An Interview with Ramsey Dukes
from Head magazine
How would you characterise your writing (i.e. what is your dominant interest in writing - political, philosophical, occult, scientific )?
I like the phrase Cornelius Agrippa used - ‘occult philosophy. I think if I just called myself a philosopher that would be a little bit pretentious, but ‘occult’ is a nice frowned-on word. I am, however, more interested in the philosophy behind it than in describing a list of practices and things for people to do.
Could you briefly outline your occult background (i.e. association with various organisations and how you became involved with the occult). Did you ever get the girl next door?
As far as I can remember I was always interested in the arcane. When I was a little kid there was a friend of my father’s who was described to me as a Magician and I remember being very intrigued and asking him about his magic. It was only many years later that I discovered he was a disciple of Crowley’s. People say that that was perhaps an influence on me: I think that I have just always been interested. Probably the most significant thing in the long term was when I was about eleven. I was at prep school and I read a review of the book of ‘Abramelin the Mage’ which Watkins had just reprinted. I ordered it from Gloucester Library and read it. Having always been interested in magic, but not sure if there was anything in it, this was the first book which seemed to me a really serious book telling you how to do magic. Of course it described a system that one had to be ‘grown up’ to do but I was sure that as soon as I had grown up I would be able to do this. Now in fact I didn’t get round to doing it until 1977, many years later. Although I had been doing quite a bit of magic - sitting at home meditating and experimenting - the Abramelin practice was in a way the first formal magical discipline that I did. I hadn’t joined any magical groups, not because I didn’t want to, but more because I had been living in the deep country and it was not easy to get to join them. They were all a bit far away, and it wasn’t until some years after the Abramelin that friends (I was living in North London) initiated me into a magical group which was sort of experimental and yet formal. Then later, through contacts at the Soceity, which was Gerald Suster’s essay club, almost, I met David Rietti and became involved with the O.T.O.
Initially I was the Secreatary and then more recently, because of going to Lockenhaus, I was initiated into the IOT. I am comparatively senior in the OTO but in the IOT I am sort of a Neophyte and I rather like that.
You also ask did I get the girl next door, an obvious reference to the article ‘Blast Your Way to Megabuck$’. The trouble with successes in magic is that you can look back and describe some things that happened and they are so amazing when that when you tell them to people they think you must be the world’s greatest Magician if you could do things like that. But you know that actually they didn’t happen in the way magic ought to - ‘I just want this to happen and I make it happen’. Very little have I managed to achieve in that way, life has a habit of springing surprises however hard you try to direct it. Some of those surprises are uncannily close to what you asked for, and yet they have a way of occurring which is not what you expected. I am very much aware of what is happening to me and it’s a sort of theme which occurs in fairy stories; the wish is granted but it doesn’t work out the way it was meant to. I think it must be a cosmic law that that should happen.
Are you still involved in the occult for the same reasons or have they changed?
That’s a difficult one. I can’t give a tidy answer to that. It’s very much my nature to be involved in the occult and that hasn’t changed. Involvement carries a certain momentum - the friends one has made, the practices I am performing and so on, all that adds up to a reason to stay with the occult. Yet I realise I am looking for different things now than I was earlier on. But those reasons are fairly superficial. It really is just curiosity about life and that is the strongest motive and that, in a sense, has not been changed.
How do you stand in the relationship between occult theory and practice?
Right from the beginning of my writing I would have said that I was very much a theoretician. In fact I would have felt a bit ashamed of that because I was very touched by people who saw my work as practical; so I’ve thought about it and I realise that, although I’m not describing practices - telling people what to do, how to make robes, where to stand in ritual and all that practical stuff - I am giving ideas and ways to look at the world. Now the thing about an idea is that you can put it into practice straight away. If I say, ‘have you ever considered looking at the world in this different way’ that in a sense is a very practical thing as long as I put it clearly. I think I do write clearly and so in a sense I have given people a lot of practical mental tools which they can use. They are just mental tools but they can still be practical because they are ways of thinking that people can apply straight away.
What do you think of other occult celebrities other than yourself (e.g. Dee, Crowley, Spare, Bardon, La Vey, Hakim Bey, Carroll, etc.) and which have been most influential on you?
Well, I have a mind like a compost heap. I hear things, I pick up things. I read things - papers or even just book covers and things like that. A lot of it goes in and is apparently forgotten, yet re-emerges, like from a compost heap, in some new shape. It’s not very easy to say where my ideas come from in many cases. In fact that is one of the factors of me tending to write under a pseudonym, because I’m wary of too strong a claim that ‘this was my idea’ and getting defensive about it and saying someone has pinched my idea and all that. I realise that there’s this great slop of ideas that fly around like radio waves and that I’m tuning into certain ones and expressing them. On the other hand I have been very aware of two influences because I can see them very clearly. One is Crowley and the other is Spare. What I got from Crowley, I think, is a method. A lot of writers have written about things like the astral plane or the astral light in terms where they said there is this ‘luminiferous ether’ or something or other. Crowley didn’t make the mistake of trying to explain how a thing worked. He would say ‘I performed these actions and I noticed these results’. He described things in a very experimental way, and that’s what appealed to me about Crowley and that is what I think I have continued. What I did not get from Crowley was a theory, because he was an explorer of ideas. On the other hand Spare, when I read his work I saw a theory of magic. The idea that we, our beliefs, shape the world we observe - a basic simple theory. I got that from Spare. I feel that I got an intellectual method from Crowley and a simple basic theory from Spare. Then there are a whole lot of other things that I got from other people that are not so easily traced. Also, I think that when it is my contemporaries, it’s really nice to find people who are saying things that are in accord with your own ideas. It’s also rather scary because you think ‘god, perhaps that person is saying it better’ and ‘am I really necessary?’ but it fits in with my general feeling of the way that ideas are flitting around in the ether and you pick them up like radio waves. Different people tune into different things, different people get a clearer reception and so on. That’s when people think I’m joking and ‘channelling’ Ramsey Dukes. In a sense I think I do because I pick up these ideas. Sometimes they surprise me. Among the names listed I see those where I say ‘Hey, yes, I hear you. I know what you are talking about, I feel an affinity with you.’ With past people like Dee, the same thing really. It’s very exciting to find someone who centuries before, said something which just ‘zing!’ hits you like brand new, something which you’ve just been thinking about or haven’t even thought of yet. I like that.
Why do you think that people are still drawn to mysticism and the occult when the terrain is so obviously dominated by frauds, wastrels and knaves?
Now that’s a bit like saying why are people still interested in sex when obviously the sex industry is so full of corruption and sleaze. I think for some people there is actually a fascination in the sleaze, fraudery and trickery, which actually adds to the subject - sex is actually more intriguing because of the aura of sleaze about it. I’m not sure if that is so for me, but I think the occult too is something which you can be put off by the sleaze of it or actually you can find that as a rather intriguing element in it. One of the ideas I was putting forward in ‘The Charlatan and the Magus’ (in ‘Blast .’) was that maybe existence itself is sleazy, and that mankind’s instinct always attempts to eliminate sleaze, which is as misguided as swallowing a load of antibiotics, which although they may kill the germ, they kill off certain other things in your gut which then has to recover; or as misguided as trying to make a clean compost heap by putting a lot of disinfectant on it which actually would stop the composting process. In other words, sleaze is itself inherent. The universe itself has a strong element of sleaze in it and it’s part of the nourishment of life. We need to work on our own exaggerated concepts of hygiene.
‘Thundersqueak’, as well as being a particularly fine introduction to the practical side of the occult could also be regarded as one of the ur-texts of Kaos, if not the one that set the Kaos-sphere rolling. What were your intentions when writing ‘Thundersqueak’?
I was most aware of quite personal things: it was like writers in me that I wanted to express. I had written SSOTBME, which was quite a cool, clear-cut look at concepts of magic and I felt there was something a little more confused that I wanted to express, that I couldn’t quite nail down in the same way. I got round to expressing it by seeing it as a dialogue between two characters - Angerford and Lea. There’s a bit of that in the book, I know where to look for it and I can see these two forces that were really just something I had to express. It was on my mind for quite a few years. Originally there was much more bitterness in it, but when I got round to writing it that had mellowed.
What is your relationship to the kaos elite, considering your participation in the [UKAOS] kaos conference?
I don’t have a close relationship with the chaos elite, as much because of geography as other things. I’m not very good at joining a movement and carrying it through. I don’t know why. I’m aware of geographical separation being a problem. I don’t like thrashing across the country to join things, to take part and then having to drive back again. At present I’m looking for something much more local. These are people that I like to consider as friends. I enjoy their company when I am with them. The reason I am not more closely involved has nothing to do with inner feelings, or that I am critical of them; it just seems to have happened that way.
How do you think Kaodoxy is likely to develop over the next few years?
This is a question that foxes me. Possibly its too close to home. I see a problem arising because we have moved into a time of public fascination with religion, which in a sense is the antithesis of the kaos spirit. I think there will be a call for something like ‘a kaos religion’ might be too blatant a way of putting it, but people will be wanting something crystallised, something solid to take the place of a religion - a kaos nation or something. I think this could be a bit of a crisis for the movement. I don’t know quite how it would be handled. The presentation that I gave at the UKAOS conference was to do with this very problem. I did it by pushing in the same direction and saying, look here is a kaos religious service, can we learn from this? Can we learn to recognise the dangers and also see certain possibilities? Can we walk down this razor edge and survive?
There seems to be a tendency for Kaos to abandon the lengthy and rigorous training methodologies of Golden Dawn, OTO, shamanism etc. in favour of what are virtually just disposable slogans - which is fine for people like your good self who have already done the necessary work to justify such a philosophical standpoint but what about the newcomer who has no background experience or training? Doesn’t this make the philosophy very attractive for the lazy, but possibly leave its bravado more than a little hollow in the long term?
I very much agree with the spirit of this question because - although my best contribution to the occult is liberation, liberating people’s ideas, and things like that - I do, myself, recognise the need but actually enjoy the times when I get my nose down to a bit of really regular practical ritual or occult practice. Almost the best summer of my life was the summer of Abramelin the Mage - to be so focused on what was apparently quite a simple set of practices. One of the most rewarding magical experiences of my life was the slow and painstaking making of the magical implements - the disc, the sword, the cup and the wand, which was very difficult for me. It took a lot of concentration. I took about a year over each one from the beginning of the thinking about it - how I was going to do it - to actually making the thing in the end, but I found that really really satisfying and very rewarding. I think the reason that I joined the OTO I realised that in a sense it was so formal it was quite the opposite of my own informal ways and yet that was the very reason to join it because I thought ‘here I have got these freedom-loving ideas, if they can’t survive in a formal structure then in a sense they don’t deserve to survive. How far can I go into a structure and keep my own integrity?’ What I learnt from the OTO was some very useful solid practice, that I would not have learned if I had not joined something as formal as that, something very down to earth. It was quite wholesome for me, for other people it could be just what they don’t need. They might need to be liberated from rigid ideas. For me it was actually quite good to hang my own ideas on a rather rigid framework and see whether they could survive that experience.
Why do you think Kaos majik is more about making things happen than other forms of majik?
I was very much aware that when Pete’s (Peter J. Carroll) book first came out, the previous current of magic was W.E. Butler inspired, where there was a lot of emphasis on psychological justification. It was possible to be into the occult, be into magic and really be practising a form of advanced psychotherapy on yourself. You believed in the gods as inner archetypes and so on and so forth. Now that was a very wholesome movement in a way, because it allowed magic to seep into the very materialistic world of the fifties where there was no room for magic. Psychology was the ground that it could survive on, but the danger of that tendency was that magic became ‘nothing but’ psychology - that the ritual you were doing was simply to activate your archetypes. People lost that outer thing that maybe we can really change the world because they had seen it so much in psychological terms. In a sense in SSOTBME I was trying to turn that tide by saying ‘look: our beliefs actually shape this world’ - Austin Osman Spare’s point. What might seem to be mere psychology actually could be real magic. I feel that Pete really took this up by turning the thing back to an area that had almost been discredited and that was ‘let’s try and do spells chaps, and make things happen’. That theme came back in a big way with kaos magic and I thought that was a healthy thing.