Last year, in an attempt to reclaim my history through a veil of trauma, I began writing what turned into an autobiography. Initially, this was purely for my own healing, but I posted some excerpts on FaceBook; the reactions I received were so extreme I decided to keep my work private until it was completed. The book is now undergoing its 3rd draft, and several people have emailed me asking when it will be published, so I plan to make it available later this year.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 14 (each chapter is numbered after the age I was). Some background – my mother was still married to Greg Cox, the father of my three half-brothers (Jasper, Silas, and Zachary), and a founder of The Ecology Party (now called ‘the Green Party’). We were living in Peldon village, Essex. This chapter tells not just of the abuses my mother and I suffered (I have attempted to write with humour, rather than compile a ‘misery memoir’) but also my embracing of anarchism / punk, and how I took up the practice of magick – who my first teachers were, and my first ‘results’.
Silas was born sometime in 1984. I cannot remember exactly 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 did not. 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 did not 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 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 turning sickly 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, surounded by shards of broken crockery, blood pouring from her head. Greg had hit her with a plate.
I think the neighbours must have taken her to hospital. It is hard for me to remember. What I do know is that she needed six stitches.
A little while later the new lodger moved into the caravan. I think the lodger’s name might have been Mark, but I am 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 did not 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 did not ask too many questions.
Mark mostly kept to himself, out of sight, as is sensible when a black magic cult is hunting you. It was not 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 were not 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 was not 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 Lucrezia. 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 suddenly 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 Lucrezia 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 Lucrezia 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 are not 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 forcibly off the railings and sat on me until I calmed down and promised I was not 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 at the end of our quarter acre garden, 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 was not 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, which meant free weed, so long as I was not too greedy and Greg did not notice. The opposite wall was immediately 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 noticeably witchy theme. Strangely, Mum did not appreciate the music when I played it to her, showing her the lyrics on the album cover for the anarcho-femisist 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 did not 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 completely 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 particularly 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 did not 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 recently been banished from Findhorn, a New Age commune in Scotland, allegedly for ‘upsetting the fairies’. Their names were Leroy and Natasha.
I do not 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. Apparently Donald came to visit, making no effort to conceal his staunchly conservative disapproval of all our lifestyles, although I was not 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 socializing 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 slightly 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 heared 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 certainly was not Leroy. Eventually 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 did not 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 actually 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 was not referring to the kind of fairies in Victorian children’s books, but all the same it sounded a bit silly. I had yet to fully understand that the ‘language’ of magic is all about consciousness, and how it is 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 is 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 visualize. 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 symbolized 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 did not teach witchcraft at school, or I might have spent more time there. Like many people studying magick in the modern day 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 deliberately 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 Goetia, which I already had passing familiarity with through it being referenced in DragonQuest. 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. Regarding the tradition of East Anglia, the most influential of is Le Veritable Dragon Rouge, otherwise called The Grand Grimoire, a 17th century text dealing with the making of petite pacts, where daemons are petitioned for smaller favours, and the grande pact, as with the tragedy of Faust. Grimoire 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, the reader losing all awareness of the here and now as they are hypnotised by the glyphs upon its page, transporting them to another world.
Both Goetia and galðr (the Germanic word for knowledge of runes) are central to the witchcraft of England, especially in East Anglia. There is evidence of their combination with in the 10th Century text, Solomon and Saturn, where a formulae is given for banishing the Roman god of darkness by spelling out the words Pater Nosta in runes. Their relationship is also apparent in the surviving galðrbok (runic grimoires) of Iceland. As Waite says of The Goetia in The Book of Ceremonial Magic, 1911, “Here it is not the Law of Continuity persisting in its formulae despite the Law of Fantasia; it is Croquetemaine explained by Diabolus, the runes of Elf-Land read with the interpretation of Infernus..”
Besides witchcraft, Greg was afraid of spiders. I witnessed him try to sweep a huge Boris out the back door into the garden, but it scuttled up the broomstick towards him. He spun the broom around and around, but the spider kept changing direction, like it totally had it in for him. He squealed like a little girl with blood in her knickers, and threw the broom into the back garden, as far away as he could. I laughed about that for ages, but only when he was not in earshot. He also squealed when a wolf spider leaped on him off the lampshade hanging in the front room and bit him, dropping his towel and running naked out the back door. That one definitely had it in for him. While Greg was arachnophobic, I have always had a fondness for spiders, be they big fat Boris, skinny Daddy Long Legs, or Incy Wincy. and encouraged them to share my shed in large numbers.
In my studies I came across a traditional spell involving spiders, alleged granting the power of invisibility. I knew enough by then not to take such claims literally, assuming the magic was in some psychic element allowing the caster to escape notice by other means than light travelling right through them. Nevertheless it seemed worth a try, since the worst part of my day was coming home in the evenings and sneaking past Greg’s truck – if it was in the drive – without being noticed.
Like most traditional witchcraft it was not a spell that would appeal to bunnies; it required the spiders be eaten whole. I started off with money spiders and worked up to the thriving community of big fat Boris building webs in the shed roof. Strangely it did seem to have an effect; it got so my parents did not notice my comings and goings, or even if I was in at all.
Whether it was anything to do with the curses I put on him, I do not know, but Greg had a rapid onset of early baldness. He lost all the hair on the top of his head, while what remained stuck out wildly to either side like a bad clown wig. He made a green mushy patē, the main ingredients of which were marijuana and vodka, then spread it all over his bald patch. He walked around like that, naked and hairy but for a pair of home made wooden clogs that made his feet look twice their real size, and his baldness smothered in this green mush that looked like a giant pigeon had shat on his head, singing “Oopie Doopie Doopie Doo” to himself.
I do not know if it was supposed to be magic or science, or both, but the patē had no effect whatsoever. This might be because I had plundered the vodka and topped it up with water; nobody else in the house drank, except for Rosie, and as far as I was concerned it was going to waste.
Although it became impossible to take Greg seriously he was no less terrifying. I had nightmares about being taken down to Hell to converse on matters of the soul with none other than Lucifer. His appearance, as well as that of the hierarchy surrounding him, were as depicted in Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal (1863); huge comic noses, oversized feet, like surreal caricatures. It was almost impossible not to laugh at them, but for the consequences being so serious. It was just the same trying not to snigger at Greg. I would soon discover I was not alone in finding him laughable.
One day, when I was in Colchester, I wandered into Phaédre, a hippy café that had opened on a cobbled street leading to the Castle Park. They sold second had records and books, although I did not find anything on the shelves that interested me. Also on sale was a local publication, a kind of intellectual fanzine, called The Corpus of English Conversation. It ran a comic strip about a wife beating hippy hypocrite with crazy hair sticking out around a shiny bald patch called ‘Mr. Oopie Doo’.
I do not know quite how Greg managed to convince himself it was ‘coincidence’, and that Colchester’s alternative scene were not laughing at him behind his back, but he did. Denial, as they say, is more than just a river in Egypt.