I was sorry to hear the news – Donald Michael Kraig has passed on. I feel bad linking to his personal site since it hasn’t been updated but the confirmation came earlier today.
Unlike, say, Crowley whom I have never met but I can appreciate, Kraig was kind enough to write me back when I was first getting started in this magick thing. Crowleys séance went unanswered, so Kraig automatically became my first teacher, even if I only wrote him trite questions about the newly published Modern Magick at the time. I remember it was the first book I picked up which seemed to sync up nicely with my own personal philosophy.
At the time, I was fresh out of highschool and not yet in college and had discovered LSD. The first few trips merely cemented my atheism. It was fun. It made me forget the cares of the technology market at the time and I had myself firmly convinced that all ecstatic experiences of the flower child era were common to the bible thumpers and merely an expression of chemical flow in my brain. The trip that finally got me interested in the occult I either pushed it too hard or got a much larger dose than I originally intended. I found myself not being myself, but rather sucked into a swirling, amazing candyland of colors and sounds. There was no barrier between the you and the me or the shrubs or the trees, but I was experiencing the greatness of the One Thing. Rather than being terrifying, it was a lot like living inside of a Claude Monet painting. Everything was somehow flat, everything was crisp, and somehow everything was just one step too exposed as though captured on film. Like a painting, the moment is not a sense of the “I am here” but the best I can render is that “I can perceive the whole thing” the way someone looks at a city from a map, or how people regard television. There was a sense that if something was unobserved, it did not exist. I remember thinking “I will go inside so I am not sunburned” and ended up in my friends basement. At that moment I sat in the beanbag chair and distinctly remember that I forgot to make it into a seat and I had passed into the atomic realm of the universe.
Spinning balls of light, colorful and dancing surrounded me. Within them, however, beyond their joyous dance and hum of the spheres of all things, a tiki mask formed itself out of a mass of white worms and iron beams.
It’s like that. Some people contact aliens. Some people contact angels. Some people contact demons. And sometime in the 1990s, dropping acid, wearing eyeshadow, tights, an ankh, hiding in my friends basement, thinking the thousand little balls of rice in his chair were atoms, I was talking to God wearing a tiki mask.
But suddenly I knew something very important: If I am everything in the universe in my Claude Monet world of inexpressible beauty, and I am nothing at all because I am the universe, then who the hell is this?
It was one of those strange moments of clarity when the Hand of God reaches down during a trip and says “YOU”. I was quite popular the next month as I tried to relate my experience to people. I learned that the world had suddenly split between the “party crowd” and… did I even have a word? Now I would say “shaman” or “priest” or even the ever so popular “magician” but at the time I did not know. I simply knew that God, not any God I knew, had simply said “I AM” and I had been in the right place to hear it.
It was a strange experience, and having come to the far side of it, I found it disturbing enough I no longer wanted to go there. But now I have a new and unique problem – The bible does not mention the Tiki Mask of God, the Torah has no such wonderful wooden masks of plumage and volcanos, and the Koran wasn’t something I even knew about. We can safely assume Hawaii had no contact with Persian trade. Sort of vaguely knowing that Hawaii had some sort of indigenous religion, I started cruising occult shops, which at the time were few and far between. Thankfully, hanging out in the circles that I did, the occult information wasn’t exactly high quality but it wasn’t quite unknown. Somehow, by an act of providence, I ran across a first print of Modern Magick. I remember buying it simply because it was the thickest book on magick on the shelf.
It was, in retrospect, a complete disaster. Like any other skill man seeks to learn, I flipped through the pages and said “I CAN’T READ HEBREW AND I CERTAINLY WON’T LIKE SHADDAI EL CHAI OR ANY OTHER CHAI FOR THAT MATTER” – of course goths drink coffee, black as their hearts! I think, in retrospect, that the book was aimed at people a bit more mature than myself. But it also represented for me, and a lot of people I suspect, the first foray into evocation and ceremonial magic. The zeitgeist for my life at the time was very anti-Christian and the Golden Dawn was Christian enough that it turned a lot of people off. Wicca, although I had no idea what it was at the time, was importing ceremonial magick without the Christian overtones, and appealed to a particularly hedonistic set. Evocation of demons? AWESOME. Set of unpronounceable god-names, breathing exercises, ritual kit, and rules? Well that just smacks of Christianity right there and I want no part of that!
The new age did not appeal to me either. I think Kraig did Llewellyn a large favor by using them as his publisher but at the time I saw no connection between the Golden Dawn and anything else. The back of the book didn’t help either and merely existed as advertising from the publisher rather than a serious academic study. Chasing my tiki-mask god led me to study historical views on shamanism, and trying to uncover that one religion which would let me get back to the presence of my volcano queen. It was, the proverbial, dark night of the soul or the wandering of Christ in the desert. Eventually being unsatisfied with the other offerings from the catalog, I ran into Asatru. From there, Edred Thorsson. And from Edred Thorsson… this looks an awful lot like that other book on the shelf.
Thankfully at the time I had, through my own devices, made a serious effort to practice magic, and upon the second read-through of Modern Magick it made a lot more sense. I was willing to actually do The Work.
To me, Kraig was not the introduction to magic, but rather he was the gateway to ceremonial magick. He tried to bring really superlative concepts on evocation and occult philosophy down to a level which someone completely unfamiliar with them could access them and discover ways of framing up their experience – or getting their feet wet with totally new experiences. While I may not agree with everything he wrote after years upon years of hacking on magick, I can appreciate that the best magicians were not born as magicians and have to ever so carefully bootstrap themselves into practice and understanding. His book sits on my shelf next to authors such as Lon Milo DuQuette. When I first meet people interested in magic, I don’t hand them the Peterson Goetia, but rather Modern Magick, and even then I tell them, “You might not like the flavor, but you’ll come back for more”.
Flame on with the tiki-god, Kraig!