Tag Archives: Ronald Hutton

Mytho-Poetic Returns and the Fine Art of Grey Truths: Robert Cochrane’s Letters to Robert Graves

Like any true craftsman, he was able to mold raw material into a magical synthesis, creating a marvellous working system, at once instinctively true and intrinsically beautiful.” -  Shani Oates on Robert Cochrane, Founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Who tells your story? Is it the fallen leaves that line your door speaking of your past travels, the lines etched by experience on skin and bone, or do you stand ready to relate the world through words that you alone craft with care?

While digging in to Judika IllesField Guide to Witches, one of the latest in Weiser’s Field Guide series*, I ran across a familiar name that’s intrigued me since I first encountered him while researching contemporary Pagan traditions years ago.

Robert Cochrane (born Roy Bowers) is an enigmatic figure in the world of emergent beliefs. While claiming a hereditary lineage to the “Old Religion” as the impetus for his Clan of Tubal Cain traditions, he  worked studiously to support, develop and literally create his beliefs whole cloth through research, ritual and practice. His teachings were built on fragments of myth, religion and suppositions based on archaeological evidence, all filtered through an active ritual practice that shaped the interpretations put on the underlying ideas.

As with many spiritual explorers and would be leaders, Cochrane’s life was not void of controversies, however, he is one of those rare few whose ability to weave stories, traditions and innovations that connect to the deeper truths, move him beyond charges of fraudulent intention and into the realm of true storytellers capable of bringing their “lies” to life.

All That’s Old is New Again

Critics have often questioned the legitimacy of Cochrane’s (and really all Neo-Pagan) claims to tradition. The historian Ronald Hutton’s research seems to discredit the idea that any vestiges of pre-Christian belief were able to maintain an organized foothold in the Western world through 2000 years of dedicated persecution by Roman, Christian and secular authorities. 

This is a legitimate question for historians, but I would argue it is not necessarily important to the value of these practices and beliefs. In the Judaic traditions this process of invention is clearly detailed in the Torah and Tannak during the many “rediscoveries” of G-d’s word throughout the history of the Hebrew people. In Christianity this process formed the basis for the religion itself, with the early Christians utilizing Jewish, Greek, African and Eastern sources to formulate their basic understanding of the events that provide the basis for their beliefs.

Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, all have their basis in this process of reworking older traditions. Hinduism is perhaps the most stark example of this with it’s foundation resting in British Colonial experiments to unify a diverse system of local beliefs with overarching religious systems developed by the upper castes of Indian society.

Mytho-Poetic Returns

One of Cochrane’s sources for the development of his ideas was the poet Robert Graves. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which Graves published in 1948, claimed to explore the true nature of poetry as a devotional practice to a Neolithic Goddess. Exploring these ideas through Celtic mythology and the interpretation of archaeological clues Graves created a vision of a long hidden tradition rediscovered during a time of crisis and change. 

Published shortly after the end of World War II, The White Goddess provided the public with a reassessment of the very same quest for tradition and archaic continuance that had been the basis for much of the Fascist propaganda in Italy, Japan and Germany during the war years. Academic historians, however, were quick to point out the inaccuracies, speculations and quite bluntly, lies, used to prove Graves’ thesis.

To judge the work in such a harsh light misses one of the key elements that Graves was working with, poetry. While academics handle facts with some amount of precision, poetry and practicality are not areas that they move through as easily. Graves work, while being factually inaccurate, was  practically relevant and in turn actionable in a way that historical facts are not.

Action at a Distance

The same questions can be raised today for groups working with the ideas of alchemy, myth and storytelling to guide society towards sustainable solutions. Did Medieval alchemists concern themselves with the triple bottom line? Would they recognize contemporary concepts that are labeled alchemical? Probably not in the way we would hope, but they might recognize within our contemporary understanding the seeds that can give birth to true transmutation if properly cared for and watered.

In a text attributed to Edward Kelly, the conman and seer who assisted Dr. John Dee, there is a personal reflection that fits well the path of Cochrane, Graves and all those who seek to renew the body of truth through fragments of the past:

“My mind, remaining unbound, has all this time exercised itself in the study of that philosophy which is despised only by the wicked and foolish, but is praised and admired by the wise. Nay, the saying that none but fools and lawyers hate and despise Alchemy has passed into a proverb.”

So who tells your story? Is it hedged in by historical facts? Lost in the lingering legalism of shortsighted lawyers? Have you taken it upon yourself to craft your own tale?

Or, is it built on conversations, letters from friends, tale tellers and poets?

Dear Robert Graves,

I have read and re-read your book, ‘The White Goddess,’ with admiration, utter amazement and a taint of horror. I can see your point when you write of inspirational work, and realise that it must have resulted from quite an internal ‘pressure,’ since from my own experience, that is the way she works…” from Robert Cochran’s Letters to Robert Graves

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires. Article originally posted at openmythsource.com

If the land is being poisoned, Witchcraft must respond…

The Old Ways have never been forgotten, but some time has certainly passed since they were openly walked in the world. Small sparks flashing in the collective consciousness as Western culture crawls along it’s path.  In  small revivals, and sometimes in the mind’s of intent individuals, the living Force once so integral to our existence struggles to come back into the light.

False histories propagated during the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras still taint our understanding of what is commonly called ‘witchcraft.’ Our images are often either skewed toward malefic personas bent on the corruption of society, or people lost in a feverish illusion damning them to a life of futile imagination.

We think of the infamous ‘witch hunts’ that raged through the Renaissance and Reformation, or are mislead by the rationalist attempts to cut the chord of the reality of the ‘witch’ in order to counter the fires of malice and ignorance that caused so much suffering. Between these poles we’re pulled back and forth while the Truth walks freely around these easy classifications.

In the contemporary setting other groups have arisen to take claim of witchcraft, such as Wicca and certain Neo-Pagan sects, attempting to use the powerful image of the witch as a centering point for their practice. Beyond all of this, however, lies a more subtle truth.

Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimetch are the proprietors of Scarlet Imprint, a publishing house that specializes in exploring contemporary esoteric currents. Their Work is focused on revitalizing the Path and practice of  Magic, and rediscovering the long line of Tradition that ebbs and flows through the Art. They were kind enough to take a few moments to discuss their thoughts on the Craft and it’s place in our time,  offering up a potent rejoinder to all who walk the Crooked Path – “If the land is being poisoned, then it is witchcraft which must respond, and do so with compassionate anger.”

What is different about the Witchcraft that you espouse and something like Wicca which more people are generally aware of?

We should probably define Wicca to begin with here, as the English usage refers to the initiated witchcraft tradition invented by Gerald Gardner (and subsequently copied by Alex Sanders) rather than as an umbrella term for various flavours of neo-paganism which it is often taken to mean in the United States. Wicca is essentially constructed around a core of the Masonic grade system, the ritual accoutrements of Solomonic grimoire magic, and a liturgical Crowley cut-up with a sprinkling of folklore. It has no demonstrably older codified origin than the 1940s. The work of Ronald Hutton here seems decisive. Furthermore, claims of any traditional witchcraft survival are taken in Europe with a pinch of salt. Though there may be fragments preserved in some groups and families, it hardly constitutes a cultus which is rather an inspiration rising from the example of Austin Osman Spare. If you want to understand European Witchcraft then you would be better to start with Catholicism, which is the old religion.

Certainly Gerald created a very workable fusion of the material available to him, and one which fitted the spirit of his time and certainly Alex and Maxine had more flair in their presentation of it. Wicca fused with a spirit of sexual liberation and a rebirth of female and earth-based spirituality. It was bolstered by the myths of Murray and Gimbutas.
It was a necessary stage in the re-emergence, or re-imagining of witchcraft.

Yet Wicca has profound limitations, in the same way that the Golden Dawn and the OTO have profound limitations. These are the limitations of its time and its founders. They are systems in entropy. We would ask those who consider themselves witches, rather than more narrowly wiccans, to look at the source material. To consider that Gardner and Sanders did not have the access to what we do now, and that their world is very different to ours. We suggest that their witchcraft should go beyond that of their godfathers.

This is a world in crisis, we are seeing a mass extinction of plant and animal species, the death of the oceans, climate change, and peak oil. It is not only our way of life, it is life itself which is under threat. Wicca did not predict this and neither did Liber Al vel Legis. We need a culture of radical resistance that understands that we are part of the whole ecology, that we are intimately connected to the web of life. Witchcraft has this vision.

Furthermore, Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused. It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees. It wears the rough skin of beasts and turns on a civilisation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Reading fantasy novels is not a valid response, and neither is hiding in a thicket of studied archaic English and obfuscation. Witchcraft is rooted in the land, whether that is Benevento, Cornwall or Pennsylvania. If the land is being poisoned then it is witchcraft which must respond, and do so with compassionate anger.

We hope to, and do, find many points in common across all expressions of witchcraft: the connection to the land, work with familiar spirits, herb and plant lore and malefica, to name but a few. We differ in our focus in that we are actively engaged in the world and that comes from both an apocalyptic and eschatological understanding of events. We dare to utter prophecy.

Our position is quite distinct:

Witchcraft is a force and not an order or cult.
Witchcraft is non-hierarchical. It utilises the rhizomatic structure of underground resistance.
Witchcraft is unbridled female sexuality. It is the woman who initiates.
Witchcraft is folk magic, the magic of the people and for the people.
Witchcraft is a myth, an invention, a story, and one which though drawing on the past, clothes itself in the symbols of its time.
Witchcraft is oracular.
Witchcraft is found in the ecstatic possession state.
Witchcraft flies to the Sabbat.

We insist that Witchcraft has power and requires the use of drugs, sex and ordeal.

The example we follow is that of Michelet who saw in the figure of the witch a revolutionary spirit, this is something which Alkistis discusses in XVI. We do not mistake these stories and myths for history, but we harness their emotional power to transform the future.  ‘
Of the modern writers, we feel it is Jack Parsons who embodied the spirit of witchcraft, which is one of revolution and of the power of female sexuality. The Goddess who possesses these qualities, and who speaks to us is Babalon.

How is Witchcraft and the pursuit of knowledge tied together? Are Witchcraft and Gnosis the same thing?

Knowledge enters us through the body. This is an internal alchemy which requires huge emotional reserves and cannot be accomplished in icy detachment or by effort of Will. The highest form of this knowledge is Love. The process needs passion and heat.

Ritual is the orchestration of the primal states such as innocence, fear, flight and fight and their alchemical transformation through experience.

Witchcraft concerns itself with mystery and it is through the gates of mystery that we come to knowledge.

Our counsel is to forget the nebulous modern use of terms such as Gnosis and concentrate on Work, or perhaps here we can use the German term, kraft.

Why are people so reticent to meet with the full impact of Magick? The major avant garde artists of the 19th and 20th century were all heavily involved in esotericism, whether organized or through individual practice, but it seems most practitioners today are happy with a few popular occultists they can reference.

Art has become a commodity. A tool of commerce, as safe and dead as a shark in a formaldehyde tank. It talks the empty language of advertising. These so-called artists are merely reflecting our secular society where spirit contact has been lost, and we have been alienated from the raw forces of nature. They have nothing to draw on, and their patrons reward their product which is destined for the vaults of investment Banks.

This is in stark contrast to the avant garde which ardently pursued the esoteric arts in paint, word, gesture and life whether implicitly or explicitly. This was done for art’s sake, for the sake of life. In our litany of Saints we must include Artaud, Nijinsky, Rimbaud, Jarry, Genet, Arthur Cravan, Kinski et al. Like Debord, we can say that we have been led by poetry and the belief that we should carry out its programme in reality.

To be alive is to be able to respond and resonate to works of art, literature, poetry, sculpture and dance. These are all forms of evocation, invocation and possession which inspire us to create our own.

By focusing on popular occultists, if that is not in itself an oxymoron, their wider context is lost. Is our idea of Crowley not enriched by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley? Can Spare really be the only painter of note? Our minds should range widely.

What is worse is the claustrophobic drawing room atmosphere that surrounds a small selection of occultists whose biographical details are deemed more important than the living practice of magick. It is time to turn over the tables in the temple again.

Perhaps we must ask, where are the avant-garde esoteric artists today?
Magick is reflecting that absence of art in our materialist culture. If a work of art is truly of value it should be able to stand without ‘esoteric’ as a prefix, which is often simply an excuse for poorly executed derivative doodling. Magick can seem to be a myopic ghetto, a support group for losers seeking affirmation from an uncritical and needy subculture.

But there is an antidote: All art is magic, again something many of our writers emphasise in XVI. We continually encounter, correspond with and seek out artists. Our readers write to us and reveal a deeper and richer seam than the truncated internet profiles suggest.
Art cannot help but pursue the esoteric, as it goes beyond what is acceptable in search of the expression of truth. Art will not stop at the surface. Canvases are being savaged, poems wrought, movements found. The full impact of magick will unfurl in this century with a raw artistic beauty as those with nothing left to lose will choose to dare all.

How are poetry and magic related?

Intimately. Poetry is invocation, evocation and congress with the world of spirits. Poetry is vision which makes the mysterious manifest. Words carry their shades with them, they strike like shamanic darts. In vocalisation, rhythm and incantation the body resonates into other worlds and we are renewed by these glimpses. Poetry is also work. Hammered into shape, ruthlessly wrought, it is the process of self mastery.

Our answer could also be, read Peter Redgrove, Ted Hughes, Penelope Shuttle, Rene Char, Gysin, Shakespeare, Bukowski, Hafiz, The Song of Songs, the metaphysical poets, read everything and read it aloud.

We are totally committed to poetry as an art form, which is why we published Datura, and why we have followed up that commitment with a call for submissions to our next anthology Mandragora.

What do you see as a means to draw more neo-pagan and Wiccan groups into environmental thinking? It seems an obvious fit, yet there is very little action there.

Collapse. The inevitable decline of modern consumer capitalism which is in the final rapacious phase of destroying our natural resources cannot fail to wake people up.

The lack of movement is because many of those professing witchcraft are urban, industrial, sedentary and plugged into the internet rather than the biosphere.

Hunger, scarcity, ecological disasters will create a new generation of pagans who will have to find solutions. The speed of the rise of this new social movement will be completely unexpected.

Already those with eyes to see will have seen the signs of change. John Michael Greer seems to be doing this, and there are clearly other individuals such as Raven Kaldera with their fingers in the soil. There will be many others.

Those groups which do not understand eschatology will simply be unable to interpret the catastrophic chain of events as they celebrate a wheel of the year which has broken from the axle. Nostalgia is no protection from the end of the age of oil and a witchcraft which does not recognise this fact is irrelevant.

What myths would best invoke ecological responsibility?

The critical lie we are currently confronting is that of infinite economic growth on a finite planet with finite resources.

This pernicious myth can be traced back to the Bible which is full of ecological horror stories as the chosen people murder their way to dominance and cut down the sacred groves at the behest of their tribal god. Christianity continued this insane trajectory until their invisible god was replaced by the invisible hand of Adam Smith and finally the insanity of the Chicago school which believes that everything is for sale and profit alone is G_d.

The American dream is simply a variant of this myth structure supported with both an inquisition (Homeland Security) a devil, (the many-headed Al Qaeda) and a New Jerusalem (for sale piece by piece in your local Wal-Mart and propagandised for incessantly by Hollywood).

The myth we choose to oppose this with is Revelations. We read this by recognising the defamed whore as the pagan Love and War goddess, Her history made explicit in The Red Goddess. And we are all whores, proud to celebrate the luxury of our living flesh. In divine intoxication we seek communion with the Beloved. Every drop of blood sacrificed to the grail. Love cannot be bought with any other coin. We celebrate life, in radical opposition to the archons and our bridal bed is the battlefield of the earth.

By understanding the Antichrist, Dragon and Beast as Her lover we challenge man to be the equal of woman.

By disentangling the stellar myths we orientate ourselves.

By seeking and drinking from the forbidden grail we intoxicate ourselves with Her wine.

We recognise the continuity of this myth in the work of John Dee and Edward Kelley and further, we take this as a dynamic process which flowers in our midst.

When we say myth, we are stating that this is our direct living experience of Babalon that this story is being played out through our bodies. Her time is Now.

Shamanism seems to be an element that is missing from the outer manifestations of the Western Tradition; Jake Stratton-Kent and your own practice seem to be trying to bring that back into the fold. When/why did this practice fall away?

It never does. The practitioners simply go through periods of vilification and periods of mass ecstatic participation in defiance of the approved State religion. Whether this is the Dionysian cults or free festivals or rave culture, or ayahuasca, the shamanic connection cannot be prevented from spontaneous eruption and attendant social upheaval. But we do not mistake everyone who drops acid as a shaman.

The Western Tradition has fallen over itself to be respectable, and in doing so has pulled its own claws. Seeking tax status and social acceptance it has been craven in the war on some drugs, the war on consciousness expansion, and has rather tried to ritually script altered states rather than explore genuine ones. This is hypocrisy.

Our own work and that of JSK shows that divine intoxication is a central part of the Western Tradition.  From the goetic use of psychoactive incense to flying ointments, to the spiked ritual wine, the use of dance and drumming, to the role of the necromancer and psychopomp, this is the true Western Tradition and one which has retained the shamanic elements, most notably through a coded survival in the grimoire tradition. Jake is explicit about this in Geosophia, and we can also point to the work of Aaron Leitch in this context. The drugs do work, but they need to be part of a wider discipline.

Would you agree with Ralph Metzner that Alchemy/Shamanism/Yoga (in there various expressions) form the core consciousness changing technologies of humanity?

We could equally say drugs, sex and rock and roll, preferably in combination with each other. The magical body needs to be built, rather than simply a well stocked library, and it is perhaps the physical and subtle energy building practices which have been neglected in the West. As we work with a Goddess of Love and War then we understand the importance of being able to run energy, whether to fuck or to fight.

What is it that draws you to Jack Parsons?

Jack, like Henry Miller or Bukowski, was fuelled by a deep love for woman. He understood that the source of witchcraft is the body of woman. He grapples relentlessly with the need for liberation, ideas of sexual freedom and social change. He sings for the new woman in the way that Nietzsche tells us of the coming of the Superman. Jack stands on the threshold of change, and dares to innovate, dares to dream. Now it is for women to create the Witchcraft following the teachings of their own bodies. We are post-Parsons as much as we are post-Crowley, and it is time for this generation not to fixate on dead pin-ups and their magical misadventures but to have the courage to start the fires in themselves.

In The Red Goddess I am as critical of Jack and I am of Crowley or Dee but his story still needs to be told. He is a vital link in the history of Witchcraft. The telling of his story can span the gulf between the magick and pagan communities.

I love the idea of ” gnostic strategies for liberation.”  Does this concept encompass all forms of Gnosis? Psycho-Spiritual-Physical?

We mean: By any means necessary.

What are the best techniques for seeing through the spectacle? Is it unique to each individual?

The spectacle is increasingly unique to each individual, and the individual is increasingly homogenised.

The technique simply put, is to turn off the connections whilst ensuring you are building a community to sustain you and your loved ones.

Decouple from the failing structures. Simplify your life. Build parallel structures utilising a mix of high and low tech solutions. Find the others.

If you have no price you cannot be bought.
If you do not want anything you cannot be bribed.
If you are not frightened you cannot be controlled.

Understand that the Empire has ended, that what you are seeing is a mirage, an afterimage of the age of exuberance. It has no more reality than the light from a distant star whose rays are transmitting the ghost of a body which was extinguished millennia ago. Your paper money is worthless. Your career a trap.

Every individual is on their own path, but there are physiological and psychological principles that are generally applicable. Methods for destroying normalcy bias are essential to pursue and are explored in the essay Seeing Through Apocalypse in XVI. We must be vigilant, and constantly devising methods to sabotage the architecture of control.

Is it easier to operate outside of an Order or organization these days?

Perhaps we could say it is imperative to operate outside an Order. Though we recognise the value many gain from fraternal structures, they are woefully out of date, clustered around secrets which are not only published all over the internet but are often simply threadbare.
Our suggestion is that individuals honestly appraise the methods of transformation most suitable to themselves and work either alone and/or with their peers when necessary to reach attainment.
Orders whether intentionally or not, represent restriction and only seem to mould people into poor copies of their guru. Magic is not about being a follower or a spectator, let alone suckered into the latest personality cult. Hierarchical orders tend to self preservation through an artificial construction of secrets and the drip feed of complex sounding jargon dressed up as teaching. Human history is full of these pyramid schemes. Enough of this. We would like to see the individual brave enough to walk their own path, whilst recognising that they can learn from others and contribute to the evolving paths of those they touch on the Way.

What do you see as the next step for Magick in the 21st Century?

We are in a position of radical change where eschatology will be of vital importance. The world is entering a period of revelation, the like of which has never been seen. It is going to get hotter, and magick will be born from the female furnace. We predict that women will take a place in magick that they have not had since the ancient world. We predict revolution.

The publication of the grimoires has given us our magical history back. We are weaving together the severed ends of the Western tradition. Jake Stratton-Kent has done an immense service in reconnecting us to the Ancient Greek Goes, the PGM and the Picatrix. These are our ancestors, these are our goddesses, gods, demons and heroes. Finally we are getting right with the restless dead rather than ransacking the tombs or striking empty pop culture postures.
We are learning that we have a Western Tradition which is not 14th Century Qabalah and deco Egyptian dress-up. We have stellar lore, spirit contact, entheogens, possession states, poetry and bodywork.
Our Tradition can enter into an equal dialogue with the New World, which has preserved other missing fragments, just as the Arabic world preserved the teachings of Egypt and Ancient Greece. This is more honest than engaging in neo-colonial exoticism that seeks to exploit the darkness of the Other. From this fusion we can achieve an erotic explosion of human potential. A future that has a rich magical ecology which is engaged with the world of humans, plants, animals and entities. One which respects and works with the forces of nature. Where woman and man encounter each other as equals. This will not be achieved without struggle.

What are Scarlet Imprint’s upcoming plans? What should we anticipate next?

Everything we do is sub rosa, our stratagems are always evolving.

www.scarletimprint.com

Biographies -

Peter Grey -

Peter is a writer, the author of the acclaimed devotional work for Babalon, The Red Goddess.
He is the co-founder of Scarlet Imprint. He is an exponent of the antinomian and libertarian strand of the western magical tradition. his work comes out of physical praxis. his path is one of ordeal, ecstasy, and Love.
Much of his time is spent in the mountains following his devotional path.
he has spoken internationally and contributed articles to many magickal journals.

Alkistis Dimech
Alkistis is a dancer, artist and writer; her work explores the erotic, irrational and primitive, using techniques derived from Butoh, asian dance and martial forms, as well as shamanic practices to access states of expanded consciousness.
Alkistis is an alumnus of the Courtauld Institute and the school of oriental and African studies.  She has studied Butoh under Ko Murobushi, Masaki Iwana and other Butoh Masters.

She is the co-founder of Scarlet Imprint.