*The following interview was published on December 3rd 2013. A few months later, Donald M. Kraig passed form on March 17th 2014. He will be missed by all. Our eternal gratitude to a legend of the craft.
It with great admiration and honor that to introduce our next guest. Early on the path, many of his works have proved beneficial in my path, as I’m sure that many others have. His work has inspired many in their pursuit of knowledge and truth. Recently, I had chance to correspond with Donald Michael Kraig and discuss some of his insights and experiences. It was truly a blessed experience that I’m sure you will enjoy.
Warlock Asylum: It is an honor to be able to communicate with you and hear some of your insights. Your book, Modern Magick, was very instrumental in helping me understand the essentials of Ceremonial Magick. However, for some of our readers who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe yourself?
Donald Michael Kraig: Thank you for giving me the chance to “talk” with you and your readers! I really appreciate it. I’m also glad one of my books was able to help you. And I think that’s the way I would best describe myself. I’m not a leader or dictator (no “my way is the only way” garbage). Rather, I’m just a student. I believe that “death doesn’t happen when you stop breathing; death occurs when you stop learning.” I try to learn new things every day.
In some ways I imagine the brain to be a type of computer hard drive. The problem with hard drives is that sooner or later they get filled up. We do, of course, accumulate unneeded files, but eventually deleting them still doesn’t afford us enough space. So we need to offload what we have of value into other hard drives. So by my sharing what I’ve learned—through books, workshops, radio and TV interviews, and now webinars—I’m able to help other people on their paths and open myself up for more learning.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to use words that have made sense to people and been able to present them at the time and place people have needed to get the most out of them. But the bottom line is still that I am just a student, learning new things whenever I can and sharing what I’ve learned.
Warlock Asylum: Personally, I would like to thank you for your contribution and continued work in the field of occultism. It has been an aid to thousands of people around the world. What inspired you to pursue the path of occultism?
Donald Michael Kraig: When I was young, my mother encouraged me to read anything, including bad novels, comic books, even porn. When I asked why, she told me, “because one day you’ll get bored of reading trash and start reading good literature.”
So I was entranced (no pun intended) at a very young age through reading stories of all kinds. I remember reading FATE magazine and sending off for offers for strange things described in their classified ads (years later, my friend Scott Cunningham and I considered making a joke version of the magazine and call it “FAKE”). I was also fascinated by UFOs and paranormal phenomena of all kinds.
Well, one day I got it into my mind that I needed to have a trade I could always fall back upon to make money. I had been a sleight-of-hand type magician since I was very young and understood the principles of something called cold readings, the ability to use psychological principles, appearance, and motions to give a “reading” for someone and have them think it was both incredibly accurate and just about them. So I figured I’d learn how to read the Tarot cards and combine it with cold reading abilities.
I purchased a deck and three books on the Tarot by different authors. I figured they’d say the same stuff about each card, just using different examples and approaches. I would then synthesize that information with cold reading skills and I’d be set.
Well, there was a fly in the ointment. Each of the books gave completely different meanings for the cards. There was no way I could put it all together. In fact, the only thing they agreed on was that if you really wanted to learn the Tarot you should learn the Kabbalah.
I purchased The Holy Kabbalah by A.E. Waite and started reading through it…or rather, slogging through it. I couldn’t understand how all this murky junk was considered to be so important. As a result, I looked (thankfully!) at other books on the subject, books by Carlo Suarez, Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, and finally Israel Regardie. It was then I realized that the Kabalah was far more practical than just theoretical, and I continued studying and practicing techniques.
By the way, I eventually was trained in the Tarot by a group called The Associated Readers Of Tarot, leading to my becoming a Certified Tarot Master. Later, the American Tarot Association honored me as a Certified Tarot Grandmaster. And as a result of my training and work with the Tarot, I discovered I didn’t need to use cold reading techniques at all.
Warlock Asylum: Based on the quality of your published work, it seems like you have put a lot of time and training into the occult studies. You are not only a researcher and writer, but a practitioner of the subject matter authored by you thus far. Where did your training as an occultist start and how did that develop over the years? Where there any people who aided you in this process?
Donald Michael Kraig: Absolutely. I first started practicing on my own. The practices I performed were perfunctory at best. I joined the Rosicrucians of San Jose (the group that advertised everywhere), AMORC, where you practice and study at home. Today, I personally consider their home study system to be more of a general liberal arts education for those who didn’t go to college than a very occult training.
I had started studying with them in Los Angeles, and then I moved to San Diego. There, they had a local group. I was involved with them for a couple of years. I even signed the documents that helped them move up to “Lodge” status. Much of the in-person work there was very basic, but I learned (and this was through observation and practice, not training) how to work with groups. This, I understand, had a rather Masonic focus.
Due to classes I gave or attended, I became friends with a bunch of people in San Diego. We worked together and self-taught ourselves a lot of techniques by doing work from books and comparing results and notes.
Although I had read about Paganism, I really hadn’t practiced much of it. By this time I was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Scott Cunningham. Although I trained a little with him (and he later initiated me into a branch of Witchcraft), I learned far more by talking and discussing things with him. My first formal teacher in Paganism was Raven Grimassi. I learned a great deal from him and now, decades later, remain his friend.
I quit AMORC and looked for another ceremonial group to join. I found one in San Diego that claimed to be associated with the O.T.O. It turned out they weren’t and were far more of a cult than a ceremonial magick group. Still, I learned a lot about working with magickal energy during my short stay with them.
I had a question about the Tarot based on what Regardie had written about it. I wrote to him by way of his publisher. They forwarded my letter to his student, Chris Monnastre, and she sent it on to Regardie. This resulted in a lot of formal training from Monnastre, Regardie, and other people such as the Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, Oz of New Mexico, and many others.
While living in San Diego, there was a bookstore called Wharenbrock’s. I became friends with the guy in charge of the new and used occult section. He happened to get a bunch of magazines that had been published in England and thought I might like them. They looked great, so I purchased them. They had numerous articles about Crowley from a Kenneth Grant point of view. I also noticed they had a complete translation of the founding documents of the Golden Dawn known as the Cypher Manuscripts. I had seen pages of them, but not the entire thing. Not knowing if they were even still in business (the magazines were several years old), I wrote to them asking if they still had copies, and if so, asked for the price. They responded they still had some, gave me the price, and asked if I’d like more information about their Tantric order.
I had read about Tantra. I’d even given lectures on Tantra. But Eastern “stuff” was not my interest. Even so, when I sent in my order, I said, “Sure, send me information on your Tantric group.” I got the booklet in the mail. I also received a date for my initiation into their Tantric order. I wasn’t really interested, but what the heck, I went through with it.
The leader of the group, Sri Lokanath (Michael Magee) as well as the guru or spiritual leader of the group Mahendranath Maharaj, became two of my biggest instructors. Most of the books on Tantra available in the West focus on Tantra being “that sex stuff.” In fact, it’s a complete Pagan spiritual tradition, filled with deities, theology, magickal techniques, methods of dealing with the physical and non-spiritual bodies, understanding time, healing, martial arts, and much more.
I am sure there are many others whom I have left out. If I have helped anyone out, it is only because I have been able to stand on the shoulders of known and unknown giants.
Warlock Asylum: Not every occultist seeks to publish their findings, nor the basic knowledge they have acquired over the years concerning their work. However, it is by the brave efforts of those occultists who did publish the workings that we can understand and pursue the great magical legacy today. What inspired you to begin writing and publishing your insights?
Donald Michael Kraig: Laziness and boredom! Really. I had been teaching the same course in Kabalah and magick for years, always getting about the same number of students who always had the same questions. Frankly, I got tired of it. I wanted to share with more people but I was going nowhere fast.
As mentioned earlier, I had been a member of AMORC. As long as you paid your dues, they sent out brief weekly lessons called “monographs.” So I got it in my head to change my course into a series of 52 brief lessons. I had written several of them when an odd thing happened.
Across the street from where Scott Cunningham and I were roommates was a coin laundry. I had just finished doing my clothes and was walking in the door when Scott, who was on the phone, handed it to me saying, “Here. It’s for you.”
A person who was running mail-order courses (this was before online courses) on a variety of topics had called Scott. He had a teacher who was doing a course on Wicca but who had vanished. He asked if Scott could finish the course. Scott told him to send on what he had so far, he’d look at it, and let him know. The man agreed. He also asked Scott if he knew anyone who could write a course on Kabalah and magick. That was the exact moment I walked in the door and Scott handed me the phone.
I sent the person several of the lessons I’d written, and he called me back. He said they were great, but he wanted longer lessons so he could send them out once a month. So I began re-writing the lessons and sending them to me. And he ended up sending me money for the students taking the course. This went well for a few months. And then he stopped sending me money and I stopped sending him lessons. I wrote several times asking what was going on and never got a reply.
Months later, I got in touch with him by phone. He said that all of the students of all the courses (astrology, magickal herbs, Wicca, spells, etc.) had simply stopped paying. He had no choice but to close the school. He was going to move from Santa Barbara to New York and produce gay porn films (now that’s a change!).
I made an agreement with him. I’d absolve him of any further payments to me if he returned all rights to me. He agreed.
Now I had often re-written lessons, but what could I do with them? By this time, Scott was beginning to develop some fame, so I decided to re-write the lessons, again, in the form of a book. I sent them to Scott’s publisher and a few months later was called by the head of the company. He wanted to publish it. Modern Magick was born.
I had never intended to be a writer. I was going to be a rock star (I play keyboards). If that fell through, I was going to be a sleight-of-hand magician. Teaching and sharing was just something I liked to do. I never thought it would become my life. The gods, I guess, had other plans.
Warlock Asylum: I know that in my own experience, writing brings with it challenges. Not only must we face obstacles in the publishing our material, but magically. Were there any obstacles that you faced before seeing your work come to life in print, and what did you learn from such?
Donald Michael Kraig: The most important thing I learned is that humans, including magicians, need to cooperate. As most of the people reading this know, there are many writers who are self-publishing ebooks or even paper books-on-demand. I’ve read a lot of them. They make Theodore Sturgeon look like an optimist.
Sturgeon was a famous writer of science fiction. After winning a prestigious award, a reporter, trying to downplay Sturgeon’s achievement, supposedly said that Sturgeon would have to agree that 90% of science fiction was garbage. Sturgeon supposedly responded that “90% of everything is garbage.” Well, he didn’t use the term “garbage,” but you get the idea. The concept that 90% of everything is garbage has become known as “Sturgeon’s Law.”
Apparently, Sturgeon didn’t read many ebooks or self-published books. Most of them read horribly and look worse. Even those that have some great concepts will often look terrible and have a horrible use of grammar, sometimes being barely readable.
Why? Self-indulgence. After all, who knows a book better than its author? Unfortunately, there are many skills required to create a successful book, ranging from good editing and good design to marketing skills. I know few people who have all of these skills.
In my opinion, good books are the result of teamwork. The author wants to present his or her ideas. The editor, with a knowledge of grammar and writing skills, wants to help the author get his or her message out in a way the intended audience will appreciate. The designer wants to make it look good. The legal expert wants to make sure you’re not plagiarizing another book, not giving credit, or making libelous statements. The marketing whizzes want to get information on your book into the hands of anyone who would be interested. Even the shipping clerk wants to make sure you book is delivered quickly and safely. The author makes the book possible. All the others make it practical.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t great ebooks and self-published books. It does mean the author needs to either hires someone to do all of these things or have those skills. What I’ve seen is that most authors doing this omit team members and their books suffer. Most ebooks and self-published books—books that may have great content—are lucky to sell 100 copies. The goal for an author is to work with a team to make the author’s book meet professional requirements.
The obstacle I faced was my own egotism: How dare that “editor” correct my spelling?! How dare that artist change my original art?! How dare they change my baby?! Once I accepted they were trying to make “my baby” even better, it became far less of a trial and more of an exploration of how to improve what I had created.
Warlock Asylum: Before moving on further, word has it that you are a musician. What relationship do you see, if any, between music, magick, and writing?
Donald Michael Kraig: Most people who really like or merely listen to music understand music on a basis of something like “I like those words” or “I like that melody” or something similar. Goddess bless them for being able to enjoy something that gives them so much pleasure.
Musicians can enjoy music on that level, but they also understand music from a different point of view, one that focuses on rhythm, harmonic structure, and other levels. This doesn’t make musicians’ appreciation of music “better,” just with a different focus, much as a microbiologist might be in awe of the elegant simplicity of the double helix of DNA.
The concept of rhythm and inner structures or music, something I’ve been studying and experiencing since I took piano lessons beginning when I was 4 or 5 has become part of my understanding of the multiverses. It allowed me to have an intuitive understanding of the way the Kabbalah fits so well as a paradigm for understanding everything from physics to philosophy, from magick to musical harmony.
I’m sure most people reading this have experienced the amazing power of sound in the form of resonance, such as when hitting just “that” note while singing in the shower or in a hallway and the sound virtually explodes in volume, causing the immediate area to vibrate and tremble. In my experience this is the same way “words of power” should be intoned, so that the entire universe explodes with the power of the voice of the mage. I doubt if I could have ever understood this from reading about it in a book. Experiencing it over and over with music and sound is what really brought this home to me.
Years ago, I was in a band called The London Brothers. We were in the studio and were recording a song we had performed live hundreds of times. This time in the studio, however, something just worked. Every note was at the right volume and had the correct tonal quality. Lines of tones snaked in and out in just the right way. When we finished we just looked at each other, knowing that something special had happened. It is this specialness that sets fantastic and effective magickal ritual apart from just doing another rite.
Many people reading this have heard that if you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. I don’t—I can’t—do that. Instead, I’ll do nothing for days at a time and then I may writes for many hours without stopping, sometimes going for 10 or more hours a day. This, I think, is a carry over from my music. When you get in the creative zone you simply have to create. That is when the best work comes out.
Warlock Asylum: How do you maintain balance between the fields of music, magick, and writing?
Donald Michael Kraig: Many people look at the word “balance” and see it as a chain around them. “I must spend X hours every day doing each thing or I am not balanced.” I could never be like that. Instead, I remember discussions of “dynamic equilibrium” from high school chemistry. This does not indicate something fixed and locked into place. Rather, it allows for changes, moving up and down within a range, rather than locked in a fixed number.
So I don’t really “balance” the three so much as let my creative needs move me, letting me know that I am not limited to one thing. Rather, I can do one and move to another. That is my form of balance.
Warlock Asylum: It has been noted that you worked for Fate Magazine in the past. How did this opportunity come about?
Donald Michael Kraig: One of the things most publishers have is a set of writers’ guidelines. These give instructions for things such as how to format your submission, but also ask questions as to why the publisher should make a contract with you and spend thousands of dollars to edit, design, print, publicize, market, and distribute your book. The president and vice-president of Llewellyn at the time were impressed with the way I had answered the questions, and hired me to be in their marketing department as editor-in-chief of their combination catalog and magazine, New Times.
While I was involved with this, things were going on that I didn’t know about. Specifically, the president of Llewellyn (who had previously put out one of the best occult magazines ever published in the U.S., Gnostica) wanted to publish a magazine again, and he was interested in the longest-lasting magazine of its kind, FATE.
Well, the owners of FATE magazine, the Fullers, decided to retire and were looking for someone or some group to keep FATE going. So Llewellyn and FATE made a deal. It was decided to move the office of FATE from the suburbs of Chicago, IL, back to Llewellyn’s home in St. Paul, MN. I was asked to move from being the head of New Times and help bring FATE to Minnesota without missing an issue. That meant I had to learn their technology and workings and move the hardware and files while keeping everything going.
One of the problems with tech is that people get used to something and don’t want to change. FATE’s files were all in file cabinets and on cards. They had never been updated to digital. The production tech used archaic hardware and software, so I had to not only learn FATE’s system, but bring it into the modern era.
I had already been responsible for helping move the production of New Times from typesetting machines with printers that cost about $1 per page of output (unbelievably expensive) to computers and laser printers which saved the company thousands of dollars. So converting FATE’s old software and hardware combination was something I was able to handle. When it was done I was asked to become the editor-in-chief of FATE. I accepted, and that lasted for three years. I regret that we never had the time or the funds to digitize all of the files.
Warlock Asylum: Today, you’re involved in the publishing process and signed to Llewellyn Worldwide. What is your role with Llewellyn Worldwide exactly, and what have you learned about the publishing process since being involved with the company?
Donald Michael Kraig: I’m actually doing several things for Llewellyn right now. First, I’m an editor for both their consumer magazine, New Worlds of Mind and Spirit, and for their Trade Catalog that goes to book sellers all over the world. Second, I’m a blogger and try to write a blog post for Llewellyn about twice a week. You can find it here: http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/magick/ . Third, I am the editor of Llewellyn’s Free Encyclopedia. You can find it here: http://www.llewellyn.com/encyclopedia/index.php . I think it is probably the largest and most complete encyclopedia of its type on the internet. I’m still working at adding entries to it. If any of your readers notes something that has been left out or should be added to, please let me know. It will help other people looking for information and, of course, you’ll receive credit for it. Fourth, because I’ve been one of my frequent workshops and appearances, I’ve become a de facto Llewellyn representative. Fifth, because I’m not a specialist in just one area of the occult, I’m often called upon by some people at Llewellyn to add input about the value and importance of certain books and concepts. And finally, and most recently, I have become an acquisitions editor for Llewellyn, specializing in “Magic(k) and Occult Topics.” So if any of your readers have a manuscript, or are thinking about doing a manuscript on these topics, please give me the option of considering it for publication with Llewellyn. You can email me here: DonK@Llewellyn.com
Warlock Asylum: How did you get involved in the work of being a hypnotherapist, and in what ways has it enriched your approach to magick and mysticism overall?
Donald Michael Kraig: I had been interested in hypnosis since I was a kid. Yes, I sent my 25¢ to get a “Hypno Coin” that guaranteed I would be able to hypnotize anyone. It didn’t work for me for a variety of reasons, but my interest was still there.
Later, in college, I had my first out-of-body experience when my girlfriend hypnotized me. We, and some of our friends, would hypnotize each other for spiritual exploration into past lives.
In 1999, my girlfriend at the time offered to pay our way to a 3-day hypnosis training. This was my first real structured training, and I took to it like crazy. Since then I have read hundreds of books, taken dozens of trainings, led over 1,000 people into experiencing past lives, have become a certified hypnosis trainer, and have helped many people change their unwanted behaviors with hypnotherapy.
One of the ways in which my training and experience with hypnosis have helped me when it comes to magick and mysticism is that I’ve been able to develop greater discrimination between reality and fantasy. Today, in the occult world, most people learn hypnosis out of a book or from someone who read a book, considers himself or herself an expert, and now teaches it. The induction method usually taught is the achingly slow technique known as progressive relaxation (or progressive muscle relaxation). This technique is very effective as a precursor to the induction of hypnotic trance, but relaxation is not hypnosis.
I’ve seen many people describe how wonderful the hypnosis they were in was, but when they get to specifics, it becomes clear they were not hypnotized and were not experiencing hypnotic phenomena. That doesn’t make what they were doing “wrong” or “bad,” it just wasn’t hypnosis.
Similarly, I’ve attended many rituals where some of the people oohed and aahed over how wonderful the ritual and energy work was even though there was no energy raised and no magick accomplished. I’m glad they enjoyed themselves, but I think it’s important to discriminate between the real and the non-real. Self-delusion, in my opinion, should not be a part of magick or hypnosis.
Warlock Asylum: It seems that we are both familiar with the work of Rosemary Ellen Guiley. I did an interview with her a while back when she released a book about the djinn. From my understanding, you wrote the Forward for her book, Encyclopedia of Magick and Alchemy. How was that experience for you?
Donald Michael Kraig: One of my co-workers at Llewellyn was Ms. Phyllis Galde. We have remained friends (I’m her distant tech advisor, too) since she left Llewellyn to form Galde Press. She now publishes FATE magazine and many books, including my novel, The Resurrection Murders. Phyllis connected me with Ellen.
That went very smoothly for me. Rosemary gave me no limitations. She sent me some pages from the book so I could see the approach. I saw there was a degree of formality appropriate to an encyclopedia, in what she had written. I usually did not write with that “voice,” so I purposely chose to rewrite my introduction several times until it achieved that more formal level. There were only a few grammatical changes requested and I agreed to them.
Warlock Asylum: Out of the six books that you have authored, is there any particular work of yours that you hold dear more than others?
Donald Michael Kraig: Actually, I’ve done more books than that, but about six are the best known. Asking me which is the most dear is like asking a parent which child is the most dear. I couldn’t pick one over the other.
As I’m sure you know, there are some authors who publish two or three books every year. Goddess bless them, I just can’t do that. Most of my books are based on personal experience, training, and study. So I don’t put out that many books. When one is published, it’s filled with my heart and spirit in an attempt to share information I consider important and hope others will find it of value, too.
Warlock Asylum: You’re one of the few magicians who is still active publicly after being involved in the occult for over twenty-plus years. Since you have started practicing magick, what are some of the positive changes that you’ve seen occur in the occult community of the past few years? In what areas do you think the field of Western Occultism can be improved?
Donald Michael Kraig: One of the things I’ve seen on a Macro level is that ceremonial magicians are now more likely to accept and acknowledge the magickal abilities, skills, and spirituality of people following Pagan paths and Pagans are more likely to accept the same in ceremonial magicians. When I first began Pagans and CMs would barely talk to each other, so I consider this a great evolution.
On a Micro level, Pagans are still fighting with each other and some ceremonial magickal groups are busy denouncing other CM groups. One of the funniest has a leader of a CM group who loudly proclaims he is trying to build peace among similar groups and then attacks the others. I wonder if he really thinks people are that stupid or if he’s so out-of-step with reality that he is unaware of what he is doing. Similarly, several Pagan groups seem to be warring over whether their tradition is ancient or relatively modern.
Really? Is this what you want to argue about? I have always found what people are doing to be far more important than their claimed past. I’m not saying you have to agree with others or their historic claims, but why not focus on what you’re doing now as opposed to what people were doing 50 or 5,000 years ago?
Warlock Asylum: Looking back at your own life as a practicing magician, what advice would you give to those who are newly interested in such practices?
Donald Michael Kraig: Learn discrimination! By that I mean be able to differentiate between the fictional and the real. If you expect to cast spells with your Wand of Watoomb or do spells by simply saying words like the Halliwells, you’re just going to be disappointed. I contend there are three aspects to magick:
- The ability to raise (externally) or rouse (internally) magickal energy
- The ability to manipulate that energy and control it one you have manifested it
- The knowledge of what to do with it once you can do 1 and 2
This involves study (ugh) and practice (double ugh). So instead of making them ughs you have to struggle through, think of them as joyful additions and cool aspects to your life. I would also advise making magick a part of your life, but not all of it. Learn how to work with people, learn dance or a martial art, learn history, philosophy, logic, and spirituality. Again, I don’t think you die when you stop breathing, you die when you stop learning.
Live life to the fullest! There is supposedly an old Irish proverb that goes:
Work like you don’t need the money
dance like no one is watching
sing like no one is listening
love like you’ve never been hurt
and live life every day as if it were your last
I would agree with this concept. Also, remember books are written on paper, not etched in stone, and the words of teachers are their opinions and beliefs, not eternal laws. Never trust a teacher who doesn’t dance, won’t sing, and can’t make fun of himself or herself.
Warlock Asylum: Are you currently involved in any projects and the moment, and what should we expect to see from Donald Michael Kraig in the future? How can our readers find your work?
Donald Michael Kraig: You can always find out what I’m doing by visiting my website at www.modernmagick.com .You can also contact me through my website and learn where and when I’ll be appearing. One thing that readers may not be aware of is that I wrote an ebook for Llewellyn that is not available in paper. It’s called The Magical Life of Scott Cunningham. In it I share what his motivations were and why he wrote what he wrote, as well as sharing unpublished stories.
As for a major work, I have been focusing for a long time on making the ancient traditions of Tantra available to people in the West. Tantra is an entire ancient Pagan spiritual system that legitimately dates back thousands of years, predating both Hinduism and Buddhism. It includes a study of everything from physiology and psychology to magick and divination. I’ve been initiated into several groups and have worked with many more people to present this usable and practical spiritual system. I hope it will be available in 2014.