Questing & Chaos
by Jack Gale
I suppose it may seem naive, but there are occasions when I am still puzzled by the amount of flak which psychic questing receives from some quarters of the pagan community. When one questions the personages from whom derisive comments issue, one frequently finds that they have never actually sat down and read a book on psychic questing all the way through and/or have never been involved in this activity themselves. Such folk are frequently laden with misconceptions with regard to what the term really means, often under the impression that to be a quester one MUST live in Essex and invest huge amounts of time and energy in running around the country battling black magicians. They are often surprised, therefore, when one informs them that there is a wee bit more to it than that and that this particular pursuit goes back somewhat firther than the late 70s, quoting questers Wellesley Tudor Pole and Frederick Bligh Bond in passing.
Fair enough, but what exactly IS psychic questing? The term itself was coined by Andrew Collins in order to give a name to an activity which, while not a religion (in common with Chaos Magick) can easily become a way of life. Andrew was largely responsible for the evolution of a new form of questing in the later 70s and the 80s and, together with his colleagues from Essex and other places and fellow writers such as Graham Philips and Martin Keatman, brought the activity to public awareness via books, talks and the annual Psychic Questing Conference in London. Two different questers may not necessarily provide an identical definition of the activity and this article represents the purely personal viewpoint of one participant who has no particular desire to act as some sort of questing spokesman. Personally, I see psychic questing as the investigation of historical and sacred landscape mysteries via the combination of archival research and magical and psychical techniques. The similarity of this to a pragmatic approach to magick such as Chaos or rune work will become apparent quite quickly, for both are concerned with results. The Chaoist may temporarily adopt a paradigm/belief system, whatever, feeding energy and acquired belief into it until able to successfully work with it on a magical level. The quester may end up doing much the same thing, depending on the circumstances in hand: sometimes being plunged into working with the Qabalah and at other times being propelled into an involvement with, say, alchemical systems, or runes, geomancy, etc.
The one essential qualification for a quester is a willingness to ‘go with the flow’ and maintain an open mind. Questing has little room for and even less to offer folk suffering from self-imposed pillarbox vision and the human urge to slot themselves into secure pigeon holes. ("l can't get involved with stuff like that; it's not Wiccan and my HP wouldn't like it. But that's not really Druidic, is it? Can't mess about with that I'm not interested in the runes"? etc.)
The questing life is not for everyone. It offers little in the way of security in contrast, say, to a well-established coven or lodge in which one may work through a recognized, tried and tested grade system. The endless thirst for yet more information actually has quite an Odinic feel to it. If security is to be found anywhere in this strange pursuit, then it is surely in the gradual acquisition of a set of learned and practised skills and techniques, a priceless asset to quester and magician alike Such techniques, while involving magick, psychism, divination, etc., also include archival research methodology: an absolutely vital tool of the questing trade Without such back-up research, one is presenting merely another batch of channelled material, of which there is plenty around these days. Apart from obvious credibility advancement when presenting results, such hard graft', unglamorous work, also grounds the quester, keeping his feet firmly anchored to terra firma, which can be quite helpful on occasions.
The reader may wonder what the ‘going with the flow’, to which I referred earlier, actually means in practical terms, so a few brief examples may be helpful here. One sunny morning in late March, 1995, 1 was conducting a lone meditation on the summit of Glastonbury's Wearyall Hill whilst caught up in a still ongoing quest, the first ‘leg’ of which has been written up and is now being typeset (at the time of writing this article) in readiness for a release in book form some time in 1997. Out of the ‘blue’ as it were, and in dazzling clarity, I was abruptly shown a Thelemic, Unicursal Hexagram: ‘the Hexagram of the Beast’. Not being a Thelemite, I confess to an ignorance of this symbol. As is so typical of questing work, a split-second vision can result in hours of follow-up research which was true in this instance. Discussing possible implications with Thelemic magicians of my acquaintance and digging into works by Crowley, Duquette etc., I found the reason as to WHY I had been shown a Unicursal Hexagram which I subsequently found echoed in Kenneth Grant's book The Magical Revival (space does not permit elucidation here).
Similarly, on the way to Kensington's Maria Assumpta Centre one evening in July 1995, looking forward to another London Earth Mysteries Circle meeting, 1 was suddenly shown a particular Anglo-Saxon rune. Again, with great clarity. Subsequently being shown this rune about eight hundred times, I deduced that someone was trying to tell me something, which he was. Other selected Anglo-Saxon runes then followed. More familiar with the Elder Futhark, my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon runes was slight, but I was willing (and keen) to learn. What I eventually discovered was that a bunch of covert occultists whose order was ruthlessly eliminated in 1539 but whose activities had continued on the ‘inner planes’ were using the runes as information microchips on a sort of astral computer basis, which I considered to be a neat move on their part.
(It should not be assumed from the episodes outlined above that all of my psychically-received input comes through myself, as it does not work in this way. I have been honoured to work with a number of exceptionally gifted psychic colleagues over the years.)
A possible parallel to the Chaoist's adoption of a given belief system may be seen in veteran quester Paul Weston's 1990 experiences in the Glastonbury Zodiac, available and recounted in detail in his taped lecture Avalonian Aeon, which can be bought from the Isle of Avalon Foundation. The questing group to which Paul then belonged had decided to tackle the great Terrestrial Zodiac as if it were what Andrew Collins once intriguingly described as "a psychic assault course". They planned to access it using an intensive, three-day ‘vision quest’ shamanic format, covering much ground with little, if any, sleep. (Yes, questing CAN be hectic!) It was planned to culminate this physical and spiritual journey with a powerful meditation at Butleigh, the circle's centre. in preparation Paul read all that he could find about the Zodiac, discovering that the actual existence of this vast planispherical diagram imprinted upon the landscape went totally against the grain of common-sense from the viewpoints of the academic, archaeologist or normal' thinking person. He CHOSE, therefore, to believe in it and work with it magically just as a Chaoist might choose to work with a fictional mythos and, for example, invoke Cthulhu. In doing so, 1 believe, he accessed a massively powerful thought-form with a strong etheric existence. The results were magical to say the least, with several aspects of Paul's life experiencing profound changes which strongly affected the future as far as he was concerned.
"Synchronicity" looms large for the quester. Here, maybe, we have another similarity with Chaos, given the importance of the Goddess Eris. Many of the synchronous events experienced certainly give one a buzz and it goes far beyond things happening such as books falling off shelves and dropping open at a pertinent place in the text, etc. (Although this can be helpful.) A personal example may help to illustrate the point. One cold, windy March evening, 1 found myself standing in the middle of the road leading to Shepton Mallet at Edgarley, in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor. Having calibrated and programmed my pendulum, I was endeavouring to dowse the location of a particular landmark which I knew to be hidden somewhere in the neighbouring fields using the co-ordinates method. I was pretty well satisfied that I had pinpointed it when I saw a lone figure approaching. Sleet was now falling and I wondered what the elderly man coming down the road towards me made of the manic-looking figure in baseball cap and imitation Barbour coat, standing in the road in the gathering gloom holding a wildly-gyrating pendulum. (This WAS Glastonbury, of course, so I probably struck him as hardly out of the ordinary!) "Let's go for it", 1 thought, and when the man drew level with me I asked him if he had any knowledge of the landmark which 1 sought. Not only did he know it, but he was actually on his way to the field in which it was located! Confirming my dowsed diagnosis of its position, he invited me to join him. Alone in that gloomy, chilly, inhospitable landscape, the odds against meeting a person with such knowledge and contacts seemed somewhat high. Such events make the hair at the back of the neck stand up a little and help to remind one of WHY one is a quester; perhaps a thrill comparable to that experienced when first linking with a site guardian and establishing some sort of working relationship. This meeting was, in a sense, made even more magical due to the fact that prior to leaving London, I had cast a sigil aimed at helping me to find the landmark in question.
Crowley once said something to the effect that if one behaves as if certain things are ‘real’ (whether they are or not being irrelevant) magick will happen. Perhaps this would put off those who like to keep things a bit safe and sanitized via resorting to the "They're all just archetypes my dear" line. (Perish the thought tat they could actually be ‘real’!) A practising Pagan known to me once listened to the tale of my meeting a guardian in the wind and rain one morning when alone at a sacred site. The person remarked, "If that happened to me I’d freak out!" Such common comments lead one to wonder why some Pagans spend so much time invoking different deities, entities etc., if they do not really WANT them to turn up. Such a person is probably best staying well away from questing, for to be confronted with what one (loosely speaking) conjures for can be a traumatic experience.
Questing experiences can be quite unpredictable. In August 1993 I visited a certain pagan Saxon burial ground with a highly-respected, long-standing psychic colleague of mine. Via her, I learned of the overseeing presence at te site of the ancient Germanic Goddess Holda; a deity of whom, at tat time, I had never heard and about whom I knew absolutely noting. (She left us to find out her name, but provided us with a liberal helping of clues.) in retrospect, this seemingly minor event two questers visiting a sacred site on a hot, late summer afternoon-become a good example of the often-discussed magical aspect of the butterfly effect. A few months later, interestingly, the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments carried out a geographical survey of the site, the results of which safeguarded it from any future development under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. During the following two years, I connected directly with this Goddess, researched her appearances in the annals of Germanic folklore, gave talks on the subject and wrote a magazine article and a small booklet Rituals to greet her rising from the underworld were conducted at the site at dawn on the Winter Solstices of 1993 and 1994.
The results of the activities described above were further reaching than I would have expected. It seemed that this very ‘up-front’ deity had returned from comparative obscurity (the Farrars. The Witches’ Goddess affords her about three lines, but Gerald Gardner did a bit better in The Meaning of Witchcraft) with a bang. People began to contact me who had experienced forceful encounters with this Goddess without even knowing her identity or having initially read any of my written work on the subject, while others were repeatedly shown her runic symbol (the six-rayed Norse Hagall rune) without knowing why or even, for that matter, what it was One shaken person who had visited the Holda site with me went into her office one morning (having told her colleagues nothing about her experience) to find an immense Hagall rune drawn on a piece of paper and stuck to the wall above her desk. (Her workmates were as baffled as she was as to how it got there!) Two Pagan artists in Essex who knew nothing of her suddenly found themselves painting a view of her stomping ground (or one of them) in Greenwich a place which they had not, at that time, visited - littered with her symbols. A song entitled Reaper Girl dedicated to the Goddess has recently been recorded by an ambient/trance music performer and writer and is being included on a CD which also features a photograph of the Pagan Saxon cemetery at Greenwich among the sleeve notes. The site was also featured by Live TV on the 1996 Summer Solstice when I was briefly interviewed there; the tumuli visually contrasted with distant Canary Wharf. Since then some other artists have been inspired by Holda, producing new representations of her and so it goes butterflying on. Questing may be insecure, unpredictable and occasionally, very weird, but it is certainly never dull! The trouble is, one never quite knows what one is starting.
This essay was first published in Chaos International magazine, issue 22