Saturday, January 13, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson (obituary)

From Mandrake Speaks (

Robert Anton Wilson was the secret agent of synchronicity.

It was his works I discovered when I began receiving weird vibes about Sirius, and his books I was guided towards soon after executing a gung-ho magickal operation to receive illumination about Truth. Uncle Bob blew my mind with a fierce wind of cross-cultural meta-narratives about mysticism and occultism. He made the broad connections between maps and phenomena which most brains only garner the vaguest hint towards, let alone full synthesis and processing into erudite, witty, funny and perpetually enlightening prose. I haven't met one person who wasn't changed in some way by reading Robert Anton Wilson's work – which could be a testament to a sheltered life, or a bona-fide indicator of just how important this man was: in bridging the gap between the 1960s counter-culture and the future of occultism; in filtering out the dogma and the bullshit that occultism often carried along with it, breaking down a wall that precipitated a flood of fresh occult thought that wasn't weighed down by the pseudo-religious and sometimes impenetrable jargon that hung over mid-20th century occultism from the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

That he'd fallen ill late last year initiated a wave of concern all over the planet. He was pronounced dead 4:50am yesterday morning. He wrote about his experience of polio as a child, and his consistent sufferance of post-polio syndrome, with his trademark mixture of comic tragedy. That it should claim his life, despite his heroic advocacy of life-extension and virtual immortality, is a kick in the face to all optimism everywhere. But the anecdotal evidence that he maintained his humour throughout his final days on this earth, is further testament to just how switched on he was.

From his very early writings about drugs (republished as Sex, Drugs and Magick (New Falcon Press, in its sixth printing in 2000) Uncle Bob was an iconoclast. Picking away at the faults of the state and its systems and always championing the overlooked virtues of common sense. But it was the Illuminatus Trilogy, written with Robert Shea in 1975, that cemented him as a voice and mind to be taken seriously (or not, depending on your side of the fence), and his subsequent chronicles of the synchronicites and madness that led him to write that book, Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati, that secured his position as man deep in touch with his own genius.
In this book, Uncle Bob defied magickal convention by dropping LSD and listening to a tape-recording of The Bornless Ritual, thereby achieving Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. He blew the lid (for this reader at least) on the connections with extra-terrestrial intelligences and magick, and wrote with reference to the eight-circuit model of consciousness with more clarity and better explanation than its creator, Timothy Leary, ever did in his lifetime. Any self-proclaimed magician who actually practiced magick, would have recognised the initiatory journey Uncle Bob was chronicling in that book. And sympathised, perhaps even found a voice of reason where there was only a burgeoning concern of affliction with schizophrenia: I'm sure I couldn't have been the only person to read Cosmic Trigger and say “You too? Thank fuck. I thought I was going nuts...”

With Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology, arguably along with Cosmic Trigger his best and most rewarding books, he delved deeper into the exploration of human consciousness, and de-mystified mysticism into a post-modern practice of socio-cultural and neurological transcendence. Something that previously hadn't been done with such empathy, and an insight into just how stupid and prone to over-complication a human mind can be.

As I write this at 2230 I'm also reminded of Uncle Bob's fearless introduction of the 23 meme into popular consciousness. While the 23 Current has taken on a life all of its own, Bob's Most Marvelous Magi Trick may have been to let that one loose to plague a thousand minds, probably more. He almost single-handedly popularised Discordianism and edged it into the important magickal movement it is today. Without Uncle Bob, would there be Chaos Magick, or a wave of modern shaman's delivering human consciousness back from the brink of a potential over-scienced and under-psy-enced dark age?

At 2300 hours I'm reminded that while it's impossible to say too much about how great the man will be missed, it's easy to overstate it when a simple “Good Bye Uncle, Bob, we'll miss you!” would probably do.

As much as you'd probably hate to come back as anything, it would be a good idea. There's no business like show-business, and you've showed us so much. But a little more never hurt.

RIP Robert Anton Wilson 1932-2007

Tristram Burden

Saturday, January 06, 2007

John Symonds (1914-2006) Obituaries

John Symonds lived a very long life despite authoring a controversial biography of Aleister Crowley that made him the target of hatemail. He died, aged 92 on October 21 2006. 'The Great Beast: the life of Aleister Crowley’ (also published by Rider) first appeared on 20 November 1951 just a few months after the repeal of the UK's notorious Witchcraft Act. This was probably the most radical book of the times. It was a time bomb that finally blew in the sixties.

‘The head of the OTO at the time, Karl Germer was shocked when he read ‘The Great Beast’. The Order of Oriental Templars (or Order of the Templars of the East) is a small international body of adepts who practice sexual magic. Germer said that the book would set the Order back a thousand years. He was mistaken. There is no doubt that the widespread interest today (1973) in Aleister Crowley stems from ‘The Great Beast.’ (Preface to 1979 edition of The Great Beast)’

Symonds is certainly right that it did no such thing, the very opposite in truth. It's interesting that the book has gone through many incarnations and rewrites and is in the words of Colin Wilson ‘a kind of appalling classic’ (on the back cover of 1989 reprint as ‘The King of the Shadow Realm: Aleister Crowley: his life and magic’). Did the 1951 act have any effect on the publication of this book? Yes I think it did, notice that there is no mention of magick on the cover of the first edition. Symonds says in another edition that at the time this sort of things couldn’t be too obviously cited on the cover and that in later works he was able to add more of the sexual magick stuff. Indeed the more magical material was not published until 1958 and then by another publisher called Mullers, whose output also included the books of Crowley’s disciple Kenneth Grant. It was not until 1973 that a complete revised edition of the Great Beast appeared in various cheap paperback editions licensed by Duckworth.

Symonds biography ‘The Great Beast’ has never been popular with occultists although its impact on popular culture has been, imo, immense. I remember reading one of the shlock horror editions given to me by a climbing friend. I must say I found the book a revelation, as did countless others. Since then other more ‘sympathetic’ writers have tried their hand at writing a more ‘balance’ biography but few have really matched Symond’s panache. When Cecil Williamson, the owner of the witchcraft museum read it, it was a revelation and he immediately decided he needed to know more about the subject. So I say RIP John Symonds. [Mogg]

Here is a selections of other reviews this week - most, as my muse opines, a bit disrepectful:

From the Daily Telegraph
' a prolific author of imaginative, quirky fantasies, though he was better known as the literary executor and biographer of the voluptuary, occultist and megalomaniac Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).

Symonds met Crowley a year before his death, at a Hastings boarding house where the self-styled "Beast 666" was eking out his squalid final months as a spent mage on a diet of gin and heroin. Crowley's will, which he apparently concocted himself, vested the copyright of his works in Symonds and made him his literary executor.

Symonds was initially fascinated by Crowley, but as time went on and his own political outlook moved from Left to Right, he became increasingly critical of the occultist's lifestyle and ideas, particularly his advocacy of drugs and unrestricted sex. Although he edited and published (with Kenneth Grant) Crowley's Autohagiography, and other books by Crowley, he provided an antidote to Crowley's swashbuckling swankiness in his own four lively books on him: The Great Beast (1952), The Magic of Aleister Crowley (1958), The King of the Shadow Realm (1989) and Beast 666 (1997).

Although it did little damage to sales of his books, Symonds tended to deplore the recent public fascination with Crowley: "It's strange that this wicked chap — and he was an evil fellow — should become, with the breakdown of society, a cult hero," he said. "Crowley would have been shocked — he was a Victorian — by the extent to which the world has taken up his doctrine and rites. The lack of magic propriety would have shocked him."

While he made no secret of his own disapproval, he enlivened his accounts of Crowley's life with humorous anecdotes, recalling, for example, how, after his move to Boleskine House overlooking Loch Ness, Crowley had written to the local Vigilance Society complaining that "prostitution is most unpleasantly conspicuous" in the area. The society sent round an observer who found no evidence. Crowley wrote back: "Conspicuous by its absence, you fools!"

Why "the wickedest man in the world" entrusted Symonds with his literary legacy and reputation was a little puzzling, though it is possible that Symonds was the only sane and reliable person whom Crowley would have known. Possibly, too, Crowley sensed something sympathetic in Symonds's unconventional and sometimes disconcerting imagination, which he expressed in a series of novels, plays and children's books published after the war.

John Symonds was born on March 12 1914. His father, Robert Wemyss Symonds, was an eminent architect and an expert on antique furniture and clocks. His mother was a woman of Lithuanian origin with whom his father had had an affair. Because of his illegitimacy, John had a difficult childhood. His father, who later married "respectably", refused to acknowledge him as his son and he was raised by his mother, who kept a boarding house in Margate.
Aged 16 John moved to London, where he set about educating himself at the British Museum Library. He then became a journalist working for Hulton Press on the Picture Post, writing reviews, poetry and short stories, and working as an editor on Hulton's literary magazine Lilliput. He got to know George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Spender and Bill Naughton, and became the confidant of Peggy Ramsay, Joe Orton's literary agent. He also re-established some sort of relationship with his father, who made use of him to research his books on antiques — research that provided Symonds with the background for some of his subsequent novels.
Exempted from military service, Symonds established his reputation as a biographer with The Great Beast, though fiction became his main genre. His first novel, William Waste (1947), a gothic fantasy, was followed by The Lady in the Tower (1955), a macabre love story set among antiques, clocks and curio collections. Another love story, A Girl Among Poets (1957), set in bohemian London, won praise from John Betjeman, who noted its author's "gift for describing farcical situations".

Among several children's books, The Magic Currant Bun (1953, with illustrations by André François) concerns a boy chasing a magic bun through the streets of Paris. Isle of Cats (1955, with illustrations by Gerard Hoffnung) was a magic fantasy about felines; Lottie (1957), the story of a foundling dog and a speaking doll, was illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. Ardizzone also provided the illustrations for Elfrida and the Pig (1959), about a clever little girl who is not allowed dolls.

Symonds returned to biography in 1959 with Madame Blavatsky, Medium and Magician, an entertaining account of the life of the founder of Theosophy, a sharp-tongued medium who is said to have levitated her 17-stone self to a chandelier to light her cigarette. Thomas Brown and the Angels (1961) concerned a Methodist who, in 1798, was attracted to the Shakers, a prophetic celibate sect, hovering on their edge and making converts while never quite managing to convince himself.

Bezill (1962), a gothic fantasy, was followed by Light Over Water (1963), about a young journalist who delves into the world of magic and the occult. In With a View on the Palace (1966), a Russian highbrow film director suffering from basilicomania (fascination with the Royal Family) rents a flat overlooking Buckingham Palace, from where he can observe King George V from the window of his lavatory.

The Stuffed Dog (1967) concerns two girls who discover, in an attic, a life-like doll which has a man's voice, stolen from her former ventriloquist. In Prophesy and the Parasites (1973), a wealthy and still-attractive widow waits for prospective suitors to come and tap her wealth. The Shaven Head (1974) concerns a dysfunctional household riddled with Freudian complexes. In Letters from England (1975) a humble German veteran of Stalingrad answers an advertisement to work as an au pair for a London doctor — who turns out to be female and a sado-masochist. In The Child (1976) a young girl founds her own religion.

Symonds also became friend and literary executor to Gerald Hamilton, an adventurer and reprobate whom Christopher Isherwood used as his model for Mr Norris in Mr Norris Changes Trains, the classic novel of Berlin in the Weimar era. In 1974 Symonds published Conversations with Gerald, an entertaining account of Hamilton's scandalous adventures.

Symonds could be an intellectually aggressive man, and he was fiercely protective of his status as Aleister Crowley's literary executor and copyright owner. This led to problems when publishers or film directors sought to ride the wave of Crowley's notoriety, and led to a number of actual or threatened lawsuits. It was rumoured that Symonds once threatened to turn an eminent publisher into a frog, though he claimed, when asked, that the threat had been issued "in the friendliest possible way".

Symonds was more successful as a novelist and biographer than as a playwright, and although he wrote a total of 26 volumes of plays published by Pindar Press, very few were ever performed. In 1961 he won critical praise for I, Having Dreamt, Awake, a play for ITV about a prodigal son and con-man who dreams up a fortune in America and returns home to dazzle the rest of his down-at-heel family in the London suburbs. His last play, The Poison Maker, about incest and occultism, was performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, earlier this year and produced by his son Tom.

After a brief marriage to Hedwig Feuerstein, Symonds married, in 1945, Renata Israel, who survives him with their two sons.

From the Guardian:
'Teller of charming children's tales who made a devilish friend'
Christopher HawtreeWednesday November 22, 2006The Guardian

The death at 92 of idiosyncratic man of letters John Symonds might vindicate the twin virtues of a teetotal jogger; this moral overlooks subsidy from the grave of that most louche of men, Aleister Crowley, described by Cyril Connolly as "the Picasso of the Occult. He bridges the gap between Oscar Wilde and Hitler."

Crowley and Symonds' postwar acquaintance lasted 18 months until the death of that free spirit whose worldwide womanising and ritualistic practices landed him in a Hastings residential hotel, where he excused himself from lunch with Symonds and went to his room for a customary repast of heroin and double-gin chaser. Their rapport was such that Crowley made him literary executor. Over six decades, royalties from those satanistic volumes fuelled Symonds's dozen novels, many children's stories and a score of plays; several of his biographies unflinchingly chronicle his unlikely benefactor.

Symonds was born in Battersea, London, and brought up in the Margate boarding-house run by his mother Lily Sapzells, a Lithuanian Jew. He had been sired by Robert Wemyss Symonds. An architect with a deep knowledge of furniture and clocks, he would not marry Lily, and ignored them for some while.

At 16, Symonds chose a literary life. The British Museum reading room made good Kent's shortfalls. It recurs in such novels as With a View of the Palace (1966): "before the war, the design of the reading room of the British Museum was still intact, and the harsh fluorescent lighting hadn't made its apperance; its Victorian architecture was bathed in a restful Victorian atmosphere, that is to say in an equal mixture of light and shade."

Part funded by research work for his reconciled father, Symonds enjoyed a Fitzrovian life with Orwell and Dylan Thomas. For a short while he was close to Peggy Ramsay, the future dramatic agent. Picture Post and Lilliput provided regular work. He edited the latter for a while during the war when, exempt from military service, he briefly married Hedwig Feuerstein.
In 1945 he married again, to Renata Israel, and in 1947 published a children's book, William Waste. Meanwhile, he had met Crowley whose "head, in spite of tufts of hair on the sides, seemed no more than a skull... the wickedest man in the world looked rather exhausted - whether from wickedness or from old age I did not then know". After his 1947 funeral at a Brighton crematorium, the town council was outraged to discover pagan texts were recited on its premises.

Crowley books apart, Symonds found his widest audience among children. These books' enduring charm is independent of illustrations by (among others) Ardizzone and Hoffnung. Dolls' houses and cats with telescopes recur; felines wrestle in ring beneath the sign "definitely no scratching" while a pig "looked in the moonlight even paler than he was: the moonlight has that effect on people, pigs, and things". The Magic Currant Bun (1952) is wonderful. A boy is chased through Paris after taking from a shop window a bun whose wish-granting currants bring forth 27 and a half policemen. Very short, the half one stands on a chair to arrest people but - after the Bastille becomes a huge, rat-delighting cheese - the final currant buys off that policeman, who promptly towers over the others.

A dwarf animates one of Symonds' arcane adult novels, The Hurt Runner (1968): he "spent a great deal of his time reading books on magic, phallic and snake worship, and torture, sexual perversities". There are also echoes of great Russians devoured in the reading room, which reappears in Letters from England (1973). Symonds could contrive brilliant images, such as "she was tall and nicely proportioned, except that her breasts were inconspicuous, probably as tiny as the nests of house martins" (Light Over Water, 1963), but can be hobbled by his ambition. Symonds' father inspired the rival loves of The Lady in the Tower (1955): neither woman is a match for antiques; fancifully, a film of that novel animates With a View of the Palace.
That novel's obscure word "basilicomania" - excessive love of royalty - reappears in Conversations with Gerald (1974): another reprobate, Gerald Hamilton, inspired Christopher Isherwood's Mr Norris. These entries might herald a fascinating unpublished diary, its chronicle including his difficulty in having plays performed. These were, however, issued by Symonds' son in hardback.

Television should have recognised the possibilities in a man whose characters declare "from what I've read about Sweden in the newspapers and seen of Swedish films, it's a land of mystery where everything goes wrong" and "you're thinking of becoming a politiician? What sort of politician? I wouldn't waste myself in politics. It's too much of a scramble. How can one be a politician and retain one's dignity?"

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Galdrbok (Review)

Nathan J. Johnson & Robert J. Wallis: Galdrbok. Practical Heathen Runecraft, Shamanism and Magic. 398 pages, Wykeham Press of London and Winchester, revised edition of a privately circulated work, 2005.

It's been a long time since anything new appeared regarding Nordic magick. I had almost assumed that Germanic paganism got stuck in the usual merry-go-round of group politics and hierarchy games. Then, out of the blue, appears a magnificent book on practical rune magick. The Galdrbok is a work of art. It blends high-quality scholarly research with the pragmatic approach required to make things work. Out of the union emerges something new. It could be you.

The Galdrbok is concerned with experience. It teaches rune lore, song, chanting, vision, journeys and several approaches to trance technique loosely symbolised by the Aesir, Vanir and Disir. The nine worlds model is explored in detail. Cosmogony is introduced as a ritual event and makes the myths manifest in experience. Your experience.

All of this is very much alive. It offers a pagan shamanism that can be explored by doing and enjoying it. For the authors, much takes the shape of inspired syncretism. Germanic magic, as you know, is far from complete. Its history is unknown, its lore fragmentary and regarding the training of its professionals, next to nothing has survived. What remains, in the Eddas, the writings of Roman literati, the handful of medieval spells and the odd bit of ancient folklore is not enough to reconstruct the fullness of what may have been, but it is sufficient to provide a foundation for something new and valuable. This step involves the introduction of new elements. Johnson and Wallis, both of them experienced mind-explorers, have dared to take this step and have combined rune sorcery with foreign elements, such as scrying in a crystal ball or the chanting of Tantric seed-mantras. Such methods may raise the scorn of a would-be traditionalists. Would-be, as it is pretty difficult to be a traditional purist when most of your tradition has long been lost or destroyed courtesy of the Christian church. When we wish to imbue a fragmentary tradition with new life we have to fill in the gaps to make it work. Johnson and Wallis have done so, and unlike many other writers, they give their sources and state in plain words when they add something. What emerges is a very thorough introduction to practical rune magic and Germanic paganism. The work is free of nationalism, sloppy research and the nutty lore of Guido List. It describes techniques you can use to find your own way to the runes. The format is highly practical, and the emphasis is on things you can do. Where theory is involved, it is of an excellent scholarly quality (meaning: you can read it) and presented in a relaxed, undogmatic way. There is an invaluable bibliography for those who intend to research further. The only point I am missing is a good index. I wish there were more books on pagan religion like this. - Jan Fries

Monday, January 01, 2007

Interview: Nathaniel Harris

Mandrake: Nathaniel, can you begin by telling us a little about your book, and why you wrote it?

Nathaniel: Witcha, A Book of Cunning was actually several years in its making. Primarily it was written as a 'thank you' to my family for introducing me to the path of witchcraft and magick. Hence the front cover painting of Green Jack, which is the work of my mother, the Lady of the House of the Old Ways. The photographs are by my stepfather, the Magister or Devil of the same coven. The original edition was hand bound in red and black leather according to medieval style, with reference to the binding of the Key of Solomon currently in the library of Cambridge University.

I only expected to sell a very few copies, primarily to friends of the family and those who turn up for the 'Annual Witchcraft Seminars'. Since I was going to all this effort, I decided to post an advert or two on the internet to see if anyone else wanted one. Much to my surprise the book proved to be a lot more popular than I expected, selling 100 copies in no time at all. I could and would have sold more, but the amount of money and time it took to create each copy meant that I was not only running at a near loss much of the time, but I was also working very hard just to keep up with the orders. Thankfully, you people came along and made the current edition available to a wider market.

Mandrake: Can you tell us a little more concerning 'The House of the Old Ways'?

Nathaniel: The House of the Old Ways is my 'parent coven', quite literally and not at all metaphorically! It was formed by my mother and stepfather, and if it needs justification to its lineage, I guess this comes through the hereditary witchcraft on her side of the family. Although both are also initiates of other streams of witchcraft, the House of the Old ways exists independently of any other organisation or lineage.
Judging from what I see written, and the claims I have heard people make, we are a lot more humble than many other covens or groups out there these days. We meet to support each other in our rituals, which are both spiritual/meditational, and results orientated. Most of us are very quiet individuals with no desires for fame, power, or any of that nonsense. We do not claim to be the guardians of any great and lost Mysteries, although we do have direct contact with spiritual entities and occasionally it must be said that some of them do make such claims! Most psychics have met entities like that. Personally, we listen them out, and banish them is they start talking rubbish. Nor does the House of the Old Ways make any of those silly claims about being 'guardians of the Land' or of sacred sites.
I know others have made claims to hereditary lineage, and used it to con there way into positions of supposed power, or spokespersons for Traditional Witchcraft, and so on. We make no such claims, nor do we recognise any such claims made by others as valid. Witches are strong minded individualists, it is one of the things that makes us what we are. We do not need 'leaders', or followers for that matter. If we wanted them, we would have them. If one wishes to become as a thousand, one merely has to attract a whole load of zeros.
Mandrake: You said that Witchcraft does not have leaders. But there are leaders and elders in the Craft. Among them those who have published very influential works, as well as raising the profile of the Craft to a wider public. Also, covens tend to have hierarchies led by High Priestesses and High Priests. So please, could you clarify your point?
Nathaniel: In one of Terry Pratchet's very funny 'Discworld' novels, he says that "Witches do not have leaders, and Granny Weatherwax is one of the best leaders that they do not have." No-one can deny that there are influential people in the Craft who could be said to lead by example. Yet any good Magister or Priestess will tell you that they are not really a leader in the sense that a church or a government has leaders. This is why we meet in circles, after all, as a sign that we are all equal, or are supposed to be.
Mandrake: In your book it says that you are the 'Fool' or 'Dubh Sidh' of the House of the Old Ways. Can you tell us a little more about what this means?
Nathaniel: In the House of the Old Ways, the position of 'Fool' is one of sanctioned rebellion. My job is to make sure nobody takes themselves too seriously, or disappears up their own backside. In a sense this position may be likened to the role of the Lord of Misrule, called also in European tradition as the Anti-Pope, the embodiment of the formulae of inversion as seen in the traditional 'Invisible Days', the Black Mass, or even in the reversal of the runic alphabet. Hence, too, the office is associated with the forces of darkness. Dubh Sidh is Gaelic, meaning 'Dark Phaerie'. So, whilst my position may involve poking fun here and there, it is in another sense a serious responsibility.
Mandrake: You call your work Witcha, A Book of Cunning. The meaning of this is explained in the introduction. Could you please say a little more?
Nathaniel: Witcha is an Old English word, properly spelt as wicca, which has been misappropriated and commonly mispronounced in the modern day. It means the use of witchcraft, implying specifically a male practitioner. The female equivalent is wicche.
The word 'cunning' has its roots in the runic tradition. Indeed a rune of our own Old English Alphabet bares the name 'cunning'. It implies the knowledge of sorcery, also mastery of language, poetry, and generally being clever. The term was later employed in relation to cunning folk, who were what in East Anglia later became called 'white witches', being those witches who were useful to their community. Modern academic texts, such as the excellent and highly recommended works of Professor Owen Davies, tend to over emphasise the idea that there was one path called the 'cunning', and another called the 'witch', and that these two were in conflict. Often, however, there was very little between the two. For example, Scott's Discovery of Witchcraft (1584) makes various references to the 'cunning witch'.
<Mandrake: In Witcha, you state that your craft has come to your primarily through the hereditary stream of your family, and has its roots in East Anglia. Is there anything you would like to add to what you have already told us?
Nathaniel: There is not a lot to tell, really, compared to the outlandish mystical claims made by many others asserting hereditary lineages. The witchcraft in my family stretches back several generations. My mother, and my grandmother, both display unusual psychic talent and have run 'circles' of one kind or another during their lifetime. My Great Aunt, being my grandmother's sister, was the one who first informed my mother that she is of the witches, and taught her the first spells she employed. These were of the usual binding of poppets, and so on, formulae that one commonly associates with witchcraft and are well known today. The most influential member of our family, as far as witchcraft is concerned, is probably my Great Great Aunt Daisy Chapman, who was a witch and midwife operating in the Suffolk area. Unfortunately I never had the pleasure of meeting her in the flesh. She was the one who used to quietly encourage my mother by sending her letters and little packages with interesting things in. She, as well as other family members who have returned from whence they came, is honoured by name in our ancestral observances.
It must also be said, however, that ours is not a static and unchanging tradition with sacred rites passed through our lineage being unchanged for generations. Rather, we are each of us unique individuals. We do not always agree about everything, and this includes witchcraft!
Mandrake: In Witcha, you speak about the belief in fairies, or 'phaeries' as you give it, being a part of your tradition. What's all that about?
Nathaniel: To say that we believe in phaeries or 'pharisee' might be a little misleading, as most people think of this as a twee tradition kept amongst ignorant peasants. Yet it is the knowledge of these sometimes very frightening forces that might be considered the absolute crux of our witchcraft. Yet, too, it should be said that we are not really Pagans, as the word is commonly used today.
Mandrake: Here your viewpoint seems to differ greatly from others involved in the 'witchcraft revival'. You say you are not Pagan, yet believe in the Old Ones. Some might find this more than a little confusing. In Witcha, you describe yourself as Catholic. Can you explain this, please?
Nathaniel: That comment is only half a joke. I have never been baptised, nor do my family attend regular church services or support any organised religion. However, it may be more correct to call us 'nominally Catholic' rather than Pagan, as many of our formulae draw upon the powers written of in the classical 'goetic' grimoires of our tradition, and similar. Yet I think what must be stressed is that witchcraft itself is not a religion. We do not gather to 'worship' anything or anyone, even though we have regular first hand experience of the spiritual dimensions.
Mandrake:But you said that Witchcraft is not a religion?
Nathaniel: This is a difficult one as I most certainly do not wish to invalidate those out there who do practice their witchcraft as a part of a religion. Yet at the same time I think it is necessary to point out that world-wide, and even in the various approaches I encountered growing up amongst the witchcraft of East Anglia, there is no universal faith that unites us as witches. What we have in common is rather better described in my view as an arcarnum of practices and esoteric 'truths' that may only ever be realised on an individual level. For example a voodoo witch in New Orleans, a Malaysian witch of the mountains, a medieval cunning witch of East Anglia, a modern Pagan witch of England, a Taoist witch, a pre-Christian witch of Persia, or a sworn-in of the House of the Old Ways, all work according to essentially very different faiths. Yet at the same time we all work our witchcraft according to quintessentially similar formulae.
Historically witches have often been of a subversive and anarchic spirituality. Many would say that witchcraft is in fact the very antithesis not just of organised religion, but of fixed belief of any kind. Austin Osman Spare is probably the best known exponent of this approach to witchcraft in the modern day. Others of recent history, less known but probably no less responsible regarding shaping the current as it comes to us, have included the likes of Major General C. Fuller of the Golden Dawn, upon whose work Crowley based his Enochian translation of the Goetia. I think the Setanic witch priest Charles Pace was another, and his friend Cecil Williams who originally founded the Museum of Witchcraft. Hence the purpose of the 'sinister' rites of the Black Sabbat, which were quite akin to what more modern cultists might call deconditioning.
Mandrake: So do you believe in Gods, God, or Goddesses?
Nathaniel: I can only answer this personally, rather than speak for my family or 'tradition'. Previous generations of witches in my family were actually Christian. As I said, witchcraft is not a religion. They would have been Christian even if their craft had been something else entirely, such as tailors or carpenters. My mother and stepfather were drawn towards Pagan Witchcraft of one kind or another through their careers, but even they consider this approach to be a lot more modern than it pretends. Any tradition that has genuinely survived through the medieval period would have had to change and adapt with the times in order to survive. Thus, on the whole, many genuine old witchcraft traditions embraced what might be called 'nominally Catholic' formulae, which some might identify as older pagan traditions which have taken on new masques. Most modern covens, since they are also involved with the Pagan revival, have adopted Pagan formulae. We, however, are not reconstructionists. Rather, we are taking an ever evolving tradition into the modern, largely post-Christian, day.
As far as the existence or non-existence of gods is concerned, my opinion is that it is impossible to discuss such things in reasonable or logical terms. Perhaps they are a little like the 'non-existent' numbers that are used to solve certain otherwise impossible equations.
Mandrake: Some people may find your claims to hereditary lineage frustrating. After all, you cannot train to become hereditary, either you are or you are not. The only way to become such is to be either born into a witchcraft family, or marry into one. What point, then, is there in openly admitting your hereditary lineage?
Nathaniel: Firstly, to state my background is not a claim to personal power or knowledge. Rather, it explains my motivation for involving myself in witchcraft and magick in the first place. I did not begin my studies in order to become something that I was not already. I am a witch by birth, with natural talent, which has been nurtured over the years with training and study. This has included my becoming involved, in my youth, with other magical organisations. It is well known that I am a past Magister Templi of the Illuminates of Thanateros, and became involved in Chaos magic, for example. In the end, however, I outgrew these groups and 'returned to the fold', so to speak.
I appreciate that some may find my hereditary status frustrating. I have been accused of being elitist in the past. However, nobody is claiming that our way is better, purer, or in any other way more traditional or important than anybody else's witchcraft. To state that I am hereditary is simply fact, and is not said for any other reason.
I think the confusion here is caused because over the years many have raised their heads and claimed to be hereditary purely in order to claim some kind of power over other people. Usually these claims prove to be false over the years, or at least are never proven to be true.
Also, there are those who mistake my claim as saying that you absolutely have to be born a witch to be 'real'. I have never said this, nor would I. You do not have to be born into a witch family in order to be a witch, any more than being born into a family of accountants automatically makes you an accountant. However, if you are born into a family of accountants, and do want to be an accountant yourself, you are in for a head start. Yet you will still have to train and study just as hard as anybody else if you are going to be any good. In this case you might have someone who will show you the books, or grimoires in the case of witchcraft, and let you in to one or two secrets of the trade.
Finally, as I have said, most people will assume you are lying if you tell them you are a hereditary witch, anyway, and usually not without good reason.
Mandrake: Well, we've met your family, so we know you are not lying! Which perhaps brings us to your appearance on the National Geographic's documentary on witchcraft for the 'Taboo' series, which was made just as the first edition of Witcha came out. How was it that this programme came to be made?
Nathaniel: The researchers for the National Geographic contacted Graham of the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, to make contact with genuine witches willing to be on international television. As you can imagine there were plenty who stepped forward but who could not stand up to the intense scrutiny these researchers needed to put any claims made through. No doubt there were other genuine witches who just did not need the grief of being scrutinised. In the end, they chose me, and also featured a family coven meeting held on the Eve of May. The programme, 'Taboo: Witchcraft' still repeats on the National Geographic channel once in a while. I received a letter from one of the researchers to say it was one of their highest rating documentaries. Nobody got an EMI for it, though. Perhaps they should have done!
Mandrake: Both on this documentary, and in Witcha, you speak of the Bible as a grimoire of witchcraft. No doubt this is something many people will have difficulty with, both amongst witches and Christians alike!
Nathaniel: Well, you know me, I never like to make things easy for people by telling them what they would rather hear. The Bible has a long tradition of employment within the witchcraft and cunning of Britain, and was often referred to in much the same way as it is in contemporary magical 'Christianity', such as the path of Santeria which actually bares many striking resemblances to our own traditions. Such comparisons were made in the documentary you mention.
Mandrake: Our books have often generated controversy and we couldn't help but notice that Witcha was attracting some very positive as well as very negative vibes - how do you feel about that?
Nathaniel: Well yes, as you know - whenever you put your head above the parapet there's always someone who wants to shoot you down. Goes with the territory I guess. Not sure why that is - human nature maybe. Like Gore Vidal said, 'Nothing is more pleasing than to see your friend's latest book on the remainder pile' - wicked thoughts. Maybe you know you've arrived when this happens. I'd expected some criticism of the book but not all this ad hominem stuff and attempts at character assassination, even attacks on my close family. These have included some 'old crafters' who seem to think I was treading on their toes, and one or two that have been a bit cross at my speaking so frankly about certain more sinister aspects. On the whole, though, much of this polava has come from those who hope to raise their own profile by attacking mine and the family's. At first I was a bit stung by it all but as the sales of the book rise and the positive comments more than outweigh the odd nutcase, I'm learning to let it wash over me. Anyway, how can anything be considered bad publicity if you've already openly admitted to practices of Black Witchcraft anyway? I'm not really as evil as some people would have it, yet at the same time it is often fun to play up to the 'Bad Boy of Witchcraft' image.
Mandrake: Didn't you appear on the 'Kilroy' show about 'Witchcraft Friend or Foe?' openly admitting to having cursed people in your previous career?
Nathaniel: Hell yes. They had heard of me because of the N.G. documentary and begged me to be on that show. I must say that when I got there I did feel like I had been particularly singled out for some bad press. Despite my protests that it had been a long time since I had been particularly keen to curse anyone, but that yes I did think it was sometimes justifiable, he insisted on calling me a Black Witch and I did not really complain about that. On the one hand he was saying that he did not believe in all this Mumbo Jumbo, and on the other he was saying that I should be arrested for my magical actions. The studio was like a lion's den, with me and a few other witches of other paths already keen to dissociate themselves from me due to whatever had been said previously, and some quite rabid Christians and 'sceptics' all around us. Incidentally, it was the last episode of his series recorded, and I was the last person on the show to receive his well rehearsed wannabe politician's handshake. After that his T.V. career ended and he became an object of public ridicule. Make of that what you will.
Mandrake: You are also a tattoo artist, and have done some fine work on Jasmine Deville. Could you tell us what attracted you to this art form?
Nathaniel: There is something very primordial and magical about tattooing. There are many people one meets who have had glyphs and signs tattooed upon them as a part of some magical act or self transformation. Although the tattooist themselves might not be a practitioner of witchcraft or magic, the very act of having these things prominently emblazoned in one's flesh seems to successfully connect us somehow to the powers behind the signs. Thus, I suppose, many so called primitive initiatory cults involve the marking of the flesh during the candidate's progression. The word 'tattoo' is actually Polynesian, and only added to our English vocabulary fairly recently. Our own word before then was 'stigma', and in the witchcraft cults this tattoo has been known as the 'Stigma Diaboli' or Mark of the Devil. These may have been hidden on the body, and may have been what the witchfinders were actually supposed to hav! e been looking for. Persecution records make record of marks made by the 'Devil' of the cult pricking the finger of the new initiate to make a permanent mark, as with two Northampton witches condemned in 1705, and the Scottish witches also. Robert Graves makes mention of this somewhere in the White Goddess. Also, the signs may identify us to one another, as with the Maori tribal markings that show your gods, family status, and history. With what has been called the 'Modern Primitive' movement within body art, we can see that many of our own culture have been actively seeking to regain some sense of the sacred or magical tattoo for ourselves. It thus only made sense that I should employ my artistic skills in this world, and the majority of my customers are those who are consciously connecting tattooing to their magical practices. I am largely self taught, as the methods I employ are manual rather than using the conventional tattoo gun. Nevertheless, I have a! lways hung around tattooists of one kind or another since about six years old. When I started tattooing, about ten years ago, I was fortunate in that I lived in London and knew many successful tattoo artists. I also had two rare chance meetings with tattoo artists whom I would personally describe as magicians of one kind or another- one who tattooed traditionally for the Yakuzza in Japan, and another who was a genuine Maori tattooist and who allowed me to sit in on a session with a customer. These events proved to me that I was on the right path.
Mandrake: well that's more than enough - thanks for being so frank - if folk want more there's the current book and another coming soon - watch this space.
But if you like interviews there's one with Mandrake's Mogg Morgan on the Avalonia website (