Wednesday 24 May 2023

Gareth Knight - Romantic Christian

In 2011, Gareth Knight (1939-2022) published an autobiography titled I call it Magic which is easy and enjoyable to read on the surface; yet contains several deeper layers of implied content that have only revealed themselves on re-reading.

Of particular interest was his account of the transformation in his own 'magical life' throughout his adult life; especially the changes in what he 'called' magic, the means by which he reached the state of enchantment or poetry, and the actual content of these magical-states. 

Knight began as a formal ritual magician, ascending through the prolonged training and initiatory steps of the Society of the Inner Light (founded a generation earlier, as a Christian organization, by Dion Fortune); he went on to found his own ritual magic group - on similar, though looser, lines; then to 'staging' much larger annual weekend events (almost 'happenings') at an anthroposophical centre called Hawkwood. 

By Knight's own account, in the 1970s to the early 1980s, these weekends attained a very powerful level of magical activity among the participants (who had been trained in the requisite methods of concentration and visualization). He then stopped doing this, and moved on to less formal and more improvisatory styles of magic either alone, with his wife and daughter, or in small and private groups. 

After the turn of the millennium his magic practice had changed further. In December of 2004 he was invited back to the Hawkwood weekend; which had changed considerably over the previous couple of decades (the following quotations are from Chapter 31 of I called it Magic) :

The occasion was a jolly romp, with the place filled to capacity, and a rich variety of activity. [But] Power was not ramped up to the degree that it had been in the early Hawkwood days...   

In other words, the experience was less-strongly magical, less enchanted than it had been. In other words; this corresponds to my observations on the declining power of symbolism and ritual through the late 20th century.  

Knight does not draw attention to the meaning of these changes for his inner life; but describes how in fact his practices changed - in the direction of becoming more individual, personally based, and exploratory (rather than relying-on an established and quasi-objective system of symbols, rituals, and group activity). 

Rooted in his study of French language and literature (in which subject he did a degree in later life); Knight embarked on an engagement with the medieval French Arthurian poet Chretien de Troyes:

I took upon myself the task of going through each of Chretien's romances as if both he and I were present, travelling through the whole scenario from start to finish as a kind of directed visualization, and writing it all down...

It then filtered into my head the realization that much that I had witnessed in this was was not chivalrous knights going to the aid of damsels in distress but accounts of their initiation into fairyland - for there was a strong case for seeing the principal female characters as faery rather than human. 

This led on to what Knight termed faery 'contacts' - which then led to writing several books deriving from these contacts. What this meant he explains further: 

It dealt in imagery but with a philosophical intent, yet a wisdom expressed more through the medium of a story than by intellectual definitions. To make the contact it was necessary to build a scenario [i.e. in imagination] something like a questing knight discovering a castle in a particular symbolic shape, and then entering into it... with a ... direct feeling of relationship with the fabric of the building itself. 

After further description of his imagined but real-seeming experiences; Knight elaborates the resulting new and deeper engagement with nature:

This kind of thing was at a different level from local countryside experiences where contact was virtually devoid of intellect but impacted more on the emotional and etheric levels... Along with contacts... came a greater sense of presence and communion with the world of nature, and particularly trees...

It may well be that experience and wisdom of this nature comes with age, which is [an] aspect of the Merlin and Nimue story... But there is no real need to await one's dotage for a realization of these things.


What Gareth Knight seems to me to be describing here, is a kind of recapitulation of Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield's scheme of the development of consciousness. The ritual magic was the Intellectual Soul era, characteristic of classical and medieval culture. 

Contact bears some relationship to 'channeling' of spiritual Beings - which he also did for example in a channeled series of direct communication (much like taking dictation) of 1993, published as The Abbey Papers

But 'contact' comes across to me as much more of a two-way interaction between himself and a spiritual Being - and not necessarily in words, nor in images - i.e. more direct than language- or symbol-mediated. 

Knight then moved towards what sound very much like Final Participation - which is something like a recapitulation in conscious thinking of what was a much more passive and unconscious in the spontaneous animistic Original Participation of early childhood and tribal Man. 

Animistic, because it recognizes the world as consisting of living, conscious Beings with which one may have relationships and communication. Knight also seems to be moving towards a communication less based on perceptions and visions, and more a matter of what I have called Direct Knowing: that is direct, wordless and imageless communication in thinking. 

In other words, a direct communion between Beings, such that the thinking of one is participated-in by the thinking of another. 

Once Gareth Knight had reached this kind of 'magic' I think he has largely left-behind the formal and institutional roots of his practice, and indeed its 'objective' aspects, where experiences were shared via a common language and symbolism that could be relied-upon to evoke the same inner states in its participants.

It seems he has - in practice, if not in terms of theorization - fully Romantic Christian; in that he takes an inner, intuitive and personal responsibility for whatever 'methods' he uses to attain magical states of mind (within the over-arching and primary Christian metaphysical framework).   

Knight puts this change down to his own personal development, experiences, expediency, and ageing - but such is the generality of such a development that I interpret it as driven by inner and divinely-destined changes in the human consciousness of Western Man. 

What all this seems to mean is that (here and now) we cannot rely upon external and institutional forms of spirituality to attain 'participation' in the world; and the language of 'objective' communication of spiritual experiences has weakening and withered. 

Yet, on the positive side, we can develop distinctive (perhaps unique) personal 'aids' and methods (i.e. 'contacts' occurring inside thinking, rather than as external 'events), that will achieve the participation which is natural, good, and divinely-intended. 

Also, that strong forms of achieved participation are likely to be more animistic and personal - engagement with particular Beings - than the abstract forms of earlier symbolism. 


Whether Gareth Knight would have agreed with my interpretation of his life and development is perhaps doubtful... 

It does rather involve a cutting-off of the branch upon which his life's work rested: that is, the general validity of some particular kinds of ritual, symbols, group-activity; and the communication of these in abstract and written forms, and by speech. 

But his desire to use more narrative story-like communications; his primary mode of magic in later life being a personal, inter-Being and two-way 'contact'; and the continually-evolving nature of the subject matter and formal techniques of his magic - all suggest that there was exactly such an evolution; and that Gareth Knight's life ended with him being implicitly a genuine and fully-realized Romantic Christian. 

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