beach combing for natural alchemy

I continue with my personal work of reclaiming lost voices that are meaningful to me, both for the joy it gives me, and also in the hope that these odd ball voices from an earlier era will not be lost.

It’s not always easy to explain to people nowadays what kind of a Witch and Pagan I am, like I can’t always give people the kind of definition they are looking for (plus it’s not the point), as our world has become so intellectually oriented, and full of classifications that need boxes, reference lists and qualifications. This isn’t all bad, but it didn’t used to be so; we were a broad and largely self qualified “church” of seekers once, and what we lacked in exactitude and hard headedness, we made up for in openness to inspiration and wonder. As intellect has shone brighter, the shades of the prison house have closed over imagination inevitably, and I would like to see that turn back, albeit with some wisdom and common sense gained.

As I indicated in my last post, I have found great value in the work of two mid 20th century authors in particular recently: Richard Gardner and Tammo de Jongh. The major thrust of their work related to understanding the elements of earth, water, fire and air, in a very direct and experiential fashion. For them this was a transmutational work, based in Nature, which could transform both individual lives and the world we live in.

Richard and Tammo taught that the elements could be seen as the source of different types of consciousness, ways of seeing and living. None of their books were “successful” pieces of writing in the conventional sense, they didn’t want them to be, because that would simply satisfy the “airy” part of our natures. Rather like Gurdjieff’s adage that to make knowledge your own you had to approach it simultaneously with intellect, feeling and instinct, Richard wanted his books to help goad and engage people into using more of themselves to apprehend the teaching he had pieced together and tried to distill into its  most basic and simple forms, so that people could live more fully. Both Richard and Tammo’s writings could be (or appear to be) enthralling, enchanting, embarrassing, inspiring, driven, endearing, brave, original, insightful or just plain nuts. I think their insight and vision couldn’t come out any other way, and the insights were very real.

One of the main contributions that I feel Tammo bequeathed us was a system which he called “Natural Psychology”*, in which the elements were understood in pairs (with one or the other preponderant, so there were thus two ways of combining each pair of elements). This gave twelve possible combinations: air and water, water and air, earth and fire, fire and earth, water and earth, earth and water etc. Each combination had associated natural phenomena such as mist and dew, volcanoes, lakes and seas, geysers and lightning, ice, hot air, sunlight, fertile soil etc, as well as colours, psychological qualities, and one of 12 archetypal figures such as “The Enchantress”, “The Joker”, “The Child”, “The Warrior” and so on. Richard further developed scripts for each archetype which a group could use to try and “tune in” to each, and so experience its energy. I took part in a 6 week workshop which Richard Gardner and Magenta Wise held in the mid eighties, using these scripts, and they work in ways which are surprising and have a “life of their own”.

The forms and names of these archetypes are not set in stone, but the essences of them, based in natural energies, are a creative and powerful way of experiencing the elements and their effects upon consciousness. Many Pagans work with the elements, but working with these nuanced pairs of elements seems more accessible to many people, and the archetypes give them anthropomorphic references to relate to. So we learn about the nature of the element of water for instance from experiencing water with fire, water with air, and water with earth, in a way which again is more  nuanced, and with more of ourselves involved in the process.

Richard was very concerned with the place of fire and water in our lives, the two elements which he considered to be dynamic, while earth and air he considered to be more moved by either of the dynamic elements. While fire was responsible for our drive, our “push”, our capacity for action and skill and individuality as usually understood, Richard considered water consciousness to be nothing short of miraculous, and something that we were desperately in need of. Water consciousness was the world of magic and poetry, romance, feeling and soul. He linked it (not so surprisingly) to the Moon, while fire consciousness was linked to the Sun (though he said there were two sorts of fire energy: the yellow connected with the Sun, and the red connected to the fire within the Earth). But Richard wanted people to be better able to utilize all the elements, and so truly become magicians. His ideal was characterized by the union of fire and water though, leading to “superconsciousness”, which he believed was especially realized through the magical lovemaking of compatible individuals. He associated this with The Fool card of the tarot, which he also considered to be a representation of androgenous divinity.

Richard would also come out with things which were just very simple and profound, like his statement that the biggest block to our evolution of consciousness is our tendency to judge, or that good will was one of the greatest accelerators of this process, one capable of completely transforming our unconscious need to shed blood, into peaceful and blissful ways of transforming energy. When he  said that, I understood he was saying something real. I think in a sense he was also a very eccentric kind of esoteric Christian, though I doubt that any Church would welcome his open minded valuation of sex, psychedelics and unconventionality, and I don’t think he felt the need of any label.

Tammo saw the elements and their relationships as underlying our way of life, form of society, politics, relationship with the natural world, art, culture, sexuality, relationship and spirituality. He was an artist and an early “Green”, an idiosyncratic visionary, and someone who devoted decades to seeing stuff in terms of the elements and Nature, and trying to do something with it. He even set up a tiny “Green Monastery” in Kentish Town for the last part of his life, with two other monks, devoted to their work promoting an enchanted ecology, “natural femininity”, water consciousness, and a comprehensively different way of life which they aimed for.

These men’s visions were not exactly my own in their details, we all have to find our own vision, but they found so much of such use and potency, and they did have such vision, and devoted so much work to it. I do indeed see through their vision, and it is like glimpsing a vast landscape, one that is still there, realer and brighter and more alive than “ordinary reality”, even after you have blinked and opened your eyes again. Even after you have got the bus to work.

Their work still returns to me, and still has the capacity to change my life. Water consciousness, a miraculous life, a life I can live freely in. It’s real. 

That their work could have such healing, freeing and transforming potential is I think because they experienced a real liberation at some point, and didn’t sell it back into a merely credible teaching for the society receiving it. In a world so hung up on the perfect menu, they chose to throw real food.

Almost 40 years later, the water way can still get you wet.

photo of the title page of “The Magic Circle” by Tammo de Jongh, published 1974

* Natural Psychology was developed since 1956, with a number of other individuals including Kenneth Carter and Dr Barry Slater during the 60s and 70s

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12 Comments

  1. Hi Mo, I hope one of these days to come across an old reading of Richards. He did just before he died. Somewhere there lies the templates for the most extraordinary cards! I heard it was expensive to print them – like 2000£ even back then in the 90’s. Bravo your blog!! More!!,
    Miss you guys, let’s meet up soon.
    Sammy xx

  2. Oh giddy!! I love the concept ‘reclaiming lost voices’ – I totally understand that, as you know! I love the way ideas flow from others into us and how they become something slightly different when they take on our own essence. You should write more Bro, this is excellent stuff

    Love and light

  3. Richard’s books on Tarot are a breath of fresh air amidst the Po-faced grandeur and endless pontificating of so many others on the market today. His quirky and idiosyncratic style is sorely missed just when we really do need a dangerously loose brick in the wall of modern mundane blandness. But history continues to be unkind to him, Weiser have just reprinted ‘Tarot of The Magicians’ by Oswald Wirth, and whereas the 1992 edition did at least have the grace to acknowledge “with thanks to Richard Gardner who helped with the translation” – and by ‘helped’ they mean produced the book – this latest one has completely airbrushed him out.

    But I still believe he and Tammo will get some of the recognition and credit they deserve, one day.

    • I agree Lionel, I certainly hope they will, the world would really lose something otherwise. Yes, we need some loose bricks amidst all the professionalism and smoothness, the shallow surfaces and political face lifts. I remember Richard telling me about that book the last time I saw him, probably in about 91 I think. I reminded at this point that it was Richard who introduced me to Edward Carpenter’s work, who was largely forgotten by the 1970s, and now Richard has been treated in a similar fashion in some ways. You can find a bit on Tammo on the net, but finding stuff on Richard is difficult, and yet I know that he changed the lives of those he touched with his work. He deserves not so much a memorial (though I’d like that too), but a revival of his spirit of pursuing a lost and dispersed knowledge with an almost piratical directness and glee.

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