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I met him back in 1981 in Sydney, when he was working with Shamanic Drumming, and was in a small group with him for about a year (once a week, on Fridays). We were experimenting - with various meditation, ritual, chanting, drumming and visualisation techniques to alter our consciousness and manifest changes in ourselves and the world (and then we'd have a drink or two).

At the time I (Rhea) was mostly studying Art (at College) and Wicca. It was conversations with that group, and with Nevill in particular, that crystalised my ongoing love affair with the Creative - with the relationship of Art and the Esoteric. And he was one of the voices of encouragement when Shadowplay came into being in 1984. Thanks chum - for being both there, and here in this moment (not to mention the ones in between) - Rhea


S: When did you first come to Australia?

N: I came here in 1957 as a migrant. I was born in in 1947 in Hastings - the town, and the year, where Aleister Crowley died.

S: Very symbolic ...

N: I tried to work out whether I was related to his soul body at one stage, but he checked out in December and I came through in October, so we can@#146;t have been ...

S: P@#146;raps he was brain dead by then after all the smack. Still, it@#146;s a nice coincidence.

N: It@#146;s quotable. It@#146;s a good line. Anyway, I was just a little English boy and I came out on the boat; we lived in a migrant hostel in Bradfield Park for three years. My father was an art teacher and an itinerant, and continued after that to continually roam around the world - we emigrated to Australia again at some point and my father went back to England again when he got sick and then died, so my mother came out for a fourth time. They@#146;re really a bunch of Gypsies. The Drury@#146;s don@#146;t know where to settle down. I ended up reacting against that by living for years in a big old house full of accumulated stuff.

S: But you still bounce round the world ...

N: But the stuff stays where it is. My father@#146;s attitude was to put everything that you own in a sack and carry it round the world.

S: You@#146;ve always seemed to have art and magic as your two primary interests. What sort of thing influenced you as a child?

N: I used to love the old illustrated books by Arthur Rackham and Edward Dulac - unfortunately we gave those books away. I still have that interest in Edwardian fantasy illustration.

S: Can you pin-point how and when you became drawn to things occult-y?

N: I think it was by reading The Dawn of Magic (aka Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier); it was such an unusual looking paperback - grey and mauve, with a surreal sort of photography on the cover. Inside, it was genuinely unusual because it was making connections between flat-earth theory, UFOs, Charles Fort ... it was the first time I ever heard of Arthur Machen.

S: How old were you then?

N: I was fifteen. What happened was I@#146;d won a mathematics prize (which was itself very unusual) and they said I could have any book I wanted under 15 shillings or something fantastically generous. I bought this decadent paperback as my prize and it really was the book that changed my life. That@#146;s where it all started from. Then when I came to Australia I was interested in reading about other people in the area - going round the second-hand bookshops, collecting things ... I managed to pick up a second-hand set of Regardie@#146;s Golden Dawn in Berkelouws in King Street. You could fossick around for old occult books, reissues of Arthur Waite and so on, as a young student of the occult. It was really the first generation of recycled Golden Dawn material that came on the market at this time.

S: What were you doing at that stage - University?

N: I was at Sydney University, studying anthropology, medieval history and archaeology - things that had nothing at all to do with a career. It was the psychedelic years and the social life was wonderful.

We used to go to lots of the most horny, outrageous, drunken, decadent parties in Glebe (an inner Sydney suburb). In 1968 I met Stephen Skinner - which was the formal connection with someone who knew more about the occult than I did. I met him in a coffee shop at Sydney University where the film theatre was - the place where if you were an arts student that@#146;s where you used to hang out. You could go downstairs and listen to old blues records, terribly scratchy. So Stephen Skinner came on the scene.

I remember he drew a Tree of Life on an old paper serviette and asked if I knew what it was, and that was really great. That was the bond - "mystics come from the same country and recognise each other", you know.

I got to know Stephen quite well. He lived in Lindfield and had a very decadent mother - she loved Oscar Wilde and really thrived on English decadence. Stephen and I used to have this affected style of driving up the Cross (Kings Cross) in his Austin SheerLine - a sort of mock Bentley - and used to hang out with decadent people. The kids from the North Shore - which we were - we used to think it was just great down at the Cross, going to visit the Apollyon Coffee Shop where Roie Norton@#146;s pictures were on the wall. There were poets like Bill Coe who did rather nice erotic poetry and who was living on the breadline. It was weird, and in a way voyeuristic, to get involved with people like that; he really was living on the edge. I practised doing art nouveau illustrations and we put out little prints with his poems and our line illustrations. I was doing copies of Beardsleyesque drawings, some of which later appeared in Other Temples, Other Gods.

S: When did you begin putting out your first magazines?

N: Stephen, like me, was interested in publishing, and really I credit him with making the first attempt at a counter-cultural magazine in Australia. It@#146;s possible that there are others that we don@#146;t know about, but in 1968 we began a thing called Chaos which was an attempt to straddle a few interesting areas, things on psychedelia, progressive sculpture, contemporary graphic art, electronic visuals. It wasn@#146;t really a commercial publication; more along the lines of the Berkely Barb and The Oracle. The psychedelic counter-culture seemed to be arriving at the Cross rather quickly - you felt that you were part of the sixties up there.

S: And after that you produced the equally short lived Lucifer?

N: That was immediately after Chaos. Chaos didn@#146;t work. It was just handed round on the streets, left at coffee shops and that sort of thing. People like Adrian Rawlins would surface and take a pile of them around the shop. Adrian was the original hippy, a convert to Meher Baba. His other claim to fame was that when Bob Dylan came to Australia, in 1966 I think it was, Adrian Rawlins was allegedly the only person that Dylan says ever understood him. So Adrian was a really hip person to know.

S: In that sort of environment, I guess your interests in psychedelia soon went beyond art and literature ...

N: Stephen used to have access to a lot of psychedelics. And then came the day in 1968 when all our good friends gathered together and took LSD for the first time. I@#146;d resisted it because my father said I shouldn@#146;t use it.

My father was mystically oriented person, he@#146;d been a Theosophist and his idea of mystical revelation was to take 20 or 30 years to learn the disciplines, then perhaps you went off by yourself to a mountaintop and had big visions. Whether he ever had LSD, I never found out, but he always thought the psychedelics didn@#146;t give authentic experience.

So I had all this programming but that night I had all my best friends in one house and Stephen was there and had the Trinosophia by Comte de Saint-Germain which is a series of alchemical visions. First of all everyone was just cruising around, getting a bit stoned, playing music and singing. We had a mango that got passed around the room as a sort of a ritual offering which bonded everybody. We were really enjoying each other@#146;s company - the whole setting thing that Timothy Leary talked about was right. It was incredibly harmonious. These are really crucial things. Anyway, Vanilla Fudge was pouring through the room, and Jimi Hendrix. Then Stephen said let@#146;s try something a bit different, having established this rapport with everybody. Let@#146;s read some sequences out from Trinosophia's alchemical visions. I was really flying on acid at this point, and for some reason a woman I knew from University came up and sat in front of me on the couch. She put her hands on my ankles and I put my hands on her forehead - and it seemed to set up this extraordinary tantric flow of energy. It wasn@#146;t exactly sexual in the sense of being erotic but it had a lot to do with male/female polarity. Stephen was taking us through earth symbolism - I think we plunged through a volcano at one point; then there were visions of the Moon. It was going up the Tree, Earth, Moon, Sun, an ascent up the Middle Pillar, and at one point it became a completely ego-less trip. I seemed to float up into the sky and this very cosmic being came out of a golden cross (it was really quite Christian in a way). I merged with his figure and it/he/she welcomed me to the universe. It was absolutely awesomely blissful. There was no ego in that at all - it was the most remarkable peak experience I@#146;ve ever had - triggered by this sense of male and female energy. It was a bit like ... it was orgasmic in a sense but without the overtone of sexuality. I came back down to earth and I could hardly speak. I was just dumbstruck by the power of this catalyst.

S: What sort of reaction did you have to all this? How was the morning after?

N: I remember walking back to my house in Willoughby the next morning - I@#146;d come through this Dawn of Magic book and talking to Stephen in a theatrical sense about Qabalah and Aleister Crowley, Arthur Waite, Regardie and all that, but here was an encounter with an archetype, an absolutely mystical experience that just had to change my whole orientation. I was puzzled first of all that something slightly Christian had happened from a distinctly non-Christian source. But then I felt that this was a mythic level of my unconscious that had been revealed and perhaps there are different pathways. That our responsibility was to get in touch with the Sacred through many different routes.

S: You were to move from simply experiencing these things to attempting to pin them down in your writing ...

N: I subsequently wrote a book with Stephen on Abraxas, the first one we did together. Soon after that I went to England with my wife and worked in a bookshop where I got to hear about the Kenneth Grant books, Austin Spare - I decided to write an essay on Spare ...

S: A revised version of which we published last issue.

N: It was the first thing written about him except for Kenneth Grant@#146;s Carfax Monograph which was quite hard to get. This was 1971. I was very interested in visionary art, the idea of consciousness being accessed through different ways. Here in Austin Spare you had a person who was a trance occultist who was able to plumb the levels of the mind in trance state - who even had his own wonderful graphic sigils. Stephen and I were also very interested in Herman Hesse - who was very voguish in the sixties. I identified very much with the polarity in Demian, the feeling that heaven and hell are within our psyche. Like Stephen, I inclined towards the occult path rather than the mystical path; I felt that the mystics were substantially seeing the universe in terms of love and light. I was sure that Jung was right and that there was a dark side to the psyche that had to be worked through, and that people like Austin Spare and back in Australia, Rosaleen Norton were showing that to us. They weren@#146;t pretending that the universe was all luminescence, and harmony. There were struggles that one had to go through in the psyche and so on. I felt that Spare epitomised that process. So that was my first book. Colin Wilson wrote the foreword.

S: As he does for most books ...

N: Still, I was chuffed by that. I didn@#146;t meet him till years later. Then I came back to Australia and worked on The Path of the Chameleon which flowed from my psychedelic experience. I@#146;d really been intrigued by the spiritual quality to this archetype. It seemed that if one could be reborn by entering the mythic realms of the psyche, then one owed it to oneself to find out as much as possible about pantheism and rebirth wherever they occur. I became fascinated in trying to find as much material as I could on cosmology as maps of the universe and the psyche.

I found a wonderful book that I think all occultists should look at: The Egyptian Heaven and Hell by Wallis Budge. I felt I was tripping again just reading it, because you go with the dying Sun God through the 12 hours of night, and through the process of being reborn, and you feel the sense of His battling against darkness and the demons ... staggering. By the time I got to the end of this book, I really felt away with the spirit once again. The Path of the Chameleon (which Prism reissued a few years ago as The Gods of Rebirth) was a lot denser than the sort of writing I@#146;m doing now - I felt I needed to get all this information out that there were important cosmological ideas that ought to become a part of the occult tradition.

S: You seem to be speaking to a larger audience these days. How intentional has that been?

N: Since that time I think that my orientation has gradually moved towards trying to align the occult traditions with the human potential movement. I now feel maybe I@#146;m not even an occultist anymore. At one stage I@#146;d have been proud to use that tag, but tags aren@#146;t what it@#146;s about anymore. We@#146;ve got to learn that we carry metaphors around in our heads and we can be like fundamentalists at times, trying to give them a doctrinal value, and really all these systems are there to be transcended. I think that the transpersonal movement in America is alerting us very intelligently to this need. The challenge is to take a higher ground in this. We@#146;ve got to avoid these bitter doctrinal dogmatics that, frankly, Wiccans often seem to get into in this country.

S: Not just in Australia, as you discovered when you were travelling about the world collecting interviews for your Occult Experience film. We got the impression that, while you met a lot of very impressive people, you also became a bit jaded by the attitudes of a lot of Wiccans and others out there.

N: Some groups seemed to have nothing visionary; they had their allegiances, their traditions,but no personal vision. Even speaking to Alex Sanders, all he was saying was that he could trace his origins back to the Welsh chieftains, etc, etc. This idea about lineage defining authenticity - I@#146;d come from the sixties where what defined you was your authenticity, what you could bring to the universe.

S: But Alex brought the vision back to Craft during his prime, and a lot of life to it.

N: But he seemed to me to have to establish this idea of who initiated him, where he@#146;d come from ...

S: Which is commonly accepted as being of at best secondary importance even by the Gardnerian old guard, like Doreen Valiente in her last book (The Rebirth of Witchcraft).

N: She@#146;s moved past it? I@#146;m really glad to hear it. We went up to meet Patricia Crowther in Sheffield and she was absolutely adamant about the idea of authentic and non-authentic witches, and again it was all who@#146;d initiated who ... It was very different when you spoke to a person like Selena Fox or even Margot Adler who had been initiated in Gardnerian Witchcraft but realised that you afford other traditions respect.

The English have not welcomed the human potential movement; they@#146;re not really interested in going beyond their original structures and belief systems. They@#146;re interested in perpetuating the existing social structure.

S: Well, the whole lineage thing comes straight from the aristocracy - who your father was, whether you were born on the right side of the street or not.

N: Absolutely. The people I regard as my greatest influences have all been individualists, not group players. The people I@#146;d rate - and they@#146;re not all occultists - are people like Carl Jung, who went way beyond where Freud was trying to establish orthodoxy; Austin Spare, who was briefly associated with Crowley but was totally his own person; Arthur Machen, who remains one of my great heroes - I just revere that person, his vision. The stories he wrote about the Celtic mystery permeating nature just make your hair stand on end. He and Lord Dunsany remain among my favourite things to read. Arthur Machen didn@#146;t fit into the Golden Dawn. He couldn@#146;t understand Arthur Waite@#146;s love of ritual, formality - he didn@#146;t like the power trips.

S: Like Yeats.

N: Exactly. Yeats had the vision. In art my favourite is Max Ernst, the most cosmic of all the surrealists. I just like talking to anybody who can extend the boundary. I was fortunate when I was editing Nature and Health magazine to meet pioneers of the consciousness movement, like Timothy Leary, John Lilly, a lot of very impressive people. But what is so tragic is that most of these people do not know at all about the occult, the Golden Dawn traditions ... they haven@#146;t made that connection. I told Stan Grof when I met him that he should really look at the Golden Dawn material. Some of their guided visualisation work was going on in 1893! The visionary tradition of the GD really inspired me.

S: If you@#146;ve come from an experience like an acid vision which you@#146;ve been told was artificial, you@#146;d naturally be interested to hear it corroborated by somebody else who hadn@#146;t had that catalyst.

N: Yes. I@#146;ve always felt a very strong affinity with the vision Machen explored and he certainly did not investigate psychedelics. Crowley was an exception at that time. It@#146;s taken me a long time to work out whether what changed my life was artificial or not. I@#146;d have been very upset had I found that the most profound thing that had ever happened to me was essentially artificial.

S: You really depend on corroboration at times to reassure you that you're not going completely looney tunes.

N: It was this whole business about validating one's vision that led to my making contact with Stan Grof at Esalen - who was regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on psychedelics, having spent over 20 years investigating LSD. His point in a nutshell was LSD was simply a catalyst for bringing to the surface something that was already there; that LSD is so fleetingly active in the brain that it couldn't possibly of itself create all the visions. It took away a censoring mechanism, the barrier is removed. The danger is that psychic material may flow into the ordinary reality.

S: The door jammed open?

N: As in schizophrenia.

S: Presumably, since that time you have gone on to look at areas of consciousness expension that do not involve psychedelics?

N: Certainly. In 1980 I made contact with a friend of Grof's, Dr Michael Harner. Harner is a specialist in experiential shamanism - he has adapted traditional shamanic methods of visualisation for a western audience. Well, I did a workshop with him, and very late in the day, after about nine hours of drumming and visualisation, I had a peak experience using that approach - I felt that I was soaring up into the air and has a precious stone planted inside my chest by an archetypal mythical bird, and I made contact with my power animals. For the next decade I worked with small groups of people, doing the shamanic drumming and documenting some of the results. Some of these findings are included in my magical diaries, published in Vision Quest. I was surprised to discover, although it makes a lot of sense now, that one can access all the western esoteric archetypes and symbolic processes through shamanic drumming. Of course, you are really entering the "Dreamtime" of your own mythic Unconscious when you use techniques like this - shamanic drumming is one of the many effective methods for systematically altering consciousness.

S: So what are you up to now? Any new books on the way?

N: For several years I have been working in the field of contemporary art, and I run a publishing company called Craftsman House, which specialises in Australian and international art - painting, sculpture, mixed media, the art of indigenous cultures and so on. However, I am still very interested in bringing the esoteric traditions and the human potential movement together. To that end I have just put together a collection of writings on magic, visionary art and the 'new consciousness' titled Echoes from the Void. Prism will be publishing it internationally late in 1994. I think what I am really on about is getting occultists to dispense with the idea of secrets. If things are really worth sharing, let's tell each other about it. I share the view of those in the human potential movement who maintain that essentially we are all interconnected on this planet. That being so, I think we owe each other the respect and sharing to make a much broader connection with the planet and with each other - rather than getting bogged down with hoarding occult secrets and feeling rather superior about it. True knowledge is humbling, and I feel I now "know" a lot less than when I started out!



Published in Australia  1984 - 1990 - In Seattle & Sydney 1990-1994
Sydney/Seattle Webzine 2000
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