I Called It Magic (autobiography) by Gareth Knight – Review

Welcome to the 200th post on Magic of the Ordinary! I missed the 100th post so it seems 🙂 Two hundred posts may seem like something, but really it is a drop in the ocean compared to the esoteric output and influence of this post’s subject, Gareth Knight. Though not quite celebrating a centennial himself, he shows no signs of slowing down. I can easily imagine him in years to come producing volume II of his autobiography with a nod to Margaret Mead, My First Hundred Magical Years. 🙂

Having just finished I Called It Magic I notice that two full pages were required to list all of Mr Knight’s books over the last 45 years – and that does not include his many articles, tapes and lecture notes. In a recent blog post Nick Farrell wrote that in the British esoteric scene since WWII Dion Fortune off-shoots have “ruled the roost”. If so, much of this is down to Gareth Knight, his many works, groups, workshops, publishing efforts and encouragement of younger magicians.

I Called It Magic describes how all this came to be through a series of vignettes concerning an incredible range of subjects and magical activities. It is not really an autobiography in the traditional sense, except perhaps in the first few chapters. Rather it traces Mr Knight’s involvement, training, work and transmission of the western esoteric tradition from his first reading of Dion Fortune’s The Esoteric Orders and their Work to his part in revitalising the Society of the Inner Light and his ongoing work with the Faery. This magical vignette approach was obviously consciously chosen, one or two per chapter, as the best way to try and fit into a single volume a snapshot of a full esoteric life. And it works very well, though often it left me wanting to know more 🙂

As one has come to expect, Mr Knight’s writing is lucid, engaging and rich with the odd flashes of humour 🙂 The esoteric subject matter covered is wide, strong and varied. It shows Mr Knight’s contention that magic may be found even in the most unlikely places, without robes or tools and before our very eyes though we know it not. From his words and musing, repeated at the start and end of the book:

I called it magic – Kathleen Raine called it poetry – J. R. R. Tolkien called it enchantment – others have called it a variety of things – from mysticism to mumbo jumbo. All I know is that it works – and that for better or worse I have lived most of my life by it.

The diversity of magical approaches and traditions worked by Mr Knight and covered in the book is staggering: traditional ceremonial magic, Qabalah, Tarot, Isiac Mysteries, Faery Lore, Rosicrucianism… the list is very long. In addition there are descriptions of non-traditional approaches to the mysteries via the mytho-poetic creations of Tolkien, Lewis, Noyes and others. And while few of the chapters are out-and-out teachings or instructional in nature, there is much to be gained from them – both from their content and the material between the lines. Indeed, it is very hard to read chapter to chapter without some break, as there is much in each to stimulate the inner awareness and senses and I felt myself getting a little overwhelmed without regular breaks.

The inner contacts and reality Mr Knight writes about live more than on the page, and some descriptions are very moving and very deep. Describing his initiation into the Greater Mysteries within the Fraternity of the Inner Light he writes:

“Then looking up, I saw the heavens open to the face of the Father with choirs of angels and great beams of light raying down upon the earth, piercing the gloom around, and I felt myself as a channel linking the Most High to those gathered below and over the arid waste of Golgotha and thence to the whole Earth beyond.

Following this process came the descent from the cross to be laid out as in a tomb and left alone in the darkness. Here the very silence was alive. Indeed could hardly be called a silence. It was a time of review and yet also a time of rest. The crucifixion seen as a great climax – a thing of glory rather than of horror. Then the force gradually changed from Christian to Rosicrucian – that is, from love to wisdom, as I lay patiently waiting for the day to dawn when, the stone removed from the door of the sepulchre, I should be called by true initiates of the Order, to take my place with them in service to the world.”

Throughout the book again and again the magic described is transpersonal – effecting the soul or mind of a nation or a people. Describing the difficulty of pinning down the archetypal forces worked in magic to a particular theory, Mr Knight writes:

I have reason to believe they are not confined to me or my own group. In the context of ritual it seems that in the deeper strata of occult work we are involved with what might be described as unfinished business in the group soul of the nation, or at worst some festering psychic sores that need attention.

This is the type of magic the Inner Light tradition excels at, and is often what distinguishes it from the Golden Dawn tradition which has a tendency to be more self transformational based. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

Gareth Knight looking forward to his next esoteric project

In his final chapter, Mr Knight muses on his readership, thinking most will be sympathetic with his valorization of magic and look upon his pursuit of the same with favour. However, he also ponders a reader who has picked up the book even though “being at odds with all it contains”, and he jovially warns them, “you had better beware – for something may be pushing you from within that you have not come to recognise yet. You may run a distinct chance of being converted.” And yes, this would be an excellent book to give to those unsympathetic with magic. It is easy to read and shows throughout its pages what true magic is – not the kind concerned with getting more sex or money, not the kind serving a delusional fantasy of being an independent immortal spirit though a misunderstanding of alchemy, not even the kind which promotes individual soul transformation as if we are separate to the world – but the kind that inevitably arises from the response Mr Knight gave as young initiate in 1954 when questioned why he wished to enter the mysteries; I desire to know in order to serve.

Well into his sixth decade of service, Mr Knight continues to inspire, teach and enable those also wishing to serve. May he live long and prosper!

 

I Called it Magic by Gareth Knight, available now in limited edition (if any left) from Skylight Press, or soon from Book Depository, Amazon and all around the world.

5 comments

  1. MvdV · October 17, 2011

    I love the fact that your post finishes in line with that great quote from the man himself.

    Nicely done again Peregrin.

  2. Rebsie · October 17, 2011

    Thank you for being the first to review the book … we are all well chuffed!

  3. Mike Howard · October 31, 2011

    Gareth Knight is one of the last ‘greats’ of the 20th century magical revival. Where are his replacements today? Sadly few are worthy to follow in his footsteps.

    What is remarkable about GK is his apparent tolerance of so many forms of esoteric expression. This is illustrated by his wide ranging interest and involvement at a serious level in the many varied aspects of the Western magical tradition from the Grail Mysteries to faery lore..

    May he live long and prosper!

  4. Peregrin · November 1, 2011

    Hi Mike,

    yes good points. Though of course, you yourself and a few others have been quietly working a fair few traditions and mysteries for 40+ years now by my reckoning :). Any pagan inclined readers who do not know Mike’s work should scoot on over to his site: http://www.the-cauldron.org.uk. As a teenage pagan I came across a stack issues of the Cauldron and was immediately struck by their brilliance and depth. There was nothing else like it, and I guess there still isn’t . Thanks.

  5. Rebsie · November 6, 2011

    Yes, let’s hear it for The Cauldron. An intelligent and broad-minded magazine which is still a breath of fresh air even after all these years. And all this time run by one editor – what a fantastic achievement. 35 years of commitment and dedication while maintaining a high editorial standard – may Mike live long and prosper too!

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