I got a message from a magical friend and colleague. It went:
“A few friends of mine and I am running a little magazine about weird fiction and all kinds of topics around that.
We have a special edition called “Brevier“ that is mainly focussing on magic traditions, philosophy and techniques, esp. relating to literature and pop-culture from different angles including reports, essays and interviews.“
And he asked if I’d like to contribute. So here’s Part 1 of the interview in English. If your German’s up to it, follow the links in this post. Look out for the iconic phrase ‘Absinth-Punk.’
If we understand correctly, you’ve chosen the path of the magician deliberately. While others often had painful, unexpected initiatory processes, grew up in family traditions or just followed some “spiritual fashion” trend, you just woke up and decided to do magic one day?
Hello to you, and I hope you find this useful and fun. Yeah, I was never into magic as a kid. My spooky bone was tickled by the Hammer Dracula movies, but otherwise I wasn’t interested in the supernatural. I certainly didn’t believe in it.
I was raised a Roman Catholic and at the age of 16 I had the experience of genuine conversion from nominal churchgoer into switched-on Christian. Now don’t have the born-again Christian thing in mind: those people have no even halfway reliable maps of the path here. I, however, was in a church that for all the faults of so many of its adherents had an old and broad tradition of dealing with mystical spiritual development.
However, it bothered me that miracles and such seemed to be the preserve of saints, so at the prompting of a Pentecostal I knew I started going to Pentecostal meetings and services. Before long I was speaking in tongues, prophesying and being involved in healings. We argued about doctrine but recognised that we were inspired by the same thing. I was the only Catholic Pentecostal on the block. And, of course, I was having my first experience of playing nicely with two worldviews that normally shun each other. Three if you count my early flirtations with Zen.
I quit Christianity years later when my experience of God/Mystery/the Numinous/Tao/Void/whatever-you-call-it completely outstripped my religion’s ability to structure it. I needed to prune back my involvement and start again. For this I relied heavily on Alan Watts’ books and his take on Taoism. To this day I find it the most flexible and useful model in the kit.
Part of my post-Christian existence involved the practice of picking on some idea, practice or aesthetic which had drawn my attention but with which I had no affinity, and getting into it. Lacking a magical vocabulary, I didn’t think of my learning in terms of a cauldron, but of a steel foundry crucible where you add scrap iron to the mix and boil it until the unuseable slag can be skimmed off the surface and the pure new alloy poured out. This was Bruce Lee’s principle of ‘absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.’
This is probably the most important part of my story. For years I’ve been leading my development by shovelling into my life things which I wouldn’t normally touch with a shitty stick. Why? Because if I pick something for which I already have an affinity, it clearly isn’t really new to me so it won’t teach me anything or make a significant change. I have to choose the outcast, the uncomfortable thing, to guarantee that it’s genuinely new and different.
So one day it was magic. At the suggestion of a friend I was reading Robert Anton Wilson and came across this quotation from Aleister Crowley:
“It is spoken of the Sephiroth,
and the Paths, of Spirits and Conjurations;
of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things
which may or may not exist.
It is immaterial whether they exist or not.
By doing certain things certain results follow;
students are most earnestly warned
against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity
to any of them.” (Liber O)
Really? I thought. Magic happens without having to buy into any kooky theories? This was the best thing since the Pentecost years, or when I first learned to feel the movement of Qi energy. And it allowed me to continue the crucible process without tying me down to a magical orthodoxy. Magic, formerly just another piece of New Age bullshit to me, became feasible. And the mysticism I cherished, which Crowley clearly shared, came with it.
And so it began. I did some reading up, found Chaos Magic to be the most crucible-friendly approach, and got started.
One of your main interests concerns illumination. Pete Carroll, one of the founders of the Pact and the ideas of chaos magic quite clearly tried to dismiss spiritual undertones and “religious superstition”. Nonetheless, he used the term “Illuminates”, prominently shown in the name of the Pact. How does that fit?
The common view regarding enlightenment would be something like having to meditate in a cave for decades without any attachment to or interactions with the “ordinary” world. Do you live in a cave levitating around, eating Prana, being blissful 24/7?
So, what does illuminatory work mean for you personally?
Yeah, I’m big on Illumination. It seems that Western occultists have historically been so hostile to Christianity that they deny that it has any value whatsoever. This has cut them off from the Catholic and Orthodox mystical traditions, which provide at least as good a set of maps of the territory of Illumination as anything the Theosophists or the Buddhists could come up with. The Western esoteric maps are sadly lacking in conceptual framework and in practical experience of handling the process of Illumination. Compare the Masonic nonsense of magical grades with the steps set out in, say, Evelyn Underhill’s classic work Mysticism. In that book Underhill basically explains all that is wrong with occultnik accounts of Illumination, gleaned from her time in the Golden Dawn.
‘Illuminates of Thanateros.’ Pete Carroll told me he put that word in as an aspirational title, but it clearly means something different to him. He and the founders of chaos magic emphasised results magic as a corrective to the self-deluding mystical decadence into which 70’s occultism had slipped. He therefore reinterpreted Illumination as “deliberate self-modification by magic” (Liber Kaos p. 158). Now I’d been doing self-modification for years and nothing in magic could beat the toolkit I already had. Furthermore, Illumination is not merely self-modification: it’s for self-transcendence, or as I like to call it, getting over yourself.
As with your beliefs as a chaos magician, you can see your self as something you have rather than something you are. The methods are those of standard mysticism: enquiry-based meditation (vipassana, theoria and the like. I liked J. Krishnamurti’s approach), contemplative prayer, theurgic ritual- whatever helps dissolve the crazy sense of a lonely little self locked in a meat suit in an indifferently hostile world that may or may not be there.
The goal is what is perhaps best called union — the deep-down realization that you are nondifferent from everything else. In Watts’ words, that we aren’t put on the Earth, we grow from it. What the Universe is, we are, and with that as our ground of experience we can live our lives as though we’d just awoken from a trance and found ourselves on stage in the middle of an improvised comedy and we can play it however we like, because even when our part comes to an end, we as part of the show shall go on. This is a bit like what chaos magic author Gordon White talks about when he mentions being ‘invincible.’
In this view you don’t retreat from the ‘ordinary’ world — why would you? All the fun is to be had here. Sure, it’s nice sometimes to get away and chill out in an evocative atmosphere where you can simply spend some quality time on this stuff, but isn’t it also just as nice to roll up your sleeves and engage full-tilt with this everyday world that you were born to sport in? As some Buddhists say, Samsara — the sorry-go-round of life — is Nirvana — the shutting off of the whirling engine.
It goes without saying that we should no more try to dismiss the self than dismiss the world. We have a self: it’s just that we may be shocked to find that it isn’t permanent, unchanging, or special.
Should illumination be an important goal for every magician?
Would you recommend practicing magic to everyone. And why did you choose that name?
These several questions seem to belong together. Remember me saying my experience of God/Mystery/the Numinous/Tao/Void/whatever-you-call-it completely outstripped my religion’s ability to structure it? So I eventually created an arbitrary formula for it, ‘fuck-knows-what,’ numerologically reduced to ‘625.’ When I attempted to evoke this in spirit model magic, I got a little voice saying “Kaitŵm! Kaitŵm” which seemed to convey the (to me) familiar sense of being addressed by this ‘625’ business. It seems to mean something like “Oi, you!” As though I was the one being summoned. I recognised this feeling. I’d had it before, many times since my first conversion. Hence my chosen name, Kaitŵm.625, constructed on the idea that I as the ‘Kaitŵm’ element of the formula am basically a subset — a part — of the whole 625, a filename where ‘625’ is the filetype. You computer types understand that, yeah? My fellow occultists refer to me by the more pronounceable version, ‘the Kite.’
So, cutting to the chase, my chosen name embodies the fact that I was called to this, just as shamans and mystics down the ages have reported that God or the spirits called them first. Initiation is not something we do, it’s something that is initiated from beyond us. If you’re reading this then you have probably already had some sense of being nagged to respond to … fuck knows what. You are the one being summoned. Without that you are not on an Illuminatory path and any magic you do is a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, but be aware that doing magic seems to prepare the ground for the initiatory experiences to start.
And once they do, consensus says there’s no going back and no stopping. If you try to abort the process once started, or try to control it, you’ll hurt yourself and possibly end in ruin. And that’s why some mystical and magical authors caution against casual dabbling and in extreme cases beg you not to read the book. Once started, best to finish, as the Theravada Buddhists say. It seems the spirits don’t fuck about.
So when 625 or whatever starts pulling at you, you go along with it. Say ‘Yes’ with a generous spirit and roll with it. This is sometimes called ‘surrender,’ or in Arabic, ‘Islam.’ Funny how it goes, isn’t it?
As an aside, notice here that I’m speaking of these things as though they had some sort of objectivity. Doesn’t that conflict with the Crowley quotation I already used?
Yes and no. Yes because at one point, around Liber O, Crowley was bought into psychological models, by which I mean he was inclined to view magic as something that’s in your head. And while I agree, that is only half the picture. To leave it at that is to invite solipsism, and it gets you killed crossing the road. Because we all know that whatever we might like to think about us being the creator of our world, we can’t simply declare that the oncoming bus isn’t really there and is only in our heads. Knowing that the bus is really there is a common meaning of the word ‘objective,’ and in a similar sense the action of God, spirits, 625, whatever, is objective also. It won’t go away just because we refuse to believe in it. It won’t stop just because we’re having a moment of model agnosticism.
There’s another thing. The objective aspect of the mystical process presupposes that something is going on that is outside of you. Bluntly, it’s not about you. Sorry. That means that it’s not actually concerned with helping you to feel happy, be successful or heal your past. These are not the goals of Illumination. Union is the goal.
Part 2 follows soon.If you want to jump ahead and your German’s up to it: maybe go here.