Currently working on his PhD thesis at the University of Edinburgh, Damon Zacharias Lycourinos is also the editor of Occult Traditions (Numen Books). Here, Lycourinos discusses his personal spiritual-occult path, some great esoteric publishers, and academic attitudes towards occultism and occult studies.
Eternal Haunted Summer: How would you describe your particular spiritual path? And was your route there curvy or fairly straight?
Damon Zacharias Lycourinos: Well, I would describe my path as unfolding in a participatory magical worldview, recognising and reflecting the objective existence of the pure forces of the cosmos, spiritual beings, living correspondences, and mythological realities, all of which are experienced and moulded through systems of ritual gestures. Although the effects of these gestures at times generates an individual perspective and experience of the magical cosmos, my driving philosophy and praxis can be referenced historically to Presocratic philosophy, the Orphic Hymns, Neoplatonic theurgy, the Chaldean Oracles, and the Greek Magical Papyri. In addition, I have a soft spot for the art and science of geomancy. However, I am not in any way denying that I have not personalised these sources at times through my own personal experience and awareness.
In regards to the second part of your question, I would admit that it was fairly straightforward in regards to which areas of magical philosophy and practice I sought to initiate my magical worldview. What I mean by this is that, although my first active experiences took place within occult currents and lineages extending from the Golden Dawn tradition, I discovered that this particular tradition did not appeal to me, as I found much of the knowledge sections and ceremonies characterised at times by an unchecked blending of esoteric ideas and practices, along with unclear objectives. Beyond this though, I feel that the unfolding of my path has been a serpentine and spiralling dance of initiations into the beautiful and powerful order of the cosmos, yet at other times it has initiated chaos and disaster, both of which have been experienced in magical and social settings. However, this is the path of the magos, where he or she must become the stabilising embodiment of opposing forces, yet retaining the conscious ability to use one or the other at will.
EHS: What has your experience in academia been like, given your focus on religious studies and occult practices?
DZL: My experiences in academia have been both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that is has enabled me to organise and wisely reference my study of magic and ritual. Also, it has made me cautious of not falling victim to promiscuous essentialism and excessive flights into fancy. The negative side is that I feel that I am constantly fighting a battle against an unimaginative and sterile attitude of scrutiny that prevails in many areas of academia, along with myself being treated with suspicion for publicly announcing that I do have a worldview, which was born outside of academia, and which at times defies the legacy of Kantian epistemology and Weberian sociology upon which many contemporary Western academic attitudes are founded.
EHS: The term “occult” tends to have very negative associations in the culture at large. What does “occult” mean to you?
DZL: Well, to begin with the term ‘occult’ derives from the Latin occultus, meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’, and from the root occulere, which means ‘to hide’ or ‘to conceal’. Beyond the etymological sense of the word, the understandings of the appellation ‘occult’ stem from its attachment throughout history to various theological and socio-cultural perspectives manifesting into a mélange of esoteric beliefs, practices, and traditions. The designation of the category ‘occult’ within the context of this book is employed as a fluid yet decisive category that involves a particular human awareness and performance within a worldview characterised by a resistance to the dominance of either sterile logic or doctrinal faith.
Despite the occult referring to vast array of grammars, what establishes occult paradigms with a unique character is the recognition of degrees of established relationships between seen and unseen realities, and the experience of them linked through a matrix of correspondences, which in itself is clearly echoed in the Hermetic axiom, “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing”. These correspondences resonate and manifest within nature as an ensouled state of being reflecting the idea of psychê kosmou of Platonic thought and the anima mundi of magia naturalis during the Renaissance period. In the following, these are recognised and mediated through an active imagination corresponding to the mundis imaginalis, which is at times the initial point of departure and fundamental impetus for all esoteric workings collaborating with exoteric gestures. The final revelations can be experienced as a metamorphôsis of inner and outer experiential dimensions. The experience of these elements of occult theory and practice manifest when an embodied altered state of consciousness is initiated, either temporarily or in a state of a fluctuating continuum, which can also be translated as gnôsis, indicating ‘true knowledge of what is’ in contrast to mere sense perception, implying the act of knowing instead of just acquiring knowledge. Hence, gnôsis can be understood as a specific modality of consciousness, a breaking down of the barriers of the rational mind. Through gnôsis, the ‘knower’ therefore becomes immersed in the mundus imaginalis, and in terms of occult theory and practice, the individual or individuals actively engaged become the focal point of the unification of the corresponding relationship between the finite and the infinite.
EHS: How do you combat that negative interpretation of “occult”?
DZL: It depends on the nature and source of such negative interpretations. If the interpretation of the occult as being a negative affair stems from a mature source with critical insight, I will respond in the same fashion. If, however, such an interpretation is a product of bigotry, ignorance, and fundamentalist convictions, I normally just shrug, laugh, and then remind them of how unimportant they are to me. However, if these negative interpretations turn into a ‘witch hunt’, I will ferociously fight back.
EHS: You recently edited the anthology Occult Traditions. First, why a book on that topic, or topics?
DZL: Although I recognise that there is an abundance of texts available on the market dealing with aspects of the occult, I wanted to demonstrate to the occult community and beyond that a vaster representation of magical philosophies and practices located within historically embedded traditions is essential to further explore the nature and potentials of the occult. This anthology is also a statement that these historically embedded occult traditions should not be treated merely as relics of the past, but as living philosophies and practices with the potential of initiating dynamic transformations of magical perceptions and experiences in our ‘disenchanted’ day and age.
EHS: Which traditions are represented in the anthology?
DZL: Well, there is a lot of material on the Greek Magical Papyri; a paper looking at the role and nature of Seth in ancient Egyptian theology, magic, and practice; and some extensive explorations of the grimoire tradition. Medieval and Renaissance magic is represented in two papers, where one examines aspects of Neoplatonism in Renaissance and medieval magic, and the other discusses angelology in Renaissance and medieval magic. Other papers deal with the historical theory and contemporary practice of Canaanite necromancy, the uses and attributions of incenses in the history of magic, and a historical presentation of divination as a distinct occult tradition. Two papers explore in a consistent and challenging manner essential beliefs and practices of the Wiccan tradition, which unfortunately many ‘authorities’ have neglected. Attention is also shown to esoteric currents of the twentieth century with a paper on Julius Evola’s understanding of the relationship between power, sex, and magic, and a paper on the nature and effects of one’s Holy Guardian Angel. Moving beyond the Western contexts of magic, there is a paper dealing with occult ‘warfare’ in Thailand. The book ends with a eucharistic rite from the tradition of the Aurum Solis, and two rites inspired by the Greek Magical Papyri and Hellenistic theurgy. On a final note, there is an invocation of Thoth, a hymn to Thoth, and my ‘Introduction’ presenting the nature and purpose of this anthology.
EHS: As editor, did you put out a general call for submissions, or contact particular people?
DZL: I put out a casual general call for submissions, but the majority of the papers were collected through me directly by contacting specific authors and practitioners, all of whom I consider friends and whose work I admire and trust.
EHS: Were you surprised by any of the submissions you received? Were any of them unexpected in their content, focus, and so forth?
DZL: To be honest with you, I was not surprised at all as I knew beforehand that all submissions would be outstanding, due to the fact that I was already acquainted with the focus and quality of the authors’ works. What did surprise me though was how well everything just merged, manifesting into this beautiful and dynamic anthology.
EHS: The cover of Occult Traditions features a gorgeous image of Thoth. Why that particular God, and what does the writing around the edge mean?
DZL: In response to this question, allow me to quote some verses from the ‘Hymnic Adoration and Invocation of Thoth’, which I wrote for Occult Traditions,
“Thoth, son of Re, Moon,
You who distinguished the tongue of every foreign land,
You who recalls all that has been forgotten,
You who balances the scales,
Scribe of the gods, lord of the books,
Counter of the stars, lord of magic!
O Thoth, you I adore, you I invoke!”
The writing around the edge is Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Hellenic alphabet, along with seven planetary signs and the elemental triangles.
EHS: Occult Traditions was released through Numen Books. Why Numen, and would you recommend that publisher to other editors and authors?
DZL: Numen Books is a recently established independent publishing company and it takes its name from the Latin word numen, meaning ‘an influence perceptible by mind but not by senses’, which is closely linked to the metaphysical concept of mana or power being inherent and derived from a point beyond that of the mundane world. Numen Books’ main aim is to publish literature relating to esoteric philosophies and practices, the study of religion, philosophy, politics, history, and also ‘numinous’ fiction. As a small independent publishing company they have a more personal interaction with their authors, providing quality service, distribution, and advertisement, ensuring that the author will receive all that he or she deserves. In addition, they have a vision and are open to innovative and challenging perspectives. So yes, I would recommend Numen Books wholeheartedly to new and established editors and authors.
EHS: Which resources would you recommend to those interested in the history and practice of occult traditions? Books, journals, primary sources?
DZL: Well, in regards to resources and especially primary sources, that would depend on one’s personal occult orientation and level of interest.
Journals I recommend are Numen, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Traditio, and The Journal of Contemporary Heathen Thought. There are various publishing companies that I check on a regular basis for new titles. I personally would recommend readers to keep an eye out for new releases by Numen Books, and especially the forthcoming Alchemical Traditions edited by Aaron Cheak, who also wrote an outstanding paper for Occult Traditions. Avalonia Books also publishes some intriguing books on magic, both in theory and practice, and I am also very fond of the publishing endeavours of Golden Hoard Press.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
DZL: Currently I am engaged with my PhD thesis at the University of Edinburgh, which is a study the creation of a ‘magical body’ or ‘occult body’ being a central focus of magical practices across traditions. I will investigate how the body is used and represented within the ritual practices of contemporary, self-described ‘magical’ practitioners in Europe, and especially Britain, through a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and the application of ritual theory.
In addition to this, I am working on a paper to be published in an academic journal examining the relationship between ritualised sex magic, states of gnosis, and paradigms of enchantment. I am also preparing for a paper for a conference and later publication titled ‘From Corpus to Spiritus Mundi: A Study of Ritual Embodiment, Occult Cognition, and Enchanted Worldviews’.
Beyond the world of academia, I am compiling resources for my next book on the history, philosophy, and rituals of theurgy, along with attempting to further create a more complete and organised system of magical philosophy and practice from the Greek Magical Papyri.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
DZL: To be honest with you I rarely ever attend, but I do think it would be wise for me to do so in the near future. However, I do hope to go to some conferences this year, and hopefully present a few papers.