David Rankine and I first met in the summer of 1997. He and Ariadne Rainbird had just written the book ‘Magick without Peers – A Course in Progressive Witchcraft for the Solitary Practitioner’ (Capall Bann) which I enthusiastically reviewed in Wiccan Rede the same year. (For the reprint see elsewhere in this edition of WROnline)
Currently living in Glastonbury, he has continued writing books, with 26 titles now in print.
Besides being an accomplished author David is a Priest and Witch, having been initiated into a number of traditions including Alexandrian and Welsh Wicca, Ceremonial Magick, Qabalah, Tantra and Thelema. He is a regular speaker at conferences throughout the UK and Europe.
In 2002 Imajicka interviewed David for The Wiccan/Pagan Times. He has kindly given us permission to reprint the interview (in a slightly abridged version) which first appeared at the The Wiccan Pagan Times. The website for TWPT used to be found at http://www.twpt.com but since April 2013 is no longer operational.
All the more reason for republishing this interview 🙂
A number of David’s books can be found at the website http://www.avalonia.co.uk
Imajicka: 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?
David: 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.
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?
David: 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.
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?
David: 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 scrying, 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 first 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.
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?
David: 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.
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?
David: 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.
What were some of the characteristics of those teachers you had in the beginning that helped you the most along your chosen path?
David: 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 comes control of the ego and the ability to pass on information without dogma.
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?
David: The books which contributed most to my early growth would be “Techniques of High Magic”, “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. Even if he made it up, Castaneda is good for encouraging you not just to think outside the box, but to throw it away.
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. Now I have a different perception and disagree with much of what he wrote, but as one of those gateway books it served a very useful function for me.
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, apart from Wicca Magical Beginnings and Circle of Fire which I co-wrote with Sorita d’Este, I would say Vivianne Crowley’s “Wicca” and the Farrar books will give a good overview of Wicca for people interested in the Craft.
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?
David: 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!
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?
David: Magick Without Peers came about from the material my first wife 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!
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?
David: 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.
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?
David: 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”.
You just had a new book that came out in March 2002 called ‘Crystals – Healing and Folklore’ from Capall Bann, tell me about this new book and what prompted you to write a book about crystals.
David: 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.
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?
David: 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.
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?
David: 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. I recently spoke at a Pagan Federation event focusing on the Winter Goddesses, which was very good, and I liked the fact that it was concentrating on one area and giving people the chance to learn more. 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.
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.”