Ramsey Dukes is a pseudonym of Lionel Snell, a 20th century magician and philosopher. He is most renowned for his philosophical adventures in the literary realms, where he acquired enough knowledge to publish a number of books dealing with the occult. Among these are: SSOTMBE – An essay on Magic, Thundersqueak, Words Made Flesh and What I Did in My Holidays: Essays on Black Magic, Satanism, Devil Worship and Other Niceties.
1) Why have you felt the need for a pseudonym – Is Ramsey Dukes a different man to Lionel Snell?
Yes, but they are getting closer.
There are many reasons why I chose a pseudonym – the first editions of SSOTBME were anonymous. One quite important reason was that I was educated as a pure mathematician, a discipline that teaches you only to write well-defined and logically complete statements – so it was hard for ”Lionel Snell” to begin writing anything unless it was presented as fiction. I did try to write a 3-D idea structure to be read through 3-D spex (nowadays it would be done using hypertext) until I realised that fiction was a 3-D experience in the reader’s head, so my next attempt was a story in which different characters freely debated their ideas, and those characters began to write their own books for me, as it were.
Some years later Mogg Morgan or someone pointed out that I really needed to brand under a single name for the readers’ sake – and Ramsey Dukes won!
2) You have gone through a fair amount of jobs in you life – civil servant, technical author, teacher,… – is this a reflection of your constant need for change, or is there some other, less obvious reason?
A lack of a clear sense of life direction! In New Age workshop terminology: my father died suddenly just at the point where I could have done with a little guidance on the significance of career choices, so I lacked a mentor and my nearest role models were adventurers without regular jobs.
3) What is your view on education in Britain? You have studied at Cambridge, taught at Eton and had an experience with Waldorf teaching. Which system offers the biggest possiblities and carries the biggest potential? Do you prefer the Waldorf model?
I soon became aware of the unpredictability of education – you can send a child to the best, or the worst, school in the world and in the end what matters most might be one individual teacher that inspires a life path. I was plucked by a scholarship from a village school into a traditional British Public School – but it just happened to be one whose science library included an important collection of magic and alchemy books and manuscripts.
I was impressed by the education at Eton, because it had so much to offer. It was a good time to be teaching there in the turn of the 70s because the whole public school thing was so unfashionable in those days that it helped the pupils to be less stuck-up. The result was more of what one might term ”real gentlemen” than you would expect. I cringe to think what the place might have been like in the hooray-henry loadsamoney 80s!
Waldorf education is very interesting – there is more to it than I was able to absorb in my 2 years experience. But it suffered the problem of many radical groups that spend their early years fighting orthodoxy, in that orthodoxy evolves (several of the Waldorf ideas became mainstream) leaving the radical old-guard rigidly fighting their old battles. The younger Waldorf teachers were some of the most inspiring teachers I’ve met, and yet the influence of the ”old guard” meant that in many ways Eton allowed one to be more open and radical than the Waldorf School did.
4) What is the purpose and goal of your magical writing?
Beginning in close-up: before i write I can feel pent up, after i feel relieved – something is ”off my chest”.
Zooming out a little: I can get pent up when I hear people discussing spiritual, occult or simply alternative ideas with a limited and dogmatic perspective. For example ”divination makes NO SENSE, because there is NO WAY that the positions of the planets, or the shuffling of a tarot pack can have any connection with events in my life” – I cannot hear things like that without immediately thinking up models of reality (eg virtual reality) that would make divination possible, or even highly probable.
Zooming out further: I accept science and the materialist worldview for its predictive and explanatory power, but I feel restrained by the negative implications of too much explanation, insofar as it creates boundaries, and ”what is possible” becomes too small a world for my claustrophobic soul. So I look for new ways of thinking that allow more to happen, to allow more mystery to exist, and I feel happier. I then wish to share that happy space with others. Going back to last example: the person who ”proves” to themselves and others that divination (or homeopathy or whatever) is rubbish doesn’t always sound like a happy person to me. If they are happy, it is sometimes only the vandal’s joy of destroying another’s dream in argument. So I present a new worldview to them as if opening up a new window of possibility and I naively expect them to rejoice in the new freedoms offered by that worldview. What i have learned, however, is that many people feel safer in a closed, explained world (whether explained by religion or by science) and so my gift to them is received more as a threat, or simply ignored.
Zooming further I see a lot of big problems in the world – hunger, poverty, war despair, boredom etc – and I see many people working hard to solve those problems using skills and talents I wish I had. So I wonder what I can contribute and realise that my magical explorations have created a sense of potential and meaning in my life that would be medicine for the whole world if it was widely accepted. So I write and publish my explorations.
5) What are your views on religion – both Eastern and Western. Do you think that magicians and people of a religious persuasion seek the same answers but use different means?
To the outsider magic and religion can seem very similar – two rival groups of idiots wearing funny robes, lighting candles and chanting – because the outsider tends to look at the practices, ie what both groups do. But I look more at the mind-set, and maintain that the direction of religion and magic is quite opposite. Magic is about bringing spirit down into matter, giving our lives meaning and producing concrete results, while religion is more about raising us up towards spirit, explaining why things happen and giving us a sense of purpose.
In practice there is plenty of overlap. The person who goes to church and prays for wordly success is going against religious traditions of poverty and simplicity, but few people mind — especially if it is put unselfishly as ”money to support my family” or ”enough power and influence to help me spread the gospel”. But if it reaches the point where people are joining the church just to get rich, then the ”truly religious” wake up and condemn it big-time (as in the various Protestant revolutions). Again, the Host is consecrated (an act of magic) in order to bring the communicant closer to God (a religious context). But those who used to sneak it out of church to use it in a healing ritual got burned for their efforts. And the contrary is also true – many magical groups end up doing little more than religiously worshipping the seasons, until a new generation of ”real magicians” comes along to jeer at them.
So I see a lot of today’s popular interest in New Age spirituality as more religious than magical in intent. People today don’t feel they can change the world as much as we did in the 1960s, they rather see the world as changing without their efforts and seek to be aligned with something ”bigger than themselves” — and that can take the form of religion, or nationalism, or supporting a team… or doing New Age spells to contact Spirit. My own guess is that it will be another 15 years or so before we are in for another 1960s-style magical revival, as when people surrounded the Pentagon to make it levitate (they assure me that it did so…).
6) What is your view on the current surge of interest in spirituality, mysticism and magic?
I’m inclined to break the surge down into two parts – the one is short-term, as sort of wave of fashion, the other is long-term like the ocean swell. As I’ve just said, in the short term I see the current spiritual interest as more religious than magical, but something more profound is happening at the mental or cultural level. Around five centuries ago, after five centuries of religious dominance, leading edge thought shifted to the scientific approach with the Enlightenment, and scientific thought (in broad terms, embracing humanism and rationalism) has lead the way since.
But now the leading edge is moving towards magical thinking, even though – for reasons I will suggest later – we continue to use scientific or pseudo scientific terminology. So I believe that we are witnessing a major shift towards magical thought for the next few centuries, but people are confused by it because they do not recognise what magical thinking is like. Just as scientific thinking was misunderstood five centuries ago, and seen as the devil’s work or whatever, so today’s magical thinking either presents itself as pseudo science or is ostracised as pure barminess.
7) What is the relevance of magic in a modern man’s life?
As I have just suggested, magic is relevant as it is the way forward at the cultural level. I won’t ”explain” this – that is for science – but I’ll illustrate with two examples from my book SSOTBME.
EXAMPLE 1. Centuries of scientific thinking inspired technology, and technology has made our world very complicated. Scientific thinking is not good at handling complexity – the usual scientific approach is to begin by paring down the field of enquiry by eliminating or ignoring extraneous factors – and so now we tend towards magical thinking.
In the 70s I recall how we dealt with a software bug: we ran a few test cases then studied the programme or flow diagram to locate where the fault lay and then re-wrote that bit of the programme. Today’s software is too complicated for that. When my iMac refused to back-up I spent a while Googling ”error code –36” and eventually found a discussion of the same problem. one of the suggestions was ”try unplugging all other firewire devices”. I tried it and it worked. But is this so very different from saying ”for a happy marriage, don’t wear green on your wedding day”? Whereas scientific thinking studies causes, magical thinking studies correlations – as in sympathetic magic. That makes magic much quicker in these complex situations.
So, for example, if tomorrow’s news announces a dramatic statistical correlation between cancer and instant coffee, there would be a big public demand for restrictions on the sale of instant coffee, and many people would defend that in the name of science (”it’s been proven”). ”Do we or don’t we?” the argument rages in the name of science. My solution would be to immediately restrict coffee sales but make it clear that this is a magical act in order to give time for the scientists to work out the cause and effect – eg whether intant coffee causes cancer or whether incipient cancer causes people to want instant coffee.
EXAMPLE 2. Magic does to science what science did to religion – it makes it seem unnecessary or irrelevant. At the mental or cultural level, I see the general evolution of religion leading towards monotheism, and that prepares the way for science – because the problem of strict monotheism is that it actually leaves us with two things: an absolute God and this transient yet lived-in world. Science provides an answer by saying that this world is the ultimate reality. To put it in religious terms, science says that Matter alone is the First Cause or ”God” and there is only One Law and that is Physics – ie that science becomes the real monotheism, and we no longer need religion.
So science advances to explore our very souls and reveals the gulf that exists between subjective and objective reality. This explains away so much of our ideas about spirit – they are subjective delusions whereas science tells us about the objective reality that lies behind them. By doing this, science has now recreated that duality – the world we live in as actually a subjective illusion of the brain, just a reflection of the real material world that lies beyond the gateway of our senses. That prepares the way for magic, because magic says that the actual world we live in, the subjective reality, is what matters and that the objective world it is supposed to reflect is merely a useful hypothesis.
That is putting it rather abstractly – so how does this work in practice? Here is an example. Go back a few centuries and I am a man suffering a bad disease so I ask the experts – the priests – and they say God is punishing me for my sins and I must pray. There is, however, this new-fangled ”natural philosopher” who says I should just swallow 3 of his tablets a day and only drink water that’s been boiled and I’ll soon feel better. I decide to go with this guy because I like what he delivers — even though what the priest says makes clear sense, while this scientist speaks a lot of apparent mumbo jumbo about ”invisible bacteria” or whatever. So religion gets sidelined by science in this case. Fast forward to now and I am suffering aches and pains and I choose to go to a local aromatherapist who makes me feel good, even though it sounds like mumbo jumbo, and even though I read in the papers a few years ago that the real experts have done a big double blind test that concluded there was ”nothing in” aromatherapy. So science gets sidelined by magic, just as it once sidelined religion.
It’s the return of the Platonic idea: that the world we live in is but the shadow of a ”higher” reality. The spiritual folk interpret this as the world of matter is just a shadow of a world of spirit which is the true reality. The scientist interprets it as our subjective reality is just a shadow of an objective world of matter which is the true reality. In both cases the ”man in the street” is expected to consult the experts for the truth, while magic says ”just work on the subjective, that’s what really matters”.
8) Is there a clash between Crowleyan magic and Chaos magic? Is it hard to follow both disciplines and integrate them as you have done by joining both the IOT and OTO?
The clash exists insofar as some Chaotes are in dispute with some Thelemites, but I do not myself think it to be fundamental. I would see Chaos magic as a branch from Crowleyan magic (”from” in the sense that it is not contained within the latter). It is a practice of ”Do what thou wilt” that has lead some folks beyond the ground so well covered by Crowley. The clash could arise because some might see Crowley’s work as definitive – a final statement – so anyone who uses it as a launch pad to other places is seen as having ”left” Thelema, rather than having ”launched from” Thelema.
9) What is your favourite Crowley quote?
I’m not very inclined to nominate ”number one” in anything, so here are example (inexact) quotes I like.
For its humour I like the anecdote about the trial where Crowley was defending himself against accusations of evil. The opposing barrister tied to corner him by first getting him to admit that he designated himself with the number 666, and then going on to ask ”is this, or is this not also the number of the Beast of Revelations, Mr Crowley?”. Whereupon AC replied ”Indeed, and it is also the number of the Sun. You may call me Sunshine should you wish…”
For its encouragement to a magical explorer with a scientific education, I liked that sentence somewhere in Magick in Theory and Practice where he talks about the usual need for careful banishment etc but adds something like ”on the other hand, there’s nothing quite like being knocked down by a demon that you didn’t really believe existed”.
No… I’ve remembered a real quote this time. I am haunted by the line from the Book of Lies ”Receive a thousand lovers, thou shall bear but one child. [And that child shall be the heir to Fate the father]”
10) Do you think that the internet is a force of science or a force of magic?
A force of? A hard phrase for a mathematician (however old and rusty) to use in this context. So I apologise for sidestepping and instead saying ”The Internet is a result of science and a force for magic”. The Internet is part of the complexity created via technology and needing magic to cope with it. It is a high speed medium for linking those subjective realities – even if only one in a thousand people sees life the way I do, that is still 6 million people worldwide and the Internet will find a lot of them and the thought-form might EXPLODE!
Incidentally, Pete Carroll invited me to partake in his Arcanorium College project being launched in September this year (www.arcanoriumcollege.com) and it could provide an intriguing answer to your question!
11) If you could meet any 3 people who lived at any time in history, who would they be?
My father. He died when I was 17 and so I missed out on the ”man-to-man” talk and would live to know more about his thoughts and feelings. I think I am just about old enough now to meet the young Brigitte Bardot without being totally struck dumb (to ask what it is like to carry the Child-Anima projections of a whole global generation of men).
Gosh, how can I answer this? Of course I’d love to meet the Usual Suspects – Hitler, Jesus, Shakespeare, Plato etc – and hope I could understand what they were saying. After such an interview I’d even have material for a best selling book at last! I know… I’d love to meet Crowley and there would not be such a language problem.
12) You said you would suggest why – even as we move to magical thinking – we will continue to opt for pseudo scientific terminology.
Yes, I am sorry, for I find myself re-hashing a lot of ideas from my early writing. It feels very arrogant and yet it is almost the opposite, for it reflects a realisation that, as an obscure writer, I cannot expect your readers to already know my ideas and I am therefore driven to repeat them.
When i was young it was said that magic, insofar as it ever existed, was just a primitive fore-runner of science. That conflicted with my own observation that many people interested in magic began with a scientific education, and that magic more often comes after science than before it (for example the 60s magical revival following the technological fifties, the 1900s magical revival following the Victorian science craze). What I saw superimposed on linear progress were repeated cycles of: magic, art, religion, science, magic, art…
I described earlier the current interest in spirituality as being like a wave of religion, whereas the slower ocean swell was moving from scientific thinking into magical thinking – to the alarm of some rationalists. But I also see an even slower cycle, more like a tide, in which the last two thousand years – the Age of Pisces, if you like – has been ruled by religion and we are entering the Age of Aquarious which will be ruled by science.
What does ’ruled by’ mean? Well, nearly all the great art of the last two thousand years has been religious, all the magical texts have been heavily religious in language and even the scientists have tended to measure themselves in religious terms – as recently as Einstein saying ”God does not play dice”, although only a metaphor, he still chose a religious metaphor. Ask yourself also, was there any war in those times that was not at some level a religious war? (I am not alone in counting Communism and Fascism as religions). Whereas in the previous age wars seem to have been more about plundering culture for precious artifacts – the most famous war of the time, the Trojan war, was about a beautiful woman. And in classical times even scientific speculation was dominated by ideas of beauty and harmony.
In those terms I see us entering an age where – however magical our thinking for the next few centuries – the language will be more like New Age pseudo science in tone than the old grimoires with their prayers to Adonai. Art will be hi-tech, religion will pay lip-service to its effectiveness and ethical value-add and so on.
In particular wars will be neither for art, nor for religion so much as for science. This was illustrated by Hitler’s involvemnenbt in the Spanish Civil war – it was used as an experiment to test the new aerial weapons and tactics.
I see religion going down (in this sense) with all guns blazing. People don’t pay enough attention to the sense in which the 3 Bs (Bush, Blair and Bin Laden) are all on the same side – or at least working for the same boss, who happens to be God. It is actually a war between spirit and matter, in that their common enemy is the liberal humanist tradition arising from the Enlightenment and at the core of the American tradition. They are all three, in the name of God, attacking liberalism, and so resisting the onset of the Age of Aquarius, if you like. God told Bush and Blair to go to war – they claim – and the military were not that keen because they saw it as a bit of a farce. And yet we did go to war – why? Because the spirit of science held the trump card, as it were: the armaments industry wanted to know how well its weapons would work in the field, and military psychologists wanted to test their new training strategies. Iraq and such ventures form a ”real world” experiment, and there will plenty more such experiments as long as new weapons are being invented.