The Interview with Stephen Skinner
by Sorita d’Este
( December 2004 : SS indicates answers by Stephen Skinner, Q indicates question posed by Sorita)
Q: You have been involved in magical groups and circles since the 1960’s. What are the most significant changes you have noticed in that time?
SS: I was lucky enough to enter my first magical group when I reached university at age 16, and fortunately it was a good one with emphasis on the practical. It was demanding though, and I had to give a lecture to the outer group on the Tarot attribution to the Paths of the Tree of Life, without any notes from memory, before they would even consider my application. In those days when there was still a lot of prejudice, groups had to be very careful who they admitted, and so access was not easy.
However with the opening up of magic, there is much greater accessibility to good quality groups and teaching. With the exception of a few of the long running and more hidden lodges, there is however still a degree of instability as smaller groups form and re-form. The important thing is to learn as much as you can from a group, by really working at it, rather than expecting to be spoon fed.
Q: During the 1970’s you co-wrote many books with Francis King, what was it like to work with him?
SS: Francis was a great man, a true scholar, a good friend, and a brilliant raconteur, who had during his life interacted with many of the figures that appear in his books about the later Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley offshoots, as well as almost all of the most significant figures in modern witchcraft like Gardner, Williamson, Stewart Farrar, Alex Sanders, and Jim Baker.
To write with him was an exercise in amazement. We might talk of Francis Barrett and his magical circle, and Francis would be able to quote exactly from one of FB’s letters, without hesitation. Or we might talk of some of the well know occult figures of the recent past, and Francis would have an anecdote about things they did or said, many of them sadly unprintable.
However Francis sometimes suffered from depression and its concomitant writer’s block. At times like that he would give me a call, sometimes very close to deadlines, to start, take over, or complete a book. I remember for example writing the bulk of Techniques of High Magic in just over a week working from Francis’ notes, from memory, and from a copy of Regardie’s Golden Dawn kindly lent to me by Gerry Beskin of Atlantis.
On other occasions, such as the book on Nostradamus that we co-wrote, there was more time, but I was unable to match Francis’s total grasp of the last 400 years of European history: so while I was familiar with the prophecies, it was Francis who would seed ideas as to where they applied, and I would develop these.
He was great to work with, and I much regret his passing. I dearly wish that he had taken up my suggestion to write his own autobiography, which would have been infinitely amusing and informative. Much of this fount of knowledge is now lost.
Q: With Francis King, you co-wrote the classic work “Techniques of High Magic” which is still widely used today, is there anything that you would change about this book today?
SS: Of course there are many things that I could have included, some of which I have encountered since I wrote the book. I would include more sample invocations. I would however exclude the I Ching section, as it is basically Eastern, and I would remove the Enochian words from the consecration of the Elemental tools, as this is not appropriate for beginners.
Perhaps I would replace the chapter on Goetic evocation with a chapter on the invocation of other, more docile, spiritual creatures like Elementals, and the construction of servitors and artificial Elementals. But otherwise I am still pretty happy that the book, which is now available in a UK edition, is a good introduction to Western magic.
Q: Your books on Geomancy are considered to be the authoritative works on the subject, how important do you feel that geomancy is to western magic?
SS: Geomancy is not the most important system of divination, although at one time it was the second most popular (after astrology). Its fascination is that it is ‘grounded’, being associated with the earth, not the heavens. Also its images are very simple, unlike the Tarot, so they force the practitioner to expand his natural abilities, rather than going off on a symbolic ramble (as is sometime the case with Tarot readings). It is therefore a good divination system for a beginner to start with. I still use it when the need arises. My book Terrestrial Astrology, which was and still is the most comprehensive book on the subject in English, is soon to be re-published as Divinatory Geomancy.
Q: You are also credited for bringing the art of Feng Shui to the West, how did this come about?
SS: My initial interest in feng shui came not from an interest in interior decorating, but from an effort to see if it is related to Western geomancy: it is not. I then discovered that sigils that are used in Western magic (such as the seal and kamea of Saturn) are also used in some of the more esoteric parts of feng shui and in Taoist sorcery. After that I got immersed in feng shui and wrote Living Earth Manual of Feng Shui in 1976, which was the first English book on feng shui in the 20th century.
I went on to produce the magazine Feng Shui for Modern Living worldwide in 41 countries, the biggest selling feng shui magazine in the world, selling more copies initially even than Elle Deco. You might be amused to know that I even launched 34 issues of the magazine in Taiwan printed in traditional Chinese, where the magazine become the biggest selling feng shui magazine in Chinese. I was nominated Publisher of the Year in London in 1999 for this little effort, but I found it more amusing to have exported feng shui back to China, so like ‘exporting coals to Newcastle’.
Q: Do you think that Western magic and Eastern systems of magic have much in common and can they, in your opinion, be worked together seamlessly?
SS: They do have much in common in essence, but the symbols systems are very different and the important ‘registers’ of spirits are also totally different. They cannot be worked together. The Western and Eastern systems are like two Gateways into the same castle. You cannot enter both Gateways at the same time, and if you do manage to enter one Gateway, then you cannot use the roadmap provided for the other Gateway, otherwise you become hopelessly lost…and maybe endangered.
Q: During the 1970’s you were the driving force behind Askin Publishing, producing lovely editions of a number of classic works such as Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy and Archidoxes of Magic by Paracelsus – all of which are now collector’s items. Which of the books you produced with Askin are you the most proud of and why?
SS: Probably the Agrippa, as two of its six parts are seminal texts for practical Western evocatory magic, and were unavailable before then, except in the very expensive 17th century edition, or in Latin. The book contains one of the most important keys of practical magic. Even when we published it in the old 17th century type, a lot of people found it difficult to read. I am therefore pleased to tell you that I have edited a modern text version of this classic, with annotations that will be coming out early in 2005 from Nicolas-Hayes and Ibis. Already more than 700 copies have been pre-ordered on Amazon.com, which means that there is a rapidly growing appetite for traditional magic out there.
I also enjoyed publishing several of Austin Osman Spare’s books that had been out of print for such a long time, because they were so beautiful, because they followed on from my sigil work in Search for Abraxas, and because they have provided a base for explorations into Chaos magic.
Q: You edited and produced The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley, Tunis 1923. How important do you feel Aleister Crowley’s work is to modern magic?
SS: There is no doubt that AC’s work has been seminal in re-introducing respect for magic into the 20th century and in trying to broaden the basic GD teachings by introducing more Eastern systems like yoga. I do however think that a lot of Crowley’s work was self-indulgent (not in the drug sense, but in the magical sense), and that his efforts to interpret his own life as a work of art, and every little event as a sign from the Masters, made his magic too inward looking.
In fact this caused him to propagate the fallacy that spirits were simply a part of the operator’s own subconscious mind. This is only true in the sense that strange beasts (e.g. camels) seen in the zoo are part of your own personal store of images. Their independent existence is never questioned by anyone who has ever interacted with them in their own environment!
He fuelled a lot of the sexual and drug liberation which did not come to the surface until the 1960s hippie revolution, but which has helped to shape out world immensely. I added my own impetus to this by writing and publishing two of the earliest underground newspapers in Australia.
Q: You are known to be a leading authority on Enochian Magic, the system of magic ascribed to Dr. Dee, which books would you recommend to people who have an interest and want to find out more?
SS: That is a difficult one, as a lot of Dee’s real magical work is just now coming to the surface. Most of the books to date have relied upon the Golden Dawn recension of the system. I guess Robert Turner’s Elizabethan Magic is a good place to start with the real stuff. Certainly don’t try to read books like Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, which was very difficult even for Dee’s contemporaries to understand.
Q: Over the years there have been many rumours of an unpublished work by you on Enochian magic, written in the 1970’s. Is this rumour true and is it likely that you will ever publish it?
SS: I did complete a book on Dee that encompassed his whole working system, with practice guide and results, plus a full life chronology. It would have run to about 700 printed pages. Also included were a lot of intriguing things I found out about his life in the old Rozmberg archives at Trebona in Czechoslovakia and also in Prague.
I was living at Saxonbury in Sussex at the time, and unfortunately the old house was burgled, and the burglar took the manuscript and research materials along with all the usual household stuff. The police were totally pessimistic about the chances of getting my stuff back, so I took ‘other measures’ which within seven days motivated the burglar to want to urgently return my stuff. Unfortunately he had binned what he thought was rubbish (the manuscript of the book) and sold some of my samurai swords: the rest I got back and the police subsequently took him into custody. Since then I have not had the stomach, or the time, to write the book over again.
Q: Stephen, you have just published a new book on the subject of Enochian magic. What inspired the book?
SS: David. Basically I was showing David Rankine some of my old Dee research material, and remarked that several MSS containing the crucial 17th century development of the Enochian system had never been published. His eyes lit up, and as they say the rest is history.
Q: These days you live near Singapore, do you have plans to come back to the UK to lecture or give workshops on Western Magic?
SS: That probably depends upon what I am currently working on.
Q: Any exciting projects you are working on that you can tell our visitors about?
SS: Yes, I think it is time that we let a few cats out of the bag. Apart from Enochian magic, there is the whole tradition of ritual magic that was strong in the 17th and 18th century, when invocation of various spiritual creatures from angels to Olympic spirits to demons to fairies was the order of the day. The emphasis was upon results, very palpable results. This is something that somehow got partly lost from magic after it was institutionalised first by the Masons (Golden Dawn) then by the Thelemites (Aleister Crowley) and then by modern witchcraft. I am working on the practical parts of magic as it would have been recognized by Agrippa, by Dee, by Barrett, and indeed by Harry Potter.
Excellent work is being done on the Golden Dawn tradition by writers such as Darcy Kuntz, and on Aleister Crowley, and so I am content to move back in time. My other project is the reconstruction of truly mediaeval techniques of Western magic, pre-1300.
Thank you to Stephen Skinner for taking the time to talk to us, its been a real honour to be allowed to dig for answers to some of the questions I have had for quite some time! For permission to reproduce this article please contact us first – (c) Stephen Skinner & Avalonia
For those of you wanting to find out more about Stephen Skinner and his work, on both Western and Eastern Magic should visit his website http://www.sskinner.com
A list of some of his books which are available from Amazon.co.uk is listed at the top of this page.. The Practical Angel Magic of Dr. John Dee’s Enochian Tables can also be ordered directly from the publisher website – click here for Golden Hoard Press
Avalonia interviewed Stephen Skinner, author of many, many books on the Western Traditions of Magic who is also known as an authority on the art of Feng Shui. One of the most significant living authors on the subject of the occult over the last few decades,
Stephen co-wrote Techniques of High Magic with Francis King, produced the definitive book on Western Geomancy and made available many rare magickal books through his work with Askin Press in the 1970’s. The following are just some of Stephen’s books: