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David Rankine

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Practical Qabalah Magick


Magick Without Peers: A Course in Progressive Witchcraft For The Solitary Practitioner

by Ariadne Rainbird, David Rankine

Magick Without Peers:
TWPT Talks to David Rankine

TWPT:  Tell me about some of your earliest memories of being exposed to the ideas of magick and Witchcraft and what your initial impressions were of these often misunderstood disciplines?

DR:  As a young child I was a voracious reader.  At this age I used to read all the books on mythology I could find.  This lead me into reading Carl Jung and the Tao Teh King when I was ten, and this in turn made me start wondering about whether magick really worked.  I always dreamed lucidly and experienced a lot of synchronicities, so Jung’s writings were a trigger for me to think about the efficacy of magick.  My mother had a tarot deck and a book on the tarot I read, which I think was by Stuart Kaplan.  My mother used to do tarot readings to see how well I would do in my exams, and was always very accurate – she would do the spread and put the interpretation in a sealed envelope, and then show me what she had recorded after the exams.  This really got me thinking about how we could be prepared for the future and make the right decisions and helped me decide that magick was going to be for me.

TWPT:  When you decided to look a little deeper into these ideas where did you go to find your information? Was it a difficult search to get reliable and detailed information on a subject that still was dominated by stereotypes and misinformation?

DR:  When I was 14 a friend gave me a catalogue for Occultique in Northampton, and a lot of my books used to come from John Lovett, who owns Occultique.  I also discovered Golden Dawn Books in Manchester, and this was my other main source of books to buy.  I used to get the local library to order books in for me from other library services around Britain.  I used to get some funny looks from the staff as they handed over books by authors like Paracelsus and Agrippa that had come for this fourteen year old!  I didn’t find it that hard to get good information, but I think I was lucky in that my instincts guided me to buy some very good books, and also Barry Bender (of Golden Dawn Books) and John Lovett used to offer me advice when I phoned to ask about books in their catalogues.  In some ways it seems more difficult now with the massive amount of books and no way of knowing how good the material is without help.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s it was a much smaller range of books available so it was easier to pick the wheat from the chaff.

TWPT:  Speaking of sorting the wheat from the chaff, do you have any ideas or suggestions on how those who are just starting out along this path can avoid spending lots of money and wasting valuable time on books that are shallow at best and dangerous at worst?

DR:  I would suggest looking at the reviews on decent websites, and also reading what other people have said on Amazon or other sites that offer customers the chance to write their own reviews of books they have bought.  That aside personal recommendation is the only other option, or looking in the bibliographies of books you have bought to see what the sources were.  Assuming the book has a bibliography that is – I must admit I tend to put books down that don’t have a reasonable bibliography at the back – I like to see where material has come from, so I don’t have to take everything on faith from the author or not know where their information has come from.

TWPT:  When was it that you came to the decision that this was the path for you and what did you do to begin the journey?

DR:  When I was fourteen and received my first order of books for my collection, one of the books was “Techniques of High Magic” by Francis King and Stephen Skinner, which I still consider one of the best magick primers written.  I took the magickal vow they give in there and dedicated my life to magick.  I then started spending 2 hours every day practicing the techniques – pentagram ritual, hexagram ritual, pranayama techniques, meditation, visualization, any technique I read about that looked interesting.  I practiced spending an hour holding the image of a tatva until I could hold it without any shift for that time.  It took me 18 months but was great for sharpening my powers of visualisation.

TWPT:  Was there a magickal/Wiccan community to speak of at that time in the UK? Did you attempt to make contact with this community and what were some of your thoughts about those you met in those early forays into this new world?

DR:  There were magickal and Wiccan communities in the UK, but they were quite separate in many ways, and also I was at school and there wasn’t much going on in rural Lincolnshire, so I just worked with a school friend who got into magick at the same time.  The first person I really spoke to was an old lady in her seventies, Mrs Fletcher, who I used to run errands for like shopping and helping with her cleaning.  She was a spiritualist and she introduced me to skrying, and a very experienced spiritual healer who taught me laying on of hands and the do’s and don’ts of healing.  I thought they were lovely people, but they were not interested in “magick” but more into the ideas of spiritualism.  I didn’t get involved with the Wiccan community until I was in my mid twenties and had already been practicing for many years.  My path had taken me into other areas like Qabalah, Thelema, ceremonial magick and tantra.  When I met my ex-wife I was getting more interested in Wicca, and she was an Alexandrian HPS!   I had reached a point where I felt I needed to focus more on the earth and being grounded.  From there it was a natural progression into the Craft.

TWPT:  Follow up: Did having a magickal background make the move into Wicca seem like familiar territory? Could you, for our readers, distinguish between what are the basics of Wicca as opposed to a basic magickal path.

DR:  Yes it was quite familiar territory when I got into Wicca, which is essentially a ritual magick tradition in itself, but a bit more nature-based than classic ceremonial magick and qabalah.

I would say the main difference between Wicca and a basic magickal path is that Wicca combines magick, mysticism and religion, whereas magick tends to leave out the religion (and in some cases the mysticism).  That was the great appeal of Wicca to me, that it combines the religious priestly (or priestessly) side with the magickal side, and opens the door to more personal mystical experiences, which are the root of any experiential spiritual system.  Wicca tends to be more nature based, whereas magicians can get a bit cerebral sometimes and divorced from their environment.  This isn’t always true though, I used to work in a Thelemic ritual magick group where we frequently worked at interesting sites appropriate to the nature of the magick being done.

TWPT:  What was the first group that you decided to commit to and why did you choose them from among the available paths open to you?

DR:  When I was eighteen someone I knew through a sports club I used to go to approached me and asked if I would like to attend a meeting of a magickal group.  I went to my first meeting and was told that when I returned next week, I would have learned the Hebrew alphabet, the numerical attributions, what path on the Tree of Life and tarot trump went with each letter, what number and what the letter meant.  Any mistakes meant I didn’t get into the lodge.  I chose this path because it opened up for me and it had the high level of focus and discipline I had been putting in to my studies.  There was no socialising outside the lodge, and first names only.  I am still bound by my oath not to reveal the name of the group, but it is not a public group.  I got in through being in the right place at the right time and displaying the sort of approach they wanted.

TWPT:  Follow up: Do you think contacting secret magickal groups (or other Wiccan/Pagan groups) is any more risky today than what it was when you first made contact with the lodge? Why?

DR:  I wouldn’t say it was more risky today than it was say 20 years ago.  There are certainly a lot more groups, and there are a lot more chances to find out about groups through events, conferences, moots, etc.  The main risk is joining a group for the sake of it, even though it may not be right for you.  It can be very disheartening for people who look for years and don’t find anything, there can be an inclination to join the first group that comes along, even though it may not be in the tradition you are interested in, just to be in a group.  I always encourage people to wait and be sure the group is for them.  Any reputable group will be able to give you some idea of their aims, their training material, the commitments they expect from a prospective member, costs, etc.  When you meet the group, remember you should interview them as much as they do you.  You need to be sure that you will get on with the people and that their aims are similar to your own.  The obvious warning signs are groups expecting lots of money (costs to cover wine, candles, incense, etc are fine and standard) and any inappropriate sexual overtones or behaviour.

TWPT:  What were some of the characteristics of those teachers you had in the beginning that helped you the most along your chosen path?

DR:  Discipline, discipline and discipline!  I was very impressed with the ability of the lodge master to perform full-on Solomonic evocation from memory.  He was a very focused and efficient individual, and these qualities were the ones I sought to reinforce in myself.  He was also very humble, he never made people feel inferior in the way he taught and behaved – I was very impressed and came to the conclusion that with competence came control of the ego and the ability to pass on information without dogma.

TWPT:  Was there a particular aspect of your studies that you were quite adept at? Were there also those areas that did not feel as comfortable to you?

DR:  I am lucky in that I have always dreamed lucidly, which allowed me to explore a lot of ideas and techniques in the dreamstate, a major plus. I found that I was very competent at the voice work.  When we practiced vibration of divine names and mantra, I have always found it easy to allow my voice free rein to express the energy.  There weren’t really any areas I didn’t feel comfortable with, I just wanted to learn everything!

TWPT:  Were there any memorable books that contributed to your growth in magick and Wicca? What were some of the ones that were most important and what did they teach you about your chosen path?

DR:  The books which contributed most to my early growth would be “Techniques of High Magic” as mentioned previously, “Magic: An Occult Primer” by David Conway, “Magick” by Aleister Crowley, and the writings of Carlos Castaneda.  The magick books all helped expand my horizons, and Crowley made me start to appreciate the depth of magick.  Carlos Castaneda I still re-read every few years, as I find his writings very useful to remind me about the importance of behaviour and efficiency – he is very good for helping shift perceptions.

When I first read “Outside the Circles of Time” by Kenneth Grant at nineteen, that blew me away!  The scope of his material and the inclusion in his writings of the importance of magickal art and fiction really opened my perceptions up and widened my horizons.

The writing of Stanislav Grof and Wilhelm Reich also helped a lot by making me question a whole range of issues, like the importance of perception and how it works, the holistic nature of the universe, and where magick and other disciplines merge.  For this reason I always recommend the works of the anthropologist Mircea Eliade to people when they ask me who to read. There aren't really any books on Wicca that made me stop and go Wow! I feel that the best way to find out about Wicca is through doing it - it is an experiential path, and the oral material won't be in books, you need a reputable initiated coven to really appreciate Wicca at its best, in my opinion. Having said that, if people asked me to recommend books on Wicca, I would say Vivianne Crowley's "Wicca" and the Farrar books will give a good overview of Wicca for people interested in the Craft.

TWPT:  When you sought out Wicca as a ground for what you were doing magickally what were some of the major differences in working with a lodge or doing magick as opposed to working with a group of Wiccans either in a coven or as part of an open ritual?

DR:  One of the big differences was the length of the rituals.  In magickal groups people would think nothing of spending an hour or two doing mantra, whereas in Wicca chants rarely seem to go beyond 10 minutes!  Magickal rituals tend to be very formal and structured, and if something isn’t done 100% right it gets redone.  In Wicca there is often more of a “going with the flow”, not worrying if someone got a word wrong as long as the intent is right.  Both approaches work for different people.  For me, the bonds between fellow coven members have been stronger than in magickal groups – perhaps because there is the “family that you choose” feel about a coven, and often more formality in magickal groups.  Another big difference is that Wicca offers people the chance to become a priest/ess, and that means being part of a community and radiating magick outwards, whereas in magick the focus can often be inwards towards development of the self.  I think the trick is finding the right balance and doing both!

TWPT:  What was it that made you decide to start writing and did you hope to accomplish anything specific with the material that eventually would be published?

DR:  Well a friend asked me to write an article for a magazine he was doing in 1986, and once I had written the article it made me realise how much I enjoyed that medium.  Words have always been my forte, as a child I used to write poetry and short stories and I can’t paint and am not musical, so I decided to concentrate on what I was good at.  In writing I hoped to put across ideas and techniques and information for people without any dogma.  I believe it is vital when writing to be clear about the work and what it is about – you say if it is your opinion or perception, or if you drew from other sources, explain clearly, and never preach as if what you say is the truth and the only way.  For me, writing is a way to offer information for people to incorporate into their practices or discard as they feel appropriate.

TWPT:  Tell me about Magick Without Peers and how that book came to be. Is the title in anyway a take off from Crowley's book Magick Without Tears?

DR:  Magick Without Peers came about from the material my ex-partner and I used to train our coven, and also from a Fellowship Of Isis correspondence course we used to offer.  One day we looked at all the material and decided it would be a good idea to put it together into a primer of natural magick techniques for people who did not have access to a teaching coven or group. 

The title is indeed a pun on Crowley’s “Magick Without Tears”, and that was further emphasised by the style of the cover, which I find reminiscent of Lady Freda Harris, the artist who painted the Thoth deck for Crowley.  I saw the picture on Ian’s wall (the artist) and knew I wanted to use it, so I asked him and he was happy to let us, which made my month!

TWPT:  Earlier you had mentioned your reluctance to recommend books because Wicca was an "experiential" path but this book is aimed at the solitary practitioner, was this your attempt to bring to the solitary information that was grounded and tested within coven life?

DR:  Yes, we wanted to put out a book that was “nuts and bolts” material.  We hoped a book that detailed the techniques, with lots of useful information about areas that fall into the training would be a positive influence that people could benefit from.  All of the material in the book has been well-tested – I don’t believe in ever giving people material you haven’t tried out first yourself, it is irresponsible and can be dangerous.

TWPT:  Tell me about your co-author Ariadne Rainbird and how the two of you worked together to create this book? Is it anymore difficult to collaborate with someone on writing a book than doing it yourself?

DR:  Ariadne Rainbird was my initiator into the Craft.  She was also my wife and my HPS.  She is an amazingly talented woman, a qualified psychologist with a wide range of qualifications in other forms of healing like aromatherapy, massage and counselling.  She is also a stunningly effective HPS and being with her taught me far more than any book or course ever could.

We worked on the book on our own and then merged the parts, with me then  making odd changes to ensure the style was consistent throughout the book.  I wrote most of the material in the first part of the book, on technique, and she wrote most of the second part, on the deities, sabbats, etc.  There is some crossover as we both did bits in the other one’s section as well where we had particular experience, like her writing most of the chapter on dreams, for example.  I don’t think it is more difficult to collaborate as long as you are agreed on the goals of the book, and personally I feel one person should tidy the book up to ensure it is consistent and not too “bitty”.

TWPT:  The proof is in the pudding so to speak so how was Magick Without Peers received by the readers who bought it? What kind of feedback have you received about the ideas expressed in the book and how helpful the book might have been?

DR:  The feedback from readers has been brilliant.  I have had people come up to me at events when I am giving a talk or workshop, or at moots, and thank me for the help the book has given them.  People have usually said it is their most used book, as they find it all useful, with no padding, and they have enjoyed having a structure that has enabled them to work through material systematically.  I still get as many people coming up to me now about the book as I did 4 years ago, and it always gives me pleasure to know that people have found the book useful in their own development, which was the whole purpose of writing it in the first place.

TWPT:  So what was the experience like of taking a book from manuscript to finished product? Did you think to yourself that "Boy that was fun, I can't wait to get started on the next one?"?

DR:  It was a wonderful moment when we first got the proofs back from the publishers.  I used to work in occult publishing around 1990-91, and used to proof manuscripts, so I was keen to go through the book and check it was how I had seen it.

I did think, “right now on to the crystal book I have been thinking of for years”, but events meant that I wasn’t able to put as much energy into that as I would have liked to until more recently.

TWPT:  You just had a new book that came out in March of this year called 'Crystals - Healing and Folklore' from Capall Bann, tell me about this new book and what prompted you to write a book about crystals.

DR:  The book is actually due for release in the next few months, as there were a few complications with illustrations, but that is normal for any book, there is always something unexpected that comes up during the process of turning the manuscript into the book.  I have always loved crystals since I was a child, and when I started practicing magick I realised how prevalent their use had been in all the great “magickal” cultures like ancient Egypt and Sumeria.  So magick actually amplified the interest I already had in the mineralogical world.

I planned for years to write a book on crystals, as none of the ones I have ever come across really covered the angle I wanted to put across.  I wanted to draw on older sources and write a book that was more universal in the outlook it took. Crystals have been used by man since at least 75,000 BC, and in pretty much every culture and religion, and I wanted to reflect that in the book.  As a result I drew on material I have been collecting for over 20 years to put the book together.  My sources go back to things like Pliny’s “Natural History” and Saint Hildegard von Bingen, alchemical manuscripts and the myths and religions of the world. 

TWPT:   Everyone has an opinion as to what the internet has brought about with its ability to reach out to those who don't have local sources of information for magickal topics so tell me how has the internet changed the way that you make contact with the magickal community in the UK? Has this helped to foster more of a sense of connectedness among the followers of the many paths that exist within Paganism?  

DR:  I feel the Internet has helped foster more links between groups and individuals, and networking is always a good thing as far as I am concerned, it encourages people to communicate and avoid the problems that come through lack of communication.  The increase in available information has helped the “intertradition” angle between different pagan paths, I have noticed this on the boards and groups I am involved with.  I think a lot of myths have been dispelled by the increase in communication between people, though a fresh set of myths may arise from this phenomena!

TWPT:  Tell me about your involvement with Avalonia and about the benefits that it has brought about for those readers who have surfed to its pages?

DR:  I think Avalonia is a great resource.  Sorita has been running it for 5 years, and there are 300 pages or so of information collected there for people.  My involvement is mainly as a contributor of articles for the site, and sounding board when Sorita is making modifications and updates to the site, which she does frequently! 

In January 2001 Sorita and I started a Yahoo! Club (now group) linked to the site for pagans in and around London or with links to London, called Wiccans and Witches in London (WWL).  This was started for people to talk in a forum, receive a regular events listing of moots, conferences etc around the UK, and meet up for monthly socials and other events we have put on (like picnics and clay days).  The group has over 450 people now and has been massively busy and successful, encouraging a number of other moots and groups from within.

Avalonia is a very popular website, and judging by the feedback in the guestbook, it has helped a lot of people outside of London find information and contacts as well.  We have had a lot of positive feedback from people who have made use of the free Wicca lessons available on the site.  Avalonia is there as a community resource, and hence the contact lists for organisations and suppliers, book reviews, forums, etc which are all there to help people on their way, especially newcomers who might find it all a bit daunting.

TWPT:  You currently are a High Priest with a private coven that you operate with Sorita, what kind of responsibilities do you and Sorita have towards those who are members of your group? Do you consider yourself akin to "clergy" on the Pagan level?

DR:  Our responsibilities as the HPS and HP of the group are somewhat akin to those of parents.  We provide the training, and offer advice and guidance where required.

I am not overly keen on considering myself pagan “clergy”, as this can lead to problems in the community when people go around telling non-initiates they are the laity and they need help!  A facilitator yes, as I organise and run a lot of workshops and talks.  I do consider myself a priest, but I do not feel I have a “clergy”.  I am a priest of Anup, and of the Morrigan, and my magickal and mundane lives reflect the link I have with these particular deities.

TWPT:   What is the difference between the private coven that you are involved with and the InterCraft Wiccan teaching circle that you are also involved in?

DR:  Well the coven is an Alexandrian coven, although like most covens we experiment and try things out, we don’t just stick to the Book of Shadows.  The teaching circle is just that – it provides the opportunity for people to learn the practical techniques and experience wiccan ritual and form for themselves, in a way you cannot do with a book.  Books don’t tend to describe what you should be visualising when you cast the circle, for example.  The main difference of course is that the coven is initiates only, whereas the training circle has initiates and dedicants all celebrating the sabbats together, and attending training workshops.

TWPT:  You and Sorita also run the bi-annual courses in Practical Wicca for serious seekers, how do you determine if a person is "serious" when evaluating who will attend these courses? Could you briefly describe what one of the courses will contain and how many attendees do you allow?

DR:  Well due to all our commitments the course is now annual rather than bi-annual!  Application is by post and applicants are asked to fill out a questionnaire which helps determine past experience and views.  Due to the high demand we are unable to offer places to all who apply.

The course teaches all the basics of Wiccan circle structure and ritual form, both as a solitary and in a group environment.

The course is aimed at people wanting to expand their knowledge and experience of Wiccan Ritual.  We like to keep it to a size that keeps things personal so it is usually 15-20 people.

TWPT:  As busy as you are with all that we have discussed are you working on other books for future release that might interest our readers?

DR:  Yes I am always writing!  I am a bit superstitious about discussing projects I am working on before they are released, but there are a few projects in the pipeline, including an exciting part-working aimed at people starting on their path which is due to be released in January 2003.  I’ll keep you and your readers posted on this and the other projects as they happen.

TWPT:   With 20 years of experiences under your belt to draw upon where do you see the Wiccan/Pagan community going in the next 10 or 20 years? From those who seek out your teaching what do you see the next generation along this path doing that was not done in our lifetime?

DR:  I hope the community will focus inwards and band together and work towards legal recognition, but it will be a very hard struggle, and bring out all sorts of issues which cause contention, like an accredited priesthood, permanent temples and standards of training.  Paganism is now pretty much mainstream – from Buffy and Charmed to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.  At least half of what pagans do is done by non-pagan “ordinary” people as well – using crystals, aromatherapy oils, herbalism, dream analysis, environmental concerns and recycling, etc. 

The next generation - well one big difference has been the internet explosion.  A new generation of computer literate people are entering paganism, which means that they tend to want to ask questions to learn.   I would like to hope that the next generation will bring a more professional and integrated attitude to their spirituality, and be valued and accepted members of their communities. 

Paganism has to move away from the amateur hippy approach, or the desire to be weird and different.  Any successful priesthood is established within and valuable to the community it exists within. 

TWPT:  As we draw this interview to a close what do you see that we as individuals can do to create an atmosphere where "witch wars" will be a thing of the past and cooperation will replace the need to have our own way or path vindicated?

DR:  Good communication and quality events are needed.  People need to be proud of their tradition and not feel they have to try and apologise for it or water it down with other stuff.  Cross-fertilisation is good, but when groups try to cover too many areas, they stretch too thin and break.  I am all in favour of groups that concentrate on one area – like the Children of Artemis (in London) who put on excellent quality events for people interested in Wicca.  If there were other groups for Druids, Thelemites, Shamans, Asatru, etc, and the people running these groups all got together and met occasionally, common themes could be worked on from a position of united strength, rather than petty gossip and bickering about little differences. 

As individuals we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.  Be focused and don’t waste energy on gossip and bickering.  If you can help, then contribute to that conference or give that talk or run that workshop, or even take a bag out and clear up the local park.  The pagan world needs people to stand up and be willing to put in the hard work (and there is a mountain of that) of opening the gates wider for other people to have the opportunity to learn in a safe and positive environment from facilitators who know their material and what they are teaching, and who do so out of service to the gods, not to their own egos.

TWPT:  Thanks so very much David for taking the time to talk to me and share with our readers some of your insights into Wicca and magick. To those readers who are reading this if you are like most TWPT readers please stop by the TWPT magick page where you can find some of David's articles that are being published by TWPT and learn even more.