When I was a boy, I remember laying awake at night in the clutches of mortal terror. Creaking floorboards, limbs scratching at the window, as the wind howled outside. The dark hallway beyond my bedroom door, the closet, the dark space under the bed. My nights were filled with the horrors of a growing, fertile young mind. As I began to mature, this fear waned. My Mother would tell me over and over, “Ghosts don’t exist,” or “It was just a movie. There is no such thing as the boogeyman.”
And, yet, I would always ask myself the question, what if there is? Well, friends, bolt the door and try to relax. I have stories to tell.
In a previous piece, I briefly touched upon my occult studies. I was mostly a spectator for many years. Aside from the horror fiction that had opened the doorway to the unseen, genuine knowledge was hard to come by. We’re talking about an era that predates the mainstream internet by two decades. So experience, and even a glimpse of the written word, was rare. And this knowledge traveled hand to hand.
I spoke of the English duo known as “Coil.” Which consisted of the both now-deceased, Peter Christopherson, and John Balance (Geoffrey Rushton), whom I discovered at the age of 15. I could, and will, write entire pieces dedicated to their vast, complex and troubled careers. But, for now, I’ll sum it up. They were openly homosexual Chaos magicians who were not afraid to swim in the dark waters. As a troubled and confused young man, their music became a type of medicine. I had found my unseen mentors, my personal guides into this murky, strange, and overwhelmingly dangerous aspect of my life that had now taken form.
And, yet, other than the music, or my few texts, my experiences in the “Art”, (as the initiated call it) were limited. This limitation would come to a screeching halt in 2004, when the unseen came knocking….quite literally.
Sometime well after midnight, I was awoken violently by what felt like arms reaching THROUGH my bed. As if something underneath was holding me down. As I opened my eyes, I realized that I could not move. A tall, hooded figure stood over me, laughing as it pushed the breath out of my chest. This lasted for maybe five or ten seconds. It was the most intense terror that I had ever felt. A terror so intense, I jumped from the bed, unlocked the door, flung it open, and ran for my life in one seamless motion. I was in a state of shock for a solid five minutes or so. As I stood in my dimly-lit living room, I stared at the bedroom door, and I had no idea what had just happened.
In 1781, Henry Fuseli painted a stunning masterpiece titled “The Nightmare.” It portrays a pale, lifeless woman sprawled across her bed. A small troll sits upon her chest, as a black mare peeks through the curtains. It was Mr. Fuseli’s attempt to portray the terror of sleep paralysis.
Although I had seen this painting time and time again in gothic fiction, sleep paralysis was unknown to me. And as much as I wanted to write it off as a night terror, it was no simple dream. I had been assaulted in my own bed, while in some halfway point between the waking world, and something else. This event was repressed for many years. I had done brief research afterward, only to find that people have had these experiences for thousands of years. In every culture. Being uncomfortable with what I had found, I stopped looking, and I refused to even think of it for a decade.
Beyond The Veil
In almost any of the darker arts, be it Witch Craft, Ceremonial Magic, or Ninjitsu, a vital portion of the path is travelled while in altered states of conciousness. Practicioners will navigate what we refer to as the astral planes. This happens while we become lucid during our dreams. Or, the more advanced adept can, in theory, leave their bodies for a time during deep states of trance, or lucid dreaming.
The witches of yesteryear called this thin membrane between worlds ‘the veil.’ And that these night creatures known as ‘hags,’ succubi, or incubi, were a type of parasite. Draining the life force, and sexual energies of souls who found themselves trapped between worlds.
I put my experience behind me, and never slept much in that room again. Fast forward to 2009. I was a rifleman in The Ohio National Guard. My unit had come up on rotation for a peacekeeping mission in Egypt. We lived two men to a small dorm, on the coast of The Red Sea. One of my squad members came to our room one night visibly shaken. He explained that he awoke to an old woman floating above his bed, taunting him by name.
I was good friends with a young bookworm from another platoon. He was a fellow occultist. We spoke a bit about our friend’s experience, and the legends of desert spirits, such as the Djinn. And that dreadful terror suddenly began to creep back in. I was in a land of ancient, desert magic. And there was indeed truth to these legends.
This is the first critical moment in any practicioner’s story. The awakening. The moment it changes. When we see beyond the veil, if even for a moment. This can be something extraordinary, or something completely routine. But something will call to you. It could be that a particular book stands out in a shop. Said book could be the beginning of your path.
You may see a spirit, or witness something that mere words can’t explain. In that moment, a chain of events is set into motion, and your human experince will now change.
Mine was a vengeful shadow, lurking in some dark corner of the gloom. I pray yours is less exciting. Either way, the period of your awakening is exciting, and dreadful at the same time. Exciting because, you now inhabit this new aspect of reality. You are one of the rare few that has been fortunate enough to discover ancient, hidden knowledge. And you begin to see how this very knowledge has been hidden in plain sight.
However, it’s not always white candles and roses. The awakening is a dark time as much as it is wonderful. I remember sitting by the fire pit, late at night in the early days. Feeling the gaze of a thousand eyes upon me. I remember listening to the night’s heartbeat. Or feeling as if spirits were reaching from every corner. It’s a fascinating time, but there will be sleepless nights. I had become in tune with this new, rarely seen shadow world. Many times, I felt as if I was trespassing.
I won’t go into detail about the types, or the nature of spirits. I will, however, provide a cautionary tale for the aspiring magician.
In his fascinating and frightening memoir, The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts, the late Joe Fisher documented his work with psychic mediums. Fisher claimed to have befriended two spirits during his sessions. Through the use of different mediums, and over the course of a few years, he had built a relationship with these entities, that would soon turn into an obsession.
This obsession would destroy Mr. Fisher’s personal life, and ultimately lead him down the path of madness. He leapt to his death from a limestone cliff in 1991 at Elora Gorge, near his hometown of Fergus, Ontario. Before he passed away, he wrote of a sense of spiritual contamination that had utterly devoured his life. As a writer, and an occultist, I have a profound respect for Mr. Fisher’s work. And the valuable, albeit tragic, lesson that it provides. That lesson is, tread lightly in the shadows. This lifestyle, with it’s many branches, paths and detours, has lead many to madness and ruin. Far too many to mention.
In this lifestyle, you are the artist, the audience, and the critic. Know your limits, and never let ego get in the way. When you are out of your bounds, be humble, and, most importantly, know when to retreat.
There are Limits
You’ll need a realistic approach to things. Understand that there are simply not enough days in a human life to discover all of the occult knowledge out there. It’s massive beyond words. Many of the systems, and corresponding texts, are fragmented, and lost in translation over multiple centuries. Many more are outright frauds. A large portion of the time in your office or study, will be spent weeding through fragmented, vague information. You’ll often find more questions than answers. At times, your frustration will cause you to walk away.
There are times when you will feel like a poser, or an outright fraud. And, yet, there are the moments when the planets will align, and you will be a solitary being in an infinite Universe, standing in the presence of Gods. And you will have little control over when this happens. Sometimes the supernatural, or the mystical, will come to you.
As famed English Occultist Nick Dutch once said, “Sometimes strange things just happen.”
And they will happen
The Chaos Magicians of the 1970s, such as Phil Hine and Peter Carol, wrote that all action should be taken in the physical world to achieve a desired goal. Magick (spelled correctly) is the feather that gently tips the scale. It should never be a first choice, when trying to achieve a real world objective. Rather, it should be seen as a tool that can, in theory, help achieve an outcome.
Magick, by definition is: Using the power of will to cause change in the real world. At times you may witness an outcome that meshes with a particular spell or ritual that you’ve performed. However, you will rarely be able to decipher mere chance from the supernatural. And I think that’s where most of its beauty lies.
It’s not a perfect art by any means. It’s a fragmented, vague, passionate, and often mirky path. It will take you to strange places, where you will meet strange people. You will find yourself in possession of books and relics, that you will never dare to let your family or coworkers see. You will begin to notice subtle differences in the world around you. In nature, in people. There will be nights when the Moon calls to you through the bedroom window. Your dreams will become much more vivid, and, at times, lucid.
And, most importantly, you will begin to see the change within. Because you now inhabit a dark, strange world. A world with winding, crooked paths, that very few have dared to travel. It will be a path of self-discovery and beauty. Other times, it will be one of nightmarish loneliness, and mortal terror.
But it’s been said that in the darkness, there is beauty. And there is a certain freedom.
Do What Thou Will
Featured image by Grenpool (DeviantArt)