A Vague Apparition

In Occult Experiments in the Home (the book), I relate a story of how, meditating one evening, I heard a woman’s voice saying I’m done! I’m done! which was so clear it broke my concentration.

I immediately felt that this experience could mean that someone I knew had died. But I mentioned it no one because, at the time, my partner’s mother was seriously ill . However, I noted it in my diary.

The next day at work it was announced that a member of staff had died the previous evening, but this person was male and alive at the time I heard the voice. In the days that followed my partner’s mother made a good recovery, so I thought no more about it.

Snapshot of page from my journal.

The entry in my journal.

Around this time a letter arrived at the building where I lived, addressed to ‘Mrs G.’. No one of that name lived in the building. There was no return address on the envelope, so after a few days I opened it and returned it to the sender. It emerged that Mrs. G., the addressee, it was the sister of Ms M., an elderly woman who lived in the flat below mine. It was a letter of condolence.

Only by this accidental route did I discover that Ms M., my neighbour, had died. Ms M. was a very private person, but she had recently asked if she could call on me for help if she needed it. I was very happy to keep an eye on her. (I suspected at the time that she was scared of collapsing in her home and not being found.) In the book my account of this incident ended as follows:

I’ll probably never know the exact date and time at which Ms M. passed away in hospital, but the date on the letter suggested it would have been on or close to the day I heard the voice… Ms M.’s bedroom was directly below the room in which I was meditating. (Barford 2010: 76)

I have recently been reading books that discuss ‘crisis apparitions’. I was intrigued by how the Society for Psychical Research decided to impose an arbitrary limit of 12 hours around the time of a person’s death, so that an apparition of that person experienced either 12 hours before or after their death was considered a crisis apparition (i.e. the apparition of a living person) rather than as an apparition of the dead (Peach 1991: 45).

Into what category of apparition did my experience of the voice fall – if any? Was Ms. M dead or alive at the time I heard the voice? As quite a few years have passed since the incident, I decided it was perhaps time to dig a little deeper.

The entry in my journal was written on February 14th, 2007, and states that the voice was experienced at 6pm on February 12th. The journal entry seems to have been triggered by the coincidence between the voice (reported in my journal as sounding like my partner’s mother) and the death of the male staff member at work. An entry dated February 25th reports my discovery that Ms. M had died, after I had opened the letter. It also notes that the letter itself was dated February 17th, prompting my conclusion that Ms. M must have died close to the experience of the voice.

Last week I went to the register office for a copy of Ms. M’s death certificate. It revealed that Ms. M died on the 15th. She was alive at the time I heard the voice, and would be alive for another three days.

So – where does this leave us? In cases of ‘crisis apparitions’ is there really anything causal at work? Or is it just that we have an unrelated sequence of experiences or events on which it is possible to hang a certain narrative structure?

A misty form that looks like the outline of a person.

An apparition. Has it a causal basis, or is it just the interpretation of mist?

In this case, a voice was unexpectedly heard, and was later (re-)attributed to someone who happened to live nearby and happened to die roughly around the same time. Considering that Ms. M died three days after the voice was experienced, and that the voice was not recognised as hers at the time but ‘identified’ only in retrospect, it seems that the null hypothesis has probably won the day.

And yet… the cause of death on the certificate offers a fillip: it states that Ms. M suffered a heart attack (myocardial infarction) on the 12th. The day on which the voice was heard could have coincided with the last day that she was conscious, but whether 6pm coincides with her last moment is beyond the limits I would consider it appropriate to research.

Am I irrationally stretching my preferred narrative across all available hooks? I am enabled to do so, to a certain extent, because (as the SPR researchers seemed to recognise with their 12-hour fudge zone) ‘death’ and ‘crisis’ are malleable terms.

Commonly, and ultimately in this case, an apparition is a subjective experience, which can only be shared by putting it into some kind of narrative. Like all our most intimate experiences, it can mean only what we decide to say about it, unless we say nothing at all. But who is there that seriously believes the most intimate experiences in our lives should be regarded as the least meaningful?


Barford, Duncan (2010). Occult Experiments in the Home: Personal Explorations of Magick and the Paranormal. London: Aeon Books.

Peach, Emily (1991). Things that Go Bump in the Night: How to Investigate and Challenge Ghostly Experiences. London: Aquarian Press.

Concerning the Vision of Spirits in the Air

I was due to present a magickal working, but couldn’t think of anything specific, so (on my way out) I grabbed an old grimoire from the shelf with a vague idea of using it to demonstrate how silly old books can be put to use in personal magickal practice.

The book was A.E. Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magick, which I’d picked up somewhere years ago for a quid. When the Baptist’s Head was starting out, from this same book we adapted a ritual for communicating with the Archangel Uriel and had been blown away by the results [1]. I hoped that A.E. Waite would turn up trumps again.

In its gloriously obtuse prose, here is the text for the ritual I chose:

Concerning the Vision of Spirits in the Air

For the Masters of Black Magic, as for the author of the Comte de Gabalis, the air is the abode of far other beings than the bird and fly, but the process by which they are rendered visible is complicated through the exceptional nature of the required materials…

It’s now widely recognised that many of the ingredients for ‘spells’ are either symbolic, or were chosen deliberately for being difficult-to-come-by, in order to put casual readers off the scent of the true purpose for the ritual. In an age where it is considered politically correct to make ourselves understood to as wide an audience as possible, this tactic strikes us as bizarre. But reflect for a moment on the trolls that would flock to the comments section of a blog which made magick simple enough for everyone to understand, and suddenly it starts to make sense.

Cardboard box with magick words and things inside.

The ingredients for the spell, ready for burning.

Waite almost gives the game away in the passage above, with his implied inference that if the materials weren’t such a hassle to obtain, then it would actually be easy to see the spirits.

It is, of course, quite possible to secure the brain of a cock, and dissection with that object may perhaps be performed by deputy; the kitchen-maid or the poulterer’s assistant would be easily secured…

Easy for him to say! For me, locked in an urban lifestyle, lacking domestic help, animal offal is not so easy to come by.

The dust from the grave of a dead man is the second ingredient of the process; but a visit to the nearest cemetery will not be sufficient, because it is useless to collect it on the surface; that which is next to the coffin will alone serve the purpose…

Do I need to point out how insane it would be even to attempt this?

In addition to these substances there are only oil of almonds and virgin wax. A compost must be made of the four, and it must be wrapped in a sheet of virgin parchment inscribed previously with the words GOMERT, KAILOETH, and with the character of Khil.

This didn’t sound too hard. ‘Virgin parchment’ means ‘a blank sheet of paper’, and ‘virgin wax’ (correct me if I’m wrong) is no different from ‘wax’, is it? Instead of ‘almond oil’ I decided sunflower would do just as well. Because this is where we hit the nub: how do we suppose magick ‘works’? Do we suppose a chemical reaction renders the spirits visible when a cock’s brain is mixed with corpse dust?

No. Magick doesn’t ‘work’. I learnt magick from the tradition of Chaos Magick, which avers that results arise from shifting one’s belief, thereby altering one’s reality. Over time I’ve come to regard this as too ‘causal’ an explanation. Alan Chapman and I realised at an early stage in our collaboration that chaos magickal rituals still lead to results even when alteration of the magician’s psychological state (‘gnosis’), supposedly another essential component of ritual, is completely left out. These days, I often don’t bother with either gnosis or belief-shifting. I make no effort to ‘believe’ in the ritual I’m performing. I know it’s a pile of ludicrous rubbish. But I do it anyway, and the results are just as striking.

This cannot be an original discovery, because the key feature of magick has always been that its means are causally insufficient to realise its ends. Magick does not and cannot ‘work’. Results are not the effects of the ritual, but arrive as uncaused, meaningful synchronicities. These are indeed complete ‘coincidences’, things that probably would have happened anyway, even if the ritual had not been performed.

However, the ritual was performed, and it’s this formalisation of intention on which the act of magick seems to rest. So, on the night in question, because it would be insane to dig up a corpse, someone instead pretended that he was dead. We sprinkled dust on him and declared this our desired ingredient.

‘I never saw a cock that had a brain,’ someone jokingly remarked, which provided inspiration to push a cashew nut into the tip of a banana, and improvise around its extraction a routine that was a lot more fun than cracking open the skull of a fowl.

The materials being thus prepared, it remains to set them alight, whereupon the operator will behold that which the Grimoire characterises as prodigious, but does not specify except by the indication of the title. This experiment, it adds, should be performed only by those who fear nothing…

Again, the game is almost given away by: (1) the instruction to destroy the ingredients that have taken such effort to assemble; and (2) the refusal to specify an outcome. (Because there won’t be an ‘outcome’ – except smoke.)

Things on fire!

The ingredients burnt with an unexpected ferocity.

Fearlessness is needed because anyone who fears the spirits will be in dread of certain things happening, and inclined to overlook any other stuff that happens instead. Fearlessness is really only the capacity to adopt a wide mental focus. Without that, wasting time on something that does not work really is a waste of time.

It is easy to deride the process, but reflective persons will see that it is the quintessence and summary of the whole art. This is Black Magic – and most of the white kind – in the proverbial nutshell – a combination in equal proportions of the disgusting and the imbecile. There are many more elaborate experiments, but few of such a representative kind. It is not necessary to add that it has been exceedingly popular and is to be found in most of the Grimoires.

Offensive, stupid, ridiculous, funny, arbitrary and tedious: these registers feature in ritual not purely because of their psychological repercussions, but because they are symptomatic of performing actions least likely to have a causative impact.

To be honest, I hadn’t really planned what to do with the ingredients after the demonstration. Some arrangements were made, but I was unwell and unable to follow them through. Experience has taught me there are often negative effects from leaving magickal intentions hanging, so a few days later I took the ingredients into the woods and finished the ritual alone.

Rusted ironwork with a pattern like a face.

Earth spirits. Parts of a rusted bedstead that look like faces.

For the first time in a while, my tiny mind was blown by the results. On my route that morning, I found three playing cards in the street which amounted to a divination of intense personal relevance. And later, having discovered a secluded spot, the ingredients burnt with a ferocity I had not expected (but which was presumably a consequence of the oil and wax).

The original author of the spell perhaps avoided describing his or her results in order to avoid sounding lame. The spirits I encountered in the wood that morning were in the sensation of warm sunlight, the sensuous motion of intertwining branches, and a shoal of white clouds, whale-like in their indifference, which pursued a slow vector across the blue sky out to sea.

After a while, some earth-spirits also appeared. The atmosphere reminded me of Marvell’s poem, ‘The Garden’ (c.1650), with its mysterious sense of nature pushing and insinuating into human consciousness.

Old sock covered in moss on woodland earth.

Another earth spirit, in the form of an old sock covered in moss.

These were the immediate results on the etheric level of experience, the level of emotions, feelings and forms. Later on, an astral result arrived – an experience at the level of symbolism and meaning. (I’m still coming to terms with it. Oh dear — I think it might involve extraterrestrials…)

A.E. Waite had delivered the goods, yet again. So is it true that this ‘spell’ works? Does it actually cause something to happen?

No, of course not. Don’t be silly.

That’s why it’s so good.


I used the paulstretch audio utility (on default settings) to create this ‘ambient soundscape’ from a recording I made of the ingredients burning.


[1] See Alan Chapman & Duncan Barford, The Blood of the Saints (Brighton: Heptarchia, 2009), p. 312.

On Dreams and Architecture

Appian Way

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, ‘Appian Way’, frontispiece for ‘La antichità romane’ (1756).

As I lay awake, I began to feel
that my body’s image from my body
had detached. It’s not entirely pleasant,
this sensation, yet tends to descend
only if I’ve slept too deep for too long
which, these days, is a sure-fire guarantee
I’m not affected by it too often.
This morning when it came – or, namely, when
the mind’s own notion of its body
had stronger than the body grown in strength,
with eyes shut I made an experiment:
moving the mental body a quarter-turn.
When this I’d done, it felt so fully real
(as if I’d made the movement actually)
another virtual quarter-turn I took,
so in my mind my head was resting now
where physically should have been my feet.
Set neurophysiology aside!
Always, in this state, imagination rules.
For of the brain, we have no direct sense;
but, of the mind, it is experience!
Far be it from my intent to argue
that ‘the soul’ departs to disport abroad;
or even that a portion of the brain
(the part, perhaps, that bears within itself
a picture of the body’s pose and motion)
has o’erstepped its mark at times like these,
assuming prominence more than usual.
All I know is this: that having turned about
in the bed an imaginary body,
I opened now imaginary eyes
and found a room not unlike that recalled
from childhood, where my younger sister slept
when we both were kids – excepting its size:
the ceiling high, the walls widely parted,
which – for a child’s room – gave a curious feel
of uncluttered and more than ample space.
A remembered room, so, remembered too,
its bigness perhaps by my childish eyes.
I knew full well that I was in a dream
and stared about in wonder, to discern
what light I saw by. I knew with eyes shut
in reality I lay. And yet I saw.
What kind of seeing is this, lit somehow
by lightless impressions from inside?
Of objects there are none within to see,
nor of reflected rays to see them by.
It is my habit now when in this state
to make a thorough survey of what’s sensed,
inspecting how this seeming-seeing fools
us with a semblance of solid things.
Under applied attention it unweaves.
Look for colour and you will find none; look
for touch, there’s none there either to be found;
nor taste, nor sound, nor smell; yet it presents
as something having each and all of these,
but in the nature of the thought of them,
rather than external things revealed.
In the mysterious night-world of sleep
seeming is semblance enough for being;
light’s mere concept is enough to see by;
memory’s furniture fills the void;
and body is surplus to requirement.
Needed only are body’s sensations
to make a sense of separateness between
impressions from one side or another.
Is mind a place? Milton’s Satan thought so
and built of it a Hell in Heaven’s despite.
But had he looked at what he took for mind,
and paused before assuming it as his,
he might have glimpsed the gaps between the weave
and grasped the awesome truth: that even here,
in our deepest, most interior recess,
we’re no more with ourselves than anywhere,
for self is God’s only, spending, spending,
promiscuously always and forever.

Interior of the Patheon.

Piranesi, ‘Interior of the Patheon’.

Architecture is human habitat,
but in imagination comes to speak
of what is given and of what surrounds.
Buildings in a dream perform no function,
need no plans nor labour of erection,
so, freed from all material constraint,
they can assume forms close to an ideal.
The cities of my dreams throng with structures
cleaving to imaginary purposes.
Gasometers or giant cisterns haunt
the skylines of these imagined townscapes.
Beneath a columned dome last night I walked,
with distant birdsong in autumnal light,
between funeral monuments interspersed
with landscaped gardens, waterfalls, fountains –
yet it was the quality of that light
which seized my heart tightest by its beauty:
golden radiance, seeming to collect
in the porcelain summit of the dome
then raining down, like diagonal mist,
onto the shining tombs and epitaphs.
I stared until light became thought only,
growing in beauty as it grew unreal.

Ruins of a sepulchre on the Appian Way

Piranesi, ‘Ruins of a sepulchre on the Appian Way’ (1764).

Thoughts by their nature arise un-unique.
To re-think is to think exactly again.
In dreams, place partakes of this nature.
On having woken, often there’s a sense
we visited nowhere new but returned
to an instance of a former idea.
‘The same place, but a different guise’ is
common in dreams, impossible awake.

There is a vast clock tower, its timepiece
long-broken, or sounding spasmodically.
With weeds the rusted face is overgrown.
Underfoot, debris crunches as we climb
mouldering concrete stairs to its apex.
The dim, dank air is musty with a scent
familiar, of old, abandoned spaces
that dates back somehow to the seventies:
a place in the old house, under the stairs,
where my parents hung coats and stored the shoes,
so much in use and never decorated.
Why the tower should smell like this inside
I cannot fathom, yet each time I dream
of it,in one of a myriad forms,
this odour is a constant that betrays
something hinting at commonality –
but what it might be lurks in mystery.

Ancient altar, with other ruins

Piranesi, ‘Ancient altar, with other ruins’.

There is one other place I’ve visited
so many times, I cannot hope to count.
So often and so many times, perhaps
of all the dreams I’ve dreamt this is the one
my mind tends towards above all others.
A dual place it is, of two clear parts:
linked cemeteries, one old, one new.
The newer one is bright and clean and fine.
The dead lie hidden, decently arrayed.
It’s modern, or else sometimes dating back
to the nineteenth century: regal, sombre,
melancholy – for sure – but well-controlled,
unlike its older twin, which breeds nightmares.
Ancient and decayed, the soil here threatens
to crumble, crack, like mouldy honeycomb,
exposing rancid vaults, mottled coffins,
or – worse – the putrid freight that hides inside.
This place, sometimes, deep-most at its core
resolves to an effigy of decay:
a hunk of oozing scalp, with hair attached;
or severed member, nothing else beside;
as if the place were pointed all at that.
Often, in the prelude, I am firstly
by the newer graveyard, where all is well,
except – already – a faint foreboding.
Inevitably, mischance will intrude:
a wrong turning, a moment’s confusion,
or sometimes an ineluctable pull,
collecting me into the old graveyard’s
slow-motion aura of threat and terror.
‘It dates back to the eighteenth century.’
Prosaic-sounding, yet inside a dream
details can unlock a store of horror.
A serif font ne’er did anyone harm,
yet in the chiselled script upon these stones
the evil genius of this place cavorts.
In curlicue and italic flourish
a brooding evil grins malevolent.
Duped by this place, or having stumbled
within its orbit by my own neglect,
the machine-like demon that here presides
let’s fly the shutter, and up it snaps,
and behold: oozing death and rank decay!
So predictable, that over the years
dreaming is become like recognising,
and as or just before the trap springs shut
often I wake myself by will alone.

The Effects on Lucid Dreaming of Galantamine and Alpha-GPC

Inspired by the work of Thomas Yuschak, previously I tested the effects on lucid dreaming of the dietary supplement alpha-GPC, with some positive results. I have now been able to test a combination of supplements Yuschak suggests is even more effective: alpha-GPC and galantamine. The latter is available in the UK only on prescription, but I was able to obtain some from a supplier in the US.

The variety I used is a plant extract from the red spider lily (lycoris radians). Synthetic forms and extracts from other species of lily are also available.

The technical part

Galantamine is an inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, which is the substance that breaks down acetylcholine in the brain. As described briefly in the previous article, acetylcholine has been demonstrated to play a role in dreaming. Galantamine, by interfering with the brain’s ability to break down this substance, seems to extend and strengthen the neurochemical process that underpins dreams. Galantamine reaches its peak effect quickly (in about 1 hour). It has a half-life of 7 hours, but takes approximately 48 hours to clear from the body.

(4aS,6R,8aS)- 5,6,9,10,11,12- hexahydro- 3-methoxy- 11-methyl- 4aH- [1]benzofuro[3a,3,2-ef] [2] benzazepin- 6-ol

The chemical structure of Galantamine.

Because galantime prevents acetylcholine from breaking down, rather than actively raising its level, Yuschak recommends combining galantamine with a choline salt (of which alpha-GPC is one of the most efficiently absorbed). This supplies an added boost of acetylcholine, in addition to the action of the galantamine.

I went to bed at 10.15pm and fell asleep as normal. At 3am I got up, went to the toilet, and took 4mg galantamine with 300mg alpha-GPC. Instinct advised me to use plenty of water. I returned to bed, but took a long time to fall back asleep – at least an hour. I also got up once more for the toilet, which may have been due to the water.

It’s not working

I lay awake for so long I started to wonder whether the effects would wane before I’d even started to dream. But then I noticed my mind slipping into fugue-like meanderings, where I was neither quite asleep nor awake. I was homeless and cooking a pan of rice outdoors. Then I realised I’d lit the gas but had forgotten to add water. I rushed around, trying to find water before the rice burnt, but problems and obstacles kept springing up that I had to deal with first.

Even though it seemed that I wasn’t, actually I was sleeping – and dreaming too, but non-lucidly. Things suddenly seemed very, very clear, and I wondered if the night had started at last. I lay for quite some time, assessing whether I was dreaming or awake. But when the room around me remained steadfastly normal, I concluded I must be conscious. Nevertheless, I took the uncertainty as a promising sign.

Later, I became aware of absolute darkness, but I was fully aware within the darkness. I felt vibrations throughout my body. At certain moments, my body would shoot off in a particular direction at huge speed. There was no sensation of rushing air, or any motion sickness, just pure movement in a straight line, either behind or to one side.

I was struck by the total lack of imagery. I seemed to sink down into a place that was completely black and silent. The thought arose that I had descended to the lowest point of Hell, but thankfully I was aware that it was only a thought.

It’s interesting to note that the plant from which galantamine is extracted (red spider lily), is supposedly described in Chinese and Japanese translations of the Lotus Sutra as ‘ominous flowers that grow in Hell’, guiding the dead into their next reincarnation. (This is according to Wikipedia, at least, but I should say that searching English translations of the sutra didn’t turn up any more details, or anything to support this assertion.)

Lycoris Radiata

Red spider lily (Lycoris Radiata). A flower with funereal and autumnal associations in China and Japan.

A couple of times, I ascended from Stygian darkness into a place lighter, but still dim, where rudimentary imagery began to form. There were vague outlines of a room and of a couple of people I recognised. There were erotic sensations in the body. But the imagery seemed ‘made-up’ and I was unimpressed by its level of realism.

‘This is still not working,’ I thought.

At one point, having returned to the absolute darkness, I tried to move my limbs and realised I couldn’t. I recognised this as sleep-paralysis and was not perturbed by it. I couldn’t physically move, but I still had the sense of my body, so I ‘moved’ this instead, in the hope that I might leave the physical behind and finally get the show on the road.

I moved my astral limbs, and pulled up my astral body a little, but as soon as I tried to roll completely out of the aura of my physical body, I was roughly pulled back.

This part of the night’s adventures came to an end with an unexpected return to waking consciousness, and a feeling – somehow – of the closing of a definite phase. I sensed that a window for what might have been the night’s most powerful experiences had now closed.

The long, straight track

The way now seemed clear for some orthodox lucidity. I was walking with my partner through sunny winter scenery. The landscapes and architecture were dazzling and intricate, including a curious housing estate of mock Tudor dwellings, with beams that connected the buildings themselves to form ‘meta-mock Tudor’ patterns. There were also endless lagoons, reflecting the cold, golden light.

We walked a fixed, straight path that sometimes led through narrow doorways in and out of houses and shops. People politely stood aside and let us through, as if they were accustomed to giving priority to travellers on this route.

Not entirely convinced I was lucid, I made an effort to recall my previous intent to witness the raising of Lazarus. Immediately, by the side of the road, a wooden cross appeared and a passer-by announced that Lazarus would soon be raised onto it. This struck me at the time as somehow not quite right. In any case, we didn’t seem able to stop, so the cross receded behind us as more scenery and more of the road ahead came into view.

Later, the walking ceased and a new principle had taken hold: that there was an undiscovered basement in the house, rarely used, although we found some evidence – in the form of displaced objects and the remains of meals – that, unknown to ourselves, we sometimes spent time down there. Again, I decided to take the opportunity to find out more about Lazarus.

On a table before me a small blue-grey statue appeared, of a woman suckling two male children (who, it must be said, looked a little too old for breast-milk). The statue had a Grecian look, but seemed a little primitive and unformed. A commentary spoken by an unseen woman began: ‘Lazarus and Jesus were sons of the goddess Moong. They were born in 1356BC. After they had grown to young adulthood, they travelled together in Italy.’

Then a woman with a professorial appearance (she reminded me a little of Mary Beard), came in and said: ‘Those dates are far too early, and they never would have come to Italy. It’s just too far west.’

I reflected that, even so, this might make some kind of mythical sense. The idea that Jesus and Lazarus were brothers and the progeny of a primal goddess was certainly interesting.

Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus — either that’s a very big wolf, or they’re not shown to scale.

After waking, the suckled brothers and the reference to Italy brought to mind the myth of Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf and became founders of the city of Rome. Like Jesus, according to some versions of the myth, Romulus ascended to Heaven after his death – he became the god Quirinus (the divine personification of the Roman people). Christianity itself, of course, ultimately became the religion of Rome. But the fate of Remus, like the fate of Lazarus after his revival by Jesus, is uncertain. In some versions of the myth Remus simply disappears, although in most he is killed – often by Romulus himself. Jesus and Lazarus, like Romulus and Remus, are ‘rivals’ in the sense that both of them lived on after death, but true divinity belonged to only one of each pair. The other died (and also, in the case of Lazarus, was brought back from death) in order to legitimate his rival.

Returning to the dreams – later still, the council had closed the offices of a Pakistani businessman implicated in all kinds of malpractice, but Conservative Party activists had forcibly reopened the building. They accused the council of racism and of harming the local economy.

The likelihood of Tories defending the rights of the oppressed appeared to me rather slim; this crook was probably one of their donors. Their angry and tight-lipped response to my allegations confirmed my suspicion.

‘Why am I dreaming this?’ I wondered. In waking life I’d noticed recently a growing tendency in myself to express what I think is true, even though it might not go down well or present me as likeable. ‘This is good practice,’ I decided, and continued making a nuisance of myself to the Tories.


The lucid dreams were similar in quality to those I experienced using alpha-GPC alone. However, they seemed to last longer and – when I awoke – gave the impression they would have continued indefinitely if I’d chosen to sleep on.

Side-effects and unusual physical sensations were more pronounced with the galantamine in combination with alpha-GPC. My stomach seemed a little perturbed, and a ghostly nausea surfaced once or twice, but it was too insubstantial to attract much attention. More noticeable was a throbbing sensation inside my skull, at a specific point to the left and slightly to the rear from the crown of my head. It was semi-painful, a bit like a headache, but came and went and was mild enough to remain mostly in the background.

Pro Galantamine

Pro Galantamine. This brand is extracted from the red spider lily. Other kinds are available.

Having checked some brain diagrams, the affected area might have corresponded with the left superior parietal lobule, which has been related to the function of spatial orientation. (I’m not qualified in neurology, so this is just my observation.)

I noticed another peculiar sensation, partly dizziness, partly muscular weakness, that became especially evident when I climbed the stairs for the toilet, and made me extra watchful, because I felt as if I were slightly not in control of my body. It seemed as if awareness were so much focused in my head that the rest of the body wasn’t quite so available as usual to attention. This dizzy feeling remained in the background for several hours after waking and whilst going about my normal tasks.

I would certainly use the combination of galantamine and alpha-GPC again, but I would not be inclined to increase the dosage. I would try to focus more on the out-of-body phenomena that dominated the earlier part of the night (because this seems to be galantamine’s unique contribution) and I would try to ensure that I fell asleep much sooner after taking the pills.

Taking alpha-GPC on its own is pretty much like taking vitamins. The effects of galantamine are more noticeable, however, and I would advise anyone thinking of using it to do some thorough research and make sure they are fully aware of the risks.

Possession By Dorje Shugden

The Oracle: Reflections on Self (2010) is a film documentary by David Cherniak that investigates the use of spirit oracles within Tibetan Buddhism. It records how specially trained monastics regularly perform ceremonies during which they are possessed by spirits from the Tibetan pantheon, who are consulted for political and spiritual advice by the Dalai Lama and other senior figures within the tradition. The film includes footage of a mediums recognised as the State Oracle of Tibet. In 1988, Cherniak was the first person allowed to film the State Oracle during a ceremony. Shortly after the spirit had possessed its host, Cherniak happened to catch the medium’s eye and was thrown off his feet by an inexplicable force. The film is partly an attempt to frame an explanation for this experience.

In passing, the film refers to the current controversy (schism, some might say) within the Tibetan tradition regarding Dorje Shugden. This spirit is regarded as a dharma protector by a sizeable community within the tradition. These are spirits that guard Tibetan Buddhism, its practices and adherents. They are a species of ‘wrathful deities’, entities that take on a fierce and frightening manifestation in order to lead sentient beings to enlightenment. However, although all dharma protectors are wrathful deities, supposedly not all of them are of the same calibre. Some are ‘worldly spirits’ who protect the dharma only in a material sense (by manifesting wealth, for instance), acting because they are bound by an oath, rather than as an expression of their enlightened nature. A sizeable community within the Tibetan tradition regards Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being, whereas the rest – the Dalai Lama amongst them – views him as a ‘worldly spirit’.

The Oracle: Reflections on Self, a film by David Cherniak.

The Oracle: Reflections on Self, a film by David Cherniak (2010). Click to view on YouTube (54 mins).

Like many religious disagreements, to an outsider it looks as if it’s really about organisational politics, rather than anything of doctrinal importance. It’s a widely repeated story that the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959 succeeded because of help received from an oracle possessed by Dorje Shugden. Even if this is the case, which seems quite possible, it does not contradict the view that Dorje Shugden is a worldly spirit, protecting the dharma by material means. Cherniak interviews the Dalai Lama in his film concerning the nature of oracles and their supposed accuracy, to which the Dalai Lama gives a strikingly pragmatic and open-minded response.

Intrigued by this, I decided to attempt possession by Dorje Shugden for myself, to see if I could determine one way or the other his nature. It had been quite a while since I had done any possession work, which is perhaps the most daunting tool in the magickian’s kitbag, but I was keen to see if I’d become any better at it.

There was a group of us. We had a photograph of Dorje Shugden, a singing bowl, some Tibetan cymbals, and – although it wasn’t made from a human thigh-bone – a short, didgeridoo-like trumpet, which certainly sounded the part. The company sat in a circle and I took up the centre. I issued them with a vajra, a symbol of spiritual power and enlightenment, which they could use as a blasting-rod if the spirit turned out to be ill-dignified or unruly. We used the classic Tibetan mantra OM HAH HUM to build up a trancey atmosphere.

a vajra

A vajra. Mine is made of brass. Symbol of enlightenment and spiritual fortitude. The word means 'diamond' and 'thunderbolt' in Sanskrit.

Whilst the mantra and the musical instruments did their thing, I performed breath of fire, flexing my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to build energy, and draw it up toward the higher chakras. I kept my eyes closed throughout until, suddenly, I felt something sweep up and over me, and I fell backwards. I could feel my spine and limbs going into spasm.

It was not that I became unaware of what was happening. Instead, I felt a definite urge to do certain things, make movements, utter sounds, but I could not identify these as coming clearly from myself. I could hear the questions asked by the group, but no words, symbols or meanings arose in me as a response. There were, however, clear and strong impulses to make twisting, spasmodic movements, grunting sounds and enraged cries. I felt a constant, pronounced sensation of fear. Afterwards, one of the participants remarked that it seemed as if the entity were used to persecution. It had acted fearful and enraged, as if it were expecting ill-treatment.

The results were disappointing in terms of communication, but it was certainly the most powerful possession I’d undergone. Afterwards, unexpectedly, I felt ill and shaken. I was nauseous and light-headed. It was a trial to get through the other rituals we’d planned for the evening. We banished thoroughly, of course, but I still felt fragile, as if whatever had taken control might suddenly decide to come back.

After I arrived home, I spent a disturbed night. The feeling persisted of something encroaching. I dreamt of walking into a dark room, which I had presumed was empty, but then there was a slight movement, and I realised someone was hiding. Terrified, I dashed outside, and then awoke. Towards morning, a bolt of orgasmic energy shot through my body and I cried out, suddenly wide awake.

Thankfully, the feeling of strangeness and vulnerability wore off gradually and by lunchtime the next day it was gone.

Dorje Shugden

Icon of Dorje Shugden. (That little critter in the crook of his left arm is a mongoose, who spouts jewels.)

The mediums in Cherniak’s film uniformly claimed they had no memory whatsoever of their possession by spirits. Certainly, I could remember the gist of what had happened. But the impulses I’d had, I still didn’t recognise as my own. Perhaps when mediums say they have ‘no memory’, they might mean something similar: that what happened can be stated, but can’t be recognised as a part of the time-stream we call ‘ours’. In that sense, indeed I had no memory, because what I did in that time wasn’t ‘mine’, although I recall what those things were.

Other questions remain. Most of the participants concluded that the spirit was not Dorje Shugden but something else, given the lack of communication. Yet our magickal intent was to contact him and no other. Or if it was Dorje Shugden, then perhaps I wasn’t capable of channelling him fully, and what manifested was only an aspect.

At face value, it seems that Dorje Shugden is a wrathful deity, a dharma protector perhaps, but of a primitive type, who seems fearful of persecution and abuse. The problem is, to what extent is this ‘face value’ the whole picture?


Edited audio excerpts from the ritual. Three minutes of chanting, grunting and screaming. Voices have been distorted to preserve anonymity, although you can probably guess the one possessed.

A Response from Ona Kiser

Oh, Duncan, I’m tickled. A few comments from the perspective of Santeria, where possession is a common part of ritual work.

1) It is common for initial possessions by strong entities in less-experienced mediums (less-experienced with full possession, even if experienced with other forms of mediumship) to be harsh, abrupt, disorganized, etc. As the entity and medium work together over time, the medium is eventually more able to speak, move and engage with the ritual in a smooth way, and the entry and exit of the entity tend to be less agonistic. In fact, in Santeria mounted orishas do not speak until a specific ritual is done during possession. Other kinds of spirits do speak clearly, but rarely on initial visits unless the medium is very experienced with that kind of possession.

2) I have found in several cases of strong (invited) possession and in cases even of heavy trance or altered states, that simply invoking ones own HGA instantly clears everything, returning one to full normal consciousness. Try it next time, to add to the case studies we have on record!

3) Among Santeria/Spiritist mediums I know with years of experience with full possession, full possession can range from this sense of the body/mind being operated by the entity while one retains a faint awareness as if watching from far away but can do nothing… to complete loss of consciousness by the hosting medium. It’s not a better/worse scenario – it may vary due to the experience of the medium, the particular abilities of the medium, or the desires of the entity who is present.

4) I had one experience where in a group scenario we invoked a Pomba Gira, but were not holding a totally traditional ritual. I was intermittently possessed by her and got the distinct impression she was a bit freaked out at first by the strange setting. Like she didn’t quite know what to make of it. After dismissing the possession for a few minutes to regroup (see HGA above) I then sat down at the altar and talked to her, explaining more clearly our purpose and welcome. I then let her return and she was much more comfortable and enjoyed herself. Your mention of the fearful reaction of the spirit you called could include a bit of this disorientation, as it arrived in unfamiliar surroundings without the usual ritual things it was used to expecting.

In any case, wish I’d been there for the chuckle.

Deconstructing the Male Orgasm

Ejaculation and orgasm are not the same thing.

To many men this may sound incomprehensible, but I’ve been amazed to discover that not only is it true, it’s also easier than I expected to separate them from each other.

For solid evidence that coming does not entail spurting, a little human anatomy comes to our aid: whereas ejaculation is a function of the sympathetic nervous system (which also manages the instinctive ‘fight-or-flight’ response), sexual arousal is a function of the parasympathetic system (the automatic stuff that happens when the body is at rest). A sexual act that includes ejaculation, therefore, is a combination of bodily responses activated by different physiological pathways. More than one thing is happening here, which means there’s scope for turning one of them off, or changing the relationship between them.

Daoism and Tantra are two esoteric traditions that offer views on why it’s a good idea to not spurt when you come. Both seem broadly in agreement that there are health benefits, and opportunities for enhancing sexual pleasure. Semen and sperm contain all sorts of beneficial substances, which are lost upon ejaculation and must then be produced by the body all over again. If, instead, the ejaculate is conserved, it is simply broken down and its virtues recycled. Ridding the body of semen is not the urgent prerequisite for health and sanity that it may seem.

Ejaculation consumes so much energy and blood-flow that it’s basically ‘game over’ for male sexual arousal once it has occurred. A man must take a period of recovery (which may be quite a while, unless you’re a pro porno actor or a Viagra fiend) before erection and inclination returns. Refraining from ejaculation, however, opens the door to the male multiple orgasm. Yes, there really is such a thing. Gentlemen, it really is possible to come over and over again, each time as satisfactorily as if you’d had a fulsome spurt. (Those of you out there who have already been practising this stuff – just when were you planning to clue the rest of us in?)

The ability to maintain sexual arousal through multiple orgasms, especially for those of us with female partners, provides more scope to harmonise with our partner. But never mind this personal, ‘relationship’ stuff. Each of us is our own best judge of the applicability of these techniques to our relationships. Overall, the principle of retaining semen means that sexual arousal is not killed off in a climax to the sexual act, yet most of us have been conditioned to regard the expulsion of sexual energy as precisely the aim of sex. This has certain psychological and spiritual side-effects, but the consequences of the opposite strategy – keeping the sexual energy in – seem far more benign. For instance: learning the art of taking pleasure from what is ordinarily experienced as tension has the potential to increase our capacity for love, tolerance and enjoyment, beginning in the sphere of sexual experience and expanding outward.

Some of this may seem familiar, because most men have developed techniques for delaying their ejaculation – such as thinking of their granny, or imagining their partner as Margaret Thatcher. Unless you’re a member of the Conservative Party, the psychological drawbacks of these tactics should be obvious. Yet once you’ve established to your own satisfaction that ejaculation plays only a minor role in the sensations we label ‘orgasm’, there seems little point in merely delaying it, when it could be eliminated altogether.

This is not the place to go into the details of the specific techniques that will enable you to come without spurting. There is plenty of material on the web. There are pitfalls, however, and it’s these I’m keen to share. First off, a lot of this material is devised and presented by women. I’m sure they have the best intentions, but they don’t have the body parts to describe accurately the kinds of sensations to look out for. Secondly, there are lots of scrawny, long-haired weirdy-beardies out there, who may indeed have a penis, but will promise to make you a Sex God only in return for lots of cash. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. Not when you can learn this stuff virtually for free. And it’s probably more helpful to forget the ‘Sex God’ bit. Like all esoteric practices, this stuff actually turns out to be about rediscovering what is already very ordinary and familiar.

Weirdy Beardy

A weirdy beardy.

Indeed, the main obstacle I found was my expectation that something unusual was supposed to happen. Most of the techniques involve stimulation up to the notorious ‘point of no return’ (PNR), the moment at which ejaculation becomes inevitable and involuntary. The trick is to cease or reduce stimulation before PNR and learn the knack of ‘relaxing down’, riding the familiar but dry orgasmic spasms that will develop in the genital area. (Please note that there’s more to it than I’ve stated here!) The texts describe the eventual results as ‘full-body orgasms’. From this, it’s tempting to conclude that something special is going to happen. But it’s not. It’s just an orgasm – same as usual (mostly) – except without the spurty bit. Yet if we’re conditioned to expect and aim for the spurt, then at first its absence feels a bit weak and incomplete. For a long time, I assumed I hadn’t got close enough to PNR, or I wasn’t correctly applying the technique, because nothing ‘different’ was happening. It really doesn’t need to. By trying to fly too close to PNR (or even trying to somehow get ‘beyond’ it, as I did a few times) all you end up with is a sticky patch and a sudden end to your practice session.

Basically, what we’re doing here is meditation. It’s just meditation, with sexual sensations as the object, rather than the breath or peace and loving-kindness. It’s vipassana with a hard-on. The best tactic is to observe the sensations without seeking to modify them, without looking for something that’s not already apparent. It’s helpful to notice how, when there is no ejaculation, although the continued arousal can feel irksome for a short while, a dry orgasm nevertheless yields an afterglow every bit as lovely and fuzzy as a spurty one.

As in more ordinary forms of meditation, you can’t really (in one sense) do anything ‘wrong’. It’s instructive to misjudge PNR and lapse into an unintended spurt, because this gives us the opportunity to compare the two types of orgasm. I was amazed to find myself disappointed at how the spurt killed my arousal, just as I’d felt disappointed at how arousal continued after a dry orgasm. Whew… It seems dissatisfaction is just everywhere! This also gave me the opportunity to observe how there really is no such thing as an ‘orgasm’ – it’s a dependently-arising amalgamation of sensations. We might assume that ejaculation is the ‘essence’ of male orgasm, but when we look at the experience directly, ejaculation is just a fairly mild, squirty feeling. There’s nothing more special about it than taking a piss. The really pleasurable components of the experience belong to other aspects entirely. When looked at, it’s difficult to localise these in either the body or the mind.

And yet, we must remember: we are but men. Evolution has hardwired us to ejaculate, and the man who seeks to side-step evolution can never quite relax and surrender to sexual pleasure in the way a woman might. But I’m not complaining. Only a few months ago, I’d have thought that multiple orgasms for men was probably a myth. Yet it remains inevitable that what was built to spurt is probably going to, occasionally. I’m interested to see how far this practice can be taken. There’s much debate over whether it’s healthier to ejaculate occasionally, or never. I imagine that if a partner is determined to part us from our semen, then she or he will probably succeed… And, of course, there’s a vast ethical dimension to these techniques, which I’ve not insulted my readers’ intelligence by even mentioning.

Further Reading

The book widely acknowledged as the best and most helpful for learning the techniques mentioned, is: The Multi-Orgasmic Man by Mantak Chia and Douglas Abrams Arava (London: Thorsons, 1996).

The Vision of LOE (Aethyr 12)

I am looking through a window at the rain. Realising I am dreaming, I haul myself through the glass and shout the evocation at the sky: ‘I wish to scry LOE, Aethyr Twelve!’

I feel my body dissolve and I wake. But I sense the lucid state is still close, so I make myself still and re-enter. It’s the same place: an urban garden between derelict buildings. A man wheeling a bicycle comes towards me. He is wearing yellow waterproofs and looks an earthy type, like a gardener. I ask him where I can obtain the vision. He mumbles something about telling me later. No joy there, so I walk on.

[The figure of the man reminds me of the sinister stranger in ‘The Two Faces of Evil’, an episode of Hammer House of Horror first broadcast in 1980, which scared me rotten when I was a kid. That yellow mac should have set alarm bells ringing! The story also includes a ‘doppleganger’ theme.]

The Two Faces Of Evil

Scary yellow-macked stranger from the Hammer House of Horror TV series (1980).

Set into the side of one of the derelict buildings is a stone cat. It can move, but only across the walls. I watch for a while, wondering if it is really an independent creature or only a part of the building.

[Maybe this is a missed signal concerning the dream state itself. A lucid dream feels real because we can differentiate our surroundings from our consciousness of them. But of course this is an illusion, because the surroundings are an aspect of our consciousness with no material basis. In a lucid dream we are all like the stone cat: we appear to ourselves independent, but the ‘self’ is really only a part of the ‘building’ of our dream.]

I wake up, but the lucidity is still at hand, so I re-enter and am in my parents’ garden at night. I look into the sky and ask the Enochian angels to come down. They don’t, but their celestial city appears in the sky, glowing and distant. Nothing else happens so I decide I must travel upwards. I launch myself into flight and discover their city is a huge, metallic structure, bristling with towers and buildings, riddled with interior chambers.

[Unlike the other Enochian visions, there is a sense that I am taking or hunting for the vision, rather than receiving or accepting it. Does being in the lucid state make this inevitable?]

I fly at random towards a spiky part of the structure that looks like the crown on the Statute of Liberty. Inside is someone’s room. I sense I must work out whose room it is and this person’s function.

On the desk and on shelves around the room are ceramic ornaments. All are variations on the basic form of a pair of fishes. ‘Pisces,’ I realise. A small yellow card has suddenly appeared on one of the shelves with the word ‘AUTHOR’ scrawled on it. From this I realise that I am being watched and that someone is feeding me clues, or perhaps trying to manipulate me. It’s clear I am being prompted to conclude that the man who works in this room is a writer, and that the ‘ornaments’ are a metaphor to describe the kind of writer he is.

[The symbolism of Pisces is two fishes, usually swimming in opposite directions, their mouths joined by a silver cord. The upper fish represents spirit (or ‘the astral’), and the lower, the soul (or ‘the etheric’). Spirit is independent of matter, but soul is strongly influenced by it. The Piscean is someone who is habitually detached from the material world, but struggles with the duality of soul and spirit instead. Note how the card is yellow, like the yellow mac. Perhaps a warning signal, the way that red objects function as warning signals in the film The Sixth Sense (1999).]


The symbol of Pisces, from a woodcut made in 1451.

There is a large mirror in the room and I go to look at myself. I am wearing a striped, light-grey, buttoned-up shirt. My hair is greyer in the reflection than it is in waking life.

[The suggestion is that the author who inhabits this room is me.]

There was perhaps more at this point, but I seem to have forgotten it. Things take a darker turn. The next I remember, I am lying at night in a bedroom with a large window. A ghost is known sometimes to appear on the window’s other side. But sometimes the window is a mirror. I look at my reflection again. Sometimes my image is single and sometimes multiple. Some of the multiple images of myself appear in a way that seems manic or insane.

[In ‘The Two Faces of Evil’ the stranger in the yellow mac attacks a family in their car, causing an accident. When the mother of the family awakes she discovers the maniac is physically identical to her husband. One of them is dead – but is it really her husband who has survived? In my experience, the multiplication of the self is generally a regressive and paranoid manoeuvre, and is unlikely to have a happy outcome.]

When I ask for more information, suddenly me and my reflections find ourselves saying uncontrollably, explosively, the word ‘BARGAIN’. It is very physical and sends spasms through me each time I say it. There is something not healthy about this word, but it also has useful powers: to connect, jolt and make physical.

[Very much descending into the etheric here. BARGAIN = 34 = vision, pleasure, beautiful, destroy.]

I lie down again and look at the window, again sensing that a ghost may come. There is a human skeleton in the room made from hard plastic. It doesn’t seem to be alive, but somehow looks friendly. Then it falls down suddenly across me in the bed.

It starts to move. Its head is near my crotch. It becomes warm and heavy and I sense a strong female presence. I am being suffocated, my energy slowly but aggressively being sapped. I realise this is a succuba attack. I fend it off with pentagrams. But I wake up shocked, because nothing like this ever happened to me before in an Enochian vision.


Succubas, I think, don't look quite like this, but can de-spunk you just as thoroughly as if they did.

[I’ve evidently descended at this point to such a shitty level of consciousness that I’m attracting attention from the nasty etheric spirits that inhabit it.]

The vision seems to have ended, but I am still in the remnants of the lucid state. I am in an astral version of my actual room. I perform a full, astral Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, but have a difficult job turning around in my astral body to do the four quarters. In the state I am in, it seems impossible to attain a representation of physically turning around.

[In short, it would appear that remaining in the lucid state is not the best way to receive an Enochian vision, because it puts us in a position of having to find, seek out or force the vision, rather than receiving it from the angels in the usual way. In the lucid state there is a diminished sense of the vision as a ‘message’, and an increased sense of undergoing it as a direct ‘experience’. This could be compared to people who confuse the significance of a spiritual experience with the experience itself, and come away with a mistaken idea that (for example) enlightenment means being in a constant, blissed-out state. However, there’s a strong sense of something trying to warn and guide me during the vision, whose message (despite the way I ignored it at the time) I can perhaps take away as the significance of this aethyr.]