The members of the Athenæum Azostos have carefully collaborated on a series of 13 interview questions in which to ask the sorceress of sword work and scrying: Harper Feist. Harper is an accomplished interviewer, writer, teacher, priestess, scientist, and experienced occultist, among many other scintillating titles. After falling in love with Harper as an interviewer and powerful woman in the occult community, the Athenæum members knew we just had to take her class, “Scrying: A Workshop on Esoteric Awareness.” And after taking the class, it was unanimous that we needed to interview Ms. Feist to learn more.
The enchanting Ms. Feist obliged, and we are pleased to present her insightful and titillating answers that leave us wanting more. Harper has given us – and you – a deep glance into the nexus of her sorcerous devotion by means of written word, connection with Other, and a deep awareness that transgresses the status quo… We know you will feel as honored and magickally excited as we do.
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 art? Which have inspired your craft/practice?
Feist: It would be easier to ask what books have not inspired my practice <grinning>. I find hints about myself and the larger world in the strangest places, including scientific, historical, and esoteric sources.
The first books that brought my attention to magic, and the weird relationship that science and medicine has historically had to it, were Lynn Thorndyke’s A History of Magic and Experimental Science series. I ran into the whole of it in the basement of Norlin library on the University of Colorado campus as an undergraduate. My encounter with those books was so life-altering that I remember how they smelled, what the floor looked like… I became ME in those moments, I think.
If the whole trajectory of my life wasn’t set at that point, it was when my college friends and band mates introduced me to Aleister Crowley, Christopher Hyatt, and Robert Anton Wilson (RAW). And so much of scrying is making new stories about what your senses are telling you that perhaps RAW was my first real teacher.
There seems to be expectations by many that magickal practitioners must have been mentored (or require apprenticeship from teachers/elders), when, in fact, it is more often the case that the first form of esoteric knowledge learned by practitioners is via literature/books. To delve deeper into the above question (in the Current of scrying, too), if you could ‘visit’ your younger Self (at the age in which you sought esoteric literature for the first time) which book would you give young Harper?
Feist: At the time I started doing what I called at the time witchcraft, I was reading French surrealist literature, like Le Comte de Lautreament’s Maldoror. Baudelaire and Rimbaud were alongside. So, decadence and suffering, and original sin (I had already been shown out of my parent’s Lutheran church), made up my reading when I wasn’t reading for school. I took the maximum number of credits all the time, and worked more than half-time, so there wasn’t as much reading as I would’ve liked.
That grievance having been made, I wish that someone had enticed me to read folklore at that time. I needed Thomas of Erceldoune, or something else that introduced the Queen of Elfhame. I didn’t appreciate the link between the spirituality that feels best to me and the power of the very ancient and mystical natural environment until later. When I discovered this, awkwardly, I found that being outside gives me such a relief from an incredibly rational life that I now can hardly do without it. I am more easy-going (read: bearable) and more spiritually porous when I have a relationship with place.
This is all linked in my experience to the Francis James Child “Ballads”, since they were the source of the first folklore that I encountered. Have you ever heard the song called Willie’s Lady (or sometimes King Willie)? It’s the most direct description of a sorcerous duel you’ll ever hear or read.
Scrying comes in many different forms, and this is something students learn when taking your course. We would love to learn which scrying method(s) you prefer; also, what compelled you to create such an immersive and in-depth course?
Feist: I created the course simply because there was such a demand for information on the subject. I’ve always been sort of a natural at it, possibly because I have a past that left me with the ability to sort of easily dissociate. I refer to it as being “porous on demand.” My working hypothesis is that people in general are able to obtain to these states and are limited only by the focus upon linear and rational thought that is the focus of education. Too bad that education doesn’t actually work! The inability of people in general to think in a straight line is obvious, I suppose, but neither can they choose to loosen themselves from the grip of their need to pretend. At the least, I can be a role model. At the best, I can give people experiments to help them loosen up a little bit.
My favorite scrying technique is currently the classic bowl scrying with water. I like to sit with it in my lap and watch my heartbeat skitter across the surface of the fluid as I fall into the trance. I will say, though, that I do plenty of scrying on the inside of my eyelids, too. Further, tomorrow, I will probably have a different favorite technique.
As Ms. Feist so astutely states: “scrying is listening.” By listening not only to Other through scrying, but to Self and the genus loci of the Land, I learned to anticipate where and when I could cross paths with animals and spirits (and find tracks). I was One – we all are. But I learned to listen to that Oneness on a meta-cellular level.-Lucera
The temperature in the room began to rise as I relaxed my eyes willing myself into a trance. Gazing into my cosmetic mirror, a beautiful male face appeared. I could not see his eyes, only full lips and a chiselled jaw. His face shifted closer as if he was attempting to push his head through the mirror. This startled me, and I intuitively flipped the mirror around.-Poquis
Transformation – you mentioned in previous interviews about your fascination with the art of metamorphosis. How has your magickal practice transformed you as a person? As a teacher? As a student?
Feist: That experiment is an uncontrolled one, of course. You might as well ask the opposite. What would I have been like without my spiritual practices? Who knows, honestly?
I will say that it has given me a path to follow in my personal evolution, and that I’m moving steadily to a larger and more exciting universe with each new thing I try and each new working I do. And even more, every person I interact with about these gorgeous and tasty things… my magical and writing partners have changed the world for me.
Recently, I’ve been playing around with the model that the gods are at least in partial control of what I do, think, want, dislike… As much as the rational part of Harper hates it, there’s some good explanatory force within that model.
You have alluded to your practice being mostly or highly devotional. Is this a new path for you or have you always had a devotional practice? If you do not mind sharing, which deity/deities have inspired this devotion?
Feist: As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a devotional practice. When I was teeny, it was Christian, of course. As an adult, though, I was taught my devotional approach by Brigid.
My first job after grad school was in Andover MA, and shortly after moving to the Northeast, I developed a link with the local Reclaiming group. After the prerequisite nasty coven rearrangements, there were three of us that celebrated quarters and cross-quarters, oftentimes leading large public rites at the Unitarian church in town. I was at this time doing instrument development for a living and spent a certain amount of time in the machine shop. I did some machining, but mostly I hid there because I got along with the machinists better than the other Ph.D.’s. I was in the shop one snowy Imbolc morning when a piece of copper pipe found it’s way into my hands. It was about an inch in diameter and two feet long.
I took it home and nearly in a blind trance took it to the basement and started cutting it open along the long axis. I had only hand tools, and I was blistered and sore at the end of an hour and had made a slit a couple inches long. I cleaned myself up, dealt with my parental and spousal obligations, and fell into a dark slumber. When I woke up, a slightly different person, I went and bought flowers and candles and took them to the basement. I set up an altar to Brigid and worked for a couple of weeks with all the spare time I had to create a crown for her. I beat the pipe flat with a hammer and then shaped it to fit me.
I never wore it. I left it for her later in a meadow. Hail, Brigid, who made it possible for me to truly offer myself and my gifts to other gods and goddesses.
As if being a scientist and occultist was not cool enough, you have mentioned that you practice martial arts – which involve sword work. First of all, hell yes!! Please tell us more about that. Does this discipline and art ever overlap with your magickal practice?
Feist: It does, of course, because discipline. I refer to my magical work as work for a reason. We should give ourselves to the practice of magic in the same complete way one gives oneself to a martial art. We need to prepare to be stretched and molded, sometimes injured, for our art. My bloody acceptance by Hekate will soon be common knowledge… and involved the emergency room.
A principal focus to sword arts is the elimination of extra or unnecessary movement. This need is mirrored in all magical efforts. Find and do the necessary. Further, sometimes beauty is necessary. Lastly, as one of my sword teachers said, “don’t be a pirate.” What he meant by this was “don’t do extra-fancy things with your blade,” but I see it as a philosophical imperative.
You have mentioned in a previous Blackthorne School interview that your spiritual practice is a relief… and authoring is a service. Do you view this service as being a devotional service to deity, or a service to a community of spiritual learners? In your opinion, in what ways does the skill set differ from that of a good magickal practitioner and that of an effective author?
Feist: When I talk about service, both aspects are present, but they are very different from one another. Devotional service to deity makes me a spiritual person, and community service makes me a useful one. I have performed a variety of services to the community, including leading the local Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) body, teaching classes (including those with the Blackthorne School), giving lectures, etc. I do the latter when I have the bandwidth because there is a need. I do the former to remain sane, open and fully alive.
The members of the Athenæum have followed your work for several years now. Often, we hear you mention purification. How do these purification processes play a role in your praxes, and how do these processes translate from science to magick – and even coexist as one?
Feist: Aleister Crowley has a set of writings called the Little Essays on Truth. One of them addresses his views “On Chastity.” Of course, Crowley being Crowley, he’s not at all talking about the no-sex kind of chastity (I know, he would have exploded). He’s talking about purity being the lack of contamination in the same way that chemists talk about purity. Something that is pure is only itself.
That foundation having been revealed, I am fascinated with the concept of purity as a magical requirement. I have employed most of the traditional means and find them all more or less effective at clearing the mind, body and environment of distractions to enable a firm and unwavering focus on anything, here the topic at hand being a magical working.
Think you don’t need to work on your focus? See if you can set your phone down for five minutes (laughing).
This is mirrored in the focus on preparation in both my The Blackthorne School classes and the one-hour versions that I’m sometimes invited to give for other audiences. All preparation, all temple work I suppose, is meant to put the practitioner into a useful state of mind.
One of the things that we found incredibly insightful about your class “Scrying: A Course on Esoteric Awareness” was the astute conflation of the mundane and the magickal. At what point is the line between the two (mundane and magickal) blurred so that there is – or can be – very little distinction? Do you find that a steady and deliberate scrying practice enhances the blurred line? And, at the risk of sounding overly philosophical (if not existential), does such a line even exist?
Feist: In the class, we often refer to the fact that, at its root, scrying is listening. The whole of life these days is about trying to be heard, advice to be assertive, even the writing edit “active, not passive” fits here. To be complete, I would argue that people need to know how to be receptive as well as projective. Learning new ways to listen and reasons to do it will make you a better parent, a better friend, a better employee, a better leader… a better lover. At the nuts-and-bolts level, there’s not a lot of difference except the entity to whom you’re listening.
How has your role in the OTO influenced the ways in which you approach scrying? Magickal practices? Devotion? Which of Thelema’s tenets do you find are most translatable into the semi-untranslatable and transgressive experiences in which scrying and body work evoke? Which are the least?
Feist: Thelema is a very body-positive philosophy/religion. It gets around the Christian body-as-evil paradigm and permits sexuality a role in religious and magical practices. Sexuality is one of the most holy things that any of us will ever participate in, so being embedded in that milieu has been an important shift for me both as a woman and as a magical practitioner.
Interestingly enough, the whole “do what thou wilt…” thing implies we should optimally have control over our own thoughts, which is counter is some ways to my model for scrying. The contradiction is not enough to worry about but is a slight strain. I’m still absolutely involved in the OTO, as I’m sure you know, and that won’t change, but I’m not encapsulated by it, either.
One of the skills that initially attracted the Athenæum to you was your captivating interviewing approaches and techniques in Thelema Now. How do the processes of being the interviewer differ from this, being the interviewee? Which do you prefer?
Feist: I’m still most often the interviewer, which is lovely to me. A funny thing happens when I interview people…we start with me reading a book, or listening to music, or partaking in their art, we iterate over questions and then we do the actual interview. Somewhere in the process, I learn such regard for all of the people I speak with, I somehow don’t really want to stop hearing them. It’s really an amazing process, and I honestly think I’ll never tire of it.
There’s not the same alchemy when I’m being interviewed, but folks tell me that the things I say are useful, and so I’ll likely continue to do that occasionally.
The U.S. Grand Lodge Thelema NOW! podcast features interviews with artists, writers, magicians, and others whose unique perspectives contribute to the modern flowering of Thelemic culture. New episodes are published roughly once a month. You can listen on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or your favorite podcast player.
What is next for the Harper Feist? We would love to hear what you have planned – from sensational scrying sessions to science to sword work – for 2022 (or the foreseeable future).
Feist: I have so many writing projects and presentations that my day job is an irritating distraction! Pay attention when the Hadean Press Conjure Codex comes out in October!
Also, I’m doing a couple of projects with magical partners that I am going to be very proud to unveil when the time is right.
If you could recommend one book to neophytes or potential scryers, seekers, and/or students, what would it be and why?
Feist: The answer to this question probably changes weekly, but today it’s Philip Shepard’s Radical Wholeness. It’s a study of how western people are separated from their bodies, using data as diverse as neuroscience and mythology. He talks about life in the same way I do: from a completely different, arts-related, background. It’s good information, firstly. And then, you know what? He makes me feel less weird. Always good!
Thanks so much for your generosity, Athenaeum Grrlz! <3
A select few recent video interviews…
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