This year we had an opportunity to speak with Michael ‘Mike’ Howard, an English witch and magus. The author of over thirty books, he has been actively involved in the craft and magical traditions for over forty-five years. He is the editor and publisher of The Cauldron, a respected magazine in the field of witchcraft, magic, and folklore, published continuously since 1976, enjoying a world-wide readership.
Our staff enjoys your magazine very much and considers it an essential resource for those with a personal interest in witchcraft and the magical arts. What sort of life experiences or influences were at work to spark your initial interest in these disciplines?
I became interested in the occult and the supernatural in my early teens through reading fictional works by authors such as Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Dennis Wheatley, M.R. James, and H.P. Lovecraft. Then in 1963, I read a newspaper report about the discovery of evidence of a so-called black magic rite at a ruined church in an English village. A skeleton had been removed from a grave and used in what looked to be a necromantic rite. I then realized that people were still carrying out occult practices and it was for real.
My first real encounter with witchcraft in this life was when I was studying at agricultural college in rural Somerset. I met an old countryman who told me of female witches he knew who could cure and curse and a local wise-man skilled in “owl blasting.” This was a dialect term for casting the evil eye. When I graduated from the college I went to work on a farm in Gloucestershire. There I was lucky enough to meet an old-style witch or cunning man. He convinced me that witchcraft of a traditional or historical form was still being practised in the English countryside.
You have written about being involved with Madeline Montalban and her magical group, the Order of the Morning Star. In The Pillars of Tubal Cain you indicate that her teachings regarding the biblical fallen angels or Watchers, are integral to understanding the importance of witchcraft as it has developed in Western culture. Could you give us an overview of the importance of the magical system used by the OMS and what our readers should seek to learn about the Watchers and Lumiel-Lucifer? Also, how did your work with Madeline Montalban affect your own personal path?
I met Madeline Montalban in the famous hippy “summer of love” in 1967. Madeline was not a witch, although there are persistent rumors she was associated or involved with traditional witchcraft before the war. She was a magician, taromancer, and astrologer who wrote monthly horoscopes and articles for a popular astrological magazine called Prediction. She produced a practical course that taught her students angelic magic based on medieval grimoires such as The Key of Solomon, Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy and Francis Barrett’s The Magus. However, when they reached a certain point in the course, students then were introduced to the “big secret”– the teachings about the fallen angels and their leader Azazel, also known as the rebel archangel Lucifer or Lumiel the Lightbearer. If they did not run off screaming, they could then progress further.
The OMS was important because it was one of the first modern occult groups to present Luciferianism in a non-satanic, gnostic way and as a legitimate part of the Western magical tradition. It represented Lord Lumiel and the Fallen Ones in a positive way as cultural exemplars and teachers and guides to humanity, rather than the evil spirits of biblical propaganda. After I left the Order I still remained dedicated in secret to Lord Lumiel and the Luciferian tradition. It was only in the 1990s that I decided to go public on that aspect of my occult life. Basically I think that those Witches’ Almanac readers who feel sincerely attracted to the Luciferian tradition should attempt to make their own personal contact with the Lightbearer and his Watchers or ‘Teaching Angels’. They will find the Fallen Ones will answer the call of any sincere seeker wishing to learn.
You have an impressive catalog of over thirty books. What motivated you to start writing? Do you have a background in journalism, or was it a case of the spirit moving you to share your personal discoveries and knowledge?
Writing is in my blood as I have also been interested in expressing my thoughts using that medium since my school days. When I met Madeline Montalban, she encouraged me to do it professionally and helped me get my first article published in Prediction in 1970. In fact, I wrote articles and book reviews for Prediction for over twenty years. She was a trained journalist and had worked before the Second World War for a national newspaper and an international press agency, so she was a good teacher for an aspiring writer.
I got a publishing contract for my first book, on candle magic, because the Cabbalistic magician W.E. Butler mentioned me to the now defunct Aquarian Press. They had asked Ernest to write a book on the subject, but he declined as he believed he did not have the “popular touch.” Instead he suggested they ask me. Then I managed to get a recommendation from Nigel Pennick so that Thorsons Publishers commissioned me to write my first of several books on the Northern European runes.
To be honest I never really started out to write as a teaching tool or to impart knowledge. That was something that developed and became a more important and primary reason for my writings. The initial motive was so I could give up mundane work and devote myself to it as a career. It soon became apparent that it was impossible to make a living out of writing serious esoteric books. My conscience would not allow me to write populist garbage that would sell and I was totally hopeless at fiction, where good money can be earned if you are good at it.
In 1976 you founded The Cauldron. How has this venture served your own spiritual journey and the larger effort to enhance the journeys of readers? Can you name a few of the writers published in the magazine who have made an exceptional contribution to the field?
Publishing The Cauldron for the last thirty-six years has been a magical labor of love and a service for the craft. It is non-profit making and I have never tried or wanted to make any money out of it. Today its back issues are widely sought after as collector’s items. They are also regarded by those academics studying ancient and modern witchcraft as an important and valuable historical resource. Over the years, it has flown the banner of traditional craft high by publishing articles by contemporary writers in that field like Nigel Aldcroft Jackson, E.W. Liddell, Martin Duffy, Nigel Pennick, Evan John Jones, Shani Oates, Alaister Clay-Egerton, Andrew D. Chumbley, and Daniel A. Schulke. My own personal journey on the path has been enhanced by editing and publishing The Cauldron because of the number of contacts in traditional craft I have made through it and the good people I have encountered. Some of these became friends and also fellow companions on the path.
In 2000 you authored Light From the Shadows: A Mythos of Modern Traditional Witchcraft under the pen-name Gwyn. This book delves into the lore and esoteric spirituality of traditional craft, rather than the nuts and bolts of spellcraft and sorcery. How do these two distinct areas of magical praxis mesh in the modern manifestation of traditional witchcraft?
Before answering your last question, I would like to digress into the raison d’être for writing Light From the Shadow s and why I did not put my real name to it. Since my initiation into Gardnerian Wicca, I had not felt comfortable about and wary of writing books on the craft because of its naturally secretive nature. That is why when I wrote Light From the Shadows I used a pen-name. The book was written as guide to newbies and beginners, but it did not turn out exactly how I wanted it to. I felt pressured to sanitize and popularize the subject for the publisher. However, people seemed to have liked it anyway and found it informative and helpful. As a result, since its publication I have changed my views and will be writing more books on the craft.
The magical practices in modern traditional witchcraft deal with charms, spells, shapechanging, necromancy, astral travel, trance work, exorcism, wortcunning or “green magic” involving herbal and plant lore, healing and cursing, communing with the spirit world, and divination The so-called religious or spiritual aspects include celebrating the Witches’ Sabbath, observing seasonal customs where it is appropriate or needful, and sacrifice, reverence and devotion to the ancestral dead, spirits, angels, and deities.
My own personal view is that the craft is a gnostic magico-spiritual mystery cultus. Its goal is spiritual enlightenment and illumination and the control of the practitioner’s own karmic destiny. This is also the end-game of so-called high magic or theurgy in the Western mystery tradition. The practical magical dimension or context to witchcraft is represented by so-called low magic, folk magic or sorcery. The sorcerer is someone, male or female, who is willing to make a pact with the spirits in exchange for magical power and occult knowledge and then wield and use that power in the material world.
You are currently embarked on some new projects for future books. What can we look forward to in the coming years?
In recent years my writing has gone through a very productive stage. This is not unconnected with my magical practice and involvement with the Cultus Sabbati and its members. As a result I have several books recently published, awaiting publication, or in the pipe—line, and some future writing projects that are still in my head.
I have been working for the new esoteric publishing company, Three Hands Press, in the USA on an ongoing series of books about historical witches and cunning folk in various regions of the British Isles. I’ve also written a book on the history of modern Wicca for Llewellyn and they are publishing my new traditional witchcraft one.
At present my focus is on the American market because it has a larger potential readership base than the UK. I am therefore hoping that my books can get a wider audience in the future. It is very difficult now to get serious books on witchcraft and magic accepted here by mainstream publishing houses as they are concentrating on new age titles. I am particularly happy that my book on traditional witchcraft has an American publisher. This is because there is a growing interest in the subject in the US and also a lot of misconceptions and misinformation over there about the subject. Hopefully my book will help to counteract that.