Wednesday, September 25, 2013

‘Occult Conference in October’

as of October 9

First, some clarity of the word “occult,” because there are too many people with Sunday school mentalities. From John Michael Greer’s The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Hidden History:

“Derived from the Latin word occultus, “hidden” or “secret,” the word “occult” was first applied to magic in the late Middle Ages. Until very recent times it was an adjective rather than a noun: the first recorded use of “the occult” in English dates from 1923, while “occultism” is only a little older, dating from 1881. Before then, magic and its sister arts, such as alchemy and astrology, were called “occult sciences” or “occult philosophy,” meaning simply that they were hidden and abstruse.”

Okay? In today’s usage, it is synonymous with esoteric.

Here now the news:

Next month, New York University will co-host, with Phantasmaphile and Observatory, a weekend conference to present a variety of scholars, researchers, and artists who explore various occult traditions. The Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will take place October 18-20 at the Barney Building, the home of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, located at 34 Stuyvesant Street in the East Village.

Contemporary Art and Scholarship
on the Esoteric Traditions

October 18 through 20
New York University’s Steinhardt School
34 Stuyvesant Street, New York City

Three-Day Pass: $90 • Single-Day Admission: $50
Tickets are available here.

From the publicity:

Courtesy OHC
The arts and humanities at present are acutely interested in subjects related to the occult tradition. The tradition represents a rich and varied visual culture that displays a complex set of relations at once culturally specific and global in their transmission. Roughly defined, the occult tradition represents a series of culturally syncretic belief systems with related and overlapping visual histories. Though there are as many ways into this material as there are cultural—and personal—perspectives, universal occult concerns often include a belief in some sort of magic; a longing to connect with an immaterial or trans-personal realm; and a striving for inner-knowledge, refinement of the self, and transformation of one’s consciousness—if not one’s physical circumstances.

Intensely marginalized throughout most historical periods, these traditions persist and represent an ‘underground’ perspective that periodically exerts a strong influence on structures of dissent, utopianism and social change. Though history is marked with several so-called “Occult Revivals,” the contemporary digital age is a perfect confluence of several factors that make this moment prime for a re-examination of all of the esoteric traditions. While the information age has allowed for easier access to previously obscure writings, imagery, and social contexts, it alternately elicits a deep desire for sensorial experiences and meaning-making once one steps away from the screen.

The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.

The visually oriented presentations will be coupled with exhibition of artworks by several presenters and artisanal books from Fulgur Esoterica and Ouroboros Press. Books and editions from Fulgur Esoterica, Ouroboros Press and Catland will be available for sale throughout the duration of the conference.

The Presentations:

Like A Messenger to the Deep:
Deciphering the Occult in Leonora Carrington

The British-born Mexican Surrealist Leonora Carrington created a large body of work including paintings, drawings, sculpture, tapestries, jewelry, theatrical scenery and costumes, as well as a significant amount of fiction (short stories, plays, novellas). Much of the content of her work has been deemed undecipherable and has thus been relegated to the realm of nursery rhyme, surrealist fantasy and mythology. This presentation will use a previously unpublished drawing of Carrington’s as a jump off point with which to explore the artist’s occult interests, which were wide-ranging and actually clearly articulated in her work. The esoteric artwork of other Surrealists, many of whom were her friends, will be used as points of comparison.

Susan L. Aberth is Associate Professor of Art History at Bard College, Annandaleon-Hudson, New York. She teaches modern Latin American art, with a particular interest in Surrealism and religious traditions. She also teaches Latin American art at the Christie’s Education Master of Arts Program, New York. Author of Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy, and Art (Lund Humphries, London and in Spanish with Turner, Madrid, 2004); Agustín Fernández: The Metamorphosis of Experience (with Donald Kuspit, Rocio Aranda-Alvarado and Abby McEwen) (5Continents, Milan, 2012); and numerous other articles and catalogue essays. In addition to the art of Latin America, her teaching and research interests are in outsider art, fraternal orders, the occult, religion and popular culture.

Saturday Night Performance:
Occult Magic With Magician Acep Hale

Until modern times there was no division between the branches of magic. Acep Hale will be presenting a collection of classic street performing tricks that have been passed down through centuries in a continuous link from the times when magicians wandered the earth, entertaining, healing, and divining for the communities they traveled through.

Acep Hale is a street-performing magician, musician, traveler, and rogue gentleman scholar. Driven by the 19th century belief in propaganda by deed he performs daily on street corners everywhere to prove that magic still lives around every bend, you don’t need a nine to five to stay alive, and hope springs eternal between the cracks of every sidewalk.

Adventures in Limbo:
The Neither-Neither World of Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare was an English occult artist working in the early-to-mid 20th Century. In this 45-minute audio-visual journey, we are invited to explore Austin Spare’s approach to creating magical art through an analysis of his own words and images. His liminal methods are then compared with composers working during his lifetime. The lecture includes a soundtrack by John Contreras (of Current 93 and Baby Dee) that was composed uniquely for this presentation.

Robert Ansell is a publisher, art dealer, curator and scholar. His field of expertise is esoteric art of the 20th century with a specific focus on Austin Osman Spare. Through his company Fulgur Esoterica, he has represented esoteric artists in book form since 1992. In recent years he has also gained note as an independent art curator specializing in the esoteric. Robert is also the publisher and art editor of Abraxas Journal, which has been described as today’s pre-eminent voice for the serious study of occult and esoteric expression. His published work includes; AOS Ex-Libris (1988), The Book of Ugly Ecstasy (1996), Borough Satyr (2005), The Valley of Fear (2008), The Exhibition Catalogues of Austin O. Spare (2011) and The Focus of Life (2012). He has been interviewed for the BBC Culture Show, the blog Boing Boing, and Dazed and Confused.

Jesse Bransford:
The Planets, A Ten Year Working

In the summer of 2013 Jesse Bransford completed a long-term project involving a study of the seven planets of antiquity. Begun in late 2004, The seven celestial bodies, the Sun, Mars, Mercury, the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn were each taken in turn and studied for approximately a year. The research generated seven discreet bodies of work that trace the self-initiation of the artist into a much larger (and stranger) world.

Jesse Bransford (Conference Co-organizer) is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work is exhibited internationally at venues including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the UCLA Hammer Museum, PS 1 Contemporary Art Center and the CCA Wattis Museum among others. He holds degrees from the New School for Social Research (BA), Parsons School of Design (BFA) and Columbia University (MFA). An associate professor of art at New York University, Bransford’s work has been involved with belief and the visual systems it creates since the 1990s. Early research into color meaning and cultural syncretism led to the occult traditions in general and the work of John Dee and Henry Cornelius Agrippa specifically. His work is represented by Feature Inc. in New York and can be seen extensively documented on the website, a site he has operated and maintained since 1997.

Elijah Burgher:
Topple the Table of Correspondences

Elijah Burgher will give an artist’s talk about his drawings and paintings. He will also discuss the influence of artist-sorcerors, such as Austin Osman Spare, William S. Burroughs, Genesis P-Orridge and John Balance, on his work.

Elijah Burgher (b. 1978, U.S.A.) is an artist and occasional writer, currently living in Chicago. He makes drawings and paintings that utilize ideas from magick and the occult to address sexuality, sub-cultural formation and the history of abstraction. He has exhibited in solo shows at Western Exhibitions, Chicago (2012, 2013); 2nd Floor Projects, San Francisco (2011); and Shane Campbell Gallery, Oak Park (2010); and two-person shows at Lump, Raleigh (2012); and Peregrine Program, Chicago (2009). Recent group shows include exhibitions at the Witte de With, Rotterdam (2013); H.F. Johnson Gallery of Art, Kenosha (2012); 92YTribeca (2012), Anna Kustera (2011), and Envoy Enterprises (2010), New York City; Famous Accountants, Brooklyn (2011); and Noma, San Francisco (2011). Burgher has taught in Contemporary Practices and Painting and Drawing since Fall 2010. Recent publications include Vitamin D2 (Phaidon, 2013) and AA Bronson.

Witch-Hunters in the Book-Shops:
The History of the Cornell Witchcraft Collection

That Cornell University Library has “the largest and most accessible collection on witchcraft in the world” is widely acknowledged in the academic community, but the whole story of why and how it was built (in the context of both scholarship and political activism) still needs to be told in details. Driven by their liberal/rationalist agenda and by their populist/sentimentalist interpretation of European witch-hunt, two historians, Cornell’s first President Andrew Dickson White (1866-1885) and librarian George Lincoln Burr (who retired in 1922), purchased the largest ensemble of witchcraft trial records and demonology treaties in one repository. Decades later, Cornell acquired the library on occultism of Kurt Seligmann, “the magic expert of the Surrealist group.” In this talk, Laurent Ferri will discuss the formation, use, and occasional misuse, of the amazing and still expanding Cornell Witchcraft Collection.

Laurent Ferri is the curator of the pre-1800 collections of rare books and manuscripts in Kroch Library, Cornell -- where he also holds the position of Adjunct Professor of Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies. Prior to coming to New York State, he worked at the National Archives in Paris, and also taught at the école nationale d’administration in Rabat, Morocco.

Art as a Spell:
Resacralizing Urban Space

The word “pagan” means “of the country,” yet so many city-dwellers have magical inclinations and pantheistic leanings. How do we reconcile our metaphysical hunger with our decidedly industrial surroundings? In this meditation on the occult and urban living, with a special focus on New York City, Pam Grossman will explore the idea of art as a conduit between civilization and the divine.

Pam Grossman (Conference Co-organizer) is an independent curator, writer, and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog which specializes in art and culture with an esoteric or fantastical bent, and the Associate Editor of Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies. As co-founder of the Brooklyn arts & lecture space, Observatory, her programming aims to explore mysticism via a scholarly yet accessible approach.
Her group art shows, Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists, VISION QUEST, Alchemically Yours, and Sigils & Signs have been featured by such outlets as Boing Boing, Art & Antiques Magazine, CREATIVE TIME, Time Out New York, Juxtapoz, Arthur, 20×200,, and Neil Gaiman’s Twitter.
She lectures on such topics as “The Occult in Modern Art 101,” and teaches classes on herbalism and ritual. Her writing has appeared in numerous mediums, including The Huffington Post,, the Etsy blog, Sciences Occultes magazine, and various Fulgur press publications. As a featured guest on The Midnight Archive web series, Expanding Mind radio, Occult Science Radio, and the C-Realm, Psychonautica, and Labyrinth podcasts, she has discussed the role of magic in contemporary life.
Pam is a graduate of New York University, where she studied anthropology, art history, and comparative religion. A resident of Brooklyn, she lives with her playwright husband, Matthew Freeman, and their two cat familiars, Albee and Remedios “Remy” Varo.

More Brilliant than Crystal:
The Life and Work of Ithell Colquhoun
A Presentation by Dr. Amy Hale

This illustrated lecture will explore the rich artistic and philosophical legacy of Ithell Colquhoun (1906-88). Colquhoun, who was formally associated with British Surrealism for a short time in the late 1930s, was situated at the nexus of British esoteric thought and culture in the mid 20th century. Through her work we can examine the emerging social and cultural contexts of several strands of British esoterica, including Wicca, Druidry, traditionalist witchcraft, and Hermetic magic. Furthermore, Colquhoun anticipates, by decades, movements such as Goddess religion and British earth mysteries. Just as importantly, Colquhoun’s oeuvre provides us with a rare working record of a female occultist working in a male dominated milieu, who dedicated nearly her entire life to magic and the pursuit of enlightenment, always without compromise.

Amy Hale, Ph.D. (Golden Gate University) is an Anthropologist specializing in contemporary Celtic cultures with an emphasis on Cornwall and esoteric cultural history. She is the co-editor of New Directions in Celtic Studies (2000) and Inside Merlin’s Cave: A Cornish Arthurian Reader (2000) in addition to writing over 30 other articles ranging in topic from Neo Druidry to Celtic cultural tourism. She is the past co-editor of the Journal of the Academic Study of Magic (with Susan Johnston Graf), and is working on a biography and several other projects related to the life and work of of Ithell Colquhoun (Francis Boutle).

Alchemical Vessels:
Vehicles of the Hermetic Tradition,
A Presentation by William Kiesel,
Editor-in-Chief of Ouroboros Press

The Royal Art of Alchemy has a long tradition of transmutation. The literature is among the most artistic and thereby recognized, practices in the western esoteric tradition. Despite this fact, alchemy is also one of the most misunderstood arts in the tradition due to the confusion arising from the enigmatic language and imagery employed by its authors. A cursory glance reveals an apparent dichotomy between allegorical and practical methods as expressed by 20th century exponents of the art. Images in alchemy that depict specific alchemical operations along with allegorical references will accompany an explicatory presentation. As various operations in the tradition customarily take place in distinct vessels, ovens and crucibles, several images will be shown where the two methods work in concert.

William J. Kiesel is the director of Ouroboros Press, Editor-in-Chief at CLAVIS Journal of the Art Magical and the founder of the International Esoteric Book Conference. His personal research into variant currents of Western Esotericism and the History of the Book has been augmented by participation in the antiquarian and scholarly book trade dating back to 1991. A strong supporter of Book Arts, his role also includes independent scholarship, art curation and public speaking in the complex and intriguing world of esoterisicm.

Isis Resurrected:
How Madame Blavatsky Reshaped Our World,
A discussion with Gary Lachman and Mitch Horowitz,
moderated by Pam Grossman

Gary Lachman is the author of more than a dozen books on the meeting ground between consciousness, culture, and the western esoteric tradition, including Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality, Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to his Life and Work, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, A Secret History of Consciousness, The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus, and mostly recently The Caretakers of the Cosmos. He is a regular contributor to several journals in the US and UK and regularly lectures on his work in the UK, Europe, and US. In a prior life Lachman was a founding member of the rock group Blondie and in 2006 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was born in New Jersey but since 1996 has lived in London, England. 

Mitch Horowitz is vice-president and editor-in-chief at Tarcher/Penguin, the division of Penguin books dedicated to metaphysical literature. He is the author of Occult America (Bantam), which received the 2010 PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence. His new book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, is forthcoming from Crown in January 2014. Horowitz frequently writes about and discusses alternative spirituality in the national media, including CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, All Things Considered, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Visit him online at and on Twitter @MitchHorowitz.

Symbolic Devices:
On the Hieronymous Machine
and Other Magical Technologies

“If, as Arthur C Clarke famously observed, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then can we accept that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology?”
In this illustrated presentation, Mark gives a historical overview of psychotronic devices—the radiant collision point of magic, art and technology. Psychotronic devices fuse aspects of vitalism, electromagnetic field theory and psychic sciences like telepathy, psychometry and dowsing. From an orthodox materialist perspective they are cargo cult technology, a fantasy of science. But it is too simple to reject all psionic devices out of hand as deceptions or slight-of-mind; Instead, we can perhaps best understand them as technological adaptations of ancient, sympathetic magical practices, a magic that feeds on, and is fuelled by, the conviction of both the practitioner and the subject. Mark will look the development of psychotronic technologies from the 19th century to the present, a journey that incorporates experimental medicines, science fiction fandom and some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries.

Mark Pilkington is the author of Mirage Men (now a feature documentary film) and Far Out: 101 Strange Tales from Science’s Outer Edge and has written for numerous magazines, anthologies and journals. Mark is the overmind at Strange Attractor, publishing books and curating events and exhibitions. When he’s not working with words you’ll find him fiddling with synthesiers and electronic sound making devices with a number of experimental music groups in his native London. /

Shannon Taggart:
Physical Mediumship and the Search
for Ectoplasm in Modern Spiritualist Ritual

Shannon Taggart is a photographer and independent researcher based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally. She curates a lecture series about the science and aesthetics of the miraculous. Currently, she is working on a book about Spiritualism and physical mediumship.

Opening Night Performance:
The Parlour Trick

The Parlour Trick is a “haunted chamber music” project, founded by Meredith Yayanos in 2006. Recently, she and fellow multi-instrumentalist Dan Cantrell released an LP of spooky seance songs under The Parlour Trick moniker called “A Blessed Unrest”. Thematically, the record is very much a Madwoman in the Attic affair, steeped in melancholy, decay, ritual, channeling, agoraphobia, laudanum abuse.... lots of Grimm, grinning stuff. Hear more at

Meredith Yayanos is a musician, writer, traveler, and the co-founder/Editor-in-Chief of Coilhouse Magazine & Blog. Her theremin, violin, and vocal work has been featured on tracks with artists including The Dresden Dolls, Beats Antique, Faun Fables, The Vanity Set, David Garland and The Walkmen. She has also done score work for film and television, most notably the Victorian ghost story puppet short The Narrative of Victor Karloch, and the full-length psychological thriller, Empty Rooms.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

‘The Eleusinian Brooklyn!’

It’s that time of year—fall equinox, colder days, longer nights, harvests, booths, leaves changing, etc.—when the mind turns to the connections to ancient ancestors by way of timeless ritual traditions which celebrate nature’s tireless, harmonious cycling.

The best known of the ancient mystery rites, unquestionably, are the Eleusinian Mysteries. For approximately two millennia, the small town called Eleusis, not far from Athens, was the site of a temple where the myth central to pre-Hellenic Greece’s spiritual understanding of autumn was imparted to initiates. That myth, of course, was the story of how Persephone came to live her dual life, dividing her time between the underworld and Mount Olympus. It is an allegory of the change of seasons, like most sacred stories key to the ancient mysteries.

You probably know the general story of this myth, but here it is with some detail, courtesy of Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths: Demeter (meaning Barley Mother), the goddess of the cornfield, with Zeus, bore a daughter named Core (meaning Maiden), and the two were very close. Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with Core and asked her father/his brother, Zeus, for permission to marry her. Zeus, fearing Demeter’s reaction if he consigned their daughter to the underworld, declined either to grant or deny this request; Hades interpreted the ambivalence as a favorable decision. While making a rare visit above ground, Hades found Core one day while she picked flowers in a meadow, abducted her, and hastily raced his chariot back to the world of the dead.

Foregoing rest and refreshment, Demeter searched for her daughter for nine days and nights. After some investigation, she learned the truth: that Hades had absconded with Core, hereafter named Peresphone (meaning She Who Brings Destruction), to the underworld. Armed with the facts, Demeter was so angry and despondent that she continued to wander the earth, forbidding agriculture to grow. Mankind was at risk of extinction. Zeus made repeated entreaties to calm Demeter and to restore life to the trees and grain, but she was relentless. Messenger god Hermes brokered the deal: Peresphone may return to the world of the living on the condition that she has not yet tasted the food of the dead.

It was at Eleusis (meaning Advent) where Peresphone and Demeter were reunited, but it was revealed that the daughter had eaten seven seeds of the pomegranate—that fruit so prevalent and so symbolic in so many myths and faiths—while in the underworld. Because of this, Peresphone would not live her life above ground, and because of Demeter’s refusal to retract her curse upon the land, her daughter would not be sent to live in the underworld either. The commonly understood compromise consisted of Peresphone dividing her time equally between life above ground and life below ground denoting, respectively, the warm weather months of abundance and the cold weather months of deprivation and death. (The classical understanding of this schedule puts Peresphone in the underworld for only three months a year.) Placated, Demeter prepared to return home, but first initiated several of her allies, who had aided in the search for Peresphone, into her mysteries and worship. One of these, Triptolemus, son of King Celeus, was sent around the world to teach mankind the art of agriculture.

Triptolemus receiving wheat sheaves from Demeter, and blessings from Persephone, in this 5th Century BCE relief on exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Click to enlarge.

I won’t bother repeating the sparse information on the orgiastic doings of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but there is a brief sketch of the ritual published by John Michael Greer in his The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Hidden History. Excerpted:

“Initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries involved a strict process that took more than a year and a half to complete. Candidates first took part in the Lesser Mysteries, the Myesis, which was celebrated in February each year on the banks of the Ilissos River near Athens. Each candidate sacrificed a pig to the gods, bathed in the icy waters of the Ilissos, and received instruction in the myth of Demeter, the goddess of the earth, and her daughter Persephone….

“After the Lesser Mysteries, candidates had to wait until September of the following year before they could take part in the Greater Mysteries, called the Teletai. These rites formally began on the 14th of the month of Boedromion, when priestesses from Eleusis came to Athens carrying baskets. The baskets contained sacred objects that were stored in the Eleusinion, a temple in Athens; what those objects were, nobody knows. Candidates began fasting on the 10th, and on the 16th they marched in a procession down to the sea to purify themselves in its water, then went into seclusion for the next two days.

“At dawn on the 19th, the candidates gathered at the Painted Porch in the central marketplace of Athens, donned myrtle wreaths, and formed a procession with the priestesses and their mysterious baskets. They left Athens by the Sacred Gate and proceeded along the Sacred Road toward Eleusis. At a bridge they met priests who gave each of them a carefully measured portion of a beverage called kykeon (meaning The Mixture), containing water, roasted barley, and pennyroyal. At a second bridge, another detachment of priests tied a thread to the right hand and left foot of each candidate. Finally, around sunset, the procession reached Eleusis and marched by torchlight into the sacred precinct. They entered the Telesterion, where the Hierophant, the chief priest of Eleusis, sat on his throne just outside the entrance to the Anaktoron.

“It is at this point that most of the surviving sources fall silent....

“According to Clement of Alexandria, a Christian writer from the fourth century, initiates of Eleusis had a special password, the synthema: ‘I have fasted, drunk the kykeon, taken things out of the large basket, worked with them, put them into the small basket, and then back into the large basket.’ Comments from many initiates indicated that whatever they saw within the Telesterion freed them from the fear of death—a point that merely deepens the mystery that surrounds Eleusis.”

Where was I going with this? Yes! Brooklyn.

On Friday night, Observatory in Gowanus will host a ritual workshop led by Pam Grossman. From the publicity:

Autumn Descent and the Eleusinian Mysteries
Friday, September 27
7:30 to 9-ish p.m.
543 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York
Admission: $20

You must RSVP to phantasmaphile(at) if you’d like to attend, as space is limited.

Persephone’s descent into Hades, and Demeter’s subsequent mourning, were celebrated in late September in ancient Greece via a 9-day long series of elaborate rites called the Eleusinian Mysteries. Though relatively little is known about these rituals to this day, they mirrored the changing of the seasons, and allowed initiates to reflect deeply upon the cycle of birth, death, and resurrection.

So shall we celebrate this time when the world turns dark and our thoughts turn inward. This evening will be filled with myth, ritual, and meditation to prepare us for the colder months. We will journey to the underworld, and return with messages to help guide us in the coming seasons. Themes will include harvesting, giving thanks, honoring shadow, and letting go.

Please bring:

  • Any altar objects you like. These can be decorative (Thanksgiving and autumnal décor of any kind is welcome), and/or personal objects which you’d like to have charged
  • A candle and holder
  • A cushion, pillow, or fabric, as we will be sitting on the floor (chairs will be available for those who need).

Note-taking is welcome. This workshop is open to men and women, novices and advanced practitioners alike.

Pam Grossman
Pam Grossman is a writer, independent curator, and teacher of magical practice and history. An initiate in the wise woman tradition, she is a graduate apprentice of the green witch, Robin Rose Bennett. She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog which specializes in art and culture with an esoteric or fantastical bent, and Associate Editor of Abraxas Journal. She lectures on such topics as “The Occult in Modern Art 101,” teaches classes on herbalism and ritual, and is the co-organizer of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU.

Her writing has appeared in numerous mediums, including The Huffington Post,, the Etsy blog, Sciences Occultes magazine, and various Fulgur press publications. As a featured guest on The Midnight Archive web series, Expanding Mind radio, and the C-Realm, Psychonautica, and Labyrinth podcasts, she has discussed the role of magic in contemporary life. Her group art shows, Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists, VISION QUEST, Alchemically Yours, and Sigils & Signs have been featured by such outlets as Art & Antiques Magazine, Boing Boing, CREATIVE TIME, Time Out New York, Reality Sandwich, Juxtapoz, Arthur, 20×200,, and Neil Gaiman’s Twitter. She is a co-founder of Observatory, where her programming aims to explore mysticism via a scholarly yet accessible approach.

Monday, September 23, 2013

‘Peel your own image from the mirror’

So I did make it to the movies yesterday to see Free the Mind, (see post below) which turns out to be as frustrating as it is remarkable. The frustration isn’t the fault of the film; it is simply a fact that the neurology research into how governing one’s thoughts may beneficially impact the functions of the brain and body is merely beginning. (Of course, practitioners of Eastern spiritualities know something about that, but this documentary does not come from that vantage point.) What is remarkable is what we see on the screen, as three people who introduce meditative practices into their lives experience relief from severe symptoms of stress and anxiety. Long story short: two combat veterans, at risk of not getting their pre-war lives back, and one boy, approximately age five, show stunning advancement in reducing the psychological terrors plaguing them after seven days of practicing meditative and mindfulness exercises.

There is more to the movie, and the marvels are in the telling, but it is mentioned repeatedly that the science is incomplete, which is important to remember as you watch. “The brain is the most complicated organ in the universe,” says Dr. Richard J. Davidson, the lead researcher in the film. “We’ve only taken the first very, very small baby step. We’re just beginning this journey.” The scientists do not know why those who meditate enjoy more favorable preventative results from flu vaccination than those who do not meditate. Does meditation produce more neurons? They don’t know, and sometimes they don’t want to know. Davidson, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and a self-described “closet meditator”), explains how, when he decided to explore professionally meditation’s possible neurological benefits, he was cautioned against making a poor career choice. He ignored that advice, and has gone on to receive the acclaim of his peers in the forms of numerous appointments, awards, and fame based on his fruitful research.

In the case of the young boy, named Will, it is explained how he had a sorry story of foster home placements due to his behavior. At age three, the Big Nurse juvenile welfare and healthcare establishment diagnosed him with ADHD, and decided he had to be zonked into conformity with the drugs they use today to turn young boys into inanimate objects. The foster parents who intended to raise Will recognized that for what it is, and set about finding an alternative to solve Will’s problems. His behavior is shown a few ways: some difficulty getting along with others (as if that is unique among humans), an inability to focus (Ibid.) and, most significantly, an abject terror of riding in an elevator.

Needless to say, imparting the concepts and methods of meditation to a young boy with Will's history requires a delicate approach, and that patient touch comes in the forms of exercises that show why and when compassion can be expressed, and some practical lessons in the very basics of meditative practice. In the end, Will overcomes his elevator-phobia; where once the mere mention of an elevator would induce tears and anxiety, he concludes the movie, taking a ride up six stories, thanks to his new understandings of how to control thoughts and regulate breathing.

Naturally, the two soldiers have more serious problems to overcome. Their war-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms differ. Veteran Steve is haunted by the moral discrepancy between having been the good man he was before combat, and having become someone else during his service. Everything you’re not supposed to do in civil society, he explains, becomes what you have to do in wartime to survive. “The person I had to be to do my job was a horrible person in my eyes. A horrible person. And I was good at it.” Returned home safely, he struggles to assimilate into his own domestic life, which means overcoming anxieties and regaining the ability to sleep without reliance on Ambien. Veteran Rich is plagued with guilt, believing he could have saved comrades who were killed in action when their Humvee was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device. He says he ought to have died in their place. He cannot share his wartime experiences with family or friends, and his domestic life comes apart when his wife leaves him. “Maybe I haven’t really lived since I’ve been back,” he says. “I’ve been just”

The two are shown being instructed in processes more involved than what Will explored. The breathing exercises alone: In through the nose; out the back of the throat. In through the mouth; out the back of the throat. Close mouth, breathe through the back of the throat. Yoga stretching exercises have the men folding and crossing their forearms behind their heads, elbows pointed to the sky and hands placed between the shoulder-blades. (Something I cant do.) “There’s a region of the brain called the insula that’s literally used for interacting between the mind and the body,” Davidson explains. “This area is dramatically enhanced in its activation during compassion meditation and will enable practitioners who practice compassion meditation regularly to feel the emotion of others more easily.” The brain’s prefrontal cortex, that anterior portion of the frontal lobes which is thought to process actions such as personality expression and discerning good from bad, is shown to have more pronounced activity during the subjects’ meditation. By the end of the documentary, Steve’s and Rich’s symptoms are shown, according to clinical data, to have decreased by about 40 percent after seven days of the meditation therapy. Steve finds enough peace of mind to sleep at night without taking sedatives; Rich says he is experiencing changes he didn’t think possible, that he is happy, feeling “like a kid again.”

As a kind of coda, Davidson finishes the movie reading this poem:

Love After Love
By Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

‘Free the Mind film’

This afternoon I plan to catch the 2:45 screening at The Quad of Free the Mind, the documentary by Phie Ambo released last year that explores research into how the human brain affects the physical body, and the difference meditation may make.

From the publicity, a note from the director:

We are entering a new era – a renaissance where everything gets turned upside down. In all fields, science makes new discoveries that constantly change our world view and leave nothing the way we first assumed. Our knowledge expands and gets more complex. Constantly, new fundamental questions are raised about who we are as human beings. The more questions asked, the more obvious it is to me how many things we still don’t understand. I find that very inspiring!

Free the Mind is the second part of my trilogy on the fundamental human questions. The first film Mechanical Love (2007) was about robot science. Characteristic for both films is their location in the field where science meets reality and where scientists use dashes and question marks instead of dots. In Free The Mind the central questions are: What is a thought, and how does it create a manifestation in the body?

Can we make a physical change of the brain only by the power of thoughts? My personal reason for choosing this subject was sudden panic attacks a couple of years ago. It was a very physical experience, and I felt as if the record in my mind was stuck and that it took a physical effort to get the pick up back in the groove. I found that meditation could be the push I needed, and I became interested in understanding how it was linked. It made me want to open up the skull and look into the brain and see what was really happening during meditation.

Free the Mind is the result of that study. The film is not an answer, but the beginning of an ongoing debate on what is the human being.

Phie Ambo,
May 2012

Maybe I will see you there.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

‘The Significance of the Autumnal Equinox’

The Rosicrucian Order will host an aptly timed program titled “The Significance of the Autumnal Equinox” tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the Rosicrucian Cultural Center, located at 2303 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (near 135th Street) in New York City.

From the publicity:

Our discussion will include not only a consideration of the Rosicrucian Autumn Equinox observances, but also their parallels in world spiritualties and cultures across the ages. Participants are invited to share their own experiences of the Fall of the year, and its resonances in their lives.

Magpie file photo
The presenter, Steven A. Armstrong, M.A. Hum., M.A., M.Div. is a professional historian, philosopher, and teacher based in the San Francisco Bay area. His current areas of interest include how the Primordial Tradition permeates all world traditions, and the way in which the Rosicrucian and Martinist paths provide a unique and unifying viewpoint on those traditions. Author of more than 30 published papers, articles and podcasts, and a lecturer for the RCUI, he is no stranger to NYC, as he received two of his Master’s Degrees at Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus, and did his undergraduate work just north of New York at Yale.

There is no cost to attend but, they say, donations are welcome.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

‘JSTOR unveils JPASS, easy access’

JSTOR, the on-line trove of journals, papers, and other published research data for the use of libraries, publishers, and other institutions, today introduces an access plan to attract those of us who cannot afford the non-profit’s subscription fee. JPASS is intended for the individual JSTOR user, with options for both monthly and annual access.

JSTOR says more than 80 percent of its data will be available to JPASS clients. From the press release issued this morning:

JSTOR Introduces JPASS
Personal Access to Its Vast Digital Library
of Journal Archives for Individuals

New York, NY— JSTOR, the not-for-profit digital library that is a widely used resource for academic research, unveiled this week its latest effort to open its doors to people beyond universities, colleges, and high schools. Individuals can now get their own JPASS: a monthly or annual pass that provides access to 1,500 journals from JSTOR’s archive collection.

JPASS offers people unlimited online reading from an expansive library of high quality journals across 50 subject areas and the ability to download up to 10 articles a month or 120 per year. JPASS holders also get a MyJSTOR account, enabling them to access JSTOR 24/7 from any device by simply logging in. In addition, this personalized access provides users with the ability to set up alerts for specific search terms or journals; to save and export citations; and, as a unique feature, to enjoy a personal library of saved article downloads, which are preserved and accessible to them—even if their JPASS expires.

“We are incredibly excited to be offering JPASS as an additional access option for JSTOR,” said Jennifer Farthing, who is leading this and other individual access initiatives for the organization. “JPASS is for everyone who needs affordable, access to high-quality, trusted research—whether for a few days at a time or on a regular basis. It’s a great option if you are not able to get ready access through an educational institution or public library or if you need access beyond JSTOR’s free, limited reading program, Register & Read.”

So just who are these future JPASS holders? “As one indication, nearly 1 million people have registered with JSTOR and are using Register & Read today,” says Farthing. “Those that have told us about themselves include independent scholars, writers, business people, adjunct faculty, and life-long learners, among others. Many say they love our free reading program, but some tell us they’d love to be able to do more on JSTOR.”

Now they can. JPASS fees range from $19.50 for a monthly to $199 for an annual pass. Discounts are being made available to JSTOR’s Register & Read users as well as to members of scholarly societies whose journals are included in the JPASS Collection.
For more information on JPASS, visit


JSTOR ( is a digital library of more than 1,800 academic journals, 16,000 books, and 2 million primary source objects. JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

‘Tonight: Full Moon Meditation’

There will be a full moon this evening, in case you’re feeling some inexplicable ticking in your psyche today, so get to the Rosicrucian Cultural Center for the monthly Full Moon Meditation.

Rosicrucian teachings suggest that each of the celestial bodies, including the moon, has a particular influence on one’s consciousness.

The Cultural Center is located on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, near the corner of 135th Street, in New York City. Get there by 7:30, as the skies go dark.

I attended the gathering last month, and enjoyed a really unique experience and met a group of very friendly people.

And check out these photos of the moon, taken by NASA, and just recently compiled into animation-type footage to show the moon rotating, affording us earthlings a look at the far side of our closest celestial neighbor. The side we never get to see. NASA released this video Monday.

Monday, September 16, 2013

‘Anthroposophical Society this week’

These Anthroposophical Society events coming this week in and near New York City sound terrific.

What is Anthroposophy?

“Anthroposophy is a source of spiritual knowledge and a practice of inner development. Through it one seeks to penetrate the mystery of our relationship with the spiritual world by searching for answers and insights that come through a schooling of one’s inner life. It draws, and strives to build, on the spiritual research of Rudolf Steiner, who maintained that every human being (anthropos) has the inherent wisdom (sophia) to solve the riddles of existence and to transform both self and society. Rudolf Steiner shared the results of this research in 40 books and in over 6,000 lectures now available in 300 volumes. He is increasingly recognized as a seminal thinker of the 20th century and one of humanity’s great spiritual teachers.”

Anthroposophy NYC is located at 138 West 15th Street in Manhattan. The bookstore has resumed regular business hours.

From the publicity:

Wednesday, September 18
Ten Part Lecture Series Begins
David Anderson on Spiritual Beings and Their Work
7 p.m. - Regular Fees

Contrary to the commonly held view that behind all we perceive with our senses there is ultimately only dead substance being blown about by physical causes and effects, there is actually a world of many levels of being and consciousness. This year we will look at the invisible beings who, whether we are aware of them or not, are intimately involved with our lives. We will systematically survey the whole scale of these beings and examine how we fit into their organized interrelationships.

Part 1. We will begin with an overview of the spectrum of spiritual beings found in the various planes of being and learn how they cooperate to build up the world.

David Anderson: has taught drawing and Wagner painting at Rudolf Steiner School in New York City and around the world. He holds a Master of Arts Degree and certificates from Emerson College (Waldorf education), and the Wagner School at the Goetheanum (teaching painting).

The second presentation in this 10-part series will take place Wednesday, October 16.

Regular Program Fees – Discounts for All Programs
Non-members $20/*$15, Members $15/*$10, or one Frequency
Discount Ticket (FDT). *The discount in each case is for seniors 65+, full-time students, and active Waldorf teachers. FDTs may be bought at a 25 percent discount for 10 events, 15 percent for 5, and do not expire.

In case of inability to pay, best contribution is always allowed.


Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, September 22
Chestnut Ridge, New York
Category: Eastern Region, Spiritual Research

2013 Living Questions Research Symposium
at Threefold Educational Center

All the technical achievements of our modern civilization are evidence of our ability to objectively understand the material world. But what about the non-material world, the world of consciousness, of soul, of spirit? Are there also ways of objectively investigating the world of soul and spirit? In particular, can the soul-spiritual dimension of the world be objectively investigated by soul-spiritual means? Are there non-material ways of researching the world that can lead to more than subjective belief or personal interpretation?

How should we regard the results of such spiritual research? How can their truth and objectivity be tested? How do the spiritual researchers themselves conduct their work and test their own results? How do they strive for objectivity in their particular field of inquiry and activity?

At this year’s Living Questions Research Symposium, we will actively explore these questions and also hear them addressed by practicing researchers in diverse fields of scientific and artistic endeavor. Join us.

Plan to attend our sixth annual fall research symposium, and take part in a living conversation on these vital questions. On tap:

Keynote talks by Michael D’Aleo, Gerald Karnow, and Laura Summer;

Interactive workshops led by Michael D’Aleo, Annelies Davidson, Laurie Portocarrero, Hans Schumm, and Gary Lamb;

Research Perspectives, Open Space Gatherings, guided conversation, and more.