BYT’s inaugural true crime festival, Death Becomes Us, is this Saturday and Sunday, November 3 and 4. Today we’re revisiting our interview with Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three. This interview originally ran November 4, 2016.
This is not a conversation about the West Memphis Three. There are plenty of resources for that. This is a conversation about the way Damien Echols has lived his life and admittedly it’s a conversation that speaks to the curious teen in me. He practices magick and he does so in the truest way possible. How could I not have questions? This interview is for anyone who has ever bought candles, performed a ritual, and who believes in a little bit of magick.
Damien Echols: Give me one moment if you can hear me.
Brightest Young Things: I CAN hear you and I WILL give you one moment!
DE: Okay, here I am!
BYT: I’m so happy to speak with you but before we begin is Lorri there? Can you tell her I said hello and I love her.
DE: Lorri…she says hello and she loves you.
BYT: I’ve been talking about your wife since we spoke. She’s just great and we had a great talk. Maybe I’m making too much of this but I really enjoyed our chat.
DE: Well thank you, she kind of makes that impression on everyone.
BYT: I recently saw a blurb about something called a Black Moon. Is that anything at all, in relation to magick?
DE: Well they’re not as popular as Blue Moons. A Blue Moon is when you have two full moons in a month. A Black Moon is the exact same thing only it’s two New Moons in a month.
BYT: I’m making some assumptions…my whole life I have wanted to know more about magick. I did that thing in high school where I bought Tarot Cards. I would go to the stores and buy the books and try to read them but it’s very difficult trying to learn this from a book when you’re just a weird teenager sitting in your house mourning the death of Kurt Cobain. The way that I found out that that’s what you’re doing now is I saw you were performing at the Day For Night Festival in Houston. I did a quick Google and it was you and I saw what you’re doing now and I was fascinated. We’re kind of knee deep in a very magical time of year. I don’t know where to begin, why don’t we start with how you learned.
DE: I’ve had a bunch of teachers through the years.
BYT: How did you find them?
DE: I just reached out. I’d come across a book that had a huge impact on me so I would start researching the author, trying to find their address. Sometimes it would pan out, sometimes it wouldn’t. I made a lot of great friends that way. Michelle Belanger has written a bunch of books on magic like the Psychic Vampire Codex. She’s become a really dear friend to me. We’ve done magick together here in New York. My entire life nothing has mattered to me….magick has been the most important thing to me.
BYT: Can you define magick?
DE: People confuse magick and witchcraft. They use those words interchangeably like they’re the same thing. They’re not. Wicca or witchcraft is a religion. Magick is a practice, it’s a kind of science. Magick spelled with a k is like an amalgamation of gnostic Christianity, esoteric Judaism, ancient Chinese Daoist energy circulation practices, and more. The particular current of magic I follow, that is dearest to me, was from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which came around in the middle 1800’s. People like the poet W.B. Yates was a member as well as Aleister Crowley.
BYT: Now Aleister Crowley took it to some creepy places. He ended up in some questionable places with his practices.
DE: It depends on who you ask. You have a lot of people who have no concept of what in the fuck they’re reading when they read Aleister Crowley.
BYT: So he wasn’t doing some vastly inappropriate sexual things?
DE: Possibly. He practiced Tantra which in essence is Buddha sex magick. People in the west have been raised with this idea that sex is dirty and it’s divorced from the spiritual spectrum. It’s not at all. People in Eastern Cultures have used sex as magickal or spiritual practices for thousands of years. It’s the Puritanism in the West. Aleister Crowley’s main focus was tantric sex magick. There’s one example of something he did…your average person picks up his books because they want to feel spooky. There is nothing spooky about magick. It’s an incredibly beautiful, rich, centuries if not thousands of years old spiritual tradition that is just as valid and intense and life-affirming as anything you would find in the East. One example of how his writings get taken out of context…when I was in court they read a chapter about how he had sacrificed thousands of unborn children everyday of his life for a certain number of years. They were like “See that! This is proof that this man promoted human sacrifice.” It was because they don’t know what the hell they’re reading. At the time of that writing it was illegal to write about sex in England.
BYT: Oh, that’s a metaphor. He’s talking about sperm!
DE: Exactly…normally whenever he writes something the number of the chapter is somehow tied into numerology and the Kabbalah but not that time. That was chapter 69 and it was titled How to Succeed and How to Suck Eggs.
BYT: Oh! Suck Seed and Suck Eggs.
DE: Yes! He’s talking about a meditation practice where you circulate energy between you and your sexual partner.
BYT: Who would have thought he was such a master of puns. This is a formal apology to Aleister Crowley and all of his followers. How annoying is it having that knowledge and sitting in court, watching those yahoos sitting in court getting it wrong.
DE: It’s incredibly annoying, not just for that reason, but you know if you tried to explain it to them they have no desire to even hear the truth at all.
BYT: Well not then, not on the heels of the Satanic Panic. And I’m not going to pigeon-hole everyone in the south but they’re known for their narrow-minded Christian thinking. I apologize for this tangent but I’m kind of a master of them. You could say I practice Tangent Sex. I’ll try to keep it as linear as possible. This happens with every interview.
DE: Ha ha ha, I’m the same way. You asked me the definition of magick and I went off talking about 69’ing and sperm.
BYT: Listen, I talk about 69’ing every day.
DE: Okay so my interest in magick started when I was seven-years-old. My family is almost completely illiterate. I don’t think I ever saw any of them reading a book. They would read the National Enquirer. I remember seeing an ad on the back of one advertising for a book that said “Send away $5.95 and we’ll send you a book to learn magic!” I remember thinking “Oh my God, this is the most important thing in the world.”
BYT: You didn’t understand what that meant, at the time, right? You probably thought you were going to learn how to float.
DE: Exactly, exactly. I thought it was going to be like Harry Potter. Even at that moment I thought if you can practice magick and devote your life to magick then why does anything else in the world matter. I’ve sort of lived in that mindset my entire life. Magick is the most overriding thing in my life for me.
BYT: To think that those assholes used that to put you away unjustly, to take a thing you loved and turn it against you must have been beyond frustrating. I realize frustrating is a ridiculous word to describe what happened.
DE: It still happens. Recently I posted something on Facebook, and I fucking hate Facebook. It’s a vile pit of stupidity, a stain on humanity. I posted something about a particular Archangel I was doing artwork in relation to. Somebody immediately starts posting “I can’t find this angel in the Bible therefore it’s Satanic.”
BYT: Not every angel is listed in the Bible.
DE: Exactly, there are only 3 angelic names in the Bible.
BYT: Yes…Michael, Gabriel and….
BYT: Yes! I was going to say Leonardo, Michelangelo…but those are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
DE: Ha ha ha ha
BYT: And great painters. I want to ask more specific questions about magick. I don’t want to talk about your time in prison, no offense I don’t care. I’m sure you had a really great time. Oh no, that was an awful thing to say. I asked Lorri if you were going to mind if we made fun of that a little bit. I don’t want you to be sad.
DE: Ha ha ha…I have a friend who refers to that time as “The Good ol’ Days,” so I’ve heard it all.
BYT: We’ll call it Voldemort: The Time That Shall Not Be Named. How were you able to keep practicing while in prison? I can’t imagine the prison guards would be okay with it, especially since people were of the mind that that’s what got you there. Were you able to get books, etc…?
DE: Most of the time they had no idea what in the hell they were even looking at. If the book didn’t say Witchcraft on it, they didn’t know. For example if you had a book with the word Kabbalah on it…like you said these were people in the deep south. They just didn’t know. You can break magick down into component parts and get books on those parts. I always call the people who read the books but don’t practice March Hare Magicians. If you read the books it’s not going to accomplish very much in your life.
BYT: Don’t I know it.
DE: If you don’t actually do the practice then you’re not going to get very far. It’s half and half. Fifty percent is you have to read the books because the books are always going to take you to places you wouldn’t go on your own, thinking wise. The other part is actually doing the work. You find that the more you do it, the more you go along the path, the more those two things become intertwined. By the time I got out of prison I was practicing magick anywhere from 7-8 hours a day. Most people who call themselves magicians aren’t actually practicing anything. They’re just sitting around reading books and having philosophical discussions, arguing about it on the Internet. That kind of crap isn’t going to get you anywhere. For me a lot of it was practicing. If I could only get one book I may read that book five times and while you’re practicing you’re doing to understand that book on a deeper and deeper level every time.
BYT: I assume that what you mean by practice you’re doing whatever the book is suggesting.
DE: For magick there are certain core practices that you do over and over again, that are daily routines. One of them is called the Middle Pillar. Everyone is familiar with the Chakra system of the Eastern traditions. In magick you have a similar system only there are only 5 energy centers located in slightly different parts of the body and they have Hebrew mantras. You would spend an hour a day stirring these energy centers up, cranking them up because we don’t use them in life. The longer we don’t use them the more they atrophy. A lot of it is getting your body’s natural energy centers up and moving again so you can pull it up through you and push it out for specific practices. There are all these different practices that are at the very core of magick. Think of them like calisthenics for your energy body to make you stronger on an energetic level so your magick is far more effectiver over time.
BYT: What is the difference between inside of your body and outside of your body? Breathing is just breathing.
DE: We have Meridians that run through our energy body just like veins and arteries run through our physical bodies. So when you go to get acupuncture, for example, that’s what they’re working on. They’re working on the energy Meridians that get clogged. Whenever you’re doing a lot of, say the Middle Pillar, you’re unclogging all those Meridians. You’re taking energy into yourself then forcing it outwards. So, one of the main ways we channel energy is through the palms of our hands. Our hands have tiny Chakras, tiny energy centers, that are directly attached to our heart Chakra. That’s why it feels so good when you hold hands with someone you love. You basically just joined hearts.
BYT: And you would do that, among other things, for 8 hours a day? So for 8 hours a day you were trying to get balanced?
DE: Yes, once I got out I was so psychologically, emotionally shattered that I couldn’t even do it for 20 minutes a day. I couldn’t focus at all. I wasn’t able to read a book, watch a movie…I couldn’t retain anything. I would read the same page over and over and over again and couldn’t remember anything. I would introduce myself to the same person over and over again. I tell people now, it’s kind of a joke but the only way I would remember someone is if I hated them. If you did something that made them stand out in my mind that meant they were an asshole, that was the only way I would remember them.
BYT: Let’s fast forward a bit to today. Now you teach magick. Spells happen in Wicca and witchcraft. Do spells happen in the practice of magick? Spells seems like such a silly word.
DE: I usually don’t think in those terms. I guess you could call it a spell or a prayer. It all amounts to the same thing. Whenever you do any of those things is taking energy and stamping it with an intent. When we think of reality we think of one single thing. We think of our bodies, the buildings we live in, the cars we drive. Reality is really more like an onion. There are many levels. Just our thoughts alone. We know we think. You can’t touch a thought or show a thought to someone or see how much it weighs. They’re a very ethereal aspect of reality. The other end of the spectrum is the harsh hardcore part of reality. There are so many levels in between. People are doing magick all the time. Most just don’t realize it. Every time you’re having a thought you’re putting energy into at hought form. The more energy you put into it the more chance it has of manifesting into the physical world. So when you’re calling something a spell or prayer you’re putting a lot of energy into this thought to make it a reality. The difference between a magician and a normal every day person is the magician is doing it consciously and not all willy nilly like most people do.