I haven't done an interview since grade school. I'm not entirely sure why I decided to embark on this new endeavor (that I hope will grow), but like so much in my recent life you can probably blame Gordon White and Rune Soup. When the idea occurred to me, there really was only one person at the top of my list (it will take some time and some research and a bigger set of balls before I ask the aforementioned Mr White): Tommie Kelly.
I've only recently become acquainted with Mr Kelly and his work (his comics are forcing their way up my reading list -- more on those a bit later, and I look forward to his blog entries and weekly round-ups), but it has already been an extremely rewarding relationship and I hope my (hypothetical?) readers here at Chariot's Wheels will find something also to their liking. And that's enough about and from me, let's hear from Tommie Kelly (with as little as possible editorial oversight; my questions are in italics).
We met via CMG (Chaos Magic Group) on Facebook; my tenure there was short and somewhat contentious (at least from my point of view), but you are actually an admin there. Seems to me that job must be like herding cats; mean, feral cats. Why do you do it?
A few reasons. I was asked to do it and it seemed like a challenge, so I said yes. But I continue to do it because I enjoy doing it. I think once you get into your head that CMG is a hangout place for people with shared interests rather than somewhere you go to learn, like a school, then it becomes a whole lot easier to cope with. CMG is the schoolyard outside the Occult school.
When I joined CMG, long before I was an Admin, I knew it was going to be challenging and that I would find it hard and probably distasteful at times – but I welcomed all that. I already had nice and safe and tasteful, and I was bored and not really learning anything. CMG was fresh, interesting, weird and really, really noisy. But I liked it, almost immediately. It wiped the cobwebs from my brain and injected new ideas.
CMG has some of the smartest, most intelligent and wisest people you could come across. I have learned so much from people in the group and can’t see that changing. I have had some brilliant conversations about some absolutely amazing ideas that I would never have come to on my own.
We have done some great Ask Me Anything Sessions with people like Gordon White, Ramsey Dukes, Jason Miller, Jason Louv, Julian Vayne, Michael M Hughes and Billy Brujo which all have been a personal highlight for me. We also have the now ever present Half-Peeled Orange game.
It also has some of the biggest trolls you will ever interact with.
CMG is obviously far from perfect and I do have days when I hate it – though not as many as you might think.
Your earliest blog posts kind of dump us into the story in the middle (in media res, if you will) and don't give us a lot of background on Tommie Kelly before the Adventures in Woo Woo period began (I'll be honest, I have not yet made my way through the two years of posts on the blog; yet). Can you tell us a little more about how you get involved with both art and magic and how the two combine for you?
"...you may as well tell yourself the most empowering lies and take on the most liberating beliefs you can talk yourself into...."
Well, I have always been interested in spirituality since a very early age – I don’t really like that word these days, but I can’t think of a better one. As a teenager I was big into Stuart Wilde and he has had a very lasting influence on me – probably my biggest influence, with Alan Watts and Grant Morrison not being that far behind. He definitely had some great Magickal ideas, but he certainly wouldn’t have called them that. I wrote a post about him on my blog: Wilde at Heart
I was big into comics and art as a kid and an early teenager, but an Art teacher I had at Secondary School really killed the whole passion for me, and I got more interested in music and guitar at that point. I spent the next ten years or more trying to be a rock star, and while I did release a few albums and did hundreds of gigs, I spent most of my Rock Star years being a Sound Engineer, which I absolutely despised but was quite good at.
When I was about 27 or 28, maybe 29 I just couldn’t take it anymore and had a bit of a breakdown where I knew that if I didn’t do something then I would be in the same pattern for the rest of my life. I got back into drawing and comics at that point and the music stuff gradually phased out. I did record an EP a few years ago, but other than listening to it, music isn’t that much a part of my life any more.
That said, neither are comics really. With Road Crew, The Holy Numbers and THEM I think I have said all I needed to say in that medium. I got it all out of my system. I have done more comics since but always as work for hire but there is literally no outside reward, financially or otherwise for self-publishing comics. At least not in my case. The only reward is the personal one of having gone through the effort of producing the art and expressing yourself. In comics I feel I have done what I needed to do and said what I wanted to say. But who knows how I will feel in the years to come.
Magick wise, Grant Morrison’s Disinfo Lecture was the game changer. I had read some Crowley as a teenager, and some Wicca/pagan stuff in my twenties but it was only after that video that I jumped headlong into Magick and read everything I could get my hands on: RAW, Kraig, Chapman, Barford, LaVey, Crowley, Case, Karlsson, Levi, Simon, Carroll, Dukes, Hine - all the books!
But as people can see by reading the blog, I have a very erratic and up and down relationship with the whole thing. I’m still not fully convinced Magick is an actual thing, but I am getting less and less concerned about that. My biggest lesson in life is that there is no one on this planet who has a fuckin’ clue of what is really going on, and no matter what you believe about reality, there is no way you can be right. SO, you may as well tell yourself the most empowering lies and take on the most liberating beliefs you can talk yourself into – if you are going to be wrong not matter what you believe, you may as well believe happy, powerful, strong, and liberating lies.
So why not Magick? It works about as well as any of the other ideas, In my opinion anyway.
You recently introduced The Forty Servants to the world. (For those 'not in the know', The Forty Servants is an Oracle Deck; a pack of 40 cards used for divination and more practical works of magic. You can learn more about The Forty Servants here, and also buy a physical or digital copy.) In another interview, you had this to say on the deck: "Inspiration wise, I’m not really sure. It’s definitely a Chaos Magick Deck, in the sense that I made it all up rather than worked from any sort of traditional structure." Could you elaborate on that concept of 'made up' versus 'traditional structure' and how you feel that applies to the larger conceptual framework of Chaos Magick?
Sure. What I meant there is that it isn’t a Tarot deck, that was the tradition I was referring to. The Forty Servants is not based on any sort of old system or an old card deck or similar. It’s a totally new thing. Of course, it has elements of Tarot and other traditions but it’s not something that you could trace a history or lineage back to something original.
It's also a Chaos Magick deck because it relies on sigils, servitors and ideas like: 'the more use it gets the more powerful it becomes' because the Servants feed off of attention. It’s taking archetypes and god forms and throwing out all the baggage and getting to the best bits – the bits that work – which is what Chaos Magick is to me.
Chaos Magick, in my opinion, is all about being as pragmatic as possible. Try stuff and see what works and what doesn’t, then do more of the stuff that worked. The Forty Servants are things/servitors/ideas/archetypes that have worked for me, and seem to work well for other people too.
Each Servant has their own sigil, which is a word fraught with many meanings for practitioners, and a sigil can itself function as a spell or magical act of creation. When it came to creating the Servants and their sigils, did you have any sort of ritual for investing them with power or purpose or was that all bound up in the creative process for you?
When I was working on the deck, and in my writing and comics too, I tried my best, as much as possible, to get out of the way of the creative process. By that I mean, I try not to think too much about what I am doing and instead let the work tell me what it wants to be. That may sound strange but it’s the only way I can work. If I try to imprint too much of ME on things then they just fall apart really quickly.
But it’s also not channeled work or anything like that. There is no voice in my head telling me what to do – it’s more about not resisting where the project/book/oracle deck/magick naturally wants to go. Let it write its own story rather than demanding it be one way or one particular thing.
The actual creation or birth, if you will, of the Servants was done on Halloween night 2016. I performed a big ritual where I brought the servants into being by giving them the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water and then breathing life into them. The versions of the Cards that I used for this ritual are in a special black box on my Altar.
There really launched into the world when I made a Gif version of the deck and posted it to Facebook. That got shared nearly 20,000 times to date and the whole thing just took a life of it’s own at that point – which of course was always the intention.
You mention the work of Alan Chapman twice in your Magick Primer series, and you created artwork for his recently launched website (for more on Alan Chapman's Fountainhead Wisdom Service, visit the website here). I've heard of his work before, likely via recommended reading, but never approached it. How did you get involved with him and his endeavors?
I first heard of Alan Chapman from the book Advanced Magick for Beginners, which is a great book – probably the best intro to chaos magick book there is, in my opinion. I had also followed his blog for a while – the now deleted Baptist Head – that he wrote with Duncan Barford. Later, they collected all the posts from the website and released them as three books – which they have also since removed from publication, but you can find them on Archive.org. These books are great; I really enjoyed his and Duncan's ideas, probably more so when Alan was bigger into magick than the Contemplation and Dialectic stuff he is doing now, I don’t seem to be warming to that as much as I expected. But back in the day, they experimented a lot and would try crazy things (like evoking Robert Anton Wilson for instance) just to see what would happen. I loved all that.
In recent years though, Alan had been quite quiet on the Internet and I wondered what he was up to these days. I decided that the best course of action was to do some Meme Magick - so I made a picture meme of a quote of his from A.M.F.B and posted it online. Within a week or so he had tweeted me and we got chatting, he bought an Aleister Crowley Art Print from me and then he hired me to do some art for his new website. So, ya know... meme magick works. ????
We also did an AMA for CMG earlier this year, but he has since deleted his all his presence off Facebook again so all his answers have been lost. You can still hear a podcast conversation we had as a prelude to the AMA here.
Advanced Magick for Beginners is usually the book I recommend when people are looking for an introduction to the topic of Magick.
I so want to ask "Were you a weird kid?", but I won't. Instead I'm going to ask about a shared interest: the work of Gordon White. How and when did you first find Gordon and how were you attached to his latest work: Pieces of Eight?
I am pretty sure my whole Chaos Magick journey started the day I saw Grant Morrison’s Disinfo lecture. The whole sigil thing Morrison talks about in that lecture really sounded amazing to me, and so I went to Google and there I found Mr. White and his now mega famous sigil post on Rune Soup. Rune Soup quickly became my favorite blog and absolutely still is.
I was very active on the Reddit Sub r/occult and I contacted Gordon to see if he was interested in doing an AMA. Turned out he was and it was a great success which led to some twittering and comment conversations on his blog. A few years later I asked him if he had any interest in doing an AMA in CMG and it turned out that yet again - he did.
I had a pretty big Sync with Gordon too around that time. Literally a minute after I completed doing his Chaos Protocols version of The Headless Ritual for the first time, he emailed me and asked me about doing the artwork for the cover of his new forthcoming book (so again, ...magick).
So I knew for quite a while that there was a third Gordon book on the horizon but I couldn’t tell anyone. I really like the cover and I think it suits the book well.
Gordon's stuff is great, as you well know, and I suggest if you haven’t come across him to go check him out.
That was the end of my questions for Tommie. I want to thank him very much for agreeing to be interviewed and for the fantastic turn around time on his answers and the wonderful artwork he included that graces this article. What follows is some additional info from Tommie about his other work in comics and the occult.
Other than the Forty Servants, my biggest piece of Magick is my comic THEM, which to date, is probably the child I am proudest of. The Holy Numbers was massively more successful than THEM (it even won awards ???? ), and I do really love all my creative children, but THEM has a very special place in my heart. If people want to read more about the magick behind it, they can read the blog series on my website here.
I write about the Working as being a possibly failed working in those posts, but I think I may have been a tad hasty and short sighted on that call. I don’t think the Magick of THEM has quite finished with me yet and a lot of the results of that working have yet to be revealed.
The Great Work comic only lasted two issues because like THEM, it more or less bombed and coupled with a number of personal issues going on at the time I just called it a day. It was a horrible time for me, to be honest and I haven’t actually looked at it since. However, I think my next big project is going to be a novel, and I will take a lot of the unused elements form The Great Work and rework them into it.
Tommie is also on Twitter: @tommiekelly
You can buy your own Forty Servants here
Don't just talk about the work, do the work.
Let's make with the magic.
Inimicus Dei Constituitur