[Guest journalist Zora Burden joins us to share part one of a two part extensive interview with renowned occultist Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, is a British occultist, author, third generation psychic and esoteric practitioner with focus on Hermetic Qabalism. Since 1978, she has been the Director of Studies for the Servants of the Light School of Occult Science in the Western Mysteries Tradition. As SOL’s director, Dolores acts as consultant for the school, teaching workshops, lectures and seminars internationally. She has worked as a Cosmic Mediator along with Walter Ernest Butler, and is a third degree adept.
Dolores teaches on many occult subjects, and she has written 17 books on occultism and the esoteric, along with designing the SOL Tarot Deck with Jo Gill and Anthony Clark, and the Shakespearean Tarot with Paul Hardy. Dolores is most known for her teaching of Pathworking in the study of Hermetic Qabalah. She is currently touring the UK and the US teaching many workshops and giving lectures during the spring and summer 2016. Her tour starts April 2 with a class called Ritual Magic Three held in London and then continues on from there. She comes from a long line of trained occultists and psychics with both her parents being third degree initiates. Ashcroft-Nowicki currently lives in the Channel Island of Jersey with her husband Michael.Zora Burden: What was your childhood and upbringing like? Who influenced you during your formative years in regards to your interest in the esoteric or magical arts and helped shape the person you are today?
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki: Wonderful childhood. My father had a fantastic mind and, although he never went to a university, he knew more than many who did. He kept up with science, spiritual, and modern inventions all the time and encouraged me to do so. He taught me to read long before I went to school. He was a materializing Medium, but it affected his health, and he withdrew from that area. But his seership was incredible. My mother was quiet and gentle and was a perfect match for him.
Her mother, however, was willful and self-indulgent, and I disliked her very much. My father’s mother had Romany blood and was as psychic as they come. She and I were much alike and often clashed, but I loved her. She had a lovely singing voice and could play many instruments. She was an extraordinary woman and had, shall we say, an interesting past. A witch to her fingertips. We left to avoid the German invasion of the Islands and went to live on the Wirral Peninsula in the UK. Within a week she had found the local ‘coven’ and was one of those who joined forces 2/3rds a week to make a circle and build the defenses around Britain.
My grandfather was a quiet man who let things happen around him. He just ambled through life. I was brought up to believe that everyone had the right to believe as they felt fit, and to never to dismiss another’s religion. My dad would say, “You never know, if it could be the right one,” and laugh. I asked questions all the time and most were answered. If he didn’t know, my dad would find out. My parents ran a weekly meeting with friends of similar interests, and I would creep out of bed and hide behind the curtains to listen. After many times of finding me asleep there, they simply tucked me up on the sofa and let me listen. I was allowed to read whatever I wanted.
I was solitary and didn’t like other children; they were dull and uninteresting to me. I spent summer holidays searching the big atlas and planning world tours. I was always top in geography. I told my dad I would travel all over the world. He said it would take a lot of money. I made cruise cabins from shoe boxes and learned about other countries, their weather, what they made, their language and dressed my little dolls for their cruise. It took all summer, so we never set sail. I firmly believe I was creating a magic life in doing this.
I have since travelled to almost every country I planned as a child but I still don’t have any money!
I had a night visitor who used to come and talk to me, and sometimes he would take me with him and show me a lovely place with a very blue sea. It never dawned on me to ask him why he had goat feet and little horns. But he taught me a lot about Greece and showed me how beautiful his ancient world had been. It never occurred to me that others didn’t see him. I had one friend Dorothy Deakin, she had spina bifida and couldn’t walk. We used to talk about what we would like to be when we grew up. I wanted to be a singer; she wanted to be a teacher, but I told her she would be an angel. She died just before the war.
Of all the people in my childhood it was my father, my grandmother, a friend of my father’s named Robin, and one of my teachers Lester Robbillard, who influenced me most. I used to write stories for the children at school during the war. You couldn’t get new books, so I wrote stories for the younger ones and the teachers used them. Mr Robbillard told me then I would be a writer but then all I wanted was to be an actress.
ZB: When I had asked about your first childhood otherworldly experience that caused you to believe in these other realms, you had said there was a 600-year-old gnome living in an old granite wall that talked to you daily. Will you give more detail about this and mention any other magical beings you had encountered?
DA: On my way to school, I passed a beautiful old granite wall, and one day I saw a face in it and stopped to say hello. It disappeared but I saw it again, often. Finally, I stopped and spoke to it. It took a long time but eventually we became friends. I called him Christopher. We had a signal, I would clap my hand three times then place my open had on that stone and turn it. Then he would pop his head out. I was caught by a teacher who told my parents to take me to a special doctor. He was Welsh! … We had a long talk and shared lots of things, and he said [to the head teacher] I was an overly imaginative child and would grow out of it. To me, he explained that I had to be careful and not let others know about it.
An old lady had lived in the cottage before we had it, her fiancé had died in the Boer War and she never married. She died just before we took on the cottage and her room was my bedroom. She came and told me stories some nights, right up to the war times.
ZB: What are your thoughts on the Faerie realm or other mystical creatures and dimensions? How would you define them to those unfamiliar?
DA: You must be psychic. I believe that the inner universe within each one of us is full of these entities that we create in order not to feel lonely, just sitting in our solitary universe. When Peter Pan says, “Do you believe in Fairies, if you don’t somewhere a Fairy will die.” That is quite true. They and all such “life forms” live in our personal universe, and they look to us for their existence. I could be wrong but I rather like the idea that I have Fairyland within me. I love them and the Elementals, and to me they are very real. I hold long conversations with them.
ZB: What were some of your first experiences with ritual practices growing up?
DA: The first ritual was doing those travels with my dolls. I didn’t know what ritual was. My grandmother taught me simple spells, protection spells, simple healing spells for cuts and bruises, but most of the time she said I was to be young for as long as I could, there was plenty of time.
ZB: Will you talk about meeting your husband and how having a partner in regards to magical or spiritual work affected your own development?
DA: The only sport apart from swimming that I liked was fencing. I love knives and blades. I went to classes and became quite proficient. When I went to live in London, I joined a fencing club run by a man who was full of himself. He never asked me if I could fence, he just told this guy to teach me the rudiments and went off. For 30 minutes I was told how to hold a blade, how to stand, how to advance and retreat. Then my teacher said let’s try a few strikes. Now I’m left handed, but I actually can fight with both hands, and I was cross. We ended up having a full on bout, and I took him across the Planche. He ended up with a gash on his arm because he thought he didn’t need to wear a defense jacket! He sat there bleeding and said, “You are a dangerous woman, I think I’ll marry you.” He did.
We found out we both had a love of the spiritual side of things, and I firmly believe we were brought together for a purpose, that purpose was the [Servants of the Light] school. Mike is like a rock to me. He is always there, supporting and upholding. We have different kinds of psychism, but they match.
ZB: What interested you in the Fraternity of the Inner Light as compared to other esoteric mystery schools? What prompted you to leave this organization and found the Servants of the Light?
DA: I was married and had two children; we were back in (Bailiwick of) Jersey. My Mother wanted a set of tarot cards and gave me an address to go to when I was in London visiting my in-laws. It was The Aquarian Press. While she was getting the deck, I looked at some books for sale and was interested in a grimoire. The man took it off me and said, “That’s not the kind of book for you, have this one,” and gave me Magic, Its Ritual Power, and Purpose by W. E. Butler.
I read it on the way home and within two weeks, Mike and I had enrolled. It was as if I had been waiting for just that moment. I felt a link with the author. We asked if he could be our teacher but were told, “No, the link is too strong, only when you have completed the course can you meet.” Ernest was there when we were initiated; we became strong friends and visited with him very often. He asked us to be supervisors on his new course, and I asked permission from the IL Warden. I was told we had to leave. I asked why we couldn’t do both. He said, “Because that is where you need to be, besides if you stay here you will be after my job.” I thought he was joking.
ZB: Will you talk about what it was like working with Walter Ernest Butler?DA: Ernest was the nearest to a Hobbit I will ever see: small, light in build (I don’t know about the hairy toes) with twinkling eyes and an impish smile. Gentle, unless you really angered him, then you had a small Doberman on your tail. But [he was] one of the sincerest and genuine human beings I have ever known. It seemed we picked up a friendship of teacher and student from where it left off, lives ago. I would go over to Southampton with a list of questions that I never really asked but when I got back home, I had the answers.
Small he may have been in body, but his mind spanned time and space. A gifted psychic and auric mediator. Nobody was more surprised than I was when I developed the ability to mediate. It came suddenly and without warning. Ernest however seemed very excited and within a few hours of it happening told me I would be the next Director of Studies after him. Yeah, like that was going to happen! I said no for a couple of months. Then the contact took things into his own hands and made it clear I had no options. That was it, like it or not, I had been born for this and would I please stop arguing.
ZB: Will you explain what a Cosmic Mediator is for those who may not be familiar?
DA:There are levels in all occult training. The mediums prevalent in the ‘30s, ‘40s are now almost nonexistent. Humanity has grown out of that phase. Psychism is something most people have and don’t know it, or laugh it off. A trained psychic is someone who is able to sense the presence of other life forms who may or may not offer a physical form in order to communicate. They can receive and send like a two-way radio, but there are limits. They need to be trained to get the best results.
Automatic writers are similar but can allow another being to use their hands. Seers can see, can direct, but not always contact, though there are some gifted seers who can. Aural psychics can hear but not always see … Mediators are a combination of throwbacks and throw forwards. It was a skill well known 3 to 4,000 years ago, but now, with training and the new knowledge of quantum physics they can be more accurate. Some can and do go far beyond this solar system.
Mediators work on many levels. Basically they team up with spiritual beings and become their PAs between the inner world and ours. It is not something you can go out and buy like a new pair of shoes; it is not something you can train someone to be. You either have the ability to deal with an entity or you don’t. Nor do you get to choose. They choose you and make an approach if you agree and you must agree; they cannot force you. However, if you do not come up to scratch or if you are at fault, they will leave and it’s permanent.
A mediator can on occasion carry an entity (their essence) for another person and hand them over. It has happened. A Mediator, once chosen, becomes aware of their buddy or entity gradually and it takes time to get to know each other, like any relationship. Sometimes it is an occasional thing. If the Mediator is new, very young, unsure, then it may only contact at specific times and maybe only in times of danger or special need. The next level is when the entity asks to in-dwell. That means exist in, with, and by their host. This is not as bad as it sounds. They may favor certain areas in which to leave a particle of their beingness. Such particles are holographic. Cosmic mediators can get landed with multiples, though not all at once. But they can switch if another entity has need of them. I am at present in the middle of writing a book on Mediation and hope to have it completed by the end of the year. The working title, which almost certainly will change, is Cosmic Twins.
ZB: What were some of the most important contributions Walter Ernest Butler had in the formation of the SOL and what wisdom of his left the most impact on you personally?
DA: The SOL was Ernest’s baby. It began as The Helios course and was the first of its kind. The first six lessons of the course were written by Gareth Knight, for personal reasons he handed it over to Ernest who completed the course. In the early ‘70s the copyright was bought from Helios and within a few months it became The SOL. He was the instigator and the thrust behind it all. He poured himself and his knowledge into it. Mike, Olive Ashcroft (no relation) Tom Oloman, Mariton Geikie and myself hung on to his coattails and became supervisors.
There comes a time when magical ritual, ceremony, and similar practices cease to be used, or even required. The work goes inward, upward, and outward. We did little in the way of ceremony with Ernest. Mostly it was done on the higher levels.
ZB: Can you describe how the formation of the Servants of the Light came about, including your role?
DA: Ernest’s course was written for and as The Helios Course, but it became too much for John and Mary Hall to cope with. They still run the book service. So Ernest took it over and was inspired to create a course that stood on its own. In 1972, it was legalized as the SOL. Mike and I are the only ones left now. I am the Director of Studies, Ernest’s title, which he passed on to me when I made the contact with his [contact]. I have just completed a 50 lesson course, as Ernest predicted I would, and it is now online for applicants. It is different, more up to date, more into the psychological and scientific aspects of magic. Delving into Quantum Physics at my age was quite a task but it’s fascinating.
ZB: Will you talk about what the experience of being in contact as a Mediator was like for you the first time?
DA: I hold the contact for the SOL. I didn’t ask for it, when it came I spent several weeks trying to get rid of it! I pointed out that I had nothing to teach, being new. I was told that all I had to do was open my mouth. He would do the teaching until such time as I did have something to teach.
I have seen and interacted with beings from other levels most of my life. What was it like? There are three levels: the Mind touch, which 90% of students experience at some time or another; the Overshadowing, which is stronger and generally stays in close proximity to its chosen contacts and affects around 40%; and the Indwelling, which is permanent until the death of the Host. Such a contact may indwell several human beings at the same time since every particle of their subtle body is holographic and contains the whole teacher. Some prefer polarity and seek a compatible host from the opposite sex. Not that they have a sex, it is a mental adherence to a male or female essence. This is not a good description, but then we do not have the terminology to explain certain aspects. Others have no preference. You give up your privacy entirely. You are not your own person, but one of two. It is a symbolic thing.
ZB: What are some of the more profound psychic experiences that you’ve had over your lifetime? How do you explain psychic awareness and abilities to those who don’t believe?
DA: When I was five and it was my birthday, I went to bed but could not sleep. Someone or something was calling my name. I got up and looked through the window, it was almost a full moon. I took off my nightdress and went into the garden and danced. I couldn’t quite see who or what I was dancing with but they were lovely. Then I went back to bed.
During the war I was very homesick for my island and one night decided to visit it. I was thirteen. I mind travelled across the sea and went to our cottage. I sat on the wide window ledge looking into the moonlit garden. I heard a scream and turned to see a woman running out of the room. I was whipped back into my body. When eventually we returned, we had a visit from the people who had lived there while we were away. The woman told me she had seen me sitting by the window and was badly frightened by it.
During an air-raid, bombing was bad that night. I was twelve, sitting with my head in the mother’s lap and very frightened as the bombs were getting close. Suddenly I was not there anymore. I was in a place with high snowy mountains with odd people sitting around a fire dressed in deep red robes. They made a place for me to sit with them in silence, no bombs. One of the mountains had a strange shape. I wanted to stay but it was explained to me that I had to go back, but if I was really scared I would be welcomed back. The man had a very calm face.
Ernest told me that mountain was sacred Kailas, and there was a special monastery there. Years later I attended a concert in London; a friend was making his debut as a conductor. When the lights went up, sitting next to me was the same man in the same robes. He had not aged. We talked for a long while after, and he told me many things that helped me later.
There was the time, standing at the Altar in the Inner Light temple as I made my unreserved dedication that I felt Dion Fortune beside me. Also, the day the Indweller made the first approach and then two months later when I accepted it. Now at 87, I can look back and see many occasions when such things happened, but I am now writing my biography and will deal with them more fully then.ZB: What do you feel were some of the most important teachings of Dion Fortune? What resonated most with you in regards to her teachings?
DA: I liked her no nonsense approach to ‘magic’. She did not suffer fools gladly. She gave credence to the ancient ways and what can still be used. We share the same ray: Green. It’s the Creative Power Ray and can run you ragged. We need Blue rays to keep our feet on the ground. Dion Fortune had Loveday; I have Michael. Ernest was mostly Violet or The Mystic Ray. The SOL was founded on the Violet, then taken into the outer world by the Green. The next Director of Studies, Dr. Steven Critchley, is Blue ray. But he was recently ordained in the Liberal Catholic Church and so, like Ernest, has the touch of Violet.
ZB: Of all those you’ve worked with in the circles of these esoteric schools, who else was influential on your work? What are some of the most memorable or significant teachings or words of wisdom people have imparted to you over the years?
DA: How much time do you have? I learn from every lecture and workshop I do. There is always someone, beginners and Initiates, who can stun me with something that has been lying in front of me, and I didn’t see it. You can learn from anyone if you are actively looking for wisdom. Individuals who do stand out: Ernest, of course; Gareth Knight, someone who taught very valuable lessons; and Herbie Brennan, Christine Campbell, Margaret Lumley Brown, Lord Orion, Ivo Dominguez, and Michael Smith (both of Seelie Court in Delaware). And, Anna Branche (Shakmah Winddrum), with whom I went through a blood ceremony; I’m proud of that little drop of African blood running around my veins. And, Carrie Brenna in Denver; Peter Larkworthy, who guided me through my Wiccan levels; and the Elders of The Village who taught me what The Craft really was.
I am, if you like, a cauldron of knowledge bequeathed to me by every person I have ever known. Starting with my parents … Ernest taught us to pass on what we learned so it would be shared among many, not to keep it hidden and eventually forgotten. This is my chance to say to all those who have touched my life Thank you, you have given me more than you will ever know, and I will pass it on.
[Next Saturday we will feature part 2 of the interview with Ashcroft-Nowkicki, who will discuss, in depth, her work and travels, her writing, the teachings of SOL and her recommendations for the student.]