The members of the Athenæum Azostos have carefully collaborated on a series of 13 interview questions in which to ask the enigmatic albeit brilliant Robin Artisson, who has come to be known and celebrated as a modern traditional Witch, author, teacher – and an absolute authority on folklore, pre-history, “Spiritual Ecology,” and the “Unseen World.” Artisson is the author of An Carow Gwyn: Sorcery and the Ancient Fayerie Faith, The Witching Way of Hollow Hill, Letters from the Devil’s Forest, The Flaming Circle, The Resurrection of the Meadow, The Horn of Evenwood, Hands of Fate, The Secret History (and several more!)… and of course, The Clovenstone Workings: A Manual of Early Modern Witchcraft.
During our experiential, deeply moving and profound analysis of Clovenstone, the Athenæum became so Witched and bewitched by both the book and the author, we just knew we had to reach out to Artisson for an up-close-and-personal glimpse into his sorcerous life, work, and praxes. Artisson obliged, and we are so honored to present an in-depth Interview with his generous, intimate, and hauntingly truthful responses – his current projects, his upcoming works, his processes of writing, the collaboration with Molly McHenry, and which of Robin Artisson’s books is not just the Athenæum’s personal favorite – but his as well.
The Athenæum has chosen to present this and future Interviews in written form so that we may honor, if not return, the power of and to the written word. Moreover, the questions and answers in written form allow translatability in all its forms for our readers – and for you.
As we are the Library of the Ungirt we have to ask: which books, either historical or occultic, have inspired your writing? Which have inspired your craft/practice?
Artisson: This is quite a difficult question to answer, because many sorts of books have provided needed supports to me as I spent years trying to get into a more direct space of experience of the powerful things that I know indwell this world, and even our own bodies and souls. Some have provided support; others have been inspiration at a more creative level; this is critical, because creativity within a certain aesthetic or spiritual range is the essence of just about everything to me.
Other books have provided a powerful academic or historical basis for what I write or understand, and the reason why such books are important is because (aside from just good information being gained from them) they bring a sense of confidence to me, and to others; there is a confidence that what we are doing is within a range of human experience and within a historical range of reality which can still be felt and even make us stronger today. I would say that the first book that ever inspired me was Paul Huson's Mastering Witchcraft, and for multiple reasons. He actually had historical workings of real Witchcraft adapted into that work, but he also didn't follow the formula for other Witchcraft books from the 1970s through the 1990s; there was no attempt to graft in a duotheism of a Nature God and Goddess; there was no attempt to really hit up dubious "Celtic" origins or aesthetics for everything; he starts his Witch Mythos in the occult-baroque legends of the Watchers and the Nephilim, and stays with that spiritual aesthetic throughout. It was quite a divergence and very satisfying to my younger mind. Beyond that book, others I have found critical, for all the reasons I listed above, are Arcana Mundi by Georg Luck, Jennifer Westwood's Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain, all of Emma Wilby's works, but most critically Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits and The Visions of Isobel Gowdie, Evan-Wentz' The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, the works Warriors of the Wasteland and Beowulf and Grendel by John Grigsby, Hyatt and Black's book Pacts with the Devil, and Wirt Sikes' book British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends, and Traditions. Also critical to me, over the years, have been Stories from the Six Worlds by Ruth Holmes Whitehead, Powers Which We Do Not Know by Daniel Merkur, Spirit of the New England Tribes by William Simmons, The Underworld Initiation by R.J. Stewart, Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads by Lowry Charles Wimberly, and literally everything by Katharine Briggs - particularly her Encyclopedia of Fairies. I would also have to mention the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, alongside Schönwerth's collection Original Bavarian Folktales, A.H. Wratislaw's collection of Slavic Folk-Tales, and Kvideland and Sehmsdorf's amazing collection Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. This list is of course extremely far from complete. Pretty much any book by Claude Lecouteux would belong here, too. So would the works of Derek Jensen and David Abram (whose two books Becoming Animal and The Spell of the Sensuous were both completely critical to my entire understanding, and still are) and Paul Shepard's book Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Still not a complete list, but these books all stand out to me strongly.
What compelled you to write something as powerful and visceral as The Clovenstone Workings?
Artisson: I wrote The Clovenstone Workings because my own efforts towards developing Oneiromantic power - power, clarity, and capability in dreams - became strong enough to lead me to many dramatic successes at making contact with the Unseen World. But this happened in conjunction with my growing personal understanding of how much of historical Witchcraft was a phenomenon completely interlaced and tied up in dreams. I felt like I had achieved a breakthrough in understanding, an understanding of both history and of modern-day technique towards the gaining of these special dreams, that could help a lot of people right now. I say "a lot of people" while knowing that it won't ever be that many people, relatively speaking. But all I needed to help was one person and it would have been worth it. I believe - firmly - that our real success as human beings, our most ancient (and now largely forgotten or deeply hidden) path to authenticity and peace, lies in how well we penetrate the depths of ourselves and the world and learn to be friends with spirits and with the many powers we live among and with in this world.
And I knew this book would, along with some others I’ve written, help some people to do that. And I know that powers in the Unseen World want this. And I know I stand to gain favors from them for doing what I do, favors beyond what I’ve already gained. And then the inspiration hit from a deeper level and took me away. I didn’t have any choice after that; the book really wrote itself.
Define the processes that facilitate your writing. Are these words from you? Channeled? Do you have a Patron of Writing, much like the “Empowerer of Dreams” discussed in our review re The Clovenstone Workings?
Artisson: The way I write is largely tied up with feelings. It's like a great storm or force inside me, very deep inside, which contains a lot of things that I understand or have learned, but also a lot of things I don't understand. Normally, it feels perfectly fine but it can make me agitated. As time has passed, it has become somehow changed or manipulated by spiritual powers that I maintain relationships with. They seem to have done something that can make me feel crazy or even ill at times, a thing I consider to be a holy affliction of types.
Then, special times come when ideas appear inside me and I think "A book? An article? A big essay that I can turn into a PDF?" But then it just comes as it wishes, outside of my control. I won't feel well unless I sit down and create it. And often, I don't know what it will look like when finished. I try to spill ideas into outlines or notes, but they are usually quite chaotic. I lose whole days and often stay up all night while typing away; it's a kind of delirium and really unpleasant much of the time, but I feel better after typing for long periods, getting it out of me and into some other medium. I don't know how organized most writers are, but I'm not too organized. When the works want to come, they just come. They can't be forced, or planned. They also don't come on any schedule. Sometimes they feel like messages from other beings or places; sometimes I get a break and can say things I really want to say, but it's always very mysterious to me, the whole process. I do not have a specific patron of writing or efforts of that nature. I do have familiar spirits that I relate to for certain matters, though, and I do have my own ways of requesting guidance or help of a tutelary nature from certain other-than-human persons. I do that often; I think everyone in this vocational life-way should.
As Clovenstone is a “Manual of Early Modern Witchcraft,” how much historical research did you put into writing this book? Describe the information-gathering processes (and/or rituals) and how those facilitate what the previous question encapsulated.
Artisson: Clovenstone is called "A Manual of Early Modern Witchcraft" because its primary focus is on topics and experiences that are directly connected to, or tied in with, what historical sources tell us Witches were involved with or experiencing. I would say years of research went into this book, even long before I knew I would ever write a book like this. Things I had researched and read about years ago were "activated" in my mind and memory as the book itself began to emerge inside me. Sometimes I think most of the craft of writing is like that - you spend years reading things, learning, and then life flows along, and one day you have a special need for what you learned long ago, and it's there for you, ready to help. I sometimes wonder if we don't run across things and take them into us which only reveal their reasons why some time later, or a long time later. I did a lot of time interlacing my own ritual or metaphysical understandings with the patterns of Early Modern Witchcraft that I was trying to breathe life into, in Clovenstone. Glanvill's book Saducismus Triumphatus was one of my primary historical texts that fed into Clovenstone, and it's a tediously long book, very hard to read! But I was looking for special things within it, things that could bring some of the experiences it's describing back to life for me and for others. When I gained what I was looking for, I had to find a way to give it the power to exist. That meant relying on divinatory arts and familiar spirits to channel the special words used in the book to perform many of the feats described within. That process was onerous enough all on its own, but nothing compared to testing these things to see if they could produce the extraordinary effects I was wanting. I tend to believe that if something works on me well enough, it can work for most people. And when I was comfortable with these workings, I put them in the book. Of course, this is still a simplification of the process. I partly feel like I assembled a work, but another part of me feels like it assembled itself. I know I couldn't have any peace until it was done.
Let’s discuss “Words of Power.” In which ways have Greco-Egyptian sources inspired and/or influenced how you divine powerful words? In which ways have they not?
Artisson: The Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) has been my ultimate source for what I call "Strange Words," ancient words utilized before the rise of the Christian world, to add power to my attempts to reach the powers in the Unseen World. Though the PGM material requires many years of study to really utilize at high effectiveness, those years of study have been done and certain formulas or sequences of Strange Words have been selected for their high degree of effectiveness. I would say the influence of the PGM is very profound on my spiritual work and life, but even discovering some ancient sequences of sounds that cause things like trance states to form, or gain the attention of spiritual beings, is not the end of these efforts, only tools for an ever-increasing exploration.
The PGM formulas are very practical, and that is their greatest use. They work; they accomplish what I or others need, and that is the final reason why they get utilized. But again, they are not the end of any road; what they unlock leads to other places, and thence to even other experiences. In my own work (private, and soon to be shared publicly) there are other means and methods beyond PGM phrases or formulae that allow for the conditioning of the mind and body towards awareness of the Unseen. These other means don’t relate directly to the PGM but they aren’t at odds with them either. We’re blessed to have the surviving information in the PGM acting as another gateway to deeper points.
Was there a target audience of sorts in mind when writing/performing/doing/divining Clovenstone? Is there a target audience for other types of writing that you do, and if so – what or who is this ideal audience/reader?
Artisson: There was a target audience for Clovenstone; it was the Strange Souls of the world, the people who are either Witched (transformed in their souls such that the closeness of the Unseen World or its entities is more apparent to them somehow), or the people who were just sideways enough within their deep selves to desire to become so. That was the primary intended audience; the secondary intended audience was those men and women who are not excited or engaged by what passes for "Witchcraft" in so much popular culture and on the popular market. My ideal reader is anyone who feels like the world (and our lives in it) has depths that are very rarely penetrated, or which stand outside of our easy conscious reach due to countless ages of foul social conditioning and the impact of the many lies of the human social world. I hope to reach people who understand that what is real, sacred, and true cannot be stolen or destroyed by human nonsense, but that our power as humans, so deeply conditioned by human society, can be hindered with regard to how we access the real, sacred, or true. Those people are ready to learn to use their minds and bodies in new ways - which are also very old ways - to overcome the modern world spiritual impasse in the only way I think it can be. Too much spiritual optimism traps people in a dangerous place. I want as much as anyone to believe that I can just go stand outside, open my arms, and invite in the whole world, or spirits, or Gods, or (insert thing here) and if I just trust enough, or still my mind enough, I can leap into profound connection, but I think most serious and aware people already know it takes more than that for us modern people. The forces that imprison us in certain states of mind/convention naturally lead us to think that the spiritual journey is a thing of ultimate ease, or somehow democratically open to all, but that is a kind of opiate. And that's charitably assuming that those imprisoning forces even allow people the relief of a spiritual anesthetic. These days, they are just as likely to try to force or shame people into atheistic nihilism. As far as audiences for my writings go, I write for different people. I described the chief sort of person I might be trying to reach above; but I do consider the Witched audience to be different, in one or two important regards, from the more general audience I intend to reach. That more general audience is the audience of what I would call "Spiritual Ecologists". Spiritual Ecology is a movement that I am deeply invested in and very proud to be a part of. These people, like myself, simply wish to live being aware of the spiritual dimension of everything we encounter, and everything we are. And this ambition is possible! But it requires a lot of work de-conditioning ourselves away from many modern assumptions. To say that everything we encounter and everything we are has a spiritual dimension is not to say that the spiritual aspect of things is the primary one, the only "real" one, or the only important one. That is never the case. The many experiential dimensions of things - from the most dream-like and surreal, to the most fleshy and tangible - are all important, valuable, and needful. Within Spiritual Ecology we run face-to-face with what some might call Neo-Animism or the modern revival of a general Animistic worldview; that's an important expression of Spiritual Ecology, hearkening back to its original expression.
Would you consider Clovenstone a standalone piece or is it complementary to other works you have written? If so, which works?
Artisson: The Clovenstone Workings was very much written to be a standalone work. I wanted it to be a kind of go-to book, the sort of book you'd choose to have if you could only have one book of its sort. That's how I felt about Paul Huson's book Mastering Witchcraft for many years; and in reality, one of the things I was fantasizing about while creating Clovenstone was how it might be considered (one day) to be in the same category of book as Mastering Witchcraft - that some people would have those feelings about it. Having said that, I allude to sorcery and the deeper workings of sorcery in some of my other works, and Clovenstone could absolutely act as an adjunct to expansion to those. In An Carow Gwyn I give all of the bare-bones basics of sorcery as I understand it, and then go into advanced topics even - but Clovenstone could be seen as a branch that goes further from that point, describing a special kind of sorcerous feat (the creation and achievement of Pacts), among other feats.
Do you feel, in hindsight, there is anything you would wish to add to Clovenstone? (And we are dying to know – when can we expect a hardcover?)
Artisson: There's an enormous quantity of things I could add to The Clovenstone Workings, but it appeared and arose in the shape it needed to be in. I would be more likely to write a second volume, another book about Witchcraft in the stream or current begun by Clovenstone, than I would be to expand it. And I have had a hardcover version ready to go for some time now; by this time next week I will have done the final things the company needs me to do and should be able to make it available. It will contain a tenth image by Molly McHenry that no one has seen yet - a fantastic image of a young witch on the floor of a forest somewhere drawing a Gateway Ring, while all manner of spirits and strange entities watch her doing so.
How did you begin a working relationship with the artist for The Clovenstone Workings, Molly McHenry?
Artisson: Like nearly all great relationships and friendships in the modern day, Molly and I's began while strolling through the internet, and we just bumped into one another. We started talking through Facebook messages, but I was a little reticent to reach out to her, because I was a stranger guy from FB and every female friend I personally have has told me ten different horror stories about dude-bros from the internet spamming them with out-of-the-blue requests for friendship or conversation. But lo and behold, Molly responded, and there was never any talk about restraining orders or reports of harassment, nothing like that. She recognized the name Robin Artisson and was completely open and friendly. It wasn't long after that I discovered she was an artist, and at the time she didn't have a lot of her art on her FB (or at least not where I could see it) so I was really shocked to discover how good she was. As we came to know one another better, and as I saw how hard she worked and how talented she was, I knew I wanted to help get her art out there, but I also knew that I probably couldn't afford her talent. My only hope was to turn the charm on and get her to agree to completely exploitative rates of pay, and hope that she would accept her work being exposed to a wider audience as partial payment. I hate to pay people less than they're worth, and that's really all I've ever been able to do with a talent like Molly. She was a total champion about it, she worked for rates I could afford and turned out ten masterpieces that really captured the feeling of the soul of Clovenstone. It couldn't have existed completely without her. She has done other incredible work for me too, that will be seen in the future. I've always been a bit jealous of the things Molly can do so easily, like make incredible art, be liked and trusted by people, etc. I have a lot to learn from her.
Which of your books (that you have written) is your personal favorite? Why?
Artisson: I think The Clovenstone Workings might be my current favorite of my own works, with An Carow Gwyn coming in very close behind it. And this is because those two books really say so many things that are important to me, at a soul-deep level. These are like testaments of a sort (if such a term can be used) to things that I think are very critical in human existence, and in existence in a much wider sense than that. They are a means of adding my own input to the very large, complex, and old dialogue my culture has been having, on the margins of society, about what might be real, compelling, sacred, or important to know or experience. When it comes to the Neo-occult world or Neo-pagan world, too, there are many voices but not many that I find straying from the stale center of the regurgitated metaphysics that stem ultimately from the flawed presentations of our civilization. While these things are popular, and while they burn hot in people’s lives for a more-or-less brief period, many find them unsatisfying in the long run and there’re very good reasons why they should. There was always a sense of wanting to offer meaningful alternatives, of putting a “difference that makes a difference” out there, and circumstances conspired to make me able, and so I try hard to do so.
Not many authors start their own publishing company. What inspired you to open Black Malkin?
Artisson: Black Malkin Press is more of an imprint of sorts, just a way of marking my books and showing where they really came from: from the whole complex of spiritual-ecological and sorcerous efforts that I and certain others are involved in. Sad to say, we are not a “really real” publishing house, just a self-publishing operation at present. I’m not against going through a traditional publisher, though I have heard some horror tales about things that certain publishers wanted writers to do, to alter their manuscripts.
And really, while I have nothing but respect for reputable publishers who have fair practices and treat writers and creators well, we are living in a brave new world and self-publishing has come a very long way from where it was when I first encountered it. These days, if one can do a clever technology dance (which I personally despise doing but have little choice) one can really reach people with self-published works.
Many of us are anxiously awaiting “The Wish-Man’s Children.” Is there anything in the works now in which you want the reader to be aware?
Artisson: Due to various circumstances, related to everything from pandemics to interpersonal gymnastics, The Wish-Man's Children had to be pushed over into 2022, but it is still in preparation. As a project, it is very new ground for me, because it is multi-media and requires the creation of a lot of different things, like traditional visual art, fake articles and news stories, maps, even some videos. It's about 65% a fiction story and 35% practical lessons in sorcery based on that fictional narrative, which is intended to be instructional. It has a long way to go, but I am committed to making it happen. Right now, aside from getting the hardcover of Clovenstone out, I am also about to publish The House of the Giantess which is an in-depth survey of beliefs, culture, and a sort of "history of pre-history" focusing on prehistoric Britain. In it I give a very detailed analysis of the famous monument Stonehenge, and give what I consider to be a strong, supportable deciphering of how and why it was built, and for what purposes. I also talk about many other deep spiritual-ecological issues tied into our spiritual pre-history and give many resources within for deepening spiritual practices. Other projects that are working in the deep (and there are some) will be announced in good time. I'm always working!
If you could recommend one book to neophytes or potential seekers, what would it be and why?
Artisson: This is a very hard question to answer. I guess it might be impossible to answer because there's many things a "neophyte" might be seeking. So it depends on what the person in question is looking for. If they were looking for Witchcraft in the British or Western European sense of that word, I would want them to read one of Emma Wilby's books Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits or (more especially) The Visions of Isobel Gowdie. Neither of these works are what I consider hard to read, but they are long and academic and the information can be dense. But every letter of every word in those books is solid gold if people want to understand the truth about Witchcraft in the most profound historical sense. Some might not like the idea of giving a neophyte some academic books, but these are more than just academic texts. Much more. Below the words and deep in the ideas is a vision, a real and powerful reality, which is still alive now just as it was alive centuries ago. It just sleeps and dreams a bit deeper now, but it is there. And a person must be guided or do their wanderings with reference to such a vision. It's like navigating around a countryside using a high mountain in the distance as a reference point. If the neophyte in question was looking for something more general like Spiritual Ecology or modern Animistic life-ways, I would not hesitate to direct them to David Abram's book The Spell of the Sensuous. That book has the power to free us from the many cultural assumptions that bind and limit us, especially assumptions that bind and hinder almost all Western occultists. I would hope that a person who read The Spell of the Sensuous would also read Becoming Animal right after, also by Abram. These books are total expressions of what the freedom of the soul and the ecstasy of the sensual and the sacred really look like.
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