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A Great Loss for the Occult Community

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on October 22, 2012 | Comments (4)

Recently, I’ve begun to think that maybe the Mayans—or more accurately, some interpreters of the Mayan calendar—were right.

I’ve seen a great deal of personal loss this year. Musically, I learned that a guitarist I had played with had died. Before we worked together he had played with the early group, The Music Machine, and had one hit, “Talk, Talk.” Later, he had played with Ike and Tina Turner, and claimed to me that it was he who had convinced Ike to play “Proud Mary.” More recently, the far-better known Jon Lord, keyboard player for the original Deep Purple, passed on. His playing had greatly influenced my own. More personally, several people, including relatives, have passed on to their next great adventures.

And perhaps experiencing this as a magnificent new adventure is now the approach of the spirit of David Godwin. According to an email I received from his friend, Phyllis Galde (publisher of FATE magazine), David “departed this earthly plane on Tues[day], Oct. 16th. He died peacefully in his rocking chair with his headphones on.”

David Godwin

In the book, Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia (about which I’ll have more to share in a moment), it says this about him:

David Godwin is a longtime student of the cabala, occult lore, and magick. Past Master of an esoteric lodge, he has authored The Truth about Cabala, Light in Extension, and How to Choose Your Own Tarot. As well as editing and publishing The Qabalistic Messenger and compiling the index to the current edition of Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, Godwin has had articles published in FATE, Gnostica, Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac, The Golden Dawn Journal, The Texas Ranger, Dragon, Crypt of Cthulhu, and elsewhere, He currently works as a free-lance writer, editor, and typesetter, and has designed award-winning books for regional publishers.

On our website it adds that he has been “a member FATE magazine’s editorial staff for more than a decade [and] he holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.” More recently, David has been responsible for collecting the stories and editing the books, True Ghosts 2, True Ghosts 3, and True UFO Accounts.

Indexing The Golden Dawn

There are two massive services David performed for the occult community. The first was doing the arduous work entailed in creating an effective index for Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn. I have a bit of a story to share about this.

Regardie’s book originally appeared in the late 1930s as four separate volumes. It was practically ignored for over two decades until all rights to it were purchased by Llewellyn. We republished it in a boxed, two-volume set. This was later republished in single-volume hardbound editions, one with a glossy, psychedelic cover, the other with a textured blue cover featuring gold stamped text (and a glaring typo). Another edition came out with corrections, footnotes, and a new introduction. This one was softbound. When I heard that Regardie was going to re-write the book, I urged him to put the entire book into a more logical, step-by-step order. Because he decided not to, and because I wanted a book to accompany the courses in magick I had been teaching, I turned my class notes and previous attempts at writing this into a book that became Modern Magick.

I have several editions of Regardie’s book, including the huge version, the re-write he referred to as a “door stop.” The order of the content in those books is all over the place. First there is theory and practice. Then there are rituals. Then there are instructions you should have had for the first rituals followed by more rituals. Then more theory and techniques, much of which needs a great deal of comment for readers to understand. As a result, in my opinion, unless you really want to spend a lot of time with that book, all of those editions are unusable. Most of the copies I’ve seen show that perhaps the first hundred or two hundred pages have been looked at (barely a third of the book), while the more in-depth material has been ignored.

It was only with David’s added index that this book became really workable. Today, of course, computers can automagically create an index. When David created the index for The Golden Dawn, such software was both expensive and not very good. To make his laborious task even more complex, Llewellyn had chosen to include two paginations for the volume, including the page numbers of older editions and of a newly typeset version.

The Golden Dawn is truly an encyclopedia of occult and magickal theory and practice. Today, anyone can use David’s index to help discover the secrets of this book and make use of them in their magickal work.

The Ultimate Disruption

One of the things I have always contended about magick and occultism is that they should be approached as sciences, not religions. Dion Fortune wrote that there is no room for authority in occultism. It is your own work, practice and experimentation (rituals, spellwork, etc.) that should determine the validity of a magickal method or theory. Books should be considered guides and not treated as if they had been written in stone, unchangeable forever, like some religious tome.

Unfortunately, in the 1960s and 1970s, occultism was filled with the “if someone famous wrote it years ago it must be the epitome of truth” syndrome. Anything that challenged the status quo was considered heresy. The person who helped change this was David Godwin.

There were authors who tried to open the occult world to alternate possibilities. Kenneth Grant tried to do so and was denounced, in the press, by Israel Regardie. Other authors tried to do the same and met similar resistance. They had their defenders, but this ended up resulting in multiple camps with people supporting one or the other idea. And that’s where David comes in.

Due to the physical distance between us, David and I were never close friends, but we always were cordial, friendly, enjoyed our time together, and had a great deal of mutual respect. I respected David’s broad occult erudition and clarity of thought that came through all of his writings. That’s why I asked David if he’d consider doing a foreword to the new edition of Modern Magick. He graciously consented and for that I will always be in his debt.

I never experienced David as being pushy. Instead, his slight Southern drawl and sly sense of humor would instantly and modestly win you over. It was the perfect approach for an occult community that desperately needed someone to say, “It’s okay to move on and grow.”

Two of the most important books for magicians of all types were Aleister Crowley’s 777 and Sepher Sephiroth (today they are frequently published together). They are a means of understanding numerological correspondences (an aspect of Kabalistic gematria) and correspondences for the Sephioht and paths on the Kabalistic Tree of Life. These two books were often the magicians’ bible for moving beyond repetition of rituals and designing original magickal workings. These books remain a key resource for many magicians, and the work of those magicians has, in turn, influenced many others, including many Pagans.

There had been a few minor attempts to correct and expand on the lists included in Crowley’s books, but they weren’t widely available or accepted.

And then, in 1979, Llewellyn published the first edition of Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia. It made no claim to be replacing Crowley’s works, it just added new information…lots of information. To make a magician’s work easier, it even included a full copy of Sepher Sephiroth! So now, magicians could use Crowley and get additional information. It was okay to learn from the past and move ahead. Magicians were no longer required to choose one path or another, old or new. Occultists weren’t on different sides; they were on parallel paths.

And where was the author who, with this one book, disrupted the entire ego-based occult community of its time? He wasn’t out demanding followers. He wasn’t trying to force anyone to do anything. He was just David, doing what he always did, sharing what he had learned. Sharing what he knew. Letting anyone use it. And always with a sparkle in his eye and a droll joke.

Following Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia there came a flood of occult books that expanded on what went before and even pointed in new directions. I can’t think of any that pointed back to David’s book, saying, “without GCE what I’m presenting wouldn’t be here.” This wasn’t done out of spite, but out of a lack of recognition of not just the content of David’s book, but of the disruptive nature of the book for all of occultism. And that disruption has changed us all in positive ways.

David, I’m truly going to miss you. Because you weren’t as public as some authors and teachers, the occult community may not realize the depth of your contributions and how it will miss you. But miss you it will.

In the later part of his life, David became deeply involved in Freemasonry. So may the Great Architect of the Universe watch over you and guide you to rest and recuperation before we are lucky enough to experience your essence once again.

Rest in peace.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Michael Lloyd
on October 22nd, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

This news greatly saddens me. I knew David even less well than you, Donald, but I spent a fun weekend with him in Columbus, OH back in the late 1990s when he came to town to handfast a gay couple I know in a wonderful ceremonial rite. The couple were both tea-totallers, and so they asked me and another friend of theirs to take David out on the town that night and show him a good time. What resulted was a gay bar crawl that involved many drinks, go-go boys, drag queens, and David buying us each a red rose from a vendor who wandered through one of the pubs. I deposited him back at my friends’ home very late (and very inebriated). My friends were not amused, but I had followed my instructions to the letter. LOL. The next day a very hung over Godwin taught a workshop at the now defunct Shadow Realm bookstore. I’m not a ceremonial magickian, but I believe that we can always learn from one another. I still have a couple of his books (including his Encycopedia) that he inscribed for me with a shaky hand emblematic of the hangover that we both shared that day. We exchanged only a very few emails over the intervening years, but I shall always remember that wild wedding celebration with much fondness.

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#2 
Written By Morgan Eckstein
on October 22nd, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

You are right; his death is a loss to the greater occult community.

Trackbacks

  1. The Saddest Samhain  on November 1st, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

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