Today we continue our two part interview with renowned occultist, teacher and author Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Last week, journalist Zora Burden spoke with Ashcroft-Nowicki about her childhood and influences, as well as the journey that led to the creation of the Servants of the Light (SOL). In part 2, Ashcroft-Nowicki speaks more specifically about her writing, her beliefs and practice, and her teachings. She offers suggestions for those people just beginning their own personal spiritual journey, and she shares personal anecdotes from her many years working with students.Zora Burden: You’ve written a prolific amount of books on many subjects in the magical arts and spiritual development. Will you talk about some of them and the motivation for writing them?
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki: Illuminations came about at a time when I thought my magical life and work was over. I tried to lift myself out of despair by writing a poem or prayer for each letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. In doing so, I discovered the beauty, magic, and power within them and the book grew from that. Thoughtforms was written with my dear friend Herbie Brennan. We were sitting in his front room one evening and talking about the power of thought forms and just for the hell of it began to put together a book synopsis. Halfway through Herbie said, “Ok we have a working plan here but I doubt if anyone will ever publish it.” Just for the hell of it we went upstairs to the office and sent it off to a publisher. Then laughed at what kind of dismissal we would get back. Twenty-four hours later we had an acceptance, which floored us. Herbie said, “Damn it, now we have to write the darned thing.” So we did. All the others come from ideas and questions I needed to find answers for!
ZB: Can you describe the symbolism and design of the SOL Tarot deck?
DA: That would take a book by itself. Just recently, going through the attic of my house, I found a box of the decks that I didn’t know I had but the booklet was not with them. They were, I think, sent when the Aquarian Press decided not to continue with them and sold me the remainders.
ZB: Will you talk about the creation of your Shakespearian Tarot and how you made correlations between the symbology of Shakespeare’s writing and Kabbalism? What other popular works of historical literature do you see referencing Kabbalism?
DA: I have always loved the theatre and trained for both drama and opera. But there came a time when I had to make a choice and a sacrifice. Shakespeare has always been a love on mine – the wording, the tone, the many shapes the words can be made to induce. I train students to use the voice as a magical tool.
The first card was the Lovers, a natural for Romeo and Juliet. It just grew from there. But it took a long time to match the quotations with the images. It was great fun and working with Jo Gill was a joy. She’s a very gifted artist. We have lost touch but I hope she is well and happy. The Tree of Life is within us all no matter who or what you are, so every book holds something of the Tree in its characters or its message.
ZB: Will you talk about the most important factors in studying and practicing Kabbalism?
DA: You either find the Qabbala within you or you don’t. It’s in everyone but only if you recognize it, can it work with power. Meditations and rituals used to be the way of teaching, now it is different. As I have already said, ritual and meditation is the way in, a beginning. After a while it becomes the way you exist and live your life. It creeps up on you. There is no eureka moment. You wake up one morning, and you and the Tree are one and the same thing. There is too much emphasis laid on ritual and ceremony. It’s great in its place; it brings people together with a single aim but it lives within the individual. Titles and degrees, and ostentation are not what it is about. Some of the most powerful people I know live quiet lives, teaching, training and living in their own Inner Light.
ZB: Will you explain for those who may not be familiar, how the major arcana of tarot is a guidebook to the Tree of Life and how the progression of the initiate through the paths is mapped out within the archetypes?
DA: No, I can’t explain because each person is different and that kind of teaching needs to be one on one to be good. I look on it as a book rather than pictures. [On] Archetypes: read Joseph Campbell, no one does it better than he.
ZB: What are the main topics you lectures on with regards to the occult? Where can people usually attend these classes or lectures?
DA: My workshops cover most traditions: basic magical training, angelic work, Pathworkings, subjects like The Hebrew Letters, The Elemental world, Qabbalah, tarot, fairy tales, magical psychology, Quantum Physics. You name it and I have probably done a workshop on it. I have, after all, been doing this since 1964. The SOL website always has my workshops and dates on it as well as those given by SOL supervisors. Between us, we probably give around 40 workshops a year.
ZB: In your international travels teaching the esoteric, which countries have you found to be the most interested and open to discussing and practicing this work? Have you traveled to any locations and felt geographic energies played an important role in enabling magical practices?
DA: My favorite places are Mexico and the USA. But Switzerland is also a favorite. Trinidad, Sweden, South America. Germany, and Greece are very special. I have actually been or worked in 28 countries. Each one has its own inner magic and special feel. Ley lines add power to a location if they go through it. These Inner Roads can be used in magical ways if one is trained to use them.ZB: What is your daily spiritual routine like, especially when you’re so busy with many speaking engagements and projects?
DA: I don’t have one. I don’t tie myself down to dates and times or specific tasks. My whole life, every day is part of what I do, just breathing is magic, thinking is magic. Ceremony is traditional and nice to do, but once you have the understanding of the Universe, you don’t really need it. It brings people together and that is good.
ZB: For those who are not members of Servants of the Light (SOL), what messages or advice can you give those seeking the truth and educating themselves in the magical arts?
DA: Find a school and take your time. Talk to those who have studied with them; don’t take the first one, not all schools suit everyone. Look at what their students are like. Do you want to be like them or not? I make a point of telling students: “What I’m telling you is from my own experience. That does not mean you have to agree with it. It doesn’t come written on two tablets of stone. It’s alright to disagree, I am still learning. I’ve just been around longer, which means I have had the time to make more mistakes!”
ZB: How does a mystery school function without validating one tradition over another and can it encompass all traditions? How does one find truth in a tradition or school and know it’s right for them?
DA: The Truth is in all traditions; they simply use it in different ways. I personally will not be labelled. I have worked with Wicca and Traditional English Craft, The Faerie Tradition, and QBL, Pure Hermetics, and Mysticism. I am also an ordained priest. Mr. Butler said, “It is only on earth, belief systems are divided, on the spiritual level they all lead to the Source.” We are basically QBL, this is used as a foundation for everything else.
ZB: What tools or external factors are most important for people working to cultivate spiritual progress and for magical potency?
DA: Cultivate curiosity, actively look around you and seek out information. You keep using that word spiritual; it comes in all sizes and colors. What is spiritual to me, may not be so to you, so how can I decide what is best for you. I work with anything and everything. Everything has a sense of self, small or large. Whatever comes to hand if it is useful, use, if it is not, then it may suit someone else
ZB: What are some typical questions you are asked during these lectures or lessons?
DA: Funny thing. I’m always complaining about this. You ask for questions and no one asks. Then, as soon as I get a cup of coffee in my hands or walk to the loo after three hours of sitting, they come up and ask questions. Examples:
Q) How long will it take me to be able to fight on the Astral? A) How long will it take you to get through that door and out of my workshop? Q) I’m being attacked astrally, how can I protect myself? A) The only reason to be attacked is if you have something they want. At this stage, that is nothing. You don’t have a rare book, you don’t have a great secret, you are not an Ipsissmus, you are not worth attacking. It takes energy, power, time and know how to really attack people. Thinking you are being attacked is a cry for attention. Take a long hard look at yourself and find out why you want that attention. Q) Why do I have to write a diary? It’s boring. A) So you can remember and think back and learn from mistakes. We can only learn by two things: experience and making mistakes. By the way, if you get bored that easily don’t come to SOL. We don’t do boring.
Then there are the people who come in full regalia, sit in the front row and nod smugly at everything you say. I have a lot of fun with them! I always try to answer as honestly as I can.
ZB: Why do you feel some people are naturally drawn to this spiritual work? What advice can you give for those born gifted and have spiritual inclinations, to guide them on their path?
DA: Some people are born to paint, to sculpt, to create engines, to sing, to farm the land, others are born to think, wonder, invent, hope and strive for the unknown. Why should everyone be the same? There have always been those born to “see beyond” and who can bring back echoes of what they see. Not everyone has the ability to draw, paint, fix an engine write a novel. We need each other’s skills.
There have always been priests and priestesses, there always will be. If you are not one of them in this life, be the best you can be at what you do, and maybe next time round, who knows. If it is within you, it will show up sooner or later; no one can predict such a thing. If you are a novice, then wait. If your talent is true someone will turn up and guide you. Put out a wish for a guide and they will come. But if you want it for the wrong reasons, be prepared to pay a price. It’s not a cake walk, you will be expected to work hard and train your memory.
Read anything and everything. Learn night and day. Don’t do it for titles; do it for the love of the work. Advice? I still consider myself a student, there is always something to learn, so how can I advise. Someone came to me and showed me the way. If it is in you, someone will come.
ZB: For those who are born with clairsentience, is it possible to strengthen or heighten more than one of the clair senses in an individual?
DA: Yes. Some are more able and have multiple talents than others. Train until you reach your limit, then try and go further. If you have a talent for healing, teaching, writing, astrology, or tarot, then get a firm foundation on the basics of all the powers. Then find which is strongest and exercise it until it is as good as you can get it.
I came from a psychic family going back generations; I was born with a certain ability to contact, hold, and transcribe information. I also had a singing voice of some power, and an ability to use drama to convey emotion. I was allowed to train those gifts, then was told to give up using them in the way I had thought of doing and instead offer them to the Higher Levels for their use. I could have said no. My specialty is an ability to pass on information. I can use my voice as a tool to make things interesting without boring people to death. I also have the ability to hold a higher contact within myself for a period of time and learn from them what they need others to know. Basically I’m an old fashioned tape recorder; I play back to those I teach what the Higher Levels have given me.
ZB: Can you explain the importance of Pathworking? What are some of the basics of the lessons?
DA: Pathworking, or guided meditations, have been around for centuries, just not by that name. It encourages visualization and helps students to build their inner world. They are basic and grow in strength as the students grow. Without such exercises it would be much harder.
ZB: What are some of the ideal environments or tools needed for a student or practitioner to meditate in?
DA: A trained student should be able to meditate during a Rolling Stones concert! It’s not the place; it’s the skill used to go deep. Anyone at all can meditate in a quiet and beautiful area, it takes skill and dedication to do it at a railway station at rush hour. Listening to music can create images and thoughts; it is often chosen for that. But you should be able to meditate anywhere at all. If you need help, you are not trying!
ZB: What should an initiate expect in order to become skilled, or knowledgeable as an adept in regards to the amount of practice, work and years one puts into their learning?
DA: The same dedication you would put into becoming a doctor or an architect; it’s work, hard work and for a long time. Dedication is vital and I’m afraid I see very little of it around today. If it can’t be done or learned in a couple of weekend workshops, then it’s no good. There are those who rely on such people to give them a good living; those who will tell them how good they are and how powerful and change the earth.
You should give something. Ernest said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” So something should be offered in return. But always within their limited means. To some a teacher will give freely.
ZB: How important is the physicality of ritual in magical work in relation to internal work like introspection or meditation?
DA: Ritual is lovely; it lifts the spirit, the heart and the mind. It is a guide for those who as of yet, cannot do without its controlled power. Much later when you can control the power within and understand it, then you can dispense with ritual. But it is a tradition and will always be a useful and uplifting tool. Ritual has been part of human life for thousands of years. It has served us well, and still has a beauty, a power, and a meaning.
But, as once the chariot was the only means of transport, we now have cars and planes and we wouldn’t dream of going back to chariots. In the same way we are growing out of the use of ritual. It will go on for a long time yet because it does have a sense of fellowship and grace but that was when we were still somewhat within a hive mind. Now we are almost 98 % individuals and can do things for and by ourselves.
Know Thyself, we were told and it has taken 3,000 years to do it. Tradition has its place in history but we now have our eyes on the stars. As the stars are above, so we are their reflection below but slightly different.
ZB: Who do you feel are the ideal applicants to become an initiate of the SOL? What should they have in regards to approach, studies, skill levels etc.? How does one know they are ready to study within the SOL?
DA: Anyone with a desire to know more about themselves as a mind within a cleverly designed container (body). Anyone who doesn’t whine about having to do some work daily and write a diary. They should have self-discipline, dedication, and enough time to do the work. Don’t take it on unless you can give us 12 to 14 hours a week. This is not something to take up like a knitting group. It’s a university course in Life.
We ask less time than you would do at a college or university. We have an application form, fill it in and we will tell you if you are right for us. You would be surprised at what comes through the post.“When will I learn to call up demons?” or “How can I kill from a distance?” I am not joking. One gentleman wanted to know how to make a billion pounds so he could buy a football team and have it win every time.
ZB: What do you feel about those who attempt to conjure external ‘demonic’ forces as part of their magical practice? Do you believe these exist literally as opposed to conducting shadow work?
DA: Yes, I believe evil can take a form. There is nothing in the universe that has only one side to it. Believe in good, you must believe in evil. Believe in angels, you must believe that evil can assume a form. The old Alchemists used to call them up. But what did they call? Usually some little vortex of power that found itself drawn into a triangle of manifestation looking like a bio-chemist’s nightmare. It must have looked down and thought: “What’s with this guy’s imagination!” No wonder these forces get mad and send them mad. I would have done the same!
It is always good to remember that ugliness and beastliness revolts, but evil housed in a beautiful form has a greater chance of entrapping you. Most of what was called up was elemental power and relatively harmless. It is stupidity rather than evil. They get what they deserve for misusing power.
ZB: What are the three most important tools a person must learn to acquire a full understanding of the esoteric? What would you say should be the real goal in the manifestations of higher consciousness, or self-realization?
DA: Discretion, Discrimination and Imagination. Also, the Practice of Inner Silence, without it you will not grow. Anyone who enters this way of the mysteries, even for only a short time is enlightened by that brief time. We are all becoming enlightened little by little. Every new thing you learn is an enlightenment. Every time you pass on what you have learned, you enlighten that person. This makes ‘claiming enlightenment’ a bit silly. There is no prize for being enlightened and no shame in being simply an ordinary human being. Learn and pass it on, that is all we can do. Every time you get an idea you are enlightened; we are all and will remain students.
ZB: Aside from you own books, what other books do you recommend for study in the occult arts? How should students approach solitary practice before working within a group?
DA: There are thousands of books in print and only half of them will have something to offer. You can forget the ‘Nine ways to make a love potion’ or ‘You too can be a Channeler’, in actual fact you can’t. You have to have an inner audio talent. Shirley MacLaine notwithstanding, Joseph Campbell, Gareth Knight, Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan, John Michael Greer, Ivo Dominguez, Orion Foxwood. Anything by John and Caitlin Matthews. Remember that there are occult novels which contain teaching in a way that non-fiction books can’t reach, as with Katherine Kurtz’s, Lammas Night. There are many out there.
Read, read, and read.
ZB: Do you feel working within a group is necessary?
DA: A group has the advantage of someone to talk to and answer questions. The fellowship is a good way to concentrate. Solitary is sometimes the only way for those in isolated places. It’s harder but not impossible. I might think about a book on that.
ZB: How do you define real ‘magic’ and its purpose within the individual or within a group?
DA: Magic as I was taught, is the ability to change yourself from the inside to the outside. To create around and within you as much balance as is possible for you, at the stage you have reached. This change can happen suddenly and often shatters them when it does, then it rebuilds them. With a group, like a School or Order or Lodge, it usually begins to happen through the medium of the Group Mind. The power of change then begins to spread through the group, each one reacting according to their ability to perceive what is happening to them internally. Those who cannot or will not allow the change to happen, leave the group on one pretext or another.
ZB: What are some of the important factors that a school such as SOL offers in regards to learning and becoming an adept in the magical arts that they cannot learn on their own?
DA: Not everyone becomes an adept; it’s the titles thing again. You can become proficient in the Art. We offer a safe, graduated training, designed to bring you into a state of mind where you can recognize yourself as being whole and balanced. On your own you can go so far but without someone to point out strengths and weakness, you will always be at a certain risk.
ZB: How do the various Lodges of SOL differ and how would a student choose which is right for them to join?
DA: Each Lodge is headed by an initiate who chooses a patron under whom they will work. We allow a certain percentage of non-SOL people in a Lodge to add to the variety. Some work with Egyptian, others Greek, some esoteric Christian, and Celtic Craft. The Supervisor chooses the patron, and they govern their Lodges. They send in reports twice a year and advise me who seems to be right for initiation and what degree. I visit as many as I can each year. This is getting more difficult as we are spreading over the globe. At the moment I think we have students in 18 different countries.
When a student is well into the course work and seems dedicated we try to get them into a Lodge as close to their home as possible. In the UK people do not travel long distance as do the American students. Europeans try to make it when they can. Australia is difficult. We have few students there. They are a people more in touch with the outdoors than the inner way. But we do have a few good people. We direct students to a Lodge that has room for them and people of their own type
ZB: For those who may become frustrated or overwhelmed or even frightened by what they experience during their work and exercises, how do you encourage them to remain on the path?
DA: You wait and watch. Sometimes with more knowledge, they settle down and get it together. If not, you have to bite the bullet and tell them it is not right for them. Be honest, otherwise you are taking money under false pretenses. This work is not for everyone.
ZB: What are some important facts that you would like people to know about the SOL and yourself?
DA: We care about the people we train. If they are ill, or need a kind word or to answer a question, we do the best we can. Every student is like a part of my family and like a parent, I’ll raise hell if I have to. I’m not a push over, do not get on the wrong side of my Natal Chart, the one with Scorpio rising! Do well and I’ll acknowledge that and encourage you to do even better. But, don’t mess with my ‘kids’. I’ll fight for them.
ZB: How has the school evolved or the years? Have any aspects of the tradition changed?
DA: Of course it has changed, if it didn’t we would not be here after 50 years. Change and adaption is how humanity has always worked and grown stronger. Our rituals, initiations, supervisors, and workshops have all changed. The new course is quite unlike Ernest’s. We now have an administration section, which takes a lot of the work off me. We have a trained and chosen successor who will take over the reins eventually. I’m still learning myself and I have changed a lot.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak out. There will always be some who will disagree with me and that’s ok but I have faults and admit to them. But when the time comes to move on, I will have few regrets. I will have done the best. I wish I had the chance to sing more. But it was the price asked and I gave it willingly. But in my next life’s round, please can I be the spoilt daughter of an indulgent millionaire. Call it a holiday life!
ZB: Lastly, when do you think that society will realize that the magical arts and occult are actually science based? In the middle ages much of what we know was science today was thought of as witchcraft, so do you see society as ever becoming enlightened to this fact and accepting magical work as a form of science or physics?
DA: It’s already happening. Quantum Physics is the new word for Magic. It has always been about understanding the Laws of the Universe. In Ancient times humanity tried the understand and use them by ceremony and sacrifice; sometimes it works but not always. Now we know so much more and what would have been magic then, we now use every day without thinking. Another decade or two and what we know now will be old.
Michio Kaku in his book Hyperspace points out that it is no longer professional death to talk, write or lecture about things like Time Travel and the relation of God to the String Theory. A magician (I wish I could find a better word for ourselves) must have a basic understanding of physics to cope with what is to be found in Inner Space. The internal universe is even bigger than the universe outside.
This work is a privilege – treat it as such!
[Dolores Ashcroft-Nowiki is currently touring on the East Coast of the United States and in the United Kingdom. Her appearances and class schedule are listed on the Servants of the Light website.]
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This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.