In the world of Western Ceremonial Magick, Donald Tyson is a household name. Tyson has written books on various subjects, including his own version of the Necronomicon. I remember reading some of Tyson’s material over the years. He has a very clear and concise way of presenting information that speaks to both, the adept and the novice. I recently got a chance to speak with the Mighty Thor the other day. It was truly an honor.
Warlock Asylum: You have definitely become one of the most noted writers in the occult community, but for our readers who are unfamiliar with you, how would you describe yourself?
Donald Tyson: I study and practice ceremonial magic in the Western tradition, and I write about those aspects of the occult tradition of the West that interest me. Many of my books are the result of my interest in some branch of the occult that I research for my own benefit, and then write about for the benefit of others who might be interested in the same subject. My studies are quite broad. They cover the full spectrum of Western esotericism, and a fair portion of Eastern esotericism as well. I have a particular fascination with traditional spirit evocation, and also the Tarot.
Warlock Asylum: What inspired you to get involved in the magical arts?
Donald Tyson: It was the Tarot that caused me to become interested in the occult. Until my early 20s I was an atheist and a complete skeptic of all things connected with the supernatural or paranormal. I simply dismissed religion as nonsense, and equally dismissed all kinds of occult or paranormal evidence as worthless and silly. I found the occult mildly amusing, but nothing more. Then, seemingly by chance (but there is no chance in these matters) I started playing around with a deck of Tarot cards. I didn’t know how to read them. I didn’t know any of the meanings associated with them. They were just pretty pictures to me.
What I started to do was lay them out in patterns. Groups of two, groups of three, groups of four. I started relating and connecting these meaningful groups by arranging them on the floor or on my bed (you need a large surface when you’re laying out a whole deck of Tarot cards). Well, I learned something that completely shocked and amazed me. The cards were not merely decorative. The collections of symbols on each card interacted in a meaningful way with the symbols on other cards. It wasn’t an interaction that could be expressed in language, but it was evident when studied with attention.
This result was so surprising, I felt the need to investigate it, and began to study books about the Tarot. Not many people know this, but the Tarot is at the very heart of modern Western magic. To understand the Tarot on an occult level, you need to know an enormous amount about a wide range of occult disciplines, such as alchemy, the Kabbalah, elemental magic, astrology, numerology, and so on. You might say, the Tarot opened the door on a new world for me.
I realized I wasn’t nearly as smart as I’d thought myself to be. I realized that the only reason the occult has seemed like nonsense to me was because I knew nothing at all about it. More than this, my studies transformed the very way my mind processed information. I came to recognize that the structure of reality I had accepted for the first twenty-something years of my life was an illusion. Thanks to the Tarot, I “got my mind right,” so to speak. I’d been brainwashed from the cradle into believing that the world was superficial and material, and that nothing else was important or even really had any existence. You’ve been brainwashed in the same way. Everyone in the West has. It’s part of our culture. And it’s bullshit. It’s plausible only within its own framework. When you step outside that framework — for example, by studying occult symbolism as I did — you can see its limitations. But you can’t see those limitations while you are still standing inside the box.
Warlock Asylum: You have written various books on different occult topics, is there any form of divination, or organization that you adhere to specifically?
Donald Tyson: I’m been very careful, and quite strict with myself, about not joining existing occult organizations. I’ve paid a price for this. There’s practical value on a mundane level in belonging to various systems or schools or groups in the occult world. Aleister Crowley knew this — he joined every organization that would accept him as a member, just to be able to say that he belonged to it. However, the price you pay for joining existing systems is to be associated in the mind of others with those systems. It’s a two-edged sword. It can provide a credential of sorts to belong to, say, the OTO, but at the same time, you become “that OTO guy” in the public mind. So I don’t join anything. My early studies in ceremonial magic were in the system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which is the dominant modern system of practical magic in the West. However, I am not a Golden Dawn magician. I have my own system, which I’ve referred to as the New Magus system, after the name of my first book, The New Magus. It was in order to describe the new system of ritual magic initially created for my own use that I wrote The New Magus.
When it comes to divination, I rely on the Tarot and the runes most of the time. I find both yield meaningful results. By that I mean that their symbolism and associations speak on a deep level to the person who interprets them.
Warlock Asylum: You have definitely shared some amazing insights in your writings for aspiring occultists, how did your career as a writer in the magical arts begin?
Donald Tyson: I’ve already described how I became interested in the Tarot, and from the study of the Tarot was led to study other aspects of Western magic. When I was building my New Magus system of Mercury-centric magic, I made an enormous number of detailed notes for my own use. After I had amassed hundreds of pages of notes, it dawned on me that they might form the basis for a book. Until then I had not the slightest intention of ever writing anything about magic. It had never even occurred to me that I might one day write about it. But when I saw all the notes gathered together, I thought, maybe there is a book here. And so there was — my first book, The New Magus. I sent the manuscript to Carl Weschcke, owner of Llewellyn Publications in Minnesota, and Carl accepted it.
While waiting for the book to make its way to the press, I became interested in the runes, and began to study them. Not much had been written about the esoteric uses of runes at that point — Ralph Blum’s book of divination by rune stones was out, but Edred Thorson’s books on the Germanic runes had not yet been published. I found myself doing a lot of original work on the magical uses of runes, and decided to write a second book, which became Rune Magic. Llewellyn eventually published that also.
Warlock Asylum: Recently I had a conversation with another Gate-Walker Ben Nix, and we both noted that your writings covering the Lovecraftian Mythos have been published in what seems to be rapid succession. When did your interest in Lovecraft begin, and what inspired you to write your own version of the Necronomicon?
Donald Tyson: I’ve had a deep affection for Lovecraft’s stories since my early teens. I may have been an atheist and skeptic at that age, but even so, I loved reading ghost and horror stories (just as did another atheist and skeptic, H. P. Lovecraft). Jump forward many years, and suddenly I find Lovecraft to be a frequent topic of discussion on Internet chat groups and Web pages. It occurred to me one day as I was reading about Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos that I could write a better version of the Necronomicon than the versions that had been published at that time. The Simon Necronomicon was out, and the Hay Necronomicon. I owned both of them, and I wasn’t very impressed, from the perspective of practical occultism, with either of them. I decided I might as well write my own Necronomicon. I didn’t have an agreement with any publisher to publish the work — it was done purely for my own interest.
Before I began, I read everything Lovecraft had written that had any bearing on the Necronomicon, the mythos, or magic. I decided to focus strictly on Lovecraft’s work, and ignore the works of later mythos writers, such as August Derleth, simply so that I did not get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of material. In retrospect, this was a good decision. The mythos I value and love is Lovecraft’s creation — I am far less interested in the mythos that has descended from it at the hands of other writers. To me, that’s not the “real” mythos. Lovecraft is the mythos. Consequently, my Necronomicon is based on Lovecraft alone. I tried, as best I could, to work into it all the references to and quotations from the Necronomicon that appear in Lovecraft’s stories, poems and letters.
Warlock Asylum: I must say for myself that I read quite a few of your works prior to reading your version of the Necronomicon, but was really moved by the controversial 13 Gates of the Necronomicon. The reason for my admiration of this book is based on my work with the Simon Necronomicon. In the Simon Necronomicon the Mad Arab is noted to have Walked the seven initiatory gates, descending to the depths of hell, a rite of Ganzir, and was said to have worked with the Azonei, or zodiac. While the Simon Necronomicon seems to give instruction for working with the seven initiatory gates and Ganzir, the formulae for Arzir, or the zodiac is not clearly laid out in the Simon Necronomicon. However, in the 13 Gates of the Necronomicon, which you wrote, it provides an initiatory system based on the zodiac. Was this written intentionally to provide Initiates of the Simon Necronomicon with a key to the Gate of Arzir?
Donald Tyson: I’m glad you enjoyed the 13 Gates. It is a curious book, unlike anything else that exists. I wanted to gather in one place all of the raw material in Lovecraft’s stories and poems that could be applied in practical magic. I’ve also included in the book a system of astral gateways that is based on the thirteen zodiacal constellations — not the usual twelve constellations of the zodiac used in astrology, but the thirteen constellations that actually exist in the zodiac in the heavens. You can imagine my interest in the recent news reports about the “new astrology” that uses the thirteen zodiacal constellations! I wondered if the 13 Gates had provided its inspiration.
The concept of the gates is fairly straightforward. The gate of each constellation is formed by the two most prominent stars in the constellation. These stars are the two pillars of the gate. When the sun or moon moves between these stars, the gate becomes active, in an esoteric sense. It is astrology lifted away from the formal abstract constructions of the traditional system and based on the actual stars and their actual positions in the heavens. I think the system has value, and it can be applied much more generally than just to the material in Lovecraft’s mythos. It provides a way to viscerally connect with the fixed stars, which are largely ignored in modern astrology, but had profound importance in ancient astrology.
Warlock Asylum: I also notice in the 13 Gates of the Necronomicon that the artwork for the Gates seems to reflect glyphs and symbols that I have seen in Shinto and Taoism. What was the influence behind the artwork?
Donald Tyson: The keys of the gates are based on my original system of symbol construction that I call the Power Glyphs. It is a way of transforming words or names, or even collections of letters, into a single graphic symbol that can be readily held in the mind and manipulated. In this system, I reduced the 26 letters of the alphabet into primal symbols. By combining the primal symbols, compound symbols can be constructed for any word or phrase. This is another general tool that has applications far beyond the Lovecraft mythos material. My Power Glyphs are described in some detail in my book Familiar Spirits. They are a central part of my own system of magic, which has been constantly evolving since the publication of the New Magus.
There was no conscious intent to make these symbols resemble the symbols of any other system of magic, or any religion, but because they are so primal and potent, I suppose it was inevitable that they should, at times, resemble other primal occult symbols that have been created in the past in various places around the world. The process by which the Power Glyphs in the 13 Gates were created is this: I derived the letters I needed for each key, converted them to glyphs, and then intuitively combined the individual letter glyphs into a compound glyph in the way that seemed most energized and meaningful to me. My wife, Jenny, who did much of the artwork in the 13 Gates, then took my basic compound symbol and stylized it to give it more visual interest, while at the same time taking care to retain the form of the underlying compound glyph.
Warlock Asylum: In Grimoire of the Necronomicon you provide a template for a magical order called The Order of the Old Ones, is that something that you would like to see come into existence?
Donald Tyson: It seems to me that the Order of the Old Ones, or something very like it, is almost inevitable, given the increasing level of interest in Lovecraft’s tales as the source for actual occult practices. My purpose was to provide a workable system for the use of anyone who wished to use the mythos in magic. In so far as there are occultists who believe that the Old Ones have reality on some astral level of existence, it seems certain that the Old Ones will be both called upon in practical magic, and also worshipped as the gods of a new religion. How popular such a religion and system of practical magic might become is anyone’s guess, but I’d say the Order of the Old Ones has good growth potential in the future. Personally, I’m not interested in becoming the leader of a new magical religion — I’m a writer, and writing books takes up all my time — but if such a fusion of magic and religion were to arise based on the Old Ones, I would not be averse to its existence.
Warlock Asylum:Since this blog page has become a valuable resource for those who acquired initiation via the Simon Necronomicon, what advice would you give to the Gate-Walking community in general and to aspiring occultists? Any final thoughts?
Donald Tyson: Perhaps the most useful thing I can say to anyone starting out in practical magic is not to become obsessed with following the details of existing systems — for example, the details in the grimoire known as the Key of Solomon, or the grimoire known as the Book of Abramelin the Mage, or even the Simon Necronomicon. Obsessing over details of pre-existing rituals is a good way to lose touch with the actual magic in the work. Such existing systems and rituals — my own included — provided good start points, but true magic can only be discovered by those willing to step off the path and make a new path of their own.
You must listen to your own intuition. It will guide you rightly, and it will not fail you. If a ritual seems dead to you, don’t keep doing it mechanically — change it. Use your intuition to guide you in what changes are necessary, and follow its guidance. All true magic comes from within. It is revealed to the individual by a higher spiritual teacher and guide. Call it the Holy Guardian angel, call it the good genius, call it the tutelary daemon, or call it intuition. Magic can never be imposed from outside — it grows as a living thing from inside. Don’t let anyone else tell you that what you are doing is wrong, or that your technique is no good. They can’t know that — only you can judge, by the results that you perceive within yourself.
Warlock Asylum: I wish you all the best in your endeavors, as you have become an inspiration to a new generation of magicians, mystics, tantrikas, and many more. We applaud you in all your work and writings, and as we both aspire to grow in our own spiritual evolution, we have found a oneness within the halls of the Necronomicon Universe-Stay Blessed
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