms, arguments. Poetry as something embedded in the immediate sensory world and yet existing outside of time, in some more real realm. An incredibly private world made by skill into something enjoyable for certain others.

The titles of these poems give us some idea of what to expect, but not everything: Places from the wanderings of a full time artist, tiny incidents such as 'The Cat Sat On My Glasses' (which in itself contains an unexpected glance into a world that may be either burglary or bondage), ironical or dreamlike detournements of stock phrases and titles, such as 'The Life That Lives on Man' or, invoking loathing, 'Final Solution'.

One of my favourite poems is East. I love the ending, and somehow it fits the tone of the whole collection:

There must be an attic

somewhere he could
fill with paraphernalia
and solitary intentions

Bless your solitary intentions John.