Rockin’ the Riverside

A small thermonuclear explosion detonated at the River Rock pub in Duncan last night. A collection of extraordinarily gifted musicians gathered and, in the space of a few hours, performed in cohesive bands, exploded and re-coalesced into new groupings, sang, jammed, riffed and generally blew the roof off the joint. It was a rambunctious night of energy and superb entertainment. Rarely in recent memory has such a stellar collection of talent converged on the Trans-Canada Highway. The level of musicianship displayed by local virtuosos was nothing short of extraordinary and had at least one aging rock journalist wondering where the hell the stringers for Rolling Stone were hiding, because last night saw some truly great performances.

Screw “Drunken Duncan.” Last night, it was “Rocking Duncan”.

Thank Helen
Thank Helen, River Rock pub, Duncan BC – 5 Aug 2016


First up was Thank Helen, a cow-punk thrash unit from Courtney with surprising melodic range. Fronted by the dynamic Tracey Nolan, Thank Helen found its footing within a song or two. By “Pay the Rent”, they were mesmerizing us with lively renderings of good, solid songs, tightly arranged. Thank Helen is a band to reckon with – a deadly combo of guitarist Jamie Nolan, bassist Caleb Kennedy and drummer Dekan Delaney in a solid polyrhythmic triad kicked into overdrive by the commanding Tracey. Harmonies and beat combined to raise their show to atmospheric levels and by the end of their set, at “Freeway”, nobody wanted to let go.


A lull was filled when a young man took the stage with an acoustic guitar. I was gathering my notes and not expecting much when Colton Mann, 20, abruptly launched into some of the most solid improvisational acoustic work I have heard in years. Later joined by Underdogs percussionist Marcus, Mann unleashed a soaring acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was nothing short of breathtaking. By the end of it all, you could hear a pin drop in that crowded bar. Watch this young man: if he develops to even half of his potential, he will conquer hearts and minds. And worlds.

Weak Patrol

Weak Patrol, tearing it up.

Briefly assuming Thank Helen had reassembled onstage, I was surprised to learn that their core instrumental group, absent Tracey, performs a combo unto itself. Weak Patrol, a classic rock power trio, is half Beck, Bogart & Appice and half Rush after they’ve been stiffed playing a gig at a curling arena in Edmonton: cold, angry and precise. This trio wound between hypnotic pseudo-reggae rhythms and soaring, poly-instrumental arrangements reminiscent of Yes. These three, no matter what they decide to play – or when – will scoop the field. Some old school rock trio power happening here: good, good stuff.

The real treat of the night was the Underdogs, segueing from cool bossa-nova combo to Big Brother and the Holding Company that somehow morphed into an extended blues jam. More akin to a musical community than a group, the Underdogs features a twin-vocalist salvo, acoustic guitar and rock rhythm underpinnings. Unconventional perhaps, but sufficiently engaging to hold the audience rapt with a Bear McCreary-flavored rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”. Although unpolished in places, the Underdogs proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they had bite. This is a premiere rock band in the making. If they can stay the course, they will shake up the West coast scene.

The Underdogs

With 1 AM beckoning and a deadline looming, I left the bar as the Underdogs were pulsing into the second soulful phase of their opening set. I felt strongly, walking across the highway to where my car was stashed in a public lot, that I had discovered something truly great in Duncan – a motherlode of talent and passion overlooked by the mainstream rock audiences and critics. Be that as it may, this writer will listen and report back. Good music deserves an audience, and this correspondent will do all he can to help these musicians find theirs.

Dispatches from the Front

Anyone who follows me on social media could be forgiven for thinking that my writing career has ground to a sudden and spectacular halt. But that’s what happens when you spend six-and-a-half months writing a novel – particularly a novel as detailed and immersive as the one I just birthed. But there have been many significant developments, and more fresh projects on the horizon. Here then is a brief round-up of what’s new …

AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS. Last week I completed a novel-length version of “Mr Johnson & the Old Ones”, my contribution to CTHULHUSATTVA: TALES OF THE BLACK GNOSIS, an anthology of Lovecraftian short fiction. AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS features bluesman Robert Johnson in a surreal adventure that spans the cottonfields and jook-houses of 1930s Mississippi and leads, via magickal intervention, to an alternate reality called the Nightland where free Black men fight a Civil War against fog-shrouded monstrosities while white slaves pick mantis-weed for distillation into an infernal hallucinogenic mescal. The ultimate destination, the City of the Pyramids, is the home of the Old Ones, where Great Cthulhu slumbers in the Blue Temple. The project was an all-consuming affair, involving weeks of research and outlining prior to diving into the actual writing. Topping out at 60,000 very carefully-chosen words, a finished draft was uploaded a few days ago to an agent who expressed interest.

GHOST BOSS. I published a short story in the new noir crime ‘zine Crimson Streets. I had a great experience working with editor Janet Carden and the portableNOUNS team to prepare “Ghost Boss”, sequel to my 2011 short story “Soul of the City”, for publication. Both stories feature the adventures of a magickal detective named N who works for Thaumaturgy Squad, a group founded in an alternate jazz-age Chicago to handle crimes devolving from the turf war between Capone’s gangsters and demons eager to seize a piece of the Windy City action. “Soul of the City” appeared in the April 2011 issue of Crossed Genres. There are more stories waiting to be written about N and his adventures, if I can find appropriate (and interested) markets.

GAVIN’S WOMAN. I have received word from KindleWorlds that the contract approval process is moving forward for GAVIN’S WOMAN, sequel to my 2015 novella GAVIN’S WAR, which is part of Steve Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse universe, a post-apocalyptic world Steve is allowing other writers to help him populate. A number of my friends – guys like Alex Shaw and Sean T. Smith to name a few – have pitched in to help flesh out Steve’s ambitious (and fun) vision. The GAVIN series takes place amongst the coastal islands of BC. GAVIN’S WAR is easily my most successful publication to date, with a stream of healthy royalties continuing to roll in. It’s great to have a chance to work with the KindleWorlds team again. I’m eager to return to that world and continue the adventure.

ECLIPSED SEASONS. A short, furious sci-fi/fantasy tale set during the Blitz, “Eclipsed Seasons” is one of the shortest but most difficult stories I’ve ever had to write. It has been grabbed up by a pro market and I am working with the editor on a few tweaks. (I’ll announce the market once the sale is finalized.) This story was an opportunity for me to exorcise all the usual personal demons that come from being raised by a survivor of the Battle of Britain. It’s difficult to describe. You’ll just have to read it (something you will hopefully be able to do soon).

CHICAGO LAKESHORE. As constant readers of this blog already know, I have been collaborating with Ann Sterzinger and an unnamed Hollywood director on developing a TV show called CHICAGO LAKESHORE. Billed as “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK meets ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST”, CHICAGO LAKESHORE recounts the trials and tribulations of Lena, a suicidal writer who has been committed, and Gus, the healthcare security officer with whom she strikes a fragile alliance. Based on the personal experiences of Ann and myself, the project was successfully funded via Kickstarter and we are moving forward with plans to finalize the pilot episode script and shoot Episode One (“You Can’t Handle the Truth”). Ann and I are also working to develop the story arcs and episode plots for the rest of Season One. The whole process has involved lots of phone calls and e-exchanges. Fortunately, Ann and I are strange creatures that more or less subsist on text, irony and coffee, so don’t worry about us. We got this.

While all this was going on, I decided to sell my mobile home and switch from a four- to a five-day-per-week schedule. So I’ve been busy.

I turn fifty in four days.



CHICAGO LAKESHORE 1: How Ann Sterzinger & Jamie Mason Founded Camus-TV

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Much as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson conspired to create Brexit without any real plan for how to deal with victory, so did Ann Sterzinger and I pitch a pilot to a Hollywood director, that convinced us to found a Kickstarter without ever really expecting people to respond. And oh my God, did they respond …

And so without further ado, the history of CHICAGO LAKESHORE.


This is Ann Sterzinger. Ann is an alien being inhabiting Chicago who subsists on a diet of caffeine, French literature and raw sarcasm. So far as I have been able to determine, Ann hates just about everybody.


Ann Sterzinger fucking hates you

She hates me a little less than most others and so we’re BFFs (best frenemies forever).


Ann and I are both writers. We’re old school devotees of the late 19th century schools of European literature. While most kids grew up wanting to be Jim Morrison, we wanted to be Balzac.


Balzac, hung over

Because we were serious literary prodigies, we both went to college. We got degrees. We worked shit jobs for decades and devoted ourselves to our craft. Then ECLIPSE became a best-seller. Since then, we spend a lot of time talking about becoming mercenaries in fucking Syria or something whilst swinging wildly between despair, alcoholism and suicidal ideation.

3. FATE!

We met on Facebook. I imagined Ann as an overweight chain-smoking woman in her seventies who wore mumus. She knew I was Canadian. That was enough for us to develop a healthy mutual suspicion of one another.

image (6)

We started writing together. Oh sure, we could have had phone sex or indulged in some form of primitive long-distance cyber-romance but we’re both broke writers so rather than waste time on that bullshit, we started beta-reading each others’ stuff and then, later, collaborating. Our phone calls occasionally strayed into common territory. And we discovered …


We both had first-hand experience of the mental health system, myself as a guard and Ann as a patient. We began comparing notes and discovered that our experiences weren’t very different. In fact, they were eerily fucking similar.


Let’s be honest. The world is sinking into for-profit, corporate-driven mass psychosis. Ann and I have decided it’s time for a television show that reflects this emerging reality.

Welcome to the psychiatric-industrial police state. Welcome to Chicago Lakeshore.

Witchcraft & a shotgun

Now that Donald Trump has made it cool to be a racist again, witch-burnings can’t be far behind. Whether or not he becomes President, he’s left a footprint of fascism and xenophobia so huge it will take America decades to climb out of it. This is the power of demagoguery at work. Trump doesn’t understand the dark Magick he is unleashing via the collective anger and fear into which he has tapped. Egocentric and shallow, he views it as a simple transaction: put a quarter in the machine and get a soda. Whip up a nativist frenzy and get votes. Far from putting a quarter in the machine, he’s actually pulling the pin on a live grenade.

One need not look far for historical antecedents. Trump has been compared to Hitler so many times by now that the shock has warn off. He’s become mainstream, prompting campus societies, voter drives, t-shirts. Repeat a lie three times, he advises readers in The Art of the Deal, and it will begin to sound true. Refer to Mexican and Black people in racist terms and repeatedly denigrate an entire religion and it ceases to be news. It becomes commonplace, eventually acceptable and finally part of the mainstream. This is the corrosively dangerous force of Trump’s rhetoric. It soaks into common parlance and – eventually – into the hearts and minds of the common man.

Narratives of persecution are plentiful in our day and age – a hopeful thing, given that we must first name a bad habit before we can discard it. The standard narrative of persecution for the pagan community concerns the Burning Times: the period during which the Catholic Church consolidated its control over European civilization by systematically purging all traces of the old religion. Estimates vary as to the number of women (and handful of men) who perished in the burnings, but 9 million is a common estimate. Conventional wisdom says it could never happen again, but I am not so sure.

Outside Sarajevo lie the ruins of the old Olympic village. Could the spectators have imagined, as they sat in their VIP seats, that a few short years later the tower at the ski venue would become a sniper position in the bloodiest European conflict since World War II? Could we, the people of the Western democracies, have foreseen the rise of European fascism, or its ugly, orange American counterpart? Political scientists and sociologists will understand this phenomenon in terms of statistics and voter records. But spiritual people will more readily understand it via intuition and metaphor. Witches might choose to speak  in terms of ‘forces’.

We know, from our identification with the Earth, that seasons and weather come and go in their due time. We usually have a good idea how long winter will last, but we can never be certain. All things to their season. But all things do have a lifetime: a beginning, a middle and an end. I believe we may be entering the beginning of a dark period of human history. It would seem the forces being unleashed on the Earth possess the kind deep, Cthonic energy associated with the gods before time, for there is something primitive, Earth-shaking and brutally Titanic (in the Olympian sense) about the great social dislocations currently underway. I never imagined I would live to see fascism’s return, yet here it is all around us. If this madness is possible, then what else? We don’t know, but again: all things to their season. We do not know how long winter will last. And so we must endure. And we must counsel together.

As witches, we have our own various obligations and priorities, according to tradition and inclination. But it may be, given recent events, a worthwhile exercise to ask ourselves and each other: what would we do if they came again, the Burning Times? How would we react? How should we? Is it so far-fetched, in a time when the West has so demonized Islam, that they wouldn’t turn on us as they have before? Given the massive, ugly group consciousness Trump and men like him are building – a vast, transnational egregore of hatred and fear – I think anything is possible.

I pray it never happens. But, given recent events, we sit in our VIP seats by the ski run at Sarajevo, unable to imagine what horrors are possible.


Why Ray Buckland is Wrong

It must be a powerful temptation for someone who has spent years as a spokesman for witchcraft to feel a certain sense of entitlement. Ray Buckland, author of multiple books, veteran seminar-giver and media personality, certainly does. He proved it with his response to our public hexing of Brock Turner, rapist and poster child for white male privilege, when he said:

So very sorry to see so many people who call themselves “witches” talking about hexing people. Just undoing all the work that we pioneers worked so hard to do. WITCHES DO NOT HEX PEOPLE; DO NOT DO NEGATIVE MAGIC – period!

It would be wrong to underplay Ray’s contributions to the Craft. He is a pillar of the community, and among those who regularly act as a spokesman and public face for witchcraft. And therein lies the rub.

Ray Buckland isn’t witchcraft.

Ray Buckland is one among many. Let’s not confuse his public visibility with deep knowledge, magickal ability or any special authority in the field in which he claims himself (quite conveniently) to be a pioneer. I don’t begrudge Ray his visibility or his success. On the contrary, I’m truly happy for him. He’s a successful spokesman and media figure, not an Ipsissimus or ritualist. He needs to understand where he gets off the bus.

Ray’s visibility is due in part to his willingness to soft-peddle a palatable form of witchcraft to the masses. In our Christianized society, wherein people are conditioned to meekly accept the wrongs done to them by the rich and powerful, one cannot hope to achieve celebrity without first playing lickspittle to the ideas of Christianity. A meek witch who “harms none” poses no threat to the power structure. We learned this the hard way during the Burning Times, when Christianity spread its influence across Europe by flame and sword, murdering hundreds of thousands of practitioners of the old religion.

But these aren’t the Burning Times anymore.

Much attention in this discussion has centered on the so-called Rede, or Witches’ “Law”, variations of which boil down to:

An’ it harm none, do as ye will.

Students of the Craft revere this maxim. But we also recognize it as one version with multiple variations:

Do what thou wilt. [Satanism]

Do what Thou Wilt Shall be the Whole of the Law. [Thelema]

Nothing is true, everything is permitted. [misc. LHP trads]

These variations speak to different traditions – something Ray failed to do in his sweeping, blanket condemnation of those of us who participated in the hexing. This action was not taken lightly, nor was it taken without appreciation of the context. My friend and high-priestess Melanie Hexen is to be thanked for providing a needed ritualistic prism through which to focus the frustration and rage so many of us are feeling.

Simply put: Brock Turner is privileged white kid from a family with money whose only punishment for raping an unconscious woman, penetrating her vagina with foreign objects and then texting suggestive pics of her naked body to his swim-team pals is a 12 week stretch in a country club jail.

This is a fucking outrage.

An all-too familiar one.

Witchcraft flourished in feudal Europe as a reaction to the greed and corruption of the priestly and land-owning classes. Since then, we have watched as Christianity has been complicit in erecting the tower of Western culture, blessing and anointing kings (later Presidents) and providing a sop to the conscience of any who would practice genocide, rape, torture, child abuse and apocalyptic levels of environmental destruction. We have listened to the “thoughts and prayers” of Janus-faced politicians who wave with one hand while stuffing money in their pockets with the other. And we have tasted the bitter ashes of outcome: misogyny, widespread poverty, institutionalized racism, hunger, war and global warming. The Empire is one of violence and oppression: particularly to wildlife, women and children. Now it’s killing the planet.

And we say: enough.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam have all demonstrated their utter failure and impotence as a moral force in this new millennium. As the monotheistic religions whittle each other’s numbers down by means of terrorism and exploitation, we in the Craft find ourselves faced with a conundrum. Can we continue to support a socio-political system so hostile to life? And can we afford to hesitate using what few weapons we have left at our disposal to fight injustice and the threat of global extinction?

I understand, Ray. We make compromises to become public figures. We measure and temper our speech. But after a certain period, this amounts to tailoring our thoughts and beliefs. Quite simply: you’ve sold out.

We haven’t.

And we’re just getting started.




The night before the Orlando massacre, I got into a fight with my best friend and we said some pretty nasty things to one another. The whole thing hinged on her dissing my religion. Once we’d unhooked the barbs we’d thrust into each other’s hides and smoothed things over, it occured to me that her assumption that I was “going off and being a fucking hippie” (with all the presuppositions of flightiness that entails) wasn’t entirely unreasonable.

You see, I don’t discuss my religion much. Fellow Facebook travellers (observant ones, anyway) will note the occasional solstice posting, or Thelemic marginalia but I mostly keep it low key. The truth of the matter (morality be damned!) is that I consider public displays of religion to be in very poor taste. And, regardless of how broke I often am, good taste is something to which I still aspire. How well I succeed in my art is up to my peers and readers. At least thus far no one has choked to death on my religion.

So, for the record …

I am a Wiccan and a Thelemite. My initiatory path is via the Alexandrian tradition, my First Degree presided over by a student of Jan Farrar’s. From that basis and training, I pursued a spiritual life grounded in the Western esoteric traditions. In 1994 I accepted the Law of Thelema and two years later committed to what is generally known as the Left Hand Path. I am a pagan, an alchemist, a student of the Mysteries and a magical researcher. My area of specialization is reconstruction of Ancient Sumerian texts and ritual forms. Although this work is primarily intellectual in nature, my Wiccan training keeps me grounded and provides an outlet for – well, let me put it this way: “research and development”.

Because the nature of our public life enjoins us to not discuss religion, I refrain from doing so except around the like-minded. But sometimes religion finds appropriate expression in public life. Although we on the Left Hand Path scoff when we hear the pallid “thoughts and prayers” of smarmy politicans (and laugh when you threaten to pray for us), there is a time and a place for all things. And a more public expression of my religion and involvement in the occult has now become appropriate.

I am increasingly inclined to view the man-made institutions of the liberal Western democracies as dysfunctional and – where wholesale corporate ownership of government is concerned – antithetical to the interests of (and ultimately fatal to) human life. I have been and remain a committed socialist, but am now convinced the electoral apparatus in both Canada and the USA is sufficiently broken so as to preclude an accurate representation of the peoples’ will. Furthermore, the corruption of the elites, worship of money and deepening subversion of civil society in the interests of the wealthy and powerful have caused the Western democracies to enter a death-spiral toward a neo-feudal – and quite possibly fascist – future.

What then must we do?

I, for my part, am increasingly inclined to turn inward for answers. But because I am a witch, turning inward does not preclude, but rather amplifies, my capacity to cause change in the physical world in conformity with my will. And because I am a Thelemite, I want that change to work for the benefit of all. I have therefore decided to abandon traditional political action for the time being and seek a place where social and spiritual activism intersect. Going forward, I will be working collaboratively with other occultists to seek radical, transformative solutions to the increasingly urgent problems plaguing our society, and our planet.

See you on the other side.

By the Witchcraft,




Alfred’s Way

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid. My mother’s father raised a family of five during the Great Depression by working as a door-to-door salesman – Fuller Brushes mostly, but they say Alfred could sell anything. Perhaps it was this experience of traveling far and wide and meeting so many different people that gave Alfred his unique perspective. Like most men in our family, Alfred was pretty circumspect. At family gatherings you wouldn’t even know he was in the room. But he could surprise you. Alfred was very firm in his belief about certain things. Like how you should treat people.

Montreal in the 1920s and 30s was a multicultural stew, particularly in the neighborhood where my mother grew up. Immigrants were pouring in – mostly Italians and Eastern Europeans. Newcomers to Canada who choose Quebec get a double dose of xenophobia – first, the generic white people kind, then the specialized and excruciating French form. Alfred would have none of it.

“Never make fun of a man who’s willing to work,” he would say. “You ask a Frenchman or an Englishman to dig a ditch and he’ll say it’s below him. But give the job to an Italian or a Polish man and he’ll dig the best ditch you’ve ever seen and be glad for the opportunity.”

Having been an immigrant myself, I understand the difficulty of trying to fit in where you’re not welcome. On some level, Grandpa did, too, rejecting the heraldry of even the most obvious differences of religion or appearance.

“They’re not n*****s They’re Negroes.” He was firm on this. “That’s the respectful way to refer to those folks. They’re no different from us.”

An antique term by today’s standards – and an objectionable one to some of my African-American friends – but Alfred’s heart was in the right place. He was trying, in his way, to manifest a primitive form of political correctness. He believed that it was up to individuals to take responsibility for making a fairer and more just world and that task begins with each of us.

I’m surprised by some of the attitudes I’m encountering with regards to the Syrian refugees in our midst. Both in live conversations and on-line, I have encountered opinions ranging from reluctant to resistive to downright hostile. Relatively few folks are accepting, and there seems to be real objections to the notion of extending a hand of welcome. Here on Vancouver Island, home to one of the most inhospitable demographics in North America, Middle Easterners will encounter a double dose, like the Italians of yore. This will play out in the dynamic of locals and newcomers interacting and finding – or not finding – a way to get along. Hopefully people will overcome their fear of the unknown and manifest some of the kindness and generosity for which Canadians are – justly, or unjustly – renowned. We will see.

As for me and my house, we will follow Alfred’s way.