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Book Review: Occult Experiments in the Home: Personal Explorations of Magick and the Paranormal

September 01, 2015 | By admin
Duncan Barford is one of the quiet ones you're supposed to watch out for - his unassuming demeanor belies, to the many Brightonians he must come into contact with daily in his town of residence, a full-on experimental occultist and mage who generously and honestly shares his experiences. You may already know him through: his websites The Baptist's Head and Open Enlightenment; through his previous publications with his fellow BH & OE explorer; or through his charmingly named blog Occult Experiments In The Home, which is also the title of his new book. OEITH: Personal explorations of magick and the paranormal (Aeon Books 2010) is Duncan's latest offering and it is a fine collection of five essays on the subject. Together they provide an intriguing investigation and discussion based on personal experience and helpful syntheses of many ideas from a wide and interesting range of sources.

Duncan's collection of essays begins gently enough with accounts of youthful experiences and experiments related to paranormal events. But quietly he introduces some fairly startling ideas about, for example, the links between psychotherapy and magick. While there are the obvious similarities such as their shared aim to help individuals gain control over and make sense of their experiences, Duncan points out that psychotherapy uses a technique of harnessing sexual energy for personal transformation by the very fact that sexual relationships between analyst and client are strictly prohibited. In magick, postponing climax maximizes sexual ecstasy. But in psychotherapy the climax is perpetually postponed and the sexual tension never released. One could argue that without the climax in the psychotherapist-client relationship, and the knowledge that no climax will take place, this could be the reason that some psychotherapy processes take so long. Duncan does not suggest we should all shag our therapists after a few sessions to immanentise illumination - perhaps the financial consequences of requiring further therapy to recover from such a possible treatment-requiring event may be prohibitive.

In the second essay the experience of Duncan's friend is an appropriate vehicle for his investigation of liminal spaces. The nice thing about liminal spaces in the physical plane is they allow us to visit them (and on more than one plane). Visiting them on the physical plane allows for opportunities to experience the paranormal. This exploration of liminal spaces takes us neatly to the third essay on space and time. Duncan discusses the complex perceptions of these two fundamental structures of our experience. He extends the idea of the psychogeographical technique of "drift-walking" to his contemporary urban context. Who knew that the near future of the then current economic collapse could be so accurately divined by a bit of "shamanic jogging"? By the time we reach the fourth chapter on "the absolute truth" be prepared to have Freud and Dawkins swiftly debunked and pretty quickly discover occultism's debt to some of the religions many occultists may love to ridicule. But this is no apology for religions - quite the opposite. Duncan's (brief) experience of enlightenment after his encounter with the mulletted and moustachioed guru is a stark reminder of how religions manage to recruit so many dedicated followers. One fleeting moment of non-ordinary experience and the unwary may misguidedly devote themselves to their new religion with the hope of recreating the experience by recreating the contextual characteristics around it - going back to the same church or the same religious leader or the same book that happened to be present at the time. Thankfully and luckily for his readers Duncan knew better than to return to the Guru and to the best of my knowledge neither has he grown a mullet nor matching moustache.

The fifth and final essay is a delightfully detailed discussion on the falsity (or not) of lucid dreaming, and the relationships between lucid dreaming, out of body experiences and astral projections. Having expertly dissected, analysed and categorised various states of consciousness, I would love to also read Duncan's thoughts on the purposes of these states, as I'm sure there's another book's worth of his experience. This was the most probing of the essays for this reader and, as all good books should, it raises many questions for me. Duncan's non-dogmatic and non-prescriptive approaches do what I think they intend to - encourage me to get on with creating experiences for myself and learning from them. Now that Duncan has introduced me to the concept that "the self is an experience that arises within consciousness, not the other way around" a new series of experiments begins for this magickian.

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