With Organs of the Body of God, it felt like The Occult Conference had both come of age and come home.
In a spirit of Renewal befitting the Vernal Equinox, this last weekend’s Occult Conference 2014 – held in the Assembly Rooms in the heart of Glastonbury, clearly a setting it was always meant to find its way to – was a new beginning, and showed the promise of taking things to the next level.
Effectively ‘under new management’ after passing on from previous organisers, The Occult Consultancy, TOC2014 was put together by Sef Salem, described on the website as a “local occultist and leader of the OTO group in Glastonbury.” Although it is certainly true that he was ably assisted by Brothers and Sisters from Calix Sanctus OTO Camp, this was by no means an ‘official OTO show’ or restricted to any one group or tradition. With the range of stalls (including Scarlet Imprint, Midian Books, and The Atlantis Bookshop) and volunteers, and the line-up of presentations, speakers, and workshops, a number of different currents were represented. The coming together of such a wide range of seekers, students & practitioners – whether calling themselves esotericists, hermeticists, magicians, mystics, occultists, pagans, shamans, or witches – gave a real sense of both the rich diversity and yet at the same time the common ground to be found in the broader Occult Community. Hats off to All for a sterling effort!
Proceedings were opened by our genial host, OTO Body Master and Gentleman of Jupiter, Sef Salem, welcoming everybody, clarifying some necessary points for the day concerning running order, lunch-break, and fire-safety, before saying a few words about the general vision behind the Conference: that despite belonging to different groups, coming from different traditions, or following different paths, in effect we are all cells that can come together to form Organs of the Body of God.
The first Talk was by Damh the Bard, an accomplished singer, storyteller and magician, who clearly draws on his experience as an entertainer and performer. Lively and engaging, he was a good choice to get things underway. A longstanding initiate of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, Damh spoke with obvious passion and conviction, mixing history, humour, mythology, and poetry, as he told us of his journey from teenage Black Sabbath fan encountering Pan via Hammer Horror, to a study of Hermetic and Ceremonial magic – plus a chance encounter with a harpist along the way – to eventually exploring and embracing what he sees as the native religious heritage of Albion, “the Island of the Mighty.”
For more information on OBOD, see: http://www.druidry.org/
Next up was Andy Cooper, speaking as the founder of Helios School of Esoteric Science. He also began with a personal account of how he “came to the Mysteries” – firstly learning about Shamanism in Hawaii, later studying with and being initiated by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. Andy describes Helios as “a school and order in the Dion Fortune British Magical Tradition … combining Qabalah, the wisdom of Egypt and the ancient Arthurian Traditions” – but it has to be said, we got little sense of what that might actually entail from his presentation.
For more information on Helios School, see: http://www.helios-school.com/
After lunch, proceedings resumed with Nikki Wyrd, speaking on behalf of the Illuminates Of Thanateros, of which she is currently British Isles Section Head. Being able to renew yourself has always been a secret of longevity, and as the foremost representatives of Chaos Magic the IOT perhaps know this better than most. A sample observation of Nikki’s that certainly seemed resonant with the notion of ‘Organs of the Body of God’ (if only virtually-speaking) was her remark to the effect that “the IOT only really exists physically when we come together for our meetings and to perform rituals.” Of the five currents displaying their wares on the day, theirs seems the most adaptable, flexible [but more on this later.]
For more information on IOT, see: http://www.iotbritishisles.org/
Next up was Adrian Dobbie, who was keen to stress that although he is a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis (indeed, the promotional material informs us that he is “President of the Electoral College within OTO, which governs all affairs of its local bodies”), this was by no means an “official” presentation, and that he was very much speaking as a private individual – a seeker and student like the rest of us. While going into a little of the OTO’s history, the possible meanings of Thelema, and taking the time to dispel one-or-two misconceptions that perhaps linger from its association with Aleister Crowley in the popular imagination – the Ghost of “Uncle Al” as he was affectionately termed by more than one Speaker certainly loomed large at times throughout the day! – we were most struck by Adrian’s emphasis on OTO not as a “magickal order” but more as a community of men and women dedicated to a path of self-improvement and spiritual development in a mutually supportive fellowship.
For more information on OTO, see: http://oto-uk.org/
Regrettably, we were unable to attend the final Talk of the day – Nigel Bourne, speaking as a longstanding practitioner of Alexandrian Wicca (which we heard later only lasted 20 minutes!) – because we had chosen instead to attend the final Workshop, on at the same time.
Arriving at the Assembly Rooms in the morning to check in we quickly discovered that most of the various Workshops throughout the day had already Sold Out, but that there were just two spaces still left for the IOT Workshop at the end of the afternoon, so we took that as a sign and put our money down…
Nikki Wyrd was joined by partner Julian Vayne to give a demonstration on behalf of the IOT, the Chaos Magic group in which they are both active and longstanding members (originally co-founded by Ray Sherwin and the Conference’s “Special Guest” Peter J. Carroll.) As the name suggests, Chaos Magic can be eclectic and sometimes unpredictable, and it is probably better to see it in action or try it out than grapple with too many definitions. Nikki and Julian’s Workshop was well attended, and managed to be both serious and playful at the same time. Possibly the most inventive aspect was showing how certain fundamentals, respectfully borrowed or adapted from other traditions, can be brought to bear on giving a wish, a prayer, maximum efficacy and chance of success in the wider world. Going round the room, an ad hoc Group Working was created by combining elements from the varying practices of those present: Sef and a group of OTO members were asked to perform a Thelemic Banishing, Wiccans followed with a recital of the Witches Rune, and then we all joined in with a Druidic chant to “raise the power” – along with Shamanic techniques of circling, dancing, drumming, over-breathing and shaking – all combined in dedication to a common end, the projection of belief out into the culture-at-large. “Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” Or at least it made the participants believe so at the time. After we’d metaphorically thrown our sigils (AOS lives on!) into the “sacred waters of Glastonbury” we banished any spectres of doubt or self-importance with laughter, the Chaos Magic way, and then handed round the blessed daffodils to share a keepsake. (Also the apples, after all “eating is good earthing!”)
Nikki Wyrd & Julian Vayne can be found online here: http://theblogofbaphomet.com/
At the end of the afternoon there should have been a Launch Event for EPOCH: The Esotericon and Portals of Chaos – the eagerly awaited new work from Peter J. Carroll, in collaboration with digital artist Matt Kaybryn. Unfortunately, actual copies of the book had not arrived from the printers in time for this to be a proper launch, but the co-creators had attended nonetheless. The former Grandmaster of the IOT sat to one side in full “Born to be Wild” disguise, obviously nursing a dreadful cold, along with his collaborator – there were a couple of sample copies of the finished book, and portfolios of Matt’s truly spectacular artwork, that could be perused throughout the day. We only managed a cursory glance and a quick chat, but the text looks as intriguing as ever and the images are breathtaking. Matt explained how he works in all manner of different media, but the final images are built up through digital sculpting. Among other exciting things, we caught a glimpse of an invocation of none other than Nyarlathotep (H. P. Lovecraft and his eerie imagination continuing to have such a fruitful Afterlife, now more than ever it seems!) We even recognised one-or-two of the models, including Julian Vayne as aJoker Trickster figure!
To round things off, Sef introduced Professor Ronald Hutton – who had collaborated and advised on the book – who then introduced Peter J. Carroll as “the most significant magical and occult theorist since Aleister Crowley” – high praise indeed! Pete then apologised that he was “sorry for coming to a book-launch with a stinking cold and no book” and explained a little of the idea behind the project – creating images of the gods and goddesses from all the world’s religions and mythic past in an attempt to recapture something about ourselves, and at the same time perhaps remind us of our future potential? – before then in turn introducing Matt, who spoke briefly about his part in the creation of the book, and played a short clip of some of the images.
For more information, see: http://www.esotericon.org/
And then, after the Talks and Workshops, the Special Guest spot, and before the Jupiter Ball, a special celebration of The Gnostic Mass, by Ordained Officers of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, under the auspices of OTO. “All will be welcome to celebrate the Divine in Humanity, and the Generative and Creative forces of Nature.” Considering the large number attending, constraints of space, and that the Mass is a fairly active performance on the part of those officiating, all went fairly smoothly. There was a sense of a window on the Past, of looking through back to the time of Crowley and the Golden Dawn, and perhaps beyond, but also a sense of how new models of genuinely spiritual communion are developing. The invocations and hymns were moving, the incense evocative, but at the same time the drums helped sustain a suitable earthly tone – like the base-note in a subtly mixed perfume. “There is no part of me that is not of the gods” we all pronounced, after partaking in the communion of a small cake of light and a draught of wine (with vegan, gluten-intolerant, and non-alcoholic options for a few, where necessary.)
A great way to celebrate a sense of community in diversity, and round off what will hopefully be a new beginning…