Thursday, November 26, 2015

Magick and Meditation on Death Row

One of the questions I occasionally get asked is something to the effect of whether or not one would be able to practice magick or meditation under terrible circumstances, such as, say, being on death row. Without personal experience, it's pretty hard to imagine how effective practicing under such circumstances would be. But here's an article written by someone who actually did it.

Damien Echols was one of the West Memphis Three, a case from 1994 that was one of the last gasps of the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" panic of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Echols and two of his friends were prosecuted for the murders of three young boys on the basis of very flimsy evidence, with "Satanic ritual" the only motive being advanced in the case.

Then, in 2007, DNA evidence from the crime scene was finally tested and found to not match Echols or the other two defendants. This implied that the murders were committed by someone else, which just about anyone who knew much about occultism had already figured out. The evangelical concept of "Satanic ritual" - evil done for evil's sake - is simply not a real thing, and it's not an even remotely credible motive for murder.

Echols spent almost nineteen years on death row. In light of the new evidence, he and his fellow defendants were allowed to enter Alford pleas in 2011, under which they asserted their innocence but acknowledged that evidence existed linking them to the crime. Their sentences were reduced to time served, and they were released from prison.

In the article, Echols explains how magick and meditation helped keep him sane under the horrific conditions that he was exposed to on death row.

My interest in magick may have contributed to my being sentenced to death, but it was also a huge part of what allowed me to survive for the better part of two decades in the American prison system. For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

I had several teachers I corresponded with, including the priest of a Japanese zen temple who would travel from Japan to the prison in Arkansas to give me ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism, the same tradition that used to train the samurai in older times.

Zen teaches you patience, willpower, and self control. You sit in a position called "seiza,” which basically means on your knees, for long periods of time. This allows you to build up a sort of detachment that enables you to observe your thoughts and emotions as an observer, instead of being carried along by them. You learn to override physical discomfort, mental anxiety, and emotional tar pits. Sitting in seiza, I realized my mind had been running around and around in circles since the day I was born, like a dog chasing its tail.

What I learned from zen seems very simple, but it's far harder than it sounds: I learned to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult or brutal life became. By the time I was released, I was doing meditation and ritual work for nearly eight hours a day.

It sounds pretty intuitive when you think about it. If you have nothing to do, and no contact with anyone, you might as well meditate and practice magick. The only real alternative is staring at a wall and slowly letting your sanity evaporate. I would like to think that I would be able to do the same, but the reality is that I'll never know unless I find myself in a similar situation - and I sure hope that I never do.

Since I couldn't leave, I had to find a way to change the energy there. I didn't have any of the tools and implements that people traditionally use, such as sage, smudge sticks, or incense. All I had was my own will, intellect, and energy.

I put those things to use by relentlessly performing a exercise that magicians call The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. It involves using breath work and visualization to direct energy. With it, you create a kind of sacred space, by driving out lingering energy from an area. It's like sterilizing a room’s energy.

In addition, it also gives you a basic introduction to working with intelligences that we refer to as Angels. After cleansing the space, you call upon the archangels of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to stabilize any energy that enters the space, and make it more harmonious with whatever your personal desire may be.

My personal desire was to not be beaten by guards, or have them destroy what few possessions I owned, such as family photos. I performed this ritual over and over and over, driving it so deeply into my psyche that it became almost a reflex. Now, years later, I can do it without ever moving from my chair.

The article is quite powerful, and I highly recommend that you read the entire piece. It represents a strong testimony to the effectiveness of magical and mystical practices under even the most dire circumstances. Furthermore, cases like Echols' provide a warning of what could happen should religious fundamentalists ever come to power in this country. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, the "Satanic panic" was pursued with a singular political agenda.

Christian fundamentalists hoped to fabricate enough evidence to demonstrate that Satanism was synonymous with child abuse, and then go on to classify all non-Christian religions as Satanism to render any religious practices other than their own illegal. It was doomed to failure, of course, due to this little thing called the Constitution. But back then I came into contact with several individuals from fundamentalist churches who were convinced that they could succeed.

In the end the fraud was outed by a comprehensive FBI investigation, exposing the networks of therapist trained at special fundamentalist-backed seminars to "recover" - that is, fabricate - memories of "Satanic abuse" in thousands of children. Fortunately for the rest of us, the imaginations of said fundamentalist exceeded the bounds of reality so thoroughly that anyone with critical thinking skills could see that it couldn't possibly be real. But none of that came out soon enough to keep the West Memphis Three from serving long prison terms.

We need to always remember how this went down the first time around if we want to keep it from happening again. Abusing children from the purposes of "Satanic ritual" is quite frankly a ridiculous notion, regardless of how plausible fundamentalists think that it might be. But if law enforcement can ever again be convinced of its validity, all of us practitioners could be in for a whole heap of trouble.

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