Tuesday, December 29, 2009
This year of 2009 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Arthur Chichester, the Warden (later known as Spiritual Director) who took over the reigns of the Society of the Inner Light from Dion Fortune in 1946. In the thirty three years of his stewardship he took it through various phases, that perhaps did not suit everyone, but which, in their totality, were of considerable importance.
To his nurturing of the Arthurian tradition, in which he had a close identification with Merlin, I owe a great deal of my early development that enabled me to branch off in other forms of service to the Mysteries. His later insistence on breaking down the elitist assumptions and structure of the Society in the 1960’s was also in keeping with modern developments in the esoteric world. And along with this was a re-emphasis upon Christian fundamentals of the Western Tradition that have tended to be overlooked from time to time by an overemphasis on oriental or pagan spirituality.
Allied to this however was a masterly comprehension of the fundamental tenets of The Cosmic Doctrine, not least of which was an appreciation of the significance of the Planetary Being. Most of the remaining twenty years of his life was devoted to emphasising the importance of this great “generating Elemental” (as he liked to describe it) along with an appreciation of the feminine spiritual principles generally subsumed in veneration for the Virgin Mary in orthodox Christian circles.
This was not so far distant from an appreciation of the principles espoused by Dion Fortune in her earlier Isis work. Indeed a communication from her that inspired an early ritual of mine was to the effect that there was a strong connection between a true appreciation of the mysteries of the Four-fold Isis and the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
With this in mind, it is perhaps worth our while to take the elements of this doctrine and apply it, not just to the Virgin but to the Planetary Being. For if the Incarnation of the Logos (as St John describes the mission of Jesus) was significant for the elevation of the human individual who bore it – it must also have been highly significant for the Planetary Being as a whole, who gave a vehicle of flesh and blood and earthly experience to the Most High.
And if the Blessed Virgin should be later exalted by it (by Assumption and Coronation in Heaven) then why not the Planetary Being – raised in the end from a traditionally dark to a celestially exalted planet?
So let us follow through some of the rubric of the Assumption legend and see how it may apply to the Planetary Being.
When the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had hung upon the cross he saw standing beneath the cross his mother and John the evangelist, whom he especially loved of all the apostles. And he committed the charge of his mother to John, saying “Behold thy mother” and to her “Behold thy son”. And from that hour the holy mother of God continued in the especial care of John, and abode in the house of his parents beside the Mount of Olivet.
It seems not unreasonable to me to equate St John with the Hermetic tradition generally, which henceforth has the duty of “knowledge and conversation” with those forces and beings that sustain the Planetary Being. (In support of this association I might cite “Meditations on the Tarot” anonymously written by Alexander Tomberg, a mystically intelligent and therefore somewhat controversial follower of Rudolf Steiner).
In the second year after Christ, having overcome death, had ascended into heaven, Mary betook herself to her dwelling alone. And lo, an angel, shining, in a garment of great brightness, stood before her. Behold, said he, this branch. I have brought it to thee from a tree in paradise. And it shall be carried before thee when thou art taken up out of the body. For behold, thy son, with the thrones and the angels and all the powers of heaven awaiteth thee. Now the branch from the tree in paradise shone with exceeding brightness. And taking the branch, Mary went up into the Mount of Olivet to pray. And behold, the Lord Jesus came and spoke to her, saying “Come thou most precious pearl, enter into the treasure of eternal life. Come thou without fear, for the heavenly host awaiteth thee, to bring thee into the joy of paradise.
For the branch of the tree in paradise that shines with exceeding brightness we may well see the Tree of Life, the system of revealed wisdom that shows the way between Earth and Heaven. Place the promise to Mary in the context of the destiny of the Planetary Being and we see a glorious consummation of the great ark of creatures that our planetary globe really is.
And as the Lord had spoken, Mary returned to her dwelling, and laid herself down, and giving thanks to God, she gave up the ghost, which the Lord gave into the care of St Michael.
We see the taking up of the elemental into the angelic by the great guardian the archangel Michael, and the consequent result:
When they stripped the body of the Blessed Mary for burial, it shone with such brightness that it could not be looked upon, for the exceeding flashing of the light. A great splendour appeared in it, and a great sweetness and fragrance issued from it like the flowers of the lily.
And that which follows, follows a pattern that had been enacted before by the incarnation of the Logos.
The apostles carried the body of Mary into the Valley of Jehosaphat, and laid her in a new tomb which the Lord showed them, and shut the sepulchre. On the third day the Saviour came with a great multitude to angels, and light flashing with great brightness. He commanded Michael the archangel to roll away the stone. Then Jesus said: “Rise up my love and kinswoman. Thou that did not suffer corruption by original sin shalt not suffer dissolution of the body in the sepulchre”. And immediately Mary rose from the grave and blessed the Lord, saying: “Let thy name be blessed for ever, redeemer of the world, child of my body, and God of Israel.” And the Lord kissed her and delivered her to the angels.
And as it was, is, and will be (time is but an illusion in this context) for the Planetary Being, so by divine promise is it for her human children.
Jesus called to the apostles, saying: “Peace be unto you. As I have always been with you, so will I be, even unto the end of the world.” And when he had spoken, the Lord was lifted up in a cloud, and the angels with him, bearing Blessed Mary into paradise.
All this is perhaps a little beyond what is generally conceived in current concerns for the welfare of the planet, but nonetheless shows an interior reality that as initiates, and followers of the wisdom of St John, we should be fully aware. In fulfilment of which we might also see within the orthodox celebration of the Mysteries of Mary and of the Sacred Heart an extension of the Mysteries of the Planetary Being.
Who, as Holy Mother of God, gave form to the life giving Word, when Jesus the Christ was born into the world.
Who, as handmaid of the Lord, is the balance point of perfect equilibrium, of divine force and holy form.
Who is encountered through the loving heart of any man or woman.
Who is the intercessor, guide, friend and mother of all mankind.
Who is active in the process of the “becoming” of mankind, and through mankind, of the universe.
Who partakes in full measure of the aura of the divine. Into which aura must all mankind grow. For as any human being grows to maturity by grace, so do they begin to share this aura, of Earthly Paradise and of the Holy Trinity.
To share in this aura is to will and act in character with the divine. Freedom within this aura is absolute. For nothing that is initiated from within this aura is out of character with the divine.
The character of the divine aura shows in all who begin, however uncertainly, to enter it. Here the eternal life given to mankind begins to be truly lived. It is an abiding, forever, within the Sacred Heart. And this abiding within the Sacred Heart makes all unreal barriers, separations and limitations fade away.
Those who share in the divine aura, and abide in the Sacred Heart, are at one, and in close fellowship with the communion of saints, the holy angels and all the spirits of God. All the fellowship of heaven and earth is theirs.
This is the joy to which you are called.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Mr. Knight, could you briefly tell us how did you get into occultism at first place? What exactly drew you to this field?
I was always interested in it. For as long as I can remember. Even as a child, and I never gave up on it.
When did you meet Dion Fortune for the first time? What was your impression? And how was your relationship with her?
I never met her in the flesh. She died in January 1946 and I was still a schoolboy then. I first came across her by reading her books “The Esoteric Orders and their Work” and “The Training and Work of an Initiate”. As soon as I read these I realized that wherever this was coming from, that was where I wanted to be. If there were such things as Esoteric Orders I wanted to join, and if there were such things as Initiates I wanted to be one.
Can you tell us something about her character, her habits and her everyday life?
Not having been around at the time I cannot give any first hand information about this. I think that Bernard Bromage, a London University lecturer who came to know her quite well probably summed her up best. Watching her in contact with other people, particularly those who needed some kind of support, he was continually struck by her power to quieten agitation and to still fears by her very presence. She had a kind of maternal strength of receptiveness which led the most timid to confide in her, to put themselves at her disposal and execute her behests. She was one of the most unflustered people he had ever met. Nothing seemed to put her out.
Apart from Dion Fortune, you have corresponded and worked with major figures of the occult world, like Israel Regardie, Gerald Gardner and others. Do you have any particular recollections of these individuals you could share?
I came to know quite a few such people through editing an occult magazine during the early sixties called “New Dimensions”. Much of my contact with them was through editorial correspondence rather than working close up to them. I could go on with umpteen recollections of various personalities I worked with but it would take too long, so all this kind of reminiscence is perhaps best left for my autobiography.
In 1954 you were initiated in the Society of the Inner Light. However, in the 1960s you resigned! What was the reason of your departure?
They entered a new phase emphasizing a more mystical approach. I had no difficulty with that but they also elected to cut back on more traditional magical work with little sign of returning to what I thought had been one of their great strengths. So I decided the time had come for me to go off and do my own thing. They had also become somewhat more reserved and inward looking since Dion Fortune’s day. Again nothing wrong with that in itself, but my own inclination and opportunities were toward getting the message out into the world by means of magazine articles and books. So there was also something of a role conflict.
In 1973 you created The Avalon Group (now run by Wendy Berg). How did this group come to be? Is it an initiatory order or an open magic/study group?
In 1964 I had set up a correspondence school with W.E.Butler known as the Helios Course on Practical Qabalah, most of the wisdom for which came from him I have to say. By 1973 I was beginning to get ideas of my own and decided it was not so much a general school that I wanted to run but a small active magical ritual group, much as the upper echelons of the Society of the Inner Light had been before I left. The Helios course was relaunched as the Servants of the Light organization, which has been successfully developed by Mike and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki since then. For more details of that consult http://www.servantsofthelight.org/ I wrote a new book, “Experience of the Inner Worlds”, setting out my own ideas, which formed the basis for training up my own students. It is what I would call an initiatory working magical group. Open in so far that it accepts serious students, but not open in the sense of a weekend workshop where anyone can join in. More details are on its web-site which is annexed to my own: http://www.garethknight.net/ or more directly at http://www.avalong-group.org/
During the 1980s, you lectured in various places including here in Athens. What was your experience with the Greek audience?
I came out at the invitation of a small group of students called Iamblichos, some of whom had originally studied on the Helios course and who translated my “Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism” into Greek as well as my “History of White Magic” and Dion Fortune’s “The Cosmic Doctrine”. I was immensely impressed by their dedication. I only spoke once to an audience of the general public, at a hall hired by the group, one of whom was arrested during the night for fly posting notices of the meeting. I slightly feared for the consequences as he had also taken the opportunity to paste them on existing posters of a leading Greek politician who was depicted holding his hand out in a generous gesture soliciting votes. He was now seen offering details of a lecture by Gareth Knight! However, all passed off well. The hall was packed out, with a somewhat shifting audience, as admission was free, but I was impressed with the patience of many, as I spoke in English with someone translating into Greek what I had said, sentence by sentence. I felt this might have been rather tedious but it all seemed to go down pretty well.
What is your opinion about Greece, the Greek mythology and our magical tradition?
Greece is the cradle of the western esoteric tradition, and there is more to be learned from it than even the ancient Egyptian, for it is closer to our own roots in western civilization. I found visits to some of the sites positively mind blowing and they certainly rate as high points in my esoteric life. It was possible at this time to visit the remains of the cell where Socrates was administered the hemlock as movingly described in Plato’s “Phaedo”, which had recently been discovered by archaeologists. And his ambience was also strongly felt near the Athenian Acropolis, where he used to speak, and again at the Theatre of Dionysus where a fallen old Silenas type of statue brought him to mind. My wife and I had a remarkable feeling of familiarity at the Agora, the civic centre and market place of ancient Athens, where we were easily able to locate the joint temple of Hephaistos/Athene, seemingly by ancient memory. It would be tedious to recount all the major and minor contacts made at the various sites, of an unexpected Asclepios contact at the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, and who also showed up at his major centre at Epidaurus; or a Merlin contact at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and at the little visited Stadium right at the top; and at Eleusis where I met with the strongest Demeter contact I have ever had in my life. Again at the lesser known oracular site of Triphonium we were aware of the potential reawakening of very ancient Mysteries, but the climax for me was at Mycenae where clasping a rowan and a thorn tree growing close together on the hillside, a sudden wind sprang up physically around me and I found myself surrounded by air and other elemental beings along with the feeling of making a powerful contact via all the thorn and rowan trees in both countries, earthing with their roots a major esoteric link between Albion and Hellas that went back a long long way. This was perhaps reciprocated to some extent when some of the Iamblichos group visited England a few years later and I was able to take them to major sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, Wandlebury, Brean Down and Glastonbury Tor.
Finally, in 1998, you rejoined the Society of the Inner Light. What made you return there?
I was invited to return, initially to help with some editorial work, editing some of Dion Fortune’s hitherto unpublished papers, which saw light of day in “An Introduction to Ritual Magic”, “The Circuit of Force”, “Principles of Hermetic Philosophy”, “Spiritualism and Occultism”, “Practical Occultism”, “Principles of Esoteric Healing” and a digest of her war letters “The Magical Battle of Britain” all now available through Thoth Publications. http://www.thoth.co.uk/ Also to write introductions to American editions of her established works for Red Wheel/Weiser. This developed into helping to put in place some of the structures of the Society that had been set aside back in the 1960’s and which it was now felt the time had come to reintroduce. Having been around in the old days I was able to give practical help and advice in this respect. I should say that although I have renewed membership there, my role is an advisory one to those whole rule the lodge. I am not its head and I hold no executive position.
Does the Society operate in Greece? Could you provide some information about how long you have got an active group here, if you encountered any problems with religious intolerance, etc?
Not in practical terms. The members of any working group must live within reasonable distance of it in order to attend meetings regularly. There may well be groups of one kind or another operating in Greece but I do not have much knowledge of what goes on beyond my own patch.
Could you briefly share with us the philosophical teachings of the Society of the Inner Light, its purpose and message to the world?
That is best addressed to the Society of the Inner Light itself. You would do best to consult their website. http://www.innerlight.org.uk/
Just recently Alan Richardson published a book about the relationship between Fortune and Aleister Crowley. What was her actual opinion about him?
I have not come across Alan’s book yet, although I heard he was preparing one. As far as I know Dion Fortune respected Crowley’s technical knowledge and practical experience but did not think much of his moral calibre.
One of the most influential books of Fortune, here in Greece at least, is her Psychic Self-Defense. Do you think that this has to do with the widespread feeling of fear caused by the current economic crisis? Is there anything that the magician should actually fear and protect himself/herself from?
I do not have a very high opinion of “Psychic Self-Defense”, which is a very early work of hers that plays up the sensational side, often with much credulity – which is a phase most of us go through at one stage or another. I don’t think its popularity has much to do with any current economic crisis – it is simply the appeal of the sensational – which is the basis of most of our tabloid press and entertainment industries. This kind of book feeds on the fears of the psychologically vulnerable or inadequate and there are much better ones that have been subsequently written, such as Caitlín Matthews’ “The Psychic Protection Handbook” for those who think they are in need of help. For more details consult http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/ As far as the ordinary magical student is concerned, the only thing to fear is fear itself. Either of the unknown, or of one’s own repressed feelings projected outwards.
You have done an excellent study on the Tarot (a book that is published in Greek as well). What made you study this subject at first place? Is it a divinatory tool, a way for self exploration or both?
I was originally commissioned to write it by Carl L Weschcke of Llewellyn Publications. The Tarot is part and parcel of the Qabalistic Tree of Life as developed in 19th and 20th century occult tradition. I was drawn into closer study of it in order to design a set of cards to go with the book. For various financial and technical reasons the Gareth Knight Tarot, with artwork by Dutch astrologer Sander Littel did not appear until some twenty years after the book! The Tarot is both a divinatory tool and a way of self exploration. The latter I developed in a book called “The Treasure House of Images” (“Tarot & Magic” in the American edition); the former in “The Magical World of the Tarot”. Details of them are on my web site http://www.garethknigh.net/
Nowadays, Qabalah has become part of the fast-spirituality movement, with all kinds of interpretations and pop/New Age books. How do you feel about this?
I don’t feel anything about it particularly. There is always the risk of trivialization when any esoteric subject become popular or fashionable, but probably more good than harm comes out of the froth. At least I like to think so.
What is your opinion about other forms of contemporary esoteric schools? For example, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Golden Dawn. Thelema, Wicca etc.
The esoteric field is a multi-faceted one, and there are many schools to suit the needs of many different people. Schools, like any living organism, have their own life cycles, of increase and decrease, progress or reaction. It is their ethical and moral standards and practice that is as important as any particular doctrinal emphasis. It is up to the individual to seek and find one most congenial to their needs – there is after all plenty of choice. Of course, many are able to hack it alone these days, in workshops or informal groups.
Do you think that there is a future for the Western Mystery Tradition? What must its modern representatives do for it to survive and grow further? How do you as an Order operate in order to respond to the challenges of the modern world?
Of course there is a future for the Western Mystery Tradition, it has always been with us in one form or another, and always will, even if muted by political or religious repression in certain times and in certain places. What do we have to do? Look in our own hearts and take the next step that is revealed in the silence.
Do you believe that angels and other unseen beings are actual creatures or do you consider them as purely symbolic inner powers?
Yes, although a lot that passes for angelic or other inner contact may well be no more than subjective and symbolic in the early stages of our spiritual progress. Although we do not need to be conscious of spiritual beings for them to act upon our lives in various ways. It is also a great mistake to regard them as psychological archetypes or complexes, although they can indeed work in that way if need be. An esoteric student is simply one who tries to meet them halfway.
What’s the general British belief for magic? Unfortunately, here in Greece every kind of magic is automatically considered as Black Magic and maleficia!
Most people don’t relate to it much – or regard it as harmless fantasy. A combination of Harry Potter and Terry Pratchet. In a largely secular society there is a good degree of tolerance for people’s belief systems as long as they do no harm to others. Some religious converts show an intolerance in direct proportion to the strength of their convictions, and fundamentalists of any kind can be somewhat tiresome, even a menace - as when one or two psychic bookshops and stores were torched some years back – although some of the poisonous tripe on sale could well have warranted some kind of protest. There is an obvious concern on the part of responsible religious bodies about vulnerable people being encouraged to experiment psychically and get out of their depth. This is understandable, particularly as they are the ones who are often called upon the clean up the mess. Much of my esoteric work has benefited from the input of sympathetic ministers of religion, although sadly, these remain in the minority.
In your opinion, what should be the purpose of magic? Could magic be so extravagant as it is presented in the movies? Are its results perceptible only in the astral level or are they actually a psycho-dynamic process of self-evolution?
Beyond the purpose of individual development of one’s full psychic and spiritual potential, the purpose of magic is cooperation with the beneficent forces behind human evolution. I doubt if it will be so extravagant as portrayed on the movies, any more than any other serious pursuit is ever accurately presented. The modus operandi may well be a technology of the imaginative faculties, but ultimately things work out in terms of physical circumstance. In quite a natural way I should say. We are not in the world of Harry Potter.
If you could recommend 3 books that constitute essential readings for a beginner keen to learn more about magic, which would they be and why?
John and Caítlin Matthews “The Western Way”, in two volumes, one on the Native tradition and the other on the Hermetic tradition which tell all you need to know about the western mysteries and how to approach them. http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/
R J Stewart “The Miracle Tree” which is an approach to the Qabalistic Tree of Life stripped of all intellectual and speculative inessentials that have grown up around it. http://www.rjstewart.org/
Coleston Brown “The Mystery of the Seven Directions” which does a like job with the basics of magical practice. http://www.magicalways.com/
Would you like to share with us your weirdest paranormal experience ever?
I don’t do weird! And it all depends on what you mean by paranormal. I have experienced a few remarkable things in my life, such as the kind of things I have briefly outlined about my visit to Greece, but I would not want to isolate any as being of the greatest significance. You will have to wait for my autobiography for a balanced assessment of all that.
Could you tell us a few words about your daily life? What’s a magician’s daily life like?
A magician’s daily life is much like anybody else’s. We are not an alien race. Indeed why typify oneself as a magician? I am, or have been, also a parent, husband, publisher, musician, chess player, pensioner, supermarket shopper, car driver, etc., etc., etc. I still have to put up with the same weather, traffic, government, household chores, minor ailments as anyone else. Just as my family and friends have to put up with me!
After so many years of a successful career, if you had the opportunity to change something in your life or in your books, would you change anything?
I have only ever done what was put in front of me to do. Some things I may have done well, others less so. It is not for me to judge. What has happened has happened, and I don’t care to speculate about “might have beens”. I mean would things have turned out better if I had been born rich, tall dark and handsome, and more intelligent? I don’t know. When it comes to books, there are always elements in them one feels might now be better expressed. Or which have not stood the test of time. But you can’t turn back the clock. We are what we are in the ever changing eternal present. So we must make the best of what we’ve got!
Which one of your books is the favorite one and why?
My biography of Dion Fortune, “Dion Fortune and the Inner Light”, which was great fun to do, and quite an education, going through the archives and plotting out the life of one of the great occultists of the twentieth century and a personal mentor and inspiration in my life.
Are you currently preparing a new book? Would like to tell us a few words about it?
Yes, I have two on the stocks, both half finished, and which I hope to deliver quite soon. An autobiography, called “A Magical Life”, which aims to be a pretty up-beat book showing how magic works – and how events in my life seem to have been shaped by inner forces or beings of one kind and another.
The other is a follow up to my recent book “The Faery Gates of Avalon”, and analyses further the very important and frequently misunderstood faery tradition. It contains a life time of research and practical experience and is called “Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman”.
Both are contracted out to RJ Stewart Books, so watch their web site next year. http://www.rjstewart.org/
Saturday, October 17, 2009
And for some mind blowing photographs of the elemental side of nature, especially as revealed by trees and water, by Iain Duncan, son of my old sparring partner and fellow writer, the late Anthony Duncan. I remember Iain's first efforts as a kid with a clapped out old bellows camera and they were fantastic for his age. Now in maturity he has surpassed himself. For a free viewing go to http://www.photas.com
Sunday, September 06, 2009
But as one very forthright beginner, who has the direct no-nonsense approach of a Joan of Arc, put it to me recently – “Is there really a need for all this swotting?”
This was not just a question of a guileless innocent saying “But the emperor has no clothes!” but rather “Can’t you see the emperor is being weighed down by superfluous finery?”
Help, however, is at hand, from an old friend and former student of mine, Coleston Brown, in a mercifully short book entitled The Mystery of the Seven Directions. For when all is said and done on the subject of magic it boils down to a very simple formula. Wherever we may be, there are just seven ways we can go: UP, DOWN, FORWARD, BACK, RIGHT, LEFT or CENTRE.
Having established these simple principles, the only mystery is what we are likely to find in each direction. And this is really up to us. There are indeed great treasures to be found and spiritual helpers and friends. All we have to do is seek in order to find, or knock in order for things to be opened to us.
The trouble has been in the past that many who have pursued these directions have been so diverted by what they found that they have come back to describe it all in great detail. And if they fancy themselves as teachers the temptation is to present all this in a great complicated system that poor benighted students are expected to master in order to progress.
This simple principle was first explained to me by W G Gray which he likened to making your own space craft – and that the whole of magic was a system of building one’s own co-ordinates in order to find your way through inner space. Of course he then went on to elaborate various complexities of his own from what he himself had found. Which I am afraid is what most of us in the esoteric workshop and scribbling trades tend to do.
There is of course nothing new in all of this. The basic principles have been there in what has been called the Cube of Space since the Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation was written donkey’s years ago. More modern versions have been described by Paul Case, utilising the Tarot, and even by myself in Experience of the Inner Worlds, using Hebrew letters. The secret is to keep the cube simple, as a system of seven doors, and only fill it with what you find – not some guru’s cast off junk.
It seems to me that this may well be the pattern for esoteric progress in immediate future – so you can chuck out most of the baroque complications that still clutter the place up – whether it be the Enochian tablets of Dr Dee or the quasi Masonic offshoots of the Golden Dawn. All very useful in their day but apt to get in the way of clear sight and uncluttered spirituality.
You can find details of The Mystery of the Seven Directions published by LeBrun at Vancouver Island on http://www.lebrun.pathsofspirit.com/.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Qualifying I suppose as an English magician myself and having had to do with a few in my magical life, good, bad and indifferent, I am now in the process of reviewing what it was all about in an autobiography I propose to call “A Magical Life”. There seems to be something of a virus going around of an autobiographic nature just now, as a couple of other close colleagues of mine, of a certain age, (steaming up to the age of 80), are also apparently at the game. At least it may allow us to get in the first word (or in another sense the last) before the biographical vultures gather to pick over our remains.
Actually I find it a most educative and rewarding exercise. It has caused me to realise a lot about myself (and other people) that had not been apparent before in the cut and thrust of life’s battle. And possibly what effort I put into this exercise may make things a little easier when I actually enter the Judgement Hall of Osiris to be weighed in the balance against the feather of Maat. At least I shall have some of my answers and justifications prepared.
One thing that has come to me has been the importance of the Tarot in my life. I had more or less forgotten that I had written three books on it over the years - A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism then The Treasure House of Images (aka Tarot and Magic) and finally The Magical World of the Tarot.
The first was a somewhat traditional approach when I was still learning my trade, aligning it with the Spheres and Paths of the Tree of Life. This appeared in 1965 although it had been written by 1962 along with a set of Tarot cards, The Gareth Knight Tarot, designed by Sander Littel, that had to wait until 1984 before being rescued from oblivion by the great Tarot card collector Stuart Kaplan. The correspondences are those favoured by the Golden Dawn, which are certainly not the only ones possible, but in my experience have served me very well over the years in formal Qabalistic studies, both theoretical and practical.
The Treasure House of Images or Tarot and Magic developed out of a workshop I did in 1984 at Hawkwood College, where I sought to show its possibilities as a system of magical images in ritual work. I had then realised it to be a system in its own right that did not necessarily have to be tied in to the Qabalah. Although I did conclude with an extended path working that more or less followed Tree of Life lines, and which came to me first as a children’s story for grown ups, called Granny's Magic Cards. For the textbook I cut out all the kid’s stuff, (although, as with Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice, some of it contained teaching not easily rendered by other means). Eventually I did publish the original, in 2004, with evocative illustrations by Libby Valdez, but what with one thing and another it turned out to be a very limited edition, no more than 100 copies, so any who have it can rest assured that they have a considerable rarity, worth a pound or two on the second hand market. It has since been issued on disc in PDF format by Ritemagic but alas without the illustrations. It remains, however, a work that makes my hair stand on end at certain points.
The most recent book, The Magical World of the Tarot, developed out of a course that I wrote and marketed in the late 1980’s before releasing as a self study book in 1991. This was a bit of a con in a way, insofar that in the guise of teaching how to use it as a divination device I was really encouraging students to use their own magical imagination to make contact with the fount of wisdom behind the Tarot, rather than simply mugging up “meanings” in a shallow intellectual fashion. Whilst many casual readers might have found this a bit demanding, if followed through it paid handsome dividends, and one of the reader responses that I treasure most was from a sergeant in the US Marines who wrote in to say how much he had been helped by it in the vicissitudes of life.
The method was not quite so demanding perhaps, as getting people to design and produce their own Tarot cards, but that is the way I trained students in the Gareth Knight Group. Each and every one had to design and produce their own Tarot before they could regard themselves as having passed beyond the Lesser Mysteries. However, not all are called, or cut out, to be serious esoteric buffs, although it remains probably the best way to learn about Tarot, ourselves, and the inner worlds in general. We all have a Tarot within us, so why not let it come out?
Now in my latter days I still find increasing wisdom coming through the Tarot, and in this respect I have been much impressed with a book called Meditations on the Tarot which is also a profound exercise in revealing just what the Hermetic and Platonic traditions are all about.
It was, and is, anonymously authored, but we all know who it is! And one can also see why he decided to remain anonymous. It was so that the book could speak for itself. The more so, as some of his earlier work, before he reached the maturity of this one, had become somewhat controversial amongst guardians of the party line of his previous affiliations. But all who are pioneers have to pay this price. And I still bear scars of my own in this respect!
In the pages of this book, Valentin Tomberg reveals much of himself, as well as of the tradition, strung out on the convenient structure of the Tarot Trumps. In this the book becomes a magical device in itself and means of communication between the planes. Highly recommended, if you are ready for it.
Friday, March 13, 2009
PL: First of all let me say how pleased I am that you have agreed to be interviewed for The Magickal Light Ezine:
I believe you were 23 when you first came across books by Dion Fortune which led you to the Society of the Inner Light and the first taste of an esoteric order. I was wondering though, what provided you with the inspiration to set out on a spiritual quest before that?
GK: Oh I was always interested in magic from as far back as I can remember. Mixing up mud and water in the back garden whilst still a toddler and calling them “witches’ pies” is about the earliest manifestation of this interest I suppose. In my early teens had read most of the psychic research section in the local public library. Also a desultory interest in ouija boards, hypnosis and such like. Then onto books I could not understand like Eliphas Levi’s “History of Magic” before eventually having all bells rung loud and clear by coming across Dion Fortune’s “The Esoteric Orders and their Work” and “The Training and Work of an Initiate”. I immediately recognised a familiar voice in these. If there were such things as initiates I wanted to be one, and such things as esoteric orders, then I wanted to join. Which I promptly did – and I suppose never looked back.
PL: You were in touch with a variety of famous occultists such as Israel Regardie, Gerald Gardner and Pat Crowther. Do you have any particular recollections of these individuals you could share?
GK: I was quite shaken when I first came across Regardie’s “The Art of True Healing” which seemed to set out practical magic in a daringly uncompromising fashion. Consequently when I first set up as a publisher this was the first book I produced – absolutely delighted to have discovered that Regardie was still around. To my youthful mind he was somewhat of the status of the old gods! He turned out to be a charming man, somewhat mellowed from the time when he had been such a thorn in the side of those he rated as “the inepti” of the Golden Dawn. I met him some years later when he came across to London for one of Carr P Collins Jnr’s esoteric parties and found him very much a kindred spirit. Knowledgeable, modest but with scant respect for phonies. It was indeed Regardie that first put me onto Carr, who bankrolled my early publishing efforts.
I never met Gerald Gardner although we corresponded when I was editing “New Dimensions” magazine in which I featured all aspects of occultism from spiritualism to ritual magic and at a time when the “wicca” were beginning to come out of the closet – so he was part of quite a high powered team that wrote for me about this side of things, including Doreen Valiente, Pat and Arnold Crowther, Roy Bowers and others, despite pressure on the part of several self-appointed guardians of “the public good” to cease featuring articles on witchcraft. As I wrote in my Editorial for the May 1964 issue, which also contained his obituary by Pat Crowther, “Unfortunately we never had the pleasure of meeting him personally – but only through business postal correspondence. Even so, we feel a sense of loss. We could not agree without some degree of reservation with what he believed in and stood for, but he was that regrettably almost rare kind of person in occult circles – a man with a sense of proportion and a sense of humour. Not only the witch movement, but the occult world in general has lost a great champion in Gerald Gardner. He was also, to an outsider’s point of viewpoint, a great unifying figure in a movement which tends at times to a degree of inter-group factionalism. And his appearances on television on behalf of the Craft gave the lie to the usual distortions and sensationalism put about by the Sunday press. May his soul rest in peace – or in active work! – in whatever pagan afterworld it chooses to go to.”
Pat Crowther I first met in completely secular circumstances, entertaining her and her husband Arnold to lunch to discuss publication of his popular children’s book “Let’s Put On A Show”. A professional conjurer, he was an entertaining and convivial companion, full of fun, with a wide knowledge of esoteric lore and they both provided me with articles on witchcraft and related lore. Our paths did not cross again except by way of editorial correspondence although I did come within arms length of Pat some years later, after Arnold’s death, at one of Carr’s massive parties but regretfully never got round to chat with her.
PL: You worked with W. E. Butler on the /Helios Course on the Practical Qabalah/. W. E. Butler is a favourite author of mine for the gentle way that he encourages students and the practical no-nonsense advice he gives. What was it like working with him?
GK: I did not actually do a great deal of work alongside Ernest. I had written the first six lessons of the Helios Course, (based on Regardie’s “Art of True Healing”) and Ernest was commissioned to take it on from there, which he did, extending it to fifty lessons in the end, a unique course that utilised evocative symbolism from Arthurian legend based upon a sub-structure of the Tree of Life. So it was simply a matter of letting him get on with it, of which he was well capable, recruiting senior students to help him with the supervision.
He was considerably my senior in age, magical experience and knowledge so a comparative young whipper snapper like me did not mess with him too much, for if he felt his preserves were being trespassed upon he could be quite tetchy, which he justified by citing Irish and Yorkshire ancestry!
I shall always remember him from a couple of choice sayings of his. One was about the demerits of those esoteric schools who promised more than they delivered, quoting the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”: The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today!
The other was chanted with chuckling gusto defining the attitude of schools or teachers of an exclusive frame of mind:
We are the few, the chosen few, let all the rest be damned,
So fasten up those pearly gates, we can’t have heaven crammed!
Ernest was, above all, of the inclusive persuasion, with a deep and genuine love of all students, and humble pride in the role of being an esoteric teacher. He never compromised his principles and was certainly one of the more liberal dispensers of esoteric jam I have been privileged to know in my occult career.
PL: You set up what is now known as The Avalon Group in 1973 (now run by Wendy Berg). How did this group come to be?
GK: The time came when having passed through the grades of Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light and come out the other side in 1965, I spent a few years working out the way I thought esoteric teaching and practice ought to be going, through a combination of the magical input of William G Gray and the mystical input of the Rev. Anthony Duncan, books by both of whom I also published.
There was no point in muscling in on the foundation that Ernest Butler had built, which was now launched as the Servants of the Light organisation in the capable hands of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki and her husband Mike under Ernest’s direction for the rest of his life. Accordingly I started completely afresh, writing and publishing “Experience of the Inner Worlds” on which all my personal band of students were trained.
This initiative received a shot in the arm between 1979 and 1986 when I did a series of workshops at Hawkwood College, now quite legendary, which built up a considerable momentum until the power levels reached such a pitch that they were difficult to control in a public free for all. I therefore decided the time had come to shut up shop and continue to work with just a core of personally trained students. This later became known as the Gareth Knight Group until, in 1998, having ruled the roost for 25 years, I decided to hand over to a succeeding generation.
This is now known as the Avalon Group, under Wendy Berg, although another off shoot is the Company of Avalon under Mike Harris and Steve Blamires. I also had another job waiting me as an esoteric consultant back at a rejuvenated Society of the Inner Light, which included editing and publishing a number of Dion Fortune’s previously unpublished works.
PL: Since the 1960s Tarot has become terribly popular. It was through a desire to understand the Tarot symbolism better that I originally came across your work, most notably /A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism/. I have noticed that although many use the Tarot for divination, far fewer have any in-depth interest in its symbolism and Qabalistic correspondences. What are your views on this?
GK: Well I think it a pity and tried to build a half-way house by launching a book and course called “The Magical World of the Tarot” in the early 1990’s, which sought to teach Tarot divination by first teaching the first principles of what the cards stood for, rather than mugging up “meanings” from out of a book. This had a modicum of success but was not worth devoting any major part of my life to. The book is still around though, and I was much touched by receiving a letter from a sergeant in the US marines to say that he did not know a lot about occultism but this book was the best on Tarot he had ever read and had helped him a lot in life.
PL: You have produced your own symbolically rich set of excellent Tarot cards, which appear to be based largely on the Golden Dawn attributions. A number of high profile occult practitioners have done similarly, most notably A. E. Waite and Aleister Crowley. Although based on the Golden Dawn attributions both sets include ideas that are not in the original design schema. Does it matter that whoever produces a set of Tarot cards is to a greater or lesser extent giving their own take on things?
GK: I think my own set of Tarot cards somewhat apprentice work, although probably none the worse for that. Indeed in training seriously committed students for my group, each and every one of them was expected to design and produce their own set of 78 cards. The criterion not being, of course, artistic ability, but by meditation upon the Tree of Life or other symbolic schema to work out their own “model of the universe” which is essentially what the Tarot is.
In one sense it is encouraging to see so many different published designs nowadays but producing your own deck, however crudely executed, would be a far more fruitful enterprise than buying one. Indeed, in the course of life, one might produce more than one set, as realisations change and mature. Although I realise that this may be a somewhat unrealistic counsel of perfection.
Exception must be made for decks produced by experienced and proven teachers. And I have myself found one or two to be highly instructive – for instance Hallowquest by Caitlín and John Matthews and the Dream Power Tarot by R J Stewart. It is surprising however, on analysis, how many designs derive (with or without acknowledgement) from those of A. E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith.
In practice I opt for one of the old crude Marseilles packs, which at least have not been influenced (or contaminated) by other people’s esoteric ideas, and I visualise my own ideas upon those rough archetypes.
PL: Many high profile celebrities are featured in popular magazines professing a belief in Qabalah, such as Madonna and Victoria Beckham. How do you feel about this?
GK: It does not impinge much on me as I am not a reader of popular magazines - particularly those that feature high profile celebrities. It could be all to the good to the celebrities themselves and their followers if they get beyond the superficial. Otherwise I suppose it does no more good nor harm than any other fashion accessory.
PL: Does it matter that the occult world has become increasingly commercialised?
GK: I think it has its up and down sides. Useful if it spreads the word that there is more to life than the material side of things - even if in the process of hawking superstitious nonsense. It may well lead some to enquire after more fruitful lines of enquiry. One welcomes what has been expressed in some quarters as “the externalisation of the hierarchy” but it is perhaps inevitable that this will bring with it a certain amount of trivialisation – which I suppose is better than being totally ignored or persecuted by religious or political authority – which is still the case in many parts of the world.
PL: Throughout your life you have been heavily involved in the publishing world in one way or another. If you could recommend 5 books that were essential reading for a beginning student keen to learn more about magic what would they be and why?
John and Caitlín Matthews: The Western Way. Subtitled “A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition” that is exactly what this two volume work is. The first volume devoted to the native tradition and the second to the hermetic tradition. An excellent introduction, with exercises, to all aspects of the western tradition that any beginner could possibly wish to know. Only wish I had written it myself!
R J Stewart: The Living World of Faery. A general introduction to a vastly important field of esotericism that has been unduly neglected and misunderstood, and that will also serve as an entry point to this important writer’s series of books that go deeper into underworld initiation, earth light and power within the land.
John Matthews and Marian Green: The Grail Seeker’s Companion. An elementary but comprehensive guidebook to all elements of the mysteries of the Grail - its history, ritual, myth and literature along with meditation exercises, advice and instruction – in fact everything you need to start you on the way to your own quest.
Gareth Knight: Magic and the Power of the Goddess. Now in its third incarnation having come out of a collection of lectures and practical workshops as The Rose Cross & the Goddess and then refurbished as Evoking the Goddess, it seems to go from strength to strength so maybe was ahead of its time. It gives an historical take on various aspects of the feminine divine principle along with practical exercises.
Gareth Knight: The Practice of Ritual Magic which with Magical Images and the Magical Imagination are two little primers specifically with the beginner in mind on all you need to get going on the much misunderstood practice of ritual.
PL: One of my favourite books of yours is /A History of White Magic/. This is because you explain magic as encompassing both science and religion in a coherent way. You are one of the few authors to do this. Do you think enough is done to explain the rationale of magic? The reason I ask is that the world of science has become increasingly aware that it needs to do more “outreach” work and explain itself and its value to the world. Do you think the magical world should do likewise?
GK: I think this is already happening. A number of universities are offering degrees in esoteric studies and so the whole field is beginning to be taken seriously albeit in terms of history of the subject, or in terms of anthropology, but as Robert Persig pointed out in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” universities are “temples of reason” and therefore somewhat ill equipped to deal with matters beyond the rational mind. However, it’s a start. Mention should also be made of The Tenemos Academy in London, founded by the poet and mystic Kathleen Raine which is a high powered academic flag waver on behalf of the esoteric approach. Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical movement has also made significant strides into the practical worlds of agriculture, education and other disciplines over the years.
PL: What are your latest projects?
GK: I have just produced after a great deal of research a book on faery in Arthurian legend as a consequence of taking a university degree in French, concentrating on the work of the first Arthurian romancer Chrétien de Troyes. Described by the publishers as “one of the most significant esoteric texts about the connections between Arthurian and Faery Tradition ever written” it is a mind blowing re-take on the function of the ladies of the knights of the Round Table – how in the earliest romances they were faery women acting as guides, guardians and lovers to the knightly heroes, inciting them or enticing them onto quests that were in reality initiations into Faeryland. And how this is equally applicable today.
This has just been published as “The Faery Gates of Avalon” by R J Stewart Books.
Another long term project has been into the history and legend of the faery Melusine of Lusignan. However this has been put on the back burner for the time being as I concentrate upon my autobiography, as yet untitled, which seems to have quite a high priority as I approach my ninth decade.
On the practical front I help out a bit at the Society of the Inner Light which is where my esoteric journey started from, thus completing the magic circle in a sense. I have however retired from public workshop and lecture work.
PL: What are you currently reading?
GK: An academically annotated edition of the works of Lewis Carroll – notably “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” along with “The Hunting of the Snark”. All excellent sources for magical analogies, such as the one already quoted by W. E. Butler and the one that appears in the prelims of my “Experience of the Inner Worlds”:
‘Well, now that we have seen each other,’ said the Unicorn ‘if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?’
‘Yes, if you like,’ said Alice.
PL: What makes Gareth Knight sing?
GK: No great singer, but likes to fantasise about one day playing the piano as well as Dave Brubeck or Count Basie.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Anyway, for the review - destined for the Inner Light Journal:
The Faery Gates of Avalon by Gareth Knight ISBN 978-0-9819246-2-5
PB RJ Stewart books £15.95
Here we have another book with a proper index, and with layer upon layer of meaning to be discovered; we move forward into the 12th Century and to the work of Chretien de Troyes, who tells tales of Arthur in the Trouvere tradition to his patron, Marie of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In exploring the tales of Erec, Yvain and Perceval, of Guenevere and of Gawain, Gareth Knight goes back to a fountain of inspiration for those who wish to “open the Faery gates” through the Arthurian tradition.
We are looking at a series of initiation tales, thinly disguised. The “heroes” are earthly knights, and the initiators are Faery women.
The different dynamics of the ever-changing relationships between Knight and Lady are as tantalising today as in the time of the Courts of Love. And if you are asking yourself why we would wish to re-enter the Faery realms, there are answers here. The Lords of Story are invoked, and we are invited to make our own entrance through “The Faery Gates of Avalon”, if we dare, to undertake our own quests in realisation of our spiritual heritage, as human beings, in Earth.
A worthy addition to the oeuvre of one who has dedicated his life to the elucidation of the Mysteries, while allowing the living heart to remain what it truly is…a Mystery that each must approach alone. Highly recommended.