“For a story that couldn’t be more removed from the safe fixations of Mr WHSmith himself, Nick Hornby, there’s something undeniably Hornby-esque about Harris’s urbanely direct style and his deployment of comedy to best communicate the emotional roller-coaster of growing up. Because for all the fire, ire and portents of stranger things to come, this is really about a boy.” – STARBURST
MY HAIR soon grew back, my double crown making natural spikes that I couldn’t comb flat if I wanted to. I let the boots get scuffed and tatty, as much through laziness as any kind of statement. The Crombie acquired a distressed and dishevelled aesthetic, which was a statement, as it wound the skinheads up something rotten. Although ensuring I couldn’t be mistaken for a fascist I continued to hang out in the graveyard whenever I was in town.
At school I was called out of class to speak to the headmistress. My Great Aunt Clarice had written a letter concerned about the company she had seen me keeping in town. The headmistress showed it to me and said, “Your Aunt Clarice sounds like a right meddling old so-and-so. I’m glad to hear you’ve been making new friends. They might dress unusually but they seem like nice enough lads to me.”
Greg started ranting about punks and skins being wasters, tarring them all as violent thugs. It was clear he was intimidated, “Don’t you dare point me out to them.”
He became less inclined to bully me, although I was also spending longer periods away from home, not coming back from school on Friday and not being seen again until Monday evening, if then.
I found a copy of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist, which wasn’t in the library but was available in an affordable Penguin classics edition, doubled with Twilight of the Idols. Its central premise, as far as I could tell, was that Christian mercy had lead to the genetic, mental and spiritual degeneration of the Germanic peoples. God was dead and it was down to humanity to redeem itself, which it can only do by embracing all that has previously been deemed inhumane. The implications were chilling, especially considering who had recommended the book to me; illiterate skinhead thugs were dangerous enough, but skinheads reading philosophy took things to a new level.
What interested me the most was the revelation that there were punks and skinheads who were interested in reading. An idea began to form, which I discussed with Olly and Ambrose, who we knew would also be interested. I borrowed my parent’s typewriter and got permission to make use of the Ecology Party‘s old printer. Within just a few days we had the first and only issue of our 12 page mini- publication, its spiky lettered logo with an anarchy sign ‘A’ and an eight rayed star, familiar to any Advanced Dungeons & Dragons player, in place of the ‘O’; issue 1 of KAOS, featuring ‘The Adventures of Victor Vomit’. It was nowhere near as successful as we anticipated. We sold perhaps three copies. The others were disheartened.
“It doesn’t have enough pictures. We should try again with different content,” I said.
They weren’t up for it, but Mum was. We got to work, this time ditching the typewriter and illustrating the pages with biro pressed hard into carbon stencils. I drew a cartoon of Margaret Thatcher, various parts of her anatomy labelled with jibes about her evil policies and holding her responsible for mass unemployment, wrote a recipe for Punk Rock Cakes, and Mum wrote the script for a comic strip about a hard-core punk bear in tartan bondage trousers, all written in rhyme. His name was ‘Gluepot the Bear’;
Walking down the underpass, Kick the Mods up the arse. Walking through the streets at night, Gluepot’s looking for a fight. Blue rinsed granny stops to stare, “Why you starin’ at my hair? “My hair’s green and yours is blue, “Dying hair ain’t nothing new. “Do you call that thing a hat? “You wouldn’t catch me wearing that!” Blue rinsed granny screams dismay, He grabs the hat and runs away. How to stop this naughty fella? She lands him one with her umbrella!
The Anti-Social Comment, issue 1, was a run of around 40 copies, and shifted faster than you could say ‘Revenge of the Thenkels’. I sold them in the school playground and to a handful of teachers. Mr. Mortlock was its biggest fan, secretly helping me print up more copies on the school’s photocopier, which I then sold to the punks in the graveyard. Olly took a handful to sell at his own school. Out of the 20p cover price I made 5p profit on every sale, 20p each on a bundle of 5 to sell on yourself, which back then meant a lot of cigarettes and cider.
It was too much work for one person on their own. It took me a month to finish each issue, if I dedicated all my free time. Olly and Ambrose were back in, and we worked as a team providing content and editing input from whoever had responded to our inter-school call-out. For some reason they didn’t like my title Anti-Social Comment, and it seemed like going backwards to start again with KAOS so we came up with a new magazine.
It took us about a month to finish all the layout with scissors and glue. Gluepot the Bear was back, along with a pastiche of Dennis the Menace as a spiky haired weed smoking teenager, and a 2000 AD inspired strip about a gang of mutant punks in post nuclear Britain called ‘The Rad Crew’ (‘rad’ was, in common parlance at the time, short for ‘radical’, although in this sense it also meant ‘radioactive’). Issue one of The Lucrative Income Express, or The L.I.E. for short, brought to you by Petrolbomb Productions, was printed in ‘hit-and-run’ chunks on a number of photocopiers in various schools. At a cover price of 25p, almost all of which was profit, it sold perhaps 200 copies across Colchester. Selling to strangers meant turning many of them into new friends, some of whom were happy to buy a bundle of L.I.E.s to sell on.
John Smith, Simon Key and Owain Ashworth all went to St. Helena’s and were already a ‘gang’ before they invited me in as the ‘brains’.
Owain’s father was a criminal lawyer, and most of the time any hassle from the police dissolved as soon as he gave his name. John’s parents had bought a flat for him to live in, alone, while they were out of the country, had hired a cleaner and carer to look out for him, and had given him his own black MasterCard, although it was for emergencies only and he always insisted he had no more money than the rest of us. His pad became our usual club house. Simon’s parents (his mum was called Anna Key!) were of a more ‘civilian’ social standing, although none of us were thinking in such terms, and were all exceptionally large. I never saw him hurt anyone but he looked like he definitely could, although when we had a play fights he said I was too rough and looked like me might cry.
We all wore studded leather jackets with the collars turned up, DM boots, bondage trousers, and dark sunglasses. By then I had reached a compromise with school and had a rudimentary mohican with short hair at the sides, shaved only during holidays and during prolonged periods of suspension.
Owain lived not far from the middle of town in a house. He shared his bedroom with his younger brother and about twenty hamsters. He bred them, and sold them on at his school for extra pocket money. It stank in there. We would meet up on Friday after school and I would stay over until Monday morning. Simon Key lived just around the corner so we would all three of us meet there and do our hair, which involved enough hairspray to single handedly destroy the ozone layer, and a pot of gel which had been left open for a week to dehydrate, making it thick and gloopy. During the holidays we dyed our hair with ‘Crazy Colours’; I had a red mohican so tall I needed help making it stand up. We all worked together to back-comb in the hair-gel and spray, then used the tube of the electric hoover to suck it into gigantic spikes.
Dressing like this and hanging out on the streets of Colchester meant attracting a lot of attention from tourists. Back then, punk was so ‘British’ they were on postcards; indeed we had the phrase ‘postcard punk’, meaning someone who had managed to make a modelling career out of their style. If we looked outrageous enough, all we had to do was sit around near the war memorial outside the Castle Park and tourists would give us money to take our photographs. Owain would often bring a hamster with him, and he got extra money for posing like he was about to bite its head off. If they failed to give us enough money we would take their camera and ransom it back to them.
Despite looking like we ate people’s pets we were well behaved kids. When we weren’t hanging around town ‘being punks’ we gathered around one of the boy’s houses to play role playing games. Once again I found myself running games of Tunnels & Trolls, although this gave way to another more ‘grown up’ game based on the occult horror stories of H. P. Lovecraft; Call of Cthulhu. This also introduced me to the existence of grimoires – the traditional books of magical rituals employed by sorcerers, magicians and witches. We were also fans of the original fiction upon which the game was based, which were at that time available in affordable omnibus editions, which we bought between us and passed around.
Another game was Dragon Quest, which had a ‘magic system’ divided into six ‘schools’; four were after the elements (earth, air, fire and water), the fifth was necromancy, while the sixth was the school of summoning. It was also based on a real grimoire, perhaps the most infamous of them all; The Goetia, called also The Lesser Key of Solomon.
I decided I would gain myself a copy of this grimoire as soon as possible.
We did our best to avoid violence, and to give the impression we specialized in it. We developed a kind of improvised theatre; if the gang was threatened we all went quiet, everyone standing around me in formation as John removed my sunglasses. I stared down our potential challenger, fixing my gaze directly between their eyebrows with unwavering discipline. If this wasn’t enough to psychologically unsettle them I clicked my fingers and Owain produced the gang’s only packet of cigarettes, placing one delicately between my lips, my gaze still fixed. When I clicked a second time Simon produced a zipper and lit it. If this failed, we all ran. I was always easiest to catch, and the only one who got beaten up, but it was great fun giving it a go. Plus, it impressed the girls.
We were taken the piss out off by the hard core punks, but soon found better company. On the other side of The Museum of Agriculture the graveyard continued opposite a pub called The Three Cups. It had started to attract a lot of alternative types; Hells Angels with Coggeshal Bastards patches, punks of every kind from working class hard-core to ‘society’ punks in gem studded dog collars, art and music students, a small but ominous cloud of what would come to be known as ‘goths’, and a variety of others who eschewed definition but were definitely not ‘normal’. They wouldn’t let us in as we were too young, but on sunny days everyone sat outside on the wall or among the gravestones. It was a good place to hang out with a bottle of Merrydown, pretending to be grown-ups.
There was another pub called The Lodge, also a regular haunt for punks and bikers, where they had installed the first Video-Jukebox any of us had seen. Since only shit MTV bands got videos made there wasn’t a lot of choice, so it played ‘Shock Treatment’ by The Ramones on almost constant repeat. People came all the way from London to party there at weekends. Any time I tried to get in I got picked up under my arms and thrown out the door, which was great fun in itself. The venue didn’t last long, however. After a night where the landlord put up a sign on the bar offering ‘Free Pints!’, even honouring those who asked for a pint of vodka, there was a terrible fire after closing time. Nobody was harmed, and ‘luckily’ both brewery and landlord were covered by insurance.
Other occasional venues included The Hole in the Wall, a pub on the Roman wall which was OK but never played music, The Oliver Twist, which had a circular ‘whiskey bar’, attracted a lot of bikers, and had a stage for bands to play, and The Dickens Hotel, which was run by the same landlord. Although none of them would serve us, they provided a circuit of different pubs to hang around outside as we drank from our litre plastic bottles, weather permitting.
One weekend, as I was wandering through town on my way to the graveyard, I spotted Sonia from school, hanging around outside British Homestores.
“Sonia, how you doing?” I said.
“Erm.. you need to get out of here..”
I thought for a moment she might be with a boyfriend or something, forgetting she wasn’t allowed any.
Then I heard a voice from behind me cry out, “Exorcise him!”
The next thing I knew Sonia was grabbing hold of me and crying out, “Yes, exorcize him!”
They were all around me, laying their hands all over me and praying in that contrived gobbledegook that passes for ‘talking in tongues’.
Well rehearsed in escaping large groups of people, from bullies at school to gang warfare, I knew exactly what to do; I hit the ground and ran between their legs on all fours, too small to catch as I freed myself from the circle, then leaped up and ran for it. I might have stuck around but I was worried their exorcism might work – and what then?
I could tell that Sonia liked me, even if she was reluctant to admit it, but there was no way I was going to persuade her to have any fun, not with no fun demented parents.
I didn’t see it happen myself, although I heard about it from both sides and the stories more or less matched. Greg had been in town, and had paused by the shops opposite the graveyard to roll himself a cigarette. One of the skinheads, possibly Granny, approached him.
According to what I heard in the graveyard, the words spoken were, “Do you have a light?”
According to Greg they were, “Do you want a fight?”
Greg took out the first skinhead with a single foot-sword, karate style, to the throat.
As the gang backed away Greg picked up a dustbin and landed it over one’s head. The rest ran into Mother Care, throwing clothing rails and pushchairs behind them as Greg chased them through the aisles. It was legendary, with many people claiming to have witnessed it who couldn’t possibly have been there.
After that, Greg wasn’t scared of the skinheads any more – it was the other way around – so there didn’t seem like much point in hanging out with them any more.
Cross country was a lot less dangerous after the show of the M16. I also made friends with the fat kid that was always coming in just ahead of me. One day I was sure I had overtaken him, but when I puffed and panted my way through the school gates he was already there, beating me by a minute. When I asked him how he did it he admitted his house’s garden backed on to the wasteland. He had gone inside and sat down, waited for everyone to make their way past the front door, then followed along behind. From then on that is what I did too. There was just about enough time to finish a cigarette.
Silas was born sometime in 1984. I can’t remember what month it was. He looked like a miniature Greg, but with curly blonde hair. I now had two half brothers, which might have added up to one full brother, but didn’t. I had little to do with the house dwellers by then and felt an outsider to this new family.
Now there was the baby there was need of extra money. Greg decided to rent out the caravan. For a while, at least, I was allowed to move back into the house. Although I had heard my parents arguing from the end of the garden I didn’t realise until this time how far things had escalated.
One day, when Owain had come to visit and had been staying with me in the attic, Greg kicked off. He began by taking a sledge-hammer to some kitchen units that had been gifted to us by Uncle Dennis and Aunty Alice, which for some reason were still in the back garden where they had been since being delivered. Then there was screaming from downstairs in the kitchen. Owain stayed put, his face turned grey. The screaming stopped and the back door slammed. I heard Greg get in the car and drive away, then went downstairs. As I walked past Jasper’s room I saw him huddled up under his blankets, trying to block it all out.
In the kitchen, Silas was still in his high chair, crying. Mum lay on the kitchen floor, blood pouring from her head where Greg had hit her with a plate, smashing it.
I think the neighbours must have taken her to hospital. It’s hard to remember. I think she needed stitches.
A little while later the new lodger moved into the caravan. I think the lodger’s name might have been Mark, but I’m not sure. He was a Christian, having converted after his split from a hereditary witchcraft coven. The priesthood had been passed to his older brother, Tony Skinner, who had allegedly attempted to murder him with an athame (ritual dagger) for betraying his Oath. He feared for his life and the fact he was staying with us was a secret. Mum did his shopping so nobody would see him.
I had seen Tony Skinner swanning round Colchester with his long red hair and coven of young ladies, their flapping cloaks giving glimpses of stocking tops and thigh high leather boots. His priestess, Mandy, was the lead singer in the rock band Cat Genetica, while Tony was the guitarist. Wild rumours were spreading about sex magic orgies, all lipstick lesbians apart from their Magister. There were also rumours about the blood sacrifices, which didn’t sound as attractive, but he definitely had something working for him and it looked a lot more fun than Christianity. I kept my opinions to myself and didn’t ask too many questions.
Mark kept to himself, out of sight, as is sensible when a black magic cult is hunting you. It wasn’t long before he found a Christian flower-child girlfriend and was gone. I hardly even spoke to him.
There was a report in the newspaper about how they had brought in a curfew in Paris that only applied to punks, making it law that they weren’t allowed out in the streets after 10.00pm. A small gang had been stopped by the police, roughed up a bit and searched. A girl punk among them had had a pet rat, which had bitten an officer and turned out to have rabies.
Reading this at the breakfast table I asked my parents, “Can I have a pet rat, please?”
“Absolutely not. They’re filthy creatures,” said Greg.
I was crestfallen.
When he wasn’t around Mum said, “Maybe you could keep a pet rat, so long as it was a secret from Greg. We could put the cage in the bottom of your wardrobe and he’d never know.”
She even gave me some money to buy the cage and the rat with. I called her Lucretia. She was white, with brown and black spots. She seemed quite happy hidden in the bottom of my wardrobe, and chewed the hem of my Crombie all along the bottom. When I went to Colchester she came with me, hidden in my inside pocket, which I lined with tissue paper. When she wanted to come out she crawled down my sleeve, nudging me with her nose. I would hold open my hand and she would appear, as if by a conjuring trick. If I went to visit people she would run around freely, then come back when I called her and climb back in my pocket. Rats are as smart as dogs, by my reckoning, or at least Lucretia was. She was my constant companion for much of the early summer.
I was at school when Greg found the cage and threw it down the stairs. Mum said he squealed like a girl, and seemed quite smug about it. Nevertheless, I was told I had to get rid of her. I was devastated.
Owain said I could bring the cage round to his, and he would look after her. That way I could still have my rat at weekends. Sadly, however, she got out of her cage while he was at school. She tempted hamsters to the bars of their cages by dropping bits of food, then killed them and ate whatever she could reach. When he got home there was carnage, half eaten hamsters with their guts torn out all over the place. He caught Lucretia and punished her by not giving her any more food. By the time I saw him again she was dead, and we had a major falling out.
Teenagers can be very dramatic, and I had a lot on my plate besides a dead rat. I had also drunk a whole bottle of Merrydown to myself. Nevertheless, Owain and Simon were confounded – hard core punks aren’t supposed to burst into tears. They are especially not supposed to take themselves to an overpass and attempt to throw themselves into passing traffic.
Simon dragged me off the railings and sat on me until I calmed down and promised I wasn’t going to commit suicide over a pet rat.
Shortly before Mark (the Christian in the caravan) left I was displaced into the shed sorry studio, which was vacated for my accommodation. I had to make my own bed; nailing short planks of wood across a door-less old wardrobe, laid on its back. This provided support for the mattress with storage space beneath. I wasn’t the best carpenter and every now and then a slat would break, the mattress tipping into the cupboard at one end or the other, but it was comfortable most of the time.
The shed sorry studio was annexed on one side with the greenhouse. Hey, free weed, so long as I wasn’t too greedy. The opposite wall was next to the fencing for Mr. & Mrs. Balls’s chickens and what had been sold to them as an ornamental goat, which I suspected was some kind of shoat or geep, if such cross-breeding is possible. It was black, with sharp little horns, and bounced on its stumpy hind-legs like springs, rearing up to pin you with its yellow slitted eyes before nutting you like a Barmy Army skinhead from Glasgow. Sunrise was accompanied by the crowing cockerel and the possessed geep head-butting the fence.
A friend of Mum’s was, or had been, going out with a drummer from the punk band C.R.A.S.S., or something. Apparently they lived not far from Colchester on a communal farm, but they were never seen around the graveyard or by any of us in town. A selection from their catalogue was passed on to me; ‘Penis Envy’, the ‘Big A Little A’ single, the infamous ‘Person’s Unknown’, with the album ‘Hex’ by Poison Girls having a witchy theme. Strangely, Mum didn’t appreciate the music when I played it to her, showing her the lyrics on the album cover for the anti-feminist classic ‘Jump Mother Jump’.
“Why would I want to listen to something like that?” she said.
I suppose the lyrics were a bit too close to home for her.
Rarely mentioned in modern histories of punk music. most of which try to write the movement off as a flash in the pan, is the political divide that was happening at street level. They didn’t call it ‘The Punk Wars’ for nothing. Not that Greg could tell the difference, accusing all punks of being fascists and me along with them; which was pretty rich considering his fantasies of ‘Green Shirts’ forcibly installing composter toilets and raising Greg as the UK’s ecologically sound dictator. I did suggest he tried at least reading some of the lyrics on the record covers, printed in concession to the vocals being incomprehensible, which might have been why Greg found it hard to distinguish between the movements, but as usual there was no arguing with him. All this seems ironic when you consider that his friend Cat, who stayed on his land in France, was the manager of the punk band Special Duties, who made the alternative charts in N.M.E. and Melody Maker with their single ‘Colchester Council Full of Shit’. Their singer called himself Steve Arrogant, in parody of Steve Ignorant, the singer of C.R.A.S.S., which, might be why we never them in town; people were jealous and had a shitty attitude.
I considered myself an anarchist, although inspired more by the individualism of Stirner than the mutualism of Proudhon, the collectivism of Bakunin, or the communism of Kropotkin; I didn’t like doing what I was told by anyone, be that government or society, but that is teenagers for you. My attraction to anarchism should come as no surprise; its origins, as far back as it can be traced, lie with the Free Spirit movements of the eleventh century, which was largely spread by hedge-priests, heretics, and witches; in an age where church and state were one, politics and spirituality become inseparable at every layer of society. I covered the plaster-board walls of the shed with album covers and fold out poster art of white on black stencil declaring ‘Jesus died for his own sins – not mine.’
The next lodgers to move into the caravan were far more interesting. They too seemed to be hiding, although were nowhere as paranoid as Mark had been. They had been banished from Findhorn, a New Age commune in Scotland, for ‘upsetting the fairies’. Their names were Leroy and Natasha.
I don’t know much about Leroy’s background, except that he was a paid up member of Sinn Feinn, despised the I.R.A. (who I at the time had naïve and somewhat misplaced sympathies for) and played acoustic guitar. I thought he was alright for a hippy, even if I could never agree with his opinion that The Doors had any influence on punk (which he may in fact have been right about).
I think perhaps Natasha had known my mother from when they were at school, although I had not met her before. She was the daughter of Sir Donald Swann, the composer of ‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud’, from which he gained considerable royalties any time Playschool or some other TV show assumed the song was ‘traditional’. He was also the best friend of Tolkien, for whom he had set to music all the songs from Lord of the Rings. Donald came to visit our house, making no effort to conceal his staunchly conservative disapproval of all our lifestyles, although I wasn’t in at the time. Mum described him as, “The kind of person who thinks, if someone has no money, they should get down on their knees and scrub the doorsteps of those who do.”
Leroy and Natasha spent a lot of time socialising with Mum and Greg, smoking copious amounts of weed and sitting round playing records, particularly The Incredible String Band‘s ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’, the lyrics of which provoked considerable discussion; was the answer to the riddle about the five elements in a basket as obvious as it seemed? Did ‘Just Like John’ imply the band had turned Christian? Were there hidden meanings in ‘If I Were a Witch’s Hat’? (The album grew on me in later years, perhaps out of nostalgia, but at the time I hated it).
Both Mum and Natasha would sing as Leroy played guitar, mostly traditional folk songs about fairies and witches. They both had stunning voices, my mother’s like the ringing of bells and Natasha’s with a husky whisky and cigarettes sexiness.
Mum had written several books of poetry, all in the most intricate cursive script as with a feather. Leroy and Natasha persuaded her to turn some of them into songs. The results, never performed to an audience, were enchanting;
“No breath breaks silence, nor dry twig moves, / The stones unstirred by weightless hooves. / The trees bear witness, mute as I, / Grunhild’s host prepares to fly. / They said, “You have not seen them, You could not see them, no, / “These shades the pentagram of man eclipsed so long ago.” / Should I not then have set my foot Upon this Old Straight Way? / A greater magic moves this world Than Arte of ours can sway..”
Each evening as the lodgers prepared to go to bed I heard Natasha sweeping the floor of the caravan with a broom, from the back to the door, then out the door, calling aloud, “Out! Out! And stay out!”
I thought at first she might have been kicking out Rosie dog, who was always on the blag if she thought there might be food. It wasn’t Leroy. I worked out that it must have been some kind of banishing ritual. Perhaps they had a problem with offended fairies that had followed them from Findhorn. They believed in some pretty nutty stuff.
One evening when I was hanging out with them in the caravan Natasha said to me, “We’ve seen you flying around at night.”
“Astral projection. You have what they call a ‘wild talent’,” said Leroy, passing me a neat weed spliff (on agreement I didn’t tell my parents).
I coughed, exhaling a cloud of grey and blue smoke. “You what?” “Do you ever go places, just with your mind?” said Natasha. “Sure, but nowhere real.”
“What’s real, anyway?” said Leroy.
“I don’t know. A punch in the face always seems pretty real, to me.”
“Not everybody travels like you do,” said Natasha.
I was beginning to catch on, “You mean when I’m meditating?”
“If that’s what you’re doing. Meditating, dissociating, leaving your body, astrally projecting, whatever you want to call it. Like in a dream, but not. I’ve seen you doing it. Flying around.”
“But astral projection? Leaving my body? Isn’t that all about travelling in the real world, finding missing people and spying on military bases? I haven’t been doing anything like that.”
“That’s remote viewing. It’s close what what you do, but not quite. Have you ever tried it?”
“It’s not possible, is it?”
“There are secret government projects where they train people to do that kind of thing. They wouldn’t invest all that time and money if they didn’t get results,” said Leroy.
“Where you go is more like a dream, right? Like a fairy world?” said Natasha.
I knew she wasn’t referring to the kind of fairies in Victorian children’s books, but all the same it sounded a bit silly. I had yet to understand that the ‘language’ of magic is all about consciousness, and how it’s experienced within trance, dream, or other altered states.
“The shaman call it the spirit world. Ceremonial magicians call it the astral dimension,” said Leroy.
“A magic world, with mountains and forests, but also other places,” I admitted. “It’s just imagination though.”
“Then how come we’ve both seen you?” said Natasha.
I was stumped. I had never told anybody about my meditations. I knew it was an eccentricity, since nobody else I knew seemed to do it, but it had never occurred to me that it might be any kind of ‘psychic skill’.
Over the next few weeks we talked about yoga, and I had my first proper meditation lessons, writing down my results in a diary and attempting to prolong periods of mental quiet. I also began a study of magical symbolism and how it’s applied. It was explained to me that the elemental forces were like the elements in chemistry but related instead to consciousness. Earth is the body, with all its needs, air is the intellect and the ability to create or understand models and theories, fire is the power of will and the life force moving through all nature, water is the emotions and powers of intuition. They also taught me about the Tattvas of yogic meditation, and how they could be used as doorways into specific astral realms.
We practised a technique where I stood on my head for around three minutes, was lowered slowly with my head still to the floor, rising over half a minute into a kneeling posture. I then focused on the elemental symbol I desired to explore. The Tattvas themselves were presented to me as bold shapes in complimentary colours on a background of black. For example, if I desired to move into the elemental realm of fire, the symbol for which is an upward pointing red triangle, I would be shown a green triangle (cut from a piece of coloured paper) on a black card. At the very centre was a white spot, which I focused upon without allowing my vision to waver. This resulted, through a natural effect of the brain, in the triangle apparently turning black and momentarily disappearing, at which point I would close my eyes and see the ‘ghost image’ left behind; a red triangle requiring no effort to visualise. This image was maintained for as long as possible then ‘moved through’ as an astral doorway. After this came free-form visions inspired by the idea of being in the ‘realm of elemental fire’ and everything this symbolised to me.
Apparently, all this would all be a lot safer than just travelling around willy nilly with no idea where I was going. Both Leroy and Natasha insisted there were astral vampires and other spirit entities which, even if I had yet to meet one, were out there waiting for the unwary traveller. They made constant reference to Israel Regardie’s The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magick, which they let me borrow so I could read more of the exercises. I suspect they had also been reading Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian Trilogy. They made regular mail-order purchases from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Leeds, and whenever they did so they allowed me to choose something that interested me.
“So long as you don’t tell your parents. Greg gets totally freaked by this kind of thing,” said Leroy, with a wink.
I supplemented my studies with regular visits to Colchester library, where there was a well stocked occult section. It was a shame they didn’t teach witchcraft at school, or I might have spent more time there. Like many people studying magick in the modern day I read whatever I could find by Crowley. Although I had a good chuckle at his poem Leah Sublime, which I had in chapbook form, his works seemed obtuse and belaboured with gratuitously obscurantist verbiage. It was a long time before I could understand any of it, and even then it was with reservations – he was a vile character and not someone to be admired. (Many years later I learned that Crowley had made efforts to gain initiation into the Essex Craft and had been turned down for being a sex pest, so I congratulate myself on my good taste, even if nobody else does.)
I was much more interested in runes, and the relationship between ancient magick and modern writing. There remains a strong resemblance between the runes and the letters spelling these words as I rite for you to rede. Books of spells were called ‘grammars’, from where we get the word ‘grimoire’.
I was soon expanding my knowledge of the grimoires, particularly The Lesser Key of Solomon, which I was already familiar with through role playing games. In 1986 it was much harder to get your hands on original manuscripts, as there was no internet, so I had to make do with books by people who could, such as Richard Cavendish’s Black Magic and Idris Shah’s The Secret Lore of Magic.
Grimoires are, in my opinion, a much overlooked literary tradition, far more interesting than just ritual instruction or long lists of demons, with many reading more like stories or confessionals. Like any good book, they act like astral doorways, transporting the reader to another world.
Excerpt from Accidental Antichrist, a novel by Nathaniel J Harris, available from Amazon UK USA