I have recently been interviewed (in English) by a prominent Greek language esoteric magazine. For the benefit of readers of this website are not fluent in Greek nor subscribers to the organ in question I thought it would be useful to provide the transcript below rather than keep my light hidden under a bushel. G.K.
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/