Donald Michael Kraig

by Michael Szul on 2004-06-15 18:46:08 tags: donald michael kraig, modern magick

As much as I am influenced by Taoism, Soren Kierkegaard, and countless other religious and philosophical texts and figure-heads, Donald Michael Kraig’s masterpiece, Modern Magick, was the pillar of support that I constantly fell back on during times of the “dark night” and moments of indecision.

Kraig’s tome has survived on reputation and usability in an era where fad magick and new age fluff battle it out for your curious attention. There is no other book in the last two decades that comes close to Modern Magick in presenting all that it claims it entails – not a single one.


It has been roughly sixteen years since the publication of Modern Magick. Why do you think that your book has survived through so many paradigms and competing texts to remain the most significant training manual in the modern era?

First, thank you very much for the compliment! I think there are many reasons that MM [Modern Magick] has remained popular. It came our fortuitously at the right place and at the right time, so people were ready for it. It provides a structured learning system – you begin at the beginning and each chapter or “lesson” adds a bit more to what came before. It is ecumenical in that it can really prepare a person for just about any system he or she eventually wants to follow. It was one of the first books on ceremonial magick that was “Pagan friendly.”

Because of its design as a series of lessons, various groups have used it as a basis for their studies. Thankfully, most groups have not followed it slavishly, adding or subtracting as is appropriate to their group. One organization even used the text as the majority of their “secret” lessons, charging people hundreds of dollars for them!

So it really was a combination of things that fell together. If there was anything I specifically did in the writing, I would say that I approached it with two concepts: people reading it were not stupid (and therefore I shouldn’t “write down” to them) and people reading it were lacking information (so I shouldn’t assume they previously knew anything). Unfortunately, I’ve read books where authors either assume a great deal of common knowledge on the part of the reader, or write as if the reader is an idiot and they, the great writer, have come down from Olympus to share their great wisdom. I think people can detect that in a writing style and are not pleased with it.

A few years ago, a person asked me if I ever thought about what it would be like 50 years from now when people were still reading MM and seeing it on the same level as Crowley, Regardie, et al. My first response was, “I hope not!” MM speaks to certain people in a certain way at a certain time. I actually hope that someone will write something that will appeal to future generations in a way that is superior to MM and that my book becomes thought of as “Oh yeah, we used to read that years ago.”

I truly believe that we must evolve or die. This goes for magick, too. Modern Magick was about what people are doing in this cycle of time. In the future, there will be new needs and new approaches. I hope somebody will write that book to indicate how magick has evolved.

What do you see as the most significant change in the occult community since the publication of your book?

The availability of information through books and the Internet. This has been an incredible blessing. For example, if people are interested in Enochian magick, the works of Benjamin Rowe are easily available. They show imaginative, creative, and powerful ways to expand upon Dee and Kelly’s work. Nothing like that was available when I first started looking at that system. As the result of the availability of information, people who previously had to find a group or groups to study with – and then were limited to what the group(s) taught – now have far more opportunity and potential.

However, just as this is a wonderful opportunity, it is also a curse. The fast availability of information does not make it useful, accurate, or complete. For every book that’s a CNN, there are two web sites that are a Drudge. Further, without a training formula, there are people who have highly incomplete training and are now teaching. Information that is available is frequently raw or inaccurate, and without a model to guide a person, someone studying such stuff is looking to the left for things that are on the right. Collecting information does not equal obtainment of knowledge or wisdom.

Further, the availability of information through books and the internet, besides providing incomplete or inaccurate information (along with complete and accurate information – but how does a new person know the difference?) also has established the independent person rather than the group as a norm. This means that anyone, anywhere, anytime, can do the study, practice, and work. That’s great! But it also means that people don’t have personal mentors, people with common interests they can directly communicate with (email, IM, and even videoconferencing is not the same as being in the same room with a person). How can you know about magickal energy if you’ve never experienced magickal energy? That requires working with a person who knows how to generate and direct magickal energy. That means being in the same room with the person.

So the easy access of information has been both a boon and a curse to the advancement of magick and magickal practitioners. How we make use of these powerful tools is up to us. One of the things I like to say is that “The beginning of wisdom is the realization of ignorance.” You can’t study something until you realize you don’t know about that subject. Once you realize your lack of information, you can seek it. The information is out there. Unfortunately, the ease in getting the information means that many people have nobody to check on what they’ve learned.

What are your views on the Chaos magick current?

I have been working with the current since the time Peter Carroll released poorly-produced copies of Liber Null (not combined with Psychonaut) through a quirky occult shop in England called Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This was probably a decade or so before most people in the U.S. had even heard of the topic.

It was, and is, a brilliant and direct use of magickal energy and technique. It was created and developed by people who were highly knowledgeable in magick and knew what they were doing. This is sort of like Picasso, who painted in his format not because he couldn’t do realism, but because he chose to express himself in that way.

Many people – especially younger men, in my experience – come to magick in order to gain power over others. They tend to quickly fade away and lose interest because they discover that they have to study and work. The ones who remain discover that the true secret of magick is that it is not about power over others, it is about power over yourself.

As information on Chaos magick became available in the U.S., it was initially picked up by people who wanted to do magick, but didn’t want to have to do any of that ‘nasty and time-consuming’ training or work which was required in other systems. As a result, many of the early Chaos magickians I met in the U.S. were self-centered, self-righteous egomaniacs who were proud of their ignorance of anything else, the exact antithesis of the Chaos magick tradition in England, where it was born.

So, I became disenchanted – not with Chaos magick, but with Chaos magickians. And I admit that this has probably been my loss.

Today, I know many fine Chaos magickians. One of my good friends is the woman who first brought the I.O.T. to the U.S. I still have a great deal of respect for the methods and ideology of Chaos magick and the skills of its developers. I have taught some of the elementary techniques in my classes. But because of my initial experiences with U.S. Chaotes, I have no desire to focus on the system. My interests have turned in other directions.

How about the Kaos-Babalon current?

I never met Joel, which is a shame. One of the things Crowley claimed is that each magickian must utter the word of the Aeon. Since Crowley, numerous people have tried to move up the Aeons, saying that they are not really dependent on the precession of the equinoxes.

I would say that both understandings are only partly correct. When a person utters his or her word, it becomes the word of their personal Aeon. It may or may not apply to anyone else. Unfortunately, I would contend that people don’t agree and attempt to universalize the word, claiming it is appropriate for everyone.

As people may know, Joel tried to blend Chaos magick with Thelema. In a sense, it was his personal word of the Aeon… in an extended format. People may choose to follow or not.

I have seen so many people who have attempted to combine systems (curiously, they always refer to it as the “true” system and that everyone else is wrong). Most often, the combination is a miserable mish-mosh of personal prejudices and misunderstandings.

I applaud people who create their own systems, even if it is based on the work of others whom they often denounce or attack. In the Book of the Law, Crowley was specifically told to abandon the rituals of the Golden Dawn. In my opinion, he often did not do this, instead simply modifying the older ‘black’ rituals to fit his particular paradigm.

The bottom line for any magickal system should be simple: does it work? If it does, use it. If it doesn’t, change it or abandon it and do something that does work. The Kaos-Babalon current identifies Joel’s personal system. If it works for people they should learn, follow, and expand upon it. If it doesn’t, they should try something else.

Word association. Aleister Crowley.

People cannot be taken out of the context of their times and environment. Crowley was a revolutionary thinker for the late Victorian times he grew up in and his fundamentalist Christian environment. To deconstruct his writings to show that he hated women, Jews, Blacks, etc., is as stupid as saying that Sam Clemens was a racist due to his depiction of African-Americans in Tom Sawyer. Attitudes expressed today are different than they were when those works were written and it is unfair to say that someone who was moderate of liberal was really a reactionary by relating them to modern times.

When people tell me they want to learn about Crowley-style magick, I urge them to begin by reading several bios of Crowley, along with the “Hag.” Crowley evolved, and in my opinion if you really want to understand the magick he developed you need to understand how he personally developed and changed over his life.

How about Israel Regardie?

I had the pleasure of meeting Regardie a few times. He was a very complex person. His writings were responsible for keeping the interest in ceremonial magick and Aleister Crowley alive. However, there were people working “behind the scenes” who, for various reasons, never got the credit Regardie did.

I would contend that virtually all modern magickal traditions are either directly or indirectly related to the Golden Dawn, and most of our knowledge of the GD is derived from the writings of Regardie.

Kenneth Grant?

Grant is fascinating as one of the true innovators in the field of ceremonial magick. However, I would contend that far more people write and talk about Grant than have ever read his books. Fewer still have actually attempted the work he describes – thank the gods!

His early books are absolutely fascinating. But if knowledgeable people actually read some of Grant’s later work – starting around the time of Cults of the Shadow and Nightside of Eden – they’re going to look at his “proofs” and either break out laughing or call it a bunch of garbage. For a long time, I admit, I had that response.

And then, while talking with a friend whom I respect, she said, “Oh we never pay attention to his proofs, just his basic concepts. We investigate those concepts ourselves.” Well, that hit me over the head in a great “aha!” moment. Either Grant is crazy or his “proofs” are meant as traps to the unwary – or both.

There are a few people who are doing their own investigations of Grant’s work. Linda Falorio’s brilliant Shadow Tarot is the result of such work. I wish more people were doing such work, but for many, Grant’s “proofs” are a stopping point.

Do you feel that fiction can and should play an important role in esoteric development, or should those in occult circles maintain a strictly religious or mystical tone? Can fiction, ultimately, be useful?

I believe that fiction can be of absolute benefit. Dion Fortune certainly understood that. She never wrote clearly about sex magick in her non-fiction, but it is evident and obvious in some of her fiction such as the The Sea Priestess.

If you look at the success of The Celestine Prophecy, and compare it with what is actually in the book, you might be amazed. Virtually any basic class in psychic development 101 would cover far more than what is revealed in the novel. But in the novel it is presented in an exciting, fictional format that readers can relate to.

When it comes to presenting non-fiction in a fictional format, writers have to remember it is fiction. I’ve read some horrible novels that are simply trying to present non-fiction within a fictional structure so it doesn’t sound like yet another book on a particular topic. Writers need to add fiction to the reality in order to make it more exciting and accessible.

But that means readers cannot accept fiction as fact. I am still amazed at how many Pagans spent time trying to memorize the “spell of making” from the movie Excalibur.

To my mind, fiction is great for presenting concepts and even beginning techniques. But I’d rather have a non-fiction explanation, for example, of how to work with the Chaosphere.

A friend of mine wrote a very nice occult/horror novel. It was published by Pocket Books. After I read it, I asked her about some of the plot line. I told her it would make more sense if X happened instead of the way it was presented in the book. She told me that she had originally written it that way, but her editor insisted that it be changed.

I “got” the concept. The editor did not. So I would say that presenting concepts is the forte of novels, presenting techniques and technology is the forte of non-fiction.

What was your first introduction into the world of magick?

Before time began, or at least in the early 1970’s, there was a war in a far away land. Most people couldn’t find this land on a map, but it was brutally dividing the country. In fact, as a person highly active in the anti-war movement, I saw the possible end of the U.S. due to another Civil War (now that’s an oxymoron!).

I felt I needed a means to support myself if the economy fell apart. I knew that when there was turmoil, interest in all things occult increased. So I figured that if I learned to use the Tarot cards, I could always make a living doing readings.

So I got a deck and three books on the Tarot. I figured I could read the books and synthesize the information – since it would just be different author’s interpretations of the same concepts – and be able to give a good reading.

To my surprise, though, the books were not just different, they often were at odds with each other. There was no way I could synthesize A and -A to come up with a super-A that I could present to people. I felt that my idea was failing.

Curiously, all three books did say one thing that was the same. If you really wanted to learn about the Tarot, you had to study the Kabalah. I did, and that eventually led to magick, groups, etc.

I came to realize, however, that I had been doing magick and producing psychic phenomena since the time I was about 5. My first real ritual was done at 15. I just didn’t identify those things as magick.

If you had to choose one person as the most significant influence in your life as an occultist, who would that be and why?

That’s hard, simply because as I have evolved, different people have had a great or lesser influence on me. Certainly I would include, during various periods, Regardie, Crowley, Grant, Chris Monastre, and Chic Cicero. All have helped me incredibly on my path. However, if I had to pick just one at this time, it would be Sri Mahendranath Maharaj. His teachings showed me that Tantra was far more than just Eastern sex stuff. As a result, I’ve been studying Tantra for over two decades and am moving more and more into that spiritual and magickal tradition.

What has been the most influential text you have ever read?

Hopefully, the next one I read.

Seriously, though, it would have to be Regardie’s The Golden Dawn. So many people have it. So few study it. It has information on astrology, Tarot, magick, psychology, Kabalah, astral projection, etc. Beside initiation and banishing rituals, there are also rituals on such things as invisibility and shapeshifting.

What are some of your upcoming projects? Do you plan on continuing your occult writing career? If so, in what areas?

Right now, I am busily working on obtaining a Doctorate in Clinical Hypnotherapy from American Pacific University. However, I do have a few projects, including one on a type of divination deck, one on an ancient system of divination brought up-to-date, one on Tantra as a complete spiritual system, and one on hypnosis as practiced today.

Will there ever be another edition of Modern Magick?

[There’s a second edition] out now. The second edition has a few typos corrected, new, more complete contents pages so it’s easier to see where material is, and a new chapter called the “Modern Magick FAQ,” where I answer some of the most frequent questions I have received.

Some time ago I released a tape to go along with Modern Magick, and I’m thinking of redoing it with far more material as a CD. I’ve also considered doing another version of MM that would be more in the format of a true workbook, perhaps along the appearance lines of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. What do your readers think of that idea?


Kraig has indeed left his mark on the occult community. And whether directly or indirectly, many modern occultists, owe a lot to him and Modern Magick.