The members of the Athenaeum Azostos have carefully collaborated on a series of 13 interview questions in which to ask the enigmatic and enchanting writer Lee Morgan. Lee writes both nonfiction and fiction, existing in the liminal spaces between utterly magickal and beautifully realistic. When the Athenæum learned that Lee is publishing a new book this month, The Gusty Deep, we just knew we had to reach out and ask for an interview. Gracefully and graciously, Lee agreed.
The below answers are an intimate and thought-provoking glimpse into the work, the Work, and the words of the beloved Lee Morgan. Let the answers unfold slowly, savor them, cleanse your palate, and then come back for more. May the delicious generosity of the words below be as indulgent for you as they were for us, from the “author, witch, re-weaver of fractured myths and wrangler of wayward narratives”… to us… to you.
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 occult, have inspired your art? Which have inspired your practice?
When it comes to the muck and marrow of things my witchcraft has been conjured primarily by flesh and blood humans, unpublished materials, and spirit instruction, more so than books. My art is very different, it is a visceral quilt sewn from connective tissue belonging to hundreds of dead poets and writers. This started at university in my early twenties when I was writing Wooing the Echo, which is why that book is haunted by quotation.
A mass of words crashed through my consciousness very quickly at that time, from Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Yeats, Fiona Macleod, Rilke, D.H Lawrence, Auden, Eliot, and Dickinson, to name a few.
Andrew Chumbley later gave me permission to forgive myself for occasionally sounding like I was born into a very large pile of dusty old books.
On that note, for more on Lee Morgan’s contributions to Three Hands Press, see this page.
Please, if you would not mind indulging us, what processes facilitate your writing? Are the words you write – from you? Channeled? Do you have a Patron of Writing or Patrons that you lean on for creative endeavors?
Channeled is an interesting word… It seems to suggest that I have a clear idea where my edges are, or where anyone’s edges are. Certainly there are multitudes speaking through any creative person, or even any person. Sometimes opening a book seems like that to me, you feel them step through the hole in your argument and offer up a strange idea that utterly disarms you. As to whether my words come from me or them I can only say – yes. I am full of back channels and borer holes; I’ve never written anything alone. There isn’t a patron exactly, beyond my own daimon who seems to bring all the other voices into harmony, at least most of the time he does unless he’s in a chaos mood.
We at the Athenæum are quite familiar with your nonfiction books on Traditional Witchcraft, such as A Deed Without a Name, Sounds of Infinity, and Standing and Not Falling. Is the process for writing in the vein of Witchcraft incredibly different from your other work/writing? In which ways?
When you write witchcraft books for people’s personal use you sometimes have to put a reference on your borer holes. Sometimes I get bored with it and flick over to writing fiction. And at other times I am utterly transported by it – I know that might sound strange. Research is like a very intricate dance that gets more fun as you get better at it. Tracking down those justifications, and showing that other people who are well-thought-of have come to similar conclusions, or here’s a primary source which pulses with immediacy… Research moves between being maddening and addictive. One of the books I’m writing at the moment has a lot of references in it, so I am moving in and out of these two head spaces a lot right now.
How do the above books differ from, say, your fiction books? And how do they parallel them? Does Traditional Witchcraft play a part in your new upcoming book, The Gusty Deep, or in your other fiction books (such as Wooing the Echo)? Also, please tell us more about The Gusty Deep!
The main difference is that fiction is a sluice gate for being a bit irresponsible. You can shock people and you never have to say you’re sorry. I mean you can say you’re sorry if you want to, but fiction is more of an experience for the reader, rather than a serving suggestion. You get away with a lot of dark play that I would describe as part of the soul of Folk Horror.
The Gusty Deep definitely has a form of traditional witchcraft represented in it. The practice is to some extent what we moderns would call ‘dual-faith’ observance, and belongs in the hands of a travelling people. The story hinges on the escape of a girl named Lux from a brutal situation.
There are faerie-touched and faerie-blooded characters in this story and all the associated mayhem – probably best personified by Lux’s stranger-ally, the character Robin Goodfellow. It is set during the period of civil war in medieval Britain often called The Anarchy. As well as witchcraft this book is also about the place of people of diverse sexual and gender expressions, and pushes quite a number of buttons. I’m excited to see how it will be received.
For more on Lee’s writing and/or books, check out his website.
In your book Standing and Not Falling: A sorcerous primer in thirteen moons you speak a lot on working with blood, spirit, and location ancestors. Many members of the Athenæum also find great importance in this kind of work. You also mention the Welsh word hiraeth, which not only describes homesickness, but the soul sickness that comes from being displaced from your “centre of meaning.” Did this concept inspire the importance of working with your ancestors? If so, has ancestral work always been a part of your practice?
Hiraeth has been with me all my life. Some of my very first memories are of running across what seemed like an enormous moor in red gum boots in Dorset when I was two. Britain has always haunted me imaginatively, I don’t know if I will ever be free of the sensory imprint of it. My ancestors feel manifest in the chalk in the land there, and the flint in the mountains of Wales where my father’s family comes from. My ancestors are of course also in my bones and blood and strange hybrid things happen when I settle into the land here. It is such a strange thing that I’ve come to love this very different mountain in Tasmania as much as I have. A true love story of land-based polyamory.
The members of the Athenæum often discuss the seductive nature of intellectuals overlooking the subjectivity of personal experiences in a magickal context. These experiences can be deemed as “unverified personal gnosis,” and often immediately invalidated or dismissed. If you were to summarize the importance of your stance on UPG (and “imagination-shaming”) to the neophyte or new seeker, how would you defend the importance of experience, of being still, and of listening (to Other and to Self)?
I’ll admit that I viscerally loathe the term UPG. Part of my objection is aesthetic and due to the ugliness of using an acronym to discuss visionary experiences. We don’t say that Isobel Gowdie experienced a UPG when she was riding through the sky tossing elf darts, and that the visions were ‘only relevant to her’, yet for some reason we minimise ourselves in this manner. I think the term evolved reactively, to stop egotistical occultists from gaining too much power based on their claim that they had the lone worthy revelation. I’m not against the wariness the term suggests, only the term itself and the simplicity of critique it seems to inspire. All occult knowledge is built up from collective material gained from vision, and I would say that word collective is how things get verified? I wouldn’t class myself as Gnostic exactly, but I’m under the impression the word ‘gnosis’ refers to direct knowledge of divine truth.
On that note, many of us in the Athenæum are artists of some sort, so we appreciate the emphasis and importance you put on the imagination. You referred to it as “holy rituals of creativity” in your book Standing and Not Falling. At what point in your practice did you realize that the “imaginal realm” is where you communicate with the Fae? Do you believe all imagination is a form of Faerie communication, or do you have a method of discerning your thoughts from the Other in this nature?
I try not to spend too much time worrying about what classes as imaginal and what is imaginary, as there seems to be sliding scale somewhere in the middle where one bleeds into the other.
I wouldn’t try and classify it in other people’s work as that sounds like a massive waste of time, but I certainly know and recognise the difference in my own. It has something to do with the body, the same way you know the difference between poetry and non-poetry.
As A.E Housman put it: “If a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act.”
How has your practice evolved over the years? Have you always been a practitioner of Traditional Witchcraft? Do you find there are other methods that parallel the “crooked path” (including ancestral and Faerie work, as mentioned above)?
I have certainly never been anything else. To me a tradition amounts to a series of poetic and symbolic acts that one repeats so many times over the years that eventually they come unravelled in your hands and reveal an alive beating heart behind them. Whilst it took me some time to find the heart I think those ghosts and echoes have always been with me long before I knew the name of the deed. To me both ancestors and The Good Folk are in that company. And as I’ve never been initiated or inducted into a practice other than traditional witchcraft I feel a bit under-qualified to speculate. It seems to me that there is an aspect of divergence and outsider status in witchcraft that may well be reflected in other forms of witchcraft from other cultures.
You have a blog/website (and we love it)! If a new fan or seeker wanted to learn from you or participate/support – how could they do that?
I’m really enjoying managing my own creative community and blog site actually. It’s really allowed me a new dynamic relationship with my readers. It can be found here.
We know this is a tough question to ask, but: which of your books (or written pieces) is your personal favorite, and why?
I’m going to be that person and name a book I haven’t entirely published yet. The Rag and Bone Man was published in limited edition numbers as part of an installation artwork called ‘The People’s Library’ here in Hobart. The reason its my favourite is it’s my first book I managed to set here in good old Van Diemen’s Land. To me it represents a kind of imaginative arrival, a triumph over, or at least a travelling beside, my hiraeth. Objectively its also probably the best writing I’ve done so far.
What is next for the talented and thoughtful Lee? Can we look forward to any upcoming books or projects?
Other than The Gusty Deep I’m about three quarters of the way through my next witchcraft book. I’m not going to say too much about what its contents beyond that it picks away at the scab of strangeness in witchcraft, and tries to free up the witch blood underneath. It is a researched sort of book, yet it ends with a very powerful working that if the person followed it to its letter would be of some consequence to them. I’m also working on something more personal called Egg Head which is a sorcerous meditation on my recent experiences with my brain tumour and the cognitive effects of its removal.
What words of wisdom would you share to practitioners in the occult/esoteric space that seek to express their devotion?
There are a lot of perspectives coming at all of us these days, which I don’t think is always a bad thing. If you’re talking about devotion to this Art though most of those voices need to be hewn through. Don’t live only in the tunnel of voices and observing eyes, that is basically a trap for getting stuck in loops of behaviour. There is very little sorcery to be found inside a loop.
Remember the way ocean and wind wear through stone. You will become a holy stone if you subject yourself to the elements and don’t live inside your Human all the time. And once you find the key to go with your holy stone then nightmares other humans can subject you to will no longer trouble you.
If you could recommend one book to neophytes, what would it be and why?
This is a hard question because there are either one hundred books or there is no book at all… I think I am always trying to write *that* book. If I had to pick one I’d say Wolferland by Martin Shaw. He’s not even a witchcraft practitioner in the strict sense. He’s a poet, storyteller, and man of many vigils who has a lot to teach about being alone with yourself, and after that the humbling realisation you were never alone to begin with.
To learn more and to stay updated on future projects by Lee Morgan, check out the links below to his Instagram, Facebook and his website.
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