Please welcome occult contributor Janaka Stucky to Haute Macabre team of writers.
You may know Damien Echols as one of the West Memphis Three—three men who were convicted as teenagers in 1994, of the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The case against them was circumstantial at best, and the prosecution pinned its case on the the fact that the three suspects were into the occult and heavy metal, and that murders were part of a satanic ritual (this was at the tail end of the country’s “satanic panic” period). The case became a bit of a cause celebre, and for more on the trial itself you can check out one of the numerous documentaries out there. Echols was sentenced to death, and then—after 20 years on death row—he was somewhat suddenly and surprisingly released.
In High Magick, Echols has created “a guide to the spiritual practices that saved my life on death row.” He means this quite literally, on two levels: for Echols attributes his ability to stay centered and survive the day-to-day brutality of the environment to these practices, and he also attributes his eventual freedom to the power of the practices as well. As someone who grew up in an ashram, exposed to chanting and meditation before I could even walk—and who started dabbling in occult and esoteric practices about 25 years ago—I am always curious to see how others organize and present these disciplines for general practice. I found Echols’ book to be well-informed, lucidly accessible, and even unexpectedly funny at times.
Talisman of Tzadkiel: Original painting by Echols
Echols opens with a quick overview describing his own experience with magick, as well as defining what ‘it is and isn’t,’ outlining its various usages for both theurgical and thaumaturgical ends. Part II opens with a chapter titled, “Why Spell Books Don’t Work,” in which he describes the power of intention and energy cultivated in the individual behind the spell—and the primacy of that over the spell itself. This really sets up the rest of the book, and lays the foundation for what I found especially poignant and valuable in High Magick overall—namely, Echols’ street cred in mainstream culture as a goth / metal icon who is teaching serious fundamentals of ceremonial magick that go much deeper than the current zeitgeist of crystals, tarot, and astrology.
Magick saved my life. Magick was the only thing in prison that gave my life purpose and kept me sane. Magick was the only thing I had to protect myself with.
High Magick is a useful primer for anyone interested in learning some fundamental techniques for meditation, as well as for getting their feet wet with various traditions of ceremonial magick. Drawing from the Western Esoteric Tradition potpourri of Thelemic practices, Toaist techniques, and Kabbalistic structures, Echols lays out a variety of exercises to help individuals cultivate their attentive powers, and direct their intentions towards specific outcomes. Coming from Echols, and what he has survived, the efficacy of these exercises feels fairly credible from the outset. Even a veteran practitioner like myself found some of the content new and exciting. While the field of this material is vast, and I would encourage broader reading than Echols alone, I certainly recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in a progressive introduction to magick.