A Conversation with Jake Stratton-Kent

by Sir Richard Heygate, co-author of The Book of English Magic, published by John Murray in June, 2009.


Jake Stratton-Kent is one of the few Englishmen who can justifiably claim to be a modern “Sorcerer”. He studied Aleister Crowley’s magical practices and became adept in Thelemic magic, and even published a qabalistic analysis of the Thelemic Holy Book known as the Book of the Law — “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. However he has never been happy working in organisations, and has spent the last 30 years developing his own system of ceremonial magic, based around his deep knowledge of the Qabalah, medieval Grimoires and other methods. Jake lives and works in Somerset, and also in Bristol with his partner, Misha.

I decided that I wanted to be a Magician in 1972, when someone told me that I had the “soul of a warrior”. Somehow I understood this on a ‘spiritual’ level, so a Magician it had to be. Getting started was surprisingly easy. In those days, there were few organisations set up to teach Magic, so I borrowed a book called “Mastering Witchcraft”, by Paul Huson and simply used it as a DIY manual, as well as following leads in its excellent bibliography. This was a good way to start and set the pattern for a practical approach to making magic work. I have found that so many people are “Paper Magicians”; they all have the certificates, but are afraid to make the real stuff work. Others are obsessed with status. I once met a High Priestess, who possessed an impressive lineage and titles but needed help with doing the simplest ritual. Such instances are not rare, whereas powerful Western magicians are, despite the numerous pagans and so forth on the UK Census. Although I put a lot of time and energy into a couple of English and American groups, nowadays, I simply work alone or with a few close friends to enhance my own techniques. This has led to me being happier and more focused, accelerating the learning process and leaving more time and energy for magic.

Crowley’s order, the OTO (Ordo Templis Orientis), is now over 2,000 strong, mainly in the US, but I was involved in a smaller, lower profile more focused English group. Far from performing Crowleyan magick by rote this was an experimental group, which was using the English Qaballa and what they called “Magical Astrology”, they were also very much involved in practically oriented magic rather than religious or philosophical matters under an occult heading. They believed in creating everything they needed themselves as far as possible. For example, they made their own paper from specially selected herbs; searched the woods for the right woods, cut at the right time, for wands; even made their own swords. They kept a low profile, but were real magicians and got amazing results. I became involved with this Thelemic magical order in the late 1970’s and did a lot of writing for them, which culminated in publishing a Qabalistic version of the “Book of the Law”. The English version of the Qaballa, on which it is based includes a wonderful basis for creating your own version of ritual magic.

The Qabalah means literally “to receive” and is often exclusively understood to relate to Hebrew traditions, which only influenced Western magic directly from the mid 1400s. In fact a lot of Kabbalistic ideas used by Western magicians came from the Neoplatonists, and even earlier traditions, so provides an unbroken link to the archaic roots of Western magic, in which neither Judaism or Christianity are essential elements. Creating your own rituals on a Qabalistic schema is not a new idea. Cornelius Agrippa, the great Renaissance Magician, to whom we all owe so much for synthesising the best practices of Magic right back into Hellenistic Egypt, shows you how to devise “Sigils” — representational images used in ritual or sympathetic magic as a focus for summoning angels, demons, or spirits — from scratch.

Making a ritual work needs natural ability (don’t believe the current vogue that everyone can be a true magician) and a form with which your nature resonates. Once I know the intent of the Magic, I can use the Qaballa to translate words into numbers, then numbers into the graphical and phonetic components of Sigils, including the incantation to be used. You then need a table of “Correspondences”, which show the focusing external factors — the colours; the astrological influences; the forms of dress (for example, jewellery); and for healing, the parts of the body, and so on. These can then be put together into a ritual to communicate with the spirit I want. This is how I believe that magical Qaballa should work, providing the principle behind the form to be used. Finally, you have to figure out whether you will be communicating with the spirits on the Astral or physical planes, but luckily here I am helped by being partly psychic, so can bring the experience to me.

“Grimoires”, conjuring books, which go back to the Middle Age and earlier are also very important, so long as they don’t become ‘working by rote’. They come in many editions, stretching back centuries, but none are complete. They are very workable systems and very straightforward, although they have a dark reputation, which is not entirely deserved, and provide you with incantations, magical descriptions and lists of spirits. It is commonly assumed that you must go back and find an old book which has survived, and use existing rituals or cobble one together solely from surviving materials. Although valuable initially this approach is stifling if adhered to too long, and ignores the fact that these old rites were based on some kind of symbolic language which could be used creatively. My ‘favourite grimoire’ is the Grimorium Verum, I have spent a long time synthesising the various editions into a single practice with which I am happy, and have acquired all the instruments I need. You obviously have to make some concessions to the modern world, like anyone would do when cooking from Mrs. Beeton. For example, if the Grimoire says, “take the head of a dead man”, you don’t go out and try and find one at Tesco’s. Instead, assuming a skull is unavailable you discover from comparative work that the skull of a small animal like a cat, or a clay representation of a head, properly prepared, will be just as powerful. Once you have got everything in place, it is important to do everything right — such as finding exactly the right points of the lunar cycle to work to and the right time of day. It is possible to get results from quite amateurish efforts, which is why the practice is dangerous and should be avoided by the merely curious. The spirits you are summoning have long memories, some say to the time of creation itself, so may recognise elements of even a badly cooked up ritual. One difficulty is that the spirits you summon may not be those you intend and you could then be in for a nasty shock.

There are about 50 possible spirits available in my Grimoire compilation, and I have worked with about half of them. In each case, you work with an “Intermediary” spirit, which is the most powerful in some respects and will summon the others. It is incredibly important to develop the right relationship, especially with the intermediary. Crowley believed in bullying spirits, which was a big mistake. Bullying may work for a time, but the spirit will avenge itself on you in the end. I believe more in joint participation and mutual interest with those I work with. This creates a pact that is mutually binding and a trust based working relationship. When selecting a spirit, you need to think carefully about the arcane language used in Grimoires and their tendency to ham it up. For example, there is a spirit which it is claimed will give men power over women, but the real translation is that it will help men with all that concerns love. I worked with it to get over a bad relationship, rather than start a new one. As soon as the spirit was summoned, the grief and pain I was feeling went away immediately.

I continue to experiment. Currently I am working with a “God of Healing”, who is very popular in Brazil, Haiti or Africa, where Magicians are much more experienced and have a long continuity of tradition with the past. In my view, one good Haitian or African Magician can see off virtually anyone in this country. Some of the spirits they work with are much more scary, depending on how you are dealing with them, and I am glad that I have 30 years of experience under my belt. Others have a real sense of humour. For example, I was summoning an herb spirit when I was doing a lecture tour of the US, and complained that it had not made me an expert over night. Soon after a huge box of books on herb lore got delivered to me free of charge. The spirit was clearly saying that there was no such thing as a free lunch and I should put the effort in. Others look scary, but are useful. One has enormously broad shoulders — about 5 foot wide — black hair and sallow skin. He could scare the life out of you, but I trust him and he would be the first that I would call if I got into any trouble.

You can get on the wrong side of spirits by being too threatening, using terrifying rituals and waving a sword around. Not many people can use a sword. I have been to fencing classes and also learned medieval combat techniques, so know how to use one, but have never threatened a spirit with it, especially a strong one. You don’t need to, just communicate normally. For example, once I saw one quite clearly. The feeling of power and strength coming off it was quite amazing, but he was standing up against a post, leaning against it very casually and looking so confident, that he did not have to make any display of power. That’s much more impressive than all this Hollywood notion of roaring and shouting. I work with powerful spirits quite intensively. If I am in a position in which I am going to get scared, I take one along, which is useful because if you are getting into any problems, the best treatment is to summon up a scarier ally than the one that is threatening you and let him solve the problem. Much better than sprinkling Holy Water about.

How do I see and communicate with the spirits, you may ask. Well, as I mentioned, I am part psychic, so on occasion can perceive them quite easily. Sometimes you get strange sorts of materialization, for example, one kept on bumping and pushing everyone in the room. Sometimes, you get group perception. When I was in America working with a group, I summoned up a spirit, who was all enormous head. Afterwards, everyone came up with exactly the same description. For actual messages, I mostly use a dowsing pendulum, often with a circle of letters. It is best to figure out your questions in advance to save time. You will find that the powerful spirits will be very choosy — even insisting you only use “their” pendulum. I have also had experience with spirits that actually “possess” people. This is a complex area, and need not be restricted to possession of one person at a time, contact with a possessed person, or even an object handled by them can be “contagious”. Although frightening, especially to Western sensibilities, this is not the negative scenario shown in the “Exorcist”. Don’t forget that possession is used effectively by primitive doctors, where the spirit provides the knowledge to carry out the treatment.

Most people, of course, are scared of the spirit world and, if so, my advice is to leave well alone. The church has, of course, classified them all as Demons or Angels, which some of them are, but I work in the middle ground between the two extremes. These spirits have similar wants and needs to us — unlike Angels and Demons — so you can make reciprocal arrangements. Spirits are objective and have long memories. After I am dead, someone else can conjure up the same spirit, using the same ritual so they have to be either a figment of everyone’s imagination or an objective reality: which you believe in is irrelevant, it is the practical experience that matters. Working with spirits is central to many of the older traditions, but became increasingly neglected in Western occultism from the eighteenth century. It has a hard route back to its rightful place at the centre of magical work, for one thing Western culture is frightened of everything concerning them, and for another even folks concerned with magic confuse spirit work with some kind of dogmatic religiosity which they quite understandably wish to avoid.

The intent of your communication is also very important. Be very clear about what you are asking. Again, this is where church dogma focuses on “pacts with the devil”, cursing etc.; all those things that used to get witches burnt. I do ask for practical help sometimes, mainly as my day job is not very well paid — but I am not in the business of using sorcery just to “get paid and laid”. This was another area where Crowley went wrong. I have used curses and still do, but they can backfire. This isn’t a matter of karma, which is a concept foreign to magical practice. In the 1970’s I became increasingly irritated with one of the fashionable Indian “Gurus” who was destroying the lives and dreams of so many young people. I sent him a curse, but he had his own posse of tame magicians and a huge following of adoring worshippers. So his defense was superior to my offense, and I got the curse back with interest. I learned my lesson and have been more strategically minded in use of such approaches ever since. Not that I make a habit of cursing, I restrict it to areas where my ideals are directly involved, so that the ‘combat’ is something I feel strongly about and would pursue by other means if available. Magical power is amoral, but the practitioner should know who they are and what they believe in and care about, using magic in accord with their own nature.

I have had some extraordinary experiences in a long life in magic. Once I was abducted by Jesus freaks and taken to Beacon Hill, where the leader described how he met the Devil coming out of a UFO and had given up magic ever since. I laughed and asked him “why stop when you are getting a result?” In contrast my experiences, even the frightening ones, have been encouraging, but perhaps that is a matter of having found my true vocation. I have helped people with all sorts of problems, even finding a solution for someone who had terminal cancer. Some people ask me to get rid of “bad” influences, which can take a week or two’s work with serious magic if the problem is ingrained. As for myself, I am very rarely frightened but know enough to understand what not to do. Crowley did all sorts of strange and off the wall stuff, like talking dog language, much of which is not for me. Drugs simply confuse the mind and interfere with access to the dream state, which is a disaster from my point of view. Only use them if you have a teacher who comes from a tradition of their use and then be very careful. Sex is also a diversion, both psychologically and politically. I can laugh at the idea that magic based on drugs and sex is great fun, so who cares if it works? However I am more interested in magic that does, and mental confusion and exploitation often attend the hedonistic approach. Also sexually oriented politics can get very hostile — for example in Dianic witchcraft which is practiced mostly by militant lesbians, and is more concerned with hatred of men and an offbeat religiosity than effective magic.

Above everything, let your feelings be your best judge. Being shit scared of the spirit world is disastrous, it puts them off from the word go and you lose control of the situation. Having confidence changes everything. Put me in a haunted house and it is the ghosts that run for cover. There is a good deal of gullibility in the occult world, but also a reality that can be as startling, and surprisingly close to legend. As a hard-headed scholar of history as well as a practicing magician I never cease to be in awe of what some of the well attested ancient magicians could do. The famous philosopher and proto-scientist Empedocles could raise people from the dead. I am not sure if I will ever be that good, but it is worth a try.

Reprinted with kind permission.
©2009 Richard Heygate