Stories of Magick and Ecstasy
An interview with Dave Lee
This was originally intended for a projected book of interviews with artists, writers and activists whose work has been profoundly influenced by nature. Naturally, the conversation roamed further and wider than this. I met up with Dave—whom I already knew from his days as the proprietor of an incense shop in Leeds–early in 1999 at his then home in a large squat off Mare Street in Hackney, London. On one floor, mostly devoted to sprawling artworks and their creators’ marvellously chaotic habitats, was a small box of a room. Dave had managed to transform this unforgiving shell into a homely, exotic-feeling nest of clear-headed opulence, which spoke volumes about his magical style: grace and control at home in the heart of chaos.
Gyrus: What were your early experiences that led you into magick?
Dave: The older I get, and the more experienced in magick I get, the more experiences there seem to be in the past. It’s as if history comes into focus. I think the things that precipitated me into a magickal universe, with no doubt that it was happening, were early psychedelic experiences in my late teens. When I took on a magickal paradigm later in life, in my twenties, I did start to remember things from childhood that were magickal experiences. But at the time, as a child, they didn’t take me off the path of rational thought, and attraction to science, which was also one of my main things from childhood.
Gyrus: You studied science as a degree?
Dave: Yes, I did a science degree.
Gyrus: Were you bringing science and magick together back then in your thinking?
Dave: Towards the end of my undergraduate years I did start to look into the philosophy behind science, the philosophy underpinning science, and realized it was far more flimsy than I’d previously assumed. And that it was built upon an abyss of ignorance, and that there were ways of apprehending reality other than science. I took up some magickal practices, meditation and so forth, starting to explore what the mind could do.
Gyrus: What were the magickal traditions and writers inspired you early on?
Dave: Well, when I first got into magick as a subject, actually read about it, there were early experiences I had with the I Ching. I found myself in possession of a copy of the I Ching when I was about 18 or 19, and when I used it, it had a peculiar sense of rightness about it. I must say I didn’t really use it in any rigorous sense for divination like I would now. It was more for general advice about life. It was the beginning, obviously, of an acceptance of synchronicity, an acceptance of the connectedness of things which goes beyond ordinary materialist reductionism—this is implied in using the I Ching.
But the first actual magickal writers I got into… well one of the main ones of course was Crowley. In the late 70’s there wasn’t much else around that was as wide-ranging and genuinely exploratory—and, at its best, non-dogmatic.
Gyrus: I suppose the fact that he tried to combine science and magick in one framework appealed to you.
Dave: Yes, there’s an element of that. His writing is often very overblown and pompous, and quite difficult to get any sense out of, but as I say it was more or less the only thing that was around. It wasn’t very long before I collided with the emerging current that later became called Chaos Magick—Pete Carroll’s first book Liber Null came out in the late seventies.
Gyrus: What did you feel around that time—that it was a condensation of something that had been welling up in magick for a while, or that it was quite a surprise emergence?
Dave: There was a refreshing sense about that book, Liber Null, like a breeze blowing through things. A sense of “Yes! I’m glad somebody’s saying this!”. Of course it was written by somebody who had a far more systematic experience of magick than I had; therefore I didn’t understand everything in it, because you can only understand magick by looking at experience of magick. Having said that, the bits I did understand had a certain sense of familiarity about them, as if I was waiting for a magickal philosophy of that kind—and a rigorous approach to practical magick.
Gyrus: Did you follow any one tradition, and train yourself rigorously in that before the idea of combining traditions, picking and choosing, came along?
Dave: When I first decided to do some practical magickal work, within a tradition, it was because I’d met two guys who were really into Qabala. They taught me a few of the basics, the Golden Dawn and post-Golden Dawn, Crowley/Dion Fortune, styles of Qabalistic work—the Middle Pillar meditation, the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, that kind of thing. I started doing pathworkings, where you work from the bottom of the Tree of Life upwards, climbing through the different symbolic levels, and having sometimes unremarkable experiences, and sometimes very vivid and intense experiences, with a real degree of mythic seizure in there. There’s no sorcery in that system, but there’s a lot of good self-transformational magick. So I learnt basic Qabala, I learnt my way round the Tree of Life and the paths on it—that is, the kind of Qabala that is mediated by the Golden Dawn, which is obviously very different from the Qabala of the rabbinical tradition. But what was called the Western Esoteric tradition, which has a lot of Qabala in it, that was the first system and tradition that I studied.
Then, being introduced to Chaos Magick, I studied bits of other systems; but I didn’t really educate myself in other systems until much later.
Gyrus: So was Chaos Magick an impetus to look at other systems, like the runes? And did you feel in Qabalism a lack of relevance to where you were living, the culture you were living in, and that culture’s history?
Dave: I think my eventual disappointment with Golden Dawn-style Qabala was the fact that you can’t really do sorcery with it. It’s all about self-transformational magick. Of course you can do sorcery with it, but it doesn’t encourage it, it’s not easy to get sorcery out of it. For instance, in the four-levels Qabala that the Golden Dawn taught, the lower-level spirits are the ones that actually go out and do the business. But you have to address them through the angels, and address them through the archangels, and address them through the gods. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that system, it’s just that it isn’t designed for doing results magick, for doing sorcery?
Gyrus: A bit bureaucratic…
Dave: It is a bit bureaucratic! The Northern Tradition, of course, is very different; it’s applicable in a very vivid way, both for self-transformational magick and for sorcery, but it wasn’t until much later that I got into that. I think Chaos Magick initially stimulated me to be a bit of a squirrel, running around gathering bits from all sorts of different traditions, from whatever attracted me. I had some successes, and also got into some blind alleys; when you’re investigating any subject that tends to happen. I learned a little bit about Voudon, a little bit about everything, really… No, a little bit about a few things, to be fair. It wasn’t until rather later that I got into the Northern Mysteries; and to me that became a much more complete paradigm. It wasn’t that Chaos Magick pushed me in that direction; it was that for me Chaos Magick was the exploration of a lot of different directions. And eventually the one that I stuck with the longest was the Northern Tradition.
So there isn’t some sort of equinamity towards all traditions—Chaos Magick is a way of loosening up and exploring traditions you might not have thought about normally.
There’s no reason why people should study the tradition of the country they live in, or study any tradition for any specific reason—other than that they’re truly attracted to it, or other than that they’re investigating it to find out how attracted to it they are. For the purpose of doing basic sorcery, you can more or less start anywhere. Or, of course, you can take the more purist approach that Chaos Magick started off as, which is taking the Austin Spare-type approach, where you devise your own system. Very few people actually consciously and deliberately do that, very few magickians. But a lot of magickians have learnt a tremendous amount from Spare’s notion of throwing out tradition, and looking at the essentials of what the magickal process is. And, of course, if you read Spare in the original rather than just in context, you realise there’s mystical elements to him as well. But there’s a very strong practical current, and that is one of things that coloured Chaos Magick, and it’s one of the things that Chaos Magick has brought back into focus—and influenced other magickal traditions thereby.
Sorcery, class & religion
Gyrus: Sorcery is very stigmatised in a lot of magickal traditions, even if it’s just by down-playing it. What do you think sorcery essentially is, and why has it’s gained this reputation?
Dave: Well sorcery can mean a lot of different things, of course—most words can—but sorcery is a word that is used very differently by different people. In this context, I’m generally meaning ‘results magick’. I’m meaning magick that has some effect on consensus reality, rather than a purely internal, psychological effect, or some more subtle spiritual kind of effect.
As to why it’s been stigmatised or anathematised, I think that’s got a lot to do with Christianity, and the way that Christianity itself has influenced magick. Oddly enough, even though many people still think of Aleister Crowley as “the Wickedest Man in the World”, he, in many respects, was very much a Right-Hand Path magickian—or at least he liked to think he was. He said things like, “Any magick that isn’t done with the intention of attaining Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is black magick.” Maybe from some perspectives that’s true—but what does he mean by black magick? And so forth. But phrases like that certainly put a lot of people off doing sorcery. You can hardly overestimate how influential the man was, and his writings were in this century’s occultism. Similarly, Dion Fortune seemed to have the attitude that it was a bit ‘naughty’ to do results magick. A lot of magickal organisations that have evolved either from Dion Fortune or Aleister Crowley do still have those attitudes. And a lot of the magickal tradition of the western world comes through those very organisations, and through that very influence.
Gyrus: There must be a misconception about sorcery or results magick that it’s bad because it’s about gaining worldly things, and is an ‘unenlightened’ short-cut to ‘mere hedonism’. But presumably after most people practice results magick for a while they realise it’s not quite as simple as that!
Dave: If it was just about hedonism, you could see how the Right-Hand Path and religious people would object to it. But really it’s got a lot to do with money; it’s got a lot to do with the fact that both Crowley and Fortune were wealthy people. Well, Fortune I’m not so sure about, but Crowley was very wealthy—he got rid of his fortune of course. He basically was brought up with the sense of always having enough. Fortune I’m not so sure about; she certainly wasn’t working class, she certainly never experienced poverty for very long, and wasn’t brought up in that condition. Objections to sorcery, practical magick, are almost invariably made by people who are materially very secure.
Gyrus: So you think there’s a class element to it?
Dave: Not universally; but it seems that there has been in the history of British occultism, certainly. Let me think of another example where that might not be the case… Perhaps in India, where the Right-Hand Path saddhus don’t like magick very much, it’s a distraction from the path of ‘illumination’. But I don’t know, maybe they’re Brahmins—maybe that’s worth looking into, as to what the objections are. Of course I don’t necessarily mean that all Left-Hand Path sorcerors are from a lower caste or class. I very much doubt that that’s the case, in fact, because they tend to be highly educated people as well. But there is a basic attitude that the universe is provided for you, a basic trust in the universe in the Right-Hand Path philosophy. Whereas the Left-Hand Path philosophy is a sense of basic trust in your own will, your “might and mane”, as they used to say in the northern lands.
Gyrus: Referring to your comment about the influence of Christianity, it must especially be Protestantism that has influenced attitudes to sorcery. It’s based on the idea that nothing you do in this world will lead you towards a state of grace or salvation; it’s purely an internal, intangible exercise of faith. Besides Christianity’s basic prejudice against magick, that’s a huge prejudice against part of the spiritual path being in this world, and your interactions with it.
Dave: There is this curious connection of sorcery with Catholicism of course. For instance the artworks of a chap I know, Snakes—’Automatic Prayer Machines and Divinity Selectors’—strange bits of post-technological art that contain in them numerous tiny things from the Spanish religion and sorcery industry, Santiago, where he found places where you can buy all sorts of spell-kits, essentially, for using in the church. And this has been going on for centuries. People are allowed to do sorcery, as long as it’s thought of as ‘prayer’.
I suppose a lot of the Middle and South American traditions containing sorcery, which managed to graft with invading Catholicism to an extent, to form various syncretist religions, may have had a harder time of holding onto fragments of their traditions if they were invaded by Protestants…
Out & about
Gyrus: In its connection to the everyday world, Chaos Magick popularly, if that’s the right word, has a very ‘urban’ feel to it. Well I know you’ve done quite a few treks into nature to do magick—what are your experiences of that?
Dave: The second Chaos Magick group that I was ever in, which was the group that became known after it had ended as the Circle of Chaos, for want of a better name—it was ‘The Group’ at the time—was in West Yorkshire in the mid-eighties. We worked eight rituals a year, on the old festivals—the quarters and the cross-quarters, the Celtic festivals. We worked seven or all eight of them each year out of doors. We sometimes worked Yule indoors because it seemed like an indoors kind of thing. But the rest we worked out of doors. And I loved it. Putting a certain amount of effort into certain types of magick enhances it—prolonged concentration, prolonged focus. Walking for, say, a mile through woods at night, in silence, with no torches—because it’s actually easier to walk at night without torches in the woods than it is with them, you get selectively blinded if you’ve got a source of light. We used to do it in silence, and just thread along in a chain—or otherwise we’d go in smaller groups of two or three, and meet up somewhere. You’d have to actually find other people in the woods, at certain sites where we’d meet. And then maybe build a fire in silence. And with the awesomeness of the night, after the couple of hours that it took to get all this together, you’d be in an interesting and wonderful altered state.
Gyrus: I heard that in one of Yorkshire’s witch covens, one of their initiations was to walk around very craggy, dangerous wooded areas at night with no lighting. It’s a very intense way of extending your sensitivity towards what’s around you, in a practical as well as magickal sense.
Dave: One rite we did involved splitting up and all going off in different directions to explore the moor top, at least over from Sunnydale up to Ilkley Moor, those miles of bleak moorland. Obviously we were doing it in the summer, but it was still very much a survival night. That was very intense. ‘Stalking Power’, we called it.
Gyrus: Did what’s known as ‘earth mysteries’ feed into the stuff you were doing outdoors?
Dave: For me it did. I’ve always had a real fondness for the study of earth mysteries, and for some of the people who write about them, their work. I must say that most people I know on the Chaos Magick scene don’t really get that far into that sort of stuff, but I love it. I’ve had some extraordinary experiences at Avebury, for instance. Around there the energies to me are really amazing for particular types of deep transformational magick. Ilkley Moor is another example—that’s a very different type of current. Other places, too. I’m deeply curious about the way that people lived in these landscapes that nowadays are often bleak and uninviting, like Rombald’s Moor, the Ilkley Moor complex…
Gyrus: It was covered in trees…
Dave: Exactly, it was more wooded at the time. And the carvings that are left up there on Rombald’s Moor, the Badger Stone and the Swastika Stone for instance—who knows how old these things are? There are theories about it, but they could be completely wrong, they could be much older. There’s a sense of the tracks of a people who were maybe only just settling down from nomadism, or maybe still nomadic. We have a very old phenomena here, some very old magick. I went to a talk by a chap called Brian Larkman back in the old Leeds University Union Occult Society days, back in the early to mid-eighties. He showed slides of cup-and-ring marks, and noted how the swirling concentric patterns, and looped joins between them, are very similar to those that were found on Aboriginal initiatory shields, which young men carved after, I believe, they’d had their particular major Dreamtime experiences. And these things appeared to be maps of the landscape, from a subjective point of view, a magickal point view. I wonder whether there was a culture rather similar to that living on Rombald’s Moor at one time.
Gyrus: Did any of these ideas feed into your ‘Stalking Power’ experiences?
Dave: They did for me. I found myself, on that particular night I was referring to, walking miles up the moor top, bright moonlight… kind of looking for a line of connection between things. I never found it, actually, but had some very interesting experiences. I was looking for a way of walking up to one of the stone circles up there; intuitively that was the way I wanted to go. So it did feed in, yeah.
Gyrus: From what I know, it seems that the Aboriginal mythical maps of their landscape are all bound together with songs. Obviously, the lyrics would change from tribe to tribe, through different languages; but the rhythm and the melody would be the same right the way across the continent. The ‘texture’ of the music actually describes the nature of the land, so you can use songs as a navigational tool. If you’re walking a certain distance along a ‘songline’ joining sacred sites, you can sing the song as you go, and you’d know through the structure of the song where certain landmarks are.
Dave: That makes so much sense, for a nomadic or semi-nomadic people to have an oral tradition which is intimately concerned with knowledge of the landscape.
Gyrus: Did you do any vocal experiments during the time you’re talking about?
Dave: No, I didn’t actually. Not that I remember, no.
Gyrus: But you’re quite into that now—vocal techniques, chanting and so on?
Dave: Yes. I’ve not used them much at specific sites, for particularly connecting in to landscape energies or whatever. But I do a lot of magickal work with what’s called galdr, a northern tradition which basically means both ‘sorcery’ and ‘song’, ‘magick’ and ‘song’. It involves the chanting of runic formulas as a means of sorcery and divination.
Psychedelics & magick vs. mysticism
Gyrus: Not many magickal writers seem to go into psychedelics much, and vice versa; all the big psychedelic writers brush past magick. Again it’s this mysticism/magick duality. Was it natural for you, when you came across both, to put them together?
Dave: Absolutely. As I said, much of my direct experience of being immersed in a magickal universe came from early psychedelic experiences. At the time, most of the stuff written about psychedelics, back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, was by people who were heavily influenced by Oriental mysticism. I’m not knocking that, that’s fine; but it was very one-sided. Much of the writings carried over the contempt for, or fear of, practical magick and sorcery. Perhaps Casteneda was the exception. I did find his work quite intriguing, but it seemed to relate to a tradition that was very hard to come to terms with in urban UK at that time.
Essentially, for me what’s happened is that I’ve had to grow up enough to write my own manuals, that I wish I’d had when I was 19; to write the fusion of magick and psychedelics that is my own experience. I suppose some people who do psychedelics do end up being attracted to a path which is essentially Right-Hand Path, because it’s to do with the annihilation of the personal self—eventually. It’s to do with dissolution. Whereas the Left-Hand Path is to do with individuation, and the emulation of godhood. I think that’s intimately connected to psychedelics, but I can see how—maybe it’s a cultural thing—there’s this separation between magick and psychedelia, inasmuchas the manuals for the connection weren’t written a couple of decades ago. Or maybe it’s to do with the fact that different people are normally attracted to each of those approaches. I happen to be one of those strange people who’s attracted to both!
Gyrus: It’s curious, because from what we know of existing primitive tribes, much aboriginal use of psychedelics was part-and-parcel of the ‘sorceric’ aspects of shamanism—using psychedelic trips to look for animals to hunt, to find lost objects. It’s odd that as both sorcery and psychedelics were repressed by monotheism, they diverged into ‘magick’ and ‘mysticism’.
Dave: Psychedelics, in their recent reincarnation since the ’50s, either developed a kind of ‘high culture’ position, like Aldous Huxley, which is essentially non-magickal and mystical—he’s very intriguing, his writings are great; very, very good in my opinion—Leary’s a little bit like that, although there’s more Left-Hand Path elements in Leary—or they went in the Ken Kesey ‘pop’ acid direction, which was almost Christian.
Gyrus: Like the Jesus Army?!
Dave: Oh, I don’t know about them! I wouldn’t even like to speak the names of Kesey and the hippies and the Jesus Army in the same breath! Terrifying…
Gyrus: I just had this image of Kesey’s brightly coloured bus and those Jesus Army buses! A totally fanciful connection…
Dave: No, that’s horrible! But there’s a tendency that is pretty near to Christianity in a lot of Kesey’s philosophy. It influenced an enormous number of people who became known as hippies. That’s pretty much a Right-Hand Path philosophy.
Gyrus: What exactly is the connection you see between that sort of promotion of psychedelics and Christianity?
Dave: I think people who take a really staggeringly large amount of psychedelics—even, it might be fair to say, a little too much—get to a kind of state which is sometimes known in the trade as ‘gnostic burn-out’; where really, what they want to do most is come down. Some people developed actual paradigms for ‘coming down’. And I think one of them was Kesey’s notion of going ‘beyond acid’; which, for him, didn’t mean getting into magick—which was what it meant for me, getting into the Left-Hand Path of magick—what it meant for him was getting back into the Earth, and community… doing things together collectively, being a good neighbour… all those good things which are to do with the building of communities. But they’re just half the story, they’re part of the ‘way of the household’. Even then, it’s not the full way of the household, if the householder is truly a magickian. The person who is a strong and significant member of the community may be on a path that is Left-Hand Path also. Like in Voudon, they talk about “serving with both hands”. Which means that you both serve the community and you serve yourself. Whereas there was a complete repudiation of any magickal exploration in much of what Kesey said and wrote. This is as an example; I’m not particularly trying to pick on Kesey, I think he was splendid in many ways. But he’s an extraordinarily influential man; he was responsible for most of hippiedom. Leary was far more ‘high culture’. Leary was far more at the sci-fi end of it, rather than at the ‘nice country people giving each other peace signs’ end of it.
I think the fact that all that needed to come down into something is the connection. Fourth Circuit, basically… it’s to do with having your mind blown out into the Eighth Circuit. It seems that where Kesey landed was Fourth—which is essentially to do with morality, and pair-bonding, and the tunnel-vision of any given society.
Left hand, right hand
Gyrus: I was thinking there of the traditional idea of the Left-Hand Path being the eschewing of the Right-Hand Path’s ‘steady progression’. It’s a ‘short-cut’, not meant with any negative connotation. Some people took psychedelics as a short-cut, and went so far out that they elastically ‘snapped back’, to channel it all into Earth-bound community-building. But your opposition to that seems to be to do with an on-going integration of far-out states into a balance, serving with both hands.
Dave: There’s a spectrum here. The kind of example I’m using is an almost ideal example, of the community priests of Voudon, the houngans, who are very powerful members of the local community—businessmen, farmers, whatever—professional people. A lot of people—rather like an extended family, the village or part thereof, like an extended kinship grouping—a lot of people depend on that person. They’re very much in the position of being a leader, a spiritual and business leader of that community. They will do the birth and marriage ceremonies, they will put on all the very expensive events that require the hiring of places, paying drummers, all that stuff.
The reason I’m using Voudon as an example is that there isn’t really an equivalent in England, or in Europe—there’s no precise equivalent of that type of integration into the community of magickal service with magickal selfishness, the importance of one’s own development. At the extreme of the Left-Hand Path is the kind of sorceror who’s become an outlaw; either because he’s a bit out of order and has been rejected, or because the community does naturally reject sorcerors, which is usually the case anyway. In the old northern lands there were people who became outlaws who were sorcerors, who lived by their own might and mane. There were also priests of Odin, who were members of the local community, and were probably only a priest as far as their own extended kinship group was concerned—again, rather like the houngans. But of course these men and women would also be serving their own ends, they would also be evolving along the lonely path of the Left-Hand Path.
By the way, it’s interesting too that you mentioned the notion that the Left-Hand Path is the short but dangerous one, all that. This is something that I came across way back at the beginning of my magickal career, maybe even earlier. I think some Indian writers, or yogic writers, have it that way—I’ve heard that in a lot of different ways. And I think it is a particular bit of nonsense. It’s absolutely nothing to do with speed of development—although of course you do go a lot faster on the Left-Hand Path because it is development truly into magickal individuation, whereas the Right-Hand Path is not.
It might appear that a priest who is serving with both hands is a jolly good chap who’s on the Right-Hand Path. But we must remember the Norse myth of Tir, who has his hand bitten off by the wolf. He sacrifices his hand in defence of the community, against forces of chaos and night. But in so doing, he himself is on a very lonely journey. There’s a lot of connections between leadership, the myth of Tir, and the notion of serving with both hands—interestingly enough in this instance for a god who’s only got one. The appearance from the outside might be that he leads, that he gives to his community, and serves, and is therefore on the Right-Hand Path; but in his own heart, he’s on the Left-Hand Path.
Gyrus: I’ve never thought about the connection before, but there seems to be some similarity between Tir and Odin, who loses one eye; there’s the idea that he has one eye pointing out to the world, and the ‘missing’ eye points inwards. There’s that same balance.
Chemical tools, chemical intent
Gyrus: How do you relate to the different psychedelics? A lot of people have preferences, and very different conceptions of, especially, man-made and natural psychedelics.
Dave: It’s a complex question. I tilt slightly in favour of natural psychedelics; but I do make an exception for acid, which I think is an extremely valuable substance. Some of the other synthetic psychedelics I’m not as interested in.
Gyrus: Do your preferences relate to how you find them suitable for magickal work?
Dave: Well in my experience, LSD is very valuable for healing. In the right hands, of course, under the right conditions, the right guidance. For self-healing or healing of others, it can be an extraordinary catalyst.
I’ve never known anybody find a use for DMT. DMT is a thing in itself. Enough said!
Gyrus: Obviously you’re talking in terms of smoking synthetic DMT?
Dave: Yes—well, it might not be synthetic, but yes, in terms of the usual administration of it in this culture, which of course is smoked. Mushroom is in some ways the vastest and weirdest of them all. You can control it quite easily sometimes, other times it completely takes you over. Sometimes you can use it for sorcery, sometimes it’s much more mystical. That’s perhaps the most challenging.
Gyrus: What do you think about different attitudes towards intention and psychedelics? John Lilly once said that the absolute worst thing you can do when taking acid is go in with preconceptions or intentions. But of course magick is more about control and having very clear intentions. Do you have a general principle between these two approaches, or do you use one sometimes and the other at other times?
Dave: I think with Lilly you do have bear very, very strongly in mind that with a lot of the things reported as being said about acid, he was in fact talking about ketamine. At the time he wasn’t allowed by his publishers to mention ketamine, for some reason. I’m not sure why—maybe they just didn’t want to start people thinking about yet another drug that sends you crazy, with the LSD scare on. But apparently during that era he was completely wiped out on ketamine all the time. I think on a high dose of ketamine, particularly in sensory isolation, it’s absolutely impossible to do anything, in terms of guidance of the experience. I’ve very limited experienced in this area, but I’m astonished that Lilly has got so many brain cells left if he used that much, frankly. I don’t think it’s a particularly benign substance.
Having said that, I think I agree with him that it’s not a good idea to go in with any preconceptions; but I think it’s a very good idea to go in with intentions, even if they’re broad ones, and totally mystical. It doesn’t have to be sorcery—you don’t have to go, “Right! I’m gonna do this acid and do a spell to get myself a new job!” I think that’d actually be rather silly. But if you say, “Right, I’m gonna do some LSD and heal a particular aspect of myself, confront a particular demon and sort it out…” Under the right conditions of course—don’t do this at home, kids! Your unconscious will give you all the experiences you require to lock into that intention. But of course you have to flow with the details. It’s not a good idea to have preconceptions about the actual details of what will happen. You will be taken on a journey, and you’ll find yourself coming out the other end of it with a good result. You can’t force each stage of the journey, but you can put an overall intention in there. In fact, I would say that a lot of time, the problems people have with psychedelics are to do with the fact that they don’t have any intention at all. That doesn’t matter with low doses, recreational doses. But when you take a high dose, a truly psychedelic dose, if you don’t have any intention whatsoever, you can get locked into confusion until your psyche actually goes to a deep enough, sometimes dark enough level to find an intention. The intention might be as general as to have a good time, it might be as general as to feel a taste of oceanic bliss.
Gyrus: What attracts you to London, in a magickal sense?
Dave: I love this town. My present phase is spending more time and creative energy in writing, not just technical magickal stuff but fiction as well. London is a great city, it’s full of stories. Since I’ve been down here I’ve plugged right back into it, so many stories are happening.
It’s very much a place for reinventing yourself, a place for finding yourself in the right social scene, or the right creative environment, to move on a stage—that’s what it’s been for me.
Gyrus: How do you relate to the city magickally? Are there any tinges of adapting ideas about landscape and the environment in nature? Do you go for any of the urban psychogeography?
Dave: Yeah, I think London is absolutely thick with power-places, extraordinary power-places. I think that’s why it’s such a sprawling city, and so much of it’s a bit of a mess, and overpopulated, and all the other problems we associate with it. People have come here because it’s magickal. It is an extraordinary bit of land, for various reasons—the practical always links with the impractical in these things. I always have a personal, mythic sense of where I live. I’ve developed that over the years, and enjoy it. I like to find out about where I live. Just the other day I bought a second-hand copy of the London Encyclopaedia; I look places up, and learn a little bit about them—very gratifying. It’s part of the layers of my magickal world. One of the stories I’m currently working on is provisionally entitled ‘The London Web’, and it has some reflections on the power of London in it… the way that people’s lives get entangled in this city.
Gyrus: Do you do much venturing out from here, or do you find London sufficient in itself?
Dave: No, I really love the area around Avebury—the Ridgeway, bits of the southwest, which is like my ancestral home, as it were. I love to get out to Avebury, West Kennet, a couple of times a year at least. I go up north and visit friends up there. I’d like to get around more, really.
Gyrus: Healing, especially interpersonal healing, seems to be neglected in the Chaos current. I was trying to think of a reason for this, and the strong association of healing with the New Age movement sprang to mind.
Dave: I think you may be partially right. There’s this tendency for people who think of themselves as ‘hard sorcerors’ to think of healing as… puff’s magick!
Gyrus: Perhaps it’s renamed and thought of as ‘self-transformation’…
Dave: I think there’s a lot of credulous people on the New Age healing fringes who are punters for various techniques, that may sometimes work, but are often expressed in ways which are really to do with dragging more credulous punters in. So some magickians might turn their noses up at perfectly valid techniques that have got that particular marketing surrounding them.
I think that the techniques of healing are a little bit different to the other techniques of magick. In some ways there are more techniques of healing than there are techniques of magick. You can cast a sigil for healing, like you can cast a sigil to get more money, or find a lover, or to defend yourself against someone, or whatever. All the basic sorcery techniques apply to healing as they do to other areas. But there’s also a sense in which healing is a very special kind of magick that’s actually easier to do. There’s more ways of doing healing. In some ways it’s an easier type of magick to do. I think it’s a cliché, but it’s probably true that everybody has the ability because I suspect that everybody heals themselves anyway. As long as one actually makes it out of infancy, there’s probably some ability to heal oneself. And I think all healing is ultimately self-healing; and a healer is someone who tricks you into healing yourself.
Gyrus: I was thinking that the neglect of healing in the Left-Hand Path is odd, what with its emphasis on results in the material world. But then healing is probably on the borderlines; most healing traditions take some sort of psychosomatic approach to illness, so it’s on that borderline between inner and outer work.
Dave: It’s one of the things that people most often want when they come to some form of occult practitioner—a fringe practitioner, or sorceror, or shaman or whatever in the tribe. Healing is one of the things they most commonly want.
It’s an ingress point into magick for a lot of people, I think, if they get successfully healed. In a sense what you’ve got is an internal environment that you’re acting upon; it’s an environment that can be objectively studied, the human body, to some extent. But it’s internal, it actually belongs to you; you’re in it, and you can do things within it. So you’ve potentially got far more power over it than you’ve got over many things in life. Which is why healing, in a certain respect, is a lot easier. And as I said, it’s also an ingress point for a lot of people because of that feature of it. I’ve had, and seen, some of the most spectacular results of any magick I’ve done, in the area of healing—so-called incurable diseases healed, things like that. Quite extraordinary, massive, rapid changes in people under magickal conditions; crises averted; lives saved, I believe. I think it’s a tremendously heartening aspect of magick, getting such good results.
The other thing is the fact that if you actually set yourself up as a healer, you’re going to have a lot of people knocking at your door. And if you’re not comfortable about mixing your wyrd up with strangers, mixing the threads of your life up with those of strangers, or even those of people you don’t know very well, then healing, professionally, is just not an option. Because it does mix up your wyrd with that of other people, it connects you with other people. It was quite late in my career that I discovered I was quite good at healing; it was because a friend of mine that I worked with magickally insisted that I do healing on him. I discovered I could; it worked. But I’m just not prepared to tangle the threads of my life up with those of loads of strangers, at that kind of intimate level. Maybe other magickians feel that in some way, either clearly or vaguely, as well.
But the techniques of healing are enormously valuable; and even if you only use them on your nearest and dearest, they should be a very important part of any magickian’s bag of tricks.
Gyrus: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about sexual magick, and what do you think are the most important things about it?
Dave: I think that sex is so intrinsically enjoyable that in a lot of instances, people, even magickians, just enjoy it and don’t do much with it. Once you start to have the frame of mind where you’re doing something with the energies of sex, that’s not always appropriate to the relationship you’re in; it may very well be appropriate, it may very well not be. I think, for instance, that in a lot of cases, regular couples who have been together for years, very happy with each other—relatively happy, anyway—that’s not usually the best type of relationship for doing the most wonderful forms of sex magick in. So much of the energy of sex seems to go towards the maintenance of the relationship itself, whereas sometimes the explosive energy of a new relationship, or a relationship that doesn’t actually last very long but is incredibly intense, can be an amazing source of energy.
I don’t like using sexual magick for what I would think of as relatively trivial or unconnected ends. For instance, I would never use sexual magick in any aggressive or cursing mode, because I don’t want to mix up that aspect of my psyche with my sexuality. Similarly, anything that didn’t feel right, on a gut level, as a spell, I wouldn’t do using a sexual gnosis. That still leaves plenty of stuff that does work, though. Some sexual magick is best done on your own—because you don’t have to concentrate on anything else, except your own arousal and focus of consciousness.
What Crowley said about sex magick, in some respects, still stands. He essentially wrote about two gnostic states: energised enthusiasm and eroto-comatose lucidity. Energised enthusiasm is just what it says, that wonderful state of energised bliss, which is nonetheless highly conscious and has a good deal of focus—potentially, or actually—that can be used for sorcery, or for self-transformation. Eroto-comatose lucidity is the state of translucency that’s produced by sexual exhaustion, where the more divinatory and passive forms of magick can be undertaken. (Tape pauses for a roll-up break) …you just mentioned Katon Shual talking about the emotional side of the relationship being more important than the magickal side or whatever—is that roughly it?
Gyrus: I think he was talking about preconceptions, probably arising from Crowley’s accounts of just using women for his magickal purposes. I know there’s an aspect of that in traditional Tantra, where the goddess is revered in the form of a woman. But it’s sometimes subtly repressive towards women, because she’s just a vessel for the tantrika’s magick.
Dave: I don’t think that technique in itself is necessarily repressive. In the context of some patriarchal, male-dominated magickal organisation it could be, certainly. But the technique of objectification is one which occurs right across the sexual spectrum. In some instances, sex is better when the other person’s objectified; in other dimensions it isn’t. I think emotional closeness is enormously important; but in the course of sexual play, it’s sometimes desirable to achieve a state where the other person is the vessel of female or male sexuality—the sexuality that you’re attracted to. A pure, impersonal vessel, of that force. That in itself is something of a cosmic vision.
Basically, I don’t actually do very much sexual magick, in terms of sexual sorcery, because it doesn’t always fit in with my actual enjoyment of sex. Sometimes magickal operations fit perfectly; not many, though… I’ve gone back on what I was saying earlier in a sense, when I said that there were still plenty of magickal operations which I would use sex magick for. But there actually aren’t that many, when I think about it. A lot of the time, sex creates a loop of ecstasy, which does all sorts of transformative things that I allow to happen, but don’t direct very much with my will. I might have an overall intention at the beginning, but it’s not like I think sex is better if you draw sigils all over your partner and gaze at them.
I think there are two types of sexual arousal in any case. There’s sexual arousal which is aiming towards fairly rapid gratification, what I’ve called in my book Chaotopia! ‘the quickie orgasm’. This is the kind of thing the Crowley was doing, by and large, with prostitutes in New York—the basis of Rex De Arte Regia and his other notes on sex magick. With Crowley of course, things are rather different, because he was actually doing some sorcery, for a change. He didn’t actually do very much sorcery. But in terms of the quality of the sexual relationship, obviously it was pretty minimal… a fun kind of thing I suppose, but there are deeper forms of sex that rely on the generation of the ‘internal bliss-wave’, as it’s been known. What I think of as Fifth Circuit consciousness, or higher. That does involve opening up to the partner a good deal more, and taking more time over it.
Gyrus: So you think sex is often ‘useless’, in terms of magick, in the same way that DMT is, but for different reasons?
Dave: An interesting analogy!
Gyrus: It’s not that you’re too far out, it’s just that there are so many other things going on, particularly emotionally, that it’s just not applicable.
Dave: Yeah. Sex, to me, is just one of the best things in life, and I don’t want to necessarily always force it into the Procrustean bed of practical sorcery. Sometimes I’d rather just let it be sex. Which nonetheless, at its best, can sometimes go into a kind of mysticism. As the sex gets better, you reach higher and higher states of consciousness, and you find that you’re in a state which is rather like sex—but not as we know it, Captain! That’s another game entirely from the quickie orgasm; it’s another game entirely from practical sorcery.
Gyrus: When I was talking to Amodali [of Mother Destruction], I realized for the first time—I suppose entering the final year of the decade has something to do with it—that the 90’s is the first decade in the last half of this century not to have thrown up some sort of distinctive youth movement. What do you think is going on here? Is culture now too chaotic for anything like rave or punk to just spring up?
Dave: I think we’re in the afterglow of the rave subculture…
Gyrus: It’s lasted so long though!
Dave: It has lasted so long; I think it’s been a particularly successful subculture. And that’s why it’s gone on for 10 years! I knew little about it in ’87, when most people date it from; it’s more of a ’90s thing from my experience. Being a bit older, I missed out on some of the rawest and newest aspects of youth subcultures as they came along. A lot has come out of the rave culture. To me it’s been the most significant youth culture since the 60’s. My 90’s has been coloured by a sense that here is a bunch of young people, dancing and doing MDMA and so forth, and then getting a bit more sophisticated, some of them going into psychedelics and into magick. And in parallel with a load of older people like myself who remember the late 60’s, early 70’s, before it became that completely commercialised glitz of 70’s culture, which was then smashed by punk. The late 60’s thing was so naïve and primitive, compared to the sophistication of the rave culture generation. Of course that generation built upon earlier experience, which is why I think it’s stabilised, as a subculture, more than most. It’s had a longer shelf life, even though of course it did become commercial. In terms of music styles, everybody thinks techno’s old hat now. There doesn’t seem to be any youth culture accompanying the most advanced forms of dance music now. Basically I suppose drum and bass and hip-hop are the cutting edge of dance culture now. That doesn’t have the same youth culture, doesn’t have a revolutionary youth culture attached to it; it has more of a clubby, hedonistic…
Gyrus: There have been musical revolutions, but they’ve kept within the bounds of music, and the culture that surrounds that, rather than any wider social culture.
Dave: I really don’t know where it’s going next. Lionell Snell always had interesting notions about micro-aeonics. I’ve got my own theories, but his were more prediction-based than mine. He was actually trying to use astrological, or quasi-astrological models to predict the next stages of mass fashion. I think his cycle was Science, Religion, Art and Magick. I think when he was talking in ’93 he was talking about us going into a Religion phase—or was it coming out of a Religious phase? I can’t remember now. I don’t know his astrological gnosis well enough to be able to comment and add it to my own notion of micro-aeonics.
Gyrus: Was it anything to do with solar cycles?
Dave: Pete Carroll’s very much into the sunspot cycles… Was it a 19-year cycle or was it 11 years?
Gyrus: I came across the 11-year sunspot cycle in Iain Spence’s article in Towards 2012 part III. He related this cycle to the Transactional Analysis grid, relating youth subcultures to the four ‘personality types’. I think he pinned the hippies to ’66, punk to ’77, rave to ’88, and of course ’99 was the next big one.
Dave: Ah, well it’s all been warped by the millennium, hasn’t it? We’ve got a massive cultural log-jam happening which is called the millennium! After the millennium, when people sober up around January 30th or something next year, they’re going to realise of course that nothing in itself has changed, unless they want it to change. The economy might well take a bit of a dip, after all the partying, until new things take hold. I’m inclined to think that the 2012 concept will actually go mass after the millennium. When people get disappointed by the millennium, they’ll be looking for the next ‘millennial’ change; and 12 years is a nice sort of period. I think there’ll be something of a mass culture to do with the 2012 phenomenon.
Gyrus: I’d never considered that…
Dave: Yeah, look out for that late next year, or by next summer perhaps.
Gyrus: I think I have a blind-spot past the millennium. Obviously it’s like a big New Year, and I have this every winter, coming up towards Christmas and New Year. You have all your Yule plans laid out, and you probably have plans for January, but they don’t seem as ‘real’ as plans for a month or two ahead do normally. It’s a big version of that. A psychological block, I suppose.
Dave: When I was a youth, I would have laughed at the notion that I would have survived this long! So it’s like free time in a way, it’s great!
I think there may be an increase in the sort of ‘whizz-bang’ technology factor… or perhaps ‘gee whizz’ technology factor would be a better expression. An absolute awe of technology, almost a kind of religion of hi-tech. But we are developing an increasingly fragmented society in some ways; although there’s a lot of communication, there’s a lot of little subcultures going on, even the youth subculture. Maybe because it’s lasted so long since rave, a lot of the rave generation have said, well, what’s happened is that loads of people from different scenes used to dance together—now they dance in different clubs. Totally different scenes, taking different substances to enhance their evenings, and they have different subcultural values. Maybe that will continue, maybe new forms of that will come along. But a mass youth culture… I wouldn’t like to predict one, but I think the 2012 thing is going to be part of it.
Gyrus: What do you think are the drives behind the human yearnings for, and fears of, apocalypse? I’ve thought of it as collective coming to terms with personal death; then there’s Immanuel Velikovsky’s ideas of race memories of vast catastrophes, comets impacting in prehistory. Like the Celts who told the Romans that the only thing they feared was the sky falling…
Dave: ‘Cos it’d happened to their ancestors! Yeah, it really had, in my belief. And I think that quite a few mainstreamers are beginning to accept certain aspects of Velikovsky’s notions. Maybe not exactly as phrased; but the idea of there being cyclic catastrophes that have wiped out whole civilisations, I think is highly probable. I think the conventional, old-fashioned notion of history as being a continual rise of civilisation from people walking around with clubs a few tens of thousands of years ago, up to the present marvellous things we’ve got, is probably nonsense. I very much doubt that there’s been a civilisation that has had our sort of technology before, but I think there have been civilisations before where people lived in cities, had very highly organised and stratified social systems, and a class which was able to enjoy the best of everything that was produced—a leisured aristocratic class, what we normally call ‘civilisation’. I do think that there probably are race memories of great catastrophes. This is becoming a theme in sci-fi, I’ve noticed, probably because of the gradual bleed-through of Velikovskian kind of notions into popular culture. And also because of the millennium—even though people don’t pay much attention to Christianity these days, by and large, we still have that culture within us. The very fact that our calendar is constructed in this way tends to make us think that something bloody amazing, or awful is gonna happen—maybe not this year, but maybe in 10 or 20 years’ time. There’s the general sense that in our lifetime something big might happen. And it could be an asteroid crashing into the Earth; it’s improbable that that’s going to happen in our lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
I think another level of it is simply that people want to tidy their lives up, want to see life in a more simple fashion than it is. Fundamentalist Christians are an obvious example. They love the apocalypse, because it means that all the people they disagree with are gonna get murdered by God, and that they’re going to live forever in a sort of suburban paradise. This is an extreme example of the way that people use the notion of apocalypse to tidy up life, which is a messy and intricate system, a set of interlocking systems that can’t be reduced to a single truth.
Gyrus: There’s obviously a lot of cynicism about the year 2000 because it can be seen as just an arbitrary date on the calendar. But do you think there’s a leftover yearning from cultures that had cyclic calendars which scaled time up from years to aeons? A leftover need for large-scale renewal festivals or phases, in spite of the millennium being used by corrupt systems like the State and the Church to glossily ‘renew’ their waning powers?
Dave: I think there is, actually. I think it helps when there are people in a culture with a much vaster sense of timespans operating. I do try to avoid politics most of the time, but the way that politics works is incredibly short-sighted. It just makes me tear my hair out if I look at it too closely. The whole short-term fix, the whole mentality of politics… it’s probably no different to what it’s always been, but there’s no sense of the larger picture, no sense of the important features of what makes human life. Culture absolutely needs much longer-term perspectives embedded within it. Usually those are provided by religion. Hopefully we’re moving out of the large scale of the excesses of religion, and there might be a fairly mass-scale wisdom about larger timescales evolving. I’d like to hope so.
Gyrus: Do you think you’ll see affordable space travel in your lifetime?
Dave: Within my lifetime and my income bracket, those two things? I think that’s a great question, a fun question! Well, as to whether it’ll come within my lifetime and my income bracket depends on one of the parts of the old Leary S.M.I2.L.E. formula, Life Extension. I could be dead tonight or I could live another 200 years! But I think it’s highly probable that we will see people going on holiday on Earth orbits, as a sort of jaunt; and maybe a bit further into the future going to the Lunar Hilton. Or an orbital space station might be more likely as a first stage. I mean the Japanese have commercial space station projects on the go, I think some of the Japanese companies have got…
Gyrus: People are paid up?
Dave: I think part of their long-term corporate strategies is to get a proper decent space station up there that people can go and visit. I think it’s definitely going to happen.
Gyrus: Has space travel ever obsessed you?
Dave: When I was a kid it did—I wanted to go into space when I was a kid, absolutely!
Gyrus: It’s strange that for a lot of kids growing up after World War II it was an obsession—”What do you want to be?” “I want to be an astronaut!” But it seemed fade out after the space programs didn’t progress as fast as we thought they would. And now it’s resurging because the idea of adults being able to consider going on holidays in space has come over the horizon. It’s finally gonna happen within the next 30 years or so.
Dave: Well like the invention of the printing press, it’s not something that happens overnight. There was a steady linear increase in the number of people who could read and the number of books in homes, or even in libraries for that matter. But it did mean that after decades, centuries there was noticeable change. We’re now in a zone of more rapid change, but there’s still gonna be ups and downs in space exploration, I think.
Gyrus: How do you think magick will function in terms of living in space? Magick originated in nature-based paganism, and now thrives in cities—as it’s probably done in the past, but more noticeably now. Perhaps the whole idea of cities is preparation for leaving the Earth, to learn to build mythologies and so on, totally separate from the land?
Dave: Skyscrapers look like rocket ships… What will happen is that if you’ve got an ecologically self-sustaining space station, what you would have is a capsule of what Earth was about—a semi-stable ecological system, a little capsule of Earth-life in our space stations. And no doubt people would not only use that to grow fruit and vegetables, but they would also go and sit in there with the trees, because part of our genes is tuned in to all that, it’s very much part of us. If we didn’t have that, it would drive us a little bit mad, I think—it would be difficult. If you thought you were never going to see green growing things again, it’d be very difficult.
Of course there are other levels of nature which are out there. You can think in terms of being inside the body of the star goddess Nuit; you’ve got the primal fire of suns as tiny points within the body of the goddess. There’ll be mysticisms and religions based upon the experience of space travel; and there necessarily will have to be, because space is such an uncomfortable… you can’t just go there without a capsule to be in, because it’s nearly absolute zero, it’s fucking freezing. There’s no life as we know it out there. It seems like a very hostile place, so we’d have to develop new myths to deal with living in space. But we’ll also have to take with us encapsulated forms of the old Earth mythos.
Gyrus: I’ve just read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. He presents a really bleak view of space travel, or colonising other worlds. The colonists on Mars live in tiny communities in a very barren, poisonous landscape that they’re in the slow process of terraforming. What they do to cope with this is they have what I suppose are doll’s houses, with a version of Barbie and Ken living in them. They chew this hallucinogen, and all the women are transported into the female doll, all the men into the male doll. It’s seen in very religious terms by the colonists. But instead of having far-out psychedelic trips, what they do is just ‘commune’ with this doll’s environment, this microcosm of Earth life, just going around doing everyday things, like going for a drive to the beach. I suppose it’s like people escaping from their lives on a Friday night by getting pissed or doing an E, but in a very powerful, focused way. It’s quite a melancholy view of nostalgia for Earth.
Dave: Imagine if you’re living in a very small community, maybe there’s only a few hundred of you in an expeditionary community on Mars or something, terraforming it. It’s gonna be ages before you get any results. You’d all get really fed up with each other! You’d have to live in virtual universes to be able to bear such an environment, I think. You wouldn’t be able to get away from other humans very easily. It wouldn’t be like there’s a city you can go out and party in from time to time, to get that sort of release of meeting new people and being put in different situations. You would need some form of virtual reality, like that story, which would probably be based on, certainly for the first generations, on Earth. It sounds like a soap opera, that!
Gyrus: It is portrayed as being like plugging into a soap opera.
Dave: An interactive VR soap opera!
Gyrus: Just to get a taste of ‘back home’…
Dave: It seems like a reasonable kind of direction.
Gyrus: Maybe the cultures that arose from the first colonists would have a Garden of Eden-type myth about Earth?
Dave: There’ll be a Golden Age thing somewhere in the past, there always is.
Gyrus: Do you think that’ll persist wherever we spread, or will there be opportunities for ‘clean breaks’ in space?
Dave: I think it will persist, because people do need a sense of continuity and race memory; so that’s naturally going to produce nostalgias for other conditions. Which, particularly in moments of hardship in your present life, will always seem to be superior. Maybe there was a community… this book [From Ashes To Angels by Andrew Collins] argues there was a very advanced community up in the hills of Kurdistan, 10,500 years ago, which was Eden. An excellent book, actually.
Gyrus: Is it related to any of McKenna’s theories about an African Eden?
Dave: Not really. But on another level, we’re remembering oceanic consciousness in the womb. If you take Stanislav Grof’s model of consciousness, the perinatal matrix of oceanic consciousness, the part of your nervous system that was programmed in the womb, picks up a whole gestalt of related feelings and myths that occur to you throughout your life—as you become conscious, as you become mythically aware, as you become culturally aware, and as you have various accidents and incidents in the course of your childhood and adult life. Those certain types of myth and experience will aggregate at that first perinatal matrix, which is to do with oceanic bliss, and the disturbance thereof. Being forced out of Eden, all that. So there’s a lot of levels on which this might work; and I’m inclined to think that it will continue, this sense of a Golden Age.
Gyrus: What are your current obsessions?
Dave: One of the areas that I’m getting into with magick at the moment is story-telling as magick. The authorship of stories, or the telling of them as a magickal act. I’ve enjoyed writing short stories for a while, but I’d never done much with them until recently. One of the things that’s stopped me short from writing stories before is that I’ve always been intensely aware of my degree of identification with protagonists in stories, and having to be very, very careful of what I make happen to the protagonist. Because I really feel like I’m writing my own life-script. I did at a certain point start to realise that I was doing this, and writing other people’s life-scripts. That responsibility implies power, and power implies responsibility. I’m fascinated at the moment by fiction as a tool of magick, both of sorcery and of self-transformation; and the way that a story can be a complex series of enchantments which produces new truths for me as a writer, and produces new objective circumstances around me.
Gyrus: There’s a lot of mythology around writing in terms of ‘telling it as it is’. Perhaps I’m thinking of Burroughs’ bit in Naked Lunch saying that a writer can only write about what is happening at the moment of writing. Obviously this wasn’t literally meant, but he seemed to be eschewing the idea of ‘artistically imposed’ structure and meaning. But then his cut-up ideas often cross the border from prophecy to sorcery…
Dave: Well one of my main influences over the course of my years in magick has been William Burroughs’ work. He didn’t declare himself upfront, most of the time, as a magickian, but he wrote as such. His notions of the magick of writing are very profound, I think. I bet that thing about the writer being a ‘passive recorder’ was an exploration, with a certain degree of irony, of that position. What is the writer writing down as he apparently passively records? He’s actually writing down his own thought-stream. He may tweak it, and maybe even cut it up and rearrange it later, to make it serve his purposes of communication. But Burroughs wasn’t a camera. He was a living consciousness, selecting certain aspects of the reality in which he found himself, and applying enormous skill, and experience, and concentration, to put them in a certain order. He wasn’t just a ‘mere recorder’ of what’s happening. He was shaping reality by selecting bits of it—very vividly so.
I’m going to be doing a talk at the World Rune Gild meeting in November, hopefully, in the States, on story-telling and magick—that’s my theme for this year—and I’m going to read bits of stuff there. It fits perfectly with my Norse paradigm, because Odin is very much a god of story-telling; he’s a god of pure intelligence that manipulates… he’s the arch-manipulator, he’s the arch-control freak, and does it by creating reality. He’s the arch-magickian, because magickians are control freaks; that’s another level of the whole difference between magickians and mystics, and between magickians and people who’ve—up until now anyway—been into psychedelics. Magickians sometimes have a real problem in letting go. I’ve had to work on that—bodywork has been one of the ways through for me, Vivation breathing and so forth. To actually learn to let go sufficiently to achieve integration. There’s a point beyond which magickians, people of the Left-Hand Path don’t want to let go, because you don’t want to let go into annihilation, ultimately. So you train yourself to resist annihilation. But on the other hand, to let go into the deeper levels of trance is what seidr is about, as opposed to galdr, which is more intellectual and focused—willed.
Gyrus: So galdr isn’t just the vocal tradition, it was a whole?
Dave: It meant ‘magick’, to a large extent, it meant the magick that was acceptable. The thing is, Germanic magick goes back into the mists of time, but we know most about the Viking age because there’s a lot of literature from there—these people were great story-tellers—and a lot of artifacts have survived to give us an idea of what the culture was like. It was only a particular phase of northwest European culture; it was probably very different a few centuries before that. But that particular political and cultural phase produced a society in which galdr was kind of acceptable, but seidr was a bit naughty. Seidr practitioners are always accused of y’know, taking it up the arse, being unmanly, being dirty and all this kind of thing—it’s there in the Norse literature. There was a sense that galdr was masculine magick, and seidr was feminine magick. Seidr was supposed to have been taught to Odin by Freya. She was the Vanic witch, the sorceress of the old Earth cults of the Vanir, whereas Odin represented the Aesir—in a sense, more of an intellectual tradition.
Dave: Later, I think, yes; not necessarily earlier. The roots of the name ‘Odin’, or ‘Woden’, seem to be to do with ecstasy. So it goes into an almost shamanic mode. Again, the form of the story-teller as an ecstatic intelligence applied to the creation of reality—that’s what the story-teller was doing around some campfire half a million years ago!
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