Football, Rave Culture and Unconscious Ceremony

I was thinking the other day about how we are still in many ways are the same as we were hundreds, and probably thousands of years ago. Yes, we have lots of shiny things and wifi and radios and rocket ships, but fundamentally, the human needs are the same as they have always been. I am an avid Tottenham Hotspur fan, and hold a season ticket. For a while, I had an inner conflict about going to the games. In my younger years, I would get steaming drunk, shout abuse and be well up for a fight – not that there were many. But as the roots of my spiritual practices took a tighter hold on my outlook on life, I decided that I couldn’t behave like that anymore. How can I be a vegan, loving and mindful football hooligan? So I’d go to the football and hold back, I wouldn’t drink for fear of doing something stupid and I’d generally sit around being all holier than thou. I didn’t really enjoy it all, and I had completely ostracised myself from my group. I realised that I was looking down on people, which is the total opposite of what I was trying to cultivate in my life.

We all have a shadow side, and I was totally ignoring the part of mine that needed to be wild. It wasn’t just at football. I used to party all the time, take as many drugs as possible and do as many crazy things as possible. And although at the time this was totally out of balance and was something that needed changing, I did miss the part of my life that allowed my wildness out in all its glory. So many spiritual practices come hand in hand in abstaining from something. Be it sex, drugs, even certain thoughts. And this can’t be healthy. What drew me to Shamanism in the first place is that the emphasis is placed on how you serve your community, not who you are as a person. I was put off becoming a yoga teacher after my teacher training because I didn’t see many people in the yoga community who actually embodied yoga in its entirety. I also didn’t feel that I embodied it, and I didn’t want to teach something that I wasn’t willing to fully commit to. Yoga is an eightfold path with directions and guidelines for living. It is beautiful and wonderful, and if you’re interested you should google what it consists of because I won’t go into it here. But it is an amazing way to work on yourself. Maybe one day I will embody it and begin teaching, but for now I must be true to myself. Shamanism, however, has none of these guidelines. It is about feeding and working with spirits on behalf of your clients or your community. Traditionally you would be tasked with feeding the invisible world so that the human world we live in was balanced and your village would be healthy and vibrant. You don’t have to be a guru to be an amazing Shaman, as long as your commitment to Spirit is total. As a side effect of living in balance with nature and healing people, you would perhaps become a very loving and compassionate person, but I have met some incredibly powerful Indigenous Shamans who are some of the biggest rascals you will encounter.

Learning this and also working closely with getting to know my shadow side again in a constructive way, I realised that going to football, if done correctly and partnered with discipline, would actually help me. I say discipline, because I set myself some rules. I made a deal with my wilder side that I would allow him to resurface at certain times, in order for that part of me to feel at ease with living my life in general in service to others. It worked, and I feel much better for it. I never liked the idea of abstaining from desires, but allowing yourself an allotted time to feel these desires seemed like a good balance. So on football days, I am in many ways a a totally different person to how I am in my day to day life. It was on one of the most passionate days on the football calendar – Tottenham vs Arsenal, that I was completely taken over by this shadow side. I literally felt it take over my body. It was in the ecstasy of copious amount of alcohol, marching in unison to the battle grounds of White Hart Lane, singing the songs of old, that it dawned on me just how fucking tribal football is. I imagined myself, and the thousands of fans around me, being picked up and placed onto a battle ground five hundred years ago, ready to fight for our tribes honour against our rivals. I felt the passion and hatred rise up in me for the fans of the other team. Usually, I don’t hate anyone, but today, on the magic of derby day, I can see how easily I could be manipulated into a blood thirsty warrior. And this is only football! But if you think about it, the similarities are striking. We have our team emblem, the badge. We have our idols and gods and legendary warriors, the players, ex players and manager. We have our myths and legends from the songs and heroics of the past. We have our colours. We have our team, or the tribe, which is usually passed down to you by your family. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life get together at the home ground once every two weeks and become brothers and sisters. We then sit shoulder to shoulder in a circle, a coliseum, and watch our gladiators go to war for ninety minutes. Looking around me, grown men and women are in tears, some are so furious that they’re screaming total obscenities at the top of their lungs. They are taken over, possessed, by their ancestors who sat in the very same seats, singing the very same songs, feeling the very same things. Once I realised this, I was astounded. Our societies have become more modern, but our fundamental archetypal need to fight for something has not been tempered one bit. I was talking to one of my teachers about this the other day, and the example of Fabrice Muamba came up. Fabrice Muamba was a footballer who’s heart stopped for seventy eight minutes. He was on the pitch, at White Hart Lane as it happens, when he had his heart attack. He, by all medical accounts, should not have survived, let alone not had any permanent brain damage from the huge amount of time spent with no oxygen in his brain. But he made a full recovery. Could this be because thirty five thousand people encircled around him all had the same intention, which was that he would be okay. With the chanting, the energy, the raised spirits and drunkenness thinning the veil between this life and the spirit world, could it be a possibility that it was more then the incredible skill of the doctors that saved him that day? Who knows? But it makes you wonder.

Another incredibly tribal thing that we do is our rave culture. Born in the late 1980’s with the explosion of repetitive electronic music like acid house and surging right through until present day, this hedonistic life style has become more of a religion then a musical movement. The politicians hated it, which only drove it on more. I was sucked deeply into this culture at about sixteen when I would sneak into Fabric with my mates and our awful fake ID’s. It was strange that the only club that the ID’s worked in was one as famous as Fabric, not that we were complaining. Suddenly we had found utopia. We would dance all night, sometimes two or three times each weekend. Meeting new people we would never otherwise have met, and feeling part of a family and experiencing true acceptance for the first time. This time, the DJ’s became our gods and goddesses, whipping us into an ecstatic frenzy for hours and hours with these alien songs heavily laden with bass. The boozy and aggressive football terraces in the day were replaced by the MDMA infused dance floors and smoking areas where you could buy synthetic love for five pound a pop. This time my shadow side wanted to stay at home, but a more loving, nurturing side that I had previously been too vulnerable to allow out was able to flourish. During this time I definitely became a more accepting, loving person. Of course, sometimes the love wasn’t real, sometimes I felt so shit and anxious that I stayed in a dark corner all evening, and sometimes it was just the drugs. But sometimes it wasn’t, sometimes it was pure magic. The repetitive drums of electronic music connect to something deep within our souls. Humans have been using the drum to fall into trances and ecstatic states, connecting to something higher, for literally thousands of years. By dancing to a repetitive beat you can induce a very deep trance and I have felt myself at times leaving my body inside a packed, sweaty and pitch black warehouse. I haven’t been back to a rave since I began my Shamanic training, maybe I should!

Something that we must be careful with is balance, and I’ll go back to the word discipline. At the time I was going to these all night parties. I would usually spend the entire week afterwards so burnt out that I couldn’t do anything. I would eventually come back to myself around Thursday evening, which would allow me to feel good enough to do it all again come Friday. I was living for the weekend and going nowhere in my life. That is why I had to stop, and for a good few years I totally shunned the music, the culture and to my discredit, some of the amazing friends that I had met along the way. It was necessary for me to do though, and I feel much better for it. It is a lifestyle that can seduce you and lure you in, only for you to become dependent on the rush. If you get your rush from the drugs that are symbiotically connected to the music, then it is even easier to become dependent. It can also create a bubble of security, as the constant events and summers full of festivals enable you to live in a sort of fantasy realm. This can totally burn you out, as it did to me. I was so anxious and depressed at that point in my life that the last thing I needed was another weekend of no sleep and serotonin sucking drugs. Of course, you can experience the highs of the music and energy without taking any drugs, which is amazing, or just take a few months off, but that wasn’t where I was at at the time. I was all or nothing. This is also true for the people at the very top of these industries. There are many tales of footballers not living up to expectations and the pressures of being a world star being too much for them, just look at the stories of Paul Gascoigne or George Best, and in the music world this is even more evident. The rockstars of the sixties and seventies are a good example of this.

British Shaman Jez Hughes explains this in his book, “The Heart of Life”, he says that :

“Viewing it Shamanically, I would say that those rock stars on stage didn’t become like Gods, but rather were taken over by energetic and archetypal forces and so in those moments on stage they were Gods, quite literally. These were the ancient ones coming back to life, brought forth through the cracks in reality that the LSD (based on and similar to shamanic teacher plants (Ayahuasca, Iboga, Peyote) was creating. Of course, these Rock stars were not actually Gods, but momentarily “possessed” by these supernatural forces due to the incredible power that they wielded on stage and perhaps the massive amounts of drugs they were taking. It is not surprising then, that so many of these performers tried to carry this power with them off stage and totally burnt themselves out.”

Jez goes on to say that :

“Their ego or personality got attached to the archetype they were embodying and they thought that they were that power as opposed to just a vehicle for it. So, even though the performers felt invincible up there on stage, when the energy was gone they were but human again and all the physical and emotional limitations of the body that could be transcended onstage would eventually catch up and either send them mad or worse.”

I really like this hypothesis, and you can see this all over celebrity culture. When somebody experiences having so much power, as you do when you are on stage in front of thousands, or scoring the winning goal in a cup final, they can very easily be seduced by it. Partner this with people constantly telling you how special you are, how amazing you are, you can see just how easy it would be to lose all sense of living in balance. You would feel as indestructible as the Gods and Goddesses that you were embodying.

So, in a culture that praises itself for moving out of its tribal beginnings and into the forefront modern civilisation, we’ve done a great job of preserving sub cultures that allow this seemingly forgotten part of us to thrive. I think what we are yearning for, aside from the great music and sport of football, is connection and community. The football terraces and nightclubs are similar in that they dissolve boundaries. You become simply brothers and sisters instead of classes, races and cliques. When you feel connected to something huge, you have a grounding that can allow you the strength to feel vulnerable, and this will lead to healing – even subconsciously. For me, football was a way for my wilder, masculine and aggressive side to come out without serious repercussions, and the rave culture was an outlet for my also wild, but nurturing, loving and more feminine side to thrive. Without allowing these sides of us time and space to feel validated, our society can seem very oppressive and beige. There is no real outlet for the wildness inside of us to come out and play. When you live in a city like London, life can at many times seem like a factory farm. We are penned in to our surroundings by lack of money, empathy and fear. Time Out magazine voted us one of the loneliest cities in the world last year, how can that be when there is nearly nine million of us living here. That’s why this weekly ceremony of your choice is so important, because you can tune out from the sadness and solitude, and check in to community, family and connection.

Eddy Elsey