Ten points for an eight-pointed game

Atu: The Fool

Lunar Intention: Decompression

Location: 8.74° N, 76.72° E (Varkala, India)

  1. The fundamental rule is that there are no rules, rules serving to constrict the creative expansion and flow necessary for play. Everything else is a guide towards creative expression.
  2. To truly meet a place, feet must kiss soil as one would kiss a lover
  3. Not all those who wander are lost but it’s more fun if they are
  4. Experience always demands some form of opening in response
  5. Discomfort is a necessary comfort
  6. Propitiate the local gods and divine the spirit of a location
  7. Breath and skin are the only avenues home, but you won’t arrive unless you travel both at the same time
  8. Dream pieces can be brought back to create puzzles
  9. The sacred exists in everything but especially within the profane
  10. Interpret all phenomenon as if they were the manifestation of the divine (according to one’s own interpretation of it) into one’s life




Neurocam and the theatre of re-enchantment (Part 3)

So deeply did some of the Jejune Institute’s participants descend down the rabbit hole that the project’s creators had to organise a mass debrief and closing ritual to gently return them to the real world. By the time it had wound up, nearly ten thousand people had signed up with the Institute but nobody knew what it actually was. Was it a) alternate reality game, b) strange cult or c) bizarre participatory art project? It’s the subject of the Spencer McCall’s somewhat histrionic 2013 documentary The Institute, which ends up drinking the Kool Aid and leaving the audience no wiser by its end.


Jejune Institute debrief

Had the Jejune Institute not been created in the city that had also given birth to the Cacophony Society, Discordianism and Emperor Norton, I’d consider it a direct rip-off of Neurocam: An opaque organisation with no clear motive or purpose, muddied with mis- and disinformation, that sends its participants on crazy missions for no obvious rhyme or reason. Sounds awfully familiar.

It’s probably not helpful to compare, but I see Jejune as an example of what Neurocam could have been. Unlike Neurocam, the Jejune Institute had greater resources, narrative structure and went on for much longer, although it’s much easier to undertake massive art projects (the answer was c, by the way) in the US than Australia where the scale of everything, including arts funding, is so much greater. And it’s that scale which excites me. Think about it: that ten thousand people signed up for an organisation they had no clear idea about with the sole desire to have their realities fucked with points to a genuine human need. Similarly, by signing up for Neurocam we were aiming for a state of art-induced psychosis, where the barriers between reality and performance become permeable. Neurocam gave us that in part. The Jejune Institute’s participants received it in spades.

I’m a gamer from way back and using language and imagination to enchant my reality has been deeply imprinted. ARGs never really did it for me; mostly they seemed to be elaborate efforts in product placement and fuck anything that the dead hand of neoliberal corporatism touches. Also, most ARGs are centred on problem solving rather than character and interaction, which is fun to a point but not particularly fulfilling. I’ve always found LARPing to be immensely enjoyable although I think that’s more from the catharsis that comes from bashing things with giant foam swords than any inherent fantasy. The problem I find with all three is that they approach a sort of uncanny valley that strives for verisimilitude but always comes up short.

This is why Neurocam and the Jejune Institute are so powerful. Through participation you surrender control of your reality and enter a liminal zone where interpretation of reality is multivalent and there is no internal leap of imagination required, because any fucking thing could be possible. These are play and the imagination’s Temporary Autonomous Zones, the places we run to when tabletop roleplaying no longer cuts the mustard. Possibility abounds. An immersive game world is created around you, which is beguiling and almost impossible to extract yourself from without debrief.

A similar device is used in David Fincher’s 1997 movie The Game, where Michael Douglas slowly has his entire reality undermined to the point of madness and thus wakes himself up from the torpor that his life had become. Because that’s what we ultimately want from these immersive experiences: to be shaken awake from our slumber and to know magic and possibility. And the only way to get it is to be driven towards madness.

At the end of it all though, we are just participants relying on external forces to re-enchant our world. Even Jeff Hull, the creator of the Jejune Institute talks about wanting to “give participants experiences” with just enough leeway for independent thought. That is, they are guided throughout with bare autonomy. I find this troubling. There must be a line between subverting our reality as our own agents rather than as actors in another’s charade, which harks back to the issue of immediacy I discussed in the previous post. How do we create our own re-enchantment that is not reliant on the imaginations of others?

A Little Nonsense Now and Then is Relished by the Wisest Men

<em>Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures</em>

Willy Wonka had it right. So too did the Symbolists who played games to distort their reality, the derivé being a case in point. Ten years ago in Kathmandu I swallowed a choice block of hash and took myself on a derivé through its narrow and twisted thoroughfares, exploring the many old temples and shrines that litter the city, dodging cows, cars and monkeys and wandering with no direction or intent, guided only by the random flash of sign or symbol or sudden feeling of instinct. For six hours, I felt as if I was living in a vast magical ritual full of purport and occult meaning and saw a Kathmandu that exists on the other side of the liminal veil.

This kind of self-derived re-enchantment comes from a derangement of the senses however it is done (with chemicals, ritual, dance, movement, voice, games or whatever the imagination can produce). In fact, the imagination is the only limit on how you can achieve such derangement. Aleister Crowley suggested pretending you’re a puppet whose every move is controlled by ‘Ajna’. Antero Alli recommends going out for a walk and only seeing the spaces between things. The aim is to walk towards madness without actually going mad (I use the term mad to mean a complete derangement of rationality and the senses rather than as a perjorative) and therein lies the art and also the danger. You may not come back but unless you want to spend the rest of your days as an empty husk on the couch glued to your reality TV shows, you have no choice. You must take that leap!

Games and art have their place. Neurocam enlivened my world by expanding what was possibly in my reality and through it I met some great (and not-so-great) people and had a fun time. But I was motivated by a desire for re-enchantment, to have my world fucked with, and rather than do it myself I handed that responsibility over to strangers. And if the Jejune Institute attracted nearly ten thousand people this suggests that I am not alone and that there is a general discontent with the state of our individual realities. Sometimes it’s necessary to hand over the keys of our derangement to others. And while this is something which Neurocam, the Jejune Institute or anything external can provide, every time we go through an initiation or rite of passage we give away our mental and physical integrity to others. I may touch on this in future posts. Ultimately, however we are responsible for the re-enchantment of our own worlds.

So go forth, walk towards madness but never find it. Let imagination be your guide.



The magic of not having leukaemia (tales from the Department of Ironic Suffering)

‘I’m going to say a whole lot of things to you today,’ my doctor said, ‘but you’re probably only going to hear one or two words of it. That’s quite normal.’

I prepared myself to hear every one of his words. I didn’t want to be normal.

‘So you’re tests have turned up something and they’re consistent with the precursor stage of leukaemia and lymphatic cancer…fnord finarkle…LEUKAEMIA…fnord fnord fnord finarkle…CANCER… finarkle fnord probably nothing but we need to be sure…derp derp derp fnord…BIOPSY…fnord…so you’ll need to go see a haematologist at the Peter Mac. Look, there’s about a 10-15% chance it will develop into leukaemia, which means that there’s an 85% chance it won’t. You’ve got a one-in-three chance of getting cancer anyway, so it could be worse.’

Leukaemia is one of those words one never wants to hear uttered in a doctor’s surgery, not even in jest. I felt suddenly heavy and depressed. The irony was that I was the healthiest I’d ever felt: I was reasonably fit, my diet was good and I had a pretty mature understanding of nutrition and how to take care of myself. The prognosis came out of the blue and a little seed of doubt entered. Had I just been fooling myself: was I actually that healthy? Underneath this veneer of wellness was I being betrayed, slowly undermined by a fifth column of mutated lymphocytes? Was this the aftermath of my wild youth or the lingering product of intergenerational trauma? These are the questions that went through my mind as I left the doctor’s surgery.

I wanted to reject the whole thing. The whole reductive Western medical model sits uneasily with me. It makes diagnoses in isolation. The idea that a bunch of white blood cells had gone rogue didn’t tell the whole picture. It didn’t account for how they got there, what caused them to spread or the impact of diet, emotions, exercise, family history and environment, for example, as catalysts of illness.

There’s nothing like a brush with your own mortality to make you appreciate the finer things in life! The initiate’s face-off with death is a stock-in-trade motif for most indigenous and even Western Hermetic initiation ceremonies. Wake the candidate up from their slumber into the mysteries and experience of the ineffable. I’d experienced several formal initiations in my life, as well as a few more informal enocunters with death. Each one had woken me up to a deeper level of being and some were akin to transformative spiritual experiences.

Last year while on a writing holiday in Bali I got dengue fever and I got it bad. Alone in a foreign country and responsible for myself, I became too sick to comprehend how sick I actually was and it turned into a disaster. I have a stubborn streak so strong you could build a house upon it and, in my sickness, I thought I was okay to manage myself. For several days I convulsed in a febrile mess: sending fevered and disordered messages back to my partner, staggering to the end of the alley and back from my guesthouse for water and periodically attempting to put solid food in my mouth. On the fourth day of the fever I fainted on hard concrete. The doctor urged me to go to hospital and reluctantly I agreed. Returning to my guesthouse however, I found my fever had plateaued and for the first time in four days I was able to put away fresh food. I decided to stick it out. I only had two more days to get through before the fever ended. My thrombocytes were hovering at just above 100, the critical threshold where haemorrhage becomes a danger, and it was a gauntlet I thought I could run.

The next day the fever returned in full force and I was ill to my eyeballs. I booked in for some acupuncture and in one of my greatest ever moments of stupidity, thought that I could walk to the appointment from my guesthouse. In the depths of fever, I walked for forty minutes in the Ubud heat to the clinic. Whatever I had left in me was gone by the time I arrived. The acupuncturist broke my fever and that night I went for dinner, a bowl of pumpkin soup. If I can’t eat this, I thought, I’d call it quits. I couldn’t even swallow a spoonful. I was done.

In hospital my thrombocytes plummeted into haemorrhage territory, down to 78. I was due to fly home in four days to attend the Mankind Project’s men’s initiation weekend. The doctors refused to tell me what was going on, how in danger I was of haemorrhaging or the likelihood of me making my flight home. Being sick in a foreign country is one kind of hell; being sick in hospital in a foreign country where nobody will tell you what’s going on is another kind. I had a permanent drip that I had to remind the nurses to empty or otherwise they wouldn’t come and change it, and the tubes would fill up with blood. My arms were bruised from regular needles and the hospital food was a still from Twin Peaks.


Thankfully, four days after arriving in hospital my thrombocytes finally crept up above the golden 100. I was allowed to fly home that night, sore, battered, tired and somewhat broken.

But that wasn’t even the worst of the ordeal. What followed was. Coming back to Australia I couldn’t do anything. I missed the MKP weekend and for two months I practically lay on the couch, lethargic, depressed and uninterested in the world around me. If you could label it, it would be chronic fatigue. I’d always been one of those people who’d been a little bit cynical about chronic fatigue. I thought it was a case of mind over matter and that all you needed to do was will yourself to energy, to action. But every time I tried to push through the fatigue I ended up back on my arse again, wondering if it would ever end. If you could have given me the most ironic illness for my life, one that prevented me from busy would be number one. Before getting sick, I was the man who did everything. I always had a million things on the boil. My interests were diverse and competing: I wrote, I studied, I worked, I ran a counselling and shiatsu practise on the side, I did magick, I juggled relationships and family, I danced and a myriad of other things. Try as I might I often struggled to stitch them together and I felt pulled in different directions at once. Now I was stuck on the couch, barely able to cook dinner of an evening.


View from my hospital bed in Bali

After about two months of trying and failing, I came to the realisation that I had to yield to the inevitable. There was little else I could do execept give up and accept that this was the new order in my life. Anything else was a recipe for enduring frustration. This came as something of an epiphany. Somewhere deep down, I realised that the only way I would get past the fatigue was to submit to it, to accept it and whatever came of it. In Bali, although it took me a few days of hell to get there, surrendering my stubborness to the reality of my situation opened the door to me receiving the treatment I required to survive. At home, surrendering to my inability to do anything began the process of recovery. For me, this was the equivalent of a initiatory or spiritual insight.

Clichéd as it is, what my life needed was a way to stop doing and a way to learn how to cultivate being. Yet it worked. As soon as I surrendered to the post-dengue fatigue it lifted. The way out was through submission. But in doing so my life had changed. My usual strategy of trying to push through to the other side, I realised, was stale and unsustainable. Soon after, I encountered a teacher who directed me how to cultivate presence and direct action through this presence. I learnt the art of allowing things to flow through me, to not try and force change upon the world but to be its agent in a state of flow. To say that this has been a revelatory experience is an understatement. The dengue was hell but it taught me the lesson I needed: to slow the fuck down and stop pushing. I am very grateful for that lesson.

The softest in the world

Surpasses the hardest in the world

What has no substance

Can penetrate what has no opening.

Thereby I know the value of non-action.

The value of teaching without words

And accomplishing without action

Is understood by few in the world.

– Tao Te Jing

The leukaemia prognosis followed on from the dengue, a consequence of the endless series of blood tests that I’ve had since. Dengue fever is not a very nice virus. It wreaks havoc on the body. And here I was staring at a potentially worse fate. I went home and held my love and we talked openly and honestly about it, we shared our deepest fears with each other, as well as our highest aspirations. I find it amazing that something so terrifying and debilitating could yield such depths of vulnerability and tenderness in our relationship. I thought of my family and how much I value them and I thought of my friends. I took a general inventory of my life; establishing what was important and what wasn’t. I realised how important it is to lead a life of value and purpose, that there is nothing worse I could think of than dying unfulfilled. I knew all of this anyway, but in the light of a terrifying illness it became magnified a hundredfold.

The ultimate story is that I don’t have leukaemia. I have a pre-cursor to a mild, non-aggressive form of leukaemia in the same way that a mole is a precuror to a melanoma. Doesn’t necessarily mean it will develop into anything and the odds are strong that it won’t. Nonetheless it’s still leukaemia, which is a scary thing. But leukaemia isn’t even the point of this essay. The value of appreciating our wellness and making the most of our brief years is. As is the depths of suffering it requires to bring us into the deep flow of life. Within every illness is a lesson. And I’m grateful for the lessons this luekaemia scare has taught me.

The irony seems to be that it takes the shadow of the reaper to coerce us into a state of appreciation for life. You hear stories of people with terminal cancer or people who have received a verdict of impending death and how they savour every available moment remaining, how life becomes beautiful, fragile and to treasured. They’re almost Buddha-like in their presence. Why do we leave the love of life to the dying? I find it somewhat sad that we are so complacent in our existences that we cannot truly appreciate the beautiful and fragile gift of life we have; that it requires the scent of death to instil in us this appreciation. Why do we need these initiatory encounters with death to remind us of the preciousness and ephemerality of our existences? Shouldn’t a love and appreciation of life just be part and parcel of being alive and at the centre of consciousness for every living being?

Everyday we are dying, we move one step closer to death, but we don’t celebrate the fact that we’re alive. Not celebrating our aliveness is an insult to the already dead and dying. Life is our birthright but we don’t appreciate it until we lose it. If dengue fever made me slow down, not having leukaemia tells me to smell the roses. So I will celebrate being alive. I will celebrate not having leukaemia, my good health, my sense of wellbeing and the deep flow of the Tao that moves through me. Life is brief. Time to enjoy it!

The Re-Enchantment Project

Why re-enchantment?

If you hadn’t noticed, the world is in a pretty messed up state right now. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are bleaching, species are dying out at unprecedented rates, global temperatures are getting warmer and once in a century weather events are becoming more and more commonplace. Societally, the Western middle class has been hollowed out as the gap between rich and poor widens. The years of peace and prosperity enjoyed by most of the world, and the small gains made by the rest, seem to be evaporating as countries recede into pre-World War One models of isolation and nationalism. For the first time in many years there is a distinct and palpable sense of war in the offing. There are rising tides of xenophobia, intolerance and retreat towards insular, monocultural values.

Capitalism has run its course and people are waking up to the fact that unfettered neo-liberalism has reduced everything in the world, including its inhabitants, into a commodity that can be exploited for the benefit of a few. Our democratic institutions have been hijacked by these self-same neoliberal captains, an elite oligarchy who have gamed the system for their own benefit, who put forward their pet two-bob populists to distract from the real issues affecting the world, while the world’s major religions have been reduced to dogmatic and superstitious slumbers. It feels intractable and as a society, it seems like we lack any relevant or nuanced answers to resolve it.

If all this sounds like a pretty bleak picture, that’s because it is. However, there are also some pretty incredible things happening. Change is happening, but from the ground up.

Communities have realised that solutions will not come from above and are attempting to resolve the world’s problems at a horizontal rather than hierarchical level. Renewable power and storage is taking off at unprecedented rates. Kids riffing from the high-calibre worlds of extreme sports, martial arts and deep meditation are hacking the body and the nervous system to uncover a richness of latent power and ability that humans have only ever dreamt about. We are becoming smarter, stronger and more globally consciousness. AI may be just around the corner. Humanity is on the verge of a massive step in its evolution.

They say that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. I’m not sure that we’ve hit that point yet and have a feeling that things will get a lot worse before they get better. But dawn is there, not far away. It will come.

What is re-enchantment?

The blog’s title comes from Morris Berman’s book The Re-enchantment of the World. It’s an awesome book and highly recommended, one of the forerunners of the Deep Ecology movement. The basic premise is that the Age of Reason and the analytic mind have destroyed our integration with our environment. In the past we considered ourselves part of the world we live in, but with the rise of the scientific mindset we have detached ourselves and rendered the world ‘other’. The animist and spiritualist traditions have been discarded and tarred as superstitions. The lingering magic of existence has been replaced by barren logic, precipitating much of the ecological and societal collapses of the last hundred years. Berman calls for a revival of embedded holistic thinking, to re-enchant the world again.


Chaos always finds its way in

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-reason or scientific progress. The Age of Reason was a very good and necessary thing for humanity to get us out of the Middle Ages and initiate the centuries of accelerating development and prosperity we’ve enjoyed since the Enlightenment and Industrial Ages and up until now. But in promulgating the Age of Reason we threw out the baby with the bathwater. We discarded many old practises as ‘superstitious’ or ‘primitive’. Think of things like the demotion of the midwife in childbirth, the importance of crop rotation, biodiversity and fallow ground in our farming, initiatory practises for young boys and girls and the importance of community in mental health. I’m not trying to suggest that the Middle Ages and prior were idyllic times when humanity lived in perfect harmony with the planet. They weren’t. They were dirty, violent, ignorant and full of disease. However, in discarding the ‘old ways’ in pursuit of progress we haven’t stopped to consider those practises and ideas that might still retain some value for our communities and ourselves.

Rationality is the dominant mindset of our age and has been since Descartes. The mind is hailed as supreme above all else and our bodies are viewed as vehicles to get our brains from point-A to point-B. But there are other ways of thinking, beyond the rational. Magical thinking (or sympathetic magic) is another way of thinking that says thing X can influence thing Y even if there is no apparent connection. If I burn a pyre to the goddess of fertility at the spring equinox then I will have a good harvest this year. Magical thinking sees that if Saturn happens to be travelling through the star sign I was born under then I might be in for a very hard time soon. Magical thinking does not say that my pyre will propitiate the goddess of fertility, but it acknowledges a connection. It looks at correlations rather than causes. It’s not a substitute for rational thinking, it’s just a different way of looking at the world. I wouldn’t use a scientific and rational mindset to understand the meaning behind Picasso’s Guernica, for example, nor would I use art theory to try and determine the molecular weight of a hydrogen atom. Everything has its place and use, magical thinking included. It’s not concerned with truth conditions but whether a thing works or not in practise. It’s all about the result. If it works, despite all logic and evidence to the contrary, then it works.

The funny thing about magical thinking though, the more you use it the higher those correlations stack up. And the more correlations the more connected everything seems. And the more connected everything seems the more you notice the synchronicities between things. And the more you notice the synchronicities…well shit just starts getting weird. The world is magic, enchanted. Voila!

Incidentally, the whole ‘I think therefore I am thing’, has been fundamentally swept into the garbage bin of the Western philosophical canon. Bodies are not vehicles for the minds. The Phenomenologists, led by such thinkers as Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, have shown how we experience the world first in our bodies before information is even conveyed to the mind. So you might almost say that ‘I feel therefore I am’.


So what then?

The point of this blog is to document my experiments in re-enchantment; in myself (body, mind and any non-corporeal bits) and the world I inhabit, through movement, meditation, magical practise, art, story and whatever else I get up to. It’s a work in progress; I come from a strongly rational upbringing and changing my worldview (weltanschuung in German, such an awesome word!) has been a process of unlearning and re-learning. But that also makes it fun. It’s a game! Incidentally, if you’re interested in re-enchantment, watch The Game. Great movie and details a different but equally valid approach to re-enchantment.

With my rational mindset, I also like to see if I can find a logical or science-based explanation that supports what I’m doing and if I can back anything up with data, I will.

As I go along, I may include interviews with fellow re-enchanters, videos and other pieces. Nobody has a monopoly on re-enchantment; it’s an individual process, but hopefully it might inspire others to join the journey.

What makes me qualified?

Nothing, except for being human.

I do have a little experience in the area, however. I’ve been a practising magician for nearly twenty years (although a bit of hedge wizard, to be honest); it’s only in the last few years I’ve really started delving deeper. I’m also a shiatsu therapist, personal counsellor with an interest in family and ancestral ecologies, armchair philosopher, avid fan of dystopian cyberpunk, a tormented football fan and currently engaged to the one of the most wonderful and gorgeous individuals on the planet. I love being in nature and have a large and convoluted family tree, of which I am the oldest sibling in my generation. I can deadlift my own body weight and have a yearning desire to hop into an MMA ring, even though I haven’t thrown a punch in anger in nearly 30 years. Coffee is my last remaining addiction of any substance (pardon the pun) and I am always amenable to gifts of brunch.